Good question! Basically they are the same grape varietal, genetically, but the flavor profiles are quite different because of the different climates, terriors and wine making techniques. The Australians call it Shiraz while Americans and French call the varietal Syrah.
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Now to the flavor profiles:
French Syrah is planted in the Rhone region, which is divided into 2 halves; the Northern Rhone and the Southern Rhone. Northern Rhone wines are made primarily from Syrah grapes and can command a hefty price e.g. Hermitage. The wines are tannic and leathery with spice and pepper over tones. Generally these wines take a longer time to age than Southern Rhone wines.
Southern Rhone wines are generally made with more Grenache than Syrah but produce wines that mature earlier than Northern Rhone wines. Here we have the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cote-du-Rhone wines. Southern Rhone wines are mellower with some spice overtones.
Australian Shiraz is famous in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale areas. Their wines are rich with fruit and very smooth. Many times these wines are even blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for added aging and complexity. The Barossa Valley produces Shiraz with big fruit and chocolate overtones.
California Syrah-Enter the famous Rhone Zone of California. Here we have producers that produce Rhone style wines with earth, spice and pepper overtones. Some notable areas are :Sonoma County, Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Santa Barbara County, leading the way in production. Some winemakers swear the climate of Paso Robles mimics the southern Rhone area of France. A few California Rhone producers have cult status and command a hefty price. Examples include: Saxum, Sine Qua Non Syrah and Alban Syrah Edna Valley.
My favorite Syrah/Shiraz picks ( somewhat affordable):
- Carlisle Syrah Russian River Valley 2007 About $50 (if you can find it)
- Qupe Syrah 2007 A classic Syrah for under $20. A great value
- Two Hand’s Bellas Garden Barossa Valley 2007 Classic Barrosa Valley. About $60. Treat yourself!
My favorite pairings:
Ausssie Shiraz with big fruit-BBQ
California style Syrah-lamb or grilled steak
French Rhone style Syrah with big spice- roast leg of lamb