Syrah/Shiraz … tomayto/tomahto. What’s the deal with the name? Both names reference the same dark-skinned grape varietal that grows in many countries around the world. In the old world (France and Europe) along with many new world regions, the name used is Syrah. In Australia, they call it Shiraz.
While the regionality of the name generally holds true, it can also indicate the style of the wine. Syrah means elegance, tannin, and subtle fruit found in French (old world) style Syrah. While Shiraz references the fruit-forward, less tannic wine styles typical in Australian Shiraz.
Once again, Syrah originated in France and is grown in the Rhône Valley. Northern Rhône features Syrah as single varietal wines and can be found under the names Côte-Rôtie, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage. Southern Rhone features Syrah in a blended wine style and is labeled with the names Châteauneuf du Pape and Côtes du Rhône.
California is a large producer of Syrah and typically models the style after the old world French. However, you will see some Shiraz labels, which is a tip off that it’s the more fruity style known in Australia.
Australia is known for its Shiraz that is bold with strong black fruit flavors. It grows in a warmer climate, which typically means it will be a bit jammier than a cooler climate red wine.
Syrah is grown around the world just as the other noble grapes. Here are the largest producing countries for Syrah/Shiraz. The first 3 countries produce Syrah as a single grape varietal and the last 3 produce it as a blend. We’ll keep our focus on the single varietal regions in France, Australia, and California.
- France – Rhône Valley
- US – California / Washington
- South Africa
Pick up a bottle from each region and taste them side-by-side. Remember, if you can’t find these selections, just look for a Syrah from these regions with a decent rating (80 and above) at your price point.
Gilles Robin Crozes-Hermitage Cuvee Papillon 2016
Appellation: Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone Valley
Winery: Gilles Robin
Avg Price: $23
Thorn Clarke 2015 Terra Barossa Shiraz (Barossa Valley)
Appellation: Barossa Valley
Winery: Thorn Clarke
Rating: 91 Wine Spectator
Avg price: $19
Santa Barbara Winery 2014 Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley)
Appellation: Santa Ynez Valley, Central Coast
Winery: Santa Barbara Winery
Rating: 92pts Wine Enthusiast
Avg price: $20
Time to taste your Syrah and Shiraz! Just follow these three steps to become familiar Syrah from each region.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Take note of the opacity levels. If you place your fingers between the glass and the napkin, how easily can you see them? These are all tells of what kind of wine you are drinking.
TASTING PROFILE: Deep dark red in color, very opaque.
Let’s see how aromatic Syrah is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: This is not an aromatic grape. You’ll have to stick your nose in the glass to smell the aromas of blackberry, coffee, and pepper.
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Black fruit, blackberry, plum, tobacco, pepper
Acidity: Medium acidity (This is tartness in the wine and hits underneath the back of your tongue and throat.)
Tannin: Medium-High tannin. (This is bitterness that comes from the grape skins.)
Oak: Medium oak.
Body: Full body. (This is how heavy or full the wine is. Think water vs. milk.)
Easy Rating System
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me
Syrah pairs well with fatty meats. The dry tannins wash the fattiness right down, providing a nice balance.
- Red meats: steak, lamb, burger, cured meats
- White meats: BBQ pork, duck
- Sharp or Smoked Cheddar
- Monterey Jack
Congrats! You’ve decoded Syrah. Share your accomplishment with your friends!