As a sommelier I just love shiraz, it’s so hot right now. It’s versatile, fruit-driven and is no longer the one trick pony, the wine only wheeled out with steak. In Australia, we call this big, bold fruity grape variety shiraz. Outside these shores, it’s referred to by its French name syrah.
Shiraz is a big grape with a long history. In France, syrah has been traditionally crushed to make wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape, Cote Rotie, Cornas and Hermitage. The French claim it has been a native to Southeast France since Roman times and transported well across New World wine-growing regions because it is fairly disease resistant and grows across a spectrum of climates, hot and dry, warm and humid to cool and wet. It arrived in Australia in 1832, bought to these shores by the father of Australian viticulture, James Busby. Originally planted in the Hunter Valley, it was revered for its adaptability and used as a base to make fortified wines as well as table wines.
Today, shiraz has risen to be the most widely planted grape in Australia and accounts for one-quarter of our total wine production. It is successfully grown across the Yarra Valley and Heathcote in Victoria to the Barossa, Eden and Clare Valley in South Australia, as well as McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. It has also done well in the southwest corner of Western Australia, where its ability to make spicier wines shines through. Down in Tasmania, cool climate shiraz is some of the best in the nation. Shiraz grapes produce full, rich wines of intense colour and flavour. It is often blended with grenache to soften out the alcohol. In cooler climates, such as Victoria’s Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas or the Yarra Valley, it is defined by white pepper aromas and spice-driven flavours. In cool climate regions, it is sometimes picked earlier to draw out those attractive pepper notes and drop the alcohol content. In warmer climates like the Barossa Valley, the grape produces bigger, fruitier, jammy wines with notes of plum and smoke. But across Australia, shiraz is known as a well-balanced, medium to full bodied wine.
Drinking shiraz reminds me of mum’s Christmas pudding – a mouthful of alcohol-soaked goodness with ripe fruit, firm tannins and heaps of structure. This varietal is always easy to identify by the super strong ‘in your face’ bouquet. Its spicy, sweet nose will give it away nine times out of ten. Think aromas of earth, mixed spices and berries. The mouthfeel is juicy and medium to full bodied tasting like wood spices, pepper (white and black), leathers, undergrowth, sweet jams, blackberries, cinnamon and, of course, liquorice from the cooler areas. Shiraz lends itself to oak treatment and will pick up notes of cherry and chocolate from French oak and vanilla from American oak.
As shiraz styles and blends vary so greatly, so do the options for matching delicious cuisine with these wines. Shiraz can be the perfect accompaniment to a roast, barbecue or grill. It is also the wine for Moroccan veal with couscous, hoisin lamb ribs with sesame or even a four-cheese pizza. It also goes well with hard cheese, herbed cheddar or an aged parmigiano reggiano. The alcohol from shiraz is going to break down the protein in meats and cheeses, while the fat from the food will protect the palate from tannin making the wine taste softer. All in all, when it comes to winter dishes, shiraz is the first wine to come to mind.
Sommelier and director at Vinified Wine Services
As seen in Winter 2023