Here’s a quick quiz for you. Do you know the more familiar name of the following grape varieties: Tinta Fino, Morillon, Médoc Noir, Blauburgunder and Petite Vidure? (Answers at the end) Synonyms and local names for grape varieties are common but it is exceptionally rare for these names to be transferable across the wine-making world. For instance, the Italian Pinot Grigio is France’s Pinot Gris and Germany’s Grauburgunder and, legalities aside, you are not likely to see the name crossing any borders.

With Syrah it is all very different. For a start, it is more widely understood that Syrah and Shiraz are one and the same variety and nobody bats an eyelid when you see a Languedoc Shiraz parked next to a Chilean Syrah. This, despite the fact, that Syrah is the French spelling.

Whether a producer chooses to name their wine Syrah or Shiraz is primarily down to style and marketing. Aussie Shiraz powered its way onto the British palate in the early 1990s and we fell in love with its rich, black fruit and chocolate flavours. Thus ‘brand Shiraz’ was born.

Meanwhile, the more perfumed, peppery and violet examples of the northern Rhône, remained as Syrah.

These are sweeping generalisations but it did not take long for savvy Southern French producers to work out that consumers had fallen in love with Australian Shiraz and to jump on the bandwagon, abandoning Syrah in order to help sales. As a strategy it has been a successful and smart one.

In California, there is no consensus, with winemakers letting the wine’s style and position in the market place steer the choice.

The likes of Qupé, Jade Mountain and Joseph Phelps are proud of their Rhône Ranger heritage and stick to Syrah, whereas others seeking to reach a broader audience opt to put Shiraz on the label.

Of course, just when you think you have got it all sussed, you pick up a bottle of northern Rhône red — say Crozes Hermitage — and you see Petite Syrah on the back label. Do not be confused; this is just the local name for Syrah that refers to the vine’s small berries.

What you must not do is confuse Syrah / Shiraz and Petite Syrah with Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah is a quite separate, robust, tannic variety that is found in California.

However, take a breath because we are not quite done. Thanks to the miracle that is DNA we know that Petite Sirah and the (barely known) French Durif variety are one and the same. Somehow though, a total of four different vines were labelled as Petite Sirah: Durif; Syrah; Peloursin (another oddball!); and a crossing of Peloursin with Durif.

As we all now know, only the first of these is correct.

When it comes to wine synonyms, it seems that Chardonnay is one of the few grape names that is relatively universal. It is ironic given Chardonnay’s undeserved fall in popularity.

Perhaps the way forward is for someone to dig up the old local names and create a new brand for people to get excited about.

When I have not been playing word games this week, I have been enjoying a lovely wine that I bought in Piedmont last autumn.

Dolcetto di Diano Costa Fiore 2007 from Claudio Alario is a brilliantly earthy, leathery, black-forest-fruit red that has a surprisingly chunky generosity. £12.95 from Answers: Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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