Syrah and Shiraz are one and the same grape variety - Syrah is the French name, and Shiraz is the name given to it in Australia, South Africa and other parts of the world.

This grape variety is a must if you want to experience the richer, darker side of red wine. Not all Syrahs/Shirazes (or blends that incorporate it) will be satisfyingly full-on, so watch out for some weedy, jammy cheapies, but in the main, this is one of the grapes to go for if you want a heavyweight.

It doesn't often deliver fresh, fruity flavours, however. Syrah/Shiraz can be lots of things, but it isn't in the 'fruit salad' school of wine.

It's hard to swirl a glass of the stuff and find raspberries, strawberries, plums and cassis, as you will with many red grapes. Instead, potent, wilder aromas assail the nostrils - of spice, black pepper, toffee, cream, herbs, smoke, citrus peel, leather - and the taste is similar.

Sure, there's a rich blackberry/ blackcurrant element in certain, especially non-European Shirazes, but those unusual characteristics are what stand out, and what make this grape so misunderstood and often underrated.


It was often used as a 'workhorse', churning out cheap and rough reds, especially in Australia, until the modern era kicked in and winemakers started making first- rate, premium reds from it. Those who liked powerful, robust wines loved Shiraz, and so a modern classic was born.

Of course, as Syrah, this grape was always much appreciated. The Rhone Valley is renowned for its gutsy, concentrated, sun-baked reds, and Syrah has always played a major part in these. This variety's popularity is set to grow as more winemakers around the world take it on and come up with startlingly good results.

Still, for now it remains less well-known than Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir. So, if you haven't discovered Shiraz/Syrah yet, make a point of doing so now. Note it is made in the warmer parts of the winemaking globe, where the hot sun coaxes the grapes into full ripeness.

FRANCE The huge, smouldering reds of the northern Rhone Valley are made almost entirely from Syrah. This is a sunny area that starts at Vienne, with the appellation of Cote-Rotie ('roasted slope'), and runs southwards to St-Peray, near the town of Valence.

The wines are dense, intense, super- concentrated with a twist of black pepper and a rich, rounded texture. Some have a sprinkling of white Viognier grapes in the blend, which gives the liquid a fragant lift.

Cote-Rotie's winemakers are arguably the greatest in the south, making brooding monsters packed with black fruit and spice, but don't pass up the chance for a decent bottle from the appellations of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St-Joseph and Comas, either.

Names such as Chapoutier, Chave, Graillot, Delas, Guigal, Paul Jaboulet and Noel Verset are all worth exploring. The best wines are thoroughly age-worthy, their heavy structure softening and loosening up over time.

The southern section of the Rhone begins below Montelimar and is a hot, arid place where rich, headily alcoholic reds are the norm. The most famous wine of the region is the purple-hued, heavyweight Chateauneuf-du-Pape, made from a heady mix of up to thirteen different grape varieties, mainly Grenache but also Syrah and Mourvedre.

Vineyards contain big flat stones which retain the heat of the sun well into the evening. Other southern Rhone reds produced from a similar blend include Gigondas, Lirac and Vacqueyras.

Again, the top wines should mature well for years. Further down the prestige ladder come sixteen named Cotes du Rhone-Villages (including Cairanne, Rasteau and Beaumes-de-Venise), then generic Cotes du Rhone-Villages, which are often good value for money, and below that the cheapish Cotes du Rhone reds, which can occasionally please

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