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Syrah grapes are small and are round to slightly egg-shaped, growing in tightly compacted bunches. The dark, deep purple to black skin is smooth, thick, and very high in tannins, which creates a chalky, drying sensation on the palate. The flesh is semi-translucent, juicy, and contains 1-2 small internal seeds. Syrah grapes 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 that is largely dependent on the climate that it is grown in. Syrah wines begin with a punch of flavor and then finish with a spicy, peppery aftertaste. They also consist of flavors of molasses, berries, tobacco, and even smoked meat.
Syrah grapes are available in the summer and fall.
Syrah grapes, botanically classified as Vitis vinifera, grow on vines that prefer high elevation and are most widely used in winemaking as it is responsible for some of the darkest red wines in the world. Syrah grapes were created from Dureza, a dark-skinned grape, and Mondeuse Blance, a white-skinned variety. In the Rhone Valley of France where it was first made famous, Syrah wines made in the town of Hermitage in the Northern Rhone are made of 100% Syrah grapes and fetch some of the highest prices in the world. Syrah is also used as a blending grape, especially in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Syrah grapes provide high levels of antioxidants and also contain flavonoids within the grape’s skin, such as resveratrol, which can help improve heart health.
Syrah grapes are most often used to make wine, but they can also be consumed fresh, out-of-hand. Their unique peppery and somewhat gamey quality makes them perfect for pairing with charcuterie and aged cheeses. They are also less sweet than the traditional table grape and produce a juice that is decidedly more tannic. Syrah grapes can be made into jam or jelly, but an apple should be added for a natural source of pectin to ensure proper consistency. Syrah wines pair well with barbequed, roasted, smoked, or grilled meats such as beef, duck, sausage, chicken, turkey, guinea fowl, venison, and lamb, cheddar and blue cheese, herbs de Provence, pizza, grilled veggies, and garlic mashed potatoes. The grapes will keep up to one week when stored in the refrigerator.
Syrah wine is also known as Shiraz in different parts of the world. Genetically, it is the same grape and wine and is nothing more than a case of vernacular. It is unclear how this alias came about, as 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. In France and Italy, the wines are labeled Syrah and have more of an acidic and mineral taste with smoky herbaceous aromas. In Australia, the wine is labeled Shiraz and is more fruity, chocolatey, and spicy. In the rest of the world, the name that is chosen is usually a sign of the winemaker’s preference for the specific style and flavors of either France or Australia.
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 BCE to the Romans bringing the grape from Sicily in the 3rd century CE. Syrah grapes then spread to the United States in the late 1800s as a wine varietal and are mainly grown in California and Washington. Today Syrah grapes are grown and can be found at local markets in Australia, Europe, South Africa, the United States, Argentina, Mexico, and New Zealand.