Marked by unmistakable aromatics, savory palate, and an elegant texture
Marked by unmistakable aromatics, savory palate, and an elegant texture, Syrah is capable of producing fascinatingly complex and long-lived wines with a stunning purple hue. Native to the Northern Rhône region of France, Syrah’s best examples are found in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie (where, unusually, it is co-fermented with a small percentage of Viognier to add perfumed aromas and improve color stability). It is also an important component of the so-called GSM blends of the Southern Rhône and beyond, where it adds dark fruit flavors and spice to Grenache and Mourvèdre. Both varietal Syrah and GSM blends are common in Australia’s Barossa Valley as well as throughout California—particularly the Central Coast region—and are gaining popularity in Washington State. In Australia, Syrah is known by the synonym Shiraz, which tends to indicate a bolder, fruit-driven style of wine that has become wildly popular in the last few decades. There, it is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for added depth and structure.
In the Glass
At its best, Syrah shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper, smoke, and even bacon fat. Many examples from California aim to recreate this savory style, while others focus more on concentrated fruit flavors. It takes on an entirely different personality in Australia, where under the name Shiraz, it shines as that country’s unofficial signature red grape, producing deep, dark, intense, and often jammy reds.
The wide range of styles produced means that Syrah has an equally wide-ranging role with food. For best results, the weight and complexity of the dish should be matched with the weight and complexity of the wine. Cool-climate Syrah, with its peppery spices, is a natural match with flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb dishes, where the spice is more about flavor than heat. Australian Shiraz, grown in warmer regions, heavy meat dishes with abundant protein and fat are a necessity to match the intensity of the wine. Lamb and beef are ideal, but care must be taken to avoid spicy dishes as Shiraz is often quite high in alcohol.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” this synonym for Syrah has been adopted by winemakers throughout the word, particularly in South Africa. When you are looking at an unfamiliar wine for a Syrah/Shiraz grown outside of France or Australia, this can be a helpful piece of information to determine the wine’s style: if the label says “Shiraz,” you can typically expect a plush, fruity, and potent wine made in the Australian style. On the other side of that coin, there is a movement building in Australia to produce elegant, old-world versions of this variety and label them as “Syrah.”
The Wine Advocate