Pronunciation: SEER-ah, SI-raw, or shih-RAHZ
Syrah, also known as Shiraz in some regions, is a dark-skinned wine grape from the Rhône Valley, France. Now grown around the world it makes deep, black fruited red wines.
Here’s what you need to know about Syrah wine.
- What Kind of Wine Is Syrah?
- Where Does Syrah Wine Come From?
- Syrah/Shiraz in the Rhône Valley
- What Does Syrah Smell Like?
- How to Serve Syrah Wine
- Syrah Synonyms
- Syrah/Shiraz Food Pairing Suggestions
- Syrah Winemaking Processes
- Notable Syrah Producers and Bottles to Try
- Final Thoughts – Syrah as Must-Try Red Wine Varietal
What Kind of Wine Is Syrah?
Syrah is a full-bodied red wine with medium to high acidity, pronounced tannins, and medium to high alcohol content. It offers a range of styles, showcasing diverse characteristics depending on the winemaker.
Where Does Syrah Wine Come From?
Syrah originates from the Rhône Valley in France, where it holds a rich winemaking tradition. The region of Côte-Rôtie is famous for producing exceptional Syrah wines. Additionally, Syrah has gained popularity in various regions around the world, including Australia, where it is known as Shiraz.
Syrah/Shiraz in the Rhône Valley
In the Rhône Valley, Syrah takes center stage in some of the most iconic appellations, such as:
- Hermitage, and
These appellations highlight the excellence of Syrah winemaking and the expression of its unique terroir.
Helpful Wine Buying Tip: Saint-Joseph offers more affordable Syrah wines than Côte-Rôtie and is a great starting point to French Syrahs.
Shiraz in Australia
Australia has embraced Syrah, locally referred to as Shiraz, and earned a global reputation for producing bold and rich expressions of this grape. Look for regions like:
- Barossa Valley
- McLaren Vale
You’ll also find huge quantities of inexpensive, entry-level Shiraz wines from Australia. These usually come from inland regions that enjoy flat, fertile valleys capable of growing impressive quantities of wine grapes. If you’re on a strict wine budget, Australia can offer inexpensive Shiraz at a price where you can enjoy wine with every meal.
Helpful Tip: Wine Australia has some of the best wine education content on the web. If you’re serious about upping your wine game, go check them out!
Other Notable Syrah Growing Regions
Outside of France and Australia, Syrah flourishes in different wine regions worldwide. In the United States, California’s Central Coast, specifically Paso Robles, produces outstanding Syrah wines. Chile, South Africa, Spain, and Italy have also made their mark in Syrah production, each offering unique expressions.
What Does Syrah Smell Like?
Syrah displays a captivating range of aromas, which can vary based on the region and winemaking style. Key notes include:
- black currant
- hints of black pepper
- smoked meat
Warm Climate Syrah Aromas
In warmer climates, you may encounter riper fruit flavors, like jammy and confected notes. You’ll also get higher alcohol levels, which can enhance aromatics.
Cool Climate Syrah Aromas
Syrahs from cooler regions may emphasize more herbal and peppery characteristics. I often get olive notes.
Fun Wine Fact: Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape variety, but the names can indicate different styles and regional influences. Example: If you purchase a Shiraz made in California, it will have an Australian winemaking style and be fuller-bodied and riper.
What Does Syrah Taste Like?
Syrah/Shiraz exhibits a bold and intense flavor profile that delights the palate. Expect a burst of dark fruit flavors, such as blackberry and blueberry, complemented by subtle spicy undertones. The wine’s natural acidity brings vibrancy, while the pronounced tannins add structure and a velvety texture.
On the palate, Shiraz has an intense flavor profile of black fruit, pepper, and licorice.
Winemakers often use oak barrels or oak alternatives when making Syrah wine. This can add coffee, mocha, leather, and smoke.
Helpful Tip: Go check out this post on what oak adds to wine.
I always find Syrah to have a deeply seductive and assertive character, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a powerful red wine experience.
Is Syrah a Heavy Wine?
Syrah wines can range from medium-bodied to full-bodied, but many examples tend to be full-bodied, especially in warmer climates. High-quality Syrah wines often have a rich and weighty presence.
How to Serve Syrah Wine
Syrah Serving Temperature
Serve Syrah slightly below room temperature, around 60-65°F (15-18°C). This allows the wine’s complex aromas to shine while preserving its structure and balance.
Opt for a large-bowled red wine glass that allows ample space for aeration. The broad bowl will capture and enhance the wine’s aromas. Always look for wine glasses with a slightly tapered rim. This concentrates aromas up towards your nose. Nice!
Most Syrah/Shiraz wines benefit from decanting, especially those from warmer regions. Decanting for 30 minutes to an hour can help the wine open up.
Helpful Tip: If you’re drinking an inexpensive Syrah wine, don’t let it sit. Give it a good swirl. If it seems aromatic and perfumed, it’s ready to drink.
Syrah Aging Potential
Syrah has excellent aging potential thanks to intense fruit flavors, solid tannin levels, and higher alcohol – all qualities that make a wine ageable. Certain high-quality bottles can evolve and improve over 5-10 years or even longer. Aging allows the wine to develop complexity and additional layers of flavors.
Helpful Syrah Drinking Tip: If you’re buying an inexpensive Syrah or Shiraz wine, don’t cellar it. Enjoy within 1-2 years of buying. These inexpensive Shiraz wines are made to be opened today.
Syrah/Shiraz is known by various names worldwide. Some notable synonyms are: Antourenein noir, Candive, Entournerein, Hermitage, Hignin noir, Marsanne noir, Shiraz, Sira, Sirac, Sirah, Syra, and Syrac.
Syrah/Shiraz Food Pairing Suggestions
Syrah’s bold and robust nature makes it a fantastic partner for rich and flavorful dishes. Consider pairing it with grilled or roasted meats, especially those with smoky or spicy elements, or heavier vegetarian dishes.
Bold cheeses and dishes featuring black pepper or savory herbs also make excellent companions for this big red wine. This is a wine to break out the flavors.
Discover: Syrah Cheese Pairing Guide
Quick Tips: Syrah Shiraz Food Pairing
- Grilled steak with a black pepper rub
- Spice rubbed BBQ ribs
- Aged Gouda or blue cheese with fig jam
Check out this full guide to Syrah wine pairing if you’re looking for more inspiration.
Syrah vs. Other Varietals
Check out this chart for an at-a-glance comparison of Syrah and other red wines:
Comparing Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir
|Color and Hue
|Deep ruby to purple hues with great depth
|Ruby-red with garnet or brick-red reflections
|Deep ruby-red to garnet hues
|Pale to medium ruby-red with translucence
|Typically dry with minimal residual sugar
|Usually dry with subtle sweetness
|Usually dry with subtle sweetness
|Mostly dry with occasional off-dry examples
|Medium to high acidity
|Medium to high acidity
|Medium to high tannins
|Low to medium tannins
|14% – 16%
|13% – 15%
|13.5% – 15.5%
|12.5% – 14.5%
|Medium to full-bodied
|Light to medium-bodied
|Bold and intense
|Bold and intense
|Delicate and nuanced
|Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale (Australia)
|Bordeaux (France), Napa Valley (California)
|Bordeaux (France), Napa Valley (California)
|Burgundy (France), Oregon (USA)
|Grilled or roasted meats (steak, lamb), barbecue dishes, spicy cuisine, bold cheeses
|Roasted or grilled poultry, pork, mushroom-based dishes, tomato-based pasta, soft cheeses
|Grilled or roasted red meats (steak, lamb), hearty stews, aged cheeses
|Grilled or roasted poultry, pork, salmon, mushroom-based dishes, soft cheeses, risotto
Syrah has a unique profile when compared with other popular red wine varieties. It’s a robust, full-bodied, spicy red wine. You’ll find it has more tannins and black fruit than Merlot. Syrah lacks the green minty flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon. As for Pinot Noir’s delicate red fruit flavors, Syrah isn’t even in the same category.
Fun Wine Fact: Grape researchers aren’t sure exactly how old Syrah is, but it’s old. There’s some speculation that it was around in 77 AD and written about by Pliny the Elder, a Roman gourmand and naturalist.
Syrah Winemaking Processes
The winemaking process plays a significant role in shaping the flavors and characteristics of Syrah wines. Winemakers employ various techniques to bring out the grape’s natural qualities and create unique expressions of this big red wine.
Syrah is known for its reductive nature, meaning it can develop garlicy/rubbery notes during the fermentation process if not closely monitored.
Helpful Syrah Drinking Tip: If you get a funky smelling Syrah, run it through an aerator or give it a vigorous swirl. This will blow off that funky smell. This is leftover from fermentation.
Viognier and Syrah
An intriguing technique in Syrah winemaking is co-fermentation with Viognier. Co-fermenting a small percentage of white Viognier grapes with Syrah is a practice borrowed from the Northern Rhône region of France. Viognier is a variety known for its floral aromatics and luscious texture. When co-fermented with Syrah, it can enhance the wine’s color stability, add floral aromas, and contribute to a silkier mouthfeel.
One of the key elements in Syrah winemaking is the choice of aging vessels. Large neutral oak barrels are commonly used to help soften the wine’s tannins and stabilize color, but not impart any oak flavors. These barrels have been used for several years, allowing the wine to develop complexity and a smooth mouthfeel while maintaining the fruit’s primary qualities.
Alternatively, some winemakers opt for stainless steel tanks or concrete vats for aging Syrah. These vessels offer a more neutral environment, maintaining the wine’s purity and preserving its fruit-forward profile. Stainless steel tanks are particularly popular for producing fruit-focused, fresh Syrah wines, as they do not introduce any oak flavors.
Small oak barrels, often made from French or American oak, are also used in Syrah winemaking. These barrels impart more pronounced oak flavors, including notes of vanilla, spice, and toasted wood. When used judiciously, they can add layers of complexity to the wine and complement its robust character.
Notable Syrah Producers and Bottles to Try
Syrah’s grown around the winemaking world, so you have lots of options for delicious bottles. Here are a few producers/regions you’ll want to keep an eye out for:
Côte-Rôtie (Rhône Valley, France) – This is a region, not an actual winery/producer. Because it’s France, you may not see the word ‘Syrah’ on the label, so look for Côte-Rôtie instead and you’ll be enjoying Syrah.
- Mollydooker (McLaren Vale, Australia)
- Ramey Wine Cellars (Healdsburg, California, USA)(Personal Favorite)
- Tablas Creek Vineyard (Paso Robles, California, USA).
These wineries offer a diverse selection of Syrah/Shiraz wines, each showcasing its own unique style and expression.
Final Thoughts – Syrah as Must-Try Red Wine Varietal
With its striking and powerful flavors, impressive structure, and aging potential, Syrah/Shiraz is a wine that should be on every drinker’s wine shelf. Remember these key takeaways:
- Powerful Flavor Profile: Shiraz showcases dark fruit flavors, black pepper spice, and a velvety texture that lingers.
- Power Pairings: Shiraz complements a wide range of hearty dishes, from grilled meats to savory cheeses, making it a great choice for hearty cuisine.
- Global Influence: Syrah comes in different styles depending on the winemaker. Look for rich, jammy, fruit-forward Shiraz from Australia and peppery, restrained Syrah from France. Use label clues to help you figure out what wine style’s inside your bottle.
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