Syrah Characteristics, Syrah grapes on the vine in South Africa

Black and Blue Syrah sits on the vine in South Africa. Photo courtesy Rosendal Winery

What are the Characteristics of Syrah?

Syrah is a black grape variety that most commonly makes medium to full-bodied dry red wine.  In this Syrah wine guide, we’ll discuss food pairings and tasting notes associated with the Syrah grape variety.  As well as how climate plays a role in what Syrah will ultimately taste like.  Syrah is also known as Shiraz, among several other varietal and regional names.

“Syrah is ideal for holiday dinners where guests want deep flavor to match colorful conversation.”

What does Syrah Wine Taste Like?

Syrah is a big-bodied, dry red wine that tends to shine its brightest on the opening palate.  Not only is Syrah flavor-packed, but it’s also one of the darkest colored inky wines you can find.  Deep purple in hue with not much translucency, Syrah’s violet and velvety elegance is backed by big fruit and crunchy spice.  These flavors are typically bolder on the opening palate, with a softer texture, viscosity and spice leading the way out.  Note that while these are the generalities of Syrah flavor, climate plays a critical role in determining the kind of flavor experienced with Syrah wines. (Scroll down for detailed tasting notes)

Syrah Characteristics and Climate, Syrah in Barossa Valley

Vines that produce Syrah grow extensively in Barossa Valley, Australia.  Image courtesy The Australian Traveler

Climate and Terroir for Syrah

Syrah is grown all over the world today, in both hot and cool climates with varying soil compositions.  Though based on DNA testing, scientists have discovered that Syrah was born out of two lesser known grape varieties from Southeastern France — Mondeuse blanche and Dureza.

Terroir related factors play a critical role as to what a Syrah will taste like.  Many Vintners will place their Syrah grape vines along hillsides or at the top of slopes.  This elevated positioning allows for water to drain more efficiently thanks to more stone and less soil concentration. All of which limit Syrah yields and produce bolder flavored grapes.

Speaking very generally, the common perception is that New World Syrah is fruiter and bigger bodied, while Old World is more complex with noticeable earth and firm tannins.  This is true for the most part, but it really comes down to climate, rather than Old or New.

General Rules of Thumb for Climate and Syrah

  • Syrah grown in warmer climates yields a bigger-bodied wine with juicier fruit, smooth tannins and secondary spice notes.
  • Syrah grown in cooler climates yields less jammy fruit, bolder spices, more earthy complexities and stricter tannins.

So what are Syrah’s tasting notes?

Common Flavors and Aromas

  • Fruit: Black & Blue 
  • Warmer Climate: Plum, Blackberry, Black Cherry, Blueberry
  • Cooler Climate: Black Currant (Cassis), Dragon fruit, Blackberry
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Cold Stone, Mixed Gravel, Limestone, Shale, Forest Clove
  • Additional Complexities: Violet, Cola, Barnyard Saddle, Cracked Black Pepper, Smoke, Licorice, Cacao


  • Body: Medium-Full
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: Medium Plus, High
  • Acid: Medium Plus
  • Alcohol: Medium (12.0%-14.0% ABV)
  • Finish: Medium-Long
Syrah Wine Characteristics and Guide, Barossa Valley, Australia

Barossa Valley, Australia.  Image courtesy The Planet D


  • Soil: Gravel, Clay, Limestone, Shale
  • Climate: Varied (Hot – Cool)
  • Notable Regions: Barossa Valley, Australia | Hawk’s Bay, Australia | Rhone, France | Lodi, California | Washington State, USA

Pairing Syrah with Food

Syrah starts out with a bit of a punch on the opening palate.  As such, we don’t want to be eating food along side Syrah that’s in any way bland.  The first thing that comes to my mind is pork, which is both sweet and savory.  I like to think of Syrah as both sweet and savory — especially New World, where you get booms of black and blue fruit punch backed by tannin and spice.  If you want to tone it down a little bit, try roasted turkey, duck or quail.  Don’t be afraid to utilize your spice cabinet.  Syrah is ideal for holiday dinners where guests want deep flavor to match joyous conversation.

Other Syrah food pairings we’ve had success with include: any pizza with meat on it, garlic mashed potatoes, grilled meats with dry rub, grilled veggies and venison.


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