Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is the sixth most planted wine grape on the planet, and it’s grown both in the Old and the New World. It might be far from Cabernet Sauvignon, the world’s most planted grape, but it can surely give it a run for its money.
Syrah has a strong character; it’s not shy at all. Its aromas are intense, and the palate is structured and solid. It certainly can substitute Cabernet on the table, but Syrah doesn’t play second fiddle, it’s a superstar in its own right.
Perhaps you’ve found it as Shiraz, the name Australian gave to the original French grape, but be assured it’s the same varietal. The name is not essential; it’s the grape’s noble character what you’re interested in.
Here’s everything you need to know about Syrah / Shiraz, and why you’ll love it. This is a grape you won’t easily forget, so let’s get started!
Where Does Syrah Come From?
Syrah is deeply entwined with the Rhône River. The lengthy river is born in the Swiss Alps and makes its way through France until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. All this is Syrah territory.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The grape is ancient, the offspring of two forgotten varieties, Dureza, and Mondeuse Blanche, and was born somewhere in the Northern Rhône.
Legend says the Rhone’s wines were already popular with the Ancient Romans, as they loved the product of those spicy red grapes.
During the Middle Ages, the Rhône Syrah was immensely popular, including the ones from the famous hermit hill of Hermitage and the bold wines from the roasted hill, or Côte-Rôtie.
It comes as no surprise European immigrants arriving at the colonies in America, South Africa, and Australia took Syrah with them, and it became a worldwide phenomenon.
Where to Find The Best Syrah?
Arguably, the best wine made from Syrah comes from its hometown, the Rhône Valley. Syrah vines like a view, so they’re planted in the steep vineyards overlooking the Rhône river. The very same terraced vineyards carved by the Romans thousands of years ago.
Appellations in the Northern Rhône, including Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Cornas, produce legendary Syrah, and it can be quite pricey. Further down in the Southern Rhone, Syrah joins its stable partners, Grenache, and Mouvedre, for the most exuberant red blends.
Winemakers in the United States make lots of Syrah wine, especially in California’s warmer areas, like Paso Robles. The French varietal is the signature red grape in Washington State as well.
Although Syrah is also grown in South Africa with great results, we have to give a special mention to Australia. The country has made Shiraz its flagship grape and has taken it to unforeseen flavor and satisfaction levels. Wine coming from the Barossa and the Eden Valley are a thing of legend, so make sure you give them a try.
How Does Syrah Taste Like?
Syrah is a two-sided coin. When it’s grown in cooler sites, including the Rhône Valley, it tastes one way. When grown under the warm Australian sun, it tastes differently.
Cool climate Syrah is a rustic wine, with aromas reminiscent of herbs de Provence, brambly red berries, black pepper, leather, black olives, and even cured meat. Warm-weather Shiraz is a fruit bomb — it tastes like raspberry jam, chocolate, and warm winter spices.
In both cases, Syrah is full-bodied and structured, palate-coating, and lengthy. Spices, fruit, and a rustic charm permeate all Syrah wine, and its untamable character is immediately alluring and almost addictive. When Syrah is blended with other grapes, it adds its body and its extraordinary spice repertoire.
Wine made with Syrah is long-lived as well, and you can enjoy its best examples after fifty or even eighty years. Obviously, no wine collection is complete without a few bottles of the Rhône grape.
How to Pair Syrah With Food?
Syrah is a wild grape with a vigorous personality, making it ideal to be paired with equally wild food like game meat: venison, duck, hare, and wild boar.
Syrah is also the perfect wine for barbecues. Anything kissed by smoke and fire pairs nicely with the Rhône grape, and slow-cooked meat, stews, and rich broths escort the grape beautifully too.
The ripest Shiraz examples, those from the warmest vineyards in the New World, are so lush and sweet you can pair them with chocolate and caramel sauce. Syrah can do it all!
This is not the wine for subtle flavors and delicate food. Syrah is powerful. Nothing but intense flavors and heavy palates. Yet, Syrah is elegant and nuanced in its own way.
Pairing food and wine is all about experimentation, so try your favorite Syrah or Shiraz with anything you please; you’ll instantly know if the pairing works or not.
The Syrah Market
Price-wise, Syrah is quite impressive. You’ll find exceptional bottles at all price points. Some Chilean Shiraz scoring 90+ point cost as low as US$9, and even French examples of extraordinary value cost less than US$50.
Of course, the most expensive Syrah, like the Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage, costs over US$7000, and you’ll be lucky to discover a few bottles at an auction.
From a few bucks to a few thousand dollars, you’ll find it easy to find a nice bottle of Syrah. Actually, it’s hard to spot a lousy one. With grapes with such pedigree, everything is good.
Syrah Needs More Recognition, So Let’s Give The Grape Some Love!
Syrah is a fantastic red grape. It might not be everyone’s darling like Cabernet, but it surely is at the same level, both in quality and age-worthiness.
If you haven’t tried Syrah or Shiraz yet, please do so, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to find a charming bottle. You’ll become a Syrah fan with the first sip. Now become a Syrah ambassador and share its tasty qualities with your loved ones.
Syrah deserves more recognition. It should be higher on the popularity list because it’s been here forever, and it’s not going anywhere. Let’s give the king of the Rhone Valley some love!
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