Syrah/Shiraz

Updated: Aug 23, 2021


I just wrote the other day about Viognier, and I realized that almost all of my blog posts, thus far, have been about aromatic white wines, or rosé wines. Not a bad deal in spring and summer, but lets get into red. We will start with one of my favorite, widely differing grapes. Syrah is from the northern Rhone Valley in France. Once believed to have been originally sourced in the Persian Empire near the city of Shiraz, that has been debunked, and nowadays the Aussies are the most frequent labelers of the grape as such. Indeed, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. However, the labeling of the bottle could indicate a little something about the style of wine in that bottle. In the Rhone, it will be labeled by the Appellation where it was sourced Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph, or Crozes-Hermitage. Here they show inky dark color, dark fruit aromatics like fig and plum, and impressive black pepper. Frequently, the aromas are, at least reminiscent, of smoked meats and often times mouthwatering.

In south Australia, the grape creates a fuller, rounder, fruitier style. The Aussies call it Shiraz, and when a "Yank" producer labels their bottle Shiraz, they may be mimicking this style. Brighter fruits including berry, but the black pepper is not lost. In Australia, and throughout the new world it is not uncommon to blend with Syrah, on it's own it can be aggressively tannic, and frequently the Aussies will add a small amount of Viognier to the blend perhaps to offset the tannin, but oddly usually serves to darken the color of the batch. We do it in the states, too. I have been blown away by the Syrah produced in Washington State in the last 15 years, I personally think it is dollar for dollar the best place for United States wine enthusiasts to begin their search for their Syrah style.

Actually, in the southern Rhone Valley, Syrah is more of a blending grape added at large ratio to a grape called Grenache, a grape called Mourvedre, and a handful of others you should read about. If you have had a bottle labeled GSM those are the varietals used to produce those blends, and are frequently produced in southern California, South Africa, and South Australia. Also, Syrah has found it's way into some of the blends in Tuscany, Italy where it mingles with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Syrah may only be one third of the blend, or less.

In my classes, though I love blends, I prefer to show Syrah from 3 differing regions in as close to 100% varietal composition as possible, because these styles are actually far less numerous and the exercise of learning the grape independently is pretty unique, but you let me know your preference, and I will create the class.

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