Syrah is a widely popular red wine variety most notably found in the Rhône Valley of France, United States, and in Australia. It’s a wine celebrated for being versatile, robust, and elegant.
Both Old World and New World versions of this versatile grape produce unique flavors, though its ability to remain masculine yet refined, elegant yet structured, remains a worldwide phenomenon.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into this delicious wine, its many growing regions, tasting notes, and of course, plenty of food pairings.
Characteristics of Syrah
Syrah is one of the darkest red wines originating in the Southeastern Rhône Valley. Its parents are two obscure varietals, Dureza, and Mondeuse Blanche. While most world-renowned examples remain within the Rhône Valley, Australia and the United States produce exceptional versions as well.
While Syrah is almost always made dry, some Australian winemakers experiment with sparkling or fortified versions, known as “tawnies.” Syrah can be found as a single varietal or blend, most notably in the GSM blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends of Southern Rhône. Syrah imparts a distinct spicy peppery note, body, and tannins when added to a blend.
You can expect your next bottle of Syrah to be full in body, with medium acidity and moderate to high tannins. Because of its rich tannins and acidity, oak aging is very common. Following oak and bottle aging, layers of tertiary flavors develop, such as a briny or meatiness, leather, and smoke.
In warm climates, such as in Australia and Washington state, Syrah develops more cooked fruit and jammy flavors. Whereas in moderate climates, such as in France, those flavors remain structured, with predominant earthy-herbaceous aromas, coffee, and leather notes.
With full body and high tannins, Syrah exudes deep, brooding dark fruit and earthy flavors. On the nose, you can expect aromas of blackberries, smoke, white and black pepper, and blueberries. One sip and you’re overloaded with waves of chocolate, coffee, spicy peppery notes, and black fruit.
As mentioned, warm climate Syrah can be expected to have more cooked fruit and jam flavors, making for overall more fruit-forward and voluptuous wines. Conversely, moderate climates produce more structured and refined versions, with predominant gamey, earthy, and herbaceous notes.
How to Serve Syrah
Syrah is best served in a standard red wine glass at room temperature (60-68F). Sparkling versions should be served in a Champagne or tulip glass and well chilled. While dessert wines should be served in a Port glass at room temperature.
Aged bottles of Syrah may benefit from decanting for at least 30 minutes – 1 hour. While the exact time will vary, many examples of Syrah will open and reveal more aroma and depth of flavor following some decanting.
Notable Growing Regions for Syrah
While its birthplace is in France, premiere examples exist around the world. Each region produces its own unique flavors and textures of Syrah.
The story of Syrah begins likely in the Southern Rhône Valley, where it is most commonly found in the blend Châteauneuf-du-Pape, belonging to the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of the same name. Wines made in this region are permitted to have up to 13 grapes in them, both red and white. Still, Syrah is a big player for the body, acidity, and tannins that it adds to these blends.
In the Northern Rhône Valley, Syrah is the only red grape permitted. Here in small AOC wine districts, including Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, and Cornas, Syrah is known for having flavors of black fruit, smoke, pepper, and forest floor.
Some vineyards of Syrah can also be found in the Languedoc-Roussillon regions, though its popularity worldwide is causing France to increase its plantations in all regions.
If there were one other region most notably producing exceptional Syrah, it would be Australia. It is of the same grape variety, known only as Shiraz, and is found mainly in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale of South Australia.
Shiraz has helped put Australia on the map for wine production. It is the leading red grape in the region and is found as a single varietal or blended with other red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. Rhône style blends are common and usually made in the GSM style. These blends can be labeled as “GSM” or a “Rhône blend.”
Australia has also developed a reputation for its tawnies, which are fortified wines made in the style of Port. These wines are mainly made in South Australia and exude many of the delicious flavors of Ruby Port, such as raspberry, cherry syrup, chocolate, and blackberry jam.
While Australia does make more fruit-forward examples of Shiraz, the wines are not all uniform. In cooler climates, Shiraz develops a wine taste that is a more spicy and savory flavor. In general, Shiraz exudes flavors of boysenberry, mocha, black pepper, plums, black olive (savory, briny), and black cherry syrup.
Fun fact: Both in Australia and the northern Rhône, Syrah is often co-fermented in tanks with Viognier to add floral and aromatic notes to the red wines.
California and the golden state of Washington have developed a reputation for making Syrah wines that have uniquely fruit-driven characteristics, bold and complex flavors with lots of spice. While no single notable region can pinpoint Syrah’s success, it has become increasingly popular in the Central Coast of California including the Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara areas as well as the Columbia Valley of Washington state.
In California, namely, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, Syrah is found as a single varietal or as a Rhône style blend with more earth-driven notes of forest floor, baking spices, and herbs. GSM blends are common and make for lighter, easy-drinking wines.
Within the Columbia Valley, Syrah gushes flavors of cooked black fruit, cherry syrup, white pepper, tobacco, licorice, and roasted meats in Washington state. It can be found as a single varietal, Rhône style blend or blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Syrah is a big, beautiful, and complex wine that pairs expertly with many dishes. The biggest distinction is whether to opt for a New World fruit-forward wine, a milder Southern Rhône blend, or an earthy and structured Northern Rhône.
When made in the fruit-driven, berry-licious style of the New World, Syrah or Shiraz is best paired with fatty, protein-rich dishes with or without a fruit element. This would include hearty dishes like pork belly, roasted duck, lamb, or salty cheeses. Try it with our Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder or Pan Seared Duck Breast. It is also a great choice for food that has a generous amount of spice to bring out that punch of flavor. It’s fantastic with our Blackening Seasoning Blend (great on chicken, steak, or seafood!).
Lastly, in its mildest and most easy-drinking form, Rhône and GSM blends are perfect for pairing with leaner proteins like roasted chicken or pork tenderloin, along with herb-rich dishes, charcuterie, and mushrooms. It’s perfect alongside these tender, juicy cornish hens and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Heaven!
Whether you’re pairing it with a meal or enjoying it on its own, Syrah is an easy-to-love and easy-to-drink wine. Be sure to shout out below any favorite food pairings or specific Syrah wines you’ve tried and loved!