Syrah or Shiraz, as it’s known in Australia, is the same grape but some of the differences in taste between regions are so great that it might lead you to believe otherwise.
Syrah is a big red, typically full bodied with pepper, chocolate and dark fruit flavor; Syrah is noted for its spicy character, particularly Australian Shiraz. These wines are often blended with different grapes (red and white as we’ll cover) although they can stand nicely on their own. I find them to be very food friendly as well, perfect with grilled meats, barbeque, sausage or roast pork.
There are four regions where Syrah is best known: the Rhone region in France, all over Australia including the famed Barossa Valley, Argentina and in the US.
Rhone Valley in France
The Rhone Valley in France offers high quality wines for the money and you should be able to find quite a few different bottles at most stores in the US. I get into more detail on the Rhone Valley on the French wine page, but this is prime growing territory for Syrah. In Northern Rhone you find more straight Syrah wines while in the Southern part you will find blends that utilize Syrah as well as Grenache and smaller parts Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan.
An interesting practice that you see in Northern Rhone is the blending of small parts of white wine (mostly Viognier) with Syrah which brings new layers of complexity and style. This is also popular in Australia.
Shiraz has become the powerhouse grape for Australia and some world famous wines have been produced as a result. Shiraz is grown all over Australia but I’m going to focus on three big areas that will help you get acquainted with these wines: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley.
Barossa Valley is probably the most popular region for Shiraz in Australia and bottles should be plentiful at your wine shop. These wines are also amazing bargains, with some bottles priced at $20 tasting like they cost $50. It’s a fun world to explore too because the Australian winemakers use a lot of creativity with their bottle labels. Some Barossa Valley wines to note would be: Earthworks, Yalumba, Penfolds and Wolf Blass.
McLaren Vale is an Australian region on the rise with more and more bottles seemingly on the shelf every trip I make to the store. d’Arenberg Stump Jump is an awesome bottle from here that costs under $15. Clare Valley is solid too. One of my favorites from here is the Jim Barry, The Lodge Shiraz.
In Australia, you will also find many Shiraz blended wines. As noted, we’re seeing more and more Shiraz Viognier bottles, and since Cabernet Sauvignon grows so well, the Shiraz/Cab blends are really excellent too.
Syrah from Argentina is huge on flavor. It doesn’t hold anything back and with the right meal to complement their boldness, these wines are awesome. You’ll find blends from Argentina as you do with many of the other regions. Make sure you experiment with these wines. The South American style Syrah might be right up your alley (I love to throw them in the mix occasionally). Montes makes a nice one for under $20.
Syrah in the United States
This is one that you’re going to have to explore. In the US, Syrah takes on many different characteristics in the areas of the country where it is grown.
California is an important region, namely Napa and the Carneros area. You will find these wines priced all over the place, starting around $10 on the low end. Over in Paso Robles, there is a group known as the Rhone Rangers, who are popularizing the grapes made famous in the Rhone region of France. Syrah would certainly fall into this camp, and you will find excellent Syrah blends from this part of California. Some top names to look for are Justin, Terry Hoage (you might know him) and Tablas Creek (personal favorite).
Syrah also does great in Washington State particularly in the Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills and Yakima areas. Many of these bottles will run between $30-50 but the climate in Washington State is really perfect for this varietal and the wines are highly enjoyable as a result.
Your Syrah/Shiraz Check List:
– Syrah from Northern Rhone Valley in France (Cote Rotie, Hermitage)
– Syrah from Southern Rhone (Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape)
– Australian Shiraz from Barossa Valley
– Australian Shiraz from McLaren Vale
– Australian Shiraz from Clare Valley
– Syrah from Argentina
– California Syrah from Carneros
– California Syrah from Paso Robles
– Washington State Syrah
Fast Fact: Petit Sirah is a different grape than Syrah (not a smaller version of Syrah). It is a cross of Syrah with another grape, Peloursin, and it is most popular in California and Australia.