Question 2: Que Syrah, Syrah?
We were wondering about the difference, if there is one, between petit syrah, syrah and shiraz. Can you shed some light?
Terri and Brent
Dear Terri and Brent – Great question! They’re NOT all the same thing, but a lot of people mismatch the similar ones. Syrah equals Shiraz. The easiest way to think about it is that the term Syrah is generally used in the Old World, and Shiraz in the new. Syrah has dominated in Southern France for hundreds of years, and is best known for rich, lush Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie wines (with a bit of Viognier in the latter)… and features predominantly in many Chateauneuf-du-Pape beauties as well (blended with Mourvedre, Cinsault, and up to nine other allowable grapes – yes, I have re-memorize all those!)
When the Syrah grape was taken down under to Australia, the story goes that one winemaker called his Syrah wine “Shiraz”, after the city in Persia (Iran) where the grape supposedly originated. Thereafter, the popularity of that wine encouraged other Aussie winermakers to call their Syrahs “Shiraz” as well. Others suggest that “Shee-raz” is simply how “Syrah” comes out in a broad Aussie accent (i.e. strinization of the word). Either way, the grapes are one and the same.
(As a side note, here are other Aussie food and wine terms that may be of interest: Australia “Matero” grapes are traditional Southern French Mourvedre. Being “shickered” means you’ve been enjoying your Shiraz a bit overmuch. A “chook” is a chicken. “Bickies” are cookies. And “sangers” are sandwiches. Can’t wait to visit there and learn more!)
However, Petit Syrah is altogether a different grape, producing wines that do stand out from traditional Syrahs. Petit Syrah is also called “Durif”, and is the result of a Syrah cross from the late 1800’s. It has Syrah-like characteristics, but not nearly the same finesse. Where Syrah is all fruit, pepper and silk, Petit Syrah on its own is rather more herbal, full, and firm. That said, elegance is possible when Petit Syrah is cossetted (and likely blended a bit). I found this quote that I like:
“When treated with some respect (instead of being used simply as a blending grape for a generic red wine), Petite Sirah produces a very dark, almost inky wine that tends to be massive, tannic and long lived. It’s similar to Syrah in flavor, but usually exhibits heartiness in place of Syrah’s elegance.” – Steve Pitcher
There is a Petit Syrah that I particularly like, at a fabulous price point: De Bortoli, by an Italian family winery in Australia’s Yarra Valley. Kinda begs the question, why didn’t they call it Petit Shiraz, no? But anyway, this is a lovely expression of a rather harsh grape. Rich, inky purple – almost black – it has good blackberry fruit with chocolate tones that balance the heavy-duty tannins. Less than $15. Yum!