As with many grape varieties, there’s an East Coast-West Coast divide when it comes to American Syrah, something most casual wine drinkers probably don’t realize — that is, if domestic Syrah is on their radar at all.

But Syrah is a phenomenal red grape, the signature variety of the Northern Rhône in France, where it appears in such storied appellations as Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, and Cornas. Beyond the Rhône, it’s grown through the south of France. It’s probably the most famous red variety in Australia, where they call it Shiraz, and it’s important in South Africa as well.

There is no one “epicenter” of Syrah in this country, the way the Napa Valley is for Cabernet Sauvignon, or the Willamette Valley is for Pinot Noir. Instead, Syrah is grown in lots of places, often as an adjunct variety. You can find it on both the East and West Coasts, in strikingly different styles.

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In the first of two columns on American Syrah, I’m focusing on wines from the East, specifically from New York’s Finger Lakes and the North Fork of Long Island.

These are cool-climate Syrahs, which means the grapes are harvested relatively late to achieve ripeness. Even then, they are considerably lower in alcohol than their West Coast counterparts, with typical ABV levels of 12 to 13 percent. They are also marked by higher acidity and are less reliant on oak.

Those who gravitate toward big red wines might think of these Syrahs as “thin.” But that description belies their complexity, which becomes evident as they evolve in the glass.

On the West Coast, on the other hand, the wines are often darker, the alcohol levels considerably higher, and the tannins more pronounced. The style is not better or worse. It’s just different.

“I’m not trying to make California wines, these big-oak wines, but to embrace the cool climate,” says George Nosis, co-owner of Atwater Vineyards in the Finger Lakes. He says his “house style” is to showcase the “bright freshness” of the grapes, using neutral oak to “round out the wine.”

Atwater grows Syrah on just under two of its 45 acres under production on a sloped, west-facing site overlooking Seneca Lake that gets sun all day. For Nosis, at least, Syrah has a future in the region. And based on the wines I’ve been tasting, he may not be the only one who thinks so.

Here are six East Coast Syrahs to try:

Atwater Vineyards Syrah 2022

Atwater Vineyards Syrah 2022 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

An exceptional cool-climate Syrah with generous red and blue fruit flavors. There’s a pronounced black pepper note on the nose and palate, with hints of braised meat and baking spices, along with a steely minerality and zingy acidity. There’s just enough tannic grip to give it some texture.

Price: $42
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Suhru Wines Shiraz 2021

Suhru Wines Shiraz 2021 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

This wine from the North Fork of Long Island has a nice combination of dark and red fruit flavors, including raspberry and red plum, with a good deal of spice and a hint of meat. The blend is 77 percent Shiraz, 12 percent Teroldego (a deeply colored variety from Italy’s Trentino region), and 11 percent Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for seven months in American oak.

Price: $25
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Macari Vineyards Syrah 2020

Macari Vineyards Syrah 2020 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

Another winning wine from the North Fork and one of the region’s top producers. There’s a distinctive earth note on the nose and palate and blueberry, pomegranate, and black plum flavors. Complex and medium-bodied, with alcohol at a refreshing 12.4 percent. The wine was aged for 10 months in neutral barrels. Balanced and delicious.

Price: $45
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Thirsty Owl Wine Company Syrah 2021

Thirsty Owl Wine Company Syrah 2021 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

Subtle and complex, with plum and blueberry flavors and hints of black pepper, black licorice, and a mineral note. The wine is softly tannic with bright acidity and will pair well with white meats and fish. Founded in 2002, Thirsty Owl has 150 acres on the western shore of Cayuga Lake.

Price: $25
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Glenora Wine Cellars Syrah 2021

Glenora Wine Cellars Syrah 2021 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

A peppery note jumps out of the glass, along with ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas that carry over to the palate. The fruit is accented by hints of forest floor and tobacco. There’s a rich mouthfeel and bright acidity. Opened in 1978, Glenora was the first winery on Seneca Lake.

Price: $24
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Channing Daughters Syrah Mudd West Vineyard 2020

Channing Daughters Syrah Mudd West Vineyard 2020 is one of the best American East Coast Syrahs.

Located in Bridgehampton, N.Y., Channing Daughters is one of just a few wineries on Long Island’s South Fork. It uses estate-grown grapes for many of its wines but sources this Syrah from the famed Mudd Vineyards on the North Fork, a fact spelled out on the bottle’s back label. This delightful wine shows ripe red and dark berry flavors with floral and green tea notes. Aged for 10 months in older oak barrels, it’s relatively soft and effortless to drink.

Price: $35
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