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Steenberg Nebbiolo 2003 et al.

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The sort of stuff Steenberg was up against.
The sort of stuff Steenberg was up against.

For a pretty wide spread of wine scores, check out how the Steenberg Shiraz 2008 did in this year’s Global Trader Shiraz Challenge convened by WINE magazine: I gave it 14 on the 20-point scale, Carrie Adams of Johannesburg wine retailer Norman Goodfellows 14.5, James Pietersen, beverage manager for Cape Town restaurants Balducci’s and Belthazar 15.5, Miguel Chan, head sommelier of Southern Sun Deluxe Hotels 17 and Christine Rudman CWM 18 (which produced an overall rating of 4 Stars). My tasting note was “Oak and mint on nose. Dark fruit, mint  again on palate. Lacks varietal character”. Rudman’s tasting note, meanwhile, makes no reference to mint whatsoever, reading as follows “Rich, dark, concentrated hedgerow fruit, deeply layered. Great structure. Oaking very well matched. Showy, a class act”. If ever there was a case of different strokes for different folks…

Yesterday, Steenberg winemaker JD Pretorius showed multiple vintages of Steenberg Nebbiolo (specifically 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009) against local and international counterparts. The love-it-or-hate-it mint character that defines all the property’s red wines was again very much in evidence on the 2005 and 2007, less so on the 2003 and almost not all on the 2009.

I asked Pretorius what his feeling was about the mint character on his reds and he answered that he tries neither to encourage nor prevent it, its appearance in the wines very much a reflection of site.  Even so, out of the first three Steenberg vintages on show, I much preferred the 2003 to either the 2005 or the 2007, the lack of mint making the wine much more classic in my book. Significantly, the 2003 had the highest alcohol by volume but simultaneously also the highest total acidity and lowest pH, which in non-wine geek terms suggests it was made from fruit that had the best physiological ripeness. Proof once again that 2003 was something special…

The 2009, still some way off release, was perhaps the most complete of all, showing black cherry flavour and being medium bodied in structure with fresh acidity and fine tannins. Pretorius reveals that from 2008 onwards, the Steenberg team have implemented “box pruning” for the property’s 1ha of vineyard. What’s “box pruning” you may ask? “We’ve effectively created a trellised bushvine,” says Pretorius. “Basically we’re letting it run wild,” chips in Steenberg general manager John Loubser. Seems minimal intervention can be as beneficial in the vineyard as the cellar…

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