Australians take their drinks — alcoholic and not — seriously. Just cruise the sunny streets of Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood and you’ll observe firsthand the unique coffee culture that surrounds the art of a perfectly aerated flat white. This better-than-latte is as much about the bean and the milk as it is about taking the time to enjoy the moment. The same is true of Australia’s greatest liquid compulsion: wine.
In fact, not far from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne are some of Australia’s finest wine producers. Australia is home to a highly skilled winegrowing community, producing top-notch Rieslings, Pinot Noirs and everything in between. But its most longstanding star is the mighty Shiraz (a.k.a., in other parts of the world, Syrah), which has been growing in Australia for over 200 years; it’s the most popular red in the country.
Shiraz was one of the first grape varieties brought to Australia by James Busby. Busby was one of the forefathers of the wine industry in the early 1800s, bringing numerous vine cuttings from France and Spain back to his home Down Under. Now the most widely planted wine grape in the country, Shiraz is one of the top two wines produced by volume in Australia, with some of the best hailing from regions in South Australia, including the prestigious Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
The reason Shiraz thrives in South Australia is thanks to its dry, warm summers and chilly, wet winters — the same reasons the Syrah grape flourishes around the Mediterranean. In McLaren Vale, for example, the cooling effect from the Great Australian Bight, an enormous open bay to the west, creates all sorts of microclimates, which means no two producers’ Shirazes will be the same.
One of the greatest distinctions when it comes to Australian Shiraz is the incredible affordability of top-quality wines. Whereas a bottle of Syrah from France’s Rhône may be out of reach for some, there are great options in the Aussie Shiraz market at every price point. From the $23 2017 Torbreck Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz (“probably the best Shiraz you’ll have had in a while”) to the $63 Shirvington McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013, with its bold mouthfeel and brambly fruit, there’s a Shiraz for every moment.
Amidst the senior stand-out producers such as Henschke and Penfolds, you’ll also find up-and-coming wineries pushing boundaries. You can even find sparkling Shiraz if you know where to look (we recommend starting with The Chook Sparkling Shiraz).
Depending on where it’s grown, Aussie Shiraz ranges from medium- to full-bodied with varying flavor profiles and structure depending on the region, climate, and winemaking techniques. But broad stroke, this peppery, fruit-forward, and often spicy red is a bold wine with soft tannins that pairs well with everything from a rich rack of lamb to any number of classic chocolate desserts.
Shiraz also pairs with, well, industry awards. It continues to be Australia’s poster child in international competitions, with three “Best in Show” awards in 2019 alone. Barossa Shiraz has been the most awarded Australian wine for the past five years, and in April 2019, a 2015 Barossa Shiraz was judged “Best Wine in the World” at the London Wine Competition. (Australia overall was awarded 31 percent of the total medals at that event.)
Much like the flat white, the truth is the best way to experience the standalone-ness of Australian Shiraz is firsthand. Picking up a bottle to enjoy at home is never a bad idea, but the beauty of Australia’s vineyards, the friendliness and knowledge of Australian producers, and the breadth of wines from region to region is like none other in the world and is best experienced in person, under the warm Australian sun, among friends.
Because once you know, you know.
This article is sponsored by Wine Australia.