Syrah 101: So Nice They Named it Twice

by Payton Alexander

While it’s called Syrah through most of the world, this native of the Rhône Valley goes by Shiraz in Australia. And though they’re both the same grape, this name distinction is used to indicate the different styles of Syrah (or Shiraz!). 

Keep reading to explore the dry, full-bodied, and food-friendly Syrah – where it grows, what it tastes like, and what dishes pair best with it.

What is Syrah? 

Syrah is a dark-skinned grape originating in France but can now be found worldwide. It can be sold as a single varietal (as in that’s the only grape present in the bottle) or be included in a blend. The fourth most planted red grape in the world, Syrah is growing in popularity with nearly half a million acres dedicated to its vines. Its rich, full-bodied characteristics balanced by a food-friendly acidity make Syrah an approachable next step for folks early on their wine journey.

Syrah can be found in France, Italy, Chile, and the United States. Spain and Portugal like to use Syrah as a blending grape. Shiraz is most often found in Australia and South Africa.

Note: Despite its name, Petite Sirah is not the same as Syrah. However, this rare French grape is a cross between Syrah and another uncommon grape, Peloursin. Petite Sirah is also sometimes called Durif.

Related: 5 Great Pinot Noirs for 2022

What Does Syrah Taste Like? 

Like any other varietal, climate and soil play a massive part in how Syrah expresses itself. Cooler climates, like its homeland of the Rhône Valley, coax elegant red and black fruits, herbs, violets, and white pepper notes from the grape. Côte Rôtie, one of the most important and well-known appellations for Syrah, is in the Northern Rhône. Syrah grown on these ‘roasted slopes’ (as the area is named) has a bacon-fat and smoke quality that defines the appellation. 

Shiraz, on the other hand, tends to be bolder and jammier, thanks to the hotter climates of Australia and South Africa. This riper, more powerful style elicits blue fruit flavors and higher alcohol content. While the leaner Syrah grown in the global North usually clocks in around 13-14%, Shiraz can pack a walloping 14.5-15.5% ABV. 

Whether grown in a cool or warm climate, most Syrah is vinified dry. Because of its prominent fruit flavors, Shiraz can give the impression of sweetness though little to no sugar remains in the bottle.

What Food Pairs With Syrah?  

Syrah’s fruit character, relatively high acid, and firm tannins make it a go-to wine for a myriad of dinners. It pairs seamlessly with roasted or grilled meat (think roasted lamb, braised rabbit, and even burgers) and can complement bold spices and fruit sauces. Syrah from Côte Rôtie, with all its smoke and savory olive notes, would love venison bourguignon or seared duck in a cherry sauce.

The big, peppery Shiraz is at home with sausages, barbecue pork, and lamb burgers. It can also play nicely with hard cheeses like cheddar, thanks to its blueberry and raspberry notes providing delicious contrast to the strong cheese.



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