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LIQUID INVESTMENTS: Shiraz producers have pulled up their socks
LIQUID INVESTMENTS: Shiraz producers have pulled up their socks

LIQUID INVESTMENTS: Shiraz producers have pulled up their socks

LIQUOR NEWS - Jul 27th 2016, 14:45

A FEW years ago, it took a degree of courage to contemplate a line-up of South African shiraz's. The variety was largely misunderstood, planted by growers who believed, even as the world was going into great oversupply, it was the "next big thing", and vinified by winemakers whose inspiration was the overripe so-called southeastern Australian style. 

By 2010 South African plantings had increased tenfold compared with 15 years before, but our competence in producing decent wine had not kept up with the pace of getting stokkies into the ground. The results too often were thick, porty reds that lacked freshness and were prone to bacterial spoilage.

Much has changed in the past few years. Increasingly, those whose wines raised themselves from the morass of mediocrity that was the industry average have become adept at managing vineyards and producing appealingly refined reds.

It is perfectly possible now to find on a restaurant wine list several examples that are accessible without being simple, and affordable without being cheap.

They range from former coops such as Klawer cellars, whose 2014 is juicy without being voluptuous, and peppery without being thin, to estates such as Vrede en Lust, whose 2012 is showing evolution — vinous, flamboyant, persistent.

Looking through a few months of tasting notes I have discerned a marked improvement across a range of shiraz scores, some reflecting an ongoing upward tick for established producers such as the Bon Courage (Inkara 2013); others new heights for players who have been at the top of their game for some time. The Reyneke Reserve 2013 is simply masterful, a combination of primary fruit notes, more cherry than raspberry, but also presenting complex savoury and spice nuances.

This improvement in the average quality of Cape shiraz is also translating into much better Rhone-style blends. Zonnebloem’s Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2014, of which shiraz represents about 87% of the final wine, has just the right balance of red fruit and ground white pepper to make it something of a future classic. Leeuwenkuil, an increasingly impressive Swartland producer, has a pretty acceptable 2013 standard release, but a delicious shiraz-based blend (the Lion’s Lair Reserve) from 2011, which is worth tracking down. If you are feeling extravagant and are willing to splash out for a wine that delivers consistently at the top end of the market, you might like to buy the La Motte Hanneli R2,011, the latest release of a wine that has enjoyed an ultra premium price point since the maiden 2005.

On the other side of the pricing spectrum, there is also good shiraz to be found, with the Rooiberg 2014 providing a striking example.

The Rooiberg winery near Robertson was one of the first Cape cellars I did any work with just after I had entered the wine trade. The GM and star winemaker, "Dassie" Smit, was producing some of the country’s cleanest, most fragrant dry white wines from chenin, colombard, and even ugni blanc. I was charged with creating house wines for Benny Goldberg’s Liquor Supermarket, and there was enough good wine at Rooiberg to make this the easiest part of my various duties.

The problem was about elimination: tank after tank of fresh, accessible, and zesty white wines we could retail in the late 1970s for R1.29 per bottle.

Nowadays you need to have R50 in your pocket to enjoy the same buying power, which may make the Rooiberg Shiraz a little pricey at about R80. However, the 2015 Chardonnay is a full R10 cheaper and it is equally impressive.

Rooiberg is clearly back to producing fabulous value wines, though with varieties that did not exist in meaningful quantities when I first dealt with Smit. Back then, no chardonnay was being produced in SA, and there were probably no more than 10 brands of shiraz. Times have changed.From DFM Publishers (Pty) Ltd 

Read more about: wine | south africa | news | liquor

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