The grapes Syrah vs. Shiraz vs. Petite Sirah — What’s the difference?
When I first started drinking wine (a very long six months ago), I tried hard to get a grasp on all the different wine varietals. This seemed an important step towards compartmentalizing the different tastes I was encountering. I wanted to learn what typical wines made from the famous grapes tasted like.
There are many grapes to work through, with many confusing moments, such as the difference between Syrah, Shiraz, and Petite Sirah.
There is actually no genetic difference between the grapes Syrah and Shiraz, but Petite Sirah is a different grape – a descendant of Syrah.
Syrah vs. Shiraz implies the style of wine
When a wine is either labeled a Syrah or a Shiraz, it really implies the style (and originally the location) of the wine.
Wines labeled Syrah tend to be the acidic, lighter-bodied French Rhone Valley style of wine, and wines labeled Shiraz tend to be the gobs-of-fruit, full-bodied style of the Australians. And if the wine is from somewhere else, such as California, whether the winemaker chooses to call it a Syrah or Shiraz tells you a lot about what you can expect from inside the bottle.
The original home of the Syrah grape is in the Rhone Valley in France. Wines from this region tend to be inky in color, with higher acid, and often a peppery nose. Shiraz grapes in Australia mostly reside in the Barossa Valley, and this warmer location produces riper, fuller, and somewhat chocolaty wines.
How does Petite Sirah fit in?
The grape now known as Petite Sirah was first highly cultivated in California, and its origin was unknown prior to 2003. However, Dr. Carole Meredith at UC Davis has recently used DNA evidence to estimate that of the 3,200 acres of grapes labeled Petite Sirah in California, most are actually the Durif grape and about 10% the Peloursin grape. The Durif grape first originated in the Rhone Valley in 1870, as a cross between the Syrah and Peloursin grapes.
Often blended with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah adds deep color and fairly intense tannin. As a single varietal wine, Petite Sirah can be a bit black peppery.
If you have anything to add to this beginner’s guide to wine, please leave it in the comments.
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