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Simonsig Merindol Syrah 2001

Simonsig Merindol Syrah 2001.
Simonsig Merindol Syrah 2001.

It is curious to me how one particular producer can be a front-runner in a particular category for a while and then seemingly get overtaken by other producers who deliver wines even more impressive and aesthetically pleasing.

Stellenbosch farm Simonsig enjoyed significant success with its Merindol Syrah in the mid-2000s, the 2000 vintage winning double gold at Veritas 2002,  the 2001 winning the inaugural Wine magazine Shiraz Challenge in 2004 as well as double gold at Veritas 2003 and the 2002 winning gold at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show2005 .  Though Merindol remains a very good wine, it hasn’t really shone in competition since.

I opened the 2001 last night and it was in fine nick: flavours of dark fruit and black pepper, fresh acidity and tannins that were still firm despite it being nearly ten years on from vintage. There was a slight “meatiness” or savoury quality about it and I did wonder if this wasn’t due to the smallest amount of spoilage yeast Brettanomyces. If so, its effect was just a nuance and added more than it detracted from the wine.

This poses the question as to whether or not wine faults are acceptable. With the wine market hugely overtraded, a key function of wine competitions is to provide consumers with reliable purchase advice and I always endeavour be very strict on wine faults when judging. However, there is a difference between tasting and drinking and outside of the competition environment, some low-level faults definitely add to a wine’s interest for me.


  1. I remember meeting some friends who were enjoying a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in a restaurant. When I asked what it was like, they said ‘Ooh lovely – lots of soft buttered toast!’ and of course, it was corked. But I didn’t tell them – why should I make them feel stupid when they were clearly enjoying it? – and just ordered something else. I have also seen tables of wine folk identify a corked bottle at a dinner, but happily finish it up at the end of the night when there’s nothing else left to drink. Horses for courses!

  2. Unfortunately, South Africa has a huge Brett problem and an even bigger Brett denial problem. I have some tolerance for a little Brett in young wines, provided they are drunk young. The problem is that Brett often seems to develop more as some bottles mature. Countless bretty wines are rated four stars and better in Platter’s. I tasted a R300-plus flagship wine the other day and rated it 14 (pretty gorgeous apart from the Brett, which is rather prominent). Why does Platter’s not warn against this, instead of rating it four stars? Thanks for writing about this, as everyone else is too scared to (or just oblivious).

    Wine Magazine also need to stop their “Seven … wines tasted did not receive a star rating” nonsense and name those wines. It would be even better if they would identify the bretty wines (they can test them to confirm). Wine Mag blew the whistle on the bretty Ernie Els way back and they make much better wine now as a result. Unfortunately Wine Mag is losing it’s edge, having become a lifestyle magazine.

  3. Interesting that good old Kwispedoor complains that Wine mag doesn’t name problematic wines, and then does exactly the same himself, even though he’s hiding behind a pseudonym! As someone who sometimes finds what he thinks to be brett disturbing and sometimes not, I’m happy to point to the hypocritical ludicrousness of Christian taking it upon himself to advise others not to drink wines with some “faults” while enjoying them himself. (I remember the story of the Trophy Wine Show Panel about to give a wine a gold medal until one judge suddenly decided it just might have brett, so they all backed down and gave it zip, as I recall!)

    I’d also like to point out that I have heard just about every single red wine in South Africa, including some indisputably “clean” ones, being accused of having brett by some self-styled expert or other. Given that I don’t know who Kwispedoor is (and I like or agree with or respect a lot of his/her comments, if not all of them), why should I believe that the analysis offered about this particular flagship wine is correct? More importantly, why should I accept that the gorgeousness of the wine is spoilt by having some of this character? There are very few local judges I would accept as being pretty near infallible on this question (Karl Lambour of Constantia Glen being one) – and even then, I don’t think that what Australian judges have decided to be a “fault” necessarily needs to be a fault for everyone else (a truth that I’m pleased to see Christian discovering). They’ve decided, for example, that the sweaty character given by mercaptans in so much New Zealand sauvignon blanc is NOT a fault – it’s all a matter of definition (and economics – the Australian cleanliness fanatics were trying to prove their superiority to the mucky old magical French). I can think of more than a few wines whose very faultlessness leads to them being oh so boring – a rather more significant fault than a low level of brett to my poor palate, which admits to preferring a slightly bretty but fascinating Bordeaux to a faultlessly overripe Ozzie cab, for example.

    Well done, Christian, this is an issue (like blind and sighted tasting) that needs to be continually raised and discussed and thought about. Even those of us with fixed opinions on the matter can learn something each time it is discussed. But the biggest wine-fault of all is to suggest that the answer are simple and clear. Like most aspects of wine aesthetics, it very definitely is not.

  4. By the way – I almost forgot. Last year I tasted through just about all of the Merindols that had been made, and I think the latest 2007 is the best yet. They are progressively using a bit less new oak on it than before, for example, (though there’s a way to go still, in my opinion). Perhaps the improvement in quality in recent years, leading to less egregious showiness, is why it’s not doing so well in Christian’s competitive big line-ups. It’s a wine developing a history of developing well in bottle, by the way, as Christian observes in the case of the 2001.

  5. Hey, I’m not that old! And I’m not hiding. If I used my own name, it’ll mean as little as Kwispedoor. I’m merely a slightly obcessed wine lover. Cathy knows who I am (and then again, she don’t) – she published something I wrote on Grape once. I’ll look into a legal name change to Kwispedoor.

    The reasons I’ve not named bretty wines are (a) there’s not enough time and (b) it’s a fairly hard knock for any producer to have people publicly proclaim their wine is bretty. I’m not a professional and humbly aknowledge that I might get it wrong – it’s much better for industry people to warn consumers after they’ve tested a wine to confirm their suspicions. This way there’s no unsubstantiated rumours doing damage out there.

    I’ve tasted a certain producer’s range of wines yeserday and somewhat surprisingly found their Pinotage to be the best. Only upon returning to the wine later did I find the faintest whiff of Brett on it. It remained my favourite (not a fabulous line-up), but I certainly wouldn’t mature the wine as I believe the Brett will become more noticable and spoil the taste.


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