The wine park

Shiraz - The Big Bold Grape

May 20, 2013 12:57:40 PM

Syrah or Shiraz is a thick skinned, red grape variety that originated in Northern Rhone Valley, France and is today grown in Italy, Spain, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. It is estimated to be the 7th most grown variety in the world with Australia being the biggest producer, second only to France. The name Shiraz came about in Australia and is also commonly used in South Africa and other New World Wine Regions. It is referred to as Syrah in the Old World Regions and the United States.

Syrah, as it is known in France, is grown throughout the Rhône valley. The differences in the soil quality as well as the changes in the slope of the terrain tend to produce different styles of wine ranging from the mineral and tannic nature of Hermitage, to fruity and perfumed in the case of Côte-Rôtie (where it was traditionally blended with Viognier). The wines that are made from it vary greatly, even over small changes in the vines locations.

In the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries, before the 1855 appellation rules were established, top Bordeaux châteaux would use Syrah to improve their wines, especially in weaker vintages, a practice that is totally illegal today. And this is how it started to become popular. Today, Syrah wines are most commonly blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and with small amounts of Viognier too. Syrah adds body, depth and spice character to a wine when blended. The most famous Syrah wines coming from France are Guigal's single vineyard cuvées, La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque, but these are prohibitively expensive. Syrah continues to be the main grape of the northern Rhône and is associated with classic wines such as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. In the southern Rhône, it is used as a blending grape in such wines as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône, where Grenache usually makes up the bulk of the blend.

The Syrah grape or Shiraz, as it is known in Australia, was introduced there in 1832 by James Busby, an immigrant who brought vine clippings from Europe with him. Today it is Australia's most popular red grape, but has not always been in such favour; in the 1970s, white wine was so popular that growers were ripping out unprofitable Shiraz and Grenache vineyards, even those with very old vines. In the Barossa Valley, the world's oldest continually producing commercial vineyard is believed to be the Shiraz vines that were originally planted in 1847. In Australia, it tastes quite different making dense, potent wines in warm places like Barossa and in cool places like Victoria it produces wines with a hint of black pepper. One of the most iconic Australian Shiraz is the Henschke Hill of Grace whose vines were brought in by early European settlers and has been single vineyard bottling their wines since 1958.

Wines made from Shiraz are often powerfully flavoured and full-bodied. They are characterised with high tannins, high acidity, blackberry, dark chocolate flavours. It shows mint, eucalyptus, smoked meat, black pepper, liquorice and clove characteristics in wines from warm and hot climate regions. Due to their concentrated flavours and high tannin content, many premium Shiraz wines are at their best after some considerable bottle aging. In exceptional cases, this may be 15 years or longer. With age the wine develops aromas of leather, wet leaves and earth. Although its best incarnations will age for decades, less-extracted styles may be enjoyed young for their lively red and blueberry characters and smooth tannin structure. Today, growers all over the world are experimenting with this easy-to-love grape, whose wines however ripe always have a savoury kick at the end. It pairs well with red meats, game, foods with big bold robust flavours like roasted or barbecued meats, spicy Indian curries, tikkas and biryanis.

Shiraz Trivia

In Australia, besides being called Shiraz, the grape was also commonly called Hermitage up to the late 1980s, but since that name is also a French Protected Designation of Origin, this naming practice caused a problem in some export markets and was dropped.

Shiraz has been widely used as a blending grape in the red wines of many countries due to its fleshy fruit mid-palate, balancing the weaknesses of other varieties and resulting in a "complete" wine.

Shiraz is also used in small amounts in many other non-shiraz wines. Rose wine, Port wine, sparking red wine and fortified wine are all examples of wines that can be blended using small amounts of Shiraz grapes.

The grape also goes by a few other synonyms such as Balsamina, Candive, Hignin Noir, Marsanne Noir, Sirac, Syra, and Sereine, although these names are not widely used.