Every now and then I organise a tasting for fellow wine representatives in the Johannesburg trade. We are always crossing paths but never have the opportunity to do what we like most…..talk and drink wine! All in good measure of course.
There is only one rule, each person needs to bring a bottle, but being the sort of bunch we are, one quickly becomes two and the whole exercise becomes a lot more fun. The theme this time round is Syrah/Shiraz. All the wines are tasted blind and then a discussion follows when we chat through each wine, concluding by selecting our top 3 individually, then comparing to see which wines overall showed better on that evening. A fun exercise and a great opportunity for us to catch up.
So, staying with the winter theme it seems fitting to chat about Syrah or Shiraz as it’s known in the new world, in its many guises.
This dark skinned grape has its origins firmly planted in the Northern Rhone. Its fame most definitely coming from the wines of Hermitage situated in and around the small town of Tain l’Hermitage. The wines of this town are the most profound, powerful, balanced examples found and takes long ageing to tame these beasts. Another famous appellation for Syrah is Côte-Rôtie and like Hermitage, its origin is Roman. Côte-Rôtie or directly translated, ‘the Roasted slope’, refers to the steep granite (schist further North) south-east facing slope of more than 60% gradient in places. With this sort of geography, vineyard work is hard graft and labour intensive. This small appellation defined by nature and thus hands-on approach to grape growing, pushes the price up considerably. Wines produced mostly from ‘Serine’ (an old Syrah clone) deliver a punch; dark in colour, full bodied, structured and with time, will develop wonderful perfumed aromas of roses, liquorish, smoky bacon, pepper and a wee dose of graphite for good measure.
Syrah screams colour, flavour and tannin structure. When grown in cooler climates like the Northern Rhone the flavour profiles lean toward notes of black pepper, olive and savoury spice in addition to the trademark dark fruits, smoky bacon and leather usually present. In warmer, new world climates, a sweeter, riper style emerges with cherry and raspberry being dominant. There are of course exceptions. The tannin structures vary too, with wines from Hermitage and Côte Rôtie possessing tighter, leaner tannins resulting in ‘grippy’ wines guaranteed to stain your palate…..right up my street at least! In warmer regions, the tannins are riper and supple, making the wines approachable in their youth and alcohols too edge higher.
We are a nation that love to braai, so these wines work exceptionally well with grilled meats as the smoky flavours mirror the smoky, meaty notes present in the wine. The tannins present in this varietal can match the charry, barbecue nuances from the flame grill. Bold dark fruit aromas and herby, tobacco notes marry with the likes of venison stews…..dishes with generous black pepper and pungent herbs benefit from this union.
Back to the tasting……In total twelve wines were sampled by ten of us, an exciting line-up from most of SA’s wine regions encompassing a diverse range of flavour profiles, plus a couple from the Rhone Valley in France, which Great Domaines contributed. Below are the wines tasted by ten of us, in no particular order:
2009 Syrah ‘Three Pines’, Stark Condé, Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch @ R 200
2009 Syrah, Strandveld Vineyards, Elim @ R 150
2010 Shiraz, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch @ R 85
2007 Shiraz ‘Reserve’, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch @ R 180
2010 Syrah, Lammershoek, Swartland @ R 105
2011 Shiraz, Oak Valley, Elgin @ R 130
2011 Shiraz, Babylonstoren, Simonsberg, Paarl @ R 120
2009 Shiraz, Thelema, Helshoogte pass, Stellenbosch @ R 130
2011 Côtes du Rhone, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France @ R 170
2010 Côte Rôtie, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France @ R 490
1994 Shiraz, Rust en Vrede, Stellenbosch
2010 Syrah, Almenkerk, Elgin @ R 190
And our top 3 were:
2010 Côte Rôtie, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France
SECOND PLACE (joint)
2011 Shiraz, Babylonstoren, Simonsberg, Paarl
2011 Côtes du Rhone, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France
THIRD PLACE (joint)
2007 Shiraz ‘Reserve’, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch
2009 Syrah, Strandveld Vineyards, Elim