Know Your Variety: Shiraz
It’s as Australian as a meat pie, doesn’t taste too bad alongside one either, can grow just about anywhere, and is just at home at backyard barbeques as it is at hatted restaurants. So, it’s no wonder this variety is our go-to favourite, known for its bold richness, deep colours, fruit and spice flavours and firm yet fine tannins. Shiraz, what would Aussie wine drinkers do without you.
Shiraz originates from France’s northern Rhône Valley where it is known as Syrah. Today, you may find the occasional Australian-made Syrah, but such wines are most often Shiraz fruit in the style of its French homeland. Shiraz’s arrival from France, like many of our beloved varieties, is thanks to James Busby. James was the forward-thinking Scottish viticulturist who happened to study viticulture in France, and decided to collect a variety of vines to plant and clone here in Australia back in 1832.
This French viticultural connection through Busby is actually why many of Australia’s oldest vines and widest produced varieties are French in origin – think Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon – because in addition to his French grapevine knowledge, James was awarded a grant of 809ha in the Hunter Valley, which we know today is one of Australia’s most successful and certainly historic wine making regions. So, we have a lot to thank James for!
Busby to the Barossa and beyond
Due to Shiraz’s suitability to hot, dry climates, the variety flourished in many Australian regions, including its earliest plantings in Sydney and the Hunter. But it is the Shiraz plantings of the Barossa Valley that saw the variety’s Australian future set in motion. Today, the region boasts Shiraz vines that are over 160 years old, known for producing intensely flavoured, rich and earthy wines.
It is this style of Shiraz from the Barossa that has stood the tallest on the international stage, achieving widespread critical acclaim. And while big Barossans are still THE red wine of Australia, our collective tastes are also starting to seek out more cool climate styles, and with that new regions are emerging as powerful Shiraz players. A turning point that perfectly illustrates Australia’s shifting tastes would have to be when the coveted Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2011 was awarded to Glaetzer-Dixon, Mon Père Shiraz 2010 – a cool climate Tasmanian Shiraz!
Shiraz styles and food
A Shiraz in the style of the Barossa or Hunter Valleys are probably what most people think of when trying to think of a suitable food match. In such cases the rule of thumb is generally a wine with big flavours will match very well with a dish of similar strength. This usually leads Shiraz drinkers to partner their beloved drop with beef and kangaroo, rich, spiced foods and charred barbeque flavours. And that would be the absolute right thing to do for a big Barossan style Shiraz.
But as we just mentioned above, many new styles of Shiraz are emerging in Australia with cool climate styles challenging the usual go-to food matches for Shiraz. The nuanced elegance of a cool climate Shiraz has been known to partner well with the likes of a lamb stew, a chickpea and snow pea curry, or a Singapore style chilli crab. Thus, vastly broadening the culinary creations Shiraz drinkers can enjoy.
Shiraz characteristics – as described by some of our faves
Shiraz, like all premium wine varieties, can express the region it hails from, as well as reflect the winemaker’s influence – and with so many Australians reaching for Shiraz it’s no wonder some of Australia’s biggest names in wine love to grow, produce and enjoy the stuff too. Here are some of their regional insights into Australian Shiraz characters and styles…
Hunter Valley: It tends to be “light to mid-weight with plenty of complexity with its base more in fruit and acid than in tannin and alcohol.” – Bruce Tyrrell, Tyrell’s
Hilltops: “Hilltops Shiraz is a beautiful example of a medium-bodied style. It has fruit forward characters with supple yet complex spicy aromatics and fleshy blue fruits, but it’s not quite as peppery or jammy as Shiraz from other regions.” – Scott McWilliam, McWilliam’s
Goulburn Valley: Nagambie Lakes Shiraz, a sub-region of Goulburn Valley is “savoury and mid-weight with a myriad of subtle flavours which tend to change and evolve as the bottle is consumed.” – Alistair Purbrick, Tahbilk
Eden and Barossa Valley: In the higher and cooler Eden Valley, aromas and flavours are more aromatic – red and blue fruits with violets, sage, pepper, and the wines are more elegant and linear than in the warmer Barossa Valley where they’re round and velvety and show more blue and black fruits – dark cherry, fruitcake, plum, blackberry, mulberry, black olives, chocolate and liquorice.” –Robert Hill-Smith, Yalumba
McLaren Vale: There is “a certain savoury, fragrant, flowery edge to McLaren Vale Shiraz, full, but elegant and quite spicy with a crushed ant character that sets it apart from other regions.” – Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg Wines
Clare Valley: “Because of the Clare’s climate of long, warm sunny days and cool nights, the fruit develops and ripens slowly. This ensures the rich flavours develop into more subtle and elegant characteristics, but with great concentration of flavour.” – Mitchell Taylor, Taylors Wines
Yarra Valley: “Yarra Shiraz is medium bodied and elegant in style. Lifted aromatics and grainy tannins are commonplace.” – Sarah Fagan, De Bortoli
Heathcote: You may find a touch of eucalyptus with Shiraz generally “having a vibrant purple colour with rich blackberry and plum fruit and black pepper clove spice.” – Katherine Brown, Brown Brothers (pictured above)
Great Southern: “The wines display a great intensity of dark fruits with traces of spice, earth and soft tannins. The use of fine grain French oak crafts a layered and complex wine.” – Janice McDonald, Howard Park
Shiraz – the red for pretty much everyone
Whether you prefer big and bold, medium-bodied savoury styles, or refined elegance, Shiraz can do it all. It simply comes down to the climate and regional terroir, and the winemaker’s style as to what expression of Shiraz you are going to get. And sure, it’s never going to be as light in style as Pinot Noir or as grippy and powerful as a Cabernet Sauvignon, but it can be everything else in between, which is why Australians can’t get enough of it.
Wine Selectors is privileged to have a whole bunch of Shiraz styles in our cellar, including wines from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, and all over Australia, plus there are a host of Shiraz blends, which demonstrates how well Shiraz works with Cabernet Sauvignon, as in the likes of the ‘great Australian red’, or as part of the popular GSM blend (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre). They’re all there ready for you to explore.