There were South Africans in town last week for their annual tasting. You may well be forgiven for thinking: what the hell has that got to do with the Languedoc, and I would admit that the connection is not immediately obvious. However, Cinsaut was one of the parents of Pinotage, South Africa’s most original grape variety, only there it was called Hermitage.
Confronted with 44 stands and at least twice as many different producers, I decided that I needed a theme for my tasting, and that I would look for southern French grape varieties. When I was writing Lateral Wine Tasting, now twenty years ago, I was hard pushed to find a single example of Cape Syrah – not so today. There are numerous examples of Syrah to be had, not to mention blends with Grenache and Mourvèdre, some Cinsaut, as well as white varieties, such as Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.
But first I went to the seminar, with four wine producers who were looking back on the developments in the Cape over the last ten years, with some wines to illustrate the progress. First Jo Wehring from Wines of South Africa gave us some background figures, mentioning that the production of Shiraz has tripled in the last ten years. The first producer was Kathy Jordan from Jordan Wine Estate, talking about the selection of cooler sites for Chardonnay. These were good, but I’m a Chablis girl, so they lacked the minerality I look for in Chardonnay – sorry Kathy. And Peter Finlayson, who is one of the pioneer Pinot Noir producers of the Cape was showing two of his Pinot Noir, followed by an intriguing 2001 Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal, a blend of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Barbera and a touch of the Midi, with some Mourvèdre. Sangiovese cherry fruit dominated the flavour, with some tannic edges.
More relevant to the Languedoc was Adi Badenhorst. He made his reputation as the winemaker at Rustenberg and now runs his own family estate, focusing on southern French varieties, and he stated quite categorically that the future of South Africa is with the Mediterranean grape varieties, such as Shiraz, and Cinsaut, which is making a strong come-back. It is one of the forgotten grape varieties of the Cape. The younger generation is discovering old plantings of grape varieties such as old Grenache. He showed a couple of Bordeaux blends and then his 2006 AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red, a blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and just 3 % Cinsaut, which has some lovely perfumed fruit, with a smoky nose; it was very ripe and perfumed, concentrated and almost port-like, and redolent of warmth.
And the seminar finished with Kevin Arnold, who showed wines from Waterford Estate, including a 2003 Shiraz, which was smoky and intense, with some ripe chocolatey oak and a leathery finish. At that time Shiraz was still relatively new; and now Grenache and Mourvèdre are becoming part of the flavour profile too. A common theme was how much viticulture is improving; they now have a much better understanding of the potential of their vineyards, and just what the soil will give them. The position of the Cape between two oceans provides a cooling influence, not to mention the relative proximity of the South Pole.
Some highlights from the tasting, in no particular order: The capital letter indicate price bands, as follows:
C - £5-£7
D - £7-£10
E - £10-£20
F – Over £20
E - 2010 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Roussanne – Quite fragrant, white blossom on the nose; rounded fruit with good acidity on the palate. Nicely textured and satisfying.
E – 2007 Rust en Vrede Shiraz – Medium colour; rich peppery nose, and on palate, rounded with a leathery finish.
C - 2009 Living Rock Cinsaut Ruby Cabernet - 60/40 Medium colour; rounded spicy cherry fruit, soft, ripe and easy drinking.
E – 2008 Big Easy. A wonderful blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier – the bordelais bit only accounts for 20 % of the blend. Made by Ernie Els. Rounded perfumed nose. Fresh rounded fruit, ripe and spicy with a plumy finish. Quite voluptuous and appealing.
C – Zalze Shiraz / Mourvèdre / Viognier. This won a Decanter trophy. Rounded peppery fruit. Medium weight, useful and fresh, with a hint of orange on the finish.
E – 2006 Quoin Rock Simonsig Syrah, with 7 % Mourvèdre. Quite fresh leathery fruit, on both nose and palate. Medium weight and well integrated oak.
E – 2006 The ‘Foundry Syrah, with 3 % Viognier. Lovely leathery fruit on nose and palate. Rounded supple textured leathery fruit. Very appealing.
D - 2010 The Foundry Grenache Blanc – Rounded white flowers on the nose. Lovely textured palate with lots of layers. Aged in 300 litre old wood for six month on the lees.
E – 2008 The Liberator Episode #2 The Unsung Hero. Shiraz with 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Grenache. Some elegant leathery fruit; medium weight with a long dry finish.
F – 2008 The Sadie Family Collumella – 80% Shiraz and 20% Mourvèdre. Deep colour. Fresh young oak on the nose. Rounded ripe; fresh and young with very good fruit. Very complete. Lots of potential.
D – 2009 Goats in Villages Viognier Quite rounded with quite a fat peachy palate and a dry finish. A touch of oak.
F – 2007 AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red – Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Grenache. Quite a firm nose, and quite a tannic palate, with some warmth and depth.