What's the Difference Between Syrah and Shiraz?

Syrah? Shiraz? Which is it, already?

The origin story of the Syrah/Shiraz wine grape has been the subject of much speculation and debate. It was long believed to be a native of Persia, hailing from the ancient town of Shiraz, in what is now Iran. Which explains why Australian winemakers have favored the name "Shiraz" over Syrah. Some North American winemakers have also gone with Shiraz, but it remains mostly an Australian term.

The Persian origin story is a good legend, if not great history. Because in recent years, scientists from the University of California at Davis and L'Ecole Nationale Superiore Agronomique de Montpellier applied DNA testing to the grapes, and discovered, viola!, Syrah's true birth place.

It turns out that Syrah's a French grape; the variety's parents are Mondeuse Blanc, a little-known relative of Mondeuse Noire (a variety found in the Loire) and the even lesser-known Dureza, indigenous to an area just west of the Rhone River in the northern Ardeche region of France.

So what's the difference between Syrah and Shiraz? In one sense, marketing. But of course, no matter what you call them, where the grapes are grown and how they're handled in the winery has a big impact on their expression in the glass. A Shiraz from Barossa in Australia may seem distinctly different from a Syrah from Côte-Rôtie or Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhone region of France or from Walla Walla in Washington state.

Australian Shiraz
Photo by Meredith.

In the Rhone region of France, Syrah makes often spicy, rich, darkly delicious wines. In Australia, disguised as Shiraz, it produces wines that are typically big, bold, and spicy with jammy fruit and aromas of leather and black fruit. In Washington state, meanwhile, Syrah's muscular aspects are typically tempered by a refreshing acidity. And in California, styles vary widely. In general, though, you can expect French, Californian, and Washington Syrahs to be a little less powerful than Australian versions.

Best of all, whether the grapes go by Syrah or Shiraz, they make very good food wines. You'll love them as much during grilling season in the spring and summer as you will during comforting casserole season in the fall and winter. For more, check out our Best Recipes to Pair with Syrah or Shiraz.


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