There is nothing like a glass of red wine on a cold winter's night. A peppery, full-bodied wine, like Shiraz, pairs perfectly with a crackling fire, snow falling outside, and a cozy sweater — the only trouble is that how to pronounce "Shiraz" can be a bit confusing. The word looks simple enough, but once you start to unpack things, it gets a bit more linguistically complex. Even would-be oenophiles fret over questions such as: Where should I put the emphasis? Is the "H" silent? Should the end of "Shiraz" be pronounced like "jazz," or so that it rhymes with "Wizard of Oz"? Of course, Shiraz is delicious no matter how you pronounce it — but that doesn't mean you want to do the embarrassing point-and-mumble every time you order a bottle at a restaurant.
The dark-skinned grape varietal "Shiraz" is also known as "Syrah"; indeed, the names can be used interchangeably. The semantic difference is purely a matter of location: Wines made from this grape grown in France and other parts of Europe are called "Syrah," which, phonetically, is pronounced "see-rah." When the Syrah vines were brought to Australia in the 19th century, however, winemakers began labelling the purplish wine "Shiraz." The reason for this renaming is not entirely clear; some chalk the change in pronunciation up to the unique Australian accent, while the BBC points out that the grape's name was intentionally changed to Shiraz. The idea is that the name change was an homage to the fabled city in Iran where, according to legend, the grapes originated before they were brought to France in 600 B.C.E.
While genetic testing of the Syrah vines has yet to provide any link to a Persian past, the grape's romanticized ancient origin has lent the dark red, tannic wine an air of mystery and soulfulness that has become part of its identity.
Shiraz is now the most widely cultivated grape in Australia; it's actually responsible for transforming the wine industry on the continent over the latter half of the 20th century. Some of the most famous and expensive Shiraz wines are produced in Australia, such as the world renown 1955 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. The success of Australian Shiraz lead other countries that cultivated the grape, such as South America, New Zealand, and the United States, to label the wine Shiraz instead of Syrah.
The flavor profile of the the Syrah/Shiraz grape changes depending on the terroir and climate in which it is grown, so two wines made from the same grape can taste very different from each other. "The Syrah is also grown in France's cooler climate. This lends to the plum-like, smokey character of this wine," explains E.C. Kraus' wine blog. "This is in comparison to Shiraz which is grown in warmer climates, which makes the wine more jammy and berry-like."
When it comes to correct pronunciation of the wine there doesn't seem to be a consensus. "The Australians tend to say "sher-AS," but most other people soften the second syllable into "sher-AHZ,"' wine writer John Juergens explains on Wine Lovers Page. It seems you can pronounce the wine however you feel comfortable, and focus instead on enjoying the taste of the inky fermented magic.