Syrah is a wonderful red grape variety whose origins were once believed to lie in the town of Shiraz, in what is now Iran. However, its historic home is actually found to the north of the River Rhône in France, where it is called Syrah and from where it travelled to its other stronghold, Australia. Here it was renamed as Shiraz to differentiate the two styles of wine. There is much more to the difference between wines than just the spelling of the name.
In France, from Valence to Vienne, Syrah wines are floral and spicy, transmitting a cool sensation of minerality which ensures they are extremely elegant and sophisticated wines. Côte-Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas, and Saint-Joseph are some of the appellations which fans of Syrah wines should get to know. The former two produce wines which are powerful yet fine, and improve with a certain degree of ageing in the bottle, while Cornas and Saint-Joseph wines are less long-living, fruitier and a little more rustic.
On the other side of the world, in Australia, however, the favoured style of Syrah or Shiraz wines is virtually the opposite. Here the wines have much more body, and express the warm climate and aromas of wood from ageing. Although Shiraz is used to make many basic wines for daily drinking, bringing out the strength and colour of the grape, some of the best top-quality Shiraz wines are in fact made here, including the Penfolds Grange.
In Italy Syrah has been successfully cultivated for years in Valle d’Aosta, Tuscany and Sicily. In Tuscany it was already used in the nineteenth century to round off Chianti; today, especially in the district of Cortona, near Montepulciano, it has an interesting mineral profile that also makes it suitable for ageing. Terse, subtle and fragrant, features of a mountain wine, it appears in Valle d'Aosta, where in blends, especially in Torrette, it softens the native Petit Rouge. More rounded, velvety and Mediterranean in Sicily, especially in the west, with some reserves that crown it among the most versatile and articulated wines of the island.
A good Syrah/Shiraz wine has aromas of violets and pepper, blackberries and blackcurrants, and, occasionally, smoke and aromatic herbs like rosemary. More mature wines, especially Australian ones, are creamy and chocolatey, well-structured and earthy. Time in the bottle gives them aromas of leather and tobacco.