Shiraz with pizzazz

This article first appeared in Style Magazine, September 2008

Tyson Stelzer

There are all kinds of strange red wines appearing these days from grapes with hard to pronounce names. But it can be smart to stick with something familiar, and right now Shiraz is the most reliable performer, reports Tyson Stelzer.

There’s a good reason why the most familiar wine varieties came to be that way, and it’s the same reason that everything else is simply grouped together as “alternative.” The most famous varieties tend to make the best wine.

Australia produces more Shiraz than any other variety. Last week I tasted more than 3000 wines that made the short list for Taste Food & Wine 2009. Of these, more than 600 were Shiraz, and a higher proportion of these made the cut for the book than anything else. Incidentally, out of more than 200 “alternative reds,” only one was good enough!

Shiraz is the most versatile red grape. It grows well in all manner of places, and takes on different flavours according to the climate in which it’s grown. From cool places like New Zealand and high altitude Victoria it’s very peppery. From the Yarra Valley it’s spicy and from the Hunter Valley, leathery. From the Barossa it’s big and rich, from McLaren Vale it’s plush and opulent and from the Clare it’s structured and intense.

Shiraz also enjoys company, and marries with a wide range of other varieties. Grenache gives it spice and juicy red fruit flavours. Cabernet lends structure, to create the great Australian Shiraz Cabernet blend. Shiraz even works with a white grape. Small amounts of Viognier makes Shiraz more perfumed and, amazingly, give it a darker colour. This is the style of the Northern Rhone Valley in France, and Australian makers are also doing it well.

The versatility of Shiraz makes it a very flexible partner at the dining table. For spicy foods, look for a luscious Shiraz Grenache from a warm climate. For roast beef, try a peppery, cool climate style. A big steak is the perfect excuse to call in a big wine, and this is where the Barossa and McLaren Vale come into their own.

Next time you’re on the hunt for something different, give the strange alternative varieties the swerve and grab a Shiraz from a different place.

Tyson’s Picks

Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2006, $12
This glossy black-fruited thing is fresh, lively and perfumed. Perpetually on special, it’s on of the best value reds on the shelves. (Widely available)

Teusner The Riebke Ebenezer Road Shiraz 2007, $21
Young gun Barossa winemaker Kym Teusner doesn’t use any oak in this wine, making it pure, unadulterated Barossa Shiraz juice. It’s brilliant value! (Widely available)

De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Shiraz Viognier 2006, $25
This is a deliriously exciting, spicy Yarra Valley red with an ethereal, lifted fragrance. (1st Choice, Dan Murphy’s, McGuires, Era)

Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz 2006, $125
This is one of the greatest vintages for the Hunter Valley’s finest Shiraz, blessing it with layers of finely-tuned savoury spice. (www.brokenwood.com.au)

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