Shiraz-based blends, not too complicated ones but fresh and delicious, are my own “house red”. If they were eatable, then something between comfort food and an infallible quick-and easy dish; for when a challenge to tired tastebuds or tired spirits is not wanted. Modest wines – in the best sense of a word that is too seldom appropriate in a world of wannabes, of over-oaked, over-ripe, over-everythinged wines. And not too expensive.
So it was not only with the aim of learning something to pass on to others that I asked Roland Peens of the invaluable Wine Cellar in Cape Town to arrange a small comparative tasting of such wines. Half imported by him from the south of France, others from the Swartland – the region which has most assiduously promoted the style locally (including some grand versions but they were not what this tasting was about).
These wines are mostly based on shiraz (though even many local producers prefer calling the grape syrah, to stress their orientation towards French elegance rather than Australian assertiveness). Following the southern French model, other varieties generally found in the mix – and sometimes dominating it – are mourvedre, grenache (there’s also a white version) and cinsaut.
Top wine for the majority of the group of six tasters, my own joint-second-favourite, was from the southern Rhône Valley: Grand Veneur Les Champauvins 2008, amongst the priciest at R115. Lots of sun-baked herbs, savoury and succulent, with the lovely dry finish that often marks out French reds from sweeter-ending locals.
Coming second by arithmetic, but first for me, was Badenhorst Secateurs 2011 – beautifully just what I wanted: plenty of flavour, but not sweetly fruity, harmoniously balanced with structure – a firm but gentle “grip” so the wine doesn’t flop around in your mouth! Good for drinking now, better in a year or two and should keep a few more. Averagely priced for this tasting at R76 (prices quoted are WIne Cellar’s).
There are in the Swartland many tiny but ambitious winemakers – diminutive in terms of production, that is. Some work for established producers, who let them make a few barrels of their own. Bryan MacRobert is one such, who has been for a few years in the cellars of Eben Sadie, one of the Swartland’s biggest names. He’s learnt plenty from the boss, but reveals a winemaking intelligence and aesthetic all his own. His marketing skills being inversely proportioned to his winemaking ones, I wonder if Bryan’s Tobias label can become as successful as it deserves. He makes highly distinctive and interesting wines, a white and a red. The Tobias Red 2011 was the only wine in this line-up that everyone (tasting “blind”) agreed was French! Lightish in colour, prettily perfumed, elegantly lightish in feel but with a subtle insistence. Quite lovely, but more serious than it first seems. A bargain at R85.
Tobias was my other joint-second. A genuinely French wine much favoured was the ever-reliable Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2010 (R100), from the organic producer Chapoutier. Then too, like the Secateurs, another impressive “second label” from a leading new-wave Swartland producer: Mullineux’s Kloof Street Red 2011 (R87), with soft firmness and sweetly fruity finish.
There are more locals in this style – not only from the Swartland – worth looking out for. Wines to turn to with a sigh of relief and anticipated pleasure.
From Mail & Guardian, 28 September-4 October 2012