Syrah has few friends. Those who love Syrah will shed blood for it, but they form a small, dispersed group and speak a strange tongue. Diners don’t regularly ask for Syrah; everyday cooks don’t see it as relevant. It is such a distinctive grape, and requires quite specific rock and soil conditions to yield a coherent wine. When the conditions aren’t right, you get something thin, vapid or overly austere in the glass. I’m guessing that even those who are intrigued have been burned a few times too many.

That might have sent such people running to Shiraz, the Australian version of a grape that reaches highest expression in the small, topologically constrained northern Rhône Valley of France. Australian Shiraz as customarily presented is all fruit and spice, assertive and initially fun to drink if not, in the end, very rewarding. Thus, in large part, the failure of the Australian wine industry to keep its footing after a booming couple of decades.

A new generation of Australian winemakers is in the process of raising a phoenix from the ashes of the 2000s, and some of them are labeling the grape “Syrah” this time around. They adore the wines of the northern Rhône, and they don’t put kangaroos on their labels. As in the Rhône, the wines are made in necessarily small quantities, but we’ll be seeing some in Maine soon.

Good Syrah wines are not much about fruit. They are about rock. Fruit sells, stone doesn’t. And so classic Syrahs are not likely to ever capture the popular heart. At their best, the classics taste of herb-infused broths, smoky and even meaty, and dark dried flowers, tar, and olives and pig fat. That sounds excellent, right? But the misses are far misses.

It’s easier to make a mediocre Shiraz wine taste like decent-enough blackberry jam, because fruit-focused wines can sort of fake it. But a mediocre Syrah, with mere palimpsests of bacon, chipotles, bouillon and thyme, rather than the vivid signatures of such, is just sort of confusing and gross. A classic risk/reward graph could be drawn.

As far as I know, the only places on Earth with the right match of cool climate and granite or schist subsoils to produce good classic Syrahs are the small number of appellations in France’s northern Rhône, a few sections of California, and Australian zones where few have heretofore looked. Several areas in Chile have the ideal climate and geology for Syrah, too, but not enough winegrowers who know it nor enough wineries confident enough to risk devising the marketing campaign that great Chilean Syrah would require.

The northern Rhône Valley is tiny, relatively speaking, and there’s not really a way to produce at a large scale. Therefore, the wines of Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie and St-Joseph are expensive. In California, real estate is precious and the mortgages haven’t yet been paid off, so few high-quality Syrah wines come cheap.

All this is why my heart leaps when I come across a Syrah producer who gets it, and who can somehow make it happen for less than $20 a bottle. Bill Easton’s Terre Rouge winery in the Sierra Foothills of Amador County, California, is that producer. Easton is from Berkeley, and like a few other far-seeing, like-minded souls, visited the Rhône Valley in the 1970s. These pioneers found a sort of religion in that area at that time, and their influence on the way Americans drink wine – from importers Kermit Lynch and Robert Kacher to winemakers such as Randall Grahm, Steve Edmunds, Joseph Phelps and Easton himself – can barely be overstated.

You probably don’t care about the technical info, but just know that the crucial factors are in place at Terre Rouge. The vineyards are at 2,000 to 3,000 feet of elevation, with thin soils over granite and volcanic schist. Yields are kept quite low, driving more nutrients and character into each grape without having to extract excessive fruit traits by leaving the grapes on the vines too long.

Before going further, a brief tangent: Easton does produce wines, quite good ones, with grapes other than Syrah. When the wines are Rhône-based, the labels say Terre Rouge; with grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, the labels say Easton.

The excellent Easton Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($18) is broad-shouldered and bracing, a quite masculine expression of that grape. There is beautiful ripe yellow fruit present, but it lies behind the salty, mineral character of the wine. Fermented in stainless tanks and aged for a long nine months on the lees without undergoing malolactic, it lies outside this grape’s popular New Zealand-California matrix (herbs and grapefruit from the former, and creamy tropical notes from the latter), tending more toward the elegance and structure of Pouilly-Fumé.

The Easton Amador County Zinfandel 2012 ($18) is my kind of Zin: fresh, very bright, wound sort of tight at first but readily uncoiling in the first half-hour after the bottle has been opened. I’m not sure whether this will doom it for you, but it’s like the Bourgogne Rouge, or maybe cru Beaujolais, of Zins: that supple, light on its feet but with underlying oomph, and ready to dine.

Moving toward the Holy Grail, we get to the Terre Rouge Tête-à-Tête 2010 ($19), a southern Rhône blend. Lest you roll your eyes (I usually do, at least, with American takes on the southern Rhône), this one is saved by the relatively low proportion of Grenache. Instead, the black-hearted Mourvèdre takes the lead, partnering with Syrah for a combined 77 percent of the wine. Thus, barely any of Grenache’s red-candy influence, and instead a black, woodsy, full-bodied wine with fine tannins.

Terre Rouge produces six different 100 percent Syrah wines, several from micro-sites within given vineyards. The winery’s Maine distributor carries three of these, including the holy of holies, the Ascent 2007 ($83), of which only 2,400 bottles are made each year and about which I’ve only read (“dense, smoky, concentrated, meaty”).

And so we come to the Terre Rouge Syrah “Les Côtes de l’Ouest” 2010 ($19). This is the winery’s blend of several sites, from medium-high and high Sierra Foothills vineyards, all of them on granite- and volcanic-based soils. The refreshing, cooling acidity in this wine comes across like a kind of miracle, balancing the classic Syrah notes of game, pepper, tar and black olives. It’s just an exceptionally forthright wine, pure of purpose, savory. The mouthfeel is silky, of all things, terrifically balanced. Anyone with any interest in the northern Rhône but insufficient funds to regularly feed his desire ought to run to this wine, a sub-$20 St-Joseph from the Golden State.

The Terre Rouge Syrah Fiddletown “DTR Ranch” 2007 ($40) takes you not so much higher as deeper. Where the “Côtes de l’Ouest” takes a clean, clear, delineated approach, this single-vineyard wine is all plushness and density, a more concentrated, tightly knit robe. I was surprised to hear the wine is from Easton’s coolest site, on steep Fiddletown slopes of schist and slate, since I would have associated such provenance with leaner wine than this. Instead, it is incredibly rich, definitively showing the influence of more elaborate oak during vinification.

You can drink this 7-year-old now and be carried along on its waves of textural complexity, almost feeling with your mouth the rocks the vines grow on, as well as the softer topsoil. But its mineral drive is so intense, its savory facets so complex, that you’d rejoice to reconvene with it a few years from now, too.

All of the Easton/Terre Rouge wines are worth a look. But the Syrahs make a special plea for special attention. They’re not for everyone, but they’re probably for you.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

[email protected]