Syrah is the noble red grape of the Rhone Valley. It has been used for centuries in the Northern Rhone in crafting the full-bodied Hermitage and Cornas wines and in the Southern Rhone for making the Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape blends. While introduced to the U.S. in 1878, Syrah did not reach prominence until 1974 when Walter Schug of Joseph Phelps, recognizing the similarities in climate between California and the Rhone Valley, produced the first 100% bottling of Syrah in California.
Australians have been producing "Shiraz" longer than Californians; however, whatever it is called, Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape.
Wines produced from the Syrah grape are big and rich with medium to big tannins. Compared with paler reds like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, Syrah's color is deep purple, even inky. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah ages well, taking on a silky mouth feel and losing tannins as it matures in the bottle. Vintners often recommend between four and ten years of bottling age for 100% Syrah.
Wines made from Syrah are often powerfully flavored and full-bodied. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, espresso and black pepper. While no aroma can be called typical, blackberry and pepper are often noticed. With time in the bottle, these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savory notes, such as leather and truffle.
As with Petite Sirah, Syrah pairs well with any food with which one would normally pair a big red wine: mesquite-grilled steak, roast duck, lamb, pot roast, rabbit in mustard sauce, cassoulet, stews, sausages and sweetbreads with mushrooms.
Cheeses that pair well with Syrah include Asiago, Cheddar (sharp and smoked), Comte, Dry Jack, Edam, Gouda (including smoked), Gruyere, Manchego, Monterey Jack, Muenster, aged Provolone, Roncal and Pecorino cheeses.