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Rhône blends from South Africa 

Despite a history dating back to the 17th century the South African wine industry is still a new one. It’s only really since 1991 that most producers have been innovating and experimenting, working out what grows best where and trying to find a place in international wine markets.

One of the big shifts has been in emphasis on various grape varieties. Prior to 1991 red wines here were dominated by Bordeaux varieties alongside the rather erratic and often eccentric presence of Pinotage. There are still some smart Bordeaux blends being made in the Cape, but now it seems that growers are realizing that Mediterranean varieties such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre may be better suited to the rather warm climate that most of the Cape’s wine regions enjoy.

It’s been a steep learning curve, but it looks like many producers are getting the hang of these varieties. Here I tried a selection, and this is what I made of them.

General thoughts. First, alcohol levels are uniformly a bit on the high side: all are 14.5% or above. Second, some of these wines are a little too ripe and sweet. Third, there’s a green tinge present in a few which is surprising given the level of ripeness. But these critical points aside, South African wine growers seem to be going in the right general direction if this line-up is anything like a representative sample.

Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2005 Western Cape
A slightly surprising choice to show this rather than the Syrah, because this has a dash of cabernet in it as well as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Viognier. Anyway, it’s a striking wine: sweet, ripe, open, meaty black fruits nose with a subtle green edge. The palate is very ripe, bold and more-ish with meaty black fruits. A lush, modern wine, but it would be even better if there was just a little more definition, and a bit less alcohol. Very good/excellent 90/100

Fairview Caldera 2004 Swartland
A blend of 50% Grenache, 25% Shiraz and 25% Mourvèdre. Fresh, bright spicy nose. The palate is quite spicy and has some fruitiness with good tannin. Not a lush style: rather, more spicy and fresh. Very good/excellent 90/100

Guardian Peak SMG 2005 Western Cape
From Engelbrecht and Els this is a blend of Syrah (63%), Mourvèdre (29%) and Grenache (8%). Deep coloured, this has a bright dark fruits nose. The palate has a little bit of green in the background with lovely bright dark fruits. Quite fresh, with blackcurrant dominating. Finishes berryish and a touch green. Very good+ 88/100

TMV Viktoria 2004 Western Cape
Mostly Syrah, with some Cinsault and a touch of Cabernet. Lovely aromatic nose with a bit of olive and a meatiness, as well as nice fruit. The palate has an attractive ripe, open character with a nice spicy meatiness. Very good/excellent 91/100

Black Rock 2005 Swartland
A complex blend: 60% Shiraz, 23% Carignan, 9% Grenache, 4% Mourvèdre and 4% Viognier. Lovely vivid fresh dark fruits nose, which is ripe with a subtle spicy meatiness. The palate is really ripe, and has nice definition to the sweet spicy dark fruits. Very good/excellent 92/100

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Syrah Mourvèdre 2004 Swartland
An 85/15 blend in favour of Syrah, this is a lovely wine. It has a fresh, sweet, complex dark fruits nose. The palate shows full, spicy, rich fruit. Lovely definition with good acidity keeping things fresh. Good structure, too. A big but nicely poised wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

Newton Johnson Syrah Mourvèdre 2005 Hermanus
93% Syrah with the remainder Mourvèdre, I found this wine a bit clumsy. It has a dense, meaty nose that leads to a bold, dark, slightly sweet palate with lots of fruit. Very good+ 87/100

Lammerschoek Roulette 2004 Swartland
A blend of lots of things, this has lovely bright focused fruit on the nose, showing nice freshness and spiciness. Ripe, generous, fruity and nicely complex on the palate. Very good+ 90/100

Saronsberg Full Circle 2004 Coastal Region
The grapes here (81% Shiraz, 14% Mourvèdre and 5% Viognier) are sourced from the Tulbagh region. Ripe, smooth sweet nose leads to a palate that shows very sweet, almost confected red and black fruits. Smooth and very ripe; quite forward. A bold style. Very good+ 89/100

Sequillo 2004 Swartland
A blend of 68% Shiraz, 26% Mourvèdre and 6% Grenache. Complex, deep savoury nose is quite old worldy and elegant. The palate is savoury and spicy with a full, earthy edge. Lovely spiciness here: a savoury style that’s really appealing. Very good/excellent 90/100

see also: South African series

Wines tasted 05/07
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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