Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine. In 1999, Syrah was found to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880.
The style and flavour profile of wines made from Syrah is influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown with moderate climates (such as the northern Rhone Valley and parts of the Walla Walla AVA in Washington State) tending to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates (such as Crete, and the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of Australia), Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of licorice, anise and earthy leather. In many regions the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allow the wines produced to have favourable aging potential.
Syrah is used as a single varietal or as a blend. Following several years of strong planting, Syrah was estimated in 2004 to be the world's 7th most grown grape at 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres). It can be found throughout the globe from France to New World wine regions such as: Chile, South Africa, the Hawke's Bay, Waiheke, New Zealand, California and Washington. It can also be found in several Australian wine regions such as: Barossa, Heathcote, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale.
Syrah, as it is known in France, is grown throughout the Rhône valley. The wines that are made from it vary greatly, even over small changes in the vines locations. The differences in the soil quality as well as the changes in the slope of the terrain tend to produce different styles of wine. Ranging from the mineral and tannic nature of Hermitage, to fruity and perfumed in the case of Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah is also a key component to many blends. It may be used to add structure and colour to Grenache in southern Rhône blends, including Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Syrah is also the only red grape used in the wines of the northern Rhône.
In 1968, there existed only 2,700 hectares (6,700 acres) of Syrah vineyards in France, primarily in the traditional appellations of northern Rhône, which at that time had not received much attention in the wine world for several decades, and the vineyards of which were not planted to full capacity. After the wines of northern Rhône were "rediscovered" by wine writers in the 1970s, plantings expanded considerably. This trend received an extra boost in the 1980s and 1990s, when influential wine writer Robert M. Parker, Jr. awarded high scores, up to the "perfect" score of 100 points, to wines of some Rhône producers. The popularity of Australian Shiraz on the export market may also have played a role. In 1988, total French plantings stood at 27,000 hectares (67,000 acres), and the 1999 viticultural survey found 50,700 hectares (125,000 acres) of Syrah vineyards. France thus has the world's largest plantations of Syrah.
The Syrah grape was introduced into Australia in 1832 by James Busby, an immigrant who brought vine clippings from Europe with him, and it is almost invariably called "Shiraz". Today it is Australia's most popular red grape, but has not always been in such favour; in the 1970s, white wine was so popular that growers were ripping out unprofitable Shiraz and Grenache vineyards, even those with old vines. In the Barossa Valley, the world's oldest continually producing commercial vineyard is believed to be the Shiraz vines at Turkey Flat in Tanunda that were originally planted in 1847.
In the 2005–2006 growing season, total Shiraz plantations in Australia stood at 41,115 hectares (101,600 acres), of which 39,087 hectares (96,590 acres) were old enough to be productive. These vines yielded a total of 422,430 tonnes of Shiraz grapes for wine production. This made Shiraz the most planted variety in Australia and Australia the world's second largest Syrah/Shiraz grower, after France.