Syrah is a dark-skinned red wine grape. Its origins have been popularly debated, but its modern viticultural home is unquestionably the northern Rhone Valley of eastern France. In Australia, Syrah is overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) known as Shiraz, and is regarded as the country’s national grape.
One of the world's most diverse and successful grape varieties, Syrah wines can display myriad dark-fruit flavors. Varietal Syrah can be quite floral in its youth, developing more peppery and herbaceous notes as it ages. Some examples show tanned leather and smoky scents, while the fruit in these wines tends towards the very dark flavors of blackcurrant and licorice.
Syrah is also an extremely useful blending grape due to its deep color and typically high tannins. In the southern Rhone it is common for Syrah to be blended with any combination of Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsaut, among others.
Some of the world's most famous Syrah wines are the peppery, earthy reds of the northern Rhone, specifically of the Cote-Rotie, Hermitage and Saint-Joseph appellations. While Hermitage has been held in high regard for many centuries, the 'roasted slopes' of the Cote-Rotie have emerged as a leading source of Syrah only towards the end of the 20th century.
One of Syrah's most valued assets is its ability to produce wines capable of aging and improving over many decades. The most valued appellation in this regard is the hill of Hermitage; its name is so respected that for many years it was used as a synonym for Syrah in Australia. A well-built Hermitage requires ten years or more to relax into its plummy, spicy fullness, and will reward cellaring for a further decade at least.
Several hundred miles up the Rhone Valley from Hermitage, near the river's origins at the Rhone Glacier, Syrah has found a happy home in the Valais, on the warm, sheltered slopes of which it can produce remarkably full, complex wines. A further 450 miles (725km) east, the variety enjoys the climate of eastern Austria's Burgenland, moderated by the waters of Lake Neusiedl.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, 6000 miles (9600km) west of the Rhone, Syrah has a cult following in the western United States, in California, Washington and Oregon. While it has not seen the runaway success enjoyed by Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, nor the feverish worship of Pinot Noir, a dedicated band of American winemakers has been devotedly working with Syrah since the 1970s. Known as the 'Rhone Rangers', these men and women have proven than the variety can produce complex, rich wines in all three of the above states.
Another 6000 miles (9600km) south, following the Rockies and Andes down the spine of America, Syrah has been proving itself in both Chile and Argentina for at least 20 years, and is finding its own style on either side of the Andean peaks. As far away again, across the vast Southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Syrah has achieved success in South Africa and Australia respectively. It has adopted such a unique personality in these countries as Shiraz that it is widely regarded as a distinct variety and style to Syrah.
Synonyms include: Shiraz, Hermitage.
Related grape varieties include: Petite Sirah (Durif).
Food matches include:
Europe: Hearty stew of confit duck and pork sausage (cassoulet)
Asia: Steamed pork spare ribs with black bean; curried eggplant
Australasia/Oceania: Rosemary-crusted lamb tenderloin with jus; confit duck with sweet potato (kumara) mash
Africa/Middle East: Spicy lamb meatballs in a tomato and cilantro sauce