Syrah (also known as “Shiraz”) is one of the world’s top 10 grape varieties. It is most closely associated with the Rhone Valley in southeastern France, but it is truly an international grape variety. In the New World, Syrah has become very poplar in Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, California and Washington State.
In France, the grape variety is known as Syrah; however, in New World wine markets, it is usually known as Shiraz. Within the United States, the choice of whether to use Syrah or Shiraz is typically up to the winemaker. Using Syrah connotes a wine more similar in flavor and aroma to those from the Rhone Valley; using Shiraz connotes a wine more similar to those created by New World winemakers in Australia.
The name “Shiraz” is thought to derive from the ancient city of Shiraz, which was the capital of the Persian Empire (now modern-day Iran). Traders may have brought the grape to Europe via port cities along France’s southern coast. In the 1830s, the grape was cultivated for the first time in Australia, making this one of the first New World nations to experiment with Syrah.
Syrah is a grape that is strongly influenced by its native terroir. For example, Syrah wines from the Rhone Valley and Washington Sate are typically medium-to-full-bodied. In contrast, wines from hotter climates such as found in Australia and South Africa tend to fuller-bodied, with more intense jam and spice notes.
In general, Syrah wines are considered to have a wide range of flavor notes, with some of the most popular notes being berries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper. Classic examples of Syrah wines from the Rhone wine region include Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie.