11/02/11 – Syrah vs. Shiraz

By Jesse on October 28, 2011

Six years ago — on November 1st, 2005 to be exact — the fledgling wine group that would soon become the Young Winos of LA held its fifth meeting ever.  The topic was Syrah vs. Shiraz, and two of our most legendary and illustrious members, Jason and Andrew, made their first appearances at the Sherman Oaks home of hosts Jesse, Max and Don.  Much has changed in those six years — our appearances, the economy, etc. — but the question of what differentiates a Syrah from a Shiraz is one that still intrigues novice boozers to this day.  Come join us in North Hollywood on Wednesday to drink our way to clarity on the issue.

Strictly speaking, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape.  Which name it goes by is a matter of geography and tradition — and, more recently, stylistic preference as well.  The ancestral homeland of the grape is France’s Rhône Valley. In the Northern Rhône districts (appellations such as Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph), the reds are 100% Syrah, and are filled with “gamy, meaty flavors” and notes of “white pepper, forest, and leather.” (In the Southern Rhône, wines like Côtes-du-Rhône and Cheteauneuf-du-Pape are typically majority Grenache, so don’t bring one of those unless you’re absolutely sure it’s majority Syrah.)

syrah_vs_shirazIn Australia, the grape is known as Shiraz, and is made into big, structure-driven wines filled with dark berries and tobacco.  Per the Wine Bible: “the best of them have almost syrupy plum, boysenberry, mocha and violet flavors, with hints of spice and black pepper.  By comparison, they are much more saturated with fruit than their parents, the Syrahs of the Rhône.”  In California and Washington (as well as a few other US states), the grape is usually called Syrah, and produces wines of depth, richness, and fruit-forwardness.  Some California producers choose to use the “Shiraz” moniker, often to indicate that the wine is crafted in an Australian style.  (To read an impassioned discussion between two wine experts about which name is more correct, click here.)

For Wednesday night’s meeting, please bring a bottle of Syrah or Shiraz.  (As always, you can bring a $10 no-bottle donation if you don’t have time to hit up the wine shop.)  After drinking everyone’s bottles, we’ll bring out two anonymous brown-bagged bottles — one Syrah, one Shiraz — and try to guess which is which based on what we’ve tasted thus far.

We’ll be meeting at Andrea’s place in North Hollywood, and this week’s tasting will start at 8pm.  The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions), and I’ll send you a confirmation e-mail with the address.  Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a nice bottle of Syrah or Shiraz (or bring a $10 donation, if you prefer). We’ll see you on Wednesday at 8pm!