By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 10 Feb 2018
Syrah (or Shiraz as it is known there) is the grape of the moment in South Africa right now. Despite being planted since C17, it has only recently risen to fame in the last 25 vintages, starting to emerge as ‘the’ red Cape star grape.
Now covering over 10.4% of Cape plantings, it is still not the widest planted (Cabernet Sauvignon still far outstrips it) – but Syrah is, perhaps surprisingly, more popular than Pinotage. Back in 1995, Syrah was just 1% of Cape plantings – so it has come a long way fast.
Often labelled as Shiraz, this harks back to the Cape winegrowers’ past desire to match Australia. In the last decade, winemakers have scaled back from powerful big blockbuster Shiraz styles, focusing more on smoky peppery French Rhone-like Syrahs, particularly in newer regions like Swartland.
What is exciting now is the quality and diversity. Those offering most interesting terroir character are still from Stellenbosch and Swartland, but we are seeing the emergence of potential Syrah outposts in high altitude Cederberg and southerly Greyton and Elim near Cape Aguilhas.
Cederberg: WAITROSE FOUNDATION SHIRAZ 2016 Cederberg (£8.99 Waitrose) ***GOOD VALUE***
Remote landlocked Cederberg winery near Clanwilliam make superb Shiraz. They call them wines with altitude, from grapes grown over 1000 metres altitude on sandstone and granite soils, Cape’s highest vineyards. The result is a juicy fresh moreish style, gently oaked, very refined for the price. Money from each bottle sold supports community projects for farm workers: 14%
Franschhoek: PORCUPINE RIDGE SYRAH VIOGNIER 2015 (£6.99/£9.99 Majestic Wine; £5.99 reduced from £7.99 Waitrose; £7 Sainsbury’s)
Everyday easy-drinking Shiraz made by Marc Kent’s team at Boekenhoutskloof estate. Note the dash of white Viognier to lift aromas, a technique used in the Rhone – but this is very Aussie in style. Slight rustic edge, spicy, smooth, gently oaked, slight bitter finish – good value under £6: 14.5%
Western Cape: BASTIONS V SHIRAZ 2016 (£9.99 Virgin Wines)
A fruit forward ripe Shiraz with rich damson and black cherry which will definitely appeal to anyone who like ripe sweet soft New World reds. What it lacks in refinement it makes up for in voluptuousness. Named after the five pointed star shape of the Cape of Good Hope castle: 14.5%
Stellenbosch: DE MORGENZON DMZ SYRAH 2014 (£12 Great Grog, Lockett Bros; £8.50 for 2013 The Wine Society)
Carl van de Merwe makes a rich mouthfilling spicy peppery Syrah, which is more Aussie-like than Rhone-like with its sweet fruits and heavy weight: 14.5%
Stellenbosch: GLENELLY GLASS COLLECTION SYRAH 2014 (£12.80 Great Grog) ***STAR BUY***
Inspired by Glenelly’s French owner Lady May de Lencquesaing’s antique glass collection, this is a restrained Syrah with herby, light spice and plum notes, very smoky undertones, fine tannins. It reminded me of Crozes Hermitage: 14%
Paarl: FAIRVIEW SHIRAZ 2013 (£12-13 Fine Wine Musselburgh)
The Back family have been experimenting with Shiraz in Paarl since the 1960’s. Charles Back’s particular passion is Rhone grapes; he makes a fruit forward soft commercial in style, slightly lacking in refinement, a big bold red – but an easy quaffer: 14%
£15 - £20
Swartland: INTELLEGO SYRAH 2015 (£17.50 Oddbins; www.lescaves.co.uk) ***STAR BUY***
The freshest Rhone-like Syrah in our tasting from Jurgen Gouws of Lammershoek. The key is biodynamically-farmed old unirrigated bush vines grown on decomposed granite. Wonderful peppery notes, still youthful: 12.5%
Franschhoek: TOPIARY SHIRAZ 2014 (£17.70 Great Grog; Lockett Bros)
What you might ask are two Frenchmen doing make Shiraz in South Africa? Burgundian Philippe Colin and his sommelier partner Serge Jaczynski farm 20 hectares in Franschhoek valley making this perfumed, complex, but hefty Shiraz: 14.5%
Cape Aguilhas: STRANDVELD VINEYARDS SYRAH 2015 (£17 Marks & Spencer)
From Cape’s windiest and southernmost vineyard. The strong sea breezes ensure yields are small and fruit is concentrated. A very attractive refined Syrah with bitter chocolate and pepper notes. Winemaker Conrad Vlo adds 9% Viognier to the blend to enhance aromas: 14%
Swartland: BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF SYRAH 2015 (£38.99 Selfridges; Waitrose; Harvey Nichols; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow; St Andrews Wine; Hedonism Wine; Loki Wines) ***STAR BUY***
Head and shoulders above the pack qualitywise – hence the price. This is Marc Kent’s first Swartland-only Syrah from two granite sites, 80% Porseleinberg and 20% Goldmine (his winery is actually in Franschhoek). Spice, liquorice, floral and clove aromas, velvet smooth tannins, spice and elegance – superb and will improve in bottle: 14%
Greyton/Elgin: LISMORE SYRAH 2016 (£29 Oddbins)
Only the third vintage from Californian Samantha O’Keefe in remote Greyton. Such delicacy with crisp poised fruit – like her 2015 this has 50% Elgin fruit, but is not quite as fleshy with firmer tannins; needs time in bottle: 13.5%
Stellenbosch: CRAVEN FAURE VINEYARD SYRAH 2016 (£21.50 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Aussie Mick Craven and his South African wife Jeanine focus just on single vineyard wines. The rocky Faure vineyard gives very floral, white pepper, fresh high acid styles – quite light - but beautifully refined. Still young, needs time: 12%.
Stellenbosch: KEVIN ARNOLD NADINE SHIRAZ 2013 (£24 Woodwinters, Edinburgh & Bridge of Allan; www.winedirect.co.uk) ***STAR BUY***
An impressive effort from Waterford Estate; benefiting from bottle maturity. Labelled as Shiraz due to its fleshy ripeness and power, but it has smoky peppery Rhone-like undertones. Very good: 14%
Join Rose’s Hidden Australian Gems Tasting on 11 April in Edinburgh £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com