07.09.2017 |

Episode #10 of the course Wine basics: Top ten wine varietals by Saffron Hickey


Today, our top wine varietal is Shiraz/Syrah (shih-rahz/sear-ah). This varietal produces the biggest, boldest red wine in the world. Shiraz is Australia’s most significant red grape. In France and the US, it is known as Syrah. Although these are the same varietal, climates and production styles mean Shiraz is bolder and fruitier, while Syrah is more spicy and earthy.


Major Regions

In France, Syrah is grown in the Rhone Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon, often on hillsides for maximum sun exposure. The Hermitage area in the Rhone Valley is the oldest producer and currently produces the most expensive in the world. Languedoc-Roussillon is a high-quality alternative, producing 100% Syrah wines. French Syrah is peppery, growing leathery with age.

Australian Shiraz is grown in hot temperatures, producing bittersweet chocolate flavors. Classic blends include Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre (also known as GSM). The Barossa Valley region is most famous, known for spicy wines, but other regions offer variations. McLaren Vale Shiraz has dark fruit and rich chocolate flavors, while Hunter Valley produces medium-bodied Shiraz with red fruit and savory notes.

Other major producers include California, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina—reminiscent of the fruity Australian style—as well as Spain and Italy—closer to the earthy French style.



Note: The scents and tastes people perceive in wine vary greatly depending on individual palates, production methods, climate, and more.

Sweetness: Shiraz/Syrah is a dry red wine with medium tannins and medium acidity.

Appearance: Dark crimson to inky purple, opaque.

Aromas and flavors: Blackberry, blueberry, black pepper, dark chocolate, cloves, leather, mint, tar, game, smoke, sage, rosemary, charcoal, raspberry jam.

Body: Full-bodied.

Aging: Shiraz/Syrah is usually aged in oak. Older barrels are common to maintain as much of the fresh flavors as possible. It is not as suitable for aging in the bottle as Cabernet Sauvignon, with most wines only suiting five to nine years of aging.


Food Pairing

Shiraz/Syrah should be paired with equally bold foods, such as charred meats, hearty stews, roasted games, aged cheese, and spicy charcuterie. Old World Syrah pairs well with grilled lamb and floral, aromatic herbs like mint, rosemary, and sage. Australian Shiraz works with grilled pork or beef seasoned with pepper, cloves, or cumin, or plum sauce for bringing out fruit notes.


Selection Guide

Syrah from the Rhone Valley, France, has impressive smoke and savory characteristics. Languedoc-Roussillon offers a less expensive alternative, usually single varietal. French Syrah has great aging potential for leathery, gamey flavors far from the original fruit.

For those new to bold reds, Australian Shiraz is a good choice, offering bright fruit notes like lighter reds. Barossa Valley wines are classic and easy to find, but McLaren Vale also offers reliable quality and Hunter Valley is best for lighter Shiraz. Consider a traditional blend like GSM (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre).

Note that despite its fruitiness, Shiraz can have firmer tannins and a higher alcohol content than Syrah. Shiraz can be described as bold and punchy, while the flavors of Syrah are mellower but very long lasting.

Thank you for studying Top Ten Wine Varietals! Now you can describe and select the most popular wines from around the world. Many of the wines discussed are traditional, but remember that this industry is constantly growing and innovating. Once you’ve sampled these ten varietals in their classic style, try something new or unusual!


Recommended reading

Austin, Michael, 2017. Syrah Is like a Violin, and Shiraz Is Like a Fiddle (But Sometimes Not). Chicago, IL: Chicago Tribune.

Puckette, Madeline, 2013. The Secrets to Syrah Wine. New York, NY: Wine Folly.

Robinson, Jancis, 2017. Syrah. Oxford:

Stephens, Nick, 2016. Saint or Sinner? How to Pick a Good Shiraz Wine. Gloucester: Bordeaux Undiscovered.

VinePair, 2017. Learn about Syrah & Shiraz (They’re the Same!). New York, NY: VinePair Inc.

Wine Australia, 2016. Shiraz: The Classic Australian Red Wine. Adelaide, Australia: Wine Australia.


Recommended book

Laloganes, John P., 2010. The Essentials of Wine with Food Pairing Techniques. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


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