Shiraz Syrah Whats in a Name

Today, countries across the globe are producing wines made from both imported and native grape
varietals, and the practice has spread almost as far as it possibly could in the eight thousand years or so
since the first recorded vineyards in Georgia were being cultivated. The New World wine countries are no
longer so 'new', and recent years have seen countries as diverse as India, Brazil and China beginning to
produce wines for the international market. With so many countries, cultures and people establishing their
own wines, methods and techniques, it should come as no surprise that certain words and terms have been
changed over time. Indeed, this is nothing new at all – there has long been a huge discrepancy between
the names of grape varietals in Latin language countries and Germanic language countries, which still
causes confusion to this day for those travelling around Europe to taste wines. However, the one grape
name which consistently causes confusion and is a source of some annoyance for various Old World
purists involves the Syrah/Shiraz debate, an argument regarding the 'real' name of this particular grape
varietal which has its roots back in France, but which has decidedly flourished in the New World.
France and Australia
In the Northern Rhone Valley of France, the Syrah grape has been cultivated for centuries, and is
responsible for the large, full-bodied and fleshy red wines which epitomise the produce of the region.
These deep purple, dusty grapes grow in abundance amongst the mineral rich soils of the valley, and have
been a stable source of income for vintners of the Rhone for generations. Partly the reason for this is due
to the fact that Syrah grapes are reasonably hardy, and consistently produce quite high yields of decent
quality, and partly because the jammy, fruit-forward nature of the wine is a big hit on the international
However, it is on the other side of the world where these grapes have really found a spiritual home,
somewhere they can thrive in numbers unreachable in the relatively small Rhone Valley. In Australia,
where the grapes are known by the name 'Shiraz', the southern regions of this hot and dry land are ideal
for growing vast quantities of grapevines, resulting in a wine industry which uses this grape varietal as
one of its flagship examples. Australian Shiraz wines are regarded as one of the most reliable and
flavourful within any New World country, and being an affordable yet tasty red wine which matches well
with a variety of international cuisines, it is a supermarket favourite with an enormous fan-base which
reaches around the globe.
The History of the Name
So, if Syrah and Shiraz grapes are the same thing, why this discrepancy when it comes to the name?
Where do these two names come from? The answer is one which stretches back into history, and remains
surrounded by considerable debate. According to some wine historians and experts in mythology, the
name 'Shiraz' comes from Iran, and refers to a town which made a famous 'Shirazi' wine which was much
exported around the Mediterranean. Legend has it that these wines reached the port of Marseilles, and
were so adored that the French demanded the grapes be imported and allowed to flourish in the fertile
Rhone Valley. This suggests that 'Syrah' is merely a French synonym, and that 'Shiraz' is in fact the
original and proper name of the grape. However, this gets called into question when many claim that
whilst this legend has certainly been told for centuries, the origin of the story itself is French...
Other legends involve the wines coming from Syracuse, being brought by Roman Emperors, or being
brought back from the Holy Land by crusaders. It seems all such legends have some basis in historical
fact, but are impossible to prove and have plenty of evidence suggesting they are unfounded and untrue.
What is curious to note is that the name 'Shiraz' has only really been used by Australians, leading some to
claim it comes from nowhere more mysterious or evocative than a simple Anglicisation or spelling error.
Interestingly, however, the Shiraz wines of Australia have become so popular on the international market,
that other New World countries (notably Chile and Argentina) have, in some regions, begun labelling
their Syrah wines with 'Shiraz' in order to associate more closely with the quality Australian produce.
A Matter of Perspective

Wherever the name comes from, it is vital to remember that both of these grapes are the same, and
produce similar wines despite being grown all over the world. Whilst it can be fun to explore the origins
of a grape's name, it has no bearing on the flavours or aromas that the finished product can provide, and
this must surely be the most important factor when it comes to this particular grape varietal. It is perhaps
also worth mentioning that the Syrah/Shiraz grape has, in fact, far more than just two names, being also
known as Balsamina, Candive, Hignin Noir, Sirac, Serine, Entournerein, and several more...