Deeply colored, big, rich, tough, and long aging, Syrah is a grape variety associated with the Rhone Valley region of France. It is famous for creating "Hermitage" red wine from a single, steep, spectacular hillside. There, on the ancient vineyard site the variety is planted a meter apart and trained to the vertical gobelet. Syrah produces other great wines from the Côte Rôtie, and other sites on down the Rhone river valley.
The Syrah grape variety displays a zesty peppery aroma and flavor. This characteristic is durable, and the wines stand up well to aging in barrels and in the bottle. If made in the big rich style, they are usually much improved by 5 to 10 years of bottle age, retaining their zest while softening. Sometimes the variety is blended with a small amount of Viognier, a white Rhone grape, with the intent of softening the tough nature of the Syrah variety.
The variety is often confused by the consumer in California with Syrah's cousin the Petite Syrah. DNA fingerprinting has shown that there is a probable relationship between the two varieties. Though Petite Syrah can produce excellent, deeply colored, and tannic wines, when Syrah is at its best, there is not a Petite Syrah made that can touch it. Wines from Syrah generally have a more pleasing finish in the mouth.
In the cooler regions of Australia a clone of the Rhone variety is grown very successfully and makes Australia's best red wines. It is known as Shiraz.
In California, depending on location, vintage or vinification technique, the grape is used to either produce a spicy, complex wine or a light simple wine. In the Napa Valley it is usually made into the former style; big, rich and complex.