Arts and Culture

Simple shiraz blends make for drinking comfort

Tim James

Shiraz-based blends that are not too complicated but fresh and delicious are my own "house red".

If they were eatable, they would be something between comfort food and an infallible, quick–and–easy dish for when a challenge to tired taste buds or tired spirits is not wanted. They are modest wines, in the best sense of the word, that is – too seldom appropriate in a world of wannabes, of too oaked, overripe, over–everything wines. And they are 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 these wines.

 Half of the wine on offer was imported from the south of France. Others were from the Swartland – the region that 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 (although 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 is also a white version) and cinsaut.

 Top wine for the majority of the group of six tasters, my joint second-favourite, was from the southern Rhône Valley: Grand Veneur Les Champauvins 2008, among the priciest at R115.

 It has lots of sun-baked herbs – savoury and succulent – and the lovely dry finish that often marks French reds from sweeter-ending locals.

 Coming second by arithmetic but first for me was Badenhorst Secateurs 2011.

 It is just what I wanted: plenty of flavour but not sweetly fruity, harmoniously balanced with structure – a firm but gentle “grip” so the wine does not flop around in your mouth. It is good for drinking now, better in a year or two and should keep for a few more.

 It was averagely priced for this tasting at R76 (prices quoted are the 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. He has been in the cellars of Eben Sadie, one of the Swartland’s biggest names, for a few years. He has learnt plenty from the boss, but he reveals a winemaking intelligence and aesthetic all his own.

 His marketing skills are inversely proportionate to his wine-making ones and I wonder whether MacRobert’s Tobias label will become as successful as it deserves to be. 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.

It is lightish in colour, prettily perfumed and elegantly lightish in feel, but it has a subtle insistence.

 It is quite lovely but more serious than it first seems and a bargain at R85. Tobias was my other joint second–favourite wine.

 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 newwave Swartland producer is Mullineux’s Kloof Street Red 2011 (R87), which has a 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.

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