Pour yourself a glass of your favorite syrah or shiraz and relax…they’re exactly the same grape varietal. The only difference is that this dark, luscious grape is called shiraz when it’s grown in Australia. It’s called syrah pretty much everywhere else.
As legend goes, Syrah was grown 7,000 years in the Persian city of Shiraz, which was known as the land of wine, flowers and poetry. (Sounds like Utopia to me.) There is, of course, debate about this because none of us were around back then to authenticate this bit of history. It’s such a great story, though, that I choose to believe it.
The vines then found their way to the Rhone Valley in France about 2,000 years ago, where it was called syrah. The dense, inky fruit then traveled to Australia in the late 1800s, where it was called shiraz.
I know what you’re thinking. Why the confusion? Did a drunk person slur the name when the grapes were delivered Down Under? Perhaps. But the most likely reason for the dual-named grape is the translation of the word from one language to another. I have a hard enough time playing Telephone with other Americans. I couldn’t imagine playing it with the French.
If you want to make your taste buds just as crazy your ears, try doing a side-by-side taste comparison of a syrah from the Northern Rhone and a shiraz from Australia. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that the herbaceous, gamey French syrah and the fruity, chocolatey Australian shiraz are even related, much less the same grape.
This is where that French word terroir comes into play. The moderate climate in the Rhone Valley produces a much different wine than the hot sunshine in Australia.
Which is better? That’s for you to decide. Just make sure to give them both equal time on your tongue.
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