Native to the northern part of the Côtes du Rhône, and originally confined to its preferred location, Syrah spread to the entire Rhone Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, South-West France and Provence in the 19th century. Its geographical boundaries extended concurrently with the success of Rhone wines in the 1980s: in 20 years, it rose from 10,000 to 140,000 hectares under vine, divided mainly between France, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the United States, Chile and Italy.
It thrives in a hot climate and on poor soils and is sometimes criticised for its low yields and high sensitivity to disease. France alone boasts at least five regions where Syrah produces some real gems: Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (in blends) where it typically develops aromas of spice and pepper with an animal touch. The wines have high alcohol content, an intense colour and voluptuous tannins.
In Australia, where it has been renamed ‘Shiraz’, it is much more ‘moreish’ than in France and very chocolatey. The Australian climate is very well-suited to growing Syrah, particularly Southern Australia, in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, which produce spectacular single varietal wines and GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre). It can also be used to make some fairly surprising ‘sparkling Shiraz’. Gimblett Gravels, in the Hawke’s Bay region in New Zealand, is also considered as an up-and-coming area for Syrah. In California, the Rhone Rangers strive to promote wines made from Rhone grape varieties. Lastly, Syrah is also garnering attention in South Africa where it seems to adapt much better than Cabernet-Sauvignon.