You say Shiraz, I say Syrah. You might be surprised to hear that each of these wines is produced from the exact same grape.
So why the alternative terms?
Despite what has become popular assumption, it's actually geographical differences that can be held responsible for the two names, rather than stylistic ones. 'Syrah' originates in the Rhône Valley region of southern France, while Australia actually adopted the term 'Shiraz' for the same variety when it was introduced in the early 1800s. A common misconception regarding the name Shiraz is that the grape was brought from the Persian city of the same name, during the crusades. Though there were indeed wines produced near the city of Shiraz, they were white, and had no genetic relation to the red varietal.
The core of our export successes, Shiraz is Australia's most enduring red variety. A bold and easy-drinking wine, Shiraz is the most widely-planted, and arguably the most readily recognised red varietal in Australia.
Beyond the name however, differences in climate and terroir have led to two distinct and separate styles. Syrah from the south of France tends to be grown in cool to moderate climates, which affords these wines a much lower alcohol content, as well as lighter tannins, and a more peppery, herbaceous flavour.
Shiraz, on the other hand, is generally grown in a warm climate, and therefore exhibits more tannins, higher alcohol, and flavours of plum and black fruits. Perhaps the most recognised region in Australia for Shiraz is the Barossa Valley in South Australia, known for its bold, muscular take on the varietal.
Witches Falls' Syrah
Having said all that, you might have noticed that here at Witches Falls, we produce an exceptional 'Syrah', and have done since 2006. Why ferment an Australian-grown grape and utilise the French term for it? Once again, geography and style play an important role in our Syrah.
It's fair to say that the Shiraz market in Australia has been somewhat over-saturated by Barossa Valley reds. The power of this influence became evident when in 2006, our head winemaker Jon Heslop made the decision to switch from a Witches Falls Shiraz, to a Witches Falls Syrah. Despite our 2005 Shiraz and our 2006 Shiraz being very similar vintages, the Shiraz had consistently been our lowest-selling red. Upon its release, Syrah was almost immediately a bestseller.
There are a few reasons for this. Primarily, the Granite Belt where we source our fruit is actually considered a cool-climate region. This means that the wines it produces (in particular the red-varietals), are far separated from the big, tannic, high-alcohol Barossa Shiraz. With a different name, comes a different perception, and what was once viewed as merely a competitor, was seen in an entirely new light.