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Majestic Guide: Syrah vs Shiraz

Category: Majestic Guides

Syrah vs Shiraz, what’s the difference?

In Short:
Both Syrah and Shiraz are the exact same grape variety, but grown in different parts of the world in different climates, with different production methods.

It’s one of the most frequently asked wine questions: what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz? The answer is simple: they are the same grape variety, but grown in different parts of the world in different climates, often with different production methods. Traditionally Syrah is associated with old world French wine and Shiraz considered a new world variant, primarily linked with Australia but also grown in other countries worldwide. Regardless of the distinction, a bottle of either is unlikely to disappoint: no wonder Syrah is the world’s sixth most popular grape worldwide.

Let’s start with Australia, where the grape has established itself firmly as Shiraz. As the story goes, Shiraz originally derived from a Scottish merchant James Busby, known as ‘the father of Australian Viticulture’. He labelled his Syrah cuttings as ‘Scyras’ and ‘Ciras’ in 1930, which may have led drinkers to believe they originated from the Iranian city of Shiraz, capital of the Persian empire.

What’s key when considering Shiraz is how the different geography and temperatures make the grape respond slightly differently: the more sun the vine gets, the more sugar it produces and the softer it becomes. But that’s not to say Shiraz is just one note: they have a broad range of subtle styles, from big, spice and pepper-laden bottles, to velvety wines that are lighter and more fruity than their French cousins. Shiraz pairs well with burgers, steaks and sausages (from the barbie or otherwise). Our top picks include big bold Copper Kingdom Shiraz 2017 sourced from Barossa, McLaren Vale’s Two Hands 'Angels' Share' Shiraz 2019, or the vibrant sensation of De Bortoli Shiraz 2018, Gundagai.

In contrast, the spiritual home of Syrah is the Hermitage, a granite hill in the Northern part of the Rhone valley in France. Syrah has been described in the past as a “noble” grape and originated in ancient times by combining two local varieties from southeast France: dureza and mondeuse blanche. Syrah has all the trademark characteristics of classic French wines: a real depth in colour, dark, brooding and savoury, making it a full bodied powerhouse with intense bursts of black fruits and hints of black pepper. In the Southern Rhone blends are more commonplace, particularly with Grenache and Mourvedre. It is perfectly paired with casseroles, Sunday roasts and feels restorative after a long cold walk outside. The best Syrah is a reliable, consistent wine with tannins that can develop over time to appreciate further in complexity - over 20 years it can evolve into something truly remarkable. If you are curious, opt for a bottle of Jaboulet Syrah 2018, VdF, made from vineyards in the Rhone valley and the Languedoc or Domaine Les Yeuses 'Les Epices' Syrah 2018.

What’s clear is that the traditional rules of Syrah and Shiraz no longer apply - each contains huge variety and has a subtlety of its very own. One can find a rich ripe Shiraz in the warmer parts of Europe and traditional peppery Syrah that has never even been within sight of the Rhone Valley. So whether you prefer a more traditional or more progressive grape variety, you can have your pick of both.