November 22, 2017

You Say Syrah, I Say Shiraz

One of the more confusing things for people about wine is the fact that the same grape may have many different names depending on where you are in the world.

Grigio vs. Gris

The current trendiness of Pinot Grigio is a great example of this. If you come from Italy, it’s a dry, crisp white wine that goes great with all sorts of seafood. Raise your hand though if you’ve seen it on the shelf next to other wines called Pinot Gris and been confused. It’s OK to admit it. Pinot Gris is the exact same grape, it just happens to be the French name for it. It’s still a light and crisp white wine that pairs well with all kinds of seafood.

To make it even more confusing, Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually a pinkish/grey colored grape, yet it makes white wines. As the import market for wines continues to grow, you’ll see an ever increasing number of different names that may not necessarily mean something different.

Syrah vs. Shiraz

Another example to point out is Syrah and Shiraz. Once again, both are the exact same thing. Syrah is the traditional French name for the grape. The Aussies took to calling it Shiraz some time ago in homage to the northern Persian (current day Iran) city that the grape was rumored to have come from (in case you were wondering, the grape is native to southern France).

Amongst winemakers, using the two different names in many cases has come to represent a stylistic difference between the wines. The name Syrah is used when the wines match the smoky, meaty, tannic style commonly found in the grape’s native home of southern France. Shiraz is often used when the wines display much more of the juicy ripe fruit and black pepper character often seen in the warmer Australian vineyards. Just don’t confuse either with Petite Sirah, as that’s an entirely different grape.

Malbec vs. Cot vs. Pressac vs. Auxerrois vs. 397 Other Names

Malbec is becoming quite popular these days, particularly from the hot and dry valleys of Argentina. The name Malbec is believed to have come from the surname of a Hungarian peasant that was instrumental in spreading the grape around Europe. You’ll know it better as either Cot or Pressac if you come from Bordeaux though. If you’re from Cahors where it’s the predominant red grape planted, you know it as Auxerrois. In fact, Malbec is recognized as having more than 400 synonyms around the world.

More Confusion

This doesn’t even take into account the confusion that comes with the old world tradition of naming wines based off of the region they come from and not the grape that’s in the bottle. A white wine from Germany that has become somewhat popular of late is Piesporter. It’s named after the village Piesport on the Mosel River. A friend of mine that recently bought this at first thought the grape was called spätlese when I asked him what he’d opened. That’s a designation of fruit ripeness. He then thought it was called qualitätswein. That’s a government recognition of quality. Piesporter wine is made from any combination of Riesling or a pair of grapes called Müller-Thurgau and Elbling that grow around Piesport.

Burgundy vs. Pinot Noir and Others

Another recent example that comes to mind is many people over the holiday season I spoke to who were looking for red Burgundy wine to use in their recipes. Finding decent inexpensive red Burgundies can be quite a challenge, so I would tell many of them to just buy Pinot Noir, since that’s what red Burgundy is. Of course, if you were in Germany you’d call it Spätburgunder, or Blauburgunder in Austria, or Pinot Nero in Italy, etc.

The take home message I guess I’m trying to get across is to worry less about what the name on the bottle says, and more about the flavor of what’s inside the bottle. Because whether you call it Syrah or Shiraz, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris, or it’s named after some remote village in the middle of nowhere, there’s a great world of wine out there for you to try. Continue to buy what you like. If you get confused, just look it up sometime. There are plenty of wine nerds like me that can answer the questions you have.

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