By Christian Eedes, 29 January 2012
Sijnn is the original Khoisan word for the Breede River. How precisely to pronounce it is moot, but co-owner David Trafford is happy if you say it like you would the more famous Seine that runs through Paris. It’s the name of Trafford’s vineyard situated between the hamlet of Malagas and the fishing village of Cape Infanta.
Trafford, who founded De Trafford in Stellenbosch , was enjoying a weekend away with wife Rita next to the river in 2000 and the stony plains of the area reminded him of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It’s east of and therefore warmer than the emerging ward of Elim and sits on the divide between the winter and summer rainfall areas – annual precipitation is about 350mm compared to Elim’s 500mm.
Trafford roped in partners including Simon Farr of UK wine importer Bibendum and vines were planted. Initially, southern Rhône was the inspiration when deciding what to cultivate but Trafford was keen not to be restricted too much by received wisdom and also opted for Portuguese varieties.
Total plantings are now some 16ha, the red varieties being Mourvedre, Shiraz, Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional. There’s also some Cabernet Sauvignon, which Trafford admits is “not to theme” but chosen because it has improved the Super Tuscans and features in Southern France. As for white varieties, there’s Chenin Blanc and Viognier with Roussanne yet to come on line. Alternative but not too much so as Trafford doesn’t want to distance the average consumer entirely.
At a tasting on Friday, a chance to taste the blend components of the Sijnn 2011, before the final wine itself. What does each variety contribute? I found the Trincadeira had a character reminiscent of Ceylon tea on both nose and palate; the Mourvedre was typically wild and savoury; the Shiraz showed great fruit delineation (and could easily stand on its own); the Cab provided structure with firm, somewhat aggressive tannins; and the Touriga Nacional was all enveloping perfume and dollops of fruit.
The final blend consists of 52% Shiraz, 19% Touriga Nacional 17% Mourvedre, 10% Trincadeira and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and here the whole is most definitely more than the sum of the parts. It’s a wine which is full but balanced – great purity, fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins. There’s plenty of red and black fruit but also a pleasing savoury edge. An unusual flavour profile not just in a South African context but in a global one, too – one of those few wines which stand outside any frame of reference and consequently making a discussion of terroir more meaningful than usual. Score; 18/20.
The about-to-be released 2008 isn’t quite as intense or arresting as the 2011, but it’s no bad wine with forward fruit and relatively soft tannins (score; 16/20). It sells for R160 a bottle, which is more than fair given that there’s some pretty ordinary stuff at the same price point.
Such great quality relative to price that I wondered if the Sijnn partners hard gone in too low. “A [suitably high] price does give the market confidence, but too many producers self-declare their own greatness. Sijnn is about new varieties from a new area and we want to encourage the consumer to have a go,” says Farr.