It seems to pretty much depend upon who you are or what your marketing team prefers. If, for instance, you are Daryl Groom and Mick Schroeter at Geyser Peak, the fact that you’re Australian seems to demand that your winery will call the grape Shiraz. The Aussies have been calling the Syrah grape “Shiraz” for well over a century, naming it after the town from which the grape ostensibly originated.
I’ve actually been to the town of Shiraz in south central Iran; not a lot of winemaking going on there now. In fact, no winemaking at all. But I digress. Historians are now of the opinion that the grape did not originate in Iran at all, more likely it was France. But some insecure Frenchman (or perhaps the Romans, since they seemed to have propagated the grape) started the Iranian rumor centuries ago and it’s stuck.
While there are a kazillion Aussie Shiraz wines in the marketplace, some Aussie labels have used the “Syrah” on occasion, in an attempt to differentiate their wine from their brethren. That’s even more common in the U.S., where producers have been known to bottle one wine as Shiraz (read less expensive) and another as Syrah (more expensive).
Conversely, a few French-owned wine companies sell Shiraz made in Australia from Aussie grapes. These are not French wines; French laws require that producers adhere to the use of the French name for the grape, Syrah. But the name says far less about the style of the wine than it ought to. Instead, we have to dig a bit deeper to uncover that important issue.
One clue is to see if the bottle describes the origin of the oak used to mature the wine. If it’s American oak, it’s more likely the wine came from a warm climate and is the warm, peppery and gooey version made famous as Aussie Shiraz. If the oak in use is French oak, the producer might likely be using grapes from a cooler site.
American oak tends to overshadow cooler climate Syrah aromas, so most prefer it for their warm climate wines. Cool climate Syrah, with French instead of American oak, is likely to show more white pepper than black pepper, more red fruit than black fruit and more herbal notes than jammy, gooey notes. Needless to say, one is not necessarily better than the other. That remains up to the taster.