The origin of this wildly popular grape was once hotly contested, with experts at one time thinking it came from Sicily, Italy or Ancient Persia.
But now we know that the grape calls the south of France it’s home, with plenty of plantings throughout Languedoc-Roussillon, but concentrated in the real heartland, the Rhône Valley.
The majority of wines in the northern Rhône are dedicated to single varietal Syrah wines, while the southern Rhône uses Syrah as an integral part of blends. If you like a peppery style of Syrah, look for wines from Cornas, Saint Joseph, or Hermitage. If fruity, medium bodied, and approachable blends are more your style, then look for Côtes du Rhône wines, made from Grenache, Syrah, and other grapes.
Australia has adopted Syrah, or rather Shiraz, as its signature grape. Shiraz is grown widely all over the country, but the best wines to seek out are GSM blends from all around the Victoria province or single varietal Shiraz from Barossa or McLaren Vale. Australian Shiraz comes in a range of styles, from jammy and somewhat simple wines for everyday drinking, to complex blends, to serious wines of excellent complexity that are built to last and evolve over time.
Photo credit: Wines of British Columbia
Syrah is also a popular wine in South Africa and Chile and is gaining momentum in the north island of New Zealand. Closer to home, Syrah is found throughout California and Washington and of course in the Okanagan Valley. Syrah from BC is made in both the more refined Northern Rhône style and the fruitier, bolder Australian Shiraz style. Vancouver Island is a bit too cool to grow Syrah, but there are a few wineries in our own backyard crafting excellent Syrah wines from Okanagan fruit.
Syrah or Shiraz?
Syrah is the French name for the grape, but you may have seen wines, particularly from Australia and other new world countries, call the grape Shiraz. Both names are correct and refer to the same grape! Why do Australians call their wines Shiraz instead of Syrah? It was once thought that this grape originated in Shiraz, Iran – which was at one time the capital of Ancient Persia. When Syrah was first brought over to Australia, the name Shiraz just seemed to stick! Generally, whichever name is shown on a label will be a good indication of the style of the wine.
Syrah is typically reserved for wines that are more French in style, with refined tannins, subtle oak, and a pronounced spicy, meaty, or savoury flavour profile. Shiraz wines will tend to be bolder and plusher with ripe fruit flavours, more overt oak, and a richer texture. Wines styles: Syrah wines can taste different depending on where they are from and how they’re made. But despite these terroir related differences, there are some basic characteristics of the grape that will generally always be the same. Syrah is a deeply coloured and tannic grape. The wines have a dark, inky purple colour to them, and the tannins are always high, though the texture or mouthfeel can vary.
Syrah from cooler climates will have fine-grained, refined tannins, while Syrah from warm climates feels softer and more velvety. The deep colour, high tannins, and generally bold flavours of Syrah make it a great wine to hold in your cellar.
The flavour profile is bold and fragrant with a complex range of aromatics that cover fruits, flowers, spices, and earthiness. A typical Syrah wine may taste like black cherry, cured meats, fresh cracked pepper, violets, and black olive. Syrah also have a great affinity to oak and is complemented by flavour from barrels such as vanilla, smoke, coffee, and chocolate. Warm climate Shiraz will focus more on the fruity flavours, while cool climate Syrah is spicy and more earthy.
Syrah is most commonly crafted as a single varietal wine, with nothing else blended in. Sometimes, usually in the northern Rhône, a winemaker will blend in a small amount of Viognier, which helps to soften tannins slightly and gives an extra boost to the aromatics, bolstering floral notes and adding a layer of nuance to the wine.
Syrah is also a key component in blended wines, the most famous being Côtess du Rhône. These southern Rhône wines blend together Grenache (light and fruity) with Syrah (structured and savoury) and Mourvèdre (rich and pigmented). In Australia, GSM blends have become a popular style, mirroring these Côtes du Rhône wines. Both tend to be easy drinking and fruity with a hint of spice.
A unique and quirky style made almost exclusively in Australia is sparkling Shiraz. These red, sparkling wines are an unusual experience! They have the same fruit and floral notes of the still wines, and even sometimes a smoky or spicy note as well. The tannins are present, though much less bold, and balanced out with a touch of sweetness and lively bubbles.
Syrah’s that are more in the old world, or slightly lighter, style will have more refined tannins and less overt oak influence. Wines like this are still bold, but more restrained and elegant. These wines will pair well with lamb and game meat dishes. Since this style tends to have generous spice flavours, don’t be scared to play around with your spice rack! Echo those flavours in your dish by adding allspice, clove, nutmeg, and pepper. For a plant-based pairing, try marinating eggplant with your favourite spice combo and throwing it on the grill.
Bolder and more fruit-forward Shiraz wines have a richer texture, jammy flavour, and more influence from oak and grippier tannins. This in-your-face style will be great with barbecued or braised meats. These wines complement sweet sauces and are a great foil to rich gravies. If you prefer a plant-based pairing, try smoked tofu or seitan with teriyaki sauce.
Try out some of our favourite Syrah and Shiraz wines!
JL Chave Selection Offerus Saint Joseph
Ripe black cherry fruitiness mingled with a smoky and black olive savouriness. The tannins are bold but supple, giving this wine a long life. Great for cellaring, or drinking now after a short decant.
Brotte La Fiole Cotes du Rhone
A Grenache dominant blend, with Syrah added to build structure and lend pepper and violet aromas alongside sweet spices and raspberry jam. Easy drinking and approachable.
Yangarra Estate GSM
Drinking like an elevated Côtes du Rhône, this Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre blend is complex and sophisticated with bold aromatics of peppercorn, licorice, dark cherry, and earth.
Pirramimma McLaren Vale Shiraz
Ripe and plush, bursting with flavours of plum and black cherry alongside chocolate, vanilla, and toasted coconut.
Okanagan fruit crafted in the Cowichan Valley, this wine is refined and elegant with notes of cocoa, fresh ground coffee, blackberry, and pink peppercorn.
Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz
A small amount of Viognier is blended into this wine to boost floral aromatics which perfectly accompany the rich, dark fruit flavours, soft tannins, and spicy finish.