Shiraz A.K.A Syrah makes a vast array of styles and blends from vineyards in cool to very hot sites.
From super ripe jammy numbers to fresh vibrant supple wines of elegance, restraint and harmony no style including fortified is off limits! Typically in the new world if you see Syrah, the French name for Shiraz on the label it is an indication that the wine will be more elegant in style, often from a cooler climate. There are no hard at fast rules though!
Where is it grown?
Shiraz has its roots in the Northern Rhône Valley regions of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, and is grown throughout the great Rhône. Outside France, Australia has been its home for over the last 150 years. James Busby bought it here in 1832! Australia has some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world in regions where phylloxera is absent.
The warmer regions of Australia, think the Barossa and McLaren Vale were some of the first to achieve global recognition for their Shiraz. Yet the Clare Valley, Wendouree, and Central Victoria, Thabilk and Bailey’s of Glenrowan, have made Shiraz for just as long. The size of Australia and dramatic differences in microclimate and geology of Australia allow us to celebrate Shiraz in so many different ways. The Hunter Valley and other cool climates around Australia including the Adelaide Hills, Canberra, the Yarra Valley, Mornington, the Grampians, and, Heathcote are known for their Shiraz.
An epic 395,000 tonnes of Shiraz grapes are grown in Australia accounting for nearly 25% of the annual crush, and, 50% of the red grape crush. It is almost double the amount of Cabernet and four times the amount of Pinot grown in Australia!
What does it taste like?
The diversity of styles is influenced heavily by the other grape varieties often blended with Shiraz.
In Côte Rôtie it’s blended with the white grape Viognier giving it a beautiful perfume, contributing a certain luscious element to the palate, and, surprisingly making the colour dark through the process of co-pigmentation. Heading to the Southern Rhône and areas like Chȃteauneuf du Pape, Grenache and Mouvèrdre A.K.A Mataro amongst many other varieties are blended with Shiraz. The Grenache adds flowers, perfume spice, a juby confectionary character, the Mouvèrdre structure, and, earthiness. Similar blends are found in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Each variety contributing different elements to the wine. Decades ago many of Burgundy’s Pinots were fortified with a splash of Syrah from the Rhône.
In Australia, there is a long history of blending Shiraz and Cabernet. It is virtually impossible to generically describe Australian Shiraz. We’ll have a stab at breaking it down to regions in general terms past and present.
The wines of the Barossa and McLaren Vale have historically been very ripe, sometimes jammy and inky in nature. In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common to see them loaded up with oak and added tannins. At the some time the Clare was producing equally dense wines with greater freshness and an edge more structure from grape tannin. The Hunter produced wines of much lower alcohol content, medium weight and an earthy less fruit forward nature. Central Victorian wines from the likes of Thabilk have vibrant dark fruit, with sometimes massive structure and tannins. Cooler climates in Victoria and South Australia offered juicy natural acid and red fruits with a more supple mouthfeel.
In recent times experimentation with Shiraz, pushing the boundaries across all aspect of growing and making has seen a fascinating evolution in styles. Particularly in warmer regions, makers have been picking earlier and earlier, they have had to work hard in the vineyards to ensure they can achieve flavour and tannin ripeness at when doing so. Trials with carbonic maceration, whole bunches, stalk use, different fermentation vessels, long periods of skin contact, older oak, and, larger oak have been common.
Shiraz Viognier blends have been around since the 1970’s at Yarra Yering in the Yarra Valley, in the 1990’s these took off and we now see a plethora of wines made with this blend, the most notable being Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier from Canberra.
All of this experimentation has resulted in wines of greater restraint coming from the warmer climates and wines of incredible sophistication, texture and complexity from the cooler climates. Shiraz in Australia is the best it has ever been and only getting better!