For such a noble winegrape variety, Syrah can be a bit confounding because of its multiple personalities.
Its best known alternative persona goes by the name of Shiraz. That’s what it’s called in Australia, where it’s often made in a jammy style with a fairly high alcohol level.
Some vintners in South Africa also use the Shiraz name, as do a handful of California estates where the cellars are manned by Aussie ex-pats. Generally speaking, however, these bottlings share very little stylistically with their Aussie cousins.
Historically, Syrah has fared best in cooler climes with long growing seasons. The longer that Syrah grapes stay on the vines, the more varietal character they exhibit.
That equates with aromas and flavors of blueberries and assorted red fruits, joined by notes of spice, minerals, herbs, earth and even cocoa. And when made correctly, Syrah possesses a crisp acidity that makes it extremely food-friendly.
There are some very good bottlings of Syrah being made by California vintners who have come to be known collectively as the “Rhone Rangers.” Pockets of the Golden State, including Santa Barbara County, provide ideal settings for the variety.
And over the past 15 years or so, Washington state has emerged as another Syrah stronghold.
As summer nears, keep Syrah in mind when selecting a wine to serve with grilled meats.
But don’t neglect those sassy Shiraz bottlings from Down Under. They make enjoyable sipping wines any time of the year.