Shiraz and Syrah: Demystifying this complex red grape

Shiraz and Syrah: Demystifying this complex red grape

Author: Canadian Living


Shiraz and Syrah: Demystifying this complex red grape

Syrah/Shiraz (SEE-rah/shi-RAHZ)
You say Syrah, I say Shiraz. So which is it?

Viticulturally, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, but the wines they produce taste very different. For example, Australian Shiraz is generally much sweeter and riper than its counterparts from the Rhône Valley in France, which tend to taste more of spice and pepper. Both are serious reds with the capability to age well, and they pair beautifully with red meats. Syrah/Shiraz grapes need warmth to ripen fully, and in more temperate climates they make an aromatic and more restrained style of wine.

Today many countries and regions produce Syrah/Shiraz. You may see examples from: France (Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon), Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Washington State, 
South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Italy and even Switzerland.

10 things you should know about Syrah/Shiraz
1. A popular, if dubious, story is that Syrah may have originated near the ancient Persian city of Shiraz and traveled to France by way of Greece.

2. In the early 1980s, Syrah and other grape varietals from the Rhône region of France became popular with some adventurous California winemakers. Dubbed “The Rhône Rangers,” they made some fabulous Syrahs.

3. Petite Syrah (a.k.a. Petite Sirah) is not the same grape as Syrah.

4. Northern Rhône reds are made almost exclusively from Syrah. Some to look for: Hermitage (very expensive), Cornas (quite earthy and not quite as pricey), Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph (both are less expensive and can be drunk on the younger side).

5. Australian Shiraz comes in widely diverse styles. The archetype comes from South Australia and has seductive ripe fruit and a mouth-coating richness. Other Southern Aussie regions to look for are McLaren Vale, Barossa and Coonawarra (a slightly cooler region).

6. California also offers many styles of Syrah/Shiraz. They fall somewhere between Northern Rhône Syrah and Aussie Shiraz styles (and are often so labelled), with a rich taste and less tannin.

7. Canada is not traditionally known for Syrah/Shiraz but is now producing some excellent examples that are winning awards at home and abroad.

8. Syrah/Shiraz is known as the “improving grape” because it provides backbone and finesse. It is used in many blended wines from the Southern Rhône and other parts of Southern France, and from Australia.

9. If you have lots of loot, here are the top Syrah/Shiraz wines to taste. From the Northern Rhône in France: Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie La Mouline, Paul Jaboulet Aîné’s Hermitage La Chapelle and Chave’s Hermitage. From Australia: Penfolds Grange 
and Henschke’s Hill of Grace.

10. Australia (and a few other places) also offer other unusual styles to try. Sparkling Shiraz is fun at a BBQ, with or without food. Also look out for impressive heavyweight port-style fortified wines, which are best paired with hard cheeses at the end of a meal.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about Shiraz wine's flavour profile, plus how to serve this company-worthy red wine, on page 2
Decanting: Yes or No?
There are two reasons to decant a wine: to open it up by exposing it to air (when young) or to separate it from its sediment (when older). Most people these days don’t drink older wines, so it’s usually the former. If your wine tastes "tight" – tannic and one-dimensional – it may benefit from decanting. Pour it into a glass jug or decanter and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. The wine will soften further in the glass.

Syrah/Shiraz profile
• Colour: Medium to deep purple
• Alcohol: Moderate to high
• Acidity: Moderate to lively
• Tannin: High, firm
• Aroma Profile: Expressive; takes well to aging in new oak barrels (sweet vanilla and clove), especially when fully ripe, as in Australian Shiraz

Cooler-Climate Syrah/Shiraz
From: Canada, France and New Zealand
Flavours: Red currant, raspberry, green olive, mint, white pepper

Warmer-Climate Syrah/Shiraz
From: Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, South Africa, South of France and Spain
Flavours: Riper fruit, black pepper, blackberry, black currant, licorice, smoke

How to serve Syrah/Shiraz
Large, slightly curved glasses, not old bowl-style red wine glasses
Temperature: 54°F to 64°F (12°C to 18°C)
Best Enjoyed: With food (particularly the cooler climate styles) or for after-dinner relaxing. Serve these big reds later in the evening; if you start with them, it’s hard to backtrack to lighter wine.
Food pairings: Strongly flavoured meat, especially lamb; game dishes; beef steaks; hearty stews; duck; goose; sausages; and hard cheeses.

Syrah/Shiraz pairing menus:
Rustic Syrah pairing menu
Savoury Shiraz pairing menu

Read more:
Discover Canada's local wines and brews
Recipe: Red wine marinated steak

This story was originally titled "The Wine Taster" in the April 2008 issue.

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Shiraz and Syrah: Demystifying this complex red grape