Two ex-wives and three sets of in-laws – former and present – does afford me a certain expert-status on the topic of multiple personalities. Wines, too, are people, although more forgiving and far better recipients to one’s voice of opinion and attempts at reason.
I’d hazard a guess that when it comes to serious multi-personality disorder in wines, Shiraz has to take the honours. The diversity and inconsistency of Shiraz makes Robert de Niro’s diversity of film characters seem as one-dimensional as Bob Dylan’s singing voice, just not as jarringly painful and with less depression-inducing moodiness.
Some of the finest wines I have ever had, have been Shiraz. I am a huge fan of Jaboulet in the Rhône, and in particular those from Domaine de Thalabert with their blue-flower and crimson plum freshness. Yet, just down the river them local French vignerons pass-off mousy, bretty wines as earthy rural Shiraz classics, under labels whose names I don’t care to mention for the danger of demeaning these pages.
Here at the Cape, KWV’s Perold Op die Berg 1998 will forever go down as the finest Shiraz I have had from vines rooted in South African soil. In the same breath, some of the rudest and most inconsiderate wines produced here are from Shiraz, monstrously hot numbers that can fire-up a stalled armoured vehicle and leave your throat feeling like an opera-singer who has gargled with Deep Heat.
Once bitten, twice shy, therefore I am a tad cagey in my selection of and enthusiasm for Shiraz. Although when done well by a winemaker aware of the variety’s schizophrenic personality and edgy mood-swings, Cape Shiraz turns out well. Beautifully.
Such a beautiful thing was delivered recently from the pretty Kleinood Estate up near Waterford where the Helderberg takes over from Stellenboschberg. The valley is permanently verdant and pastoral, with those magnificent granite mountain faces on every side except for the valley’s opening out south-west, towards Table Mountain.
It is granite that makes the wine here, those mounds of decomposed rock chiselled from the mountains for over 80 million years. Shiraz has found a certain expression here at Kleinood, whose John Spicer Syrah from the comet 2015 vintage is a wine delivered with politeness and received with immense gratitude.
The John Spicer evolves from a particular patch of vineyard found to contain an especially pronounced decomposed granite component. The vines rooted here are, thus, marked and the fruit handled separately from Kleinood’s other Shiraz offerings. In the cellar the wine ferments at 26.5ºC for 14 days, surging wet pump-overs giving a balanced extraction for that sweet-spot between tannic power from skins and energetic juicy freshness. Then it all goes to wood: 18 months in 300 litre French oak barrels – 15% frst, 35% second and 50% third fill.
Only released at the end of April, the John Spicer Syrah spent a lengthy period in bottle, allowing one to now experience a wonderfully matured 2015 wine from the moment of opening.
I splashed my bottle into the decanter, and was met with a brooding dark inky wine, this presence complemented by a heady perfume of red wine fragrance, the kind I’d prefer to Chanel No. 5 any day – in case anyone is wondering.
In the glass, the nose is potpourri of spring fynbos flowers, sun-baked Algerian prunes with an intriguing whiff of the sweet smell given by a 36 month-aged Iberico ham. I smelt wine, then Shiraz, and it is good.
To the mouth, and it is texture that reaches me before flavour. The wine is silk, not showy Hermes scarf, but the cream-coloured Uzbekistan silk slightly dampened with the warm sweat of a well-hydrated and sultry jazz dancer. Its presence is evocative and polite, and here lie the flavours of what Shiraz does when its best personality comes to the fore. Dark, dense berries with an edge of sweetness, nothing tart. Cardamom from Zanzibar and good old white pepper, as used by Louis Leipoldt in his South African kitchen, give an exotic air but are weighed down by the good stuff: succulence of plums, heavy and ripe and fallen from the tree; mulberries, sticky and colourful and stain-inducing; dried pomegranate pips, slightly sharp before the bright fruit takes over. It caresses, slides and seduces the drinker.
Bring it on, Shiraz. Spoken with one-tongue, you can be the wine of wines, the king of kings. And we salute you.
- Lafras Huguenet
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