Que Sirah Syrah Shiraz

These three sound-alike grapes are capable of making wines that range from soft and so fruity they are almost sweet, to wines so big and tannic they should not be approached by the faint of heart. One made famous in the Rhone region of France and by California’s Rhone Rangers, the other perhaps a native son of California. One so popular that everybody wants to call their Syrah a Shiraz, and one almost an unknown.

Syrah (seer•rah) is a dark-skinned grape grown throughout the world that is capable of producing powerful red wines. Syrah is relatively new to California, but is becoming more and more popular both as a varietal and as a blending variety. It is best known in France, especially in the northern Rhone, for such wines as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. Syrah is also found in the southern Rhone, in famous blends such Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône.

There is considerable legend as to the origin of Syrah and how it found its way to France. One version has Syrah originating in Persia, near the city of Shiraz, and being brought to France by a knight in the crusades, Gaspard de Stérimberg. While this is a romantically appealing story, there is precious little if any evidence that it is true. What DNA investigation has been done suggests that the grape may have originated in the northern Rhone, rather than having been brought there. However there is no evidence that is conclusive as to the grape’s origin.

Shiraz (sha•rahz) is simply another name for Syrah. Syrah is called Syrah in Europe, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Uruguay and the United States, but is known as Shiraz in Australia. The earliest documented references to Syrah in Australia use the spelling "Scyras", so there is speculation that Shiraz is an Australian pronunciation of this spelling. It’s also possible that wanting to differentiate their wines from the rest of the world’s Syrah, Australians chose the legend-based name of Shiraz. In any event Shiraz is a major player in the Australian wine industry. Australian Shiraz has become so popular throughout the world that some producers in the United States and elsewhere are renaming their Syrah, Shiraz.

Young Syrah is tannic and deep in color with strong tar, spice and pepper characteristics. However, Syrah is a long-lived wine and as it ages takes on characteristics of sweet blackberries, blackcurrants, and plum and a bit of smokiness.

Sirah, actually Petite Sirah (petite seer•rah) is something else altogether. Petite Sirah, a 19th century cross between Syrah and a variety called Peloursin, was originally known as Durif. With such an unglamorous name, it would not be surprising to find that the name Petite Sirah, so called because the grape is small, was intentionally chosen to be easily confused with the better known and much more popular Syrah.

Petite Sirah produces dark, inky wines. Relatively acidic, firm in texture and mouth feel. Petite Sirah shows flavors of blue and black fruits, plums, and especially blueberries. Compared with Syrah, Petite Sirah is noticeably darker and more purplish in the glass, rounder, brighter and fuller in the mouth. Like Syrah, Petite Sirah is tannic, giving it long life and aging ability.

So, que sera sera,,, sirah syrah shiraz.