Legends claim that the Syrah grape originated in Shiraz, capital of the Persian Empire (modern-day Iran) or in Syracuse, Sicily. But there is no evidence.
The historical home of Syrah is the Rhône region of France.
The most famous Appellations are located in the Northern Rhône (Rotie, Hemitage, Cornas), where steep hillsides sometimes reach a gradient of 70°.
Introduced in Australia in 1831 by Scotsman James Busby, it is the most planted red grape variety there, and it is spelled different: Shiraz.
The best ones develop sweet, rich fruits, as well as aromas characterized by smoke, spices, leather and soil as they mature.
In 1998 a DNA study by Carole Meredith at University of California, Davis, showed that Syrah comes from 2 grape varieties: Dureza (father) and Mondeuse blanche (mother).
Syrah is usually a wine for storage, but it can also be produced for early consumption, with emphasis on the grape's fruitiness.
Syrah wines are characterized by a berry-like fruitiness associated with blackberries and raspberries, as well as spice, often black pepper, smoke and camphor.
A well stored Syrah is pleasantly round and sweet with earthy and savory aromas, often accompanied by smoke, licorice and coffee. They are excellent for game dishes, heavy meat dishes and forest mushroom dishes.
Syrah grapes are grown all over the world. They love soils that allow deep root penetration and ripen best in the dry climates of Australia.
You will find Syrah vines along hillsides or at the top of mountain slopes. Mountain soils are difficult but give the best results. Here vines produce smaller berries with more concentration of flavors. The cooler temperatures give juicy flavors and not sticky cooked fruit flavors typical of overripe or even sunburned grapes which lack acidity and taste flabby.
The vines benefit the elevation because it allows water to drain thanks to gravity, more sunlight at moderate temperatures allow the berries to mature over a longer period of time creating the best conditions for fruity and fresh wines. Even being above the fog line is an advantage because the fruit receives steady sunlight and maturation. In hot years the high altitude prevents overripness.
Syrah thrives best in the French Rhone Valley and in Australia, but new plantings promise well elsewhere in France and in California.
Generally speaking, hot climate Syrah has bigger body, taste mature fruit and spices, high alcohol and has smooth tannins. Cool climate Syrah has more minerality, acidity and tannins, taste fresh fruit and bolder spices.
The better performance in the world is in Côte-Rôtie where the terroir is mostly granite, limestone, schist and clay soil that is rich in iron.
Côte-Rôtie in English means "the roasted slope" and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these steep slopes receive.
The best French Syrah is located north in the French Rhône valley in areas such as Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage and Côtes du Rhône.
Crozes Hermitage is often the lightest and juiciest, and can be drunk young, but Hermitage and Côtes du Rhône are more powerful storage wines.
Austalian Syrah, or Shiraz as it is called "down under", can appear as anything from juicy, berry-tasting, soft wines, to powerful, tough and tannin-rich editions, but cool climate Shiraz is now the new trend in Australia
In the USA, most Syrah is planted in California, but is gaining poularity in Washington state (Yakima Valley), and southern Oregon.