February 2009                               


3R's - Rafik Samuel

Syrah or Shiraz

I was asked by a wise man (Vikram) what the difference was between Syrah and Shiraz. Actually, they are wines made from the same grape. It is called Shiraz in Australia, while it is called Syrah in the US and France. (By the way Petite Sirah is a distant relative). The wines made from Syrah/Shiraz really are different in each of the regions that grow this grape. In general this is a full body wine. The flavors are usually dense red berry fruits but may be complex with pepper and spice flavors including chocolate, coffee, tobacco, earth or even herbs.

In France, the syrah is grown in the Rhone valley. In the Northern Rhone, the most famous area is Hermitage (remember French wines are named after region, not varietal). In the Southern Rhone it is usually combined with Grenache. The most famous Southern Rhone wines are from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These wines are intense but will cost you a pretty penny. They can be quite dense and full of tannin (the stuff in wine that makes you pucker). These wines should go very well with heavy meals such as those with red meats or game meats. I would recommend a “syrah light” called Red Bicyclette Syrah, it runs around $10. It is less intense than the Rhone wines, but is very drinkable. If you like it, then branch out to some of the others.

In the US, syrah is grown in California and Washington State and makes pretty full-bodied wines. These are more likely to be fruit forward and complex but with less tannins. These syrah can run you from under $10 to $100 dollars. I would recommend starting with the Ravenswood vintner syrah, around $10. It is pretty basic, but won’t disappoint.

The most popular wine made from this grape is the Shiraz from Australia. These wines are very easy to drink and are fruit forward (if you are paying attention, that’s my style of wine). Those Aussies make some great wine and have fun with those names and labels. One great deal under $10 is Box Head Shiraz. One of my favorites is Dusty’s Desire ($13). A few others that I really like are Jester ($18), Jip Jip Rocks ($15), Barrel of Monkeys ($17) and of course how can I forget Mother’s Milk Shiraz for ($15). Now there are many excellent Shiraz that you can get and any suggestions are appreciated. FYI, these wines are definitely cheaper than the equivalent quality from California or France.

Well, I have pretty much discussed the major varietals; I think I will change focus to talk about some regions next. Maybe Bordeaux?