Syrah is a dark-skinned red wine grape. Its origins have been popularly debated, but its modern viticultural home is unquestionably the northern Rhône 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, is overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) known as Shiraz.
Syrah has proved successful around the world; wines are produced in many styles and display myriad 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.
Syrah is also an extremely useful blending grape due to its deep color and typically high tannins. In the southern Rhône it is common for Syrah to be blended with any combination of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsaut, among others.
Some of the world's most famous Syrah wines are the peppery, earthy reds of the northern Rhône, specifically of the Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Joseph appellations. While Hermitage has been held in high regard for many centuries, the "roasted slopes" of Côte-Rôtie have emerged as a leading source of Syrah only towards the end of the 20th Century. In Côte-Rôtie, up to 20 percent Viognier can be co-fermented with the red grapes to lift aromas and stabilize color; Syrah-Viognier blends are now made in many other regions.
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 Rhône Valley from Hermitage, near the river's origins at the Rhône Glacier, Syrah has found a happy home in the Valais, in warm, sheltered sloping vineyards where it can produce remarkably full, complex wines. A further 700 kilometers (450 miles) east, the grape variety enjoys the climate of eastern Austria's Burgenland, moderated by the waters of Lake Neusiedl.
Across the Atlantic Ocean Syrah has a cult following in the western United States, in California, Washington and Oregon. 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 Rhône Rangers, these men and women have proven that the variety can produce complex, rich wines in all three of the above states.
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.
Synonyms include: Shiraz, Hermitage.
Food matches for Syrah include:
- Cassoulet (hearty stew of confit duck and pork sausage)
- Pork spare ribs with barbecue sauce
- Rosemary-crusted lamb tenderloin with red wine jus