A Wine by Any Other Name
In late February 1833, the prison ship Camden docked in the harbor in Sydney, Australia, bearing in its hold almost 600 vine cuttings from vineyards throughout France and Spain. They were the result of an extensive tour by Scottish viticulturist James Busby two years before. Among these cuttings was the Syrah varietal, a native of France’s Rhône Valley, which Busby had incorrectly labeled “Scyras.” As time progressed the name linguistically morphed into “Shiraz,” the appellation used in Australia today. Genetically, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape.
This is where the similarity ends. Like many varietals, Syrah/Shiraz’s final expression can vary widely depending on climate and soil conditions (terroir). The rocky hillsides of the Northern Rhône Valley, where Syrah thrives best, endure harsh winters and hot summers, producing wines that are medium-to-full-bodied, acidic, tannic and intensely aromatic, with flavor characteristics of plums, berries, black olives and pepper, plus savory notes of smoked bacon or meat, often with touches of minerality. In contrast the Australian Shiraz grapes, growing in the clay-and-sand soils of the Barossa Valley (where Shiraz reigns supreme), the Hunter Valley and McLaren Vale, experience cool, wet winters and long, warm summer days that encourage the fruit to fully ripen with lower acidity (than Syrah) and more residual sugar. The result is fuller-bodied wines with softer tannins, lower acidity, higher alcohol levels, and riper, jammy fruit.
Shiraz wines are an inky opaque ruby-purple in the glass and teem with aromas and flavors of blackberries, blueberries, black currants, and black cherries, all buttressed by notes of pepper, mint, eucalyptus, licorice, herbs, spice, earth and chocolate.
As with France’s famous Côtes du Rhône blend, Australia is known for its Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre or GSM blends. More popular is the uniquely Australian pairing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with Shiraz providing rich fruit and filling in Cabernet’s weaker mid-palate.
Australian winemakers can add up to 20 per cent of the white wine Viognier to Shiraz to boost bouquet and color. Shiraz is also vinified as a sparkling wine.
Shiraz pairs well with grilled meats, stews, barbecue and strong cheeses like Cheddar and blue cheese.
Oenology 101: The Basics of All Things Wine
Although Syrah/Shiraz is usually associated with France and Australia, it is grown all over the world, including in California and Washington State. Legend has it that the name derives from Shiraz, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire, but there is no historical evidence to support this claim.
Shiraz is classified as a warm weather wine, as opposed to its counterpart the cool weather Syrah. Grapes from cooler regions require longer ripening times, resulting in wines with lower sugar content, less alcohol, more natural acidity and often with tart fruit flavors like raspberries, cherries and green apple with overtones of herbs, pepper, mineral and earth. Grapes from warm weather regions produce fuller-bodied wines with riper fruit, less acidity, higher alcohol and aromas and flavors of plums, currants and berries.
Australia has the oldest Shiraz grapevines in the world, dating from the 1840s. As these “ancestor vines”age they generate less fruit, but the wines they produce are high quality, deeply concentrated and structured, and saturated in color and aroma.
Syrah/Shiraz is often confused with Petite Sirah — a different varietal grape.Edit Module