The fruity red wine known as shiraz put Australia on the world wine-making map. Shiraz is the Australian name for syrah, a red grape varietal that's grown most often in Australia, Washington State, California and the Rhone Valley of France. Australia provides particularly good conditions for growing shiraz, or syrah, grapes -- so it has become the most planted grape on the continent. Australian shiraz wines tend to be lush and fruit-forward.
It's unclear why Australians call the grapes "shiraz," rather than syrah. The moniker may stem from a myth that syrah grapes are actually derived from clippings transported to France from Shiraz, capital of the Fars province in ancient Persia. Although this story has been discounted -- genetic tests revealed that syrah grapes are truly native to France -- it may have influenced the Aussies' name choice. Shiraz was first planted in Australia in the mid-19th century.
Shiraz wine typically features notes of blackberry, plum, pepper and clove. As with most wines, each vintner produces a shiraz with different characteristics. Shiraz wines range from bright and fruity to intense and lightly tannic or deep to rich and bold with heavy tannins and rich fruit flavor. Moderately priced bottles can be rich, but their fruitiness makes them quite drinkable so they work well for everyday. Lighter shiraz types pair well with light cheeses or other appetizers, while the richer varieties go well with red meat, including game.
Some of the most expensive shiraz wines are worthy of collecting, and they benefit from aging for many years. These collectors' wines are on par, according to wine enthusiasts, with the great wines of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie in France. These richer wines present with mineral, tar, herb and leather notes, along with the characteristic berry, plum and pepper of lighter shiraz wines. Some wine-makers in regions other than Australia call their syrah-based wines "shiraz" to indicate the wine is in the style of Australian versions.
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Not all Australian shiraz presents as typical red drinking wine. So prevalent are the grapes, Australian shiraz may also be made into a rich sparkling wine and a fortified Port.