There may be no set of twins more similar yet different than these two – Syrah and Shiraz. In the 1988 movie “Twins’ it seemed unlikely that Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger were related. Yet the of the ending of the movie revealed they were. Oh mama!
Same But Different
Twins share the same DNA but can express themselves and appear so differently. This is the case with Syrah and Shiraz. If you love big bold red wines with mouth filling richness and flavour – look no further than Shiraz. Blackberry, black cherry, with licorice or black pepper spice aromas and flavours are classic tasting notes for Shiraz. It can be a friendly sipper because it has supple tannin and less acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, this style is so appealing that it put Australia on the map in the early 90’s and reigned supreme for a decade. To understand Shiraz, is to understand Syrah. In fact, before the movement to protect European names came into effect in the 80’s, Shiraz was known as Hermitage in Oz. Hermitage is perhaps France’s the most iconic appellation for Syrah from the Northern Rhône Valley.
Stylistically however the Northern Rhone is the extreme boundary in which Syrah can fully ripen; hence the styles of Syrah here are more red fruit and white pepper with higher acidity and firmer tannin. You might say instead of a big warm hug like Shiraz, Syrah is a little more aggressive and a little less cuddly. From Northern Rhone, there is speculation that Syrah migrated south to the warmer Rhone Valley and Southern France. In these warmer climates in the south Syrah exhibits both red and black fruit with black pepper, good acidity, balancing tannin and a bit more richness.
So how did Syrah get to Australia?
Back 1833, James Busby toured France and Spain taking vine clippings that he felt had possibility for Australian terroir. John MacArthur is credited with importing the first vine clippings to Australia about 20 years earlier. This activity led to the planting of vineyards in and around Sydney and north in the Hunter Valley. What would eventually be called Hermitage (red) was produced in these regions and the broader regions in South East Australia. Some of the oldest Shiraz vineyards are Langmeil (1843) Turkey Flat (1847) and Tahbilk (1860) still exist today. What’s important to remember is that phylloxera – that terrible traveling louse that infected the vines of Europe between 1855 and 1870 – devastated the vineyards of France. Hence some of the oldest vineyards for Syrah and Shiraz are found elsewhere – like Australia.
Syrah originates from the Rhone Valley in France, with clippings transported to Australia 180 years ago. The name Hermitage was dropped and a new name was found in Shiraz for this style in Australia. Essentially it’s the same variety producing big, bold red wines with very different expressions as a result of “terroir” (French for climate, geography, geology, etc). This variation in style showcases a sense of place from extremes – Northern Rhone cool and Barossa hot. Both Syrah and Shiraz are endearing and delicious offering the consumer lots of choice and food pairing possibilities.
How to shop for Syrah/Shiraz
No matter the wine you buy, it’s important to follow top quality producers. If you are just starting out that’s not so easy. Finding the style you like might be more important that producer until you have a little tasting history under your belt. Here is a stylistic approach to finding and enjoying good wine made from the red grape that has us in a bit of a quandary. What's your style?
Medium bodied, juicy & fresh
France - Saint Desirat Ardeche Syrah 2018 $13.49
South Africa - Bruce Jack Shiraz 2018 $15.99
Australia – Wakefield Clare Valley Shiraz 2017 $19.99
Chapoutier Meysonniers 2016 Crozes Hermitage $26.99 *on sale
Full bodied, ripe and opulent
Chile - Montes Alpha Colchagua Syrah 2018 $25.99
Australia - Torbreck Woodcutters Barossa Shiraz 2017 $33.99 *on sale
BC - Painted Rock Syrah 2017 $42.99
USA - K Vintners Motor City Kitty Syrah 2016 $49.97
Australia - Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra 2017 $53.99
Medium to Full bodied, elegant & age worthy
France - Delas Les Launes 2016 Crozes- Hermitage $21.99 *on sale
BC – Winemakers Cut 2018 $26.49
BC – Nichol Nates Vineyard Syrah 2017 $26.86|Marquis
NZ – Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2018 $48.61|Marquis
France - Pierre Gaillard 2017 Cornas $58.97
France - Alan Graillot 2017 Crozes Hermitage $57.99
Australia – Shaw & Smith Shiraz 2018 $65.13|Marquis
Classic dishes to go with Syrah dominant wines
Syrah from France, with its textured tannin, flavour and fresh acidity tend to pair best with rich hearty dishes, stews, roasts and grilled meats including game.
Rich opulent styles of Shiraz pair well with strong cheddar (old) or mellow blue vein cheeses (Cambozola).
For Vegetarian options consider grilled eggplant and veggie burgers with the fixings.
Here is a classic French dish called "Cassoulet" with a great variety of ingredients making for a complex dish that suits Syrah for Northern Rhone. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/toulouse-style-cassoulet