If you live in Australia you drink Shiraz and if you live in other
parts of the world (especially near Avignon in Frances' Rhone
Valley) you drink Syrah. Same grape, different name.
Legend has it that during the 13th century Crusades a French
knight called Gaspard de Sterimberg discovered wonderful
grapes near Shiraz in Persia. And, as winery people tend to do,
he 'liberated' some cuttings to plant back home at his Hermitage
(farm) in the Rhone Valley. The city of Shiraz is the provincial
capital of Fars and is around 935 km from Tehran. Shiraz
lies at an altitude of 1,600 meters that makes for mild winters
and moderate summers. An ideal climate for grapes. The Shiraz
region had some of the world earliest vineyards. Greek amphorae
have been unearthed in Hermitage but this could work
both ways. It could have been the Roman legions who brought
their own wines with them as we know wine was grown in the
Rhone Valley during Roman times. Unfortunately, DNA testing
by Dr. Carole Meredith of the University of California has
shown that Shiraz is a native of the Rhone Valley and not Persia.
It was a good story while it lasted.
Syrah accounts for the majority of wines coming from the
northern Rhone Valley. Two of the worlds most famous Shiraz
appellations are in the northern Rhone Valley: Hermitage and
Côte-Rôti. The southern half of the valley is the origin of the
Rhone blends, traditionally a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and
Australia and France seem to be obsessed by the grape. About
40% of all red grapes planted in Australia are Shiraz. France
has somewhat less than this but is still way in front of any
other country. The first cuttings of Shiraz made it to Australia,
probably with James Busby in 1832 and were incorrectly labelled
Scyras which is a popular northern Rhone Valley variety.
The cuttings first reached South Africa from Europe. They
were then picked up by the first fleets when they took on provision
in South Africa and made it to Australia.
Recent DNA testing by
Carole Meredith at UCD and Jean-Micel Boursiquot of France
shows Shiraz as a cross between Mondeuse Blanche and
Dureza grapes. Dureza is from the northern Ardeche region
west of the Rhone Valley. Mondeusa Blanche comes from the
Savoie region and the earliest recorded plantings of Shiraz in
France date back to 500BC.
Grosse Syrah and Petite Syrah is another divergence of the Shiraz
branch. The only difference being berry size. Petite Syrah
tends to produce dry, dark wines with lots of tannins, spice and
Petite Sirah (that's an 'i' and not a 'y') is a completely different
grape. In the 1880's Dr Durif in France was promoting a
mildew resistant variety that he naturally called: 'Durif'. It was
planted in the United States and somehow the naming didn't
make it across, it was incorrectly labelled Syrah. Phylloxera
wiped out a lot of the grapes in the late 1890's and it wasn't till
the 1970's that Californian Syrah was correctly identified as
Petite Sirah. DNA testing in 1991 confirmed the Durif label for
Australian Shiraz is made in two different styles. The big, full,
rich, tannin laden wines and lighter fruitier 'drink now'
styles with lots of blackberry and raspberry. You'll often
find a bit of Grenache in with some of the cheaper and nastier
ones just for a bit more flavour. But this is just a small
portion as there are some fantastic examples around.
The Hunter Valley in NSW produces Shiraz that has a trademark
'sweaty saddle' characteristic while the Barossa Valley
produces a more peppery and herbaceous style with less fruit
nose and more tannin. The cooler climates produce rich fruit
driven wines with lots of pepper.
Shiraz grapes are used to create the world famous Grange
Hermitage. Now called Penfolds Grange as the name Hermitage
was a casualty in the great France versus the rest of
the world naming debate. Max Schubert created Grange in
1952. He pioneered the use of refrigeration to control the rate
of fermentation and hence the flavour extraction from grapes
and the use of new oak barrels to store and mature wines.
Both these practices are now standard for premium red wines
but were revolutionary in their day. And, it took more than
10 years for Grange to be accepted as a great wine. It was
universally criticised when first released and only Max's determination
to see it succeed
kept it alive. Imagine the loss
to the wine world had Max listened
to everyone and given
Shiraz is a very vigorous growing
grape. It produces large
bunches of anywhere up to 130
berries per bunch. They are
long and loose bunches with
very good disease resistance.
Shiraz does very well in our
cool climate and thrives in
warm spring weather to produce
a strikingly peppery wine.
And one final legend on Shiraz
grapes, from Cyrus Kadivar,
One ancient Persian legend says that Jamshid, a grapeloving
king, stored ripe grapes in a cellar so he could enjoy
grapes all year long.
One day he sent his slaves to fetch him some grapes. When
they did not return he decided to go to the cellar himself only
to find that they had been knocked out by the carbon dioxide
gas emanating from some bruised fermenting grapes. One of
the king's rejected, distraught mistresses decided to drink
this poisoned potion, only to leave the cellar singing and
dancing in high spirits.
The king realised that this fruity liquid had the wonderful
and mysterious power to make sad people happy. When
Alexander overthrew the powerful Persian empire he entered
Darius's palace in January 330 BC. During one of the conqueror's
orgies soldiers raided the wine cellars. In a drunken
moment Alexander ordered the destruction of Persepolis.
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery