Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is one of the few grape varieties called a different name depending on the style of wine it produces.
On the one hand Shiraz, whose name is widely used in South Australia, implies a plush style with a fruit-forward nose that underscores ripeness and opulence on the palate. It suggests a New World style in a traditional sense.
Syrah, on the other hand, tends to suggest the opposite. This original French term indicates a cooler style with spicy fruit, structure and austerity, similar to what you find in Old World Northern Rhône wines.
Amazing Syrah/Shiraz is produced in both Northern Rhône in France and in South Australia, representing the two classic styles of this variety. But the dual personalities of this grape and the differences in these two distinctive styles have somewhat overshadowed the diversity of Syrah worldwide. This versatile grape produces both robust, powerful bottles as well as sleek and elegant ones. It has two contrasting faces, both of which are beautiful.
Aside from the fruity, lush and unctuous Shiraz from warm regions such as Barossa and McLaren Vale, Australia now boasts more peppery, sleek and elegant bottles from cooler areas within Victoria and New South Wales. Terroirs that show great potential – places such as Heathcote, Grampians, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley and Canberra District – are no longer under the radar. The traditional Australian style has been dissolved.
While some producers have kept their Shiraz labelling, some turned to Syrah to imply a cool, fresh European style. As much as producers enjoy juggling with names, the varietal spelling is far less important than the terroir when it comes to the wine’s features.
New Zealand has a more pronounced presence of Syrah. The Gimblett Gravels terroir within North Island’s Hawke’s Bay is perfect for the spicy, brooding style reminiscent of fine northern Rhône. It also shows its signature purity and focus, rendering the deep peppery fruit and plushness that a fine Hawke’s Bay Syrah offers.
In Chile, the diversity of Syrah is getting mapped out. Wines from the Central Valley, especially Colchagua and Maipo, are fleshier and more voluptuous. Syrah from Limari shows savouriness and blue fruit. We’re also very pleased with the Syrah from Casablanca and San Antonio Valley, both of which are acclaimed sources for cool- climate expressions of the grape, some reminiscent of an outstanding Côte Rôtie or Hermitage.
“Syrah is indeed very promising here in the valley,” says Meinerd Bloem, chief winemaker of Casas del Bosque in Casablanca. “The subtlety and spicy fruit render an intellectual expression of the grape.”
Back in the Northern Hemisphere, California is now an aspiring contender for great Syrah/Shiraz. Along with Santa Barbara, wineries in Napa and Sonoma are attempting great wines with this spicy variety. And Washington State is producing some rock ’n’ roll Syrahs that some of the New World fruit drive, but with an underlying Old World reserve and green notes. This may be the best place to make Syrah in the entire United States.
Italy also has its regions for Syrah, with Tuscany taking more of the spotlight. Most of the best are made on the Tuscan coast, but areas between Florence and Tuscany – as well as near Cortona – make spicy and complex reds. I’ve even had a number of noteworthy Syrahs from Sicily.
Today, to be Syrah or Shiraz is no longer a question. As producers focus more on expressing their own terroir with this grape, the future of Syrah will be more diverse than ever. Nor do I believe what some sommeliers and wine merchants in America say about Syrah being hard to sell. Open a glorious bottle of Syrah from any of the best regions in the world and enjoy – and marvel at their unique character and greatness. More and more people in the world, especially in Asia, are enjoying excellent Syrah.
James Suckling’s Top 8 Sensational Syrahs
Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne 2015
This is a profound wine, offering really striking depth of aromas and flavours with a resonance that really stops you still. Dark stones, ripe dark plums and blackberries, liquorice, sarsaparilla, orange peel and cloves with still more spices floating in the midst.
Tyrell’s Shiraz Hunter Valley Old Patch 1867 2014
These are tricky wines to taste. The purity and finesse are at work here, alongside perfectly shaped structure and pitched ripeness; it’s deceptively silky and seductive. The nose has the sort of bottomless depth of ripe red and dark plum fruit aromas that you only find in the very best wines. So profound and so alluring, a weapon of mass seduction in a glass.
Colgin Cellars Syrah Napa Valley IX Estate 2015
Smelling this takes my breath away. Cloves, flora, metal shavings, blackberries and smoked meat. Mandarin zest, too. Full body with a perfect balance of ultra-fine tannins and great complexity. Goes on for minutes. Sets a new standard of Syrah for California.
Le Macchiole Bolgheri Scrio 2015
The depth of aroma takes your breath away with bark. tea leaves, peppermint, dried rosemary, thyme, sage, pressed violets, cedar, crème de cassis, blackcurrants and lavender. Full body, layer upon layer of fruit of every colour on the spectrum, pinpoint acidity and a finish that seems endless.
Clonakilla Shiraz Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2015
This is a rare beauty: a Syrah-based wine that delivers power in an elegant way. The aromatic spectrum is vast, from fine musky florals to white pepper and almost every imaginable spice. Then an incredibly exuberant explosion of boysenberries, raspberries and cherries of every shade takes centre stage as well as red to blue to purple plums. It is full of life.
Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay Homage 2014
A beautifully articulated edition of this Hawke’s Bay Syrah that’s loaded with potential. It’s a strong vintage that’s been cleverly crafted into a thoroughbred wine, packed with spicy and complex interest on the nose: blackberries, cloves, anise, pepper, some dark stony notes and crushed purple flowers. Still frisky and full of youthful, snappy appeal.
Matetic Syrah Valle de San Antonio 2012
This is an unbelievable red with sublime tannin texture and mind- bending depth and finesse. The nose shows granite, slate, blackberry, blueberry, and lavender aromas. Full body yet agile and harmonious. Only 350 cases made. Drink or hold. Made from biodynamic grapes. Spectacular. Could this be the La Turque of Chile?
Montes Syrah Valle de Apalta Folly 2016
Incredibly complex with sweet- tobacco, iron, blackberry, black-olive and dried- strawberry aromas. Full body, ultra-refined tannins and a rich finish. Harvested before the rains. Juicy tannins. Very structured and big style but shows balance. Drink or hold.