Shiraz vs Syrah... An identity crisis?


Shiraz is the Bruce Wayne of the wine world, thereby making Syrah…Batman.  Cutting to the chase, Shiraz generally, is a straightforward, bright, vibrant wine, while Syrah is a little more smoky and mysterious.  It is commonly misunderstood that Shiraz and Syrah are two completely different grapes, however, they are not!  What's known as Shiraz to the better part of the world is genetically, exactly the same as Syrah (where it moonlights as in France and few other places).  Both grapes tend to produce medium to full bodied wines that have deep and lush purple coloring, however the common demeanor similarities end there.

There has been much debate about the origins of the Syrah grape.  It is thought that the grape started out in the town of Shiraz, in Persia.  Still, this is debated as researchers have found that the grape is related to two indigenous vines from south east France.  Until the 1970's Syrah was almost exclusively planted in southern France and Australia.  Since then it has traveled far and wide and can be found thriving in all parts of the world, from Switzerland to California.  Shiraz performs best in warm climate places where it can ripen fully, thus limiting the places where it can be cultivated.

As I mentioned before, this grape tends to produce deep, medium to full bodied wines, however the likenesses between Shiraz and Syrah stop there.  Here we have a prime example of how geographical effects wine production.  Yay!! A new lesson in Terrior!

Syrah, as it is classically grown in the Rhone Valley, often makes for peppery, spiced wines that are hinted with berries.  It is usually dark, and lush in color that is far earthier than its Aussie Shiraz version.  If nothing else, the Rhone Syrah is an elegant and complex wine that's a bit more serious (think Batman), but extremely enjoyable.  French soils are heavy with limestone and can hold a lot more moisture.  This forces the vines to go deeper for nutrients, which in turn makes for a generally more complex and richer wine.   Moreover, Syrah is produced in a cooler climate where it doesn't ripen as quickly, which lends itself to a less ripe and more sultry and smoky, plum flavored wine.

Which now leads me to Syrah's alternate identity; Shiraz. Widely grown in Australia, Shiraz tends to be bright and vibrant with lots of jammy fruit.  They also tend to be a lot less complex than a Syrah.  This is because Shiraz is grown in a warm climate with sandy soils where grapes ripen fasters and vines get their nutrients easily.  The Australian Shiraz can be made in several different styles, some being easy drinking quaffers with lots of fruit (Bruce Wayne-esq, if you will).  Here, even the fermentation process (which tends to be faster than in France) plays a part in end product of the wine.  A shorter aging process leads to a less complex and more fruit driven Aussie Shiraz that we know and love.  While a longer process leads to bolder, more concentrated/tannic juice, which is why we get the smoky yet firm characteristics often found in the French Syrah.

As you can see, there is much more than just the grape that meets the eye (or should I say nose here).  Even if you like Cabernet, it may be more like you like California Cabernet as opposed to the French Cabernet.  As we see here, Shiraz and Syrah may be the same grape, but it has the ability to produce almost completely opposite wines depending on climate, geography, and production practices.  If you're up for some extra credit, go to your local wine shop and try a Syrah and Shiraz side by side. Are you a Batman or a Bruce Wayne drinker?

New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    Loved the post Callie. Working for a winery in California that has a focus on Syrah/Shiraz this was a great read. As you have indicated, the location of the vineyard greatly affects the final product, as much as the wine making style. The Syrahs that we produce vary in style a lot depending on the location of the vineyard as we try to keep the wine making techniques consistent. Our Shiraz follows the Australian style. Yes, we make both. :-)

    Syrah seems to thrive in multiple climates here in California. In fact, there are a group of vinters out here called the Rhone Rangers that are the driving force behind Rhone grapes in California. This has lead to number of great California Syrahs.

    One of my favourite Syrahs here in California (excluding Loxton wines) comes from Peay Vineyards.

    They are a Sonoma Coast winery that sources all there fruit close to the California coast. Great wines, if a bit pricey.

    Jul 22, 2008 at 12:49 PM

  • an extremely generalised take on Syrah / Shiraz. If you've tasted a Cote Rotie lately the lines are very blurry between that and a cool climate Shiraz. In a country the size of Australia, not every Shiraz is warm climate, sandy soils. Barossa is loamy & clay soil, McLaren Vale is loam over limestone, Coonawarra is loam over limestone, and generally most Australian soils are poor in nutrient. Smoky characters are usually from oak barrels, not terroir. I'd suggest trying cool climate Australian Shiraz from Mornington Peninsula, Macedon, Pemberton etc., but remember not everything gets exported to US.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 7:33 AM

  • thanks for the post callie. it really cleared up a misconception about the syrah/shiraz grape. do you find the same distinction between the shiraz and california syrah grape?

    Feb 15, 2010 at 11:04 AM

  • Snooth User: dirkwdeyoung
    Hand of Snooth
    231231 328

    What a coincidence, just happened to enjoy a great Syrah tonight, Chateau de Nages 2001, Costiere de Nimes controllee. It is nice to see how your description exactly matches a wine you are presently trying out. Just because of your article I happened to remember I had an example of a California Syrah in my cave, a Crow Canyon 2001, Syrah, so I opened it to compare. I don't know anything about this property, but it certainly didn't offer the complexity and depth of the French example. While you could drink it, it gave me a better appreciation of what can be achieved with the same grape. I am pretty sure this is not the best example of what is achieved in California, but compared to the Cuvee Joseph Torres, it was definitely Syrah Lite.

    Feb 22, 2010 at 8:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Bartond
    105252 50

    Liked the article, Callie. There's nothing wrong with writing an article like this that helps clear up some common misconceptions, and because a lot of people out there are a bit "mystified" with wine in general and thus afraid to speak out or ask general questions, I think articles like this do a lot of good. I enjoyed reading this.

    Mar 06, 2010 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: STEED
    235077 7

    Oh dear-another spelling mishap!
    Terroir NOT Terrior!

    Apr 13, 2010 at 8:44 AM

  • Here I am reading this article in 2011. It really helped clear up some misconceptions for me. Puts me in the mind to do some tasting.

    Aug 05, 2011 at 7:54 PM

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