Red alert: local shiraz offerings suit every palate and budget

Lifestyle

Red alert: local shiraz offerings suit every palate and budget

After a slow start, SA practitioners of the cultivar have perfected their art over many vintages

Michael Fridjhon

A recent unsighted line-up of current-release shirazes turned out to be a bit of an apples-and-pears exercise. While there’s general agreement that there are two distinct shiraz styles, not all the samples were that easily boxed into these categories. Certainly some were more typical of the Northern Rhone – spicy, quite peppery and perhaps a little austere. Others matched the Southeast Australian style – big, oaky and quite sumptuous.

There was one that did not seem to me to be vaguely close to either of these broad stereotypes. It was much paler in colour, and perfumed in a way more reminiscent of cinsaut – an impression heightened by its accessible juiciness. There’s no reason a producer needs to panel-beat his fruit to make the wine fit a mould, except perhaps to avoid the disappointment of the average punter when what emerges from the bottle is unrecognisably different.

Shiraz (or syrah – there’s no difference) lingered in the shadows of most wine-producing countries except Australia. In France it was slipped into Bordeaux blends, either legitimately (before the regulations of Appellation d’origine contrôlée) because it was part of the vineyard plantings, or illicitly, when Rhone or Algerian red was added to weedy light Bordeaux rouge to give it some colour and grip. In SA it accounted for less than 1% of the national vineyard until a few decades ago. In the US, eccentrics such as Randall Grahm championed its cause – with very mixed results. Even in France, 60 years ago, its share of more than 1.4 million hectares of total area under vines came to a mere 1,600ha...

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