Australia may have once hitched a ride on the sheep's back, now it sits astride shiraz. It is the merino of grape varieties, and is the variety for which Australian wine is most globally famous.

Surprisingly for such a fantastically versatile variety it is not planted as widely as you might think. The Rhone Valley in France is its home, Australia its second home, while origins of the grape are suspected to be in Persia and the namesake city of Shiraz. It is strange that only Australia and South Africa use the word shiraz, everywhere else shiraz is known as syrah.

Shiraz is more adaptable to a warmer climate than cabernet and that explains its spread across this wide brown land. The vine has a lighter coloured and less lacy leaf than cabernet sauvignon and ripens a little earlier. One of the fantastic things about shiraz is the way that it changes character according to where it is grown. In cooler climates shiraz is lighter bodied and much more spicy showing white and black pepper aromatics, while in warmer climates the wine becomes denser with aromas of plums and blackberries. It can be matured in either American oak (the classic Australian style) or French oak, which is the more modern style.

Shiraz' best friend is beef, in all its cuts. Shiraz' spicy depth of flavour is perfect for the steak, roasts and beef hot pots.