The power of shiraz

A row of syrah vines in France (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

In Oz they call it “Shiraz” but it’s “Syrah” in most other places. Same grape variety, different labels. Those synonyms provide a useful distinction between the rich, full-flavoured wines of South Australia and the sleeker, more peppery wines made in this country. That distinction is now under threat.

Villa Maria recently labelled a small batch of 4-500 cases of Private Bin wine from the 2014 vintage “Shiraz” instead of “Syrah” as the wine is known in this country. Their UK importer, Hatch Mansfield, argued that wines labelled “Shiraz” sell more readily on the UK market than the “Syrah”. Whether they label future shipments as “Shiraz” depends on the results of this market test.

I recall reading that a French producer tried labelling wine for their UK supermarket customers as “Shiraz” but the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée authority insisted that he use the “more correct syrah”. The producer conformed and sales dropped by 50%. The appellation d’origine controlee authority caved and allowed them to go back to “Shiraz”.

While on the subject of shiraz/syrah I’d like to take the opportunity of debunking the widely held myth that shiraz/syrah is originally from Persia. According to the authoritative book Wine Grapes, syrah is a cross between Mondeuse Blanche (mother) and Dureza (father).

“The crossing that gave birth to syrah had to take place in a vineyard where both parents were cultivated together, making it very likely that this happened in the French Rhône-Alpes region, probably in the Isère.”

“It has often been speculated that syrah was introduced from Persia to Marseille by the Phocaeans around 600 BC, or from Persia to the Vallée du Rhône by the Crusaders between 1095 and 1291. Since shiraz is the Australian name for syrah, some authors even argued that the Australians had maintained the original name while the French had Frenchified it. However, the shiraz hypothesis is doubtful, not least because the Crusades were mainly focused on the Holy Land and did not go as far as Persia.”

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