THE name “shiraz” has only really been used widely for about 40 years. “What nonsense,” I hear you say. But until the late 1970s most Australian wines made with shiraz grapes were labelled “hermitage” or “burgundy” with very few having “shiraz” written on the label. The rest of the world called it syrah.
There are still some arguments as to where the variety originated from. Was it from the Persian town (now Iran) of Shiraz? Or was it from Hermitage in the Rhone, as claimed by the French? Or perhaps it is the syriaca variety that Pliny the Elder wrote about over 20 centuries ago. Forty years ago in Australia, shiraz was considered as a lesser variety than the majestic cabernet sauvignon, as many wineries aspired to produce a cabernet-based, “bordeaux like” wine.
In the mid to latter 1980s, shiraz was promoted from being a “workhorse” variety into being Australia’s flagship wine variety capable of matching/beating syrah from the rest of the world. This promotion was mainly as a result of the British and Americans discovering the quality of Penfolds Grange. They then began searching for other premium Australian shiraz and found plenty. The result was that in just a few years shiraz went from almost being “a zero” to being “the hero”. Australia can now claim to be the spiritual home of shiraz, in the same way Argentina claims malbec and Chile carmenere.
As shiraz was shooting towards global fame, the Australian wine industry, in my opinion, missed out on the greatest marketing opportunity. Had the industry had the foresight to trade mark the word “shiraz” while nobody else was using it, Australia could have had it exclusively. By now drinkers all around the world would only be using the word “shiraz” in relation to syrah grown in Australia, just like champagne and bordeaux are used. What a coup that would have been. Instead, today you can find wines labelled shiraz from Chile, Spain, southern France, etc. Such a shame.
While not exactly “terroirists”, the good folk in McLaren Vale have been pushing hard to establish their region as a unique shiraz-growing environment. They have succeeded to the extent that McLaren Vale is today recognised as a worldrenowned and highly regarded wine growing region, especially for shiraz.
At the annual Wirra Wirra Ringing of the Bell (which officially launches McLaren Vale’s vintage), the geological project committee conducted the McLaren Vale Districts Tasting Tutorial at which the attendees learned about the region’s current and ongoing research project into the “geology of the McLaren Vale region”.