Shiraz: All Iranian Grape?

On Tuesday night we had a short class to go along with a presentation on travel to Iran. Apparently that is a thing and it apparently won't end with your name on a watch list or anything! This lead to a discussion about the wines of Iran, is there such a thing?
Well, not too much right now, but they do have a long history of winemaking in Iran. Apparently, they used to make a white wine with skin contact, one of those so called "orange wines" that you may have heard of, or maybe had a trendy wine server push one on you on your last trip to New York or Portland, or wherever. It was called Shirazi, and it was all the rage in 9th century Shiraz, Iran, apparently being dubbed the best wine in the middle east! This of course lead the conversation to Shiraz, the city in Iran, and what in the world does it have to do with Syrah, the grape?
Glad you asked! It has long been speculated that Syrah, the famous French grape of the Rhone Valley, may have been a bastardization (Frenchification?) of the name Shiraz, and that maybe the grapes that won peoples palates over in 9th century Iran, might be the same grapes that we enjoy in our Cote Rotie today. This actually gained enough traction that several countries, such as Australia and South Africa, have dropped the name Syrah etirely in favor of calling the grape Shiraz! You also may have seen some California Shiraz out there, and maybe even a few from some other countries. Is there any evidence to back this theory up? Good question again!
There are basically two legends about how grape vines from Iran could have ended up in the Loire Valley. The first is basically that ancient people from Persia may have brought the grape with them when they settled near Marseilles around 600BC. Of course this theory means that all of the grapes in Marseille have to disappear spontaneously at some point and then teleport over to the Rhone Valley without leaving a trace for some reason.
Option B is that a knight named Gaspard de Stérimberg (the Hermit of Hermitage himself!) brought grape vines back with him from Persia when he was returning home from the Crusades. This is unlikely, however, because Persia would have been way farther than he needed to go to fight for the Holy Land. He was either very lost or after being wounded in the Crusades, instead of going home to recuperate, he decided to go the opposite way and take a vacation to Iran! Not entirely convincing.
These are fun legends, and a great topic for discussion, but advances in DNA testing have shed some light on this mystery. Much like Maury Povich does on his show, scientists using DNA testing have shown who the parents of Syrah/Shiraz truly are. And they are...Mondeuse Blanc and Dureza, two indigenous grapes from the Rhone Valley in France! Sorry Iran, you are not the father.
So the grape really is Syrah and Shiraz is just a city in Iran that has nothing to do with it, right? Well, you're partly right. I like to think that using the name Shiraz still has some meaning and purpose. I, personally, like to look at whether the winemaker chooses to call her wine Syrah or Shiraz has a lot to do with what style of wine you are going to find inside the bottle. If they call their wine Syrah, I usually expect it to be tannic, with pepper, bacon, red cherry and smoke, in other words; more French styled, and if they call it Shiraz, I expect big jammy black fruit, soft, sweet tannins and gobs of plum and black cherry, in other words; Aussie styled. This won't work for you every time, though. An Australian winemaker calling his wine Syrah would be excommunicated, and a French winemaker calling her wine Shiraz would be tarred, feathered and then burned at the stake! But it's usually a pretty good indicator of style in my opinion. So maybe this whole Syrah/Shiraz thing has a purpose after all.
Catena Wines at Metro!
A virtual tour of the Loire Valley.


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Tuesday, 25 February 2020