Syrah is an ancient variety thought to have originated around the Persian city of Shiraz. In the sixth century BC, it was transported from Asia Minor to France's Rhone valley. Romans – the first connoisseurs of the grape – encouraged its proliferation throughout the region. Today, it's grown in almost every part of the world and produced in two distinctly different styles.
In France, where by law it must be called Syrah, it tends to taste a bit tough, tannic and reserved in its youth, though it gains exceptional smoothness, elegance and finesse as it ages. Aromas of blackberry, black cherry, plum, cedar, spices, smoke, crushed black pepper, licorice and dark chocolate waft up from the glass of a mature Syrah. It epitomizes European refinement.
Upstart Aussie winemakers chose to call their version shiraz. The style is much more assertive, with rich, jammy, bramble berry and cassis flavours, nuances of Kraft vanilla caramels, heavy cream and bread pudding. Australian shiraz offers early drinkability, though its lifespan is somewhat shorter.
But rules be damned; some French Syrahs are lovely from the get-go, while the best Australian shiraz can age for decades and shouldn't be opened till into its teens.