Three single-vineyard syrahs from Haskell

Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch is, as far as I’m aware, the only Cape producer to make three single-vineyard syrahs from their property – testimony to the seriousness with which MD Grant Dodd and winemaker Rianie Strydom take both the grape and the variousness of the growing conditions on the estate.

Grant Dodd a year ago in Haskell’s Hades vineyard, with an unlabelled bottled of the maiden wine made from its grapes.

The latest of the trio, Hades 2014, was recently released, to join the comparatively well-established Pillars (first vintage 2007) and Aeon. I visited the vineyard almost exactly a year ago and tasted the as-yet unlabelled wine, and wrote as follows (this slightly abbreviated):

“The Hades vineyard, something under a hectare, was planted in 2007, but many vine failures led to replanting, and the vines took a while to establish themselves, so the first useful crop was harvested only in 2014. It’s a hot, tough and hellishly rugged vineyard this – hence the name – standing almost isolated against the slope, at the edge of the farm’s plantings. A huge pile of boulders had to be removed and the soil is stony, stony, stony.

“The wine itself is far from tough, however: it begins with a delicate perfume and lingers to a properly dry conclusion – still something of a rarity in warm-country wines, but this wine has a modest alcohol and a sugar level well below 2 grams per litre. It’s a well-polished wine, as one would expect from Rianie, but certainly not over-worked, and with a very pleasing restraint, the tannins gentle but informing. It has a decent future I’d say, despite the youthfulness of the vines, with room for the full flavours to develop interestingly.”

And, having sampled Hades 2014 again today, during an excellent release lunch at La Mouette restaurant in Seapoint, Cape Town, I’m not sure that I have a lot to add to that description. I was aware, though, that it was quite rich, which is the Haskell style for reds, as well as still noticeably youthful, even a bit raw: certainly it would be a great waste of potential to drink this wine for another five years or so, at least.

I’m interested that back then I made special mention of the “properly dry” finish of Hades, because I noted it again today, and it was somewhat contrasted with the other two syrahs we tasted alongside it – which were, beneficially, a little older: both 2013s, and both with 30% new oak, whereas as Hades was all older barrels.

So I was reminded of something I’m convinced about, and have no doubt said before and will no doubt say again: that if a wine is ripe and alcoholic like these (Hades: 14.26%, Pillars: 14.86%, Aeon: 14.14%), then it needs to have residual sugar of emphatically under 2 grams per litre if it is not to have the touch of sweetness on the finish that I don’t much care for. (Pillars: 2.9 g/l; Aeon 2.3 g/l; no RS given for Hades in the release notes, but I had it earlier as being under 2 g/l.) Any sweetness of finish is exacerbated by new oak, as well as the alcohol.

Unsurprisingly, today I most enjoyed the Hades, despite its extreme youth. I have respect for the two established wines: they both have fruit intensity, a good glossy polish, fine structures and long finishes; the oak is admirably handled, and the acid balance is good – though I wouldn’t invoke the concept of genuine freshness. I’m aware that many others will enjoy them more than I (this is largely a stylistic choice, not necessarily a matter of absolute, point-scoring quality – whatever that is!). Between the two of the older wines, I preferred the slightly more sternly structured, dark-fruit-fragrant Aeon.

Importantly, though, there are indeed structural and flavour differences between the three wines (though I would guess that with slightly earlier picking these differences would be amplified); and this is, after all, the point of making and bottling them separately. At R320 each, ex farm, they’re not cheap, but I would say not expensive for the quality on offer.

I must also mention the other two wines I tasted today at that fine lunch. The maiden Pillars, 2007, was a brilliant success at the 2009 Five Nations Trophy competition, and it is still drinking extremely well, with nice meaty tertiary development, fragrance and integrated soft tannins – and a little sweet on the extremely long, intense finish. As for the Anvil Chardonnay 2015, it’s a fine wine in a great year for chardonnay, sensitively made and striking a neat and successful balance between ripe generosity and elegant restraint; still very young, it has a long and interesting and delicious future ahead of it. As usual, my favourite wine from this estimable Stellenbosch producer.

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