What Makes A Perfect Glass of Shiraz?
One of the loveliest red wines on the market is the delightfully deep-tasting Syrah which has a very long history in the French region of Avignon but is grown in many other wine-producing regions of the world including Australia, where it is known as Shiraz.
The dark skinned Syrah grape produces wines that are powerful in nature, and in 2004 Syrah was the seventh most grown variety of grape in the world. Shiraz wines are very popular, and their popularity is actually increasing year by year as more people make the switch from beer to wine. The Shiraz/Syrah grape should not be confused with the Petite Sirah grape, a more recent variety that is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin and came into existence in the 1880’s.
DNA testing conducted in the late 1990s proved that Syrah grapes originated in the Rhône area of France and is the offspring of two very obscure grapes that are not grown in any significant amounts and have almost disappeared. While some have hypothesized that Shiraz grapes come from Shiraz in Iran or Syracuse, the scientific evidence firmly demonstrates a French origin.
Shiraz/Syrah is also known by a large number of synonyms, including Antourenein Noir, Balsamina, Candive, Entournerein, Hignin Noir, Marsanne Noir, Sirac, Sira, Schiras, Syrac, Sereine and Serine. All the names represent the exact same grape.
Syrah wines became famous after the era of Crusades, when powerful, excellent quality wines were being produced at Hermitage, a hill with a chapel behind the village of Tain L’Hermitage in Rhône. These Hermitage wines were well reputed and sought-after for centuries, but interest died down in the first half the 1900s. By this time, Hermitage Syrah wine was either adulterated with other wines, or was used to improve wines from other regions. Fortunately for wine lovers, Shiraz made a comeback and is now an incredibly popular wine produced in many areas, especially Australia.
However, now that the history lesson is over, what makes for a great glass of Shiraz? Well, due to the high amounts of tannins and the complex flavours, the first requisite for making an everyday Shiraz an outstanding one is that the wine should be aged, with critics claiming that the perfect amount of time for a Shiraz to be kept aside is several years, with exceptional wines being aged for 15.
To appreciate the complexities and full flavours of a good Syrah, the wine must also be at the correct temperature; too cold and it will taste flat, too warm and it will taste soupy. The recommended temperature for Shiraz is actually higher than that for all other wines: Syrah should be served when it is at 180 C or 650 F. “Room temperature” is far too vague, and because most North Americans keep their homes at a toasty 210 or 220 C, the wine needs to be chilled to cool down a few degrees.
The second most important factor when searching for the perfect Shiraz is to decide which style is preferred: bottles labelled Syrah contain wines that usually tend be made in the classic Rhône style, meaning an elegant, restrained fruit taste component, and have strong tannin and smoke-flavoured components. Shiraz wines, which are mostly produced in Australia and Canada, are made from grapes that are riper. This gives the wine a very fruity, peppery character with less tannins and less smoky tendencies. Australian wines can give the impression that they are sweet due to the fruit-forward taste and are can be consumed when very young. The wine critic therefore, oh the quest to find the perfect glass of Syrah, must decide which characteristics he or she wishes to experience. However, no matter where the Syrah wine comes from, all experts agree that a perfect Shiraz must have some degree of pepperiness; if this is absent, one can safely say the Shiraz is of very mediocre quality.
The third most important factor when hunting down the perfect glass of Shiraz is, surprisingly, the glass itself. “Big Red” wines like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are wines that have tremendous depth and are strong; they need proper stemware and a champagne flute or an old coffee mug can totally ruin the experience. Shiraz needs to be poured into a larger wine glass with a somewhat extended bowl so that the wine can come into some contact with oxygen and “breathe” in order to release its full potential. Special Shiraz wine glasses are available at most department stores, and the money should be spent in order to have the opportunity to experience the “nose” or “bouquet” of the wine. Using white wine glasses, which are quite small in comparison, will not allow you to do this and the experience will only be half as good.
Shiraz wine is popular with wine drinkers everywhere for good reason; it’s a powerhouse of a wine and pairs beautifully with meat dishes, steaks, and barbequed food. Some beautiful examples of Syrah and Shiraz that a fine wine enthusiast should try come from Australia’s Barossa Valley, France’s Hermitage region, Argentina’s wine growing areas, and strangely enough, the Parras region in Mexico.
The perfect Syrah can be found with ease; in fact, by paying attention to details such as serving temperature, preferred style of wine, age of the wine and the glass that it’s served in, a wine aficionado can be assured that almost any Shiraz wine can easily become absolutely perfect.