Shiraz is a dark skinned grape variety that originates from the Rhone region in south-eastern France where it is known as Syrah.
Though genetically identical, the stylistic differences between Shiraz and Syrah are pronounced enough to consider them distinct varieties.
Shiraz is a full bodied red wine with considerable taste variation depending on the region it is grown in, as well as other viticultural practices chosen.
First planted in Sydney and the Hunter Valley in 1832, Shiraz is so important to Australian viticulture that it is the most planted grape variety in the majority of Australian vineyards and has become synonymous with the country’s wine regions, in particular the Barossa Valley.
About the Variety
The Shiraz grape is remarkably versatile, has relatively loose bunches, with large thick-skinned berries and is marked by its spicy, black fruit flavours and smooth tannins. It succeeds in both warm and cool climates and will produce wine that is powerfully flavoured and full bodied.
It has been used to produce everything from a light Rose to a rich port. The grape evokes undertones of richer, darker flavours, such as plums and black pepper, as well as berry and mocha tones. More aged versions can provide qualities such as forest, leather and cigar.
Australian winemakers prefer using American oak barrels rather than French, which lends a hint of spice and vanilla to their wines.
As with Syrah in the Rhone, Australian Shiraz if often blended with Grenache and Mourvedre, creating what has become widely known as GSM. The dark chocolate and cassis of Shiraz, coupled with the plummy richness of Grenache and the earthy, gamey strength of Mourvedre makes for a rich, opulent style.
One uniquely Australian application of Shiraz is to blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend has become so popular that it now represents a sizable proportion of Australian red wine blends. The other major Shiraz blend emulates the idiosyncratic French wines of Cote Rotie by adding a small proportion (around 4%) of Viognier to the wine.
Not only do Shiraz grapes differ greatly from their French counterparts due to variation in soil and climate, but those same factors make for strikingly different Shiraz wines within Australian wine regions.
There are many fantastic regions for Shiraz but the most historic area with a large repository of old vines is the Barossa Valley. Other well established regions for Shiraz in South Australia include, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Coonawarra and Langhorne Creek.
The cooler climate areas of Victoria such as Grampians, Heathcote, Yarra Valley and Nagambie Lakes produce varying styles but tend toward savoury and medium bodied.
In NSW, the cooler climate of Canberra District produces a restrained and aromatic style, while the Hunter Valley is known for distinctive medium bodied, savoury and age-worthy wines.
Western Australia’s Margaret River produces Shiraz with marginally less alcohol content and often in a more traditional French style.
Given its heaviness and hearty taste, Shiraz pairs beautifully with similarly endowed foods. Barbequed meats has long been a traditional Australian match, while in more recent times elegant Shiraz from cool climates matches well with gamey dishes such as kangaroo and venison.
More savoury styles, such as from the Hunter Valley, partner well with risottos to pork with plum sauce while the fuller styles of Shiraz from the Barossa Valley are a perfect match with hearty meaty dishes such as braised beef, casseroles and roasted lamb.
A juicy and spicy Shiraz also works perfectly with a range of Asian food including, dumplings, curries and stir fries as well as Mexican cuisine.