Shiraz

All you need to know about Syrah: A quick guide

Syrah is a bold and dark wine. It’s one of the darkest, “inkiest” red varieties, and it’s pretty bold in flavor and body too! Often the grape will drink fuller than Cabernet and Zinfandel. This variety is also exciting because it can taste so different depending on where it’s from. There’s the classic Rhone style, which can be blended with other varietals such as Grenache and Mouvedre. There’s Australian Shiraz, which is very concentrated and spicy. Then there’s California Syrah, which growers in the area are experimenting with more and more, and where you can find various styles from fruity and dense, to herbal and meaty!

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. The classic grape, Syrah, originated in France. Australia and South Africa almost always label it Shiraz. The USA uses both names interchangeably. No matter what you call it, Syrah/Shiraz is a great grape for big red wine lovers. 

The following guide will illustrate what Shiraz tastes like (aroma, flavor, and structure). It will also tell you where it’s from, provide you with common food recommendations, top producers, similar varieties, and let you know why you should be drinking more of it!

How would I describe Syrah/Shiraz?

Bold

Syrah/Shiraz is up there with the big red wines of the world. It is dark and powerful. You will know this right away with it’s dark color, full body, and big dark fruit flavors.

Savory

Notes of olive and meatiness are often found in a glass of Syrah (especially a Rhone style). It usually showcases some sort of savory note. This can make it perfect for certain food pairings. 

Ripe

Due to it’s bold nature, Syrah/Shiraz will often give you a lot of ripe fruit. Australian Shiraz is known to be full of ripe black fruit and spice. 

What does Syrah/Shiraz taste like?

Shiraz tastes

These are the most familiar tastes and aromas I typically find in a glass of Syrah/Shiraz. It’s also common to find black cherry, herbs, spice, vanilla, chocolate, and meaty notes depending upon where the wine is from, and how it is made. Remember, wine tastes are somewhat relative. There may be some different tasting notes you consistently find while drinking Syrah/Shiraz.

What about structure?

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to structure for every grape, however, there IS a general range when it comes to body, acid, alcohol, and tannin for each. Below are general guidelines for classic representations. Growing conditions and winemaking techniques can impact each of the following.

Full Body

Think of that weight as a liquid scale, from water (light body) to heavy cream (full body) in your mouth. Syrah is a full-bodied red wine.

Wine body

Medium Plus Acid

You can judge acidity based on whether your mouth waters after you take a sip of something. The more you salivate, the higher the acid. Syrah has a good amount of acid. (It’s pretty balanced as far as acid and body.)
Wine Acid

Medium Plus Alcohol

You can feel alcohol ‘burn’ the back of your throat when you take a sip. Syrah will range in alcohol, but it is generally on the higher side. 
Wine Alcohol

Medium Tannin

Tannin contributes to the dryness of a wine. It comes from the skin of the grapes during the winemaking process. You can tell a wine has high tannin if it dries out your tongue. It imparts almost a bitter flavor. Syrah has a fair amount of tannin. It can range from Medium to Medium Plus (and sometimes high).
Wine Tannin

Where is Syrah/Shiraz from?

French wine

France

Primarily in The Northern Rhone Valley

Syrah from this region is likely to taste very different from any other! It’s the birthplace of the grape and the best syles are found in the Northern Rhone. These wines will generally have less fruit and more meaty, olive, floral, and spice notes. They will be labeled by the sub-regions within the northern Rhone. These sub-regions are Hermitage (the best of the best), Crozes Hermitage (bright acidity), Côte Rôtie (bold), and St. Joseph (great value).  

Australian Wine

Australia

Primarily in Barossa and McLaren Vale

Shiraz is one of Australia’s original grape varieties. It was brought to the region (from France) by James Busby and is very popular in the US! Austrailia is known for its creative winemaking practices and produces some very fun styles. Shiraz is grown in nearly every sub-region in Australia, although Barossa is where the varietal shines. Wines from here will be very concentrated and full bodied, with dark fruit and spice! I can often taste menthol in these wines as well.  

You can also find wonderful Shiraz from California, Washington, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, and Chile.

What foods should I pair with Syrah/Shiraz?

Syrah Food Pairings

Blue Cheese

Why?

A strong cheese needs a strong wine. This rich cheese paired with a rich/bold Syrah is perfect! The fruitiness in Syrah is also great to level out the saltiness in the cheese. 

The most fantastic pairing would be a steak with a blue cheese crust or sauce!  

Syrah Food Pairings

Burgers

Why?

Meaty and smokey are flavors found in both burgers and Syrah! This pairing allows the food and wine to complement each other perfectly. There’s nothing that goes better with a huge piece of meat on a bun than a big meaty wine. Syrah is truly the perfect burger wine. 

Syrah Food Pairings

Barbeque

Why?

Generally, BBQ entails some sort of meat. The savory flavors in most BBQ meats will pair well with the savory notes found in Syrah. Syrah also can be rich and fruity, which can complement a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce. Perfect for a summer meal!

What other similar varieties would I enjoy?

(common confusions)

Cabernet Sauvignon has:

  • more tannin
  • more pyrazines (vegetal flavors)
  • less meaty/gamey notes

Zinfandel has:

  • typically less concentrated color
  • typically more red fruit notes
  • more inconsistent fruit quality (can be ripe, tart, stewed, etc.)

Malbec has:

  • more ‘magenta’ in color
  • typically less savory qualities
  • typically more red fruit notes

A Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine with a passion for everything wine + beverage!