We Say Shiraz, They Say Syrah

Our love affair with the rich, bold flavours and the versatility of Shiraz has seen plantings of the variety grow over the past decade to become Australia’s most widely planted grapevine. Over 40,000 hectares are planted under Shiraz vines, which accounts for more than 40% of all red grapevines and nearly 25% of all vines in Australia.

Australia headlines the trend throughout the world of Shiraz emerging as a serious contended to Cabernet Sauvignon’s crown as King of the Reds.

What we called Shiraz, however, is known as Syrah in every other country on the planet except South Africa, even New Zealand. Now regional synonyms for varieties are not uncommon in the wine industry, but it is rare for a New World (that is non-European) country to refer to a variety by a different name to what it is known as in its home region. To find out how this happened you need to go back to the father of grapevine cultivation in Australia, James Busby.

Busby returned to Australia in 1832 after a grapevine foraging trip across Europe with around 400 other vines. One of which was Syrah.

Base at the Sydney Botanic Gardens, Busby cultivated and study his diverse crop with a view of finding the best suited varieties for Australia. It also appears to be here where the divergence in the names of Syrah and Shiraz took place.

While noting that the Syrah vine was well equipped to withstand Australia’s environment, it appears Busby mistakenly label the vine Scyras. Stay that with an Australian accent and see what you come up with.

The spelling of Shiraz was probably part a result of the legend of the time, which had it that the original cuttings of Syrah were brought to the Rhône Valley (its home region in France) by a French knight, who fought in the Crusades, from Shiraz in Persia.

Although now disproved (Syrah is actually the offspring of little known French natives Dureza and Mondeuse Blanch), this legend was certainly believed to be true. So naturally it went Syrah…Scyras…Shiraz