Shiraz is the name given to the Syrah grape in Australia and South Africa and likely a bastardization of either Heraz, a river and region of ancient Persia (present day Iran), or Herat, a former Persian city now in Afghanistan, where Shiraz was once thought to have originated. However, recent DNA testing indicates southern France, always considered to be Syrah’s spiritual home, to be the true origin of the grape. Shiraz/Syrah remains immensely popular in Provence and along the steep banks of the swift-moving Rhône River, where it is responsible in all or part for many of the greatest red wines of France – Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape specifically.
Most of the Shiraz vines planted in Australia, where Shiraz is one of the most planted red wine grapes, trace their ancestry back to France, though some evidence suggests that Syrah arrived in Australia from France via South Africa. Such a circuitous route points to the likelihood that the dark skinned Syrah grape variety departed France before the twin plagues of oidium and phylloxera that occurred in the last half of the 19th century and that the Syrah vines that arrived in Australia stem from older clones of the varietal than those found presently throughout most of southern France and California. Furthermore, as France recovered from the devastation, new clones of old favorite grape varieties such as Syrah were often replanted in the vineyards. For these reasons some consider Shiraz to be a distinct clone of the Syrah varietal and entitled to its own name. However, for all intents and purposes, the two names and grapes are synonymous.
Both Australia and South Africa produce many of the planet’s greatest Shiraz wines. Tried and true Australian and South African purveyors such as Chapel Hill, DeMorgenzon, Nugan, Penfolds, Reyneke, Tait, and others continuously fashion world-class Shiraz and at prices many of us can still afford.