Wine Tasting Club – Syrah/Shiraz

By / Wine + Drinks / April 3rd, 2009 / 1

This month I thought we’d try the ever-mysterious Syrah (aka Shiraz). Well, okay, maybe it’s not so mysterious. However, some confusion seems to exist around the terms nonetheless.

Syrah is a grape that originated and is grown primarily in France’s Rhône Valley. It produces intense wines that are deep violet. It has a chewy texture; it can have high alcoholic strength, and typically has a peppery/smoky aroma. In the early 1800s, Syrah made the scenic trip from France to Australia where the locals began calling it Shiraz. That down-under version is typically described as being fruity and jammy.

One grape, two names. The story goes that the name Syrah is a nod to the grape that the Romans carried north through Europe with them from Syracuse, Sicily. The name Shiraz suggests that the grape’s starting point is Shiraz, Iran. In any case, DNA evidence indicates that Syrah is actually of French origin.

Regardless of where it comes from, Syrah and Shiraz are great examples of how climate impacts on the winemaking process. The cooler temperatures of France produce a spicier and more peppery wine, while the warmer temperatures of Australia bring out the sweetness and the fruitiness. Also, the Aussie numbers feature a much greater emphasis on oak.

To complicate things further, the French now produce some Shiraz-style wines, and California produces both, sometimes together in one bottle, as in the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Green Label Syrah-Shiraz 2006 ($24.95). Even Ontario is trying Syrah on for size. Many of the wineries scattered throughout the Niagara Peninsula are finding that Syrah grows very well there. In fact, the notion of “cool climate Syrah” is pretty much unique to Canada since it’s so hot everywhere else the grape grows.

Tasting Notes

Camplazens Syrah, France, 2006 ($14.95)

The classic French Syrah full of fruit, violets, spice and dark chocolate. It paired very well with bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin drizzled with a port-based bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Fess Parker Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California, 2004 ($24)

This wine displays lots of cassis, cherry, mint and slight pepper. It’s a very nice accompaniment to steak fajitas.

Greg Norman Shiraz, Australia, 2005 ($24.75)

Dark plum, black cherry, black pepper and sour cherry characterize this fruit-forward wine. At 14.5% alcohol, it is by no means wimpy. Its fruity notes are well suited to rotini pasta dressed in a sausage and tomato sauce.

Santa Duc, Les Vieilles Vignes, Côtes du Rhône, 2006 ($15)

Although this wine contains only about 3% Syrah, I decided to include it in this tasting because it’s a good example of why a winemaker might choose to blend Syrah with other grapes, in this case Grenache. The Syrah lends the wine its sour cherry and spice properties, which add nice complexity. This wine displays earthy, chocolate, floral and fruity notes.

Pick up the Tidings April 09 issue for more on Ontario Syrah.

Next Month: “Wild Wines” — Pairing Wine with Game Meat


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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