While Bordeaux accounts for one of the largest wine regions and the largest volume of wine export, it is also responsible for championing cabernet sauvignon and fuelling the imagination of movie writers and investors alike. It is however Shiraz, or Syrah as it is known in Europe and the rest of the world, that currently sets the trends, and Australia is in love with it! This trend is not only confined to Australia but is a worldwide phenomenon, as I have seen trials of Shiraz vines grown amongst Sangiovese in Tuscany, Italy, amongst pinot noir vineyards in cool Central Otago New Zealand, and in high altitude high latitude sites in Chile where it has proven to be yet another dimension. In France, Syrah is traditionally grown in the Northern part of the Rhone but during my last visit in Alsace – traditionally a white wine country – I unexpectedly discovered some newly planted Syrah vines on Grand Cru sites!
In Australia there is even some award-winning Shiraz grown in Tasmania but undoubtedly it is the Barossa Valley region that claims to be its spiritual home, while it can be found in almost any Australian wine region.
Did I mention that we just love it? It is certainly the ‘sexiest’ grape on the charts at the moment as we have more Shiraz vineyards than any other variety and it is the biggest and fastest selling variety in Australia and still growing.
Shiraz was one of the original varieties brought to Australia and there are still many vineyards scattered throughout the country with vines that are well over 100 years old. Like many other grapes it has gone through stylistic changes from the favoured ripe round and alcoholic styles to the redeeming of cooler sites expressing a more svelte attitude, spice, elegance and freshness of acids.
If you ask me where I rest my gaze within different stylistic approaches, I would have to bring in my sommelier hat and the fact that a wine is more often enjoyed with food and as such should not take over the basic characters and flavours of a dish. A catalyst experience in my sommelier life was participating in the Sydney Top 100 wine show a few years back, where the wines are first judged on their own merits and culled according to a points system, then in a second round presented and judged with food where they will ultimately gain their medals. Many of my first round scored wines (without food) were the obvious ‘show stoppers’ – bigger broader and showing more flavour ripeness – often the more expensive labels but when these wines were judged with food they lost their competitive advantage, leaving the more elegant and restrained examples to shine forth.
This follows the basic principle of food and wine matching, which rests on the ability to create a conversation between the food and the wine. If one element in the relationship is too brash or loud it will inadvertently shadow and dominate the other. When it comes to cooler style Shiraz/Syrah or balanced examples from warmer or moderate regions, the relationship is an easier one allowing for both parties to ‘communicate’ and support each other and finally contribute positively to the dining enjoyment.
The cooler climate areas of Victoria such as the Yarra Valley, Pyrenees, Geelong, and Nagambie Lakes produce varying styles but tend toward savoury and medium-bodied with a cool spicy edge. Mac Forbes, Jamsheed and Innocent Bystanders are some of the great examples in the Yarra Valley that will keep your palate jiving. Equally Tournon from Chapoutier, Taltarni and Seppelts Bin 0 are worth seeking out in the Pyrennees, while Paradise IV ‘The Dardel’ is in my view the shining star in the Geelong area.
Worth your consideration is the cooler climate of Canberra District that produces a restrained and aromatic style with a freshness of fruit rather than a richness of sweet fruit. Eden Road, Collector and well-established Clonakilla are always on my repertoire of wines to match with food.
Is cooler better then warmer style shiraz? Well, not necessarily. Tastes always will need to fit the individual requirements first, but when in doubt the adage less is more works well when it comes to pairing with food and cool climate Syrah fits right in.