Generally fashionable alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon with a complex and surprising family background.
In a world where bigger is better, Syrah is the ideal choice. It’s darker than Cabaernet Sauvignon and contains high amounts of health-invigorating antioxidants. Discover the details of Syrah wine in this guide and learn the differences between New World and Old World Syrah.
Syrah Wine Profile
FRUIT: Blackberry, Blueberry and Boysenberry (tart to jammy)
OTHER: Olive, pepper, clove, vanilla, mint, licorice, chocolate, allspice, rosemary, cured meat, bacon fat, tobacco, herbs and smoke
OAK: Yes. Usually medium to high usage of oak aging (of all kinds).
TANNIN: Medium (+)
ACIDITY: Medium (+)
AGEABILITY: Yes. 5-9 years (most) & 12-25 years (age-worthy examples)
COMMON SYNONYMS & REGIONAL NAMES
Shiraz, Sirac, Marsanne Noir, Entournerein, Serène, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Côte-Rôtie, St. Joseph
Facts About Syrah
Hermitage - Some of the most expensive Syrah in the world is from the 130+ ha appellation called Hermitage. The best wines are sourced from a hill close to the village of Tain-l’Hermitage and are noted for their floral and smoky aromas of blackberry and grilled meat.
Name Origin - The word Syrah may hail from “Syracruse” –a city in Sicily. Syracruse was a powerful city during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC.
Lost blend - Before appellation control in France, the Bordelais blended Syrah into their red wines to make them richer. Today, you can commonly find Cabernet-Syrah blends in both Australia and the United States.
Parentage - Two very obscure grapes are the parents of Syrah: Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Dureza is from Southern France, just North of Nimes in the Ardèche department. Mondeuse Blanche can be found in Savoy.
Petite Sirah? Petite Sirah does not mean ‘little Syrah.’ Petite Sirah (aka Durif) is a different grape variety and is the genetic offspring of Syrah and the more rare Peloursin.
Viticulture - Wine growers often say “Syrah likes a view” because the best vineyards are usually towards the top of hills where there is less soil, making the vines produce less (but more concentrated) grapes.
Winemaking Tricks - Because Syrah wines have such thick skins and high tannin, it is a common practice for winemakers to cold soak Syrah grapes for days (or even weeks!). Cold soaking (aka extended maceration) increases color and fruitiness in a wine while also reducing harsh tannin and herbaceous flavors.
World Syrah Wine Regions (186.000 ha)
Syrah Homeland Maps
The Taste of Syrah Wines
Syrah is responsible for some of the darkest full-bodied red wines in the world. It has dark fruit flavors from sweet blueberry to savory black olive. When you taste Syrah you’ll be greeted with a punch of flavor that tapers off and then has a spicy peppery note in the aftertaste. Because of its front-loaded style, Syrah is often blended with grapes that add more mid-palate, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, to help make the wine taste more complete. Traditionally in France, Syrah is blended with light-bodied Grenache and even richer Mourvedre to create the classic Côtes du Rhône blend.
Côte Rôtie or “roasted slope” is one of the most important French appellations for Syrah (alongside Hermitage and Cornas). The best wines offer up flavors of black raspberry, black currant, violet and chocolate along with savory hints of olive, bacon fat, white pepper and powerful charcoal smoke. They are bold yet precise with fine grained tannins.
Vineyard’s position on steep southern-facing slopes that protect from northern winds. The soils producing the boldest wines are clay-based with decomposing schist and mica (minerals), primarily in the center and north of the appellation. In the center and south you’ll find more sandy-granite soils producing more floral aromatics. There are 73 registered vineyard “Crus” so if you find a wine labeled with a cru, look into where that site is located within Côte Rôtie
Some of the best values of the Northern Rhône are found along this 50 km stretch that is Saint-Joseph. Of course, due to the large size the region, you’ll want to be choosy. The wines of St.-Joseph range in taste from spicy flavors of black olive and black pepper to richer, more complex wines similar to those found in Côte Rôtie (see tasting description above!).
Slow change of soils from the northernmost part of the appellation to the south. In the north there are many of the same clay-granite soils as are found in Condrieu or Chateau Grillet and, depending on the position of the vineyard (on a slope or in a valley tributary to the Rhône river), you can find some terrific values here. As they say “Syrah likes a view” so, if you happen to see the wine coming from a sloped vineyard, it’s going to be a pretty sure bet. Meanwhile, in the southern part of Saint-Joseph, south of Sarras, there are more thin soils of marl (clay + lime) and acidic granite. These wines tend to get a bit spicier and fresher as well as more floral.
The largest appellation in the Northern Rhône and also easily confused with Hermitage (the fine wine micro-region), Crozes-Hermitage wines range in quality from simple food wines to awesome Syrahs. The major difference you’ll see here is in tartness due to Crozes-Hermi’s position on the East bank of the river. While this doesn’t at all affect the east-facing and southern facing sloped vineyards in the region (which are known for outstanding wines), facing west tends to deliver more dried herbal notes and tobacco (and less fruit) in the Syrah.
Still the wines here are quite perfumed with suave notes of violet and fresh berries along with keen acidity and tannin. Many vineyards in the region are on pebble-covered terraces with granite-clay soils with a blend of sand (sand usually bumps up the floral aromatics and also seems to lighten the color).
The hill of Hermitage is famous for its emboldened Syrah wines that usually need around 5–10 years before you open them. When you do, you’ll be greeted with heady aromas and layered flavors blackberry, black currant, licorice, coffee, candied cherry and smoke. Wines from L’Ermitage do not come cheap for two reasons: one, the wines are consistently ranked as the best in the Northern Rhône and two, Hermitage has a storied history, which can make tasting these wines feel a bit mystical.
The vineyards on Hermitage hill, which are actually more like a set of 3 adjacent south-facing hills, have been planted since the times of ancient Greece in 500 B.C. The popular story of Hermitage, though, is of a 13th century (1200’s) crusader who was wounded and sought refuge on the hill. He built a chapel and lived out his life in complete solitude, thus the hill was named “hermit’s hill” or Ermitage. Today, there is a tiny reconstructed chapel on Hermitage called Saint-Christopher that sits alone towards the crest of the hill and looks out over the village below.
The soils of the 3 hills change from more granitic clay soils and some loess (wind blown yellow-gray micro soils) to more sandy clay with glacial deposits (e.g. little rocks). So you can expect the wines from the more sandy/glacial soils to have a little less tannin out of the gate and probably be more lush (juicy) and drinkable early on, whereas the granitic clay and clay/limestone sections should produce wines with more tannin and body. This, of course, will all depend on the producer (and what they do in the cellar) and the viticulture in the vineyard.
Typically the boldest and most tannic of all the Northern Rhône Syrah wines, Cornas delivers tongue-staining flavors of blackberry jam, black pepper, violet, charcoal, chalk dust and smoke followed up with grippy intense tannins. Most will recommend to wait about a decade for the tannins to soften and the wines to reveal more kirsch and licorice flavors. However, some of the producers have started practicing more modern techniques to deliver a softer smoother wine right on release. You can expect these wines to have received new oak.
The highest rated vineyards are up the hill behind the city of Cornas where primarily granitic clay soils support steep terraces. As you move south of the city towards Saint-Peray, the hills become more shallow and soils contain a lot more sand. As you can probably already imagine, the sandy soils are capable of delivering the most early approachable Cornas Syrah.
New World vs. Old World
Old World Syrahs from Italy and France tend to have more acidity and earthy-herbaceous aromas. New World-styled Syrah wines from Australia, The U.S. and South America usually have more fruit-driven characteristics with lots of spice. Visualize the common taste of Syrah wines depending on from what part of the world they originate.
Shiraz Australia Wine Regions
The Australian name for the Syrah grape, widely used elsewhere, and therefore a name better known by many consumers than its Rhône original. Because Australian Shiraz was so successful in European markets, the word Shiraz has been used on wine labels for Syrah grown all over the world, notably south Africa, although the word Syrah is also sometimes used to denote a lighter, fresher north Rhône style of wine rather than a typically concentrated, fruit-driven, potent Australian Shiraz.
Barossa Valley is Australian birthplace to some of the highest rated Syrah-based wines in the world. However, despite the region’s fame, Barossa Valley remains somewhat of a provincial wine country. The closest big city to Barossa is Adelaide in South Australia. Low plains from the city of Adelaide lead into rolling hills in a scene that is oddly similar to the Central Valley of California.
Since the root louse that ravaged Europe has never touched the soils in Barossa Valley, the region boasts some of the oldest living vineyards. Along the side of the road to Nuriootpa you will breeze past 100 year old vines, although Henschke’s Hill of Grace Shiraz, also made from some of the oldest vines in the world, grown in the Eden Valley, is a serious rival.
Riverland, Murray Darling and Riverina,
Huge and heavily irrigated wine regions where are produced oceans of inexpensive, sweet, lightweight red wine that have done little for the image of Australian wine in recent years.
Intensively planted, historic South Australian wine region especially noted for rich reds, from 126 producers. These have a distinctive and often useful dash of dark chocolate in their makeup. More controversial is their level of alcohol: seldom less than 14.5% and sometimes in excess of 15.5%. The winemakers’ response is that they are not seeking high alcohol, simply waiting for the right flavour development.
Tar and chocolate are the predominant flavours, while the Shiraz of McLaren Vale (2,882 ha/ 7,122 acres) is rather more open and breezy.
Now an official wine zone, 130 km/ 80 miles north of Sydney. That climate is abnormally hot for a fine wine district, although the heat is partially offset by high humidity, by afternoon cloud cover, and by substantial rainfall during the growing season— less beneficially in the years in which most of the rain falls during harvest. The Hunter Valley is now recognized as the birthplace of the multi-billion dollar-a-year wine making industry. The Hunter is renowned for its full-bodied white wines, 'medium weight reds' and some excellent ports.
Shiraz making extremely distinctive, moderately tannic, and long-lived wines with earth and tar overtones, sometimes described as having the aroma of a sweaty saddle after a hard day’s ride. At 20 to 30 years of age, the best acquire a silky sheen to their texture and move eerily close to wines of similar age from the Rhône Valley in south east France.
Syrah Food Pairing
With its massive full-bodied taste, Syrah pairs great with bold foods. You can pair Syrah with anything from a blue cheese burger to barbecue, the trick is to bring out the subtle nuances in the wine.
Try Using Herbes de Provence Spice your foods with a special blend of herbs originating from the South of France. The floral aromatics of Herbes de Provence with lavendar, fennel and thyme will compliment well with an Old World Syrah.
Soft Cheeses Are Better Work with softer stinkier cheeses, the fat texture and earthy flavors in a cheese such as Abbaye de Belloc will absorb the high tannin in Syrah.
Shiraz and Barbecue Tip The peppery spice in Australian Shiraz works wonders with a peppery barbecue. Try spicing your meats with anise and clove to bring out those subtle nuances in the wine.