Is it Syrah or Shiraz?

Hello Friends,

Let’s take a look at Syrah, or shall we say Shiraz? Are they the same, or are they different? Well, just recently a friend asked me what was the difference between Syrah and Shiraz, so I thought I would blog about it since this one can be a little tricky at first glance. We will keep it short and simple - and the simple answer is location. Locality in this case, lends itself to the style of the wine, and that is where we will find our differences. Read on, as we chat a little more about Syrah, and of course, Shiraz.

First the name, or shall we say names, Syrah and Shiraz. Legend has it that the name Shiraz is the name of an ancient city in Persia (now Iran), where guess what? You guessed it, Syrah was grown. The grape variety eventually found its way to the Rhone Valley in France, where it has thrived for a very long time – and I mean, a very long time. The French call it Syrah, and the Australians call it by what they perceive to be its native land, Shiraz; which rhymes with pizzazz, which helps in remembering the correct pronunciation of the Aussie’s workhorse grape. Now, all of this is said to be folklore, but it makes for a nice story, right? What is not folklore though, is that Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape variety, but are typically stylistically different, and while the grape has been in Australia since the mid 19th century, it has been grown in the Rhone Valley since the Roman period.

Syrah / Shiraz Grapes

The Australians call it Shiraz, and quite proud of it, as it is their most popular, best selling, and widely planted variety. While there are some pricey examples, most consumers clamor to the moderately priced Shiraz wines that are full bodied and rife with rich, ripe, and intense fruit flavors (plum, blackberry, cherry, etc) and hints of spice. These fruit driven wines are usually made in an easy drinking style and are good everyday wines. Names like Yellow Tail, Lindeman, and Gumdale, have quite the following at $7 per bottle, and while not overly complex or elegant, it’s difficult to complain given the quality to price ratio of these wines. Shiraz to me reflects a certain style; even some California producers are calling their Syrah wines Shiraz, to hint to the consumer that their wine is made in the New World fruit-forward style. Generally, only the Australians call their wines Shiraz, but non-Australian producers are using the name to define the style, as well as marketability- the name is pretty catchy, right? Remember, pizzazz, Shiraz, pizzazz, Shiraz.

On the other-hand, Syrah plays a big role in the Rhone Valley, its home, where it flourishes and produces wines that are generally (slightly)leaner than the Aussie style, yet more complex (spice, cherry, tar, smoke, cassis, plum, etc), earthy, lively (more acidity), tannic, and typically capable of short to long term bottle aging. Syrah dominates the Northern Rhone, and wine producing regions such as Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Côte Rôtie, are great places to look for tasty Syrah wines. The name Syrah is generally used for all other Syrah wines in the wine producing world, and as you can see in the picture, I enjoyed a Keswick Vineyards Syrah 2006, so Syrah can readily be found here in Virginia.

Shiraz and a Virginia Syrah

In closing, if you are looking for a medium to full bodied, bold and spicy wine, give Syrah or Shiraz a try. Yes, they are same grape, but two different styles of wines. Syrah and Shiraz wines generally pair well with beef, lamb, game, venison, and red sauce pasta dishes, etc., and can be just as satisfying on their own. Both Syrah and Shiraz are made in a wide range of styles, from fresh fruit and easy drinking, to highly concentrated and intense. If you find an example that really wows you, send me an email about it so I can be wowed too.

Stay tuned friends ... More to come!!!

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