It's called Shiraz in Australia, but everywhere else the grape is known as Syrah. It has grown in France's Rhone Valley since Roman times. The grape arrived in Australia in the 1800s and became one of the most widely planted varieties in the country. Not too long after that, Syrah arrived in the United States, but only in the last ten years or so has the grape become very fashionable.
Syrah has all sorts of legends attached to it. One has it that Syrah was brought by the Crusaders from Shiraz, Persia, to the Rhone. Another says the ancient Romans brought it from Syracuse in Sicily. But DNA testing has shown that Syrah is really a native of the Rhone Valley.
Syrah the Survivor
The Syrah grape is black, thick-skinned, and can survive almost anywhere. That's why you'll find Syrah in places as diverse as France, Australia, California, Washington, and South Africa. Even within those areas, Syrah thrives both in cool climates and in warm and sunny conditions.
In the northern Rhone, Syrah is used in the wines from Cornas, Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, and Crozes-Hermitage. The Syrah is rarely blended there. When young, the wines are deeply colored and tannic with a distinct spiciness. As they age, they ease into flavors of blackberries, plums, and smoke.
In the southern Rhone, Syrah is blended with other varietals to produce such well-known wines as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Australia mainly produces big, rich, tannic Shiraz wines.
A SAMPLING OF SYRAH
Spice Route “Chakalaka” Swartland (South Africa)
d'Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Dead Arm” Shiraz (Australia)
Arnot-Roberts, Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah (Mendocino County, California)