Often used interchangeably, the Syrah or Shiraz grape is one of the most misunderstood grapes to newer wine enthusiasts.
Originally from France’s Rhone River Valley, the Syrah grape has now become quite popular in the United States and places like Australia and South Africa. Shiraz is the term used for Syrah in Australia or South Africa. Whether it is Syrah or Shiraz, it is essentially the same grape, just a way to differentiate the region the wine came from. Two other names associated with Syrah are Hermitage and Marsanne Noir wines.
Syrah is a dark-skinned grape and is used as a varietal or a blending grape. DNA profiling done indicates it is the offspring of two more obscure grapes from southeastern France, the Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.
Where is Syrah/Shiraz Grown?
Syrah grapes are known to thrive in hotter climates, making them perfect choices for places like Australia and South Africa. In addition to France, Syrah is also made on the west coast of the United States (California, Oregon and Washington), Italy, Spain, Chile, and Switzerland.
The most notable Syrahs are not surprisingly found in the Rhone region. Some notable names from the northern Rhone include Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and St. Joseph. In the southern part of the region, Syrah is often blended with Grenache. Notable blends from this region include Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras.
According to Food and Wine Magazine, their picks for the top Syrah zones worldwide include: California’s Central Coast, Washington’s Columbia Valley, Australia’s Hunter Valley, New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels, and Hermitage and Cote Rotie in France.
Is Syrah or Shiraz the same as Petite Syrah?
Despite what many people think — the answer is a resounding no! Petite Syrah is not the same as a Shiraz or Syrah grape. Petite Syrah is the U.S. term for a French grape called the Durif. Durif is actually a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating back to 1880. The Petite Syrah grape is known for its ability to make big, spicy, blueberry wines.
Syrah Terminology and Guidelines
Rhone Rangers – These are the winemakers in the late 1980’s who were some of the first who promoted Rhone varietals in California.
Flavors/Scents – Many aromas and flavors have been used to describe this bold, full-bodied wine. According to Syrahwine.org, some of the more popular ones include bay leaf, black currant, black olive, black pepper, black truffle, blackberry, blueberry, cachou, cedar, cherry, chocolate, cinnamon, civet, coconut, clove, earth, eucalyptus, espresso, fig, grass, licorice, mocha, mint, musk, plum, raspberry, red currant, rosemary, sage, sandalwood, smoke, spice, thyme, truffle, vanilla, and violets.
Wine Pairing – Syrah is a full-bodied wine and can have a lot of spice. According to Nat Decants, Syrah is best paired with robust dishes like grilled meats and vegetables, beef stew, meat lover’s pizza, barbecued ribs and hamburgers, beef wellington, bison steak, brisket, meatloaf, peppercorn steak, grilled or spice-rubbed chicken, chicken sausage, fajitas, ostrich, game casseroles, venison stew, braised lamb shanks, barbecued pork spareribs and Mexican Mole.
An interesting way to learn more about Syrah/Shiraz wines is to have a wine party and ask everyone to bring a Syrah or Shiraz from a different region. This way, everyone can sample how different the same wine can taste from different regions and winemakers.