Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! As you browse through the wine section for your next bottle to try, you are sure to come across two different, yet similar-sounding grape varietals: Shiraz and Syrah. While these two varietals are in fact almost genetically identical, they tend to have very different flavor profiles. This week, I tasted a Syrah and compared it to a Shiraz to get an idea of why they are different and which I preferred.

One of the simplest places to start when comparing these two varietals is the basic profile of the wines. Shiraz is often full-bodied with richly concentrated flavors of black licorice, blackberry and pepper or leather with gripping, high tannins. Syrah will often also have high tannins and flavors of blackberries or currants, but floral tones will regularly play a part with a contribution of violet flowers and a noticeable wisp of smoke.

Another large, contributing factor to the style of either a Shiraz or Syrah is the growing area or region it is grown in. For example, Australia is famous for its style of Shiraz which displays huge amounts of black fruits and a full, oily texture to the wine. Since the country is so hot, grapes often lose most of their natural humidity and acidity levels in the fruit can drop quite low. For these reasons, some wine enthusiasts can find Shiraz a bit flabby or out of balance, but this issue can be minimized by planting vines in cooler regions or on elevated spaces like hillsides or mountains.  

The Syrah grape tends to favor cooler growing conditions which typically means a slight drop in body or fullness with a higher level of acidity. Syrah grapes tend to produce wines with an excellent structural balance between acidity, body and tannins with less residual sugar overall compared to Shiraz. New-world wine drinkers can sometimes find Syrah a bit light for their tastes but planting this grape in hot, sunny areas with proper vineyard management can yield wines full of body and concentrated flavor.

Some excellent examples of Syrah can be found in wines from Argentina, Spain, Portugal and famously, Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape or the wines of the Rhone Valley in France. 

If you pay attention and look through the single varietal wines (made with one type of grape) and compare them to blended wines (made with several varieties of grapes), you will notice that Syrah is blended often while Shiraz tends to stand alone. Since Shiraz has such a dominant flavor, it can easily overpower other grape varietals such as Mouvedre (Monastrell), or Grenache and winemakers will often choose to blend it with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon which can hold their own and even compliment the rich intensity of Shiraz. Syrah on the other hand, blends well with other varietals and contributes a spicy character with violet undertones. When done properly, Syrah adds a subtle complexity and beauty to wines designed for aging and many of the wines I choose to cellar will have a component of Syrah in them.

Which grape varietal would you choose; the juicy, fruity Shiraz which brings the intense flavor at a risk of becoming unbalanced (but is the perfect wine to bring to a BBQ), or the Syrah which brings a flavorful but balanced approach with its delicate layering of smoke, violet and blackberry? Personally, I enjoyed both wines for different reasons. The Shiraz was great for its rich fruit and touch of sweetness while I also appreciated the Syrah for its build-up of spice and noticeably mellow tannins after over 8 years in the bottle. At the end of the day, it would depend on what is cooking on the BBQ or  what kind of mood I’m in. Here are my wine picks of the week! 

Wyndam Estates Bin 555 Shiraz 2021: (Australia). Off-dry red, deep purple color. Intensity is high on the nose with juicy aromas of dark grapes, grape juice, black cherries and noticeable notes of engine oil and smoked meat. Fruit explodes on the palate, coating the tastebuds with full-bodied flavors of dark cherries, ripe plums and vanilla spice. The flavors of the mid palate thin out as chocolate and pepper spice take over into a medium-length finish with cloves, sweet black licorice and medium-plus tannins. Medium acidity provides a bit of contrast to the heavier fruit flavors, but the wine is still somewhat out of balance with its sweet fruits, slightly oily texture and mid-level acidity. Pair with BBQ fare like grilled bratwurst or smoked ribs. Good! $20, 14.5% ABV

Black Market Syrah 2016: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). This 100% Syrah is a dry red with medium purple color and visible fading at the edges. The bouquet of the wine is medium-plus with blackberries, dark cherries, freshly cracked pepper, smoke, toasted oak, creamy cardamom and vanilla. To the taste, the medium body flavors of fresh forest fruit come in with a tangy burst of medium-plus acidity. Due to the mouthwatering effect of the acidity, the flavors of dark cherry and red plums make a bright impact on the tongue and then quickly move into flavors of warming spices like vanilla, toast, pepper and smoke. The finish is long with a creamy or waxy sensation as the medium-plus tannins build with each sip. The effects of barrel-aging have added an enjoyable spice and toasted oak finish to the wine while age in the bottle has softened the intensity of the tannins. This wine has lost some of its intensity and concentration with time, but the ripe forest fruit is still lively, and the wine is beautifully balanced overall. Very good! $40, 13.8% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!