Syrah, also globally known as Shiraz, is certainly one of the most famous red grape varieties in the world, giving birth to some of the finest and most expensive wines around the globe, from France to Australia.
Its dense tannic structure, rich body and distinctive fruity and peppery flavors allow winemakers to produce red wines that are often big and opulent, although some local expressions are more mineral and elegant.
We provide you here with simple and practical information about the grape:
- A summary of its origin and history
- Information about the Top Syrah/Shiraz producing countries and regions
- Infographic and aroma wheel to guide you through the wine’s flavor profile while tasting
- Wine & Food Matching suggestions
- TOP 10 Syrah wines
You’re looking at grape profiles other than Syrah? Find more Top Grapes Infographics & Information, or keep reading.
Social Vignerons would like to warmly thank the Team at Cellier Domesticus for designing the aroma infographics on this page based on an SV original concept. Learn more this mobile app and sensor that allows to precisely monitor your wine cellar storage conditions in real-time at Cellier Domesticus presentation page.
Origin and history in brief:
There are quite a few tales and legends around the origin of the Syrah grape variety and its name, coming from ancient times:
- Some say the Romans brought it back from the Sicilian city of Syracuse, spread it across Europe, and named the grape after the city.
- Ancient scripts from Roman author Pliny the Elder mention a grape called Vitis Syriaca or ‘grape from Syria,‘ suggesting Syrah may have originated there.
- Or it is heard that Syrah may simply have come from the Iranian city of Shiraz (or Chiraz).
In reality, Syrah was more simply born and bred in France in more recent times.
DNA profiling showed that the variety was created by crossing an old southern France variety called Dureza with the Mondeuse Blanche grape from the Savoie region in the French Alps.
The Syrah we know today is the result of a few centuries of selection by French Rhone vignerons. It truly came to importance in France, where it is still the main red grape variety in the South-Eastern part of the country.
As I wrote more extensively on Vivino in an article called How Syrah became Shiraz: a short History, the name Syrah became Shiraz in Australia… expectedly.
Records show that the grape was introduced in the country in 1830s, with cuttings labelled as “Scyras” and “Ciras”.
From there it remains unknown whether Syrah became Shiraz because of the wrong original labelling or because of the strong Australian accent.
In any way, Australians have made the grape their own renaming it, but more importantly by producing quantities and qualities of many notable Shiraz wines as the figures below and the Top Shiraz wine lists go to show.
Top Producing Countries and Regions: Where is Syrah Grown?
As the chart below reveals, France remains the largest producer of Syrah by some distance with over 68,500 ha planted.
In France, Syrah is primarily grown in its region of origin: the Rhone Valley.
This includes both the Northern and the Southern parts of the long river’s valley.
There the grape has a more restrained, mineral and peppery expression than in the warmer South. Syrah wines here are often considered as some of the finest expressions in the world. Small proportions of Viognier are sometimes added to further enhance the wine’s aromatic profile.
In the Southern Rhone, Syrah is generally blended with other local ones such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, or Carignan. The most famous villages and appellations include Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, or Cornas.
In France, Syrah is also extensively grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, and in lesser quantity in Provence and the South-West.
Australia has become the second home of the Syrah grape variety that the Aussies affectively call Shiraz.
Shiraz is virtually grown everywhere in Australia but the most thought-after wines often come from South Australia: the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, or Langhorne Creek.
There is also great quality Shiraz made in Victoria (Yarra Valley or Heathcote), Western Australia (Margaret River), and New South Wales (Hunter Valley).
There has been a large increase in the cultivation of Syrah in Spain since the 1990s. But the grape is there most often used as a blending element therefore one does not commonly come across a varietal Spanish Syrah wine.
Notably, some varietal Syrahs are made with great success as Vinos de Pago (single vineyard wines) like the excellent Pago de los Belagueses Syrah by Bodegas Vegalfaro we scored a 93/100 points, or the rather popular Marques de Grinon ‘Caliza’ Syrah – Petit Verdot.
Syrah in other countries
As the chart above highlights, Syrah is now found is all Southern European countries (Italy, Portugal) but also in most ‘New World’ countries and in significant volumes: Argentina, South Africa, the USA, and Chile.
Jancis Robinson highlights on her website the great variety of quality Syrah wine from all origins one can now find: “we can now choose Syrahs from Spain (notably Marqués de Griñón), a raft of examples from Chile (where the variety was pioneered by Errázuriz), central Italy (L’Eremo from Isola e Olena and some other stunning examples), Portugal (Cortes de Cima), Washington state (Red Willow), and Switzerland (Germanier).”
Syrah’s popularity in California has grown as a consequence of the Rhone Ranger movement led, between others, by Randall Grahm.
As even a more recent newcomer in the world of Syrah wine-producing countries, New Zealand puts big hopes in the success of the grape’s relatively cool climate expression there, in particular in the Hawkes Bay area as Chris Scott winemaker at Church Road winery explained to us in an interview.
Winemaking, Flavor and Aroma Profile
Syrah wines have a very characteristic and relatively easy-to-indentify aroma profile due to the intensity of its primary flavors coming from the grape. But being powerful tannic wines, they also develop plenty of complexity and bouquet thanks to the often-long winemaking and maturation process they go through, as well as the ageing in the bottle: the secondary and tertiary type of flavors.
To guide you through what the different Syrah/Shiraz wines taste like, with our friends at Cellier Domesticus, we have assembled a simple yet complete Infographic that contains all the main aromas and flavors you will be able to commonly find in the wines.
1- Primary Aromas is the term to describe the smells and flavors that come from the fruit itself, from the grapes (as opposed to the winemaking). Depending on the climate and the soil, whether it’s a cool climate or a warmer one, the primary aroma profile can vary greatly.
In a relatively cool climate for the grape like in Northern Rhone where the grapes do not reach a very high level of maturation (or do so very slowly), wines show some herbaceous or herbal notes (cedar, olive) as well as typical exuberant spicy aromas of black pepper.
These delicate and light notes often come with floral and fruity expressions:
- Floral aromas of violet, rose petal, or geranium
- Acidic red fruit and berries aromas of blackcurrant and blueberry.
In warmer climates (like certain parts of Australia, California or South Africa for example), grape berries and their flavors will reach a higher level of ripeness revealing notes of darker fruits or jam like blackberry, black cherry, or plum/prune.
Most Syrah wines combine several of the above flavor families. The best examples gather the whole spectrum in an elegant complexity.
2- Secondary aromas describe the smells acquired by the wine thanks to the winemaking process. The natural flavors present in the grapes (primary aromas) combine and interact with the yeasts and bacteria that run the fermentation to create further aromatic complexity.
Syrah wines are often put in contact and matured in oak barrels to round-up and smoothen their strong tannic structure, and develop the flavor depth and complexity.
Depending on the proportion of new oak barrels that is used and the intensity of their toast (how hot and dark the are toasted), the aromatics given to the wine can vary from elegant notes of vanilla and tobacco, to heavier richer ones such cocoa, coffee, charred wood or smoke.
3- Tertiary aromas are developed in the bottle with age, as the wine’s molecules interact with each other and with oxygen, changing their aromatic profile. Typically, Syrahs develop notes of leather, cigar box, earth (soil), and spices (e.g. clove, nutmeg), even occasionally truffle.
If these flavors are too pronounced and get quite dominant, they can become negative. With time and bottle ageing, tertiary aromas become more and more intense, while fruity primary flavors slowly fade away until they disappear.
Most wine drinkers like when primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas are all equally present and combine to provide the maximum level of complexity. In the lifetime of a wine in bottle, there is a period of a few years where this wine aromas are perfectly balanced and provide the best experience and enjoyment: the ideal “drinking window”.
Syrah wines generally age relatively well:
- the affordable ones can endure 3 to 5 years’ ageing
- the best examples in the world like in Rhone or Barossa can age and improve for decades.
To help you identify these various types of aromas at your next tasting, we’ve put together the following aroma wheel. Print it out and go through the different aroma sections while smelling the wine. If any smell rings the bell and seems to be present in the wine, you are not imagining. It is probably there and you hopefully know why now.
Being opulent and flavorsome, Syrah wines pair best with tasty and flavorful foods that match the power and aromatic intensity of the wines.
Aussies pair it with their famous barbecue, while the French in Northern Rhone have abundant traditional and local cured meat specialities to match it with.
As a few tested combinations, we recommend you try the ones suggested in our world-famous Infographics:
- Grilled red meats, cured meat, and stews. Find out more on Infographic: Guide to Pairing Wine & Food
- French Morbier, Mont d’Or, or Maconnais cheeses. Find out more on Infographic: French Wine & Cheese Pairing
- Capricciosa or Quatro Formaggi Pizza like you would with a Grenache or Zinfandel. See the full Infographic: Italian Pizza and wine pairing guide
10 Top French Syrah Wines:
All the best French varietal Syrah wines come from the Rhone Valley:
- Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle
- Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage
- E. Guigal Cote Rotie Brune et Blonde de Guigal
- Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas
- M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon
- Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie
- Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage
- Thierry Allemand Cornas Reynard
- E. Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne
- E. Guigal Saint-Joseph Les Vignes de l’Hospice
10 Top Australian Shiraz Wines:
- Penfolds Grange Bin 95
- Ben Glaetzer Amon-Ra Shiraz, Barossa Valley
- Penfolds RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley
- d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale
- Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz, McLaren Vale
- Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, Eden Valley
- Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz, McLaren Vale
- Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz, South Australia
- Two Hands Wines Bella’s Garden Shiraz, Barossa Valley
- Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Some Top Syrah/Shiraz Wines from around the World:
To try top examples of Syrah wines in other countries, we’ve also selected a few from various regions, in California and around the globe:
- Shafer Vineyards Relentless, Napa Valley, USA
- Montes Folly Syrah, Apalta, Chile
- Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block, Franschhoek Valley, South Africa
- Cayuse Vineyards Bionic Frog Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, USA
- Church Road Grande Reserve Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
- Le Macchiole ‘Scrio’ Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy
- Cayuse Vineyards Cailloux Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, USA
- Marques de Casa Concha Syrah, Rapel Valley, Chile
- Chateau de la Negly Languedoc Clos des Truffiers, France
- Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County, USA
You’ve liked this Syrah profile and want to learn about other grape varieties?
Give us a hand by sharing this one on Social Media, then check out more Top Grapes Infographics & Information
Find further useful information about Syrah grape’s history and countries of production on Wikipedia.
Jancis Robinson also publishes a very comprehensive article about the grape.
Check out all of Social Vignerons’ Syrah/Shiraz-related reviews and articles.
Again Social Vignerons would like to warmly thank the Team at Cellier Domesticus for supporting the production of this page and designing the aroma infographics on this page based on an SV original concept.
Learn more this mobile app and sensor that allows to precisely monitor your wine cellar storage conditions in real-time at Cellier Domesticus presentation page or click on the images below:
Syrah Header Image Credit – Crédits photo: © Christophe Grilhé – Photothèque Inter Rhône