History of Syrah
Syrah, also called shiraz, is a red grape that is cultivated all over the world and is often used to make red wines. A DNA test carried out in 1999 established that Syrah originated from two varieties of dark grapes from southeastern France, which were Hardness and Mondeuse Blanche. It’s important to note that Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, which is actually another term for durif, a hybrid of Syrah and Peloursin that was developed in 1880.
The taste and flavor of wines made with Syrah are affected by the atmosphere in which the grapes were grown. Climates with moderate temperatures, such as those in the northern Rhone Valley and some parts of the AVA Walla Walla in Washington State, tend to create a medium weight drink with moderate-high levels of tannins, as well as notes of blackberry, mint and pepper. In warmer climates, for example in Crete, in San Juan (Argentina) and in the Barossa Valley in Australia, wines are more predictable, with a corpulent texture, lighter tannins and flavors of jam, spices, anise and earth. In many places, Syrah’s acidity and tannins give it a longer shelf life.
The Syrah grape is used to produce monovarietal and blended wines. In 2004, Syrah became the seventh most planted grape variety, with a total of 142,600 hectares. It is cultivated in many parts of the world, especially in Argentina, France, Chile, South Africa, Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand), Baja California, California, the state of Washington and many Australian areas such as Barossa, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Valley.
In 1998, research conducted by Carole Meredith, from the University of California at Davis, showed that Syrah had a long history in Rhône (France). With the help of DNA profiles and references from the viticulture station of the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique in Montpellier, Meredith was able to determine that Syrah was descended from Dureza (father) and Mondeuse Blanche (mother) grapes.
The dark-colored Dureza grape comes from Ardèche (France), but it has been eradicated from the vineyards and is now found only in Montpellier. Mondeuse Blance is a white grape grown in Savoy and can be found in small quantities in vineyards in the same region. Both types of grapes are not currently very famous and have never been as successful as Syrah. Both types of grape come from the south-eastern region of France, close to the Rhone. Consequently, researchers have deduced that Syrah was first cultivated in the north of the Rhone.
DNA analysis has completely removed any uncertainty, and the many theories about the origin of grapes that have emerged over the years lack documentary, ampelographic, botanical or genetic evidence. Instead, it seems that these ideas were only raised based on the similarity of the alternative names of the variety. According to this thinking, some have speculated that the Italian city of Syracuse or the Iranian city of Shiraz are the places of origin of the grape.
Although the origin of the Syrah variety is known, its age is not known; that is, it is not known with certainty when the cross-pollination of a Mondeuse Blance and a Durege took place. In 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote in his book Naturalis Historia about the wines of Vienne (Côte-Rôtie), where the Allobroges had gained fame for producing valuable wine made from dark-skinned grapes that did not exist fifty years before, according to Virgil’s epata. Plinio referred to these vines as allobrogic, and it is speculated that they could be the current Syrah. However, the description of the wine could fit other varieties, such as Durum, and Plinio stated that the allobrogic one was cold-resistant, which doesn’t exactly fit the syrah profile.