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Shiraz and Cabernet grape varietals make two of the most popular and cherished wines in the world. While they have many similarities, they do have their differences that make an experience with either unique.
So, when it comes to Shiraz vs. Cabernet, what are the differences?
Many people want to know their differences to determine which one is best. Which wine is best is completely subjective. All wines are unique, just like your tastebuds are unique. It simply depends on what you prefer. Some people may enjoy debating over tannins and subtle flavors that when described don’t even sound appetizing, but what it all comes down to is if you like the taste—or not.
Having said that, pinning these two fantastic wines against each other almost seems unfair. But, knowing more about the different wines that crowd the store shelves, may help you make a better choice for you.
Main Differences Between Shiraz vs Cabernet
The main differences between Shiraz vs Cabernet are:
- Shiraz is typical for the South Australian region (Barossa Valle), whereas Cabernet for the South East region (Coonawarra)
- Shiraz has a smokier, peppery and meathy taste, whereas the Cabernet has a sweeter and fruity taste of blackberry with mint and cassis
- Shiraz has a rich mild plate, whereas Cabernet has dull mild plate, but strong upfront
Shiraz vs Cabernet: A Little Bit of Background
It seems many people choose Cabernet over Shiraz because they recognize it. They are more familiar with it because it’s more available in stores, and it’s usually at the top of the wine list in restaurants.
I personally love Cabernet, but if you never branch out, you may miss out on a different kind of incredible experience another wine like Shiraz has to offer. In the end, experimenting and learning more about different wines and what makes them special will help you broaden your horizons.
Let’s get started with a little bit about each of these wines.
Shiraz – Pronounced: shee-razz
Syrah – Pronounced: sear-ah
Shiraz can get a little confusing if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Even with its gaining popularity, Shiraz can seem like a bit of a mystery even down to its name. You may see Shiraz go by a different name—Syrah. Both of these names, Shiraz and Syrah, refer to the same grape which produces the same type of red wine.
The grapes originated in France, so they were given the French name Syrah. Later, the grapes were transported to Australia where they were given the name Shiraz.
While both names are in reference to the same wine, there could be slight differences. Generally, winemakers may opt for one name to signify the style of their wine. Where Shiraz is typically described as a little bit more lush, ripe, and fruity, the traditional Syrah may be a little bit lighter on the fruit factor.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Pronounced: kab-er-nay saw-vin-yawn
The name Cabernet is actually a form of shorthand referring to Cabernet Sauvignon. People may use the names interchangeably, but they are talking about the same thing. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and is one of the most popular red wines among American red wine drinkers. Cabernet Sauvignon is even known as the king of red wines. People can’t get enough of it.
The origin of this wine remained a mystery until 1996 when its history was revealed. It seems a breeding accident dating back to the 17th century between a Cabernet Franc grape and a Sauvignon Blanc Grape led to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Shiraz Vs. Cabernet: The Differences
Shiraz grapes are believed to be the product of two ancient varietals (varietal wine). It was created when a red grape, Dureza, was crossed with a white grape, Mondeuse Blance. Interestingly, neither of these grape plants became very popular on their own, and both remain seldom seen today. But, together they were the perfect match creating one of the most popular grapes in the world.
The Shiraz grape is small and ranges from round to egg-shaped. The grapes have a deep color so rich it looks almost black against its light green leaves. While these grapes are sturdy, they are also susceptible to weather-related hazards and are vulnerable to mildew and odium.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape varietal with thick, durable skin. Its vine is also pretty resistant to the elements. It’s possible that one of the reasons this grape has become so well-traveled is because it’s known for its durability and for being relatively easy to grow. Cabernet Sauvignon is a smaller grape with deep color and dark green foliage.
As I mentioned before, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet, is a cross between a red Cabernet Franc grape plant and a white Sauvignon Blanc grape plant. But, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape has easily made a name for itself without the help of its famous parent grapes.
- Size: Shiraz grapes are small but are still slightly larger than Cabernet grapes.
- Color: Both grapes are deep in color, but Shiraz grapes have a darker color.
- Durability: While both grapes are durable, Cabernet grapes are less susceptible to weather-hazards or disease.
Shiraz grapes were first cultivated and wined in France. It’s believed they were bred in the Northern Rhone region of France. At this time, the grapes would have been known as Syrah. Later, Australia fell in love with the grape. Coastal Australia also provided the perfect, consistent climate that the grapes grow best in. Now, much of Australia considers Shiraz its signature variety. In fact, around 40% of all grapes grown in Australia are Shiraz.
It’s said that Shiraz is a grape that enjoys a view. This is because it grows best on steep rocky hillsides with gravel, limestone, granite, iron, and sandy soils. Although the name may change, you can find this grape grown throughout the world from Chile to South Africa and even Washington state.
A few of the most popular regions for Shiraz grapes are:
- Rhône Valley, France
- Barossa, Australia
- Paso Robles, Unites States
- Stellenbosch, South Africa
- Colchagua Valley, Chile
Cabernet first originated in Bordeaux. The winemakers in Bordeaux adopted it because of its durability and soon fell in love with it. Cabernet Sauvignon really took off when it was recognized by winemakers in Napa, California. Soon, it spread like wild-fire. Cabernet was the most widely planted grape until Merlot took its place in the nineties.
A Cabernet Sauvignon wine does not have to be from Bordeaux or Napa to be an excellent and tasty wine. Regions in Australia and Chile or Sonoma Valley in the US are known to produce excellent Cabernet at a more economical price. But, this grape can be found from regions all around the world including New Zealand, South Africa, and Israel.
A few of the most popular regions for Cabernet grapes are:
- Bordeaux, France
- Napa Valley, US
- Tuscany, Italy
- Aconcagua, Chile
- Coonawarra, Australia
Both of these famous grapes can be found on vines across the globe. The specific regions they grow best in are different — however, these grapes do prefer similar growing conditions. In fact, after Shiraz, Cabernet is the next most grown grape in Australia and can be found planted in the same type of “terra rossa” soils.
- Flavors: Blueberry, milk chocolate, black pepper, black plum, tobacco
- Sweetness: Dry
- Body: Full
- Tannin: Medium-high
- Acidity: Medium
Shiraz wines are known as some of the darkest full-bodied red wines in the world. Their deep violet, almost velvety black appearance is mesmerizing. Shiraz is a dry wine, not a sweet wine, that is packed with flavor.
Shiraz has what’s called a “front-loaded” style. This means that when you take your first sip, you will be greeted with a punch of flavor that starts to taper off. In some cases, Shiraz is even blended with more mild wines like Cabernet to make it taste more complete.
This type of wine has medium-high tannins, which can dry your mouth out a little bit. The acidity is average and you can expect an ABV between 13.5% to around or even upwards of 15%.
The flavor of Shiraz can vary depending on where the grapes were grown. Many people describe the general taste as savory with hints of spice and dark fruits.
- Flavors: Dark fruits, baking spices, tobacco, green pepper, vanilla
- Sweetness: Dry
- Body: Full
- Tannin: Medium-high
- Acidity: Medium
- ABV: 13.5-15%
A nice glass of Cabernet will be a deep red in color, but not as dark as Shiraz. This is a dry, full-bodied red wine. It has higher levels of tannins which may dry your mouth as you sip it—but not too much. This wine can also have high acidity. It may be more acidic or less depending on where the grapes were grown.
Shiraz has an ABV between 13% and 15%. Because of its high levels of tannins, acidity, and alcohol some people think this wine can be too overwhelming on its own. Many people prefer to have a glass of Cabernet paired with food.
Depending on what region the grapes were grown, some Cabernet wines may have a more fruity taste while others may be more savory. Many people agree that Cabernet has flavors of green pepper, tobacco, dark fruits, and vanilla. The more subtle vanilla flavor comes from the cabernet aging in oak barrels.
Overall, you don’t have to follow any specific rules when it comes to pairing wine with food. If you like it, that’s all that matters.
But, Shiraz is known to pair well peppery barbecued meats and soft cheeses. The full-bodied taste of Shiraz pairs well with bold foods, so stay away from anything on the more bland side when drinking this wine.
Grilled meats, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, or foods with exotic spices work well with Shiraz. The most popular pair is probably with barbecue. So, pick out an excellent Australian Shiraz and throw some meat on the “barbie.”
Cabernet wines pair well with red meats and cheeses. You may want to try ordering a glass of Cabernet to pair with ribs, lamb chops, pizza, or mushroom stroganoff. It’s also great alongside a gourmet burger.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a popular choice in steakhouses across the globe. It’s an excellent wine to pair with a nice steak because the higher levels of tannins are broken down by protein. The acidity in the wine also cuts through the fattiness of meat or cheese.
With both Shiraz and Cabernet you can’t go wrong when pairing them with red meats and bold cheeses. A Cabernet may work best with steak, while Shiraz is great paired with a dry-rub brisket or peppery barbecued pork. But, what it really comes down to is your preference.
How to Serve
Knowing how a bottle of wine is best served can enhance your experience, or will impress your friends at your next dinner party. Both of these wines can be served the same way, so there isn’t much difference here.
Typically, both wines are best served at room temperature. Or, to achieve the right temperature you may only need to refrigerate the wine for about 25 minutes before serving. The best temperature to serve both of these wines is between 60-66°F or 16-18°C.
It’s time to toss the plastic cups to the side if you want to experience these wines at their best. Bold wines like Shiraz and Cabernet, are best served in an oversized wine glass. This allows the wine to “breath.” It will draw oxygen into the wine enhancing its aromas and allowing it to balance.
Shiraz vs Cabernet: Which Should You Choose?
You really can’t go wrong with either of these fantastic wines. But, knowing what makes them each unique, will help you make a better decision when choosing between the two.
In many cases, one of these wines will fit different occasions better than others. Consider your meal and the qualities of wine you or your guests prefer before you make your choice. Branch out even if you prefer one wine over the other, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Try them both in different situations with different foods, one of them might surprise you.
- Don’t get distracted by the pretty design on the front. Read the label on the back and look for information about the characteristics of the wine and where it’s from.
- Ask for advice from friends or the person in the wine shop to help point you in the right direction.
- Don’t choose a bottle based on price. Expensive doesn’t always mean better.
Try Cabernet or Shiraz from different regions or from a different winery. Just because you may not like the one glass of Shiraz you tried, doesn’t mean you don’t like Shiraz.
A great way to find a wine that you love is to try new things and keep track of what qualities you like and dislike. There are many different convenient apps you can test out that will allow you to do this. Many of them will also give you some information about the wine you are thinking about choosing and what other people think about it.
A few of these apps that I recommend are:
Once you’re ready to buy a bottle of Cabernet or Shiraz, you can head to a winery, check out your local wine shop, or even take a look online. Buying wine online and having it delivered is an easy way to get what you’re looking for. You may also be able to find wines online that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Research, compare prices and make your final choice all from the comfort of your own home.
Keep in mind that not all states allow out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers. You will also either need to be home to sign for your wine or be sure that someone at least 21 years old is there to sign for it. Because wine does not do well in the heat, you may also notice that you won’t be able to purchase some wines online during summer months. This is to avoid the risk of turning the wine into vinegar if it’s left outside or sitting in a hot truck.
Still, here are a few online wine shops I recommend:
People enjoy different wines just like they enjoy different foods. Now that you have a better feel for the differences between Shiraz and Cabernet, use what you’ve learned and the tips I’ve shared to pick out a bottle you’ll love!
Here are a few great wines under $20 that I recommend. If you’re still uneasy about choosing a bottle, give one of these a try!
- Winery: Yalumba
- Region: Barossa Valley, Barossa, Australia
- Year: 2014
- Average Price: $16 (check Wine.com here)
- Website: https://www.yalumba.com
- Red plum, cherries, and spice
Hardys Tintara Shiraz 2014
- Winery: Hardys
- Region: McLaren Vale, Australia
- Year: 2014
- Average Price: $18
- Website: http://www.hardyswines.com/us/
- Dark berry fruits, chocolate, and licorice
- Winery: Barossa Valley Estate
- Region: Barossa Valley, Barossa, Australia
- Year: 2015
- Average Price: $12 (check Wine.com here)
- Website: https://www.barossavalleyestate.com?
- Red plum, blackberry, and exotic spice
Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
- Winery: Tommasi Family Estate
- Region: Tuscany, Italy
- Year: 2016
- Average Price: $14
- Website: https://www.poggioaltufo.it/en/?
- Dark fruits, spices, and licorice
- Winery: SIMI
- Region: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California
- Year: 2015
- Average Price: $19 (check Wine.com here)
- Website: https://www.simiwinery.com?
- Plum, dark cherry, and spice
McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
- Winery: McManis Family Vineyards
- Region: California
- Year: 2017
- Average Price: $11
- Website: https://www.mcmanisfamilyvineyards.com?
- Black currant, black cherry, and mocha
Frequently Asked Questions
Since Shiraz has a stronger flavor, it is best to be combined with meat, barbeque, stew, brisket, and spicy food. You should avoid drinking it with cheese, because it’s definitely not the greatest combination, or go with soft cheese if you really want to make this combination.
While white wine can be kept in the fridge after opening it for 5 days, red wine should simply not be stored in it because cooling it and leaving it to room temperature before or during consuming it can alter their chemistry and damage the flavor, which is why many wine professionals advice to keep it in a cool place once opened.
Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect to combine it with all types of meat that is cooked medium-rare to well), fish (we recommend tuna), cheddar or gouda cheese, mushrooms, prosciutto ham and even pizza with tomato sauce.