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Rhône blends vs Syrah in SA

Some of the kit.
Some of the kit.

How do SA’s Rhône-inspired blends stack up next to straight Shiraz? To make the best wines we possibly can in South Africa, we have to blend. Only in continental climates can mono-varietals make for complete wines – take Pinot Noir in Burgundy Riesling in Germany. As soon as you’re in a warmer Mediterranean or maritime climate, blending becomes essential, or so the thinking goes.

Yesterday a tasting of six examples of single-variety Shiraz and six blends, most of the wines from here but also Syrah from St Joseph and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape to keep everyone present honest.

The line-up was as follows:

Flight 1: Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2012; Boschendal Cecil John Reserve Shiraz 2012; Lammershoek Roulette 2010; La Vielle Julienne les Trois Sources Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010

Flight 2: Mullineux Kloof Street Rouge2013; Chapoutier Les Granits St Joseph 2012; Fable Night Sky 2011; Porseleinberg Syrah 2012

Flight 3: AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2012; Super Single Vineyards Mount Sutherland Syrah 2012; Columella 2010; Leeuwenkuil Heritage Syrah 2012

My sense was that the day belonged to the single-variety examples of Shiraz. The La Vielle Julienne was very accomplished – red and black fruit, attractive oak, pepper and spice on the nose; big (15% abv on the label) but balanced with succulent fruit and layers of flavour (score: 94/100) – but the SA wine were all a notch or two below the best of the straight Shiraz.

The Lammershoek Roulette 2010 (from Shiraz, Grenache and Carignan) was divisive in that it showed Craig Hawkins’s natural approach to winemaking as much as anything; the Mullineux Kloof Street Rouge 2013 (85% Syrah, 9% Carignan ,2% Mourvedre, 2% Cinsault and 2% Grenache) was likeable but straightforward as you might expect from a wine selling for R95 a bottle; the Fable Night Sky 2011 (60% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre and 15% Grenache) was big and chunky; the AA Badenhorst Red 2012 was corked and the Columella 2010 (80% Syrah, 17% Mourvèdre and 3% Grenache) was the pick of the bunch showing all the craft and deliberation you’d expect from Eben Sadie.

In contrast, the Leeuwenkuil Heritage Syrah and Porseleinberg were truly riveting wines, both wonderfully aromatic on the nose and showing real depth of flavour on the palate (I confess I was initially guarded in my enthusiasm for these wines but they seem to be getting better and better with time in bottle).

So a tasting that left more questions than answers. Part of the reason that straight Syrah is proving so successful right now is that the vineyards are more established than those featuring the alternative Rhône varieties but I still think punters are entitled to expect more from the sub-category that is blends.


  1. Ugh, TCA…
    It’s interesting to note that many producers who make Cabernet Sauvignon also make a Bordeaux-style blend and the best grapes are often reserved for the latter. With Shiraz, the best grapes are about as likely to go into a blend as it is a varietal wine.
    With blind scores almost always being more interesting than sighted ones, won’t you please provide your scores for all the wines?

  2. Hi Kwispedoor, Here goes:

    Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2012 – 91/100
    Boschendal Cecil John Reserve Shiraz 2012 – 90/100 Lammershoek Roulette 2010 – 92/100
    La Vielle Julienne les Trois Sources Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 – 94/100
    Mullineux Kloof Street Rouge2013 – 88/100
    Chapoutier Les Granits St Joseph 2012 – 90/100
    Fable Night Sky 2011 – 89/100
    Porseleinberg Syrah 2012 – 93/100
    AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2012 – TCA
    Super Single Vineyards Mount Sutherland Syrah 2012 – 93/100
    Columella 2010 – 92/100
    Leeuwenkuil Heritage Syrah 2012 – 94/100

    • Hi Tim, To my mind, 93 on the 100-point scale is worthy of a gold medal. One of the advantages of the 100-point quality system is that it allows a critic to spread his or her scoring and I think insisting on 95 as the threshold for gold (or 5 Stars as is the case with Platter’s) is problematic – it means good but not great wines will be over-scored and for all the advances that SA wine has made in recent times, it doesn’t leave room for the exceptional wines which I suspect lie in the not too distant future.


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