Have you ever been curious about the difference between the Shiraz and the Syrah grape? I have news for you: they are one and the same. According to various legends, the grape was brought to France from Iran during the Roman times; however, according to Wine Spectator:
“….recent DNA testing shows that Syrah is actually indigenous to France…Whether a bottle says “Shiraz” or “Syrah” is up to the discretion of each producer. “Shiraz” is the term of choice for most Australian winemakers, while “Syrah” is traditionally French.”
The Northern Rhone is where the Syrah grape originally achieved its fame, especially during the 18th Century. While other regions of France typically blended a variety of grapes to make their wines, this region unusually used solely the Syrah grape to make their delicious wines. Since those days, the grape has earned world renown and is grown in many countries around the globe to include Switzerland (around the village of Chamoson in the upper Rhone valley), Spain (around Toledo), Italy (in Tuscany), Corsica, South Africa, Argentina, and the US, to name a few.
Perhaps some of the most famous of the Shiraz wines come from Australia. There is some confusion as to who originally brought the grape to the country from France. It is likely that a fellow named James Busby, who made a tour of various parts of Europe to collect numerous vine cuttings, brought the Syrah cuttings home to Australia from France, around 1833. These cuttings were then planted in Sydney Botanical Gardens, in the Hunter Valley, and in 1839 were brought to South Australia. By the 1860s, Shiraz was established as an important varietal in Australia.
It is not entirely clear how the name of the grape became Shiraz in Australia. Busby did use at least two different spellings for the grape: “Scyras” and “Ciras” (who knows how he pronounced either one). It could be that, with the Aussie accent, and Busby’s spelling, the grape name simply morphed from Syrah to Shiraz over time. It could be the Aussie’s, at the time, mistakenly thought the grape came from the town of Shiraz in Iran. Whatever the case, they use the term and they say it as though it rhymes with pizzazz. And today, those Aussies have take the grape to a whole new level, it is their most popular and best selling varietal. Ironically, Australia’s greatest red wine, the fabulous Grange, is made almost entirely from Shiraz with just a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the year. For me, their Shiraz wines are amongst the best I have had. It is fair to say that I have a love affair with that yummy Aussie grape.
Each country that produces this grape and these wines has a different terrior; that is, the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma. That being the case, the grape, whether labeled Syrah or Shiraz, will have different qualities and flavors depending on where it is grown. Each region, in any given country, can have a different terrior, so the same grape can produce very different tasting wines.
Just for fun I thought we would try 4 different Syrah/Shiraz wines from 4 different countries. It is a small sampling but will help us understand how differently the same grape can taste, depending on where it is grown and how the wine itself is produced.
Now you might be asking yourself, what type of glass should I drink a Shiraz/Syrah from? The Riedel Crystal glassware company has an answer for you. This company, headquartered in Kufstein, Austria, has made a glass for nearly every beverage, including Coco-Cola. One of their versions of the perfect glass to use for our tasting is seen below along with our wines:
Before we begin, I want to make note of the fact that Petite Syrah (also spelled Petite Sirah) is often erroneously lumped into the Syrah/Shiraz grape category. Also originating from the Rhone valley in France, it was created by Dr. Durif sometime in the 1880’s by crossing Syrah with another grape called Peloursin, which is no longer commercially grown. This grape, originally known as Durif, did not fare well in the French climate. Although used in some Chateauneuf du Pape wines, it is no longer widely used in France these days. Since it’s transport to California is has flourished under its new name, Petite Syrah, named as such because it is less hardy than the Syrah grape. Today Petite Syrah is virtually nonexistent in its native France but thrives in the United States, Australia, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Currently, the Cupcake Vineyard sells an inexpensive, delicious bottle, though it is hard to find. To sum it up, Petite Sirah (Syrah) and Syrah/Shiraz are two different varietals.
Moving on, the four wines we are tasting today include:
- Argentina Finca Flichman Reserva Shiraz 2014
- Michel Gassier Syrah 2013
- Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Green Label Syrah-Shiraz 2012
- Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Barossa Shiraz 2013
Let’s do it (see the link to the video below):
“Life is too short to drink bad wine” – Anonymous….and true