The best food pairings for syrah
Syrah and shiraz, as you may know, are the same grape variety but quite different in character. Syrah, especially from the Northern Rhône, tends to be savoury, shiraz from Australia, far more sweet-fruited. Here I’m concentrating on food pairings for syrah. Read this post if you’re looking for matches for shiraz though there is obviously some overlap.
What sort of food goes with syrah?
In a nutshell, meat, especially steak and other beef dishes. Particularly if it’s grilled or cooked on an open fire. With an inexpensive syrah think steak frites: a rib of beef with a finer, more expensive wine.
Pork is also good, especially if it’s grilled. Garlicky Toulouse sausages are divine. In fact garlic generally makes syrah sing as do fragrant herbs such as thyme, oregano and rosemary (think Provençal and southern French food generally). Be wary about black pepper though. Just because there are peppery notes in syrah doesn’t mean you should pair it with peppery food. Something like a steak in pepper sauce can cancel out the pepper notes in the wine.
Oh and black olives. Great with syrah if you want to add them to a dish.
Why not lamb? Personally I think there are better matches. For me lamb is best with cabernet, tempranillo (especially rioja) and Italian reds but I'm not going to get precious about it. Go for it!
In terms of pairing syrah with vegetarian dishes I'd go for hearty dishes based on beans or lentils and intensely flavoured vegetables like aubergines and mushrooms. And syrah is one of the best red wines with cheese.
I’d also suggest different food pairings for different styles of syrah.
Young quaffable syrah
These are often natural, brimming with fresh, bright berry fruit - real vins de soif (thirstquenching wines) as the French call them. Perfect with charcuterie and cheese - so the wine for your fancy meat and cheese platter. Especially with olives!
Young syrahs are also good with lighter meats like grilled and sautéed chicken and rabbit like this braised rabbit dish.
Medium bodied syrah around 2-5 years old
e.g. Crozes-Hermitage, or Saint-Joseph (sometimes referred to as cool climate syrah)
We’re talking slightly more substantial, more full-bodied syrah here, with a bit of bottle age. Typically from the northern Rhône.
So grilled meat again, obviously but also think braises and daubes which are excellent with this style, especially beef short ribs (especially with Cornas). Oxtail and ox cheek too. And I do like black pudding with a syrah. (Haggis too, come to that)
Although I prefer a ripe new world style with barbecue (see below) they’re also tops with a fatty lamb belly kebab according to my colleague Zeren Wilson. And, to my surprise, with this pairing with coffee and maple syrup-brined pork though I’d probably still go for the fruitier type of syrah below.
Think cheese too with this style of syrah. Aged Comté can be bliss.
Ripe fruity syrah from e.g. California, Chile.
Typically fruitier than Northern Rhône syrah but less ripe and full-bodied than an Australian shiraz.
Great with American-style barbecue and spicy marinades, especially with pork (think pulled pork. Look at this pairing of spicy grilled quail and a Boekenhoutskloof Syrah too. They work with hoisin duck too.
You could even try it with seared or grilled meaty fish like tuna as in this pairing with Elephant Hill syrah.
If your wine is labelled shiraz, particularly if it comes from Australia, click here.
Syrah produces some of the most seductive wines in the world - think Côte Rôtie, Hermitage and Grange (which in my view counts more as a syrah than a shiraz from a pairing perspective) If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle what should you pair with it?
Basically the answer is the same sort of food you’d eat with a cheaper syrah, only up the quality. Think rib of beef, Chateaubriand, Wagyu beef and aged Galician beef. Venison and wild boar will also show off a top syrah as will feathered game such as grouse, pheasant and pigeon/squab (see also below). Same goes for goose - top Rhône syrah is a great wine to put on the Christmas table. It also has the intensity to handle rich wine-based sauces or 'jus'.
You might also think of veal kidneys if you like them.
Syrah (along with syrah blends) also handles cheese better than more fragile burgundies or Bordeaux so they’re a good wine to drink with a cheeseboard as long as you avoid pungent washed-rind cheeses and strong blues.
Older syrah vintages
Syrah ages well, often developing a gamey note which itself goes well with game, especially pheasant, pigeon and woodcock as you can see from this report about a spectacular Cambridge college dinner. That's true of 'new world' syrah too as this pairing of a 17 year old Californian syrah and venison proves.
Think too of well matured beef like Pete Hannan’s Himalayan salt-aged beef which will bring the fruit in an older vintage to the fore.
And you might be surprised but the gentle spicing of Moroccan food, especially tagines, seems to work well with mature syrah. Worth thinking about them with middle-eastern and Persian food too.
What are your favourite pairings with syrah?
Top photo ©chiyacat at shutterstock.com
Charcuterie photo ©rawpixel at shutterstock.com
Wagyu beef photo ©hlphoto at shutterstock.com
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