Red is for winter

The Cape weather is, at last, delivering what it should at this time of year: plenty of rain and cold. At last, too, it’s time for hearty food and red wine; ah, but what sort of red wine? Thanks to the luxury of having two, very different shirazes (one, tellingly labelled Syrah) open this past week, it’s been obvious that more matters than having the same variety on the label, even in different languages.

The first, Julien Schaal’s Mountain Vineyards Syrah 2016, was one of a small bunch of newish releases Tim James and I tried recently. I was pleased to see it return to the range, (neither 2014 nor 2015 were made due to fruit quality issues) as Schaal’s wines are always elegant with a natural freshness.

He’s now part of a group using the Gabriëlskloof cellar, where he realised the farm’s own vineyards could produce great syrah, one he describes as having: ‘Lower alcohol, great intensity and very much focused on the white pepper aromas that I like.’

That’s very much how Tim and I found it: radiant purple, crimson-rimmed with delicate, red fruits, lilies and spice, the flavours pure and persistent, tailing off with a pleasing savouriness; the only discord is in its youthful exuberance; it’s just too young. The picture of a gentle silky feel emerged over a further three of four evenings, suggesting there’s benefit in not pulling the cork for a further six months or, better still, a year.

Time will also take us to spring, summer and different dishes: hearty, winter meals (such as spiced, pork rashers with lentils and rice, beef olives in red wine I’m currently enjoying) just swamp this wine’s more elegant frame.

It’s worth the wait and, when shiraz prices generally are taken into account, very much worth a R125 retail price. But speed is also called for: only two (300 litre) barrels were made; that’s little more than 100 x 6 bottle cases if my calculations are correct. At least it’s all being sold in South Africa with quantities increasing from 2017.

Those who know me will likely be very surprised at my enthusiasm for a wine boasting 15% alcohol, but wine is much more than its alcohol content. I really enjoy Janno Briers Louw’s Eenzaamheid Shiraz 2013, what’s more it’s the perfect style to match up to my winter dishes; it has muscle, shape and structure. Sadly, it’s sold out from the farm (where it cost just R132) but some may still be available at retail.

I’m into the first few pages of Jamie Goode’s ‘I taste Red’ the science of tasting wine; so far, so very interesting and relative. I nodded in agreement at his claim: ‘Indeed, the structure of a red wine is to a large degree “felt” rather than tasted.’ An apt way of describing the Eenzaamheid; it’s a positive feeling too; nicely dry, even a sense of freshness in its firm grip and absolutely no flashy oak nor soggy over-ripeness, ending on a note of flavoursome warmth that satisfyingly creeps down through the body.

I didn’t have the chance of enjoying Bosman Nero d’Avola 2015 over the few days that I’d have liked; that pleasure was left to Tim (we share out wines we’ve tasted and enjoyed enough to re-taste – drink! – them later). We both enjoyed Corlea Fourie’s example of this Sicilian variety, the only one so far available in South Africa; on this showing, it deserves further exploration. Sicily, the large island off the toe of Italy, is hot, but it has beneficial diurnal temperatures in summer to permit the indigenous varieties – Nero d’Avola among them – to retain their natural acid, so even when full-bodied there’s still freshness. The vineyard, all 0.6ha and grown in Wellington, produces a wine with a wild scrub fragrance and a pleasing rustic grip. It’s big, but not heavy, structure balanced by that muscle again.
I like it so much more than 2014 – too much new oak – presented at the last Cape Wine in 2015. For anyone with an adventurous palate and R150, in today’s terms sound value, give it a try while the weather remains so wonderfully wet and cold.

Nero d’Avola vines & grapes, Firriato, Sicily

Winter whites? Why not. Despite an unpromising orange colour, Chamonix Chardonnay 2007 is flexing some fine muscle.

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