Everything You Need to Know About Syrah/Shiraz

A picker drops harvested Shiraz grapes into a bucket at a vineyard in Australia. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a popular red wine. Though the spiritual homeland of this red grape is France, Syrah has been planted throughout the world to great success. It expresses itself differently depending on the climate, soil and regional style, though certain characteristics remain the same.

Syrah is typically bold and full-bodied, with aromatic notes of smoke, black fruit and pepper spice. Stylistically, it can be round and fruity, or dense and tannic. And in warmer New World regions like Australia, Syrah might be called Shiraz. Whatever the name, Syrah/Shiraz offers a style for everyone.

What’s the difference between Shiraz and Syrah? Where does Syrah/Shiraz come from?

Technically, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. The difference between the two stems from regional expressions and climate-driven styles. Winemakers who work in cooler-climate growing regions, both in the Old World and New World, tend to call their wines Syrah. The most famous examples come from the northern Rhône Valley of France, notably Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. In the New World, in regions like Sonoma Coast, California; Yarra Valley, Australia; and parts of Chile, the wines are called Syrah because they emulate the leaner, acid-driven, savory styles of the Old World French classics.

Shiraz tends to come from warmer growing climates, namely the South Australian regions of Barossa, McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. Stylistically, these wines are lush, fruit-forward examples that embody the warmer, sunnier climate.

What does Syrah taste like?

Syrah is a dry, full-bodied, opaque wine, with brisk acidity, moderate-to-high alcohol levels (13–14.5%) and firm tannins. How does the best Syrah taste? It has a range of flavors, from smoke, bacon, herbs, red and black fruits, white and black pepper, to floral violet notes. When aged in oak, Syrah takes on flavors of vanilla and baking spice. In general, Syrah will be more elegant, lean and savory than its powerful, fruit-driven cousin Shiraz.

What does Shiraz taste like?

Wine drinkers that look for bold, full-bodied wines should reach for Shiraz. The wines are opaque, ruby-purple in hue, and offer concentrated jammy aromas and flavors of blueberry and blackberry, along with big, ripe tannins. Smoked meat notes like beef jerky and bacon along with black pepper spice, are also characteristic. Alcohol levels tend to be higher (14–15.5%), as are degrees of oak use and oak aging. Look to Barossa Valley for benchmark examples.

Shiraz grape juice pours into a vat at a winery

What is the color of Syrah/Shiraz?

Syrah/Shiraz has a deep ruby-red to purple hue because it’s made with red-skinned grapes. When youthful, wines can be inky and opaque. The color is generally darker than Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah color can change with age, as it can lose pigmentation and concentration while taking on garnet tones. Though not common, Syrah may be used to make rosé wines.

How much alcohol does a bottle of Syrah/Shiraz have?

The alcohol level in Syrah/Shiraz depends on where it’s grown and the weather during the year it was harvested. Cooler regions have lower alcohol, as do wet and cold vintages. Warmer regions, or dry and hot vintages, will increase alcohol levels. Syrah from cooler regions like France, or colder vintages, often have 13–14% alcohol by volume (abv), but can approach 14.5–15.5% when grown in a warmer climate or hotter vintage, as is typical in South Australia. And riper, bolder styles of Shiraz may have higher alcohol due to longer hang time on the vines.

Is Syrah/Shiraz sweet or dry?

Syrah and Shiraz are usually made in dry styles, though occasionally entry-level Shiraz may have a touch of residual sugar (RS). Keep in mind, tasting ripe fruit flavors like blueberry and blackberry, especially in warm-climate Shiraz, is not due to sugar content. A dry wine means that after the grapes are pressed, the sugar from the grape must is converted into alcohol by yeast. When all, or nearly all, of the sugar is converted, it creates a fully dry wine. Sometimes, a little RS is left behind. This might be purposeful, to give a hint of richness and sweetness to the wine, or it might be because the yeast didn’t finish the fermentation. A few grams per liter of RS is still considered a dry wine, however.

How many calories and carbs does Syrah have?

Syrah is typically dry. Of course, wine with little to no sugar doesn’t equate to wine without calories. Alcohol has calories. Typically, a five-ounce serving of Syrah has around 125 calories, or 625 calories in a 750ml bottle. Wines with more alcohol, like Shiraz, have higher calories per glass, around 175 calories for 15% alcohol. Sometimes, Shiraz has a touch of RS, which increases the calorie and carbohydrate content, but only a by a small amount. Dry wines usually range between zero to four grams of carbohydrates.

Storing bottles of wine in fridge. Alcoholic card in restaurant. Cooling and preserving wine

How should I serve Syrah/Shiraz?

Like all reds, Syrah has an ideal temperature range. Because of higher alcohol levels in Syrah/Shiraz (13–15.5%), wines should always have a slight chill, or the alcohol will taste hot and the flavors dull. Served too cold, however, and the aromas and flavors are muted. The ideal temperature range to serve Syrah/Shiraz is 60–65°F, which can be achieved with 15 minutes in the refrigerator. If you don’t finish a bottle of Syrah, replace the cork and stick it back in the fridge. The flavors will stay fresh for two to four days. Beyond that, the wine will start to oxidize.

Homemade pasta (casereccia) with beef ragu

What foods pair best with Syrah? What about Shiraz?

Syrah from cooler climates, like France and Sonoma Coast, has brisk acidity, moderate tannins, red and black fruits and earthy, smoky flavors. These wines go well with game, duck, mushrooms, stews, veal and pastas with meat ragù. Shiraz is riper and fruit-forward. Easy-drinking, fruity Shiraz goes great with casual fare like burgers and BBQ ribs. Richer, fuller-bodied styles with higher alcohol work with grilled beef, lamb and other roasted or braised meats. As with any pairing, try to match the wine’s weight and flavor intensity with the weight and flavor intensity of the food.

Published on April 23, 2019
Topics: Wine Basics


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