Love it or hate it … Shiraz is in! It even got its own festival in Franschoek. Well almost. It had to share the festival title with Charcuterie. Not a bad compromise though, as South Africa’s affinity for strife seems only matched by its affinity for cured meat. For example, ‘Shiraz and Spaghetti’ doesn’t hold the same South African seriousness. Nor does ‘Shiraz and Cured Meat’, so the organisers opted for the French. A bit unoriginal, but a choice I back, especially given how crucial it is to alliterate when naming an event.
I, myself, am a Syrah groupie. A bit of a fashion slave in that respect, so I was more than happy to attend an event dedicated solely to the grape. Though in many respects it almost seemed like a Stellenbosch version of the recently held Swartland Independent – given the focus on this rising red cultivar in South Africa. This is by no means meant to demean the event, the opposite, if anything.
The event was an exposé of some very lovely South African Shiraz wines set in a beautiful venue in the middle of winter. However, the day turned out to be uncharacteristically warm, not to the point of seeing mirages, but enough for a heat induced claustrophobia to set in. This unexpected turn of events caused me to forget all about the delicious charcuteries on offer, but luckily I was not distracted from the all-important wine tasting to be had!
The Stellenbosch Shiraz’s I sampled displayed a bit more wood, general extraction and alcohol than the Swartland selection that I sampled previously. Generally speaking none of this was a reason to complain as one of the Shiraz’s was a standout … accrediting style diversity. It’s easy to see why Shiraz has gained so much traction in South Africa: it can be picked early and not retain such a green/herbaceous element as the Cabernet varieties – something we, as winemaking students, never stop being reminded about. In an odd respect the South African Wine Industry may be the only agricultural sector that doesn’t want to ‘Go Green’ (pun intended). On the other hand, picked late you can create the well-known, big bodied, International Shiraz, which appeals greatly to the local consumer. It’s a peculiar cultivar that ferments in a ‘sulphuric haze’, but seems to blow off of the stink at the end of the day. The condescending have called it an ‘easy’ cultivar, and the naive have drowned in the competition trying to make the best ‘easy’ cultivar. They say ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it’, but I think it’s more appropriate to say: ‘if everyone is doing it, it’s not going to be easy.’
I’m not the first person to say so, but Syrah may potentially become South Africa’s brand wine, much like the Marlborough ‘Savvy B’ that you’ll find a Chelsea WifeandGirlfriend chugging down on a Sunday evening in London. Unfortunately, the Australian’s have already snatched up Syrah, and the last thing South Africa should do is hop on another wine bandwagon. Like the famous Pendlay Shiraz/Cab blend, maybe we need to follow suit and inject some of that local spice in … perhaps some Pinotage, dare I say it? If there’s a grape that says ‘Rainbow Nation’, Pinotage certainly is the one … a hybrid of Cinsaut and Pinot, labelled an abomination by some, but having achieved some incredible things too, with a growing collective culture. Maybe someone needs to make a showstopper shiraz/pinotage blend and draw some glances. Not so much outwiththeold and inwiththenew, but rather ‘in with the old and in with the new’.