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Syrah or Shiraz? That’s the question! To get that question out of the way; different name for the same grape. Syrah is the old-school name, used mainly in its origin country France & other Northern Hemisphere countries. The name Shiraz is used in the Southern Hemisphere, with Australia as dominant wine region. In this essay, I will use Syrah as reference.
Syrah is a small thick skinned grape, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Its origin is the Northern-Rhone, France. Due to the steep slopes, Manual labour can only be done here, producing expensive, full-bodied wines with more savoury, herbaceous & spice flavours. The wines from here are lighter in style compared with the more fruit driven ones from other parts of the world & is often blended with Grenache. Cote Rotie & Hermitage are leading examples. Anyone a Chateauneuf-Du-Pape or a Rosé from Southern-Rhone? Want to stay in France, but don’t want to splash the cash? Minervois in South-France wine region is the place to go.
Another country where loads of Syrah is produced, is Australia (Shiraz on the label). Here, the wines are more fruit-driven, still bold & full-bodied with dark fruit, more sweet spice & dark chocolate flavours. Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale & Barossa Valley are the places to look for. More Northern-Rhone style, but with the fruit can be found in the Victoria region.
Other parts of the world are New-Zealand, South-Africa, South America (look out for Brazil), USA & even Spain & Italy.
The climate has an important play on Syrah. The grape tolerates moderate & hot climates. With the medium level of tannins, medium to high acidity, full body spice & black fruit flavours it produces a lighter more savoury style in the more moderate climates. In the hot climates, the fruit really comes alive, with added flavours of chocolate & sweet spice. Syrah benefits from oak aging, where either barrel, staves or chips are used to add those toast, smoky, coconut & vanilla hints. Aging develops more vegetal & animal flavours such as leather, wet leaves & earthy notes.
Like said, Syrah is often blended with Grenache. Sometimes the Mourvedre grape is added to the blend, making the so-called GSM-wines (abbreviations for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). France is big on this. Australia adds Shiraz with its Cabernet Sauvignons, giving soft- & richness to the blend.
A funny traditional Northern-Rhone thing as well is that sometimes the white grape Viognier is added, giving that smoothness, texture & tropical fruit.
With its spicy notes, Syrah goes well with rich smoked meats. Think lamb, game, BBQ & (Sunday) roast. To pair Syrah well, the use of (floral) herbs in a dish is important. Fatty, soft, stinky cheeses pair well too.
Btw, there is a little sister out there too, called Petit Sirah. Similar style, mainly planted in the USA.
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