You Had Me at Shiraz
by Louise Wilson MW
Among world-class wines such as Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Hunter Valley Semillon, Eden Valley Riesling and Rutherglen Muscat, what is it about Australia’s flagship variety, Shiraz, that has us raising our glass?
For many, it is Shiraz’s generosity, with deep purple hues, seductive aromas and flavours of blue, red and black fruit. Depending on where the vine is grown, its profile can also include savory bacon notes or the spicy bite of black pepper. In southern France, where the cultivar is known as Syrah, wines tend to lean toward savory while the Australian expression is decisively more fruit driven.
Across the many wine growing regions of Australia, Shiraz entices us with its range of styles. In the Barossa Valley, Shiraz-based wines are rich and powerful, sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Grenache and Mataro, utilizing their complementary characteristics. In the cooler climate of neighbouring Eden Valley, highlights of pepper and herb shine through Shiraz’s elegant black fruit. In the Hunter Valley, Shiraz is relatively savoury with red berry aromas and flavours, while notes of mocha and blueberry are the hallmarks of the wines of McLaren Vale.
This malleable grape can be vinified into an easy-drinking, value-priced wine with approachable tannins and welcoming fruit, making it an ideal crowd pleaser. Alternatively, Shiraz is capable of being crafted into an age-worthy, complex and well-structured wine, which only reveals its true potential after years of cellaring. One tool at the winemaker’s disposal is the grape’s affinity for oak. Extended time in new American or French oak barriques elevates the fruit with notes of coconut, vanilla and spice.
Shiraz charms us further with its food matching abilities. Lighter examples are enjoyable with or without food. Juicy, fruit-driven wines are the perfect partner for Tuesday night’s pepperoni pizza or the weekend BBQ. In more robust styles, the warmth of Shiraz’s flavours, its touch of spice and full body are a wonderful complement for braised meats or a hearty stew, while more tannic wines can enhance the finest cuts of beef.
On a personal note, Shiraz plays a special role in my own ongoing journey of wine discovery. My first experience detecting an aroma other than simply “wine” was thanks to a distinctive note of ripe blackberry wafting from my glass of Australian Shiraz. This “ah ha” moment still resonates with me. Many years and many wines later, it’s still true; you had me at Shiraz.
Louise Wilson MW lives in the Niagara region and is one of ten Masters of Wine based in Canada. She has worked in a number of different fields including export, retail, hospitality and education. One of the highlights of her journey to becoming a Master of Wine was the honour of receiving the Yalumba Scholarship and having the opportunity to visit Australia’s oldest family-owned winery.