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It's a Wine Thang: Shiraz vs. Syrah
Shiraz and Syrah might come from the same grape but they illustrate how a grape’s environment and processing can affect the resulting wine. (File photo)

Each week, the staff of Ravine Winery share their expertise and offer a brief explanation about an aspect of wine. So, whether you’re an expert oenophile or a newbie just finding your way around wine country, we trust you’ll enjoy. Cheers!


Shiraz vs. Syrah

The difference between Syrah and Shiraz illustrates how a grape’s environment and the way in which it is processed can influence the resulting wine. Genetically, there is no difference between Syrah and Shiraz.

The French refer to the grape and the varietal wine they make from it as Syrah. In other notable regions such as South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, the grape and the wine is usually referred to as Shiraz. But there is something more than just a difference in name, there is a difference in style and character as well. While both are very assertive red wines, a Syrah tends to be a little more elegant and complex. It usually has more of a smokey, earthy character with flavours of plum and spicy pepper. A Shiraz, on the other hand, is more crisp and fruity, less layered with slight, jammy flavours of berry.

While the grape remains the same, in each wine there is so much else that is different. The soil, the climate, the cultivation and the fermentation all play roles in determining whether a wine is a Syrah or a Shiraz. The French vineyards are heavy in limestone, which can hold moisture better and deeper than most soils. This forces the vines to get more of their nutrients from deeper soils. The result is a wine with more layered, complex flavours. The Syrah is also grown in France’s cooler climate. This lends to the plum-like, smokey character of this wine. Shiraz is grown in warmer climates, which makes the wine more jammy and berry-like. Even the rate of fermentation plays some role in the flavour development of the wine. A Syrah is fermented more slowly so as to increase the time the pulp can stay with the skins. A Shiraz is fermented faster, which helps to make the wine, in general, fruitier. While a wine’s character always begins with the grape, the terroir and fermentation process determine if the end product is a Syrah or a Shiraz.