There is a little bit of mystery surrounding the origins of the Syrah grape but despite other stories linking it to Persia it has recently been decided that it originated in France. Even without this new finding the Rhone Valley in France is undoubtedly Syrah’s home. In fact in the Northern Rhone it is the only permitted red wine grape. Syrah is a big, lush, rustic grape that has been described by the famous British scholar George Saintsbury as the “manliest grape”. So boys I found your new favorite wine, you’re welcome.
Syrah also goes by another name, Shiraz. Christened such in South Africa when the French Huguenots brought it into the country in the 17th century. While it is not entirely clear why the name changed, some link it back to Syrah’s original origin story from Persia, but either way the grape is still referred to as Shiraz in both South Africa and Australia where it makes some of the countries most beloved wine. So a grape that already has two names, lots of people are easily tricked into believing it has yet another, but don’t be confused Syrah and Petite Sirah are not the same grape. Petite Sirah probably also originated in France and while it is certainly possible that they were crossed at some point in time there is no evidence that Syrah and Petite Sirah are related to each other.
Syrah is a lush, complex wine that has the fruit, body and alcohol of a Cabernet Sauvignon with much softer tannins. Syrah has flavors of leather, earth, wild blackberries, smoke, roasted meats and pepper. Syrah from France is intensely flavored and showcases lots of the meaty, spicy flavors. Meanwhile, Shiraz from Australia has more of a rich fruit flavor, a little bit softer texture and even have some minty, eucalyptus notes.
Luckily this big lush rustic grape is very food friendly. Style is a big factor to be aware of in pairing though. Classic French style Syrahs are perfect with red meat, especially grilled red meat to play off the peppery spice. New world examples of Syrah pair nicely with both meat and fowl, pork especially is a great match with some of these more fruit forward wines. Overall, Syrah is a big alcohol wine so you need food to match that, nothing tame or timid. Syrah also pairs well with dishes that have a coarse texture, anything with pungent flavors like gamey meats or strong cheese, and the French examples pair especially well with herbs. And of course, Syrah is a great match with any and all barbeque, you know because of all the manliness.