10 Essential Facts on Syrah

I say "tomayto," you say "tomahto." I say "Syrah," you say "Shiraz." In truth, they're the same grape variety – and the world's 6th most popular at that. Whether you enjoy the great Syrah wines of the Northern Rhône Valley or their more hedonistic Shiraz counterparts from Down Under , Syrah mystifies its drinkers with a seductive, savory combination of flavors – from blackberry to charcuterie to "animale." Here are ten essential facts you should know to help you fall in love with Syrah: 1. According to the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, Syrah is the world's 6th most planted wine grape variety (4th among reds). Almost every wine-growing country has dedicated some vineyard space to Syrah, from Sicily to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to Mexico's Baja California . 2. A study on the origins of Syrah performed in 1998 discovered the grape to be a genetic crossing of the far more obscure varieties Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Interestingly subsequent research also revealed Syrah to be a great-great-grandchild of Pinot Noir . In addition, Syrah appears to share a certain but vague genetic relationship to Viognier, with whom Syrah co-habitates in the vineyard slopes of Côte-Rôtie. Viognier might be a grandparent to Syrah, or potentially a half-sibling. 3. Exactly where Syrah was born is a more complicated question – and one that has given rise to legend. Many believe Syrah to derive from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz – whose name lends itself to the Australian term for the variety. Some further hypothesize that Syrah was first brought from Persia to the Rhône Valley during the Crusades. Others point to the grape Syriaca, described in antiquity by Pliny the Elder, as a possible ancestor to Syrah. Scientific investigation has now proven the Persian and Syrian connections to be doubtful. 4. Today scientists believe Syrah's true birthplace lies near to where it continues to accomplish its most classic expression: France's Northern Rhône Valley. Here, in the appellations of Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage , as well as Cornas , St. Joseph , and Crozes-Hermitage , Syrah achieves an uncanny ability to illuminate the nuances of place - much in the same vein as the great Pinot Noirs of Burgundy due north. France's highest acreage of Syrah, however, comes from its southwesterly Mediterranean corner of Languedoc-Roussillon , cultivating nearly two-thirds of the country's total plantings. 5. In his 1920 "Notes on a Cellar-Book," British scholar and wine connoisseur George Saintsbury famously described Hermitage as "the manliest French wine I ever drank." Connotations of gender aside, in the 19th Century, merchants would notably blend a bit of Hermitage to Bordeaux wines to add some extra umph and subsequently raise the price. No matter where Syrah is grown, it is celebrated for its sweaty, gamey savory flavors –"bacon drippings" often finds its way in tasting notes – and brooding, muscular structure. 6. While Syrah can make a mono-varietal wine in the Northern Rhône, in the Southern Rhône it takes a back seat to Grenache . Along with Mourvèdre, the three grapes constitute the traditional red Rhône blend, known globally by the acronym "GSM." The three can work wonders together – Grenache offering a juicy purity of berry flavor, Syrah bringing an earthly, savory complexity, and Mourvèdre amplifying the tannic structure. 7. Grenache and Mourvèdre aren't Syrah's only blending partners. In fact, Syrah isn't always even blended with other reds. Producers of Côte-Rôtie commonly co-ferment Syrah with up to twenty percent of Viognier, contributing attractive floral aromatics and a distinctive oily texture. Similarly, in Hermitage, up to fifteen percent of white grapes Marsanne and Roussanne can be added to the mix. 8. After France, Syrah is most highly cultivated in Australia . Down under, the grape more commonly goes by its alias Shiraz and is found growing all over the country, though most famously in the Barossa Valley , Eden Valley , and McLaren Vale . Shiraz most likely first came this way at the hands of James Busby, the "Father of Australian Viticulture" who collected vine cuttings from France in the early 1830s. 9. While Syrah occupies less than one-fifth of the vineyard acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon in California , the Golden State bottles a number of tremendous Syrah wines – and often at value prices when compared to California's more famous red offerings. Syrah experienced a boom in plantings beginning in the mid to late 1990s with the success of the Rhône Rangers organization, which championed the potential for Rhône varieties in California. 10. Further north, Syrah is a relatively recent addition to Washington's portfolio of wines, quickly ascending to become the state's third most planted red grape. Syrah has demonstrated a particular proclivity to the soils of Walla Walla Valley , where several bottles achieve near cult-like status. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you enjoyed a glass of Syrah recently? We want to see what you're drinking! Scan the label or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable.

Alain Graillot

Crozes-Hermitage Syrah 2014

Graillot has changed my perception of Crozes-Hermitage permanently, though I won't forget those that I tried before that were insipid, weak examples. This shows everything I love in Syrah from the peppery, meaty and floral nose down to the palate of medium+ body and acidity, with finely firm tannin that should mellow more with age as this is barely 2 years old.

If you don't know Syrah or feel like you have not "gotten it" yet this is your huckleberry!
#graillot #crozes
— 3 years ago

Tom, Riddley and 15 others liked this
Roman Sukley

Roman Sukley

Nice note Tom
Tom Kobylarz

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Thank you @Roman Sukley, much appreciated!

Torbreck Vintners

The Struie Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011

Rebecca Hopkins
9.0

Takes me back to my early Australian wine career, pure stewed plums, blackberry, bay leaf. rich mid palate with black fruit and tobacco. Fabulous length and surprisingly balanced acidity. Benchmark. — 4 years ago

Anthony, Serge and 5 others liked this

Anthill Farms

Sonoma Coast Syrah 2014

This Syrah is so pleasurable on the nose and palate. The combination of fruit & savoriness exceed all the benchmarks of an excellent Syrah. A couple of bottles left, I'll hold on to them to see how they hold up. — 3 years ago

Steven and Jesse liked this

Domaine Jamet

Côte-Rôtie Syrah 2011

Wow, what a nose. Green bell pepper, black pepper, green olives, salami, and some floral notes. Pours almost black in my glass, a dark dark purplish/ruby color. Incredibly savory on the palate and with great poise - just a little oak, and not much fruit. The kind of wine that feels both rustic and aristocratic, like it should be drank from a golden chalice dotted with precious stones. Some pencil lead and iron-like blood notes join the party as it opens, but the mouthfeel remains sensuous with everything in its right place. With still more time in the glass, surprisingly giving notes of boysenberry jam begin to integrate with the rest of the savory flavors, but without overwhelming them. A masterpiece. — 3 years ago

Ira, Steven and 2 others liked this

Ochota Barrels

The Shellac Vineyard Syrah 2010

2010 vintage. Concentrated but balanced fruit of blackberry and a bit of blueberry. Mostly smooth integrated tannins, and a bit of earth and tobacco flavor. Excellent wine, still at the beginning of its drinking window. — 4 years ago

Matthew Steilen
with Matthew
Matthew and Jesse liked this

Shafer Vineyards

Relentless Napa Valley Syrah Petite Sirah 2014

John Shafer founded Shafer Vineyards, located in the Stags Leap District of the Napa Valley, in 1979. A blend of 89% Syrah & 11% Petite Sirah. Deep vibrant red with full black fruit aromas and smoky pepper spice. On the palate big blackberry flavors with rustic spice, oak and earthy notes. Big backbone fine tannins generous acidity, good balance on lingering finish. A powerhouse that will cellar well. — 2 years ago

Velma, Lisa and 2 others liked this

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave

Farconnet Hermitage Syrah 2011

Sneaky ripe for an Hermitage. A lot of fruit right out of the gate, but as it warms/breathes...The classic tar, meat and leather starts to emerge. What a wine — 2 years ago

Jesse liked this

Two Hands

Bella's Garden Shiraz 2010

What a surprise. I had heard the name but never tried this one before. What a fantastic wine! Leather and cigar in the shadow of big bold plum and ripe cherry. Big red fruit. Big body. If a wine could be fat, this one is. — 4 years ago

"Odedi", Anthony and 4 others liked this
Anthony Pro

Anthony Pro

It was alright for a Shiraz. I hardly drink Shiraz these days so it's hard for me to compare it to anything.

Qupé

Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Syrah 2011

Alder Yarrow
9.2

Savory gamey white pepper and blackberry, gorgeous minerality and green herbs in the finish. — 4 years ago

Liz, Hermes and 6 others liked this

Cayuse Vineyards

Cailloux Vineyard Syrah 2014

Simply outstanding WA Syrah. Beguiling nose of scorched earth and flowers, undergrowth. Southern Rhone on the palate, but on the smoother side, meat, leather, asian spice. The '13 was even a notch better! — 2 years ago

Jim, Shawn and 30 others liked this
Boxer Briefs

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So good. Oregon Syrah...
Jay Kline

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Oh snap!