When is shiraz not shiraz? When it's syrah

These red wines are made from the same grapes. Here's what sets them apart

22 August 2019 - 00:00 By RICHARD HOLMES
The grapes used to make syrah wines are generally picked earlier than those used to make shiraz.
The grapes used to make syrah wines are generally picked earlier than those used to make shiraz.
Image: 123RF/Stokkete

Shiraz is one of South Africa’s most popular red grapes – it’s the second-most widely planted red wine cultivar in the country after cabernet sauvignon.

Last year South African vintners shipped more than 21 million litres of shiraz abroad, making it the leading red wine cultivar exported too.

But consumers are often confused by the difference between shiraz and syrah. The fact of the matter is, they’re both made from the same grapes, it’s simply the style of wine and winemaking that changes.

“The difference between syrah and shiraz is more blurred today than ever before and it can be highly confusing,” says Roland Peens, managing director of winecellar.co.za.

The “New World” character of shiraz was made famous in Australia’s Barossa valley, with jammy fruit flavours and high alcohol.

Traditionalists started a movement towards popularising a more “Old World” style of syrah, common to the Northern-Rhône region of France, “reflecting the more elegant, peppery and floral wines that shiraz can produce”, adds Peens.

“Syrah is generally earlier-picked, therefore lower in alcohol, offering more savoury notes and dry tannins.”

Whether you prefer richer shiraz or austere syrah comes down simply to personal taste.

3 OF SA'S BEST SYRAH WINES

GABRIËLSKLOOF LANDSCAPE SERIES SYRAH ON SANDSTONE

The Landscape Series from this Overberg cellar showcases the unique terroir of the farm, and this syrah derives much of its character from the Table Mountain sandstone soils in which it grows. Expect signature white pepper and red fruit on the nose, atop a silky and elegant palate.

For something less expensive, their Gabriëlskloof Syrah is also worth discovering.

REYNEKE SYRAH

Johan Reyneke flies the flag high for organic and biodynamic winemaking, and this delicious syrah from Stellenbosch is well worth discovering. Plenty of perfume on the nose, with a fresh palate of cranberries, cherries and no shortage of juicy tannins.

KEERMONT SYRAH

From vineyards high on the slopes of the Helderberg, this remarkable syrah is greater than the sum of its parts. Produced from three unique vineyards – Steepside, Topside and Sweetwater – the grapes are hand-harvested and vinified separately, before maturing in older oak barrels for 20 months. Rich floral character on the nose, with dry tannins and a long savoury finish.



Image: Supplied

This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za