What is Shiraz?
Shiraz… Syrah… yes it is one and the same grape, originating in the Rhône Valley in France. This dark-skinned grape variety is grown throughout the world, primarily to produce red wine. Australians call it Shiraz. Other countries, including New Zealand, use the French name Syrah. Whatever you call, this is a versatile grape that results in wines that can age majestically for many years.
Australia lead the way
Shiraz is the varietal for which Australia is most famous. Internationally, Australia enjoys an enviable reputation for blockbuster Shiraz and Shiraz-based reds.
Pioneering viticulturalist and Father of Australian wine, James Busby, first planted Shiraz vines in the area which is now Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. He went on to plant sizeable plantings in The Hunter in 1825. By the 1880s, Shiraz was being grown in South Australia.
Shiraz performs well across a range of climates, with fuller-bodied, riper styles produced in the warm to hot regions of Australia.
Typical flavours include red and black fruit, pepper and spice.
Cooler climate examples such as those from New Zealand, are more elegant. Plum, savoury pepper, spice and hints of violets characterise New Zealand Syrah. Other Shiraz descriptors include chocolate, coffee, mint, leather and truffles.
Pairing with food
The red-with-red rule usually applies with Shiraz, especially Australian examples, as delicate foods tend to get trampled by the power of the wine. Shiraz goes extremely well with grilled and roasted red meats, including beef and lamb, and game such as venison and kangaroo. Rare roast beef with a pepper sauce is a winner.
Less expensive Shiraz is a barbecue favourite, pairing brilliantly with spicy sausages, smoked brisket, kebabs and char-grilled vegetables.
It also sits well with hearty winter fare, such as ox cheek stews and casseroles with a touch of smoky spice such as chilli. For a cheese match, go for firm, aged cheeses such as cheddar or peppery cheeses.
Notable regions for Shiraz
Rhône, France - the Rhône Valley in France is renowned for growing Syrah. The wine is particular to the slopes of the valley for which Côtes du Rhône is named. Variations in soil quality, as well as the changes in the slope of the terrain, tend to produce different styles of wine, ranging from the mineral and tannic nature of Hermitage, to fruity and perfumed in the case of Côte-Rotie.
Barossa Valley, Australia - Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is perhaps Australia’s most famous Shiraz. Big and bold, it’s renowned throughout the world but it is not for the faint-of-heart. Most Barossa reds are Shiraz, or Shiraz-based, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Grenache and Mourvedre. Barossa Shiraz blends generally show lots of generous fruit, without seeming to fat, and show lots of oak without being overpowering.
Other Australian regions - Australian Shiraz is grown with great success in the Hunter Valley and Canberra regions in New South Wales, Beechworth, Rutherglen and Glenrowan in Victoria, Margaret River in Western Australia and McLaren Vale in South Australia.
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand - Hawke’s Bay grows around 70% of New Zealand’s Syrah. Styles are known for their elegance, complexity and firm tannins. Typical notes include berryfruit, plums, violets and pepper.
Other New Zealand regions - Waiheke Island Syrah is full-bodied and rich, with blackberry and pepper. Martinborough and the Wairarapa produce refined, complex, noteworthy examples due to a cooler climate and longer ripening season.