The differences between wines labelled “Shiraz” and “Syrah” is well documented.
Far from necessarily being respectively New World and Old World; winemakers tend to choose the original (Persian?) term for the grape if they are marketing a bold, full-bodied wine with lots of black fruits and oak, and the Frenchified version of the grape’s name if they are making something more refined and soft, with a Cote du Rhone feel to it.
Or at least that’s the expectation I’ve come to. But these bottles – both called “Shiraz” – put that to the test.
They were about as different as two single-varietal red wines can be, but I suppose there’s plenty of reason for that. They’re grown and bottled many, many miles apart: one being from South Africa, and one from McLaren Vale in South Australia. The Aussie wine is a couple of years older than the other, having been bottled in 2007. A 2011 bottling almost seems too young for a red – unless perhaps it was a Pinot Noir or a Gamay. This alone indicated that the SA Shiraz would probably be less full-bodied, because a full bodied wine that young would surely not be ready for retailing yet, whatever the grape.
We had the Cape Heritage reserve first, and it was indeed pretty medium-bodied, with just 13% alcohol and a definite focus on fruit in the flavour, with not much in the way of the barrel coming through. Unfortunately, I found, there wasn’t much to complement the basic red and black fruit flavours of the wine – nothing in the way of spice or wood that usually gives the less-extreme Syrah-labelled reds a distinct advantage over clumsy OTT Shirazes. It was frankly unremarkable.
Morrissons’ “Best” Shiraz, on the other hand, was quite the classic Aussie red: big, black, bold and blooming with flavours: black cherries, plums and a hint of liquorice. The booze was a little bit prevalent at first, but it managed to ease into a secondary role by the second glass, and while not the subtlest of wines in terms of aroma or the balance of flavours, this 2007 vintage had much more going for it than the more-recently bottled South African counterpart.
I don’t know whether the Aussie Shiraz was simply more closely matched to the expectations brought about by the term “Shiraz“, or was truly a better wine, but I certainly enjoyed it a lot more.
Would the South African wine have impressed me any more had it been labelled “Syrah“? I don’t think it would, and yet with my experience of the two terms it seems most strange indeed for the vineyard to have elected to use the New World name over the Old – with this softer medium-bodied style, it’s only going to confuse (and disappoint) the already muddled supermarket wine-buyer.
Morrisons’ Best McLaren Vale Shiraz is – naturally – available from Morrissons priced between £7-10. The Cape Heritage is available from the same supermarket, in the same price bracket.