Why is the Syrah grape called Shiraz in Australia?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why is the Syrah grape called Shiraz in Australia? Does it have anything to do with the town of Shiraz in Iran? I've heard that the grape's origin comes from ancient Persia. Is that true?

—Eli C., New York

Dear Eli,

Australians have odd names for many things. A chicken is called a "chook"; a mosquito is called a "mozzie." So it's no surprise they call Syrah "Shiraz." You're correct that Shiraz has a Persian link—it's the name of the capital of the Fars province. There's evidence that the earliest wines were made in that part of the world. For a long time, it was believed that the origin of the Syrah in France's Rhône region was actually from cuttings of grapes near Shiraz in Persia. Legend has it that a returning crusader, Guy de Sterimberg, brought these cuttings back to France. He became a hermit and developed a vineyard on a steep hill where he lived in the Rhône Valley, which became known as Hermitage.

It's a sweet story, but recent DNA testing showed that Shiraz is indigenous to France, a genetic cross of two relatively obscure varieties, Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza.

Today, using "Shiraz" as opposed to "Syrah" is common among New World winemakers who fashion their wines in the Australian spirit of rich, lush, fruit-forward wines.

—Dr. Vinny

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