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By: John V
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are two very popular red wines that people are especially fond of using as dinner pairings. Inevitably in such circumstances, people want to know which is the "better" wine. Obviously people have different palettes so there is no clearly superior wine, even when considering pairing with a specific meal. These variables tend to matter almost more than anything else when evaluating the two wines. And even if everybody had the same preferences, the variation among Shiraz and Cabernets depending on budget, region, grower, vintner, and even year are such that a basic ranking of the two is not very meaningful. However, it is helpful to identify one or two of the main and most popular bottles of each and at least compare them in terms of taste, bouquet, common regions and terrior, and body.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown and produced in most parts of the world, but most famously in the Bordeaux region of France and in California wine country. Though there is even great variety within Bordeaux Cabs and Napa Valley Cabs, they are representative enough of this varietal wine to explain its basic elements. In a general sense Cabernets tend to be medium or full bodied. The Bordeaux Cabs are also known for being "high-powered," with a strong, pleasant presence on the palette and a high alcohol content. Its high tannin content gives this wine its distinctive gripping flavor. However, as the best Cabs need to age for quite a while, usually in Oak, they are also likely to have a softened tannin level after aging. The French often blend Cab Sauv with Merlot or Shiraz to support some of the flavors and acidity that can be lost during this aging process. But most California Cabernets are almost 100% varietal.

Though both varieties have a bouquet influenced by Oak barrel aging, the process produces different results due to the differences in soil in the two regions and different types of Oak used. Both tend to have a somewhat fruity aroma, with black fruit flavors coming through in the Napa cabs and the fruity fleshiness of other wines such as Merlot included in the blend often defining the nose of the Bordeaux bottles. Many varieties of Cabernet also have subtle notes of bell pepper. Thought it is important to pay attention to the specific characteristics of the different types of Cabernet, as a general rule this dinner red pairs well with strong-flavored dishes that can keep up with its high tannin content, such as simply-prepared red meat

Shiraz is known as Syrah in most of Europe, and is most well-known as a varietal. Its most popular modern varieties come from Australia, where the name Shiraz was popularized. It is also grown in California, and of course in its country of origin, France. Shiraz is usually very terrior-expressive, so it varies greatly even within the same region depending on variables like if it is grown on a hillside or flat area, which impacts soil content. It is dry, though not usually as much as with a Cab. It also has gripping tannins that gives it a full body comparable to Cabernet.

Because it varies so much based on how the grape is grown and the wine is aged, its aroma and bouquet can vary greatly. Pepper and blackberry, chocolate, and lighter fruits are all common undertones in young bottles. As it ages, these primary notes recede giving way to a more complex layering including a bouquet of earthy and savory notes and even toffee in some cases. Shiraz can pair well with red meat, though the most popular Australian bottles have a very full body that lends it especially well to heavier dishes, as opposed to those with delicate flavoring or fishy oils.

The comparison between these two popular dinner reds suggests that there are fine, if important differences, especially in their flavor. But without a specific example of each wine to compare, there is too much left to the specific grower and vintner to effectively generalize. The best approach to answer this question is to taste a few of each and decide for yourself!


Shiraz and Cabernet Are Two Reds That Go Great with Dinner. Each Wine Has Its Own Strengths, Advocates, and Ideal Pairings. Choose Your Favorite at
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