Syrah is a dark-skinned red grape, known for producing very full-bodied wine with strong fruit flavors. Its origins have been popularly debated, but its modern viticultural home is unquestionably the northern Rh?ne Valley of eastern France.
In Australia, Syrah is the flagship variety and has developed such a distinct personality that it is essentially regarded as a distinct variety, overwhelmingly but not exclusively known as Shiraz.
The most searched-for Syrah on Wine-Searcher is the Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage.
Origins of Syrah
DNA profiling has shown that Syrah is a cross between two minor Rh?ne varieties: Dureza (a black-skinned grape) and Mondeuse Blanche (a white grape), neither of which today are prolifically planted. This proves Syrah's origins in Rh?ne. Previous held theories have included the Greek island of Syrah and the city of Shiraz in Iran.
Syrah has proved successful in multiple viticultural areas around the world; wines are produced in many styles and display myriad of dark-fruit flavors.
Varietal Syrah can be quite floral in its youth, developing white and black pepper aromas and herbaceous notes as it ages. Some examples show tanned leather and smoky scents, while the fruit in these wines tends towards the very dark flavors of blackcurrant and licorice.
Old World styles of Syrah are generally produced in a more earthy and savoury style in comparison to the New World where fruit-foward notes are more common.
Syrah is an extremely useful blending grape. The thick-skins of the grape create a high tannin content and contribute a deep ruby-red color to the blend with an intense purple hue.
In C?te-R?tie, up to 20-percent Viognier can be co-fermented with the red grapes to lift aromas and stabilize color although 10-percent is closer to the norm. Syrah-Viognier blends are now made in many other regions, most prolifically in Australia and California.
While Syrah is grown in numerous regions, it is primarily found in the temperate to warm viticultural areas. As of 2016, approximately 35-percent of the world's Syrah was found in France, followed by Australia with 20-percent and Spain with 10-percent.
Syrah in France
Some of the world's most famous Syrah wines are the peppery, earthy reds of the northern Rh?ne, specifically of the C?te-R?tie, Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Joseph appellations. While Hermitage has been held in high regard for many centuries, the "roasted slopes" of C?te-R?tie have emerged as a leading source of Syrah only towards the end of the 20th Century.
One of Syrah's most valued assets is its ability to produce wines capable of aging and improving over many decades. The most valued appellation in this regard is the hill of Hermitage; its name is so respected that for many years it was used as a synonym for Syrah in Australia. A well-built Hermitage requires 10 years or more to relax into its plummy, spicy fullness, and will reward cellaring for a further decade at least.
Several hundred miles up the Rh?ne Valley from Hermitage, near the river's origins at the Rh?ne Glacier, Syrah has found a happy home in the Valais, in warm, sheltered sloping vineyards where it can produce remarkably full, complex wines.
Syrah in America
Syrah has a cult following in California, Washington and Oregon. In the particularly warm climates such as that of Napa Valley, it is blended more often than it is produced as a varietal wine. In Washington, it is the AVAs of Naches Heights and Walla Walla that the variety is popular.
While it has not seen the runaway success enjoyed by Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, nor the feverish worship of Pinot Noir, a dedicated band of American winemakers has been devotedly working with Syrah since the 1970s. Known as the Rh?ne Rangers, these men and women have proven that the variety can produce complex, rich wines in all three of the above states.
Other Syrah regions
The grape variety enjoys the climate of eastern Austria's Burgenland, moderated by the waters of Lake Neusiedl. Elsewhere in Europe, Syrah is found throughout central Italy, Alentejo of Portugal and Castilla-la Mancha and Aragon of Spain.
Further south, Syrah has been proving itself in both Chile and Argentina for at least 20 years, and is finding its own style on either side of the Andean peaks. It has also achieved success in New Zealand, and in South Africa.
As a young vine, Syrah is a vigorous variety that requires attentive canopy management from vignerons. Once vines reach a decade or so in age, Syrah is more known for its ability to withstand drought-like conditions making it an ideal variety for warmer viticultural regions.
Syrah has loose bunches of big grapes meaning the susceptibility it has to various mildew diseases is minimal. For Syrah vineyards to be successful, the correct choice of rootstock is required to ensure that grapes don't excessively shrivel prior to harvest.
Synonyms for Syrah
Not to be confused with: Petite Sirah; also known as Durif, is a descendant of Syrah and Peloursin Noir.
Hermitage; Although occasionally referred to as a distinct variety, Hermitage is the appellation with Syrah as the primary red grape variety.
Other synonyms include: Shiraz, Sira, Sirac, Sirah and Syra.
Best food pairings for Syrah
The robust tannins and intense flavors of Syrah require a food pairing that will hold its own. Red meats, game birds and goat based dishes work well with the medium to high tannin profile. Vegetarian options include grilled mushrooms, eggplant lasagne and lentil-based burgers.
Lighter, fruit-forward styles of Syrah work well with the creamy components of soft and strong flavored cheeses such as Muenster or Chevre. Refrain from pairing Syrah with delicate cheeses as well as any seafood or light vegetable based dishes.