On my first visit to South Africa in 2004, I stayed at Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek for a week. Back then, winemaker Marc Kent was very much at the cutting edge of the Cape’s growing love affair with the Rhône – not just its varieties, but the more savoury “Old World” nuances of Syrah.
Through his interest in Vinimark, which owns Swartland’s Porseleinberg, he has remained at the heart of what’s hot and happening and was instrumental in getting the Swartland Revolution off the ground, which is a showcase for this, South Africa’s main Rhône zone.
In September at Cape Wine, Porseleinberg’s winemaker Callie Louw revealed its maiden wine – a Syrah/Shiraz of course. The clue to its freshness lies in the name, Porseleinberg, which means Porcelain Mountain. Located on open-textured schist soils at the top of the mountain where Louw says there a bit more top soil, the individually staked vines (planted in 1999) can root deep, which helps them survive the heatwaves. Click here for Harry Haddon’s short video which has some beautiful footage of the vineyard (and the reconditioned printing press which produced the label). It also helps (for freshness) that the grapes are picked early.
As for the winemaking, Louw says “we work hard enough 11 months of the year growing grapes, then we kick back, have a beer and throw it in the cellar.” Not that the cellar is particularly rustic, with its Nomblot concrete “eggs” and 2500l foudres, in which the wine (35% in eggs with no topping up, 65% in foudres) is 100% whole bunch fermented and slowly aged after a week or two on skins. (The smaller surface to volume ratio of foudres/Nomblot eggs versus barrels slows the aging process).
Below is my tasting note of the fruits of Louw’s labour; watch this space for next Monday’s report on more excellent Cape Rhône varietal wines from Swartland and beyond.
Porseleinberg Shiraz 2010 (Swartland)
At this early stage of the game, the wine – a touch reductive – is as laconic as its winemaker, so I was pleased to have the chance to taste it three times. Deep ruby in colour, though floral on nose and palate, with notes of wild peonies and violets, its well-defined, tight knit, pure dark fruit is presently firmly braced by a charge of powdery tannins. I think of Cornas – albeit a very refined one, such is the fine if firm weft and warp of its tannins and its remarkable quality of mineral freshness. A taut, somewhat impenetrable wine which has yet to reveal itself, but promises plenty. Here’s hoping I get to enjoy a longer conversation with it when it has a little more age under its belt. 13.7% abv.