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Shiraz

Ah, Shiraz! Far and away the most popular red single-variety wine in the country, Shiraz is also at the heart of some of Australia’s best red wine blends. We explore its origins, its arrival here in this country, best Australian Shiraz regions like the Barossa Valley, and what foods make for a natural pairing with Shiraz in this varietal deep dive.

 

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Origins Of Shiraz

Shiraz is believed to have originated in France’s northern Rhône Valley, where it is known as Syrah – not to be confused with the wines hailing from the historic Persian city of Shiraz, which produced famous dry and sweet white wines named for their place of origin.

Shiraz, as it became widely known in Australia, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown around the world, from Europe to New World countries like the United States, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. It is one of the world’s most-planted varieties, made famous from the 18th century on as a result of the Hermitage wines produced in the hills above the town of Tain-l’Hermitage in Northern Rhône.

These wines had a reputation for their power and quality, and even attracted the admiration of Thomas Jefferson, but were mostly used as blending components for Bordeaux wines earmarked for export from France, or to improve wines in less-than-ideal vintages.

 

Shiraz In Australia

As with many of Australia’s classic grape varieties, Shiraz came to Australia with the James Busby collection. Busby 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 as one of Australia’s most successful and certainly historic winemaking regions.

Before Shiraz became the commonly accepted descriptor for Syrah in Australia, it was often known as Scyras, Ciras or even Hermitage. Due to its 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!

 

Best Australian Shiraz Regions

Shiraz is grown in every wine region in Australia and produced by 4 out 5 wineries, with differences in regional climates and soils resulting in a range of different styles. Indeed, Australia is home to the greatest diversity of Shiraz styles in the world.

While often described as hailing from cool or warm climates, the terms hot, cool, etc are only general indicators, as there is a great deal of nuance in such categorisations, spanning maritime to Mediterranean to Continental-style climates.

One thing is for certain – wherever it is grown, Australian Shiraz comfortably competes with the best in the world.

 

Moderate-to-warm climate Shiraz regions

  • Barossa Valley, SA

  • Hunter Valley, NSW

  • Clare Valley, SA

  • Coonawarra, SA

  • McLaren Vale, SA

  • Margaret River, WA

  • Swan Valley, WA

  • Rutherglen, VIC

  • Riverina, NSW

  • Riverland, SA

 

Cool climate Shiraz regions

  • Adelaide Hills, SA

  • Beechworth, VIC

  • Canberra District, ACT/NSW

  • Eden Valley, SA

  • Yarra Valley, VIC

  • Mornington Peninsula, VIC

  • Hilltops, NSW

  • Heathcote, VIC

  • Grampians/Great Western, VIC

  • Great Southern, WA

  • Geographe, WA

 

Warm Climate Vs Cool Climate Shiraz

One of the most sensational aspects of Australian Shiraz is that, when it comes to style, there are expressions for every taste. The essential distinction between warm and cool climate Shiraz manifests in their differing textures, weight and flavour profiles.

Since Shiraz grown in warmer climates ripens more readily, the resulting wines will tend to feature fuller, riper dark fruit flavours and be more full-bodied and luscious. Such styles are considered the ‘classic’ expression of Australian Shiraz, made famous by Barossa Valley Shiraz – big-flavoured, plush and fruit-forward.

Cool climate Shiraz on the other hand ripens more gently, leading to wines that are generally more medium-bodied and savoury. Due to the grapes being exposed to less heat, their skins are thinner, reducing or softening the tannins in the wine.

While sharing a similar flavour profile to their warm climate cousins, different varietal characters emerge – white pepper instead of black pepper, and red fruits rather than black – with more subdued herbaceous characters, resulting in wines are considered more restrained and even elegant in texture. 

Shiraz Blends And Sparkling Reds

Historically one of the great blending varieties, Australian Shiraz has been a key component in many great Australian red blends. It most commonly appears in the following blends:

  • Grenache Shiraz Mataro/Mourvèdre (the classic GSM blend)
  • Shiraz Cabernet (the uniquely Australian style that resulted in the famous Penfolds Grange and Bin 389)
  • Shiraz Viognier (a famed Rhône-style red/white blend, the most famous local example being that produced by Canberra District’s Clonakilla)

Shiraz is also the variety most commonly used to craft the distinctly Australian style of Sparkling Reds, which offer a compelling alternative to the typical Sparkling wine for celebrating special occasions.

 

What Does Shiraz Taste Like?

Shiraz is generally best known for its rich, dark fruit palate of blackberry and plum with savoury notes of leather, earth, pepper and even liquorice, but like all premium wine varieties it is exceptionally versatile and able express both the region it hails from as well as reflect the winemaker’s influence.

Here are some of regional insights into Australian Shiraz characters and styles from some of the variety’s most accomplished producers!

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 Wines

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

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

 

Best Food Pairings For Shiraz

A Shiraz in the style of the Barossa or Hunter Valley 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 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, vastly broadening the culinary creations Shiraz drinkers can enjoy.

 

Beef And Shiraz Food Pairings

Burgundy-style fillet of beef

Argentinian beef steak with chimichurri sauce

Korean beef short ribs (Heather Jeong’s Barbeque Galbi)

Steak and kidney pie

Alvin Quah’s Malaysian hawker-style Hokkien noodles

Beef Bulgogi

 

Lamb And Shiraz Food Pairings

Lyndey Milan’s lamb pie

Boneless leg of lamb with rosemary rub

Lamb hotpot with potato quince

Middle Eastern spiced lamb san choy bau

Spiced lamb kofte with cucumber and yoghurt salad

 

Kangaroo And Shiraz Food Pairings

Kangaroo with red wine risotto

Kangaroo Burgundy pie

Mark Olive’s crusted kangaroo fillets

Lyndey Milan’s kangaroo with juniper berries and roast veggies

 

Shiraz And Vegetarian Food Pairings

Lyndey Milan’s Middle Eastern vegetable tart

Spiced roasted vegetable salad

Warm salad of autumn vegetables with white miso and black sesame seeds

Asparagus and mushroom stir-fry

 

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.

Looking for more great food and wine pairings? Check out our cheese and wine matching guide! Or dive in and learn more about Australia’s other great red wine varieties with our Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir guides.

 

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. They’re all there ready for you to explore – so grab your glasses and start your Shiraz journey with Wine Selectors!

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Published on
6 Jan 2021

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