Curious Small Sips #8: Shiraz

Shiraz is the Australian name of the Syrah grape which orginated in the Rhône valley, in east-central France. From the early 19th century Shiraz (known back then also as Scyras, Syrah or Hermitage) was the dominant red variety in Australia. The Syrah grape is better known as Shiraz largely because Australian Shiraz has been so commercially sucessful in European markets. The name has since been used on wine labels for Syrah grown all over the world, including great quantities in South Africa. In the US, in regions such as California and Columbia Valley in Washington State, they have retained the word ‘Syrah’ for premium wines apart from when the wine grown is vinified in a particularly ‘New World / Australian’ style – similar to say, Penfold’s Grange, for example.

Shiraz appears in Austalia as a lone varietal or as a constituent of a blend, combined most often with Cabernet Sauvignon and although viticulturally Shiraz and Syrah are identical, it is the vinification process that makes dramatically different wines depending on provenance and method. Aussie Shiraz has been variously described as ‘as a Sherman tank that’s been machine-gunned with blackcurrants then seasoned with black pepper; as a combination of ‘hot bricks, mulberry, fire, brimstone and crushed violets’ and, as Jancis Robinson puts it, as ‘sweeter, riper and more suggestive of chocolate than the white pepper and spices often associated with Syrah in the Rhône.’

In recent years Australian Shiraz has evolved to include a huge range of styles from elegant, cool-region grown, spicy Rhône styles (often using Viognier in the blend) to riper fuller styles such as those found in the Barossa valley.

Image: Precious Shiraz grapes from the Moorooroo vineyard, Barossa Valley; © Schild Estate.

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