Two of the most popular red wine varieties are produced in Australia – Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. In fact, as of 2022, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were in the top three total winegrape crush at 25% and 14%. Since they’re both so popular, it’s no surprise there’s some rivalry between the two varieties.
If you’re wondering how Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz compare, we’ve broken them down by history, style, taste and food pairing to help you decide which is the reigning red champion.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz – let’s go.
Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz – origins and history
The origins of Cabernet Sauvignon were shrouded in myth and mystery for centuries, with the belief that it was an ancient variety used by the Romans. However, Cabernet Sauvignon’s true origins were revealed through DNA typing in 1996 – it’s the French offspring of a Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc cross estimated to have happened sometime during the 17th century.
Cabernet Sauvignon has a long history in Australia, first arriving in the 1830s with James Busby, just like Shiraz. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon is Australia’s second most-planted red variety and can be found growing across South Australia.
Discover RedHead’s full range of small-batch Cabernet Sauvignon red wine blends.
Believed to have originated from the northern Rhône region of France, Shiraz (or ‘Syrah’ as it’s known in Europe, North and South America) arrived in Australia in the early 1830s with Scotsman James Busby, “the Father of Australian viticulture.” Up until the late 1980s, Shiraz was also known as “Hermitage”, named after the region in France famous for its Shiraz wines, however, the name was quickly dropped.
Now, Shiraz is Australia’s favourite red wine, being the country’s most planted red wine grape variety and making Australia the second largest Shiraz-growing country after France.
All sustainably produced, try a Shiraz-based red wine blend from RedHead’s collection.
Taste, style, characteristics
How a Cabernet Sauvignon tastes depends on several factors, including where the grapes were grown and the winemaker’s preferences. However, similar flavours link all styles of this wine – blackcurrant, cassis, cedar, green pepper and baking spices. The baking spice flavours in a Cabernet Sauvignon don’t come from the grapes themselves – these occur during the barrel ageing process, typically using oak barrels.
Full-bodied and rich, with plenty of firm tannins and a silky acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon is typically made in the drier style of red wine. However, that doesn’t mean those fruit-forward flavours are less delicious and sweet. It’s also one of the more robust, more alcoholic red wines available – between 13.5%-15% ABV.
Those dark fruit flavours and full body make Cabernet Sauvignon a deeper red than other reds like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. In the glass, Cabernet Sauvignon takes on a deep ruby colour with inky hues that look as rich as it tastes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is also loved for its ability to age well. It can hang out in the bottle for ten-plus years before being uncorked and enjoyed.
Just like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz is also a fruit-forward wine with flavours that are more jammy than earthy – think black plum and blueberries instead of blackcurrant and cassis. But Shiraz also has its own earthy flavours in the form of tobacco, chocolate, eucalyptus and peppercorn. This combination creates a juicy, heady wine with a warming, lingering spice.
Shiraz could almost be described as a “meaty” wine with plenty of grippy tannins, a full body, and a high alcohol percentage (also between 13.5%-15% ABV). Its dense, aromatic flavours and dry style make it a wine designed to be savoured and sipped with an equally rich meal.
As Shiraz grapes are so dark, small and thick-skinned, they pack a punch in colour, producing wines with deep purple hues that look almost black in the glass. This, along with the medium acidity and black fruit flavours, creates a luxurious and silky wine.
Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz can hang around for ten-plus years after bottling, the ripe fruit and spiced flavours intensifying over time.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are similar in terms of tannins, acidity, body and alcohol percentage, so when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz, the decision is down to personal preference.
Although they both offer wine lovers a fruit-forward drinking experience, their fruitiness varies. Cabernet Sauvignon offers darker, earthy fruit flavours, while Shiraz is all about jammy, spiced red fruit.
Food pairings are another factor to consider in the Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz debate.
When it comes to food, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon both have another thing in common: food-friendliness.
Cabernet Sauvignon can elevate most dining experiences with its high tannins and medium body. Whether you’re in the mood for tomato pizza, seared tuna, something hearty like a beef stew, or a meaty mushroom dish, or want to finish your meal with something dark, rich and chocolatey, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine for the job.
Shiraz, especially Australian Shiraz, makes a great friend to grilled red meat dishes like steak, lamb, hamburgers and venison – think lamb gyros, marinated skirt steak and beef burgers topped with melting Gruyere. The high tannins in Shiraz help cut through fattier dishes, while the sweet dark berry and herbal flavours complement beef and lamb.
Savoury vegetables like mushroom, aubergine and dark, leafy greens offer a deliciously dark pairing with Shiraz, but grilled corn on the cob complements the sweeter vanilla flavours this variety is loved for.
Cabernet Sauvignons vs Shiraz – which is better?
Asking us “Cabernet Sauvignon vs Shiraz?” would be like asking us to name our favourite winery team member – we just can’t do it!
Although these two reds have similarities, there are plenty of differences, and they are delicious enough to offer wine lovers and wine newbies different drinking experiences. Which is why it couldn’t hurt to give both a really good try, right…?
We have a wide range of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, all produced in Barossa Valley and made with grapes grown in local vineyards by growers who love sustainable practices and premium wine as much as we do.
Explore our selection of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines and find out the answer for yourself: Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz?