There is a bit of a debate in the wine world as to the origins of the Syrah grape, known as Shiraz in Australia. Many believe that grape originated in the Persian city of Shiraz. Others contend that it originated in Egyptian vineyards, and was brought to the northern Rhone Valley from the Sicilian town of Syracuse by Roman legions on their way to Gaul. Today, this grape excels in warm climates throughout the world. It is responsible for the bold, peppery wines of Cornas, Côte Rotie and Hermitage, as well as the immensely popular Australian Shiraz. The Syrah grape makes notably character-filled wines in every region in which it is grown.
In the northern Rhône, Syrah produces a dense, smoky, more herbal wine packed with black pepper and berry flavors. These old-world wines often are quite gamey with flavors of leather and tar, and sometimes burnt rubber.
The Barossa Valley of Australia has some of the oldest Syrah vines in the world, some older than 130 years. Shiraz, as it’s known there, was nearly forced into retirement because of the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is again extremely popular. Barossa Shiraz produces a riper, thicker, chocolatey, and sometimes minty flavor that takes additional spice from oak aging. While Shiraz is grown all over Australia, it sometimes lacks the depth and concentration that is found in Barossa.
California is also creating some great Syrah wines. The South Central Coast has become an especially important area for Syrah production. The wines tend to be super rich and ripe with an attractive spiciness. Some producers, however, are pushing the limits of the grape’s alcohol potential. In fact, some wines are reaching in excess of 16% alcohol by volume! These wines are so extracted, so jammy, and so strong, the wine is thrown out of balance.