South African Shiraz: Exploring its Unique Charm

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Shiraz red wine is a firm favourite amongst South African wine lovers, but where did this variety originate from, and how did it make its way to our beloved country? In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating history of Shiraz, how it made its way to South Africa, its exciting flavour profile, and some interesting facts about growing this exceptional grape. We will also discuss whether Syrah and Shiraz are the same and compare Shiraz’s flavour profile with another popular red wine, Merlot.

Shiraz - HER Wine Shiraz

Earliest Record of The Variety

For many years, the birthplace of the grape has been the subject of numerous theories. The widely held belief was that this particular type of grape originated from ancient Persia, especially the city of Shiraz. Some historians, however, proposed that it was transported from the Middle East to Marseilles around 560 BC. The idea that Roman legions carried it all the way from Egypt to Syracuse in Sicily was another theory that floated around. Another prevalent belief was that the Crusaders introduced it to France upon their return from the Middle East in the 13th century.

Contrary to these fascinating theories, it was definitively established in the late 90s that the red grape variety actually originates from France. This revelation was due to DNA testing conducted by L’Ecole Nationale Superiore Agronomique of Montpellier’s, Jean-Michel Boursiquot, and Carole Meredith from the University of California, Davis, both of whom are experts in grapevine identification. Their groundbreaking declaration was made in 2001 at a convention of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. They confirmed that the Shiraz is not of Persian descent but is instead the offspring of two less famous French grape varieties: Mondeuse Blanche (Savoie) and Dureza (Ardéche).

The Story of Shiraz in South Africa

The exact timeline and process of how the first of the wine varietal reached South Africa remain uncertain, although there are a couple of hypotheses. One possibility is that Governor Simon van der Stel imported some from Europe to the Cape towards the end of the 1600s. One other theory suggests that James Busby, a Scotsman acknowledged for introducing Shiraz to Australia, might have left some cuttings in Cape Town around 1840 while on his way from Europe. What is known for certain, due to documented evidence, is that the first planting of the grape variety on South African soil took place in the late 1890s at the Groot Constantia farm.

The story of Shiraz in South African wine history has its roots deeply embedded in the past century. Records from the Shiraz SA website reveal that in 1935, 15 Shiraz wines (with a surprising count of 12 sweet wines) were submitted for the Cape Agricultural Wine Competition. The credit for bottling the first single cultivar of the varietal goes to Bernard Podlashuk, often referred to as ‘The Father of Shiraz in South Africa’. This pioneering act was done under the Bellingham label in 1957. Following this, Groot Constantia bottled their first bottle in 1963, and in 1965, Klawer Co-op bottled their first Shiraz.

Shiraz Grapes

In the late 1970s, the number of recorded Shiraz wines was still modest, standing at just 20. However, the early 1990s witnessed a significant shift as the global popularity of the wine began to influence South Africa. Vineyards began to expand rapidly from approximately 900 hectares in 1992 to a staggering 10,000 hectares by 2009.

Today, Shiraz holds a prominent position in South African viticulture. It is the second most planted red variety in the country, following Cabernet Sauvignon. Out of all the varieties, it is the fourth most planted after Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombar and was the most planted variety from 2000 to 2010. On a global scale, South Africa boasts the fourth largest plantings of the variety worldwide.

Shiraz on The Vineyard

Vines and Grapes

If you take a stroll out into the vineyards and walk amongst the Shiraz vines, you will notice they exhibit a limp, creeping growth pattern. These vines display remarkable vigour and adapt well to a variety of climatic conditions. On inspection, the leaves sport a dull green hue, are substantial in size, and have a longitudinal shape, five defined lobes and a downy (fluffy) underside.

You’ll also notice the bunches of grapes are medium large in size, elongated in shape, occasionally featuring a winged structure and generally loosely packed. The individual berries are medium small, oval in shape and cloaked in a thin yet relatively sturdy blue-black skin that is heavily dusted with bloom when ripe. Shiraz grapes ripen between mid-February and late March and produce juicy flesh that carries a unique and pleasant flavour.

Shiraz - Shiraz Vineyards

The Perfect Conditions for Shiraz: Location, Aspect and Soil

The primary goal when growing Shiraz is to cultivate a vineyard that exhibits uniformity, moderate strength, and growth. To produce high-quality wines, the conditions should be cool to promote gradual ripening along with adequate sunlight exposure. The vines require comparatively cool slopes with ample soil moisture and middle to upper rocky slopes oriented east to north. In cooler climates, rows should be planted in a north/south direction, while in warmer climates, rows should be aligned in an east/west direction.

Shiraz in The Cellar

In the process of producing and maturing Shiraz, winemakers employ an array of methods involving the use of oak. Historically, European oak, particularly from France, has been the preferred choice among winemakers, but American oak has been progressively more prevalent. Alternatively, Hungarian oak offers a high-quality yet cost-effective option in comparison to the other two.

Several factors significantly impact how the wood influences the wine. These include the kind of wood used, the manufacturing techniques employed, and the size and age of the barrel. Additionally, the duration for which the wine is aged and the unique characteristics of a specific vintage also contribute to the final outcome.

Oak Barrels

Exploring Shiraz in The Glass

Flavour Profile

Shiraz is a robust wine, abundant in tannins and acidity. It’s renowned for its rich, fruit-centric tastes, commonly highlighting undertones of blackberry, plum, pepper, and an array of spices. Owing to South Africa’s warm weather, the Shiraz produced here may display more pronounced fruity traits compared to those from other regions.

The flavour profiles of Shiraz wines are shaped by a range of factors, including the meso, macro, and microclimates, soil type, plant material, viticultural practices, production objectives, and winemaking techniques. Terroirs that are cooler and at higher altitudes produce flavours that are distinctly different from those found in warmer regions.

Drinking Red Wine

Popular Styles

South Africa boasts a greater number of Shiraz varietals than any other type of varietal wine. These include chic additions of Viognier or Mourvedre and blends that incorporate various varieties from Southern France and the Rhône are escalating in both popularity and abundance. The styles of these wines are typically influenced by popular consumer preferences and are achieved through winemaking methods rather than being derived from their place of origin.

Perfect Food and Wine Pairing

It is perfectly paired with hearty slow-cooked foods such as casseroles, potjies and stews. The smokiness of the wine is delicious with braaied, grilled food as well as sauces and relishes rich in fruit, complementing the fruitiness of the wine brilliantly. Shiraz also pairs well with game meats and dishes featuring kudu, ostrich, venison, springbok, duck and rabbit.

Shiraz - Food and Wine Pairing

Syrah vs Shiraz: Are They The Same?

Syrah and Shiraz refer to the same grape variety used in the production of red wine, but the name the winemaker chooses to use often indicates the style of wine. Originating from the Rhône Valley in France, Syrah wine is typically medium to full-bodied and is characterised by dark berry and pepper flavours, presenting a sophisticated and intricate profile.

Shiraz, as it is called in South Africa and Australia, usually results in more robust, fruit-forward wines with flavours of jammy blackberry and spicy notes, a product of the warmer climates in these regions. As you can see, although they are the same grape, the name provides a clue to the wine’s style and flavour profile, which are shaped by its geographical origin and climate.

Merlot vs Shiraz: What’s The Difference?

If you are trying to decide between a bottle of Merlot and Shiraz, we recommend choosing Merlot if you are looking for a wine with a soft, velvety texture and carry flavours of plum, black cherry, and herbs. But if you prefer a full-bodied wine with a flavour profile featuring dark fruits, blackberry, hints of pepper, spice and smoked meats, then you’ll love Shiraz. Due to the heightened levels of tannin and acidity, Shiraz wines typically have a more robust and bold flavour profile in comparison to Merlot.

HER Wine Collection

The HER Wine Collection is a pioneer in the South African wine industry, being the first enterprise fully owned and run by black women. From grape to glass, every step of the production, promotion, marketing and distribution is overseen by black women. We understand the value of sharing ideas, motivating each other, and expanding our network across the multifaceted communities within South Africa.

The Her Wine Collection Shiraz is a medium-bodied wine that has flavours of rich dark berry fruit, which is exquisitely balanced by hints of spice and vanilla to create a complex wine that lingers long on the palate. Enjoy it on its own, or pair it with a hearty beef casserole or a juicy steak.

HER Wine Bursary

Our inspiring all-female team at HER Wine Collection understand the challenges that need to be navigated and overcome to achieve professional success. These experiences have imbued us with a deep understanding of the difficulties young individuals encounter while trying to carve out their place in the world, motivating us to give them a hand up. As a result, we’ve pledged to contribute 2% of our profits to a bursary fund to assist young, driven, and talented individuals in achieving their dreams.

Those eligible for this scholarship come from families currently working on the vineyards that supply grapes for the HER Wine Collection. The selected recipients will receive financial support for their education and mentorship aimed at helping them navigate the intricacies of pursuing tertiary education and establishing a career.

HER Wines Shiraz

If you would like to try one of the best Shiraz wines in South Africa, why not purchase a bottle or a case of HER Wines Shiraz? You can purchase our wines on our online wine shop, and a bottle of Shiraz sells for only R90.00 per bottle. If you would like to purchase a case of 12 bottles, you will also receive complimentary shipping. Stay in the loop with all the exciting things happening at the HER Wines by following us on Instagram and Facebook. For further details about our incredible wines, feel free to drop us an email at info@herwinecollection.co.za or give us a call on 021 873 3170.