Syrah a bit of history
Syrah is the main grape variety in the Northern Rhone and is normally used to make the well-known AOC Hermitage, AOC Cornas and AOC Côte-Rôtie, generally mixed with Grenache. While higher-quality wines are kept in the cellar for many years, others can be enjoyed immediately and offer a marked blueberry flavor together with a slight tannic structure. Syrah is often used as a blending grape in red wines in many countries, as it has a fruity flavor that compensates for the weaknesses of other varieties and creates a more robust wine.
From the seventies to the nineties, Syrah’s fame grew and its vineyards were established both in existing and in new places. In the early 2000s, it became one of the ten most cultivated varieties in the world.
Small quantities of Syrah are used to make a number of wines, such as rosés, fortified port-style wines and sparkling reds. Although there is a sweet type of shiraz sparkling wine from Australia, some producers in that country create full-bodied, dry sparkling shiraz that still contain the complexity and sometimes the earthy flavor of non-sparkling versions of the same grape.
Many of the best Syrahs become tastier after a period of storage in the bottle. In extraordinary cases, this aging can last up to 15 years or more.
Syrah wines should be served at a temperature of 18°C.
Wines produced from Syrah usually have a robust flavor and a strong body. Its composition varies depending on the place where the vine is grown and the techniques used in the winemaking process. The aromas can range from violets, black fruits, chocolate and black pepper, but there is no smell that could be considered the “typical” flavor. The “primary” notes of flavor and aroma are usually accompanied by earthy “tertiary” notes, such as leather and truffle, and the “secondary” notes of flavor and aroma usually come from winemaking practices, such as aging in barrels and yeast treatment. Syrah leaves contain C13-norisoprenoids such as 7,8-dihydroionone, megastigmane-3,9-diol and 3-oxo-7,8-dihydro-α-ionol.
Syrah or Shiraz on labels
French DOCs, such as DOC Syrah from the North of the Rhone, do not usually label their wines according to the variety. What is commonly used is the name of the AOC, such as Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage or Hermitage. This practice of labeling syrah/shiraz varietals is something that began in the New World, especially in Australia. In addition, in the north of the Rhone, you can find different true syrah clones called petite syrah (small syrah) and gros syrah (large syrah) depending on the size of the grapes, considering that petite syrah is superior and produces wines with more phenolic compounds.
In general, Australian and South African wines are labeled as Shiraz, while European varietals are labeled as Syrah, as are Argentinian wines. Depending on the style of the wines, producers or merchants from other countries choose between syrah or shiraz. It is believed that Syrah wines are more similar to those from the north of the Rhone: refined, tannic, with smoky aromas and the same type of fruitiness. On the other hand, wines labeled as shiraz resemble archetypal wines from Australia or other parts of the New World, made with riper, fruitier, less tannic, more spicy rather than smoky grapes, more pleasant when they are young, lighter and sweeter. However, this labeling convention is not always followed.