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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is Syrah a blend?

—Ellen, Tallahassee, Fla.

Dear Ellen,

Syrah is a grape. It's native to France, specifically the Rhône Valley and surrounding regions, but it's successfully grown in wine regions around the world. But once we start getting into the wines, it can get a little more complicated than that.

The term "Syrah" is also used to refer to wines made from the Syrah grape. And some wines made from the Syrah grape don’t actually say “Syrah” on the label. In Syrah's homeland, for instance, wines are typically labeled by their appellation, or winegrowing region. That requires you to do a little homework to know that reds from Northern Rhône wine regions like Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage or Cornas are made from Syrah (mostly, at least).

Syrah also goes by another name: Shiraz. Shiraz is most popularly used in Australia and South Africa, although you'll occasionally see it on bottlings from elsewhere, and it usually indicates that the wine is made in the classic Australian Shiraz style of big, bold and ripe Syrahs.

Finally, even if a bottle of wine is identified as a Syrah, it might still be a blend. Labeling laws vary but, for example, if you’re having a Syrah from California, the law allows for as much as 25 percent of the wine to be made from other grapes.

All that aside, if you're talking about wine and someone refers to “a Syrah,” they are referring to a wine made predominantly (if not entirely) from Syrah grapes.

—Dr. Vinny

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