Syrah is a dark-skinned red wine grape grown throughout the world. Its origins may have been widely debated, but it is commonly thought that its birthplace is the northern Rhone Valley in eastern France.
Despite its French roots, Syrah is regarded as Australia’s national grape and is often referred to as Shiraz by Australian and American drinkers. Some of the highest rated wines using Syrah grapes come from the Barossa Valley in South Australia. In the UK it is also more commonly referred to as Shiraz but both terms are interchangeable.
Also a popular wine in America, it is produced in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and the Central Coast. While the popularity of Syrah in California is often overshadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah has really grown in popularity there and there are more exciting Syrah wines being produced on an annual basis.
Syrah grows well in a variety of different environments, but it seems to particularly be at its best when grown in the steep, rocky hillsides in the Northern Rhone Valley. It especially enjoys the area’s limestone, gravelly and sandy soils.
Syrah has a large amount of tannins, producing a full-bodied wine. It has a punchy peppery flavour, with a mixture of berries, chocolate, flowers, liquorice and tobacco. It is a popular wine to serve alongside red meat dishes, although it does go well with most food, especially dishes containing strong flavours.
Syrah is also an ideal grape for blending because of its deep colour and high tannins. In southern Rhone it is common for Syrah to be blended with many other grapes such as Carignan, Cinsaut Grenach and Mourvedre.
Winemakers often cold soak Syrah grapes for several days, sometimes even weeks, because of the grapes’ thick skins and high tannin content. This process increases the colour and fruitiness in the wine and reduces the herbaceous and strong tannin flavours that can overpower.
Syrah rose to fame in the eighteenth century France’s Rhone Valley. Other winemaking regions were making their blends from a mixture of different red grapes, but here, winemakers created a red wine made only from Syrah grapes and the wine really became popular in the town of Hermitage.
Syrah’s popularity attracted several winemakers from other regions around the world. In 1832, winemaker James Busby visited France and collected Syrah vine clippings which he took back with him to Australia. He saw how well the plant did in the Australian climate and it soon became a popular grape to grow with winemakers and continues to be to this day.