Syrah and Shiraz are of course the exact same grape variety; it is simply that it is known by the former name in Europe and the USA, and by the latter in South Africa and Australia. However, saying that, winemakers can, and do use either name, with examples labelled as Syrah usually emulating a classic northern Rhône, elegant and restrained style, and those labelled as Shiraz exhibiting a more fruit driven, riper, less tannic expression.
Some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world are found in Australia, where it is grown more than any other red wine grape, and Barossa Shiraz is famous the world over. It is the predominant variety in the country’s most illustrious red wine: Penfold’s Grange, which often includes a smidgeon of Cabernet Sauvignon – in fact, blending Cab Sauvignon with Shiraz originated in Oz.
This dark skinned variety is high in tannins, loves stony granite soils, and is grown world-wide, producing powerful, full-bodied, intense wines as either a straight varietal or in a blend.
Its spiritual home is France’s Rhône Valley, where it is used in the Northern Rhône exclusively for the famous wines of Hermitage. It’s also the major player in Côte-Rôtie, but this wine may also contain small amounts of Viognier. In the Southern Rhône it is used as a blending grape, most famously as one of the many varieties allowed to contribute to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Flavours of black fruits abound: blackberries, black cherries, damsons and plums, with wild herbs, chocolate, smoke and spice, particularly liquorice and black pepper and in fact pepper is the calling card of this variety. It often has a floral violet note akin to Pinot Noir and as the wine ages, it can also develop the gamey characteristic of this grape variety. In Australia it can take on hints of mint and eucalyptus, and they also use it to make mighty, rich, and dark sparkling wines, some examples of which are very serious indeed!
So which corner will you be in for this grape variety – Old World or New World – try them both to decide your preference; chances are you will find something to your liking in both!