Shiraz is the name given to the dark-skinned Syrah grape when grown in Australia and selected pockets of the New World. Though genetically identical, the stylistic differences between Shiraz and Syrah are usually pronounced.
Shiraz is so important to Australian viticulture that it is the most planted grape variety in the majority of Australian vineyards and has become virtually synonymous with the country's wine regions, and in particular the Barossa Valley.
The term Shiraz has its roots in the New World, although there are several stories about how its name came about. Some attempt to explain why it shares its name with a city in Iran, however, the earliest Australian documents mentioning the grape refer to it as "Scyras", and Shiraz is likely a corruption of that word rather than a homage to a southern Iranian provincial capital.
The prevailing style of Shiraz winemaking tends toward bright fruit flavors – most frequently blueberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. Secondary notes of chocolate lend themselves well to the full-bodied texture of these wines, often accented by pepper and spicy inflections.
Australia's history with the grape dates back well to the mid 19th century. A number of these pioneering wine properties remain, and in Barossa in particular many parcels of vines of well over 100 years of age are still farmed today.
These low yiedling, gnarled veterans supply small, intense berries for some of Australia and the world's greatest red wines. No other region, including Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, has such a concentration of very old vines.
During the 1990s and early 2000s a lot of Australian Shiraz was characterized by highly extracted, superripe wines that, for better or worse, caught the attention of wine critics around the world. Some responded well to the style, championing the rich and bold flavors. Others lambasted the wines' lack of subtlety. Regardless of the divided critics, consumer enthusiasm for Australian Shiraz flourished during this period and countless expressions of the style were exported around the world.
At the dawn of the 21st Century there was a tangible shift in the way a lot of Australian Shiraz was made. Cool climate styles coming into their own and complexity gaining ground over sheer power. A new generation of wines began to emerge, working towards the elegantly spicy styles of the northern Rhône.
As with Syrah in the Rhone, Australian Shiraz is often blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre (aka Mataro) 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 Mourvèdre makes for a rich, opulent style often greater than the sum of its parts.
Blends of Syrah/Shiraz with Cabernet Sauvignon are perhaps most readily associated with Australia. The Cabernet – Shiraz blend has become so popular that it now represents a sizable proportion of Australian red wine blends.
(This combination of Rhône and Bordeaux is rarely seen at French DOC level, though there are plenty of examples from southern IGPs such as Pays d'OC. The combination does an illicit past; Rhône Syrah was often used to improve underripe Claret in a process known as Hermitagé.)
The other major Shiraz blend emulates the idiosyncratic wines of Côte Rôtie by adding a small proportion of Viognier to the wine. Australian Shiraz – Viognier wines have also forged a formidable reputation on the international stage.
The name Shiraz has become so widely recognized and so highly marketable that it has been used to label Syrah wines in countries other than Australia. It can imply a riper, fuller style, though this is not set in stone. Similarly it does not guarantee the point of origin of cuttings used to plant a vineyard.
In South Africa, the Shiraz naming convention is commonplace and in the US, South America and Israel either Syrah or Shiraz may be used depending on fashion. Even a handful of producers in France's Languedoc-Roussillon have taken to labeling their wines as Shiraz.
Synonyms include: Syrah, Hermitage, Scyras.
Food matches for Shiraz include:
- Beef Wellington
- Malay lamb korma
- Lentils with smoked ham hock