Whether you’re drinking a big and bold Shiraz from Victoria or an elegant floral Syrah from Hawkes Bay, you won’t fail to fall in love with this very old grape variety.
What type of wine is Shiraz and Syrah?
Shiraz and Syrah are very popular types of dry red wine. Shiraz, grown in hot climates like Australia are full bodied, rich and bold with flavours of blackberries and fruit cake. Syrahs, grown in cooler climates are intense and elegant with flavours of spicy black pepper and dark plum red wine.
The wines tend to be very dark red, in some cases, almost black.
Shiraz and Syrah - are they the same thing?
Shiraz and Syrah are simply different names for the same grape variety. However, the wines the grape produces can have different styles depending on where they are grown.
The use of the name ‘Shiraz’ tends to be exclusive to Australia or wines that are produced in very hot areas.
The rest of the world tends to refer to the wines as ‘Syrah’. As well as the famous regions (appellations in France) of Hermitage, Cote Rosie, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph, Australia is famous for producing two very famous wines from Shiraz grapes; Penfold’s Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace.
A great romantic history involving legends of wounded knights bringing the grape cuttings from Persia to the Rhône Valley in France, has been discredited by DNA analysis that shows the Syrah grape is the result of crossing of two obscure grape varietals. Mondeuse Blanc and Dureza are the parent grapes of Syrah, both grapes are from Southeastern France which is the home of modern-day Syrah.
Made famous by the region of Hermitage in Northern Rhone (South Eastern France) the wine from this area, made from Syrah grapes became the standard for Syrah based wines. The region is named after the small chapel (Hermitage) Saint Christophe on the top of a nearby hill. Built in 1235 by the knight Gaspard de Sterimberg when he gained permission from the White Queen of Castille to build after being injured during the Albigensian Crusades of 1224. It was popularly thought until the DNA analysis the grape originated in Shiraz, Capital of the Persian Empire (modern day Iran) which produced a well-known wine called Shirazi wine.
Originally introduced into Australia by James Busby in 1882, the grapes were called Scyras, probably a mispronunciation of this name giving rise to the current name Shiraz as it is named in Australia.
Where is Shiraz and Syrah grown?
Syrah grapes need a warm climate to flourish, so in New Zealand most successful plantings are in Northland, Auckland, Waiheke Island, Hawkes Bay and a few warmer microclimates in Martinborough, Marlborough and Canterbury.
Shiraz, on the other hand, is planted in very warm Australian regions in places like the Barossa valley, Western Australia and Victoria.
Shiraz and Syrah blends
The Syrah grape is often co-fermented with a white grape variety called Viognier. This brings to the blend a floral note, a bit more spice and, oddly enough, helps deepen the colour.
Shiraz wine is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia to produce the blend Cabernet-Shiraz which is popular there.
What does Shiraz and Syrah taste like?
Shiraz and Syrah both have black fruit characters (think blackberries), medium to high tannin structure and a bit of black pepper.
Warmer regions that the grapes are grown in will make a significant difference to the flavour of the wine. Warm regions will provide more of the very ripe fruit flavours, black berry and the flavours will be more concentrated.
Therefore, Shiraz from Australia will have riper more concentrated fruit, black fruits and often a chocolate note. With the riper fruit often comes a higher alcohol level.
Cooler regions will produce wines that are learner, with black pepper and often herbaceous aromas with spice and floral notes.
Therefore, Syrah from New Zealand and France will be leaner, even a little more austere than its Australian counterparts. It has aromas and flavours of dark plum, black berry, spice (white or black pepper and star anise) cassis, licorice, mocha, blueberry and floral notes.
Is Shiraz sweet or dry?
Shiraz and Syrah is a dry red wine with little or no sugar. As some examples have strong aromas of blackberry or even chocolate, they may appear to have sugar, but normally they don’t.
High alcohol wines (over 13%) may appear slightly sweet. This is the effect of the alcohol not the sugar content.
Oak casksRed wines like Syrah are matured in oak casks for a period of 12 to 18 months which imparts the flavour of the oak (fresh cedar wood or pencil shavings and a slightly smokey character). It also allows for gentle oxidation (micro oxidation) to occur through the barrel staves, which softens the wine.
Shiraz & Syrah compared to other red wines
Syrah vs Cabernet Sauvignon
Syrah has lots of similarities it shares with Cabernet Sauvignon; red berry flavours, a slightly herbaceous aromas, dense dark fruit red fruits and full bodied. While both wine types have big tannin structure, Cabernet Sauvignon has tannins that are more apparent and also displays a cassis-like red currant flavour. Both wines will match similar food types and, with age, become very similar in weight, texture and flavour.
Syrah vs Pinot Noir
The tannins in Pinot Noir are usually softer and finer in comparison to Syrah. Pinot Noir has higher acid and fruit flavours with aromas of strawberry, cherry and red flowers.
Syrah vs Petite Sirah (Durif)
Petite Sirah (pronounced the same as Syrah) is not related to the Syrah grape and is mainly grown in California and Australia. It’s known by this name in the USA but the rest of the world calls it Durif. Durif is a very dark red, almost black in colour, has very big tannins and red fruits. It is a very big wine in comparison to Syrah and lacks its elegance and fineness. Think of Durif (Petite Sirah) as being like a big rich blockbuster Australian Shiraz on steroids!
Syrah vs Merlot
Merlot is a softer wine with red plum and softer tannins that Australian Shiraz. As young wines, there can be similarities in fruit and texture, but the Shiraz with its higher alcohol will often appear more concentrated and slightly sweeter.
Syrah vs Malbec
Malbec is a grape originally from France, it’s now widely grown in Argentina where it excels. It is very fruity with blackberry, plum, prune and often coffee and mocha notes, similar to Syrah, but tends to be a bigger and more dense wine. Known for big tannins like Shiraz, it is very dark coloured in some cases almost black. Compared to a New Zealand Syrah, the Malbec will be big, rich and very tannic.
Best New Zealand Shiraz and Syrahs
Shiraz and Syrah nutrition per 150ml glass (1 serving)
|120 calories per serving||3.5 grams per serving|
|13% alcohol which is 1.25 standard drinks per serving||Less than 0.5 grams per serving|
Storing Shiraz and Syrah
How long does Shiraz last?
A good well-made Syrah or Shiraz should last at least 15 years, and most won’t start tasting their best for 2 to 3 years.
Stored properly and that’s the secret, good Syrah and Shiraz are wines that will age and develop. Good storage conditions are, even temperature, ideally around 10C, in the dark away from light, especially UV light and if with a cork closure, lying on their sides. Expect at least 5 years and most should store well for 15 years.
Ideal storage conditions
Ideal storage conditions are in a cool even temperature away from light. Don’t refrigerate Syrah before opening unless the bottle is very hot (e.g. from sitting in a hot car).
Research in the US indicated that Syrahs less than 4 years old left open (with the lid back on) at room temperature for a week won’t suffer significant deterioration.
How to tell if your Syrah or Shiraz has “gone bad”Like any red wine, less than 5 years old, if the colour is brown mahogany and the wine smells dull without fruit aromas, it’s probably suffering from oxidation. If you just bought it, it should be returned.
These are wines that are best served at a ‘cool’ room temperature of about 15 degrees C.
Usually these wines are served too warm which makes them taste hot and the alcohol more apparent.
Store for 15 minutes in the fridge on a hot day to drop the temperature before serving.
Always serve Shiraz or Syrah in a glass that has a slightly narrower opening than bowl size. Never fill the glass more than half full.
All red wines can benefit from decanting, this is certainly the case with young Shiraz. The effect of aeration on young wines will make them appear softer when drinking them.
Pairing Shiraz & Syrah
Both Shiraz and Syrah are wines with big flavour and noticeable tannins, so suit fuller flavoured dishes.
They are usually matched with wild game, beef and darker meat casseroles. Tthey are also remarkably successful when matched with tandoori cuisine, green bean dishes, Asian roast pork and, surprisingly, Singapore Chilli Crab!
Shiraz is one of the few wines that matches chocolate, particularly bitter chocolate and chocolate with high cocoa percentage.
Shiraz and Syrah match extremely well with cheese. They pair beautifully with aromatic and blue cheeses. Try them with Gruyere and Raclette and a tasty aged cheddar.
Jim Harre - about the author
After studying viticulture and winemaking at Hawkes Bay’s Eastern Institute of Technology, Jim worked several vintages, both in New Zealand and Internationally as a winemaker.
Identified as having a very good palate for quality assessment of wine, Jim has been a major part of New Zealand’s Wine Judging competitions for over 25 years. Now a well respected International Judge, he works as a Chair of Judges in Wine Competitions in USA, Japan, China, Australia and, of course, New Zealand.
He is also regarded as a world authority on the effect of how wine perception changes in aircraft, a panel chair at the world’s largest competition; the International Wine Challenge, held each year in London; as well as Wine Consultant to Air New Zealand.
It is Jim’s love of education and teaching people about wine that makes him one of New Zealand’s most recognised Wine professionals.