Hurrah for Syrah!
Learn about this delicious fruit of the vine with us….
What is Syrah Wine?
Syrah wine is wine made from the berries of the Syrah grape varietal. It finds its roots in the Rhône growing region in the South East of France, where it was created through the cross-pollination of the now antiquated Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche varietals. A heavy, peppery wine – Syrah is an acquired taste, but that doesn’t stand in the way of its many fans.
But before we jump into its flavour, character or history, let’s answer the most frequently asked question about this wonderful wine: “Syrah, don’t you mean Shiraz?”
What’s the Difference Between Shiraz and Syrah?
There’s no difference between Syrah and Shiraz wine. The difference is purely etymological. The name “Syrah” means “a grape from Syria” – and the place in Syria where the grape supposedly originated was the ancient city of Shiraz.
The grape, as discussed, is from France. The city of Shiraz has a long history of viticulture, but not one associated with the fragrant French grape.
The etymological difference does, however, symbolise a difference in tradition, as the new world (Australia, South Africa and the US) adopted the less traditional “Shiraz” while the French have stuck with “Syrah”. New-World Syrah is said to be heavier and fuller-bodied than the old world version.
Where Does Syrah Wine Come From?
If you believe the name of the word – you’d be sold on the fact that Syrah was an ancient, Middle Eastern cultivar. And if you tasted it, the heavy flavour and spiced accents would probably have you convinced.
But the Syrah grape is neither ancient nor Middle Eastern. It wasn’t even popular in France until the 1960s! The Rhône Valley in the year 1961 only had 2000 hectares of land dedicated to the cultivation of the Syrah grape. At present, that number stands at over 70 000 hectares. This massive increase in production is due in part to the fact that the Syrah grape is easy to cultivate almost anywhere in the world. And once people get into a certain wine, they want to taste the “real thing”.
How is Syrah Wine Made?
Syrah wine is made in a similar manner to other types of red wine, so let’s go through the process.
Most winemakers will concede that wine is made in the vineyard. The fruit has to be picked at the perfect time to ensure the perfect bottle. The Syrah berries are picked when ripe (they will appear dark, almost brown in colour).
Crushing and Pressing
These days, most wine is crushed mechanically, and not under foot. While stomping on grapes is fun, it’s not particularly hygienic. The whole bunches are crushed before being pressed. Shiraz is a red wine, and so contact with skins before the pressing process is required. The skins and seeds are separated (pressed) from the juice after the liquid has had time to absorb the colour and flavour of the skins.
Yeast, usually wild (naturally occurring) yeast, is allowed to settle into the juice, and the fermentation process begins. An alcohol level of 10% in cool climates versus a high of 15% in warmer areas is considered average. Once the sugar has been converted into alcohol, the winemaker is left with a dry red.
The clarification process is made up of three steps: moving the wine from one fermentation container to another, filtering, and fining.
The first stage is very rough, like pouring tea from one cup to the next while the leaves stay in the bottom of the first. Filtering is done using a sieve-like mesh to remove larger particles. Fining is when the winemaker uses a substance like egg white or (more commonly nowadays) bentonite clay to attract any small solids preventing the wine from being clear.
Ageing and Bottling
After clarification, the winemaker has the choice of bottling a wine immediately or giving the wine additional ageing. Further ageing can be done in the bottle, stainless steel or ceramic tanks, or barrels. The choices and techniques here all impart different flavours to the wine. For example, wine fermented in barrels is ‘wooded’ and has a distinct flavour profile.
What Does Syrah Wine Taste Like?
Good Syrah wine can have a wonderful and quite unique bouquet of aromas. The flavours are quite in-your-face, fairly acidic and almost savoury. Shiraz is also relatively high in alcohol (up to 14.5%). Some of the notes to look out for are peppercorns, bacon, herbs, smoke and floral accents.
As mentioned above, new-world Shiraz wine is generally bolder and sturdier than the French Shiraz.
Is Syrah Dry or Sweet?
Syrah is a dry red wine (meaning it stands its ground against a variety of potential food pairings)
How To Drink Syrah Wine
Syrah should be drunk slowly – there’s a small orchestra of flavours that need time to build up in your mouth. The acidity will probably be the first thing you notice, but then there’s also the weight that will set in upon holding it in your mouth.
On the exhale is where you’ll start to get a taste of the more complex, subtle notes of spice and savoury floral accents.
What Food Does Syrah Wine Pair With?
As Syrah is a strong, full-bodied wine, it can pair with pretty much anything you throw at it. Some good suggestions are lamb, steak, grilled vegetables: anything that’s rich and fatty will balance excellently with Syrah.
However, it’s best to avoid subtler flavours like seafood which could be entirely flattened in the pairing.
Why is Syrah So Expensive?
If you live outside of Europe but in a wine producing region, Shiraz is normally fairly inexpensive. If you’re buying imported Syrah from the Rhône however, the price could be sky high.
Which is Sweeter: Merlot or Syrah?
Definitely Merlot, which is a softer, sweeter varietal. While dry merlot is lovely, it’s a lot gentler than the savoury, peppery Syrah.