The world is in the midst of a wine revolution, with wines all across the world becoming more popular, and most buyers are starting to look for something different than the same old Cabernet and Chardonnay. One of the grapes benefitting from this change is Syrah. The wine is a spicy, earthy, more alcoholic (14% is standard) style that offers different flavors from Cabernet, while still powerful and delicious. Syrah’s popularity started to grow in the 1970s, prompting an unprecedented growth in plantings from Australia to the Rhône to California.
Although not as versatile as Cabernet, the Syrah grape brings out different flavors wherever it is planted. Dark berries and violets, chocolate, espresso, and black pepper are tastes that are generally common to the Syrah grape. Some Syrahs have exotic flavors such as leather and truffle, along with the taste of oak (from oak fermentation, which Syrah reacts fairly well to).
Due to its tannin content, Syrah is a very long-lasting wine. Although its longevity is not quite as impressive as the great Bordeauxs, Syrah is a wine that can easily last 30 years. Australian Syrah, since it is relatively new, does not last quite as long as French Rhône blends, but can still age well. This has undoubtedly contributed to its popularity in recent years, with affordable but still reputable wines becoming desirable.
Syrah is known for being an inexpensive wine in the New World. In the Rhône, however, Syrah is much different. Many wine experts consider Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage to be the twin heartlands of the grape. In recent years Côte-Rôtie has only just caught up to historically famous Hermitage, mainly due to the efforts of producer E. Guigal.
When immigrant James Busby brought the varietal to Australia in the 1830s, it quickly became popular, and has been ever since. It is called Shiraz in Australia, and is quite different from French Syrahs. Although some are Rhône-style blends, most Australian producers choose to make 100% varietal. This Shiraz has gained a reputation for being a full-bodied, heavy, spicy wine, most of which is inexpensive but still can be cellared. A perfect compromise for those looking for great wine at a lower price!
One of the few Australian Syrahs over $100, Penfolds Grange Syrah has gained a reputation as being quite collectible. From the Barossa Valley, the wine has been compared to even the best Hermitages.
Penfolds aside, most Syrah is inexpensive but still good, with some $20 wines scoring 90 points and above from critics. The same is true in California. In South Africa, Argentina, and Chile, plantings of Syrah are expanding. Although generally versatile, Syrah has been found to perform better in warmer climates than most other grapes.
Syrah performs the unusual dual purpose of being both Australia’s flagship wine grape, and a great grape in France’s Rhône as well. Wines produced in these two very different regions prove that Syrah can make diverse styles of wine.