How would I most often describe a Shiraz? The big, the bold and the beautiful. With its international acclaim in Northern Rhône of France, and more recently in Australia, Shiraz is a grape increasing in popularity in South Africa and now has almost equal plantings to that of the “old-time favourite” Cabernet Sauvignon.
There is a long-term debate about the differences, or even similarities, between Shiraz and Syrah. So what are they? Nothing. They are actually the same variety. Whilst there’s no legalese or official distinction behind which of these descriptors the wine farms may use, the basis is this: Old-World style, slightly more austere, white pepper, smoky and mineral note wines with more tannin and acid on the finish would be referred to as Syrah. Whereas New-World style, warmer climate, bold, fruit-forward, black and red berry and cloves spices would be called Shiraz. However, it quite often boils down to marketing. Some estates believe consumers are more familiar with the word Shiraz and will thus call their wines such, whilst others think Syrah sounds more exotic and enticing and will label theirs such, not necessarily taking the style of the wine into account.
There are more varietal Shirazes than any other varietal wine in South Africa and numbers continue to increase. Some include a fashionable drop of Viognier or Mourvèdre and blends incorporating other varieties from Southern France and the Rhône are increasing in popularity and number. The ability of the fruit to be blended with almost any other red wine makes it a firm favourite among winemakers and wine drinkers.
Shiraz adapts well to various climatic conditions, performing well in both warmer regions as well as cooler terroirs close to the coast or at altitude, thus Shiraz vineyards are found in all the wine-producing areas of South Africa.
Wine snobs may think Shiraz will not go well with “white meat”, but it is a wonderful accompaniment to roast duck and turkey with cranberry sauce. Other suggestions would include lamb, pork chops, roast beef, big beefy stews or a braai. The spiciness of Shiraz is ideal to match the “gaminess” of venison, or a dish with rich herb, garlic or pesto sauces such as pasta dishes. Finally, pair it with anything Mexican such as nachos or enchiladas, which are packed with cheese and spice.