The Syrah grape (known as “Shiraz” in much of the New World) is best known for its starring role in red wines from France’s Rhône Valley, especially in the Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage of the northern Rhône. Syrah is also grown all over the southern Rhône, where it imparts character to red blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône.
In its youth, Syrah is spicy, fruity, and sometimes smoky. A slow-maturing grape, it can show a healthy amount of tannin, yielding wines that display incredible layers of flavor and complexity over time.
Syrah often tastes of blackberries, black plums, and freshly cracked black pepper. In California, winemakers tend to focus on bringing out as much of the dark, ripe fruit as possible: try Qupé Syrah for a tasty example.
Grown in California since the early 1800s, Zinfandel has long been known as America’s grape, but Zinfandel’s DNA was recently found to be nearly identical to the Italian Primitivo grape (as well as the Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski).
Still, the region in which the grape is grown can impart distinctive characteristics. In California, some of Zinfandel’s most commonly noted flavors are black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and boysenberry. Like Syrah, Zinfandel often shows spicy notes as well, such as black pepper, cloves, anise, and herbs.
Many Zinfandels are best in their youth, since their appeal often lies in their opulent, chewy textures and their explosively fruity character. With age, a well-made Zinfandel will also develop better balance, as its berry fruit is replaced by more of those delightful spicy notes.