Tag Archives: Shiraz wine

Grape of the Week: Syrah/Shiraz


Syrah, UC Davis

Since we made a virtual visit to the Rhône last week, with Viognier, we may as well stay in the neighborhood and check out the most important red grape in the region, Syrah, AKA Shiraz.

What to expect
How about a little intensity?  Expect deep, rich, concentrated flavors – nearly black in color – with spice and tannin to spare! The best will still show beautifully 20 years down the road.

Where Pinot Noir is the seductive “gateway” red, Syrah is for the convicted red-wine lover. The exception is the high production/low-end fruity, somewhat sweet versions that come from Australia. But just as White Zin isn’t representative of the best of California’s Zinfandel, these big-box store bargains don’t tell the whole story for Australia. They also produce some magnificent examples! Penfold’s Grange, for instance.

Of course, Shiraz is the name they use for Syrah in Australia. And, don’t let them hear you say “Shih-RAHZ!” They’re quite definite that it’s pronounced “Shih-RAZZ.” Continue reading

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How to Select Red Wine


malbec, UC Davis

Question from Lindsay: Everytime I go to the store to buy wine for a gift or a party, I’m overwhelmed by the choices.  I know there are Merlots, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a few other types, but I have absolutely no idea what the difference between all of them are.  To me, they are all red. Can you give a brief overview of the general differences. 

Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! This is another good question that lots of other people have. A few weeks ago I decided to write about a different grape variety every week, so soon there will be fairly detailed info on the most popular varieties available on the blog. Just do a search by variety. In the meantime, a broad-brush stroke for these reds is a great idea and will be this week’s grape(s) of the week 😉

Disclaimer 😉

Characteristics vary, a little or a lot, depending upon where the wine is grown and how it was made.
Here we go:

Cabernet Sauvignon:

Weight: Full bodied – big – substantial. And deeply colored. If you’re not sure what I mean by weight, you might compare it to the way milk feels on your palate: Light bodied = skim milk; Medium bodied = whole milk; Full-bodied = cream.

Flavor profile: Black fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, black currant; it may show earth, cedar, bell pepper, green olive or any number of other descriptors, depending, again, on where it’s grown and how the wine is made. When the winemaker chooses new barrels for aging the wood may add vanilla, spice, smoke, grilled bread, mocha, nutty character or a sense of toastiness.

Pucker factor (Tannin): Very noticeable. Tannin runs around your mouth seeking out protein and then clings to it. That’s what accounts for the drying, gripping sensation. Cab has thick skins and the skins are the source of the color and most of the tannin. 

If you sometimes think you’re drinking Merlot and it turns out to be a Cab – or vice versa – there’s a good reason. These grapes are similar. Take Cabernet back a notch and it begins to look more like Merlot.

Weight: Medium to full bodied

Flavor profile: Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black: Currant, black cherry, plum, violet, herb-like, earthy; Oak will add some of the woody characteristics described for the Cab.

Pucker factor: Usually noticeable, but softer than Cab. Merlot can leave a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured. Continue reading


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Is Petite Sirah the Same as Syrah?

Question from Cheryl: Is Petite Sirah the same as Syrah?

Reply: Hi, Cheryl. Thanks for writing! They’re not the same, but they’re related. Dr. Carole Meredith, of UC Davis, used DNA comparison to determine that two varieties of southern France, the very ancient Syrah and a grape called Peloursin are the parents of Petite Sirah.  

Syrah is such an old variety that it may be that Julius Caesar enjoyed a goblet of Syrah, in his time, just as much as we do, today! Peloursin is almost unknown in California and isn’t considered a particularly distinguished variety in France. 

In the 1870s a man named Durif made this crossing with the hope that he’d have a mildew-resistant version of Syrah. Petite Sirah is still known as Durif in southern France. What he got was a variety that does have better mildew resistance, but also happens to be quite vulnerable to bunch rot. It’s a tight-clustered variety that really wasn’t well suited to the growing conditions there. 

However – in warm, dry climates, like ours here in northern California, it does quite well! It was introduced, here, in 1878.  

For a long time Petite Sirah has been viewed as a lesser step child of Syrah. It was used as a blender for any red that wanted more pigment and tannin. It’s gaining in popularity, almost by the day, and it even has its own fan club! Check http://www.psiloveyou.org/ to learn more about it.  Continue reading

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