What is Syrah and where is it found?
Syrah is a popular red grape variety originally from the Rhône Valley in France. It has a beautiful deep colour and high tannins, and works well in warmer climates, producing a variety of different styles depending on where it is grown. In cooler climates, Syrah wines will tend to be more peppery, while warmer climate wines will be rounder, smoother and richer.
Syrah was exported to "New World" wine producing countries like Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa or the US and is now often referred to as an "international" variety. Globally, there are about 200,000 hectares of Syrah planted (ie about the sixth most popular variety) and there’s lots in Australia where they call it Shiraz and it accounts for about a quarter of all vines planted.
In Spain, Syrah vineyards cover about 20,000 hectares. That's about 2% of Spain's total vineyard area. You’ll find it planted mostly in "the two Castillas" (Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha) and Catalunya.
Syrah’s main characteristics
Syrah is a quite a vigorous variety, meaning it can produce lots of fruit, and has a relatively short growing cycle. In cooler climates it can have trouble ripening, so you’ll tend to see it more in milder or warmer regions. As a single varietal, its most famously found in the Hermitage appellation in the northern Rhône in France, and it’s also a key component of the famous GSM – Garnacha, Syrah, Mourvèdre – blend popular in the southern Rhône.
What does Syrah taste like?
Syrah is a very enticing, seductive grape which draws you in. Younger wines will have a core of red fruit like raspberries, but also blueberries, plum, sometimes a touch of pepper and spice. As the wine ages it often takes on more savoury, earthy aromas. There’s also a marked difference between the slightly less intense, more mineral and savoury Rhône versions, and the bigger, meatier, more robust Shiraz wines from Australia.
Syrah is often referred to by winemakers as a naturally reductive variety, which means when you first open a bottle it can sometimes smell a little of phosphorus or "burnt match". This is normal and soon evaporates once the wine is poured into the glass and a little air gets into it.
Where can I try some Syrah?
Here in Spain it’s easier to find Syrah as part of a blend than on its own. That’s largely down to climate; Spain is just a little too hot for the grape to show its finer, more subtle character on its own, and here you’ll more often see it blended with later ripening varieties like Monastrell or Garnacha to inject a bit of freshness and lift.
One interesting central Spain winery which does include Syrah in their range is Bodegas Canopy in DO Méntrida. Their Malpaso wine is made from 100% Syrah and is fermented with some of the stems kept in the mix to add some freshness.