Shiraz beats Syrah

I have long been fascinated by Shiraz from Italy, Pinot Grigio from Australia and all other adoptions of non-traditional varietal names because, presumably, the wine producer thinks they are more commercially attractive.

Of course this is seen as a dangerously liberal practice by many bureaucrats and indeed one of Britain's biggest supermarkets has recently fallen foul of the wine-trade police with two southern French wines labelled Shiraz. Some time ago the Wine Standards Board told Sainsburys they would have to relabel two inexpensive Vins de Pays, using the French name Syrah rather than the Australian synonym Shiraz. This is because Shiraz doesn't feature in the synonyms officially registered with the EU (nor does Pinot Grigio for Australia or America, even though domestic wines thus labelled are becoming increasingly popular there).

The interesting thing with Sainsburys' Shiraz is what happened next. The UK wine-trade weekly Harpers reports that sales almost halved according to the relevant wine buyer for Sainsburys, Justin Howard-Sneyd MW (Hugh Johnson's godson in law, as it happens). It seems that big bold Shiraz is a much stronger sales tool than wimpy little French Syrah – no matter what the wine tastes like.

Actually, I remember seeing an Italian wine labelled Shiraz on offer from Sainsburys' big rivals Tesco several years ago, and indeed the Sainsbury's relabelling exercise is far from unique – though apparently the British trade body, the Wine and Spirit Association in London, is pressing France at least to allow French wines made from Syrah to be labelled Shiraz. I wonder whether they'll capitulate, or see it as a dark Anglo-Saxon plot to further degrade the noble image of vin français?