What’s in a Name? 2007 Helix Syrah
One of the reasons some people steer clear of Syrah is that they’re not clear how to pronounce it. As trivial as pronunciation might seem, it can be intimidating to order or talk about wine when you know just enough to know you might be wrong. For some of us, the potential embarrassment is enough to make us pass over a potentially wonderful wine and stick to the Merlot or Chardonnay. So, what has caused all this confusion around Syrah? Is it Shiraz, or Syrah, or both?
Shiraz v. Syrah
Actually, Shiraz and Syrah are correct pronunciations, but refer to two distinctly different styles of the same varietal. The quick and easy answer is that Shiraz refers to Australian style wines, while Syrah indicates old world French wines. But don’t rush to label “Shiraz” as New World wine, it has been grown in Australia since 1830’s. The confusing part of this name game is when countries other than France/Europe or Australia/South Africa start claiming whatever label they want, usually loosely based on the style and resulting flavors.
Flavor Profiles of Shiraz vs. Syrah
Generally wines made Syrah/Shiraz wines are full bodied and powerful and need time to age in the bottle, or in other words, definitely not subtle, soft wines. There are typically dark berry flavors, chocolate, espresso, black pepper or violet notes. As Syrah’s age, the primary notes mellow and secondary earthy notes (think leather, or truffle) emerge. “Syrah” wines tend to be more typical of Northern Rhône reds, eliciting descriptors such as elegant, tannic, restrained fruits, wisps of smoke. On the other hand, “Shiraz” wines tend to be more New World and display more overy fruits, riper berries, higher alcohol and subtler tannins. Shiraz wines are typically more drinkable when young than Syrah and seem sweeter in comparison. Unfortunately though, these rules of thumb are very often broken, so do your research if you’re looking for a certain style.