Shiraz or Syrah? What's the difference?
‘I say Syrah, you say Shiraz’ is the official slogan of the Shiraz Association of South Africa. Whether you call it the former or the latter, you are right. But why the difference in name, and what does it mean?
There still seems to be confusion between Syrah and Shiraz amongst wine lovers, so we attempt to demystify this much talked-about topic.
Essentially Syrah and Shiraz are two different names for the same grape variety and same varietal wine, although this might not be immediately obvious. (Keep in mind that Petit Syrah is a completely different grape variety, also known as Durif)
Sometimes in the world of wine we have different names for the same thing, just as Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are two names for the same grape. Other synonyms for Shiraz include Schiras, Sirac, Syra, Syrah, Sirah, Hignin Noir, Candive, Entournerein, Antourenein Noir, Seréne, Serenne, Sereine, Serine, Marsanne Noir (France) and Balsamina (Argentina).
“Syrah” is how it is called in France’s Rhône Valley, where it is the main red wine grape of the Northern Rhône and a blending grape in the Southern Rhône. “Shiraz” is what winemakers in South Africa and most new world countries typically call it.
It has always been believed that Shiraz originates from Persia, also known as Iran, because Shiraz is also the name of the capital of the Fars province. However, DNA tests proved that Shiraz is indigenous to France.
Dr. Vinny (2015) from Wine Spectator writes that a winemaker might call it a “Shiraz” to indicate a rich, lush, riper, more fruit-forward wine in the Australian (New World) spirit. Or he might instead call his wine “Syrah” to indicate a more Old World–style wine. One might also expect higher alcohols in Shiraz compared to Syrah due to the hotter climates of the New World they are grown in. This shows that Shiraz adapts well to various climatic conditions and performs well in both warmer regions as well as cooler terroirs close to the coast or at altitude. Unfortunately, the terms Shiraz and Syrah can be used inconsistently and there exists no hard and fast rules regarding the use of names.
In an article published on the Decanter website, Mercer (2019) mentions that Shiraz/Syrah’s parents have been traced to little-known Dureza, believed to be local to the Rhône-Alpes region of France, and Mondeuse Blanche, a light-skinned wine grape variety grown in the Savoie region of eastern France.
Today Shiraz is the 2nd biggest planted red variety in South Africa after Cabernet Sauvignon and fourth overall after Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombar. It was also the most planted variety between 2000 and 2010 in South Africa.