A Closer Look at Syrah from the Swartland and some Voor-Paardeberg
Cabernet provides the structure and backbone, they say. Cab Franc a little lift, Petit a certain wildness, depth & intrigue, while merlot rounds the whole lot out. And Syrah?.. Well it wasn’t that long ago that average Bordeaux was bolstered with it, just ask Madame May de Lencquesaing from Glenelly Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, previously from the renowned Château Pichon Longueville, who still calls their Stellenbosch Cab / Syrah a Bordeaux style blend, in remembrance of the days when a little Syrah added some well needed punch to often thin and underripe claret. Till this day Châteax Palmer still makes a Cab Syrah blend, although not often talked about. Syrah it would seem has fallen unfairly out of favour then, in the shadow of what could be argued to be somewhat ubiquitous Cab.
Although probably best known outside it’s ancestral home of the Rhône valley for it’s big, bold and unrepentantly brash expression of dark fruit and heady alcohol that is Barossa Shiraz, Syrah, one of the oldest bloodlines of Vitis Vinifera still in cultivation today, has helped, in no small part, to save the fortunes of one dusty wine region on the outskirts of human consciousness, the Swartland on the West Coast of South Africa.
Literally meaning “black land” the Swartland is a dry, hot, mediterranean region on the South Western tip of the African continent stretching from the outcrops of granite West of Paarl to the iron rich soils South West of Piketberg and all the sandy patches in between. Named after the indigenous Renosterbos that turns a stark black after the rains, a phenomenon seen less and less frequent each year, this is a often desolate, dry unforgiving place, peppered with some truly unique human beings.
Saved from obsoletion by a handful of mavericks now known as the founders of the Swartland Independent, this unlikely dustbowl is a strange place for a wine producing country to have hung its hat on. But hang it we sure did.
This month’s Somm Social took a fresh look at the black lands, plus the odd Voor Paardeberg, with specific focus on Syrah to see if we can find a common thread to that elusive “Swartlandness” they keep waxing on about.
Our first wine of the night comes from none other than CEO & President Winemaker of Fram Wines, Grape crusher, Sole employee & self proclaimed #1 Fan of pluralis majestatis, Thinus Krüger. If ever there existed a stereotype of the Swartland, Thinus was it. A man equally at home in the waves as the winery.
Fram Wines Shiraz 2017 Comes across as classic and old world with red fruit and dried origanum on the nose. Light bodied with fresh acidity, dusty-, fine tannin and an almost saline chalky palate. With a nutty, leasy almost earthiness to the finish. Retailing level or just below most mass market wines of much lesser pedigree this is a wine one can rely on year on year, Great quality, even better value for money, and never disappoints.
Org de Rac Organic Wine Estate Reserve Shiraz 2015 Smells of ripe-, soft black fruit, wilted violet and dark chocolate with a juicy palate of ripe black fruit.
Swartland Winery Bush Vine Syrah 2015 Displays upfront aromas of fresh game meat, dark red currant with lots of oak spice. Big and bold but well structured with good acidity. Almost Barossa like.
Hofstraat Kelder Renosterbos Shiraz 2016 Jammy, preserved strawberry and slightly meaty on the nose with a hint of game meat and a herbal edge.
Môrelig Vineyards Syrah 2017 Shows a delicate, beautifully light bouquet of perfume with violet, chamomile, elderflower and lots of bright raspberry. Light dusty-, stemmy tannin with just enough of a bite. Absolutely yummy and more than a little flirtatious although slightly lacking in depth. A steal at that price.
Terracura Wines Syrah 2015 Shows a tantalizing preview of fresh, bright red and black fruit with a certain brooding undertone of concentration, although stubbornly lacking in perfume. The palate is dense and concentrated with an endless finish of dark fruit and just an edge of hard stemmy tannin. This wine is surely made for aging, classic in style, unyielding in it’s youth, only time will tell whether it’s worth the investment.
Like a painfully shy kid who just got a puppy, busting at the seems to shout it’s excitement, The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Nudity Syrah 2015 Starts of more than a little reluctant, closed but primed, before exploding in an array of bright red fruit, blackberry and perfume with fynbos and fresh herbs. Medium bodied with precise-, razor like acidity and long earthy, savoury finish. Stunning.
Dorrance Syrah Cuvée Ameena 2015 Dense concentrated red currant and black pepper on the nose, opening up to savoury perfume of earth, leather and violet. Balanced and structured with an abundance of perfectly ripe grippy fine grained tannin. This is a lot of wine for very little money and will provide a lot of pleasure now and in years to come.
Testalonga El Bandito The Dark Side 2017 A poster child for hands-off wine making this wine kicks the door down and strolls in with its shirt hanging out. Medium hazy ruby in colour lets you know right off the bat that no filtration was applied before greeting you with candifloss, raspberry, almond and yeast on the nose. A tight palate of red fruit shows no signs of under ripeness, even at just under 12% abv, with a uncanny saline palate and long earthy finish
Trizanne Signature Wines TSW Swartland Syrah 2015 Aromatic, and expressive with rose and characteristic black olive, not seen yet in this flight and just a hint of freshly crushed black pepper. Easy to approach yumminess.
Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards Shiraz 2016 Red currant and plum with white pepper and just a touch crushed nettles. Classic and restraint but easy to approach and even easier to afford, he types glass in hand. R55 at Pick and Pay, cheap thrills.
Leeuwenkuil Heritage Shiraz 2015 Shoulder to shoulder, next to the Dorrance, as the best wines of the flight thus far. Where to the Dorrance was dark and brooding this is light and perfumed without lacking in power. Like Cornas -, or Saint-Joseph, except with a bit of a temper. Light fresh blueberry and violet, black olive and dense concentrated bright red plums with a hint of perfume and subtle earthy savoury undertones, sort of like a bull, like a freshly washed bull, shot in field of lavender. Outstanding.
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2015 Bright pure concentrated red currant, smoke, earth and savoury happiness. Another premium example, stubbornly lacking perfume in it’s youth with a touch of oaky caramel sweetness in finish.
Painted Wolf Wines Swartland Syrah 2015 Upfront nose of macerated red wine gums and a hint of “Lavender Sta-Soft” and rose over a backbone freshly tilled earth and wet clay with fennel, lots of fennel. Beautiful bright acidity leads to another saline palate and restraint oaky smoky finish. Great wine, outstanding value.
Kloovenburg Wine & Olive Estate Kloovenburg Shiraz 2015 let’s you know it’s a big bruiser of a beast right out of the gates. With powerful aromas of dark-, ripe black plum, prune and a brooding savoury, meaty almost wild bouquet. Followed by a rich, full bodied, viscous palate and a long warming savoury finish.
Kloovenburg Wine & Olive Estate Riebeekberg Syrah 2016, the last in the flight and another from the cellars at Kloovenberg, this time a bit of a counter to it’s stable mate with a brightness to the fruit manifested in concentrated red currant with pronounced olive bowl aromas and still that characteristic gamey savoury undertone leading to a long juicy finish.
What does “Swartlandness” taste like? I still couldn’t tell you and it’s no surprise in an area that big. But to my mind at least, there is a certain tightness to the tannin, a pleasant firmness rarely seen elsewhere in South Africa and more often than not a satisfying salinity to the finish. What I do know for sure, is that they produce some outstanding wine out there.