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When is a Syrah not a Shiraz?

When is a Syrah not a Shiraz?

When it comes to the grape there is no difference Shiraz was just what the early Australian wine pioneers called Syrah. However when it comes to wine there does seem to be a difference. Shiraz has become the adopted tag for producer making wine from this great red in the Australian model grape. It has come to represent big, rich, blackberried reds usually with a good lick of oak.

Shiraz pretty much stands for chunky, fruit rich generous wines from everyday right up to super premium. Whereas Syrah usually graces the label if the wine comes from cooler zones that mimic the style of the north Rhône in France. If you want to see a proper example of this then Cave Saint-Désirat Syrah is a good starting point.  These are medium bodied peppery reds that rely on pure fruit, elegance and balance to shine and good versions like the one above get better and better as they open up and breathe.

On the Shiraz front try a bottle of good Barossa Shiraz oak, Bethany’s Barossa Shiraz G6 is a perfect example, and you will be rewarded by a glass reminiscent of crushed blackberries backed up by vanilla and other sweet spice; generous, full flavoured and above all very smooth and easy to drink. Other areas in Australia with cooler zones such as the Adelaide hills (Yakka Shiraz) will fashion less chunky wines but invariably they will carry those Aussie hallmarks of plenty of oak and ripe blackberries.

Many other wine producing nations choose also to label their wine Shiraz; Chile, South Africa, Argentina and in Europe Shiraz is found from the Languedoc through to Sicily. More often than not these wines will lean towards fullness of body and a ripe, black-fruit spectrum. Pick up a Chilean labelled Shiraz and you can expect it to be a big, fruit-driven style. However pick up a bottle of Chilean red labelled ‘Syrah’ and the experience can be quite different, producers going down the Syrah road are usually from cooler climate zones and the wines they make strive for elegance and less big, ripe flavours.

The Elqui valley is one such place in Chile, the wines from this cool, mountainous zone bear striking resemblance to the French Crozes-Hermitage wines. Chono’s Elqui Valley Syrah has a distinct nose of white pepper and red/black berried fruit, it is no blockbuster but what it lacks in weight it makes up for in deliciously pure fruit.

There are, as always, exceptions; some Australian ‘Shirazes’ can be extremely elegant and certain Syrah’s are not shy when it comes to big, bold flavours Chocalán Maipo Syrah being a case in point. But follow the loose the rule that a bottle labelled Syrah is likely to be made in the lighter Rhône style and those labelled Shiraz are more Australian in their fruit profile and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

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