The Syrah, Shiraz Identity Crisis – Part 1
A name by any other name…
PasoWine.com has declared Syrah as the February varietal of the month. But is this luscious varietal really Syrah or it’s alter ego, Shiraz? Depending on which hemisphere you’re from, this beloved varietal could be having an identity crisis right now!
Actually, it gets confusing! There is a lot of history and “ownership” of this varietal:
- Legend has it that Syrah actually originated in the ancient Persian city of Shiraz (Iran); a city only an hour from Persepolis. It eventually made its way to Rhône and, by historical accounts, even this is a bit of a controversy!
- There are two very different versions, spanning 1800 years or so, of Shiraz’s journey from the middle east to France. The accounts involve either the Phocaeans or the crusader, Gaspard de Stérimberg who built the chapel at Hermitage (hold on, folks, this will be important later). I’m not hung up on who brought it to France but that it made it there! The name Syrah was a synonym given to the varietal by the French. The proper name IS Shiraz.
On a trip through Iran some years ago, our tour group happened upon an old vineyard just outside the city of Shiraz. The tour guide insisted that these beautiful old vines were not Shiraz grapes but table grapes *wink*. I had my proof!
|That’s me in a Shiraz vineyard, Iran!|
The wines that made Syrah famous were those from Hermitage in northern Rhône, where an hermitage (chapel) was built on the top (good ‘ol de Stérimberg!) Hermitage wines have enjoyed a wonderful reputation for centuries. It wasn’t until 1831 that Syrah made its way to Australia. The Aussie’s, taking their cue from Hermitage, gave Syrah the name, Shiraz.
Some will dispute it origin. Some will dispute that the two are actually one-in-the-same.What cannot be disputed is Syrah..er, Shiraz’s distinct characteristics:
Powerful and full bodied, Syrah aroma and flavors will vary depending on the climate and soils where it is grown:
- violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red)
- espresso and
- black pepper
With aging you will also get savory and leather notes. An “off” characteristic of Syrah is a deli-meat note.
Syrah is a utilitarian varietal. It can be blended with many others to “extend” the production. Since the Pinot Noir craze hit about ten years ago, vintners use Syrah as a Pinot extender to lend some color and body to the wine while increasing production of a vintage.
Syrah deserves more attention, so stay tuned for part deux. Think about what you will call it in the meantime! The best pondering is always done over a glass of fine wine!
There’s more information in Part 2!