This bold red has deeply ripe fruits of boysenberry, blueberry, and blackberry paired with an array of aromatics from the spice cabinet like clove, licorice, and allspice. It's a seductive wine that, when grown in a warm climate, makes for a luscious jammy red best paired with an equally heady dinner. When from a slightly cooler climate, syrah can express fragrant aromatics and good acidity. So, what are the notable regions for syrah? There are a few, each translating subtle nuances in the terroir through the wines.
New World vs. Old World Syrah
Not to overgeneralize, but New World and Old World syrah do typically vary a bit in style. Old World syrah tends to have more savory flavors matched by the fruit notes. Prominent earthy notes of olive, game, cassis, garden herbs, and barbeque drive the characteristics of the style. They also tend to have slightly higher tannins and acidity compared to their counterparts. New World syrahs are defined by deeply-hued purple and blue fruits combined with chocolate, vanilla, pepper, and violet. They can be more jammy and texturally rich.
Notable Regions for Syrah
Whether New World or Old World, syrah expresses regional nuances from specific sites based on micro-climate and soil. The sixth most widely planted grape in the world, syrah is abundant in vineyards across numerous continents and is referred to by a handful of names depending on where it is grown. There are, however, a few regions that produce exquisite representations of the grape and have become known for distinctive, high-quality syrah.
Syrah originated in France and remains to be a very important grape throughout the Rhône valley. Some of the best representations of syrah are in the appellations of Côte Rôtie, Cornas, and Hermitage in Northern Rhône. Here, they are pure expressions of the fruit typically bottled as a single varietal with dark fruit flavors of black currant, savory meaty characteristics, prominent black pepper, and an underlying tone of smoky charcoal. The wines have well-balanced acidity and tannins, as they are in a cooler climate than southern Rhône.
Within individual appellations, Côte Rôtie typically expresses more delicate and feminine compared to Hermitage. The two regions produce premium wines, for a price. If you are looking to experience a Northern Rhône expression of syrah for a bit less, look for the more affordable appellation of Crozes-Hermitage. Continuing south to southern Rhône, syrah plays an important, yet less front and center role, in the appellations of Gigondas and Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. Here, it is often blended with grenache and mourvèdre to add structure, color, and tannins.
On the other side of the world, syrah is known as shiraz, and it is widely planted across the country. The hot climates of Barossa Valley and Hunter Valley are well known to produce fine examples of the grape full of punchy blackberry, black plum, chocolate, and sweet spice. Typically oaked, they develop secondary aromas of vanilla, coconut, and smoke and tend to have great depth. The Mediterranean climate of McLaren Vale also produces fully flavored shiraz with juicy fruit and a spiced characteristic, yet they are a bit softer and less showy than Barossa shiraz. In cooler climates, like Margaret River, the shiraz more closely resembles Rhône styles.
In the United States, syrah is planted in the warmer parts of California and Washington states. Important AVAs (American Viticultural Area) include: Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara in California along with the Columbia Valley in Washington. The hot climates can produce particularly saturated expressions, with big bold and sometimes jammy fruit. High quality syrah can benefit from a number of years of aging to really bring some of the smoked meat and pepper complexities to the forefront of the palate. In many of these AVAs, particularly in California, syrah is being planted alongside other classic Rhône varietals and blended.
South Africa is another New World hot spot for shiraz. It is planted throughout the country from the Mediterranean Cape to higher, cooler sites with a spectrum of styles. Prominent areas for shiraz include: Paarl, Swartland, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch. The best examples look to the Rhône for stylistic tips and display notes of blackberry with that classic black pepper and tapenade.
Getting to Know Syrah
From its birthplace in France to the hot valleys in Australia and beyond, syrah has made a name for itself as a deeply hued and savory wine with a big, bold personality. The best way to explore what this grape has to offer is to round up a curated collection of expressions from each of the four main regions. You'll get to experience each climate, geography, and style across your palate.