Syrah du where?

Johan Malan was clearly chuffed at the gold medal his Simonsig Merindol Syrah 2007 had won at the Syrah du Monde competition – and surprised when he noticed that I didn’t seem impressed. In fact, I was pretty impressed by his wine, which was the youngest in a vertical tasting of Merindol that Johan had offered me, with wines going back to 2001 (the maiden vintage was 1997).

But I’m certainly not impressed by the competition, and find it difficult to understand why South African wine producers seem interested in it. The rest of the world doesn’t seem very convinced. The first time the competition was held was four years back, when there were 325 entries (as Grape noted at the time, this was something less than double the number tasted at Wine mag’s Shiraz Challenge). The competition has grown not very dramatically since then – this year there were just 387 wines entered, not arguing much international interest. Although 27 countries were represented!

France produced 12 gold medallists, four more than South Africa; Australia got five. Bulgaria got one, but Thailand and Turkey had to settle for a silver apiece. Most of the French winners came from areas like Vin de Pays d’Oc, rather than the great Northern Rhône heartland of shiraz, and one searches in vain for a well-known name. Although – presumably to try for a bit of spurious credibility – the judging took place in the town of Ampuis, at the foot of the great vineyards of the Côte-Rôtie. (I mention that as an excuse to include a photo I recently took of vines on the “roasted slope”.) The wines are, apparently, judged by “experts” – but they aren’t named, which should raise a doubtful eyebrow or two.

So – sorry, Johan, but I’m not impressed. And readers of the website don’t seem much interested in the results either – Rhebokskloof’s exultant press release about their wine getting gold gathered just 10 reader-hits in the five or six days since it was posted!

Anyway, Simonsig’s single-vineyard Merindol showed impressively in the line-up. The current release 2007 was for me the finest of them so far – rather more elegant and graceful and less showy than some of its predecessors (with alcohol below 14%); the tannins are ripe and powerful, but beautifully and unobtrusively tucked away. I think the aim now is precisely this – to go for structure and even a little austerity, rather than immediate show.

Johan Malan rightly regards the ability of Merindol to improve with time as important, and there’s no doubt the 2007 is going to repay getting lost in a cool, dark place for at least five more years. The 2001 is now drinking well – though I find its tannins rather dry, and a little at odds with the sweet fruit that still shows.

But that drying quality is, I’m sure, connected with oaking, and for me the great pity about Merindol is that it is noticeably oaky from the all-new barrels it is matured in – even if the wine nowadays does spend less time in the new oak, and the barrels are more seasoned and less toasty than they used to be. It would be rare to find a serious Northern Rhône vigneron using even half new barrels for the syrah. But the dominant Australian model is very different, and oak flavour has its admirers, certainly, they will enjoy the Merindol even more than I do.

Here, by the way, are all the South African gold medallists of the Syrah du Monde:

  • KWV The Mentors Shiraz 2008
  • Simonsig Syrah Merindol 2007
  • Muratie Ronnie Melck Shiraz 2006
  • Rijk’s Private Cellar Shiraz 2005
  • The Auction Crossing Syrah Viognier 2008
  • Bon Courage Shiraz 2008
  • Rhebokskloof Black Marble Hill Syrah 2007
  • Lomond Conebush Vineyard Syrah


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