Monday, January 10, 2011

Wine Fact #1 - Shiraz or Syrah?

Be it pocket vintage guides, portable argon sprays or downloadable apps to your iPhone or Blackberry, wine and wine talk is everywhere – a true Planet of the Grapes you may say. And with all of this wine talk comes wine lingo – MLF, oxygenation, reverse osmosis and on and on and on! There is so much to know about the little grape that makes fermented juice that can fetch upwards of $50K.

So what I propose to do is borrow the ‘wine fact’ concept derived by James May in “Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure” and now and then share something that I may know and you may not; some may be true, some may be a little true. And without further adieu here is my first Wine Fact!

Q: Where does the word ‘Syrah’ come from?
A: We all know that Syrah and Shiraz are effectively the one grape, this much is known. But why use different words? A long, long time ago in a place called Persia there was this town called Shiraz where they had this grapevine that magically produced a red drink that made everything and everyone seem ridgy-didge! One day some people came walking down the Silk Road and suggested that they might take some of the grapevine back to their neck of the woods – Europe – and try and do it justice. So off they travelled back up the Silk Road and boarded a ship in a Byzantine port and headed off with Poseidon’s blessing. Soon they came across some land and decided to dock for a while in the port, and the port was called Siracusa on the island of Sicily.

So long story short, the name syrah comes from the port city of Siracusa, the first city in Western Europe to propagate the Shiraz vitis vinifera – they just added an ‘h’ for posterity.

And that,as James May would say, is a wine fact!


  1. Alas, it is probably just a wine myth. From Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine...

    "Syrah's origins have been the subject of much debate and hypothesis, involving Syracuse in Sicilia, Ancient persia (Shiraz being its most common synonym, especially in Australia), the vine family Vitis allobrogica recognized as producing fine wine in the Rhône since Roman times (see rhône, history). DNA profiling at Davis and Montpellier in 1998 however established that Syrah is in fact the progeny of two vines from southeast France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche."

  2. As a scholar from Université d'Avignon in 1998 - ag science, I can say that the Dureza is not indigenous to France, with it having origins in around southern Georgia.