Syrah is a full bodied, spicy, gutsy red wine. In the New World (a term that basically encompasses winegrowing countries outside of Europe) it is more commonly known as Shiraz – a name bequeathed by the Australians.
Some of the flavours associated with Syrah are hedgerow fruits, black berries and spice. You may also find some black pepper, clove, and black olive aromas in there. Syrah has a firm tannin structure and good acidity which means it is often easier to drink with food than on its own and great Syrah is capable of ageing for decades.
In France Syrah lives in the Rhône Valley. The saying goes that the wines of Bordeaux are for aristocrats, Burgundy is for poets and the Rhône is for warriors – there is something muscular and strong about Syrah. In the northern parts of the Rhône Syrah is the star of the show and the wines are perfumed, black fruited, earthy and lean. Cornas, Hermitage and Côte Rotie are the most famous appellations in the northern Rhône. In the southern Rhône Syrah plays more of a supporting role to Grenache where it lends a bit of spice and tannin to the altogether plumper and juicier Grenache. Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf du Pape are the big names here. These blends are also common in further south – in the Languedoc and Roussillon where you may find some Carignan too.
Outside of the Rhône you will find Syrah/Shiraz in Australia where it has been enormously successful and for good reason. The ripe brambly fruit and gentler spice character you get from these sunny climes is very seductive – Barossa, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley are all homes to fabulous Shiraz. Outside of Australia you’ll find Shiraz in South Africa, California, South America and New Zealand where Syrah from Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay is showing real promise.
Although Syrah is often the only grape in the wine, it also blends very successfully with Cabernet Sauvignon (particularly in Australia) with small amounts of the white grape Viognier (Côte Rotie set the standard which is copied worldwide) and most commonly with Grenache and Mourvèdre as in the southern Rhône – a blend of these 3 grapes is often abbreviated to GSM on labels.
New World Shiraz is extremely good with charred, grilled or barbecued meat and anything slathered in barbecue sauce (eg ribs), it therefore is also rather delicious with medium rare steak.
Softer Shiraz or Syrah blended with Grenache is better with casseroles and Moroccan spiced lamb tagines.
If you have an aged wine, let it be the star and show it off with simply cooked red meat of your choice. A younger northern Rhône with all its peppery earthiness actually doesn’t go so well with peppery food but does complement earthy mushroom or truffle flavours in a dish.
Porcupine Ridge Syrah
Kilikanoon Killermans’ Run Shiraz
Charles Melton Father in Law
Perret St Joseph
Rostaing Côte Rotie Classique
Coste Chaude Côtes du Rhône
Ch Vieux Parc Selection Red