What's the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have a question about Syrah vs. Shiraz. Is it true that both come from Persia, but that Syrah in France is not the same clone as Shiraz in Australia?

—Ken S., Albuquerque, N.M.

Dear Ken,

Let’s unravel your question a little bit and address the two points you are commingling: first, the relationship between Syrah, Shiraz, France and Australia, and second, what any of this has to do with Persia.

Syrah and Shiraz are two different names for the same red wine grape (and wines made from that grape). This happens sometimes in the world of wine, just as Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are two names for the same grape. “Syrah” is what it's called in France’s Rhône Valley, where it is the main red wine grape of the Northern Rhône and a blending grape in the Southern Rhône. “Shiraz” is what winemakers in Australia typically call it.

Over time, the use of Shiraz or Syrah has taken on more meaning, and producers might choose one name or the other to indicate the style of their wine. A winemaker might bottle a “Shiraz” to indicate they made a rich, lush, riper, more fruit-forward wine in the Australian spirit. Or they might instead call their wine “Syrah” to indicate a more Old World–style wine. Unfortunately, these terms can be used inconsistently.

As far as the link to Persia, Shiraz is the name of the capital in the Fars province, and there’s evidence that the earliest wines were made in that part of the world. For a long time it was believed that cuttings from Persia made their way to France’s Rhône region, and Syrah might have hailed from Persia, but DNA testing proved that Syrah/Shiraz is indigenous to France.

—Dr. Vinny

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