In France, Syrah is usually blended with other varieties. In the northern Rhône appellations, among them Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie, it dominates blends that can include Viognier. In the southern Rhône, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Côtes-du-Rhône, it lends structure to Grenache and Cinsault.
In the Languedoc-Roussillon it is blended with various other prolific grapes to enhance the whole. In other regions Syrah is typically produced as a single varietal wine, both in dry and fortified styles. It’s typically full-bodied with steely yet elegant tannins, and the wine can benefit from oak contact.
Syrah is a warm climate variety that thrives under various conditions. It requires abundant sunshine and warmth, but not excessive heat, and rocky, well drained, heat-retentive soils. Its tendency to coulure (the failure of the flowers to develop into berries) makes it necessary to plant it on slopes that are protected from wind. The vine can be vigorous and highly productive in sandy loam soil. However, Syrah’s concentration and character are enhanced by the shallow granite and mica schist of the northern Rhône, which stress the vine and curb yield. The small, thick skinned berries are high in phenolics, aroma and tannin, and have good acidity that evaporates quickly when the fruit is overly ripe.
Legends about Syrah abound: that it was brought to southern France from the Iranian city of Shiraz by the Greeks; that the Romans brought it from Egypt via Syracuse; or that it was introduced by Crusaders returning from the Middle East via Cyprus. In any case, Syrah was widely planted in the Rhône by Roman times.
Research has now shown that Syrah is the offspring of two obscure French varieties: Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Neither Dureza, native to the Ardèche, nor Mondeuse Blanche, native to the Savoie, are very distinguished, so their crossing to produce Syrah was surprising.