Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape. In France this classic red grape is known as Syrah while in Australia it is called Shiraz.
Its home is the northern Rhone, where Syrah makes elegant and complex wines notable for their black fruit, black pepper, leather and earthy flavours even with a hint of game. The most highly sought after wines are those from Hermitage and Cote Rotie, districts within the Rhone Valley. An example is the Domaine Gilles Robin Crozes Hermitage Papillon.
In fact for many wine aficionados Syrah from the northern Rhone surpass the great wines of Bordeaux, where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the main grape varieties, and Burgundy, where Pinot Noir is the king.
Shiraz arrived in Australia in the early 1830’s. Today it is widely planted throughout Australia but is best known for wines made from grapes grown in vineyards in the hotter, dryer regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. As for example the Darenberg The Love Grass Shiraz.
The wines are nearly opaque with pronounced jammy blackcurrant, blackberry and spicy flavours. The aromas and flavours will vary depending on how long and in type of oak barrel the wine is aged in. American oak barrels will impart smoke, vanilla and coconut flavours that adds to the complexity and character of the wine.
Differences between Syrah and Shiraz
Premium quality Australian Shiraz tends to be more powerful and full bodied than those of the northern Rhone. While in general, Australian Shiraz is not considered to have the same polished elegance of those from the northern Rhone, there are exceptions. Penfold’s Grange, predominantly made of Shiraz, is considered to be one of the finest wines in the world and commands a high price.
The name Shiraz is also that of an ancient city in Iran. It was thought that this was where the grape originated. While this makes for a good story, DNA tests have disproved this theory. The origin of the grape is in France.
Beyond France and Australia top quality Shiraz / Syrah are being made in Chile (for example Marea Valle de Leyda Syrah) and South Africa (as the FRAM Shiraz). The style and character of the wine made depends on where the climate, the soil and the winemaking techniques.
Conclusions about Syrah and Shiraz
Another of the qualities of Syrah or Shiraz is that it makes a great partner for other grape varieties. You will often see wine labels with Syrah or Shiraz blended with other grapes such as works Grenache, which is the same grape as Garnacha, and Mourvedre, known as Monastrell in Spain, or Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Syrah or Shiraz makes a perfect choice for a hearty meat dish, steak o barbecued meats. Lighter styles are ideal to accompany pizzas, roast meats and pasta dishes.
I suggest that you taste a Syrah from the northern Rhone with an Australian Shiraz from McLaren Vale or a South African Shiraz. It is fascinating because they are clear similarities yet at the same time distinctive differences in styles and character. Add a Syrah / Shiraz to your list of wines to taste and let me know what you find.