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Syrah grapes are rather small and grow in tightly compacted bunches. They have a very dark, deep purple skin that is somewhat thick and very high in tannins, which create a chalky drying sensation on the palate. The grapes have a small internal seed and offer berry-like aromas with flavors reminiscent of plum and cherry. When vinified, Syrah produces a full-bodied, inky dark wine with a unique flavor profile consisting of berries, pepper, tobacco, molasses and even smoked meat.
Syrah grapes are available in the summer and fall.
Syrah grapes are a variety of Vitis vinifera most widely used in wine making. Syrah thrives in the hot sunny climates of Australia, California and especially in the Rhone valley of France where it was first made famous. Wines made in the town of Hermitage in the Northern Rhone are made of 100% Syrah, and fetch some of the highest prices in the world. In the Southern portion of the Rhone Valley, Syrah is mostly used as a blending grape, epecially in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Syrah grapes provide some of the highest levels of antioxidants in their thick, inky black skins. The flavonoids within the grape’s skin, such as resveratrol, provide qualities which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Syrah grapes are most often used to make wine, however, they are perfectly delicious eaten raw on their own. Their unique peppery and somewhat gamey quality make them perfect for pairing with charcuterie and aged cheeses. They are less sweet than the traditional table grape and produce a juice that is decidedly more tannic. To make a jam or jelly from Syrah grapes, add an apple for a natural source of pectin, to ensure a proper consistency.
In Australia, Syrah is known as Shiraz. Genetically, it is the exact same grape and the exact same wine, and nothing more than a case of vernacular. It is unclear how this alias came about, some say it is from the grape’s contested origin of Shiraz, Persia, and others claim it is due to a simple mispronunciation with the Australian accent.
The origin of Syrah grapes dates back to thirteenth century France in the Rhone Valley. Various legends exist regarding how the grape came to France, ranging from the Phocaeans of Asia Minor bringing the grape from Shiraz, Persia in 600 BC to the Romans bringing the grape from Sicily in the 3rd century AD. Syrah grapes arrived in the US in the late 1800s as a wine varietal and since that time the number of grapes grown in California has increased by a hundredfold. Syrah grapes are most widely used for winemaking, though they are making an appearance at farmer’s markets in California where the wine grapes are widely produced.