Syrah v Shiraz and other thoughts

There was an interesting post the other day on twitter by Dan Buckle, the winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran discussing the shiraz's grapes origins in Australia.  Here's a link to the Dan Buckle article.  I found his final three paragraphs raised some particularly challenging issues.  Here's an extract:

"Alongside this we have seen the emergence of use of the word Syrah on labels and by winemakers. I understand that this attempts to differentiate these wines from the rest of Australian Shiraz. I find this both insulting and puerile, not only out of patriotism but because it goes so far as to suggest consumers are stupid and cannot taste, which is evidently far from the truth. Moreover, it sees things as black and white where clearly the spectrum of Shiraz style, flavour and origin in Australia is much more broad and colourful than that. Embracing diversity and subtlety is a great joy in wine drinking.

Using the word Syrah does not make your wine taste more French. Nor is being more French necessarily 
a good thing. Stand proud and be Australian. Being Australian does not have to necessarily link your wines with the yobbo cultural icons like Shane Warne. Its is possible to be sophisticated, erudite and intelligent and Australian, in wine as with other elements of our culture. We must remind ourselves this. Efforts from Steve Pannell in recent weeks travel along these lines (

More importantly, it is ignorant and rude to deny the near 150 years of history in making cool‐climate 
Shiraz in Australia, just as it is facile marketing to suggest that a punted burgundy bottle will make your Syrah taste more Rhone‐like, whatever that really means. It is time for the real Australian to stand up, and stop cringing. We have a marvelous wine culture to be proud of, and the days of larrikins in moleskins are now gone. Quality, diversity, passion and interest can all be found on these shores."

In substance, there seem to be two points here.  First, we should support Australian wine and be happy in our own skin.  This is hard to disagree with.  I am a huge fan of Australian wine, and in particular, am excited by what the increased focus on Australian wine regionality and terroir will bring - industrial wine is boring.  However, I think that an "All For One Wine" style campaign goes a bit too far (ie the proposal that we drink only Australian wine from 1 January 2011 to 26 January 2011).  Why?  My problem is that while I strongly support Australian wine, I also happen to like foreign wines too (including French wine), and think that their better producers should be supported too, if only on the grounds of merit, and failing that, because I like them.  And I honestly think that tasting a lot of different wines from different producers, countries and regions makes for a circumspect and open minded way of approaching wine.  That said, it frustrates me how few restaurants in Australia stock no or a practically no wines sourced from their local area (branded mega labels from South Australia don't count writing here in Melbourne), so there is a point here that I think is very valid.  One idea maybe is for participating restaurants to stock a percentage of local wines.

The second point is that there is an objection to the creeping use of the term "syrah" instead of shiraz.  Used on an Australian wine bottle, as mentioned, the description of syrah may be intended as a stylistic indication, a doffing to a perceived French paradigm or opportunistic marketing aimed at exploiting the linguistic tendency to prefer words that are perceived as having prestige over their more mundane alternatives.  But personally for me, syrah is a synonym for shiraz, no more, no less.  It's a bit like reading the word "premium" on a label.  I don't think I've ever read those words and thought "now, this wine is not premium at all".  I suspect it comes pre-filled in on the label.  My point is what's in the bottle counts.  I also can't help thinking that there's a lost in translation irony here: the term syrah wouldn't ordinarily appear on many French wine labels with the exception of the cheap vin de pays stuff from the wine lake in the south of France which the French can't sell.  Maybe they should put shiraz on their labels.
Wine Thoughts
December 6, 2010

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