In South Africa, we celebrate National Shiraz Day on 21 August as the international version of this celebration falls in the peak of our local summer, on 16 February. As versatile as Shiraz is, making the most of a full-bodied red wine when summer temperatures touch on 40 degrees, would be a challenge and a disservice to this popular wine. Here is why I think Shiraz is so easy to love.
February’s heatwaves excluded, Shiraz is a wine for all seasons, and I believe it is this versatility that makes it such an easy wine to enjoy. It is flexible when it comes to both food pairing and occasion and according to La Motte Cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche, the Chairman of Shiraz SA, Shiraz has a large circle of friends that extends to food, people and even blending partners!
Shiraz, or Syrah as it is known in France or often called when it is made in the style of the French, developed from two antique grape varieties in France’s Rhône wine growing area. Over many years, the French dined with Syrah at their tables and many types of cheese, saucisson and dishes were chosen and adapted to enjoy with this peppery, full-bodied red wine. As the gastronomy developed, extraordinary Syrah and food combinations were developed and Syrah found its friends in food.
Not everyone in the Rhône enjoyed the intensity and ripeness of Syrah. In the warmer, more Southern parts Syrah has a different persona – even more intense and charismatic. Local folk who enjoyed wine throughout the day, wanted a lighter style and therefore incorporated other grapes with Syrah to make it less full-bodied. Those blending components depended on the area and the vintage – Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault in the Southern Rhône, while in the cooler Northern Rhône, Viognier is often invited to the blend. Syrah found its friends in blends.
In South Africa, Shiraz is the second-biggest volume red variety and the Cape Winelands can truly be seen as a home for Shiraz. While I love pure Shiraz, small percentages of other varieties can contribute to the complexity and intrigue of the wine. We can learn a lot from the French, but in South Africa, Shiraz has found its own friends. Shiraz loves the braai – from smoky flavours to chargrill. Shiraz loves meat and we do like our meat, don’t we? It also works well with spices such as coriander, cumin and pepper that we often use and also find in boerewors. South Africans love a touch of sweetness on their plates. Yes, even with meat! Think sweet and sticky marinades for ribs, chutney on braaibroodjies or next to your bobotie, dried fruit or quince with venison pies and decadent caramelised sweet potatoes or cinnamon-sugar-dusted pumpkin fritters with Sunday roasts. Shiraz is not bothered in the slightest by our sweet tooth. In fact, it even works with desserts. Not too long ago, I attended a masterclass in Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s innovation studio where he served a dried-fruit steamed pudding with La Motte Syrah and it was delicious. I should get that recipe!
South Africa’s diversity in terroir allows us to make a variety of styles and types of wine but being adaptable with a tendency to embrace rather than exclude, I think Shiraz’s attributes resonate strongest with the people of South Africa. It gives us a good excuse to invite friends over, light a fire and pour a few glasses.
Do you consider yourself a friend of Shiraz? Socialite or guardian of solitude, you’ll find a reason to enjoy the intrigue of a good Shiraz. Keep an eye on the social media of Shiraz South Africa to stay up to date with everything that is currently happening around Shiraz – tastings and pairings, special offers and competitions. Cheers!