It is called Syrah in its country of origin, France, as well as in the rest of Europe, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Uruguay and most of the United States. The name Shiraz became popular for this grape variety in Australia, where it has long been established as the most grown dark-skinned variety. In Australia it was also commonly called Hermitage up to the late 1980s, but since that name is also a French Protected designation of origin, this naming practice caused a problem in some export markets and was dropped.
The name Shiraz for this grape variety is also commonly used in South Africa and Canada.
The grape is also known under many other synonyms that are used in various parts of the world including Antourenein Noir, Balsamina, Candive, Entournerein, Hignin Noir, Marsanne Noir, Schiras, Sirac, Syra, Syrac, Serine, and Sereine.
Legends of Syrah’s origins come from one of its synonyms – Shiraz. Because a city in Iran called Shiraz produced the well-known Shirazi wine, legends claim that the Syrah grape originated in Shiraz and then was brought to Rhne. This association suggests that “Syrah” is a local French synonym and “Shiraz” is the proper name.
There are at least two significantly different versions of the myth, giving different accounts of how the variety is supposed to have been brought from Shiraz to Rhne and differing up to 1,800 years in dating this event. In one version, the Phocaeans should have brought Syrah/Shiraz to their colony around Marseilles (then known as Massilia), which was founded around 600 BC. The grape should then later have made its way to northern Rhne, which was never colonized by the Phocaeans. No documentary evidence exists to back up this legend, and it also requires that the variety later has vanished from the Marseilles region without leaving any trace.
In another version, the person who brought the variety to Rhne is even named, being the crusader Gaspard de Strimberg, who is supposed to have built the chapel at Hermitage. Even before the advent of DNA typing of grapes, there were several problems with this legend. First, no ampelographic investigations of the grapes from Shiraz seem to have been made. Second, it is documented that the famous Shirazi wine was white. (Although, white wines can be made from red or dark skinned grapes) ruling out the use of dark-skinned grapes such as Syrah, and no known descriptions of this wine’s taste and character indicate any similarity whatsoever with red wines from the Rhne. Third, it is highly doubtful if any crusader would have journeyed as far east as Persia, since the crusades were focused on the Holy Land.
The legend connecting Syrah with the city of Shiraz in Iran may, however, be of French origin. James Busby wrote in Journal of a recent visit to the principal vineyards of Spain and France that the 1826 book ‘nologie Franaise “stated that, according to the tradition of the neighbourhood, the plant [Scyras] was originally brought from Shiraz in Persia, by one of the hermits of the mountain”.
Since the name Shiraz has been used primarily in Australia in modern time, while the earliest Australian documents use the spelling “Scyras”, it has been speculated (among others by Jancis Robinson) that the name Shiraz is in fact a so-called “strinization” of Syrah’s name via Scyras. However, while the names Shiraz and Hermitage gradually seem to have replaced Scyras in Australia from the mid-19th century, the spelling Shiraz has also been documented in British sources back to at least the 1830s. So, while the name or spelling Shiraz may be an effect of the English language on a French name, there is no evidence that it actually originated in Australia, although it was definitely the Australian usage and the Australian wines that made the use of this name popular.