Known throughout most of the world as Syrah, this grape and the wine produced from it is called Shiraz in Australia, where it’s long been the mainstay of Brand Australia wine. And for good reason: while I have no experience of French Syrah, which is one of the primary grapes in Hermitage, and am told it’s very different, Australian Shiraz (and New Zealand Syrah, because the grape is taking off here too) is a definite favourite.
Shiraz is an ancient city in Iran, which was once part of Persia, and while alcohol is officially outlawed in that observantly-Muslim nation rumours persist through the grapevine (ahem!) that villagers in the Shiraz area preserve their ancient wine-making and wine-drinking culture on the quiet. And it certainly is ancient: wine may have been produced and consumed in the area as early as 5,000 B.C.E., not too long, relatively speaking, after the dawn of human settlement and farming. France, by comparison, boasts a wine-making history which is only confirmed as far back as around 500 B.C.E. One charming, though sadly untrue, legend holds that the Shiraz grape was introduced to the Hermitage region by a knight returning from the Crusades – in fact, the grape appears to have evolved in France from earlier varietals.
Shiraz is a red wine with a deep, often purple, colour. It is smooth and full bodied with medium-high tannins and acidity, and has a typical ABV of anywhere from 14% to 15%. It typically has flavours of blackberry and boysenberry, with smoky and oaky notes and, sometimes, a definite hint of chocolate. This once caused amusing (to the adults at least) confusion to the teenaged son of a friend, to whom we were describing the concept of aroma, or bouquet: having been invited to sniff his mother’s glass of shiraz he identified the chocolate notes, which were quite pronounced in that bottle, and, with his mother’s permission, took a sip – only to be extremely disappointed that the wine did not, in fact, taste very much like chocolate!
Shiraz can be aged for 5-10 years, depending on the quality, and should be served warm (relatively speaking), at around 15C. It pairs well with rich, meaty dishes (making it perfect for the current winter weather here) and, of course, dark chocolate.
Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.