Often championed as the noblest black grape varietal, Syrah/Shiraz perpetually produces some of the finest red wines in the world and ones capable of ageing superbly over a period of decades. As one of France’s most ancient varieties, Syrah is responsible for some of the greatest reds in northern Rhone, where it is renowned in the wines of Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Cornas. Shiraz, the Australian name for the Syrah grape, has been so successful it is commonly used on wine labels for Syrah grown all over southern Europe and occasionally inclusive of even the French Languedoc. Viticulturally Shiraz and Syrah are identical however the resulting wines are markedly different, with the former often being sweeter and more suggestive of chocolate than their peppery and spicier Old World counterparts due to the balmier climate and consequently early ripening potential of the grapes. Here is some information on this well-travelled black grape to hopefully help you buy Syrah/Shiraz wines.
The origins of Syrah have been hotly debated although the most commonly recalled hypothesis suggests Syrah is a direct descendant of the vine family VITIS allobrogica which was responsible for producing fine wines in the Rhone in Ancient Roman times, and it is therefore widely deemed France’s oldest grape varietal. Its transition to the New World under the guise of Shiraz most probably occurred in 1832, when James Busby took the vines to Australia where it has thrived ever since and is largely responsible for some of the country’s most acclaimed wines.
Where is Syrah/Shiraz grown?
Although not as well-travelled in the New World as Cabernet Sauvignon, this disease resistant grape has proven very successful in Argentina, California, South Africa and as aforementioned most prominently in Australia, where there are now almost twice as many hectares of Shiraz planted than in the Rhône Valley. The Barossa Valley in South Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales in particular, are two of the most noted regions in the world for Shiraz.
Wine Styles of Syrah/Shiraz
Typically Syrah is very deep in colour and has blackberry fruit flavours and a smoky, herbaceous style, although it’s dense, fruit driven qualities are reduced once a yield is allowed to rise and it will inevitably loose its aroma and acidity if left on the vine for too long. In cooler climates the tannin levels can be very high and the blackberry fruit can be accompanied by notes of black pepper and sometimes mint. Hot climate Shiraz has a fuller body, with soft tannins and earthy, leathery flavours with spicy notes that are more like liquorice and anise. Australian Shiraz can vary quite significantly from the ubiquitously inexpensive brown-like, almost baked red wines with little ageing capacity, to the gloriously concentrated, full-bodied wines that are regularly trumpeted during awards’ season.
When to drink Syrah/Shiraz
Syrah is often used as part of a blend in France and also in Australia where Cabernet-Shiraz is a very successful style and like Cabernet Sauvignon; the grape in its various global manifestations can age very well, particularly those from Hermitage or the top signature Australian Shiraz wines. Syrah has enjoyed a serious revival in France of late, re-emerging from the staid reputation it earned during the 1970s to thrive, chiefly throughout southern Rhone in Châteauneuf-du-Pape country. Here it is often blended with Grenache which endows with greater ageing potential. Wines made in the light fruity style with minimal oak ageing are best enjoyed when young. Syrah that has not been allowed to mature can be astringent and sometimes unpleasant on the nose.
Our top three Syrah/Shiraz wines under £15
Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 2008, South Eastern Australia
Decanter claimed this Shiraz to be “big, gutsy and meaty but nicely balanced, with a soft, velvety finish” and in addition to being an awarding wine, it also boasts an interesting story. George Wyndham is the father of Australian Shiraz, having planted Australia's first commercial Shiraz vineyard in 1830. The Wyndham Estate Bin wines are blends from fruit sourced from some of Australia’s premium viticultural regions and the subsequent wine is a delightfully deep crimson red with a beautiful purple hue. The seasonal conditions and the meticulous picking of the finest and fully matured Shiraz parcels has resulted in a wine that is ripe with blackberries, plum and dark cherry fruits on the palate, enhanced by a chocolaty and mocha aroma.
JJ Hahn Reginald Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2009
JJ Hahn’s range is a particular favourite within the office and their Shiraz is no different. Despite their geographical isolation from the Old World, Australia remains a hotbed of winemaking talent perpetually churning out unconventionally brilliant wines and the JJ Hahn Reginald Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is a testament to the winemaking ingenuity of the region. This wine is a blend made from grapes from two vineyards on the Western Ridge that are vinified separately and aged in French and American oak barrels for a year prior to blending. It has an elegantly rich palate that boasts blackberry notes and supple tannins. There is a sweet spicy aroma of dark chocolate and liquorice it is perfect with beef or lamb.
Les Collines de Laure Syrah 2009, Jean-Luc Colombo
An award-winning Syrah with grapes that are hand-harvested from Cornas vineyards in the Rhône Valley, the winemaker, Jean-Luc Colombo has a background in pharmacology and his scientific approach has resulted in the production of a delicious wine boasting a rich and spicy palate with a harmoniously long finish. The wine is bottled seven months after the harvest to preserve its fruitiness and this really is a lovely wine.
CellarVie Wines’ best value Syrah/Shiraz
La Campagne Syrah 2010/11, Pays d'Oc
Much like the whole Campagne range, their Syrah is infinitely drinkable and an excellent example as to why the Languedoc region in France is considered a centre of excellence for the Syrah grape, where it has been officially approved as an ‘improving variety’. Made in a New World style, the wine endures a long maceration period in order to extract all the beautiful colour and luscious fruit, while ensuring there is not too much tannin. The deep purple wine is rich, juicy and with a soft, spicy palate.
Did you know
DNA profiling analysis in 1998 established that Syrah was the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-eastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.
Syrah is the 7th most grown grape in the world.
Syrah/Shiraz also by other, lesser-known synonyms such as Balsamina, Candive, Hignin Noir, Marsanne Noir, Sirac, Syra, and Sereine.
What food to eat with Syrah/Shiraz
Syrah/Shiraz wines are very versatile in terms of matching with food and this is perhaps testament to this grape’s varied global facades. The spicier and more concentrated Syrah wines from northern Rhône are a decent match for most gamey meats such as grouse or guinea fowl due to the smoky palate. Full-bodied Australian Shiraz is slightly sweeter with riper fruit flavours that marry well with barbequed meats such as lamb, beef, or spicy sausages, but it’s generally too heavy for fish and seafood dishes unless accompanied by tomato based sauces such as lobster fra diavolo for the aspirational! American Syrahs tend to be similar in style to the Australian model and therefore barbecued foods, lamb chops, venison and gamey meats tend to work well.
Perfect Syrah/Shiraz food match
Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Shiraz, California 2009 and grilled hamburgers
Fondly remembered as the "Father of Californian Winemaking", Robert Mondavi certainly did more than most to raise the profile of America as a source of top quality wine, and the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Shiraz, California 2009 is lovely example of their lasting legacy. To ripen fully Syrah/Shiraz demands a warmer climate and the Napa Valley in California naturally lends itself to this late budding grape. This shiraz bursts with layers of black cherry, blueberry and plum, with nuances of dark chocolate and crushed spice on a velvety finish having been barrel aged for a short period in American oak; the blend includes about 7% of other varieties such as Cabernet and the white grape Viognier, occasionally mixed with Syrah in the Rhône Valley, to increase the wines complexity. The resulting wine is a perfect food match, but like most Syrah/Shiraz wines you will need a suitably powerful culinary marriage so not to be overpowered, as a result this is actually a lovely wine to pair with cheese. Why not couple this wine with some typically American, hearty, grilled hamburgers.