Syrah is often overlooked in the US. This is perhaps due to the lean, noncomplex Syrah that is mass-produced, leading the American consumer to assume that is what Syrah is supposed to taste like. However, let us assure you, it is not. Syrah, when done correctly, is spicy, loaded with fruit, and holy cow is it big! This big boy is the king of Australian wines and the heart of the Rhone valley of France. It is known as Shiraz in Australia and Syrah in France. Winemakers in other parts of the world use the two names interchangeably.
The wine itself is full bodied, much like Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more dense fruit and spice. The underlying presence of dark berries, black pepper, spice and chocolate are normally present no matter where the grape is grown. Like Cabernet, however, where the grape is grown determines some aspects of the wine’s flavor. Although Syrah is grown throughout the world, France and Australia are the leading producers of amazing Syrah/Shiraz.
In France, Syrah is found throughout the Rhone Valley. Northern Rhone Wines, such as Hermitage are predominately Syrah (it has to be at least 85% to be labeled Hermitage). Throughout the rest of the Rhone valley, it is often used as a blending grape along with Grenache and Mourvèdre. Syrah from France is dense, inky and more herbal than what is found elsewhere. Often there are notes of tobacco, smoke, and other earthy elements.
Australian Shiraz is a full, ripe tasting fruit bomb, with notes of blackberries and raspberries. It is typically lower in acidity than its French counterparts. Oftentimes the ripeness of the fruit will give the wine a raisiny quality and impart intense flavors of fruit. Barossa Valley is prime real estate for top notch Shiraz. Shiraz throughout Australia is sometimes blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre, as in France, as well as with Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes a little bit of Viognier.
Depending on where in the US the grape is grown, American Syrah/Shiraz can be either rustic or fruity. Warmer weather produces a fruitier grape, similar to Australian Shiraz, and cooler weather produces a wine with more spice and earthiness.