Shiraz v Syrah

[What's in a name ? An Opportunity ?]

Shiraz is Australia's number one wine grape variety with a crush of more than 430,000 tonnes, followed by Chardonnay at 406,000 tonnes, then Cabernet Sauvignon at 255,000 tonnes (2016 figures) . Why is this so ? Risking giving a penetrating insight into the obvious the answer is that Shiraz wine tastes good and the people have voted- we here and overseas revere it.

A Hunter Valley Shiraz is typically deep crimson in colour with black pepper, mint and blackberry fruit notes creating a complex multi layers of flavour and length. The tannins are supple, gentle and nicely integrated.

It was generally accepted that James Busby first brought Shiraz to Australia circa 1833 where the variety was subsequently planted in the Hunter Valley. It appears now, thanks to research by Dr. John Norrie, (, that it was actually John Macarthur who first introduced Shiraz to Australia in 1817. He planted it at Penrith and Camden, New South Wales, in vineyards close to the Nepean River. The plantings were not successful however from these two vineyards he supplied cuttings to other vineyards throughout Australia where they did much, much better.

In the early years, we Australians called the variety 'Hermitage' or 'Claret' or even 'Burgundy' but by the mid - 19th century we had adopted the name 'Shiraz' and it has been with us since. Interestingly we didn't go for 'Syrah' which is generally the European name for this variety. Shiraz and Syrah are in fact names for the same variety, depending on where you are. What is different is the style of the finished wine that we Australians produce and the wine from a 'Syrah' region such as the Rhône Valley in France. The export opportunity, that is being capitalised on is to distinguish our first class uniquely Australian style Syrah (i.e. Shiraz) from other Syrah grown mostly in cooler climates. Our Shiraz takes on these unique and drinkable characteristics thanks to our climate where the fruit is allowed to fully ripen as opposed to cooler climate Syrah wine where the fruit cannot.

It was once thought that Syrah variety originated from Persia, hence the name. Not so, genetics have disproven that theory with the origins of the variety being the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-eastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

One last point, the quality of our Shiraz fruit for this years’ vintage merits special mention. It is not often that you get to take the fruit off at the precisely the right moment, down to the “minute”. This has seemed to happen this year. Our testing just prior to picking suggested that the fruit was just about there, we left it on for a few more days. Testing post picking on our Shiraz fruit, coupled with our visual assessment and own tasting confirms that the quality of the Shiraz fruit this season is very good indeed.