What is the difference? Simply put: style. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape variety.
When the grape Syrah traveled to the “New World,” specifically Australia, the origin of Syrah was under debate.
Did it originate in the Rhone Valley of France, or from Persia? The Australians believed the vine originated in Persia, so they renamed the vine Shiraz – after the city of Shiraz in Persia.
Syrah's French origin has been confirmed, but despite that the name Shiraz is still in use. The names signify the stylistic differences between the two.
Syrah is used for wine made in the style of the Northern Rhone Valley, wines that are described as “elegant and restrained” in contrast to the “bold and fruit-driven” style of the Shiraz of Australia.
For some time, the name Syrah was utilized exclusively in France, while the name Shiraz was used in Australia. This is no longer the case. Presently, wines may be labeled as either Syrah or Shiraz in France or Australia.
In France, Syrah is used for the wines of the Northern Rhone Valley, the famous wines of Hermitage and Cornas. Conversely, Shiraz is often used in the areas of the Midi, Lanquedoc and, at times, the Southern Rhone Valley.
The Vin de Pays d’Oc region of southern France labels wine either Syrah or Shiraz, depending on the national allegiance of the winemaker. Australians use Shiraz, the French Syrah.
The name confusion can, at least partly, be explained by the fact that until relatively recently (in wine history terms) many consumers were not familiar with wine produced from the Syrah grape – wine produced mainly in the Northern Rhone Valley, made in small amounts and, as such, not readily available.
In addition, French wine labels did not state the name of the grape variety on the wine label.
The Australians, on the other hand, listed the grape variety on the bottles front label. It was this labeling practice, referred to as varietal labeling, that made the name Shiraz recognizable as both a grape and a wine style.
Shiraz is a very important in Australia; it is the grape variety in Australia's iconic wine Penfolds Grange, the wine responsible for the country’s winemaking fame. Shiraz production in Australia was, and still is, significant, making Shiraz readily available and affordable. The Australians deserve significant credit for putting Shiraz on the map.
Wines available at some private wine stores and MLLC locations. Prices verified Dec. 16, 2013.
Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvedre, 2009, Australia, PRICE: $20.50, private wine listing
A blend of 78 per cent Shiraz and 22 per cent Mourvedre. Garnet core with a bright ruby rim. A lush and forward wine with bright dark fruit, pomegranate and red plum. Nice spicy oak and fine, forward tannins.
Penfolds Bin 138, 2010, Australia, PRICE: $39.99, private wine listing
A blend of 30 per cent Grenache, 27 per cent Shiraz and 23 per cent Mourvedre. A fragrant and floral nose complimented by blueberries, raspberries and herbs. Rich “sweet” fruit, chocolate, mint and fresh cherries on the palate.
Penfolds Bin 389, 2010, Australia, PRICE: $69.99
A blend of 51 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 49 per cent Shiraz, this wine, referred to as “Baby Grange” –because it ages in the used Grange barrels – is lush and decadent. Gorgeous nose of black fruit, cassis, tobacco, red licorice, mint and eucalyptus. Grippy fine tannins and a multi-dimensional finish.