What is meaty and fruit-driven and pairs perfectly with robust winter fare and grilled summer favorites alike? The answer: syrah. Beloved for its signature dark fruit flavors, high acid and prominent tannins, this hardy grape variety is responsible for producing some of the most delicious wines on earth. Whether vinified varietally or tossed into a GSM blend (which stands for grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, three grapes grown in the Côtes du Rhône region of France), there’s no mistaking the peppery earth-driven notes that come from this versatile grape.
As always, knowing what you’re drinking is essential, and this particular grape provides an especially delicious journey through global viticulture.
What Is Syrah?
Syrah is a dark-skinned grape variety cultivated across many popular wine-producing regions. The grape is the offspring of dureza and mondeuse blanche. (Note that syrah and petite sirah are not the same thing, although the latter is a cross between syrah and peloursin.) Syrah is vinified both varietally (on its own) and in blends, which are very common in the Southern Rhône and Australia.
Where Does Syrah Come From?
Although it’s not certain, syrah is believed to have its origins in France’s Rhône region. Today, popular areas for cultivating syrah include Australia (McLaren Vale and Barossa), California, New Zealand (Hawke’s Bay), the northern and southern Rhône, and Washington state (Walla Walla AVA).
How Is Syrah Made?
Syrah is vinified in a variety of styles, and its final flavor profile depends on where it grows and how it’s vinified. The majority of winemakers generally use some form of wood (new or used) during the vinification process of syrah, although steel and concrete-vinified expressions do exist.
What Does Syrah Taste Like?
As with most grapes, syrah takes on distinct flavor characteristics based on where it's grown and how it’s vinified. However, syrah-based wines are usually marked by high acid and medium to high levels of tannins across the board.
In cooler-climate areas such as the northern Rhône or Washington state, syrah tends to create medium- to full-bodied wines marked by flavors of dark fruit, black pepper, mint, game, smoked meats, bacon fat and briny olives. When produced in New World regions, the wines tend to be jammier and more fruit-driven, with less-aggressive tannins.
What Foods Should I Pair with Syrah?
Because of their high levels of acid, tannins and solid structure, syrah-based wines match well with savory foods. The wines come to life when sipped alongside smoked meats, rack of lamb, and charcuterie boards. Vegetarian options such as lentil dishes, bean chili and other hearty stews do the trick equally well.
These are six bottles to try.
Eric Texier “Brézème” Côtes du Rhône (Côtes du Rhône, France)
Although most reds from the Cotes du Rhone are blends, this 100% syrah is a welcome exception. Produced from Texier’s younger (30- to 40-year-old) vines, this organic wine is fermented with native yeasts and vinified in concrete tanks for 15 months. Notes of dusty blue and black fruits, violet petals, smoked meats and sweet spice lead to a bright and well-balanced finish.
Jean Baptiste Souillard (Rhône, France)
This peppery acid-driven syrah from one of France’s most exciting Rhone winemakers is loaded with flavors of red and black fruits, used leather and cloves. Serve it slightly chilled with roasted meats and veggies.
L'Ecole No. 41 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Love spicy full-bodied reds? This Washington syrah is just for you. Expect flavor-packed notes of black fruits, red flower petals, pepper, anise and hints of vanilla. Sip it chilled alongside hearty meat and cheese boards.
Mullineux (Swartland, South Africa)
Syrah from South Africa? You bet. This world-class bottle is structured, aromatic and refined. Delicate aromas of flowers and red fruit lead to an acid-driven palate laden with notes of ripe fruit, white pepper and tobacco leaf. To experience the restrained side of New World syrah, this bottle is just the ticket.
Pax Sonoma Hillsides (Sonoma, California)
Legendary North Coast winemaker Pax Mahle makes this structured, satisfying syrah from the Sonoma hillsides. Sophisticated notes of tart red candies, black fruit, game and damp earth harmoniously collide on the wine’s seamlessly integrated palate in a style reminiscent of Old World wines.
Piedrasassi Santa Barbara County (Santa Barbara, California)
Crafted by California winemaking legend Sashi Moorman, this ripe yet restrained New World syrah jumps with flavors of blackberries, red fruit, tobacco and fresh-cut herbs such as thyme, oregano and rosemary. It’s smooth, sultry and undeniably satisfying.