Often described by wine connoisseurs as the boldest, darkest, most full-bodied red wine in the world, Shiraz (or Syrah as known by various Francophile winemakers) is one of the most beloved wines in the world. With each sip, your palate is greeted with a burst of flavour that tapers off giving way to a welcomed peppery savouriness. Due to its boldness, Shiraz is often blended with milder grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
As complex as its flavours is its history. As it stands, there is still conflicting information surrounding the origins of this bestselling wine.
Who’s taking the claim – Iran or France?
There are two popular stories as to the origin of Shiraz. First, that it originated from the old city of Shiraz in Persia, the modern-day Iran. Second, that it originated in the Rhone region of southeastern France, which is still one of the top producers of Shiraz wine today.
The city of Shiraz in Iran was believed to be the country’s wine making capital thousands of years ago. According to University of Pennsylvania professor Patrick McGovern: “The first evidence of grape cultivation in Shiraz came around 2,500 BC, when vines were brought down from the mountains to the plains of south-west Iran.”
Legends have it that a French knight named Gaspard de Sterimberg discovered the grapes and brought cuttings back to Rhone Valley in southeastern France. This includes the Hermitage vineyard where some of the most exquisite and expensive Shiraz comes from.
DNA Testing Settles It Once and For All
However, this legend was debunked when DNA testing was conducted on the Syrah grapes grown in Rhone Valley in 1998. The groundbreaking study was spearheaded by a group of researchers from the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, headed by Carole Meredith.
The results of their research revealed that the Syrah grape varieties in the Rhone region are the offspring of two local grape species: the Dureza and the Mondeuse blanche. As it turns out, Shiraz is 100% of French origin and not connected to the alleged Shiraz grape variety grown in Iran thousands of years ago.
South Africa Loves Shiraz
Outside of France, Australia produces most of the Shiraz wine in the market thanks to James Busby, regarded as the Father of the Winemaking Industry in Australia, who brought cuttings of the Syrah grapes from France.
Coming in at 5th place is South Africa. The South Africa Shiraz is a New World wine; those wines produced outside traditional Europe and the Middle East wine-growing regions (e.g., Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand). There’s no doubt the Rainbow Nation loves its Shiraz. In fact, in 2013, wine aficionados in South Africa were all abuzz over the distinctive fruity and peppery flavours of the red wine; so much so that more syrah grapes were used in winemaking in Cape Town compared to any other red grape varieties. While South Africa has been known for its wines from the chenin blanc and pinotage varieties, the growing popularity of Shiraz is a palate pleasure that’s well worth its weight in grapes.
“And the award goes to…” Many South African Shiraz have earned accolades from various wine award-giving bodies. For example, Eagles Nest Shiraz won the Silver Medal in the prestigious Syrah du Monde, an international competition of the best Shiraz wines in the world.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where Shiraz or Syrah originated. What’s definite is it’s growing popularity in South Africa as a welcomed addition to the country’s rich wine tradition.
Browse South African Shiraz wines on the Cybercellar.com Shiraz variety page. If you know of any interesting Shiraz trivia, share in the comments section below!