Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
Syrah versus Shiraz
Why the difference? All grape varieties actually have many names; often it's a difference of language (Pinot Gris in French versus Pinot Grigio in Italy, for example), or various local names acquired over the course of its history growing in different regions.
Syrah originally hails from France, specifically the Rhône Valley. Most often it is blended with other Rhône varieties, namely Grenache and Mourvèdre, to make a variety of different wines that have a spicy black pepper streak and earthy—sometimes even barnyard stinky—aromas overlaying a core of ripe black fruit.
On the other side of the globe, the Syrah grape found a welcome home throughout Australia when it was brought over from France in 1831 by James Busby, known as the "Father of Australian viticulture." By the 1860s Syrah was already well-established as an important variety. For unknown reasons, Busby called the grape Scyras and Ciras rather than Syrah (maybe that was just the way the French word sounded in an Aussie accent). Some have suggested that over time these names morphed into the current moniker, Shiraz.
Whatever the etymology, calling it an entirely different name does make a lot of sense as Australian Shiraz is a very different beast than French Syrah. Intensely fruity to the point of almost being sweet, Australian Shiraz is a veritable fruit bomb. It's also often aged in American oak barrels, which imparts vanilla-like overtones—as opposed to most French wines, which are aged in French oak that imparts a more toasty quality.
Aussie Shiraz skyrocketed in popularity in the late '90s and early 2000s and the market became flooded the stuff, ranging from very excellent, well-made wines to super cheap plonk. I find really cheap Shiraz particularly insidious because it is often subjected to various processes that mimic aging in American oak barrels, but result in a truly inferior wine: producers will mix Shiraz with oak chips or oak staves before bottling, and the end result is usually an overpowering fake vanilla stench.
However, there is some truly delicious Aussie Shiraz out there, and the quality has leveled out somewhat now that the market craze has died down. (Argentinean Malbec replaced it as the world's hottest grape, but that's another story entirely.)
Outside of France and Australia, Syrah/Shiraz is sold under both names depending on each winery's preference. In Canada and most other New World countries, Shiraz is more common; typically the Old World countries stick to the French name.
The Old World style of Syrah pairs particularly well with any kind of roasted or grilled red meat: steaks, rack of lamb, bison and even burgers. New World Shiraz is a bit trickier to pair due to its intense fruitiness; grilled or roasted meats served in a sweet sauce (especially fruit sauces) work fairly well. But Shiraz is also good just as a quaffing wine—when you've got a wine with this much oomph, sometimes it's best to just keep things simple and drink it all by itself. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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