A Grape By Any Other Name—Syrah? Shiraz?

Yep…..I know a few of you have pondered this red wine conundrum (anyone catch the pun-comment if you did).   When the Australian invasion began you started hearing about this unknown varietal, but let's put it to rest right now…Shiraz and Syrah are viticulturally the same species of black grape.  Only true difference:  Australians like to call the grape by the name Shiraz…..other countries, Syrah.  That's pretty much the story.  

The grape is thought to have originated in France, and at some point in the 1800's it was likely carried from France to Australia.   Old vine Shiraz still grows down under,  but most vines were planted extensively in the 1960s.  Southern Australia, particularly the Barossa Valley, Adelaide and McClaren Vale are big Shiraz growing regions.  Probably the most well-known Australian Shiraz producer, Penfolds, is located in that area.   I was inspired to write on Shiraz/Syrah because of a great bottle Drew shared on New Year's Eve.  You may remember Drew from my Pinot blog a few months ago, he's the friend with good taste in wine, and the one who got me into David Bruce Pinot Noir.   The bottle was, 3 Rings Shiraz 2005, from the Barossa Valley in Southern Australia.  We had been drinking a very enjoyable Bordeax blend, and moved on to this bottle from his wine club.  I'm not usually a fan of Australian Shiraz;  I think I mistakenly drink them too young.  I really thought this was a great wine, and a great contrast to our previous bottle. 

It is made in the style of a warm weather Shiraz; it was inky, with hints of butterscotch and popcorn.  It's tannins were pronounced, but not too much so, and it was complex and interesting.  It certainly tickled my palate more than the Bordeaux, a style I drink a lot, and the fact it was a 2005 certainly helped.  Shiraz really needs a bit of aging–it's too bitter and acidic if drunk too young.  I've seen the 2007 available at www.wine.com for about $19.  A couple of other under $20 bottles of Shiraz I've liked include d'Arenberg Laughing Magpie, a blend with viognier that I've picked up at Costco, and Boarding Pass (see the clever label below).  Funny thing I learned while researching this blog entry is that Boarding Pass, which I got through my friend Ray a few years back, is actually produced and imported by the same two guys that bring us 3 Rings.…hmmmm I find that to be a very interesting indication of something about my palate.  I guess I know what I like.

 In France, Syrah is considered a particularly noble grape.  It ages unbelievably well, and is one of the most planted grapes in that country.  If you like reds from the Rhone Valley (Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage), you like Syrah and it's blending buddies.  Another  friend and I have had conversations re: this specific grape.  He swears to liking Syrah, but not liking Shiraz.  What I like about this grape is that it is a classic demonstration of the effect of terroir (refer to my past post on terroir–or just think climatic, topographic conditions).  There are huge terroir differences between the land and climates of France and Australia–no surprise the end-product is so different and detectable. 

Today, these grapes are being grown in larger quantities in CA (many in the Central Coastal zone from Monterey to Paso Robles).   Recent years have seen a group of producers beginning to specialize in the varietals of the Rhone Valley, these "Rhone Rangers" are developing their own cult following (e.g., Randall Graham of Bonny Doon and Bob Lindquist of Qupe') and we can only benefit from that as  more producers  begin to plant Syrah all over the state.  A couple of my favorites are Bonny Doone Cigare Volant and Eberle Paso Robles Syrah….both pay homage to their French idols, while maintaining their own unique identity. 

Try a bottle of Syrah or Shiraz this weekend and let everyone know what you think! xoxoxSusan



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