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Wine Style Focus: Shiraz/Syrah

Syrah is poised to become the next big thing in red wine; an ancient pedigree combined with rising popularity and plantings in new areas is setting the stage for this nuanced grape's time in the spotlight.

The Syrah grape, called Shiraz in many new-world areas such as Australia, has been cultivated in France for centuries. In the 1700's Syrah wine from the Rhone in the southeast of France had an international reputation as a superior wine. In the 1800's it was planted in Australia and became the backbone of the wine industry there. In more recent times California and South Africa have devoted increasing space to the vines, and Syrah newcomer Washington state has been scaling up its production as well. The grape contributes excellent fruit flavors and a round body to several blends, notably with Grenache and Mourvere to make "GSM", or with red wine heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon.

Syrah is a wine with very full flavors and often a hefty dose of tannins. Syrah can be made in different ways: old-world Syrah includes intense tannins, earthy tones, and spicy flavors and generally requires a decent amount of aging, new-world Shiraz tends to concentrate on plum, blackberry, and other dark fruits and is more often made to drink young. Some examples also display floral aromas and chocolate or espresso characteristics. For intense, heady Syrahs ferment your must at higher temperatures, even up to the 80-90 degree range for a day or two. Extended contact with the grape skins can also help make a big Syrah that has firm tannins and good aging capability. Syrah can be paired with beef, lamb, and other meats, and does well with spicy foods like Mexican cuisine.