Wine: A noble start to the year
The most commonly touted theory about the grape Shiraz used to be that it took its name from an old Middle Eastern trading post. With good reason, because as far back as the 7th century, and probably earlier, they were fond of partying in old Shiraz, in what was then Persia.
This part of the world was the cradle of winemaking and, notwithstanding the prevailing ethos, these parties were lubricated with plenty of vin rouge.
The story went that the local grape made its way to France with the crusaders, where it is known as Syrah. There were wonderful theories about its provenance, but modern DNA research appears to have established that Syrah was cultivated in France.
One way or another, it has been associated with wine-drinking pleasure for a long time.
Shiraz or Syrah? Either way, it is regarded as one of the upper echelon, a noble grape variety known for its structure, black fruit and black-pepper character.
In France, Syrah is the red grape of northern Rhône, the iconic Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas (the latter famously known as black wine) -- big wines that may take some years to mellow, yet have a haunting floral perfume -- or the more approachable Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph.
It is also widely and increasingly used in the wines of southern Rhône, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras, and adds structure to the more widely grown and softer Grenache.
For the same reason, it is a regular in southern France: Languedoc-Roussillon wines, such as Minervois, Corbières, St Chinian and Costières de Nimes.
It turns up in Spain and Italy too. Compared to its herby French accent, the more heat and sun the grape gets, the sweeter its style; sometimes a bit on the jammy side.
Which brings us to Shiraz, the name by which it is commonly known in the hotter New World wine-growing regions, such as Australia, South Africa and Chile.
From Australia's Barossa Valley in particular, Shiraz is famous for the chocolatey flavours. No wonder it's a winner.