There has been much debate about the origins of the Syrah grape. It is thought that the grape started out in the town of Shiraz, in Persia. Still, this is debated as researchers have found that the grape is related to two indigenous vines from south east France. Until the 1970's Syrah was almost exclusively planted in southern France and Australia. Since then it has traveled far and wide and can be found thriving in all parts of the world, from Switzerland to California. Shiraz performs best in warm climate places where it can ripen fully, thus limiting the places where it can be cultivated.
As I mentioned before, this grape tends to produce deep, medium to full bodied wines, however the likenesses between Shiraz and Syrah stop there. Here we have a prime example of how geographical effects wine production. Yay!! A new lesson in Terrior!
Syrah, as it is classically grown in the Rhone Valley, often makes for peppery, spiced wines that are hinted with berries. It is usually dark, and lush in color that is far earthier than its Aussie Shiraz version. If nothing else, the Rhone Syrah is an elegant and complex wine that's a bit more serious (think Batman), but extremely enjoyable. French soils are heavy with limestone and can hold a lot more moisture. This forces the vines to go deeper for nutrients, which in turn makes for a generally more complex and richer wine. Moreover, Syrah is produced in a cooler climate where it doesn't ripen as quickly, which lends itself to a less ripe and more sultry and smoky, plum flavored wine.
Which now leads me to Syrah's alternate identity; Shiraz. Widely grown in Australia, Shiraz tends to be bright and vibrant with lots of jammy fruit. They also tend to be a lot less complex than a Syrah. This is because Shiraz is grown in a warm climate with sandy soils where grapes ripen fasters and vines get their nutrients easily. The Australian Shiraz can be made in several different styles, some being easy drinking quaffers with lots of fruit (Bruce Wayne-esq, if you will). Here, even the fermentation process (which tends to be faster than in France) plays a part in end product of the wine. A shorter aging process leads to a less complex and more fruit driven Aussie Shiraz that we know and love. While a longer process leads to bolder, more concentrated/tannic juice, which is why we get the smoky yet firm characteristics often found in the French Syrah.
As you can see, there is much more than just the grape that meets the eye (or should I say nose here). Even if you like Cabernet, it may be more like you like California Cabernet as opposed to the French Cabernet. As we see here, Shiraz and Syrah may be the same grape, but it has the ability to produce almost completely opposite wines depending on climate, geography, and production practices. If you're up for some extra credit, go to your local wine shop and try a Syrah and Shiraz side by side. Are you a Batman or a Bruce Wayne drinker?
New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!