Syrah and Grenache are two very popular plantings of grape varieties that produce markedly different wines. While Syrah is popular as a big, bold full bodied red wine, Grenache is more popular as a blending component for red wines.
What is the difference between the Syrah and Grenache varietals?
Syrah is a high tannin, full bodied wine that can differ between wine growing regions from acidic to sweet and fruit forward while Grenache is a medium bodied, high alcohol content wine that has flavors of cherry or licorice.
Both wines do well in hot climates such as Spain, Australia, and warm regions of California. We’ll discuss the differences between the two grape varieties, including the history and origins, flavor profiles, pairing suggestions, and what you should consider when purchasing bottles of each.
Flavor and Profile of Syrah
Syrah is a single varietal wine made from grapes of the same name. The grape is a thick skinned red variety that has a well documented history in the Rhone region of France. DNA sequencing conducted in 1998 determined that the Syrah grape was a cross between two obscure varieties called Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Today, the Syrah is in the top ten most planted grape varieties in the world.
It’s important to note that Syrah and Petite Sirah, or even Petite Syrah, are not the same grape variety. Petite Sirah is a variety that is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin that occurred in the 1880s. Petite Syrah is another clone of the Syrah grape.
Syrah and Shiraz both refer to the wine produced from the Syrah grape. Shiraz is the name used for the grapes grown in Australia, where it is the most grown grape. The three regions most known for producing Syrah wine include the Rhone Valley of France, where the variety originated, California, and the Barossa Region in Australia.
Typically, Syrah is a full bodied, bold red wine, however, the flavor of the wine produced by the Syrah grape is highly dependent on the climate where the grape was grown. In cooler climates, such as the northern Rhone Valley, the Walla Walla AVA of Washington, or coastal regions of California, the wines may be more medium to full bodied. The tannins will be medium to high and the wines will have a brisk acidity, with flavor notes of red and black berries and smokey, earthy notes.
Warm climate Syrahs typically come from regions like Australia, Napa Valley or Paso Robles in California, Argentina, and Spain. In warmer climates, the grape ripens more quickly, giving them a higher sugar content and lower acidity. These wines will be fuller bodied having darker berry flavors, like blackberry, and more of a jammy profile.
When purchasing Syrah, pay attention to whether the wine is from a warm or cool wine growing region. Syrahs will do well in aging, so older bottles will have softer profiles.
Syrah should be served chilled between 60-65F with only about 15 to 25 minutes in the refrigerator. Serving the wine colder may mute the flavors and aromas too much, while warmer temperatures can cause the alcohol to overpower the flavors. Use an open bowl red wine glass to allow the aromas to open up and be sure to allow the wine to breathe properly before enjoying.
Flavor and Profile of Grenache
Grenache is another single varietal wine coming from grapes of the same name. Many experts say the Grenache grape most likely originated in the Aragon region of northern Spain, while others say that it may have been a red clone of the Vernaccia grape of Italy, though DNA sequencing does not support this hypothesis.
With the Grenache’s affinity to heat, the grape was one of the first introduced to Australia in the 18th century and was the most popular planting there until the introduction of the Syrah. Grenache buds early and needs a long growing season, as it also needs a significant amount of heat to ripen and is one of the latest varieties to be harvested. Grenache is now mostly planted in the Rhone Valley of France, followed by Spain, Italy, the United States, and Australia.
While the grape is used to make wine, winemakers tend to struggle with the grape for varietal wines. Grenache wine tends to be low in tannins, acids, and color. The wine also tends to oxidize very easily, turning the color of the wine brown. Poor winemaking techniques to compensate, such as hot pressing or hot fermentation to extract more tannins, can cause the wine to taste harsh or astringent. To avoid oxidation, the winemaker should avoid racking (or transferring) the wine as much as possible. However, the high level of sugar and low tannins tends to lend Grenache to making fortified wines, like “port style” wines from Australia.
However, when done well, Grenache will be a medium bodied from it’s high alcohol content with medium tannins. The wine might have an aroma of grapefruit with flavors of cherry or licorice.
Although Grenache is very popularly planted grape varietal, it’s most often used to make wine blends. As a varietal, it’s a low tannin, low acid, light bodied wine that’s best suited for young consumption. These wines will have flavors and aromas of black cherries, coffee, black currant, and black olives. Look for fairly young bottles when purchasing a single varietal Grenache.
Grenache should be served slightly colder than Syrah, between 55-60F, which would take about 45 to 60 minutes in the refrigerator. If served too warm, the fruit flavor may taste more acidic or tart. Try a tapered, or egg shaped, wine glass for light to medium bodied wines to allow the peppery notes to be focused upwards in the glass and allowing for a long, savory finish.
Comparing Syrah to Grenache
Worldwide, Syrah and Grenache have a similar number of plantings, 460,000 acres for Surah and 456,000 acres for Grenache. Since Syrah and Grenache are so different, choosing between the two wines may depend on your own personal preferences for wines, or the pairing options you plan to serve with your wine.
These two wines have very different profiles, but when blended together produce beautiful wines. Both wines are heavily grown and produced in the Rhone Valley. While Syrah is a consistently good wine on its own, Grenache often needs to be blended to produce good wine, with Syrah being one of the most popular choices.
Syrah is a great wine for a backyard barbeque, pairing well with grilled meats, burgers, steaks, and braised beef. When pairing with lighter meats, such as chicken, veal, pork, or lamb, look for thicker or spicier sauces, such as barbequed chicken or brown mushroom sauces.
Grenache goes well with stews, braises, and often spicy dishes like Indian curries, bulgogi, or mole sauces. A lighter alcohol, chilled Grenache can help reduce the burn from hot foods. Game meats such as boar, rabbit, and venison are also good choices. However, the flavor and aroma of Grenache can vary depending on how the winemaker processes the varietal. When Grenache is blended with other wines, it can be paired with hearty options, similar to the Syrah.
While Grenache should be served slightly more chilled than Syrah, you may be able to serve both wines out of similar glasses, while warm climate Syrah may benefit more from a more open mouthed glass.
Try out both varietals to determine which wine you might like better, but don’t forget to try some blends in between to see where in the spectrum might be your ideal wine!