In the world of wine, nothing is ever easy. One vineyard produces a wine from a certain varietal that tastes a certain way, and their next door neighbour will use the same varietal and the wine will be entirely different. One single grape can have a dozen synonyms or more. It can be grown in France, Canada, Chile, or Australia, each making a different tasting wine. Syrah is one of those grapes.
For some people, they would be surprised to know that France is the actual homeland of the Syrah grape. For others, they would be surprised to know that France grows Syrah at all. To make matters worse, when they do make Syrah in France, they hardly ever explicitly say it! Typical French, never labeling their bottles with what’s inside it.
Syrah originates from the Rhone Valley in France, and it is actually widely planted all over Southern France. Basically, if you are in Mediterranean France, you can bet there is some Syrah kicking around.
Although planted all over from Roussillon to Provence, Syrah really shines in the Northern Rhone, where it is made into single varietal wines. Some particularly well known appellations include St. Joseph, Cornas, Hermitage, and Crozes Hermitage.
Here, Syrah makes very meaty and spicy wines that can age for years. In fact, if you have ever had a proper French Syrah, you would be surprised to know it has anything in common with the jammy Australian Shiraz so predominant these days.
In the Rhone Valley, the climate is not quite as warm as in Australian, and many winemakers prefer to pick their grapes earlier, so the flavours are less ripe. This, in addition to the unique soils and surroundings, makes a wine that is medium bodied, tannic, high acid, and dominated by notes of raspberry, black fruits, and the unmistakable taste of bacon and bacon fat. In fact, some versions can be very Pinot Noir like.
Moving to the Southern Rhone valley, where blends are the name of the game, Syrah takes a backseat to Grenache and Mourvedre. Because they aren’t single varietal wines, I won’t go into too much detail, but the style of the Southern Rhone is quite like the rest of Syrah based wines from Mediterranean France. These wines are higher alcohol, riper, and showing more red fruit flavours, as opposed to dark fruit.
These wines are very nice with game such as venison, or with very strong flavoured dishes like peppercorn crusted steaks, duck breast, or other grilled and smoky meat.
Meanwhile, in Australia, they prefer to call their grape Shiraz. This is a reference to the Persian city of Shirazi, where are one point, many believed Syrah came from. The myth had already been disproven, but the Australians were keen on making this old French grape into a style all their own. So, they dubbed it Shiraz, and the rest is history.
Because of the searing heat, and many New World winemaker’s preference for big, ripe and rich wines, the Shiraz here will be extremely different than in France.
You can expect very full bodied and high alcohol wines, with dark fruit, gasoline, and eucalyptus flavours. In fact, one of the tell tale signs of an Australian red wine (often Shiraz or Cabernet) is that eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus trees are everywhere in this part of Australia, with many of them being right next to some of these vineyards. Because eucalyptus leaves contain essential oils, these become airborne and find their way into the wines. This is a very unique characteristic, and loved by many.
Even though France does not have this, resinous and oily herbs are found in the south and many Mediterranean French wines have this aroma in them. If you have ever heard the term “garrigue” that is the wild herbal shrubs found all over the south, containing everything from rosemary and thyme to lavender. As for the eucalyptus infused Shiraz of Australia, enjoy them with hearty steaks, grilled lamb, or gourmet burgers.
Well, which one sounds better to you? Although made from the same grape, these two wines are wildly different. Both are delicious, and have their own place at the dinner table.
If you can’t decide, grab a bottle of each and try them side by side to get a good idea of the differences between them. In fact, you can even buy “Syrah” and “Shiraz” styles from all over.
Chile makes a fantastic Syrah for about half the price of the French ones, and South Africa has been known to make rich and jammy Shiraz styled wines.
Whatever your preference, you are sure to find something you like, armed with a little knowledge and open mind.