Syrah VS Cabernet – How Do They Compare?

Wine enthusiasts will have their favourite wines and these can vary significantly from one person to another. If you are hosting a dinner party you will probably want to get a wine which will pair well with the food you are serving. If you’re not sure, the internet is there to help you and, quite often, there will be suggested wine pairings written on the back of the label on the bottle.

So why do wines have such different flavour profiles as well as different levels of acidity, dryness, and body, as well as colour? After all, they are fermented in similar ways. The reason is simple. It’s all due to the variety of grapes used. 

In this article, we will be taking a look at two of the most popular red wines out there, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. In one way they are similar. You can barely tell the difference in their colour and texture because grapes with very thick skins are used to make both of them. However, there are many differences in flavour and intensity often due to the region where  the grapes are grown. A few simple differences are that Cabernet is more acidic than Syrah. It also has livelier flavours, but, on the other hand, has often got a lower ABV than Syrah. 

In this article we will tell you more about these two wines and how they compare with each other. Hopefully, this will help you to make a decision about which wine you would prefer. However, the proof is in the tasting and we hope that you will try both.

Syrah vs Cabernet – What are the Main Differences?

  • Syrah has higher levels of tannins than Cabernet meaning that there will be more of a dry and slightly bitter taste.
  • Syrah has the taste of tart fruits and spice. You will taste blackberries, blueberries, and boysenberries.  Cabernet tastes of blackcurrants and black cherries as well as green pepper and tobacco. The flavours will vary as to where the grapes are grown.
  • Syrah pairs with bold flavours such as roast lamb, gyros, and burgers as well as barbecued food, especially spare ribs. It also goes well with vegetarian food and dishes which have peppery sauces. Cabernet and any type of meat are a match made in heaven. If you are someone who enjoys meat and two veg., this is the wine for you.

Syrah vs Cabernet – Wine Profiles

Syrah and Cabernet, although they are both red wines, have different attributes. They are distinctly different and pair with different foods. Here we are going to look at each wine in turn and you will see how different they really are.. Some of the differences are just subtle, and others are  more prominent. 

Syrah

  • Origin  –  Originally and still grown in the Rhone region of France. In fact, half of the world’s Syrah comes from France. Now, however, the grapes are now grown in Spain, Argentina, South Africa, the US, and Australia. In Australia the wine is known as Shiraz, but it is the same as Syrah. In the US, the grapes are grown in California. They were first imported in 1878. In 1998 DNA testing said that the grapes were a hybrid of two grapes called Dureza and Mondeuse Blanc.
  • Climate – The grapes used to make Shiraz like warmer climates. This is why they are grown in the south of France and other warm climates such as Australia.
  • Colour – Yes, the wine is red , but it is a particularly dark red. In some lights it is almost black.
  • Flavour – Flavours do vary as to where the grapes are grown. In Australia, the wine tastes of blackberries, blueberries and tobacco, while in France, Syrah has olive-like flavours. The finish is peppery and spicy.
  • Food Pairings – Syrah has medium tannins and medium acidity, but it is bold. It pairs well with food that is equally bold, but not spicy otherwise there would be too much spice. It goes well with salty cheeses like Halloumi, Grana Pandano, and Pecorino. Gouda, Asiago, Gruyere, and aged Cheddar are also good matches. It also pairs well with grilled meats, vegetables, wild game, and beef stew.

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Origin – Cabernet originated in Bordeaux, France. The grapes originated in the 18th century and are a hybrid between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It is also now grown in California, US, Chile, South Africa, and Argentina. In France the grapes are often blended with Cabernet Franc. In California and Chile, it usually isn’t blended.
  • Climate – Like Syrah, the grapes like a warmer climate.
  • Colour – The colour of Cabernet is a dark red, with purple undertones.
  • Flavour – Cabernet Sauvignon has high acidity and high tannins. It has black fruit notes such as blackcurrant and blackberry, vegetal notes of green pepper and dried herbs, vanilla, and tobacco.
  • Food Pairings – Cabernet is a bold wine. It pairs well with bold meats such as ribeye steak and braised beef short ribs. It also goes well with hard aged cheeses such as mature Cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano. It also pairs with vegetarian and vegan dishes such as stews made with kidney beans, black beans and lentils.

Now we know a little about the two wines, we’ll take a look at some important factors that affect the quality of the wines. 

Syrah vs Cabernet – The Grapes

If all grapes tasted the same, you wouldn’t have all these different varieties of wine. When it comes to the fermentation process, a dry wine is produced if the winemaker lets the fermentation process get completed. This is because any residual sugar is not left in the wine. If the winemaker stops the fermentation process early, then the yeast would have eaten all the sugar leaving a touch of sweetness. Both Cabernet and Sauvignon are dry wines. 

Climate also has a lot to do with different flavours of wine. Syrah and Cabernet can be grown in both warm and cooler locations. Grapes grown in cooler climates are less bold and are more elegant than warm climate grapes. In addition, in cool climates, the grapes don’t get fully ripe and are therefore less sweet. The alcohol content is also lower. If you want a higher alcohol content in your Cabernet or Syrah, choose a wine that is produced in a warmer region like the south of France or California. 

The climate can impact the body of the wine. In warmer weather, grapes ripen more easily leading to lower acidity, higher sugar level, and darkness of colour. The higher levels of sugar allow for greater levels of alcohol which makes the wine more full-bodied. Lighter-bodied wines show a lower-alcohol level of below 12.5% ABV, while full-bodied wines show a higher ABV of 13.5% and above.

The terroir is also important. Syrah grows in loamy soil. Cabernet is grown in rocky granite to iron-rich soils. Both are grown at different elevations and need to have good drainage as if the vines are water logged the grapes will be destroyed.  The terroir also defines how thick the grape skins will be. Both Cabernet and Syrah have thick skins which means that they have a lot of tannins. Tannins make the wine slightly bitter and dry. Red wines generally have more tannins than white wine and the level of tannins affect the food you pair the wine with. 

Varieties of Warm Climate Wines

When you think of warm climate wines, you will think of regions which are closer to the Equator or inland from the sea. These regions have warm temperatures and usually enough rain to give the grapes well-needed sustenance. Of course, the vineyards need to have good irrigation. Warm climates give you early ripeness, a full-body, and a higher alcohol content. The wines are a very deep red and are high in tannins. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are generally warm climate grapes as are Grenache and Mourvedre.

Varieties of Cold Climate Wines

When we think about cold climate wines, we think that the grapes are grown in high elevations and near to water, be it by the sea or a river. They are further away from the Equator so don’t have as much sunlight as vineyards closer to the Equator. The temperatures are cooler and there is more cloud and fog. Wines grown in such regions have less tannins and a lower alcohol level. Cool climate wines include Pinot Noir and Gamay. Pinot Noir has a light to medium-body and Gamay is medium-bodied.

Now it’s time to take a deeper look at both Syrah and Cabernet so that you  can decide which wine would suit you. Perhaps, however, you would like to try both. 

Syrah – Profile

Syrah wine is darker than Cabernet. It has excellent health benefits if drunk in moderation, that is, one glass a day for a woman and two glasses a day for a man. The antioxidants in the wine help to lower bad cholesterol, are beneficial for your heart, and help to stop blood clotting. If you like a bold taste and a robust flavour, Syrah is the wine for you.

Where are Syrah grapes grown?

There are a total of 460,000 acres of land throughout the world dedicated to growing grapes that produce Syrah. It is divided up as follows  from the greatest to the least. 

  • France in Cotes du Rhone, Cornas, Cote-Rohe, St. Joseph and Hermitage – 169,000 acres
  • Australia in Mclaren Valley, Limestone Coast, and the Barossa Valley – 105,000 acres
  • Spain in Priorat, Yecla, Montsant, and Toro – 49.000 acres
  • Argentina in Mendoza and Salta – 32,000 acres
  • South Africa in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Pearl – 25,000 acres
  • United States in the Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Columbia Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Barbera – 23,000 acres
  • Italy in Tuscany and Sicily – 17,000 acres
  • Chile in Maipo Valley and Colchagua – 15,000 acres

A Summary of the Main Features of Syrah

  • Tannins – medium
  • Acidity – high
  • Dry or sweet – Dry
  • Body – Full
  • Ageability – Five to seven years
  • Flavour – The taste features smokey bacon, dark fruits such as blueberry, blackberry, and boysenberry, herbs, pepper, olives, cloves, vanilla, mint, liquorice, tobacco, and rosemary. It also tastes of oak as it is generally aged in oak barrels.
  • ABV – 13% – 14%
  • Other names Syrah is known by – Shiraz in Australia, Comas, Sirac, Marsanne Noir, Serene, and Hermitage

Syrah – An In Depth Look

Syrah  gives you a punch when you taste it and then has a spicy and peppery aftertaste. In France, it is often blended with Grenach Noir or Mourvedre to create the Cotes du Rhone blend. This blend is buttery and aromatic. You may taste candied fruit, raspberry, cinnamon spice, and ruby red grapefruit.

We call Syrah produced in countries such as France and Italy, Old World wines, and Syrah produced in such countries as Australia and the US, New World wines. Old World Syrah is more acidic than New World Syrah. The flavours are also a little different. Old World Syrah does have fruit flavours, but there are also earthy and herbaceous flavours. New World Syrah is very fruity with lots of spice. 

While Cotes du Rhones has the most vineyards growing in France, most Syrah in Australia is produced in the Barossa Valley which has become famous for its wines. It produces some of the best Syrahs in the world. The Barossa Valley begins at the edge of the city of Adelaide in South Australia travelling through low plains leading to rolling hills. It is very similar to the vineyards in the Central Valley of California.

In the 19th century, the root louse, also called Phylloxera, destroyed many vineyards in Europe and had to be planted again. This didn’t affect Australia or California as they used a resistant plant, Vitis Aestivalis. It is used as the root and then the vines are grafted onto the root. They are now doing this in Europe and the vines are surviving.

The Name, Syrah

Syrah was probably named after a city in Sicily called Syracuse. This area is famous for its rich Greek and Roman history. 

Is Syrah Used in Blends?

In the past, the winemakers of Bordeaux blended Syrah with other red wines to create a rich and bold blend. In the US and Australia Syrah is sometimes blended with Cabernet.

Is Syrah a Blend?

Yes it is. Two very unusual grapes were used to make the new grape, Syrah. The first is Dureza. It is found in the districts of the Rhones-Alpes region close to the Italian Alps in the south-east of France. It has dark fruit flavours from sweet blueberry to savoury black olive. The other grape is the Mondeuse Blanche. This grape is almost extinct now. It is found in the Savoie region of eastern France. It is a light-skinned grape variety. The notes are floral (magnolia and acacia) and it is slightly spicy.

The Heritage of Syrah

There are excellent Syrahs produced all over the world, but the best and most expensive come from Heritage in France. Here there are 340 acres of vineyards growing Syrah. The best wine produced is from a vineyard close to the town of Tain L’Hermitage. It tastes of blackberries and blueberries as well as being floral. It is also smoky so it reminds you of grilled meat. It is a great wine to serve at a barbecue.

Is Petite Syrah Another Version Of Syrah?

No, it isn’t. It is made from a completely different grape called the Durif. It was created by Francois Durif when he successfully crossed the Syrah grape with the rare Pelursin. Petite Syrah is full of the distinctive fruit flavours of plums and blueberries, It also has hints of chocolate, pepper, black tea, liquorice, and mocha.

The Viticulture of Syrah

The best vineyards for growing Syrah are usually near the top of the hills where there is less soil. Here are produced the most concentrated grapes, although the amount produced is usually less than in other vineyards. 

Syrah Winemaking

Syrah has thick skins and is therefore  high in tannins. Because of this, it is first cold soaked for up to a few weeks. Cold soaking gives the grapes a gentler crush and introduces less harshness into the wine. It helps the wine to develop a strong red colour and a fruity flavour. At the same time it reduces the tannin level and the herby flavour. The temperature of the cold soak should be between 10C and 15.5C. After this, the wine can be fermented in the normal way. A cold soak is often used when making red wine as it reduces the harshness of the wine.

Syrah and Food Pairings

Syrah, being a red wine, pairs well with red meats. Try it with roast lamb, gyros, burgers, and barbecued ribs. However, it also goes with vegetables, especially those with a strong taste. Roasted mushrooms, peppers, onions, and olives go perfectly. In addition, have a glass with a tomato salad, potatoes, aubergines, collard greens, and spinach. It also goes well with a cheese board, especially soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert. They absorb the tannins in the wine. Australian Shiraz is peppery and goes well with a peppery barbecue. As well as black pepper, add anise and clove to your meat for a spicy treat. 

A Summary of the Main Features of Cabernet

  • Tannins – high
  • Acidity – high
  • Dry or sweet – dry
  • Body – full
  • Flavour – Dark fruits like blackberries, blackcurrants, and blueberries, and savoury tastes from bell pepper to black pepper
  • ABV – 13% – 15%

Cabernet – An In-Depth Look

Many people consider Cabernet Sauvignon to be a classic wine. It is a wine that people know about, even if they aren’t wine experts. It is rich, bold, and robust and can pair with a whole variety of foods.

Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in many regions and we’ll take a look at them here. You will find that the wines produced in different regions do have differences. Some Cabernets are fruity, while others are savoury and smoky. 

Bordeaux, France

This is one of the top regions for growing Cabernet .It performs best on the gravelly soils of the area. The best regions for Cabernet are Cote du Bourcy, Blaye, Medoc, and Graves. 

You will find that the grapes give the wine a savoury note. It tastes of pencil lead and tobacco leaf, but there are also fruity notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, and blueberry, as well as plum sauce. There is also a hint of anise. 

You won’t get many single varietal Cabernet wines here. Most are blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc with smaller amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot and sometimes Carmenere, to become the Bordeaux Blend.

The North Coast, California

If you are a wine enthusiast, you probably will know that Napa Valley and Sonoma are in this region. The area became famous  after 1976 when ‘The Judgement of Paris’ took place. This was a wine competition organised by Stephen Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in Paris, France. French judges did a blind tasting of Chardonnays and red wines, some from California and some from France. The Californian wines won and so wine production was brought centre stage and  Californian wine started to become popular worldwide. In fact it was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap in the Napa Valley, beating the top Bordeaux Chateau. Cabernet then started to become a staple in steak houses.

Cabernet from California tastes of dark fruits like blackcurrant and blackberry, pencil lead, mint, and tobacco.

South Australia

The Coonawarra area in South Australia produces some of the best Cabernets in the world. This is because it has a warm climate and red clay soils. Wine produced here, as well as the Langhorne Creek, have a depth of flavour and powerful tannins. It tastes of black plums, white pepper, currant candy, chocolate, and bay leaf. Australian wine often comes in screw top bottles. Don’t be put off by this. The wine is just as good as wine that comes with a cork.

Chile

The best Cabernets in Chile come from Maipo, Colchagua Valley, Cachapoal, and Aconcagua. The Maipo Valley produces excellent wine because it has a Mediterranean climate which is ideal for growing grapes. It is based between the cooling Pacific Ocean breezes and the hot Andes mountains. Cabernet produced here has tastes of black fruits such as blackberry and black cherry, green peppercorns, baking spices, and fig paste.

Is Cabernet a Blend?

Yes, it is. It is a blend between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc tastes of honeydew melon, green apple, and minerals.  Cabernet Franc tastes of dark red and black fruits, and has noticeable tannins. It wasn’t discovered that the wine was a blend of two grapes until 1997. It was a surprise to wine enthusiasts that such a delicate white grape like Sauvignon Blanc could parent such a bold red as Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is also related to other grapes, such as Merlot, Malbec, and Carmenere. There is quite a similarity between the Bordeaux red wines.

Cabernet Aromas

In the past, when you came  to sniff Cabernet you could sniff green peppercorns, graphite, dark chocolate, and bell peppers. However, many wine enthusiasts said that they preferred a more fruity aroma. As a result of this, viticulturists went about reducing the greenness in the wine by using  certain pruning methods. These increased the fruity flavour and aroma of the wine.

Is Cabernet the Most Widely Grape Grown in the World?

As the wine became more popular, it became the most widely grown grape in the world, until Merlot took over in the 1990s. 

Syrah vs Cabernet – Top Recommendations

You may still be wondering whether to choose Syrah or Cabernet or you may have made your choice but don’t know which brand to pick. If so, we’ll give you a few recommendations here.

Syrah Recommendations

  • Torbrek 2014 Woodcutter’s Shiraz (Barossa Valley) – This is an excellent place to start your journey into the world of Syrah. This wine has aromas of smoke and herbs, but not too much oak. If a wine is aged in oak barrels the oak can overpower the taste, but this is not the case here. When you take your first sip, you will be confronted by herbs, blueberries, plums, and cherries. The tannins aren’t too overpowering and the wine feels rich and bold. The finish is long and silky. 
  • Kingston Family 2014 Lucero Syrah (Casablanca Valley) – This wine also has medium tannins, but it is full-bodied. There is just a hint of bitterness. It has savoury flavours of smoked meats, bacon, and game as well as dark fruits such as blackberries and blackcurrants. You taste more oak in this wine, but it isn’t overpowering. It just makes the wine more buttery and creamy,  with a slash of acidity. 
  • Michel Gassier 2013 Les Piliers Syrah (Costieres de Nimes) – This wine is a mix of flavours as most Syrahs are. You get meaty flavours together with espresso coffee, black olives, and black cherry liqueur. The finish is smokey and the wine would go well with smoked meats or a barbecue.

Cabernet Sauvignon Recommendations

  1. Corison 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (St Helena) – This wine is deep red in colour. When you sniff the aromas before taking your first sip, you will get hints of floral rose. It is a very fruity wine and you will get flavours of boysenberries, cassis, dark plums, raspberries, and black cherries. There is also a savoury note of deep leather and a mildly sweet note of dark chocolate.  You also get a mild taste of oak from ageing in oak barrels.  In fact, this wine can be aged for some years without any problem. The tannins aren’t too overpowering due to cold soaking and acidity is low. It is a wine to be enjoyed either young or old.
  2. Dubai 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) – This is a very dark red wine, almost black in some lights. It is definitely a good pairing for meat as you get aromas of charred beef. You will also smell blackcurrants, black cherry, oak, and black pepper. There are hints of dark chocolate so you could possibly enjoy a glass with a couple of squares of dark chocolate.
  3. Quilceda Creek 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – This is a special wine as you get notes of creme de cassis which is a dark red liqueur enjoyed by the French and no doubt others all over the world. The wine just slips down your throat without much of a bitter taste from the tannins. As well as the cassis you will taste black raspberries, graphite, and exotic spices. It has great depth and is rich and bold.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Syrah and Petite Syrah the Same Wine?

No, they are not. They are made from different grapes, but both are red wines.

What is the meaning of terroir?

Terroir is the natural environment where a particular wine is cultivated. It includes topics such as climate, soil, and topography.

Do wines have certain aromas because flavourings have been added?

No, the aromas are all natural whether they smell of fruit, tobacco, chocolate or anything else.

Summary

We hope that this article has given you some idea for which wine you would prefer. Hopefully, however, both Syrah and Cabernet have excited you and you will be going out to the supermarket or off-licence to buy a bottle of each. They are both bold red wines, but as you have seen there are some differences between them and, although both can be paired with red meats, when you delve deeper into the food pairings, you will see that one goes better with a type of cheese for example than the other. We are sure that if you enjoy red wine, you will be impressed by both Cabernet and Sauvignon.

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