One grape, two identities? Time to get to the bottom of this. For our first Wine 101 blog post we’re focusing on Syrah/Shiraz.
Wait…. so Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing?
Well, mostly yes, and a bit of no. Syrah and Shiraz ARE the same grape: called Syrah in France, most of Europe and the US, and known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa. BUT given the difference in terroir and climate in those locations, it’s not surprising to find that a bottle of Shiraz and a bottle of Syrah can taste very different.
So how come there’s two names?
Actually there’s a lot more than two; almost every variety of grape has different names around the world. It seems likely that Shiraz is the older of the two most established names, however (Shiraz was and is a populous city in Iran known for wine, so it’s very plausible the name originates there, though how it came to refer to the Syrah grape is unknown).
Why is it so widely spread?
The main reason? ‘Cause it’s tough. Syrah/Shiraz is both hardy and expressive: it grows well in lots of different climates, and those climates change the flavours of the wine significantly. This means you can easily start growing it somewhere new and be pretty much guaranteed to get something novel to drink. No wonder winemakers the world over are so enthusiastic about it.
Enough chit-chat. What does it taste like?
Weeeelll… that’s a toughie. For a start, the location and climate has a fundamental effect on the taste of the wine. Regardless of origin it often has flavours of blackberry and pepper. Syrah can have other dark fruits and often benefits from aging. Shiraz – especially from very warm climates – usually has big and punchy fruit and a LOT of pepper.
So that’s the two main ways to drink it?
Shiraz/Syrah is the varietal – wine made from just that species of grape. But you can find Syrah/Shiraz in a lot of famous blends around the world. Syrah blended with a small amount of Viognier (an aromatic white wine) is the traditional style of Côte-Rôtie in France’s northern Rhône valley. You can find it as a blending ingredient in Cabernet Sauvignonand Châteauneuf-du-Pape of southern Rhône.