Shiraz, as it is typically known in the new world (also known as Syrah in the old world), offers a juicy and fruit-forward profiled wine. On the other hand, Syrah is savoury, elegant and refined at its best. While they are the same grape varietal, these wines have their own unique characteristics and flavour profiles.
Below, we look at all you need to know about the Syrah/Shiraz grape varietal, including its origins, characteristics, food pairing options, and which bottles of this red wine are our favourite.
Syrah/Shiraz Grape: A History
France is often considered the spiritual homeland of this red grape varietal. Famously grown in the Northern Rhône as a single varietal and Southern Rhône incorporated into blends, Syrah was bred in France using the Dureza and Mondeus Blanche varietals. This grape rose to popularity throughout the eighteenth century and continues to be the main red grape variety in the Rhône Valley today.
In 1830, vine cuttings of this grape varietal were introduced to Australia by the viticulturist James Busby. It was here that the New World christened this red wine Shiraz, not to be confused with the Iranian wine region of the same name. Today, Australia has almost 40,000 hectares of Shriaz vines planted across the country – making it Australia’s most planted grape variety.
Famous Wine Growing Regions for Syrah and Shiraz
As mentioned earlier, this grape is mostly known as Syrah in the Old World, while it can be called Shiraz in the New World. Yet, here are the most growing regions where you can find this grape varietal:
France’s Northern Rhône Valley region is renowned for its production of Syrah – particularly in the Hermitage, Cornas, and Côte-Rôtie regions. This prestigious area produces Syrah unlike any other in terms of its style. In Côte-Rôtie, you will find fragrant and delicate Syrah with aromatics of black raspberry, chocolate, and charcoal smoke.
In Hermitage Syrah is best enjoyed when left to mature for over ten years. Grown on the hillside , these wines are praised for their deep and robust flavour profile of blackcurrant, coffee, smoke, and candied cherry. In contrast, Syrah from Cornas is the most tannic, with tongue-staining flavours of blackberry jam, violet, and chalk dust.
In Australia, Shiraz flourishes in Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Hunter Valley. These Australian wine regions offer warmer climates resulting in various styles of Shiraz. In Barossa Valley, Shiraz is full and complex. The flavour profile of a Barossa Shiraz offers powerfully ripe dried currant and rich mocha aromas. These wines are considered meaty with big fruit flavours.
Shiraz from McLaren Vale is a true product of its region. The region’s Mediterranean climate results in a soft red wine with rich red berry flavours such as raspberries and cherry. A McLaren Vale Shiraz also offers black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves notes upon tasting. While less complex than a Barossa Shiraz, this red wine has a bold personality.
Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region and produces Shiraz that is medium-bodied and hearty with a beautifully rich purple hue. The old vines in the region give this wine a layered profile with hints of sweet spice.
Syrah became a popular grape varietal in many places across the United States during the 1970s, notably in California and Washington. However, California wine regions have the highest Syrah production in all of the United States, particularly in Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills.
A Paso Robles Syrah is known for its well-balanced, full tannins, deep purple colour, and fruity yet earthy flavour profile. Unlike a French Syrah, Californian Syrah is considered more robust and fruit-forward than spicy. Along the Sierra Foothills, the variety of Syrahs ranges from more refined to powerful. Typically, these wines have medium acidity, full juicy tannins, and peppery fruit aromas.
Syrah vs. Shiraz: Characteristics
Colour: Since this grape has thick, dark skins, their wines range from a deep ruby red to dark purple. When young, a Shiraz or Syrah can appear opaque and inky. However, as they age, these wines are known for losing their pigmentation and softening out.
Acidity: While both Syrah and Shiraz have brisk acidity, Old World Syrahs from France and Italy tend to have a higher acidity levels than that of an Australian Shiraz.
Tannin Structure: Syrah and Shiraz are known for being medium plus to high-tannin red wines. Many describe this grape varietal as having fine and well-balanced tannins, especially from the old world. When tasting a Shiraz from Barossa Valley or a Paso Robles Syrah, you may notice a more robust, juicy tannin structure. On the other hand, a French Syrah may have more elegant and refined tannins.
Body: Shiraz and Syrah wines are, for the most part, both full-bodied and expressive red wines.
Alcohol Levels: The alcohol levels of Syrah and Shiraz red wine depending on where the grape was grown and its climate. Cooler climates such as Northern Rhône will have a 13-14% ABV value, whereas warmer climates in South Australia can have alcohol levels as high as 15.5%.
Aromatic Profile: Syrah tends to be more savoury and elegant than Shiraz. Its flavours and aromas range from red and black fruits and floral violet notes to smoke, bacon and black pepper. A Shiraz has more concentrated juicy flavours and aromas. You can expect flavours of ripe raspberries, candied black cherry, black currant and black pepper.
Top Syrah vs. Shiraz Wines to Try With The Small Winemakers Collection
At The Small Winemakers Collection, Syrah and Shiraz red wine are particular favourites of ours. If you enjoy a full-bodied wine with rich tannins and expressive flavours, either of these varieties will be an excellent addition to your table.
We recommend the Kingston Estate Shiraz 2020 from Clare Valley for an Australian Shiraz. This wine offers lush flavours of plum and dark berries along with pepper and eucalyptus undertones. Enjoy this Shiraz with rich meat dishes such as venison or a ribeye steak.
If you are looking for a red wine with more earthy flavours, try the unique Domaine Ouled Thaleb Syrocco 2019 from Morocco. Featuring hints of dried red cherry, sandalwood, spices and herbs. This Syrah pairs well with hearty stews and grilled lamb sausages.