Happy Shiraz Day!
Ok so it was yesterday, so sue us. The fourth Thursday of every July celebrates the massive world contribution of Australian Syrah (Shiraz).
Shiraz in Australia dates back over two hundred years, and the first cuttings are said to have been brought over by British pioneers John MacArthur, who was also key in the founding the Australian merino wool industry, and James Busby who was central to drawing up both the Declaration of the Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi in neighboring New Zealand.
Some of the cuttings were delivered to MacArthur’s Camden Park Estate in Sydney, New South Wales in the early 1800s before they eventually made their way over to the Barossa where Shiraz established itself as one of the region’s key grape varieties. However, other travelers like Alexander Riley have also been credited with the grape’s arrival Down Under.
Originally, Australian Shiraz was predominantly used in blends with stablemates, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. Luckily in 1959, when the Chief winemaker at Penfolds, Max Schubert – born in the outskirts of the Barossa but of German descent – made the wine estate’s first bin wine, Kalimna Bin 28 purely from Barossa Valley Shiraz which saw the grape varieties’ reputation took off.
Since then, the grape variety has made its mark across Australia with key wine regions emerging like McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Coonawarra, Victoria, Hunter Valley, and the Yarra Valley - although the Barossa remains the most important by far.
Australian Shiraz is typically full-bodied, with heavy tannins and moderate acidity. The palate centers around a core of intense forest and dark orchard fruit, dark black fruit like, and red fruit. Secondary/tertiary notes of black pepper, mint, licorice, star anise, chocolate and tobacco can also be hugely prevalent.
Although famously full-bodied, styles from cooler parts of Australia can be more medium-bodied with higher acidity and fresher fruit. All styles tend to have bold fruit and spice at their core.
Although Shiraz and Syrah are technically the same grape variety originating from the Rhône Valley, the names imply slightly different wine styles. Shiraz is typically seen as a New World style with a focus on big ample bold fruit and spice with particular emphasis on black pepper. Shiraz is also synonymous with full-bodied wines from warmer climes with rich ripe fruit and big tannins.
In contrast, Syrah is more associated with a cooler-climate, old world style of wine-making with lighter, fresher fruit, higher acidity and spice that veers towards white pepper over black. Although both Shiraz and Syrah both imply different styles of wine, they are used inconsistently and there are no hard and fast rules. However, it can be assumed that for the most part an Australian Shiraz is going to be bigger, bolder, and heavier than a French Syrah, although there are always exceptions.
In Australia, Shiraz is often used as a blending component with other grapes. Perhaps, most quintessentially Australian is the blending of Shiraz with Cabernet Sauvignon which is often labelled as Cabernet Shiraz.
At its core, it is a mash-up between Bordeaux and Rhône Valley styles and the best examples can be very good indeed as Cabernet offers a sophisticated structure while Shiraz provides the lush, ripe fruit. The resulting wines tend to be full-bodied with dark brambly cassis fruit and notes of black pepper and tobacco.
Excellent examples are made in Coonawarra and the Barossa, although the trend for Cabernet Shiraz wines has declined since its heyday in the 1970s. Many Australian Cabernet Shiraz blends tend to be dismissed as lower-rung wines, however, other examples like the famous Penfolds Grange showcase the blend at its very best. The Grenache – Syrah – Mourvèdre blend namely originates from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding appellations in the Southern Rhône. Known colloquially as a GSM blend, the combination of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre has gained popularity in Australia.
Arguably the most extraordinary – and uniquely Australian – style of Shiraz is its sparkling form. Sparkling Shiraz is a proud Australian creation, and it is most often drunk during Christmas.
This style of wine was first produced over a hundred years ago in Victoria, since then, however, the style is now made country-wide with various producers.
So, as late as we are to the party this year, there is still plenty of time this weekend to go out and explore some fun, out of the way Shiraz - go have some fun with it!!