One suspects that when the Downes brothers set about establishing Shannon Vineyards in Elgin back in 2000, they thought they’d make their name with Pinot Noir rather than Merlot, the fact that out of the 15.5ha they cultivate, 6ha are the former and only 3ha the latter providing support for this line of thinking.
It is, of course, the Mount Bullet Merlot that has shot to fame, the wine establishing itself as superlative from the maiden 2007 vintage, a particularly noteworthy achievement given that single-variety Merlot is not exactly South Africa’ strongest suit.
The defining characteristic of Mount Bullet for me is fruit density, but a density that is utterly luxurious and not at all burdensome as wines that aim for weight and power so often are.
The Pinot Noir from Shannon meanwhile has until now not been quite as convincing as the Merlot. Partly and somewhat ironically I think this is because its shares a similar density to its Merlot stablemate, but while this befits the one, it somehow doesn’t the other. If there’s one variety where delicacy is to be favoured over intensity, then it is Pinot Noir and the Shannon version is nothing if not sturdy.
That said, the 2009 is the best to date and there’s definitely a sense that all involved are on a quest for further refinement. The wine spent 16 months in French oak, of which 30% was new, and the barrel maturation period extended from some 10 months in the case of the 2008 in order to improve oak integration. There’s loads of red and black cherry fruit and much less oak-derived smoky character than before. Very sexy but still a touch too deliberate to qualify for greatness. Approximate retail price: R250 a bottle.