Syrah dates to Roman times, but the grape’s fame begins in 1700s in the northern Rhône region of France where it is the main wine grape.
In the southern Rhône, Grenache is the main grape, Syrah the blending grape.
Scotsman James Busby, father of Australian viticulture, introduced Syrah Down Under in the 1830s. Translating French to English caused Australians—and, later, South Africans—to call it “Shiraz”, but Syrah and Shiraz are same grape, delivering pepper, spice, black cherry, leather, roasted nuts, tar, smooth textures, and tannins.
Syrah also does well in Washington and California (pioneer planters in 1970s were called “Rhône Rangers).
Syrah grapes make robust, wonderful red wines. In general, Australian Shiraz is heavier and slightly sweeter. French and U.S. Syrahs are lighter, although Syrah never is a light wine.
Don’t confuse Syrah and Petite Sirah/Syrah. First, they are entirely different grapes. Second, Petite Sirah is only called that in U.S.—the rest of the world calls it Durif (from botanist François Durif). No one knows why Durif’s grape became Petite Sirah in U.S.
Syrah’s popularity dramatically increased during the past 30 years by delivering value. You can get a very drinkable, inexpensive Syrah/Shiraz from Australia’s Rosemount or California’s Fetzer. Or you can go high end either as a varietal (wine made mostly or all from one grape) or as lead grape in an elegant blend from the Rhône, Down Under, or West Coast. Whatever choice—monsieur, mate, or dude—you will enjoy.
• Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz. Classic peppery edge, dark berries; Australia. $13
• Fess Parker Syrah. Supple quality from San Angelo native; California. $19
• Barton & Guestier Chateauneuf-du-Pape. spicy fruit, classic French Syrah. $26