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Syrah or Shiraz ...

A Rosé by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet

syrah or shiraz, fume blanc or sauvignon blanc, wine names, confusing wine names

One of our readers, Liz S. from San Diego, recently asked, "What is the difference between Shiraz and Syrah?". In fact, they are one and the same grape. No one really knows why the grape named Syrah in France was renamed Shiraz in Australia, possibly after the famed city in Iran. The reason Australians retained the name is probably a bit for tradition and a lot for marketing, although they may not have intended to create so much confusion among wine drinkers.

Wines labelled Shiraz often taste different than those labelled as Syrah. In Australia Shiraz is frequently big, ripe and high in alcohol while in France Syrahs are often a bit austere, with higher tannins, and are better for aging. So the name difference can be useful, but this is certainly not always the case. And now some Australians are bottling their wines as Syrah and some French as Shiraz, so the field is getting a lot less clear.

Wines made from the same grape can frequently be found under different names
. Italians call it "Pinot Grigio" while the French use "Pinot Gris" because these mean 'Gray' in their respective languages. Robert Mondavi started selling Sauvignon Blanc as Fumé Blanc in 1968 because 'Fumé' was easier to read and pronounce for Americans. Often, the wine is simply named after the region it comes from rather than for a grape variety. Hermitage from France is primarily Syrah, but is named after the region in the Rhone Valley where it is grown.

So what's a wine drinker without a detailed mental map of thousands of wine regions and grape varieties to do? As I noted in my entry from September 4, it never hurts to ask your wine store attendant or waiter for a recommendation. You can also start with a few grape varieties you like - Syrah and Pinot Grigio could be great starting points before taking on all the rest.


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