Six wines tasted blind: one variety, one vintage, two countries. That was what Francois Haasbroek confronted us with at the latest of our group’s regular monthly tastings of foreign wines.
The variety was easy enough to identify – syrah. The vintage pretty clear too – 2010. And one of the countries involved was also straightforward, as at least a few of the wines were certainly “Old World” in style, and in fact more specifically redolent of the Northern Rhone.
The evening’s general favourite came from this camp: Yves Cuilleron’s St Joseph; and another much-liked one, too: Vins de Vienne Sotarnum (from the slightly obscure IGP Collines Rhodaniennes). Gilles Barge Cote-Rotie was a little more controversial, with its lightness and rather piercing acidity.
The other country involved was guessed at by most of us as being Australia – and we didn’t (certainly I didn’t) mean it as a compliment. Squishy ultra-ripeness and simple fruitiness on one of the wines, an unharmonious and presumably adjusted acidity, a sweet finish, seemed to point unmistakeably in that direction. But only, it turned out, because we weren’t expecting any South African wines (normally excluded from our tastings), and that’s what the other three turned out to be.
The wine that was universally excoriated by us turned out to be Simonsig’s rather celebrated Merindol Syrah. Oh dear. Merindol is not a wine I’ve ever much cared for personally, but I have respected it as pretty good of its overt, modern, ripe and heavily oaked style. I hadn’t had the 2010 before, and it didn’t fit in with my experience, so I’m now not sure if I’ve just been over-generous in the past, or if this was a rather anomalously vulgar vintage.
Merindol, like the other two (fairly pricey) Cape wines in the line-up, has been seriously liked by some, however. All three had been nominated for five stars in Platter and had survived the big blind tasting that has been the final hurdle to Platter glory (and in my opinion, as likely to produce, er, strange results as any big blind tasting is). Incidentally, there were four Platter judges present at this tasting; whether any had supported the Merindol at the five-star tasting was not discussed…. (I’m innocent in this case, as I wasn’t present!)
Another surprise for me was a wine I liked more, but found also very ripe, and not up to (what turned out to be) the French examples. This was Fable 2010, which Platter, unlike me, described as “elegant and delicate”. I’m the victim of a bit of irony (or worse) here, as in my last blog I glowingly referred to the Fable Syrah of the subsequent vintage as an instance of how satisfactory big wines could be so long as they are properly dry. The 2011 when I tasted it just the other certainly seemed to me both elegant and delicate. This 2010 much less so. It’s a while since I’d had the 2010, and I must say I remember being impressed by it before. It did, however, come off vineyards in a less happy condition than did the 2011, which had the benefit of renewed investment following the takeover (and renaming) of Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards by the American Charles Banks in 2010.
The South African that proved most success on this occasion, though it was also probably the most controversial wine, was La Motte’s Pierneef Shiraz-Viognier. I did find some aromas very problematic (at least at first) and marked it down for that – too harshly, I think. But all my notes on the palate were very positive: “enticing fruit … lighter in feel, with lovely integrated acidity complementing the element of warmth; good length, dry finish.” And, in fact, this was the one of the three South Africans that I think does deserve its five Platter stars.