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 pronounced enough to consider them distinct varieties. Shiraz is so important to Australian viticulture that it is the most planted grape variety in the majority of Australian vineyards and is virtually synonymous with wine regions such as the Barossa Valley.
The term Shiraz has its roots in the New World, and the prevailing style of Shiraz winemaking reflects this heritage. Bright fruit flavors are characteristic of modern Shiraz wines – 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.
During the 1990s and early 2000s a lot of Australian Shiraz was characterized by highly extracted, super-ripe 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, while 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.
Between 2000 and 2010 there was a tangible shift in the way much Australian Shiraz was made, with 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 Rhone.
As with Syrah in the Rhone, Australian Shiraz is 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 often greater than the sum of its parts.
One uniquely Australian application of Shiraz is to blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a previously unheard-of tradition in the Old World, but the blend has become so popular that it now represents a sizeable proportion of Australian red wine blends. The other major Shiraz blend emulates the idiosyncratic wines of the Cote Rotie by adding a small proportion of Viognier to the wine. Australian Shiraz-Viognier wines have forged a formidable reputation on the international stage; some of the best examples can fetch triple-figure prices.
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. In South Africa, the Shiraz naming convention is commonplace and in the U.S., 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.
Popular blends include: Syrah – Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon – Syrah, GSM (Grenache – Mourvedre – Syrah).
Food matches include:
Europe: Beef Wellington; grilled veal chops with sage (costolette di vitello alla griglia)
Asia: Chicken heart or gizzard yakitori; Malay lamb korma
Americas: Lentil soup with smoked ham hock; Peruvian stuffed pepper (rocoto relleno)
Australasia/Oceania: Spiced venison skewers; mushroom and eggplant filo