Shiraz, or Syrah as it is also known, is one of the most popular red wine grapes in the world. It delivers a heavyweight red wine packed with characteristics of pepper and spice.
The grape is known as Shiraz in Australia. Australian Shiraz is robust and powerful, full of black fruit and with a velvety smooth finish. Shiraz is the grape in Australia’s most iconic red wine, Penfolds Grange and it features in many of the country’s other premium red wines.
France is the other major producer of red wines made from this grape. In France it is known as Syrah and makes some of the wonderfully big reds of the northern region of the Rhone Valley. Hermitage red wines, one of the most famous and respected appellations in France, are made almost entirely from Syrah grapes.
Red wines made using the Shiraz/Syrah grape are becoming increasingly fashionable around the world and some excellent wines are coming out of California, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.
So if you love drinking Shiraz or Syrah red wines but are keen to expand your wine tasting experience, what other red wines should you try?
Firstly, look out for blends featuring Shiraz/Syrah. Shiraz blended with Viognier is popular in Australia. Including the white wine grape seems to soften the red wine somewhat. Fans of big, “in your face” Aussie Shiraz may find the blend too soft but it may be a perfect solution for those who find many Australian Shiraz wines a bit too rich and powerful. The rich Syrahs produced in the Cote-Rotie appellation of northern Rhone in France also include a small amount of Viognier.
Shiraz/Syrah is often blended with Grenache and Mourvedre. The most famous examples of this blend are to be found in the southern part of the Rhone Valley. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is perhaps the best known red wine featuring this blend but also look out for Lirac, Gigondas and Vacquerys. The blend is known as GSM in Australia and is particularly popular amongst South Australian wine producers where there are some excellent old Grenache vines.
Syrah also appears in many blended red wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. Carignan tends to be the primary grape in the blend but Syrah is a major secondary player alongside Grenache and Mourvedre. Look out for wines from Costieres de Nimes, Coteaux du Languedoc, Faugeres and Minervois.
If you enjoy Shiraz/Syrah red wines then you should look out for other full-bodied red wines made with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Zinfandel or Malbec.
Cabernet Sauvignon is frequently labelled the red wine grape “king”. It is popular with wine producers and consumers all over the world and is renowned for producing firm, full-bodied red wines of reliable good quality and capable of ageing well. Its primary characteristics are cassis and blackcurrant but as the grape can make extremely complex red wines there are usually many nuances which can be identified in the bouquet and taste.
New World wine producers will label their red wines as being a Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend containing the grape. Look out for the huge Cabernets from California, particularly the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Chile produces some good quality and excellent value Cabernet Sauvignons, particularly from the Rapel region. Some excellent Cabernets come out of Australia. The Coonawarra region in South Australia is renowned for the Cabernets produced from its “terra rossa” soils and Margaret River in Western Australia produces some slightly more subtle but still big Cabernet Sauvignons.
France is the main European producer of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, the most famous coming from the Bordeaux region where the red wines are made from a varying blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant in the blend in the Bordeaux areas such as Medoc and Graves.
Grenache is another grape which produces big red wines. They are not particularly subtle or complex but are robust and flavourful with lots of fruit characteristics. As previously mentioned the grape is popular in the south of France and in Australia where it is often blended with other grapes but the other main wine-producing country using the Grenache grape is Spain, where it is known as Garnacha. It is part of the blend which makes up the wines from Rioja but for red wines where Garnacha is the primary grape look out for wines from Priorato and Tarragona.
Malbec is another red wine variety which is likely to be enjoyed by Shiraz drinkers. The grape came originally from France’s Cahors region but is best known these days as the most successful red wine from Argentina. The grape produces full-bodied but smooth wines with hints of black cherry.
Italy’s great red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco from the Piedmont region are made from the Nebbiolo grape. It produces a rich, dense red wine high in acid and tannin with a floral bouquet and hints of blackberry and truffles. Californian’s Zinfandel wines are much fruitier than those made from the Shiraz/Syrah grape but are equally as full-bodied and alcoholic.
Shiraz grapes image by Chrisada Sookdhis, from Wikipedia.