All About Shiraz

In the modern day, Shiraz is a gem of a varietal that is gaining popularity. Due to it’s resilience, it is now grown in all corners of the world. Including tropical countries like Thailand.

The South African Shiraz is rich in plum and blackberry notes and has a luscious filling body with a generous amount of tannins. Shiraz or Syrah, is a highly string grape kind that thrives in warmer climates. Every area in the magnificent South African Western Cape has Shiraz wine production units with hotter and drier regions now welcoming the variety.

Shiraz is paired ideally with robust and rich dishes, as the wine has similar strong qualities itself. Ideal pairing dishes for the robust South African Shiraz include BBQ ribs, steaks, and roasts.

Early History of Shiraz Variety

There are many beliefs and myths surrounding the origins of the Shiraz/Syrah variety. Once, it was widely believed that Shiraz originally came from ancient Persian (now Iran), from the town of Shiraz. Some other researchers, though, believe that it was imported from the M. East to Marseilles circa 560 BC. According to some tales, the Romans that passed through Egypt took it from there to Syracuse, on the Sicily island while another tale says that it landed to France through the Crusaders from Cyprus, on their way back from the Middle East in the 13th Century.

However, all these were proven to just be myths as in the 90s, it had been found that Shiraz originally came from France. Thanks to DNA analysis, grapve variety identification and categorization researchers Jean-Michel Boursiquot and Carole Meredith, University Professors in France and U.S respectively, have shared the final findings on the origins of Shiraz in 2001. According to their study, Shiraz was the child of two distinct French grapevines - Dureza from Ardeche and Mondeuse Blanche from Savoie.

History of Shiraz in South Africa

Although there is evidence that suggests exactly when and where the first Shiraz wine was produced in South Africa, there is no clear evidence regarding when its cultivation method occurred.

There are many theories for the above - one is that the grape cuttings came from Europe to Cape around the 17th century by Simon Van Der Stel. In the 19th century, James Busby a grape grower and the man who brought Shirraz to Australia; transferred cuttings to Cape Town. The first instance of grape cultivation in South Africa was around the end of the 19th century, in the Groot Constantia vineyards.

Shiraz was also referenced later in 1935, when 15 wine varieties were presented in the Cape Town Agri Wine Competition. Of which 12 were sweet/dessert wines.

Later in 1957, Bernard Podlashuk, a wine producer credited as the “Father of Shiraz in South .Africa” was the first man to bottle it as a separate cultivar with the Bellingham brand. Followed by Groot Constantia later in 1963, and the Klawler Co-Op in 1965. Until 1978, 20 wine producers were registered and by the early 90s, the cultivation of Shiraz had skyrocketed, following the global trends. From 1992 till 2009, vineyards had grown from approx. 900 hectares to around 10K hectares.

Currently, Shiraz is the second largest cultivated red wine in South Africa, behind Cabernet Sauvignon and the fourth general variety (all wine colors) after Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc (white), and Colombard. It was also the most cultivated grape variety during 2000-2010.

Compared to other countries, South Africa has the 4th largest cultivations of Shiraz.

Cool Facts

  • Shiraz & Syrah refer to the same grape variety. However, “Shiraz” is a more common name in Australia.

  • It is said to be of “good view” as it is planted on Hills.

Shiraz Taste Profile

Shiraz has a fruity and slightly spicy notes and contains a good amount of tannins - tannins are components that help structure the body of the wine and they are found in black tea as well. A big plus is that, due to the high concentration of tannins, Shiraz is also high in antioxidants.

Shiraz is peppery, rich in forest fruit notes and quite juicy.

It is a full-body variety, meaning that it’s extra rich when tasted. Once you get a taste, you will reap the rich aromas and flavours of forest fruits e.g. berries as well as the smokiness of tobacco and liquorice. Subtle hints of cocoa and other herbs are also not uncommon.

Ideal Food Pairing

Due to its rich body and highly acidic level, Shiraz wine goes nicely with rich red meats such as beef, lamb, pork and duck. It is a great addition to rich sources (as long as the sauce is savory and not very sweet). If you like red wine better than white, shiraz may also go well with fatty fish like trout or salmon.

Wine Cultivation In South Africa

There are three main areas cultivating Shiraz in South Africa: Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Robertson.

Typically, wine plantation regions around the globe are found between 30-50° latitude in both right-left hemispheres (temperate regions). In S.Africa specifically, the renowned vineyards of Stellenbosch lie on a latitude of 33°56 South, while several wine cultivation regions lie even closer to the average. South Africa’s renowned high-quality of wines is largely attributed to the impact of the Atlantic Ocean (Western Side) and the Indian Ocean (Eastern Side). The historic wine cultivation regions in the coastal belt rarely exceed 50km inland and they are thus exposed to cooler winds.

The way cultivators adapt to excess temperatures is a primary element that affects general wine quality. Since the abandonment of the quota regime in 1992, the quest has been carried by cooler regions. Some quite impressive new wine plantation regions are brought forward as they enjoy a boosted maritime impact or a better altitude.

Found on the coastal area, both Stellenbosch and Paarl make Shiraz that can be compared to Rhone varieties and to darker Australian types. While they keep their strong body, the cocoa and coffee notes are replaced by spicy and more savoury scents, with a note of fine perfume if mixed with Viognier.

Robertson is more inland and significantly hotter, which yields a deeper shaded and more robust wine type that keeps its Rhone roots.