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Syrah/Shiraz

This grape is known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia.  In the United States, it can appear under either name depending on the style of the winery. The grape is thought to be named for a city in Persia (Shiraz) where it probably originated.  It produces full rich wines of intense color and flavor.  In warmer climates like Australia, the grape produces wines that are sweeter and riper tasting. In cooler climates like the Rhone valley of France, it often has more pepper and spice aromas and flavors. Syrah usually becomes drinkable at an early age and most are produced for consumption within a year after release (2rd year from harvest). On the other hand, there are Syrah/Shiraz examples of very long lived wines such as Hermitage in France and Penfold's Grange in Australia.

Syrah/Shiraz was brought into southern France by a returning crusader, Guy De'Sterimberg.  He became a hermit and developed a vineyard on a steep hill where he lived where he lived in the Rhone River Valley.  It became known as the Hermitage. The use of Syrah spread in the Rhone River Valley of France and it is now very important to the best wines of that region. It is often blended with Grenache and is an essential grape in the production of Chateauneuf du Pape.

The grape was introduced to Australia in 1832 by James Bushby who brought in vines of several varieties from Europe. By 1844 Shiraz was a recommended variety for Australia in Sir William Macarthur's Letters based on his own research and experience. For at least its first hundred years in Australia, Shiraz was used as a 'field blend' variety and not vinified separately. It's late blooming nature suited the warmer growing conditions found in Australia.

In Australia, Shiraz has found a real home. The Shiraz grape is the most widely planted red grape variety in Australia where it is sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or occasionally with Mourvedre

Whether in France, Australia or elsewhere, this grape has shown it can create some fabulous wines in the right conditions. It is important to find the right site for planting and to restrict the growth of the vine and its crop to achieve the best results.

As a side note, there is a grape variety (group is probably a better definition) in California called Petite Syrah. This name probably originally applied to Syrah vines that were brought from the Rhone valley (possibly from the Hermitage) around 1870. In the years since that time, the name has been applied to a great many old red grape vines in California. It has included what we now know to be Durif, Peloursin and many others. In short, Petite Syrah has nearly become a generic name rather than a true indication of a grape variety.