Shiraz & Syrah
- Why Two Names for the Same Grape?

by Peter May

Syrah and Shiraz - why two names for the same variety? If the Shiraz grape grown in Australian was brought in from France, why is it called Shiraz, and not Syrah? It seems that Shiraz is the favoured term throughout the southern hemisphere. And is there any connection between the shiraz grape and the old Persian city of Shiraz?

    I believe the answer comes down simply to the way words alter over time; it seems Syrah is the French pronunciation and Shiraz is the Australian pronunciation of the same root word. And that root word is probably a corruption of the ancient name for the old capital of Persia - Shiraz

    It is likely James Busby brought the original vines to Australia from France in 1832 where it was planted in the Sydney Botanic Gardens and by the late 1840s it was documented as being 'An excellent grape' by Sir William Macarthur. However at that time the name was spelled as 'SCYRAS.'

    Try pronouncing scyras in an Australian accent. Now try pronouncing it the way the French would do, not saying the last letter of the word. It got transmuted in Australia to Shiraz and Syrah in France

   Now of course the French didn't put the grape variety on the label (still don't except in a few new southern French wineries) and they don't grow much Syrah and that is mostly along the Rhone Valley bottled under the name 'Hermitage' etc.

    And many Australian wines - like California - used old world names, so they used the name Hermitage for these wines made from Shiraz. The world famous Penfolds Grange was until very recently labelled as Grange Hermitage - they dropped the Hermitage because of French complaints that prevented them using that name in the Europe. Other Aussie wines quickly put the grape variety on the label and they grow a lot of Shiraz and make excellent wine - which other new world makers wanted to also make.

    So Shiraz was on the label of these tremendous wines from Australia which showed just what the grape could do. It made the grape famous and thats the name used by other new world winemakers - because customers were asking for Shiraz, and few people knew the name Syrah ouside French winemakers.

    Recently in California fans of Rhone wines have begun using the name Syrah for wines made in the French style, while other winemakers use Shiraz for new world style wines

    Not documented is the link with the ancient city Shiraz. But this area had some of the worlds earliest vineyards and some people argue the Phoenicians bought the vines to Marseilles. Greek amphorae have been found in Hermitage supporting this theory. Alternatively it could be the Roman legions who brought it, because it is known the vine was well established in the Rhone valley during the Roman occupation.

    So to summarise

  • New world winemakers use the Australian name because the Australians made such a success of Shiraz and made the name prominent.
  • Both names are different pronunciations changed over time from the same root
  • Vines have to some from somewhere and there is circumstancial evidence to say Shiraz came from Shiraz, but no proof. But it a nice romantic story so lets say its true!!

   But here's some cold reality. Carole Meredith at UC Davis says Our DNA studies strongly suggest that Syrah was not brought to France from some other place. It looks to be the offspring of yet another chance sexual encounter between two other varieties -- Dureza and Mondeuse blanche. Don't know much about those two yet, but they've been in France for a long time too. It's highly improbable that Syrah could have arisen from those two in some other place and that then all three were brought to France. So that's why we think Syrah is French.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

© Copyright Peter May 2002.

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1 January 2002