What are Shiraz Blends?
The spearhead of this Australia attack on the international wine market has been the Barossa Valley and the big, punchy Shiraz wine it produces. The same South Australian soils also product Cabernet Sauvignon. Together they produce one of the great Australian contributions to the international world of wine in Shiraz Cabernet wine.
When James Busby brought these cuttings to Australia, he liberated the grape from the strict region controls placed on wines and winemakers in France. Australian winemakers combined the great French grapes of Rhône Valley (Shiraz) and Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon) to great international acclaim.
Common Shiraz Blends
Siraz & Cabernet Sauvignon
Shiraz wine offers a mid palate punch of big fruit. This makes it a great match for Cabernet Sauvignon with its characteristic big nose and palate at the front with plenty of length but weakness in the middle. The combination of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t let up and this relentlessness combined with the natural enormity of the fruit and body from South Australian grapes earns the reputation for blockbuster styles.
GSM stands for ‘Grenache Shiraz Mataro’ or ‘Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre’. GSM is a blended red wine that is very much en vogue. Following the style of blended wines from the Rhône region of France, in particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape, winemakers in Australia have achieved success with this blend. The Mataro grape varietal has been humdrum in Australia, languishing in the shadow of Barossa Valley blockbusters.
Viognier is the hot topic in Australian Shiraz. While more and more winemakers are adding the Viognier varietal to the label of their Shiraz blends, the practice is not universally popular. Viognier, a white grape, can add polish to straight Shiraz. The blended Shiraz gains sheen and Viognier imparts floral and apricot notes to the bouquet.
The controversy is around the amount of work that Viognier does in these Shiraz blends, especially when it comes to the big bruisers from the Barossa Valley and surrounding regions. Some critics state that the impact and percentage of Viognier is so low as to not warrant a mention on the label. However, winemakers have always sought to give the punters what they want and the market is asking for Viognier.
Pairing food with Shiraz Blends
Straight Shiraz is great with charred meats and blending doesn’t change this all that much. A Shiraz Cabernet will pair well with barbecued steak, lamb or chargrilled sausages. A Shiraz Viognier is less demanding and goes very well with a Neapolitan pizza.
Big wines require cheeses that stand up to them. An unstoppable Shiraz Cabernet needs an immovable parmigiano reggiano or pecorino. For a GSM blend, goat’s cheese is an absolute winner.
Notable Shiraz Blend regions
South Australia is responsible for some of the most spectacular Shiraz blends produced in Australia. The Barossa Valley is the region that is most well known but the list continues with Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek to name but a few. Indeed, the combination of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Barossa Valley Shiraz was the blend behind the legendary 1962 Penfolds Bin 60A, a wine sometimes described as the best Australian wine ever produced.
The Rhône Valley is a region in Southern France that produces famous wines such as Côtes-du-Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte-Rôtie. Shiraz, or Syrah as it is known in France, is a key varietal in the wines from these controlled regions. Shiraz Viognier is the blend used in Côte-Rôtie while GSM blends are inspired by wines from the southern Rhône.
The future of Shiraz Blends
There is a growing market in Australia, and internationally, for more pared back red wines. While the search is on for elegance and polish in Pinot Noir, the demand hasn’t diminished for blockbuster reds. Penfolds Grange continues to be the standard-bearer for Australian wine.