I started pondering the state of syrah across the Cape regions when I read Christian Eedes’s recent remark that “the Swartland has pretty much taken ownership of top-end Syrah”. Fond and admiring as I am of the Swartland, that didn’t strike me as totally true: I think, rather, of syrah as the variety that perhaps more than other has shown it can do extremely well in nearly all South African wine regions – well, all the good ones. So here I am trying to justify that thought….
Of course, the Swartland probably would have a dominant representation in my list of the very top 10 or 20 syrah, including Porseleinberg, a clutch of Mullineux, Boekenhoutskloof (the 2015 the first to come entirely from that region), Leeuwenkuil, and the first-rate maiden Swerwer. Terracura’s maiden vintage looks very promising too. There’s only a small clutch of other varietal Swartland syrahs (including some very winning “natural” ones like Testalonga’s and Mother Rock’s), and I’m obviously leaving out the syrah-based blends, which are probably more common and at least as illustrious.
But if you were to name the top 30 Cape syrahs, I’d guess that Stellenbosch wines would be by far the largest contributor. At the top end, I’d include Reyneke and perhaps Ron Burgundy’s Sons of Sugarland and Boschkloof. But also around that end are wines from estates like Rustenberg, De Trafford, Keermont, Haskell, Remhoogte, Tamboerskloof … and I could extend that list. The style of syrah made in Stellenbosch is often very different from that of the fashionable Swartland – riper, bigger, with more new oak, but the quality is there.
As to other regions producing very high-end shiraz – Christian was talking about Iona Solace from Elgin, and I’d probably push Richard Kershaw’s Elgin Syrah above that (his deconstructed versions only a touch less successful), and into my personal top ten. Not far from Elgin, Peter-Allan Finlayson at Gabriëlskloof is now starting to show how well Bot River can do with the variety – and Luddite already has many established fans. Moving along the Cape South Coast we’d have to jump across the Hemel-en-Aarde (though there are a few good blends) to Elim, where, in the face of just too much overripe picking, Trizanne Barnard is the first to really show the possibilities of cooler climate stuff with her Reserve Syrah (Giant Periwinkle Kelp Forest a lesser version, but also quite fresh). And then further along to Malgas at the mouth of the Breede River, where Sijnn Syrah (in the right vintage, mind) can be marvellous.
Constantia? Well, unless you include Groot Constantia, there’s really only one contender for a top spot, which is Eagles Nest, but that’s a pretty good advertisement for the area.
Tulbagh has a couple for top-end consideration, with Fable and Saronsberg making very different styles, but both doing them extremely well. Franschhoek? I don’t think so. As for Paarl – difficult: Bellingham Bernhard Series Basket Press, Scali Syrah, Fairview Eenzaamheid and Joostenberg Klippe Kou maybe come closest.
Other regions with at least one good-to-very-good example would include Greyton (Lismore) and Cederberg (Cederberg & Driehoek).
So, even though I’ve no doubt caused indignation by stupidly forgetting to mention some other examples, I’ve adduced enough to convince myself at least that I was right in thinking that top-end syrah is not owned by any one Cape region. And I suspect that is becoming increasingly the case. Which is a pleasing conclusion.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.