Greig Santos-Buch

What are the Characteristics of The Syrah Grape?

Syrah Grape Variety Characteristics | Winetraveler.com
Black and Blue Syrah sits on the vine in South Africa. Photo courtesy Rosendal Winery

Syrah is a black grape variety that most commonly makes medium to full-bodied dry red wine. In this guide, we’ll discuss the food pairings and tasting notes associated with the Syrah grape variety. Plus, learn how climate plays a role in what Syrah will ultimately taste like. Syrah is also known as Shiraz, among several other varietal and regional names.

“Syrah is ideal for holiday dinners where guests want deep flavor to match colorful conversation.”

What Does The Syrah Grape Taste Like?

Syrah is a big-bodied, dry red wine that tends to shine its brightest on the opening palate. Not only is Syrah flavor-packed, but it’s also one of the darkest colored inky wines you can find. Deep purple in hue with not much translucency, Syrah’s violet and velvety elegance is backed by big fruit and crunchy spice.  

These flavors are typically bolder on the opening palate, with a softer texture, viscosity and spice leading the way out. Note that while these are the generalities of Syrah flavor, climate plays a critical role in determining the kind of flavor experienced with Syrah wines. (Scroll down for detailed tasting notes)


Syrah Grape Characteristics and Climate, Shiraz in Barossa Valley
Vines that produce Shiraz grow extensively in Barossa Valley, Australia. Image courtesy The Australian Traveler


Climate and Terroir for the Syrah Grape

Syrah is grown all over the world today, in both hot and cool climates with varying soil compositions. Recent DNA analysis has led scientists to discover that Syrah was born out of two lesser known grape varieties from Southeastern France — Mondeuse blanche and Dureza.

Terroir related factors play a critical role as to what a Syrah will taste like. Many Vintners will place their Syrah grape vines along hillsides or at the top of slopes. This elevated positioning allows water to drain more efficiently thanks gravity and more stones in the soil. All of which limit Syrah yields and produce bolder flavored grapes.

Speaking very generally, the common perception is that New World Syrah is fruiter and bigger bodied, while Old World is more complex with noticeable earth and firm tannins.  This is true for the most part, but it really comes down to climate, rather than Old or New.

General Rules of Thumb for Climate and Syrah

  • Syrah grown in warmer climates yields a bigger-bodied wine with juicier fruit, smooth tannins and secondary spice notes.
  • Syrah grown in cooler climates yields less jammy fruit, bolder spices, more earthy complexities and stricter tannins.

Syrah Grape Taste Profile

Common Flavors and Aromas

  • Fruit: Black & Blue 
  • Warmer Climate: Plum, Blackberry, Black Cherry, Blueberry
  • Cooler Climate: Black Currant (Cassis), Dragon fruit, Blackberry
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Cold Stone, Mixed Gravel, Limestone, Shale, Forest Clove
  • Additional Complexities: Violet, Cola, Barnyard Saddle, Cracked Black Pepper, Smoke, Licorice, Cacao

Structure

  • Body: Medium-Full
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: Medium Plus, High
  • Acid: Medium Plus
  • Alcohol: Medium (12.0%-14.0% ABV)
  • Finish: Medium-Long

Terroir

  • Soil: Gravel, Clay, Limestone, Shale
  • Climate: Varied (Hot – Cool)
  • Notable Regions: Barossa Valley, Australia | Hawk’s Bay, Australia | Rhone, France | Lodi, California | Washington State, USA

Pairing Syrah with Food

Syrah starts out with a bit of a punch on the opening palate. As such, we don’t want to be eating food along side Syrah that’s in any way bland. The first thing that comes to my mind is dry-rub brisket or well seasoned pork, which is both juicy and savory. I like to think of Syrah as juicy, savory and spicy — especially New World, where you get blooms of black and blue fruit punch backed by tannin and cracked pepper spice. 

If you want to tone it down a bit, try slow roasted duck or quail. Don’t be afraid to utilize your spice cabinet. Syrah is ideal for holiday dinners where guests want deep flavor to match joyous conversation.

Other Syrah food pairings we’ve had success with include: any pizza with meat on it, garlic mashed potatoes, grilled meats with dry rub, grilled veggies and venison.

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Greig Santos-Buch
Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com
Greig Santos-Buch is a Co-Founder at Winetraveler.com and a WSET 2 sommelier. He works with several brands focusing on experiential and immersive-style travel.

In his spare time, you can find him hiking with a bottle of Cabernet Franc in his backpack or scuba diving trying to talk a reef shark into trying Swiss wine.
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