Wine For Every Season

From a silky Shiraz to crisp whites and a sensual Port-style wine, there’s a sip for every style.

Kleinood-John-Spice-SyrahI’ve always found Shiraz to be an unpredictable wine, but when it’s well-done, it can certainly turn out beautifully. A lovely Shiraz was delivered recently from the pretty Kleinood Estate near Waterford, where the Helderberg takes over Stellenboschberg. Granite makes the wine here — those mounds of decomposed rock chiselled from the mountains for over 80 million years.

Shiraz has found a certain expression at Kleinood, whose John Spicer Syrah from the comet 2015 vintage is a wine delivered with politeness and received with immense gratitude. In the cellar, the wine ferments at 26.5ºC for 14 days, with surging wet pump-overs. This gives it a balanced extraction for that sweet spot between tannic power from skins and energetic juicy freshness. Then it all goes to wood: 18 months in 300-litre French oak barrels – 15% first, 35% second and 50% third fill.

In the glass, the nose is a potpourri of spring fynbos flowers, sun-baked Algerian prunes with an intriguing whiff of the sweet smell given by a 36 month-aged ibérico ham. I smelt wine, then Shiraz, and it is good.

Interestingly, it is the texture that reaches me before flavour. The wine is silky, not showy. Its presence is evocative and polite, and here lie the flavours of what Shiraz does when its best personality comes to the fore. Dark, dense berries provide an edge of sweetness, nothing tart. Cardamom from Zanzibar and good old white pepper, as used by Louis Leipoldt in his South African kitchen, give an exotic air but are weighed down by the good stuff: the succulence of plums, heavy and ripe and fallen from the tree; mulberries, sticky and colourful and stain-inducing; dried pomegranate pips, slightly sharp before the bright fruit takes over. It caresses, slides and seduces the drinker.

Talk cool and wine, and one can’t be blamed for thinking of things white. Suave Sauvignon Blanc. Churlish, cocky Chardonnay. Calm-weighted Chenin Blanc. And yes, many great white wines are cool, although it is a character not exclusive to these wines of a lighter shade and lower drinking temperature.

Hamilton-Russell_Chardonnay_2020A current example of such a cool white that passed my lips of late is the 2020 Chardonnay from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer that is itself the embodiment of cool. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2020 resulted from a wet 2019 winter, with over 800mm of rain. The 2020 summer was cool, with pre-harvest temperatures of December, January and February maxing out at 25°C. Harvested end-February, the grapes were taken to the cellar where winemaker Emul Ross managed their growing from infantile raw fruit to one of those complete wines made from the great grape that is Chardonnay.

The wine spent nine months in tight-grain French wood, a selection of fills one to four. On the nose, the wine offers fresh Cape lemon peel, loquat and dew-damp sage with a slight hit of fennel. Of course, the approach and attack on the palate is balletic in grace and elegance, presenting an initial cocky citrussy zest and sherbet-tainted exuberance.

This year’s winter was cold rather than cool. I was directed, therefore, to the fine offerings of South Africa’s range of Port-style wines. Top was the Quinta do Sul Port-style wine, a number only made in special years and is waited for with revered anticipation by the – unfortunately dwindling – number of those appreciative of this style of wine.

Quinta-do-SulQuinta do Sul 2020 was made from 100% Tinta Roriz grapes – also known as Tempranillo – one of the traditional Douro Port varieties. The vineyard grows in Prins Albert in the Karoo, so the necessary ripening requirements of sun and warmth are there, limitlessly, and this ideal geography is complemented by the region’s pristine Champagne-pure air in the isolated Karoo.

This fortified wine has a truly sensual attack on the palate. The sweet loveliness of it all is crystal in its clarity, without a hint of the cloying or syrupiness that all too many persons assume to be present in wines subjected to fortification. Warming the palate instantaneously, the display of flavours lifts the spirit of the one having the privilege to drink this. There are familiar red wine aspects, like the almost-sour brush of tannin and the agreeable swipe of dry herbs on the mid-palate. They raise the wine, giving freshness and perk. Allowing the senses to stay awake during the rest of what is going on here.

The flavours are gorgeous and delicious. The thick juicy black fruit of the aroma carries through on the palate, synching the soul of the drinker with the heartbeats of the Tinta Roriz grapes. A thimble of white pepper is sensed, joining the wine’s succulent, eloquent sweetness in brilliant harmony. Being fortified and strong, the power is not harnessed. There is an excitement in drinking a fine vintage Port, or Port-style wine, such as Quinta do Sul, the liquor refusing to rest sleepily on the palate. Instead, it entices, seduces and alarms the senses, giving shudders of being enthralled and amazed by a beautifully big monster of a wine.

The sight of the winter was a pleasure to behold.