We know that Shiraz is a synonym for Syrah—they are exactly the same grape.
We also know that the variety “shows” differently depending on where it’s grown and how the crushed grapes are handled in the cellar.
The wine media likes to talk about the “Australian” style and how it differs from the renditions made in France, California and elsewhere. Generally speaking, Australian Shiraz is more fruit-forward and less “earthy.”
But unless you’ve been there, you can’t really fathom how big Australia is. Because of that size, the country is home to three distinct winegrowing climates that could be characterized as cool, moderate and warm.
Shiraz is grown in all three climes, and “shows” a little bit differently in each. In other words, there’s really no single, definitive style of Aussie Shiraz.
Knowing a little bit about each climate zone, and the aroma and flavor tendencies of the variety in each, will help you make a better-informed food-pairing choice.
Let’s look at the cooler climes first. If you see Coonawarra, Frankland River, Great Southern or Yarra Valley on the label, you can expect a medium-bodied wine with a good amount of acidity and background notes of white pepper and herbs.
This style of Shiraz is wonderful with almost any preparation of duck.
Australia’s moderate wine climates are found in Clare Valley, Margaret River and Eden Valley. These areas produce a medium- to full-bodied rendition of Shiraz with black pepper spice and, often, a hint of licorice.
This might be termed the “classic” style of Shiraz, and its classic pairing partner is lamb—chops or stew.
Finally, if you see Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek, Heathcote or McLaren Vale on the label, you have a warmer-climate Shiraz. These are Australia’s rich “big bruisers,” wines that in some vintages provide a mouthfeel that could be described as massive.
Braised short ribs would be a sublime pairing partner, as would almost any meat cooked on a grill.
Many Shiraz bottlings are labeled with less-specific geographic designations such as South Eastern Australia or South Australia. Generally speaking, these fall somewhere between the warm climate and moderate climate styles.
Pay attention not just to the wine type but also the wine region on the label, and you’ll have a much better opportunity to experience some very enjoyable food and wine pairings.