Syrah is one of the most popular varieties in the world. The red grape is the fifth most planted vine internationally, covering a total of around 137,000 hectares. Its origins lie in southwest France, where it was cross-bred from Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza, and is thought to date back to the Roman era. It is particularly popular in the Rhône Valley and in Australia where, as Shiraz, it is the most popular black grape. There has been a recent explosion in Syrah growth, especially in France, where its total growth area leapt from 2,700 hectares in 1968 to 50,700 hectares in 2000. It is increasingly employed to give Grenache a longer lifespan in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and adds structure to wines in Languedoc-Roussillon. It is also used to create hugely successful varietal wines in Southern France.
Syrah can vary hugely depending on the soil and climate. In cooler climates, such as northern Rhône, it produces medium to full bodied reds that are high in tannin, featuring notes of black pepper, mint and blackberry. In warmer areas, such as Crozes-Hermitage, it gives a wine with more earthy and leathery aromas, with notes of coffee, red berries and cocoa. Those produced in Côte Rôtie tend to be more aromatic, with an elongated ageing potential. In general terms, those in warmer climates are full bodied with less tannin and notes of aniseed and leather. In cooler regions they are mid to full bodied, with notes of black pepper and blackberry and higher tannins.
In northern Rhône, Syrah grapes are often divided into two categories: Petit Syrah, which has small berries and is considered superior, and Grosse Syrah, which has a lower concentration of phenolics and therefore flavour and colour. This distinction is, however, disputed by many ampelographers. Syrah grows best in warmer climates, where it can fully ripen and retain its characteristics. Other than in France, it is grown notably in Tuscany, Spain, California, Washington and South Africa. In Chile there are around 2,500 hectares planted, which produce rich, dense wines.