Known as Syrah in its native France, and Shiraz to the majority of the world, this red grape produces some of the globe’s favourite wines, and it is an incredibly popular wine in both its single varietal and blended styles. In France, Syrah is sometimes blended with a glassful of Viognier, while Australia tend to blend it 50/50 with Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter wine is often known as Shiraz-Cabernet. Syrah is also blended with Grenache and Mouvédre to make Chateauneuf-du-pape, sometimes called GSM in the Southern Hemisphere. The ability of the fruit to be blended with almost any other red wine makes it a firm favourite among wine makers and wine drinkers.
The benefits of blending Syrah with another wine are clear when it is understood that the Syrah wine is very powerful, and has a good body. This allows it to be mixed with wines which do not have so much of these qualities, giving them a stronger taste and ‘stiffening’ the wine. However, Syrah can also vary quite a lot in taste, depending upon the type of soil that it was grown in, and the climate, plus other factors such as the type of irrigation used. Because the wine is so sensitive to the soil, growers will often plant it in rich soils with decomposed granite, calcium deposits, or other earths that could give a taste to the grape. This will often mean that blending the grapes of different areas will give a very different-tasting wine to a single-estate wine.
The experience of drinking a glass of Syrah begins with the aroma. These are often very thick, full of dark berries and black pepper. Some blenders create a sense of smoke with burnt oak chips, or using cocoa beans to give a sensation of chocolate or coffee. The differences in the growing methods are often first noticed in the aroma, although black fruits and black pepper are the most often mentioned. After reaching maturity, these fruity notes can be softened, and the more earthy notes such as truffle, leather or wood will appear.
Shiraz or Syrah has not been planted in South Africa until fairly recently, due to a mix-up between the Cinsaut (known as Hermitage in South Africa) and Syrah (sometimes called Hermitage on the Rhone). This means that many of the wine producers are relying upon vines which are less than 10 years old, that is vines that are not yet fully mature. This can have very serious consequences for the wine grower, as the vines may not yet be completely stable in their production of grapes.
The Shiraz/Syrah wine is most often produced by three of South Africa’s regions: the Stellenbosch, which prides itself on being a centre for fine wines; the Paarl region, which is warm and has a number of different soils to add flavour to the grape, and Robertson, where there is plenty of limestone ground to add more flavour to the wine, as well as good temperatures and climate which help to increase the intensity of the wine.