When is syrah shiraz?
The king of Rhône varieties is truly international, from blockbuster shiraz in Australia to the lighter, more peppery syrahs of New Zealand. So, the name’s more than a matter of geography and that’s my first, and most useful tip! If a southern hemisphere wine is labelled syrah rather than shiraz it’s likely to be made in a more restrained, savoury style. Here’s my guide on what to expect from syrah (and shiraz) around the world, and more top tips on where to start.
No place like home
Syrah is synonymous with the Rhône, producing wines that are rich, powerful and spicy. In fact, it was once regular practice to bolster (or hermitager) poorer Bordeaux vintages with a dash of northern Rhône syrah. The Society’s French Syrah is the place to start for a taste of the grape in its purest form, then for an introduction to the catchall Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, Saint-Estève’s ‘Garrinece’ 2020 is a stunner. The cool Southern Rhône region of Vinsobres makes use of altitude and cool air funnelled from the Alps to give freshness and elegance alongside density and spice – Domaine Jaume’s Altitude 420 showcases this best. But it’s in the northern Rhône’s most famous appellations where syrah starts to really shine. Relatively large, Crozes-Hermitage can offer top syrah at attractive prices on the Rhône’s eastern bank. Jaboulet’s ‘Les Jalets’ 2018 is attractive in its youth but will reward patience too. Head over the river and you’re in Saint-Joseph, with typically fuller and more fruitforward wines than those from nearby Côte-Rôtie or Cornas – try Domaine Coursodon’s ‘Silice’ 2018. But the greatest syrah of all comes from the granite hill of Hermitage where top producer Ferraton’s 2017 ‘Les Miaux’ is a welcome introduction to this legendary appellation.
Syrah or shiraz?
Outside France the grape’s dug its roots deepest in Australia, known here as shiraz for generations. The classic Aussie style is all about ripe blueberry fruit and bold, sweet tannins, but there’s a new wave of more restrained wines on the scene. For sheer Aussie horsepower Three Bunches 2019 offers impeccable value, while The Society’s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz 2019 takes it up a notch. For an introduction to the grape’s cooler side, Wakefield’s Promised Land 2019 from the Clare Valley gives a grippier, redcurrant-fruited expression. Cool is current in the Mornington Peninsula where Paringa Estate 2017 produce a cracked-black-pepperladen shiraz with spicy tannins and refreshing acidity. For newwave winemaking in an old-school setting, Whistler’s ‘Shiver Down My Spine’ 2019 includes 15% whole-bunch fermentation to bring freshness to their otherwise full-throttle Barossa Valley shiraz.
If a southern hemisphere wine is labelled syrah rather than shiraz it’s likely to be made in a more restrained, savoury style
In New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, the focus is on lighter and more aromatic cranberry and white pepper-spiced ‘syrah’ and Trinity Hill are the masters of the restrained style I talked about.
South Africa marries northern hemisphere savouriness with southern power, but cooler regions are trending thanks to their added elegance and complexity from longer growing periods. In the cool region of Elgin, Iona’s 'Solace' 2019 shows a restrained, ethereal style. Whilst in Stellenbosch, Kleinood’s Tamboerskloof Syrah 2017 spends 18 months in 300 and 500-litre French oak, 15% of which were new, producing a violetperfumed, concentrated and classy syrah.
A handful of California winemakers, whose enthusiasm for syrah et al was unusual in the 1980s inspired this term. One of the originals, Qupé’s 100% syrah from 2018 shows the mulberry, tobacco and iron-rich character that often typifies Cali-syrah. For upfront drinkability and food-friendliness and value, Peltier Ranch’s Lodi Shiraz 2020 has flavour in spades.
Chile’s the latest country to get the Rhône bug (surprisingly late given its suitability!), with plantings of syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre on the rise. Concha y Toro’s Corte Lorena San Fernando 2020 is an inspired blend of 85% syrah giving black fruit character, with 15% mourvèdre providing spice and grip.
Finally, Alain Graillot, one of the finest producers in Crozes-Hermitage brings his expertise to Morocco with Syrah du Maroc ‘Tandem’ 2019, made with local winery, Thalvin. From the Benslimane region just northeast of Casablanca, where long summers give a ripe, velvety syrah (syrocco?), it’s packed with dark fruits and cloves. Here’s looking at you, kid!
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