The two top 2012 syrahs from Leeuwenkuil and Reyneke make for an interesting comparison – not least because they were both made by Rudiger Gretschel, the head wine man at wine company Vinimark and probably the most important Cape winemaker that many people have never heard of. To compare what he made of fine Swartland and Stellenbosch syrah grapes in the same vintage, vinified in the same cellar (Reyneke’s) just has to be fascinating and rewarding.
The Leeuwenkuil Syrah comes from a vineyard on the southern slopes of Riebeeksberg, near where Mullineux, Anthonij Rupert and Boekenhoutskloof have vineyards. It seems often to be referred to as Heritage Syrah (for Platter the pre-labelled bottle was offered as Heritage Premium Syrah), but in fact the word Heritage doesn’t appear anywhere on front or back label! This was the top red wine of 2014 for Roland Peens, Director of Wine Cellar in Cape Town (see his review here). Roland reproved me for having “missed the gravity of this wine in the 2015 Platter’s Guide with an ordinary four stars”. Perhaps I did miss it, but it was better hidden back in mid-2014.
Reyneke Reserve Red was in previous vintages a fine cab-syrah blend, but the 2012 is straight syrah, as Rudiger felt that the syrah was now able to do what he had been wanting it to do and could stand alone. It’s off vineyards farmed organically (in fact biodynamically, and unquestionably lovingly) by Johan Reyneke. It was probably MY top red of 2014, in fact. I don’t know what Roland thinks of it.
Christian Eedes has also publicly commented on the two wines. He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as Roland and I were about our respective favourites, but sided – just – with Roland’s preference, giving the Leeuwenkuil a score of 93/100, and the Reyneke 92.
Jancis Robinson tasted both on her visit to the Cape this year, and sided with Christian in not being incredibly over-excited, but with me in terms of respective evaluation: 17/20 for Reyneke, 16.5 for Leeuwenkuil.
Then just last week, in the modestly-titled Great Syrah Challenge organised by Tim Atkin and Christian Eedes, the two were neck-and-neck halfway down the top-ten list (see here), with Reyneke just ahead. (Christian omitted Reyneke from his own top ten, but included the Leeuwenkuil.)
So, it seemed time for me to try them once more, side-by-side. Would I have changed my opinions about their relative, or absolute, values? I started sipping yesterday afternoon, and resumed this evening. Development over time should not be irrelevant to judgement (though organisers of competitions don’t seem to agree).
Leeuwenkuil opened up quickly in the glass yesterday, after at first being more reminiscent of the rather stalky, gawky but well-perfumed wine I remembered from my Platter tasting last July or thereabouts. It has clearly, in fact, benefited from further time in bottle, and I liked it more. Tonight it doesn’t seem to have changed much from yesterday. Its strong point is its lovely silky Swartland tannins. But I still recognise what I meant by “stalky”; and there’s not quite the balanced harmony I expect from a great wine.
Reyneke was slower to open up in the glass. It showed less obvious fruit, I thought, certainly less charming sweet notes, and perhaps even an excess of peppery, dry spicy ones. It seemed less immediately, easily attractive; but even then, something in its dry austerity was immensely exciting and alluring. The tannins were Stellenbosch ones, less melting, and more assertive. A day later, the excitement remained, as did the forthright tannin structure, but the flesh of the wine was firmer and refined, the harmony more complete.
Perhaps it’s a matter of taste for dry austerity, but it’s not just that. I’d actually be willing to take a bet with tasters I respect, Christian and Roland for example, that ten years and perhaps 15 from vintage they will find the Reyneke triumphant. In 2017, it’ll still be arguable, perhaps, but not in 2022, I think. The Reyneke has better bones, better flesh, above all the superior balance and subtle intensity of fruit allowed with light-feeling elegance that allows for serene development. It’s a magisterial, awe-inspiring wine, rather than merely a very good one.
Incidentally, I phoned Rudiger Gretschel earlier this evening, to ask him a question that I didn’t think he’d answer: which of the two did he himself prefer? Which of your children do you love the most, mate? Of course he could argue in favour of both, and he did; and answered my question, at some length. But I’m not allowed to hint at his conclusion, so I’ll have to just stick with offering mine.