Welcome to Notes on Shiraz! The next cultivar in our Notes on Wines series where I interview a number of wine markers about their process of creating wine and learn more about our proudly South African shiraz!
Today we’re featuring (in no particularly order), the Flagstone Shiraz, Mountain Ridge shiraz, Kunjani Shiraz, Alto, Jordan Syrah, Cellar Cathedral, MAN Syrah, Elgin Vintners Syrah and the Saxenburg shiraz!
5 Fact About South African Shiraz
- Stems add a bitterness to the wine so some makers use a bit or remove entirely.
- Shiraz grapes and eating grapes (table grapes) are not the same produce.
- Shiraz and Syrah are similar except Syrah is often referred to a more French-Rhone style of wine while Shiraz tends to reference new world wines.
- Shiraz is the 2nd most planted red varietal in South Africa and we have the 4th most plantings in the world!
- Shiraz pairs really well with game meat and grows well in dry, warm areas, which is why it excels in South Africa.
So let’s talk a bit more about Shiraz…
When is it a Good Time to Harvest the Grapes?
This depends on the climate.
For example, the Elgin Vintners‘ is located in a cooler climate. They will only harvest in March for their 2017 Syrah because a cooler climate means the grapes have a slower ripening process. Warmer areas tend to harvest a little earlier.
For Mountain Ridge and Jordan, they are harvesting in the middle, towards the end of March.
How Does the Cool Sea Air Affect the Grapes of Our Features Vineyards?
The cooler Atlantic ocean plays a huge role at Elgin Vintners. Cooler climates closer to the ocean and afternoon breezes allow for slow ripening, high natural acidity and therefore a more balanced wine.
For Mountain Ridge shiraz, the later ripeness coupled with colder regions influence better flavours, however, sea air does not influence the grapes as they are located too far away from the coast (Wolseley).
Jordan has a Mediterranean climate with maritime influences from False Bay, 14km to the South and breeze from the West Coast’s Benguela current, 24km to the north-west. These two breezes culminate at the top end of the ravine and bring in early morning mists, especially from False Bay.
What Kind of Vines Are Used for Shiraz?
Old or young vines can be used to create shiraz. At Elgin Vintners, they use a combination of old and young grapes, but mostly average ages.
Jordan uses really old vines which are approximately 31 years old!
“A single block is special because it is a pure expression of that corner of the world for a particular year. It is a description of time, manner and place – a confluence of nature. ” – Flagstone
What’s the Difference Between Hand Picking or Machine Picking the Grapes?
Handpicking is gentler on the vines, but is also more labour intensive. Elgin Vintners hand pick their grapes in order to take care of the vines as much as possible. Kunjani also hand picks their shiraz grapes on their estate in the Devon Valley.
Mountain Ridge uses machines to harvest their grapes, while Jordan uses a combination of both.
How Does Destemming Grapes Before Fermentation Play a Role?
Mountain Ridge destem their grapes as they do not want the greener tastes to be included.
Jordan does destem their grapes as well, which is done by the harvest machine. Yet when they are handpicked, whole bunches will be added to the tip and destemmed in order to avoid bitterness in the wine (which comes from the stems).
At Elgin Vintners, destemming before fermentation ensures that there are no green tannins in the wine, but whole bunch fermentation gives you a gentler and slower fermentation process. Different processes yield different results, therefore, they do whole-bunch fermentation on some wines, but not all – it depends on the desired results.
How Is the Liquid Fermented to make Shiraz?
At Jordan, after a gentle pressing they allow the Syrah to go through malolactic fermentatio in overhead retort tanks. They are then fermented in French and American oak barrels for 16 months. The wine can further be matured in the bottle.
Cultured Yeast is used to ferment both Elgin Vintners Shiraz and Kunjani’s Shiraz.
At Mountain Ridge the grapes are picked at full ripeness. It is kept without yeast inoculation for a few days to get more colour extraction from the longer skin contact and enzyme activity. This wine is fermented in traditional open top vats and a combination of punch downs and pump overs are done regularly to cool down the cap (skins) and extract more flavours and tannins.
The juice is fermented on the grape skins in open top tanks and then matured in French oak barrels for 12 months. they cold soak their grapes for 2 days and then add the selected yeast. They then do pump overs every 3 hours.
Shiraz Is Often Made with a Combination of Blending Different Barrels
At Elgin Vintners, once fermentation is complete and the wine is ready to blend, will winemaker Marinda Kruger-Claassen will taste the different barrels and decide on the blending components and proportions.
Both Jordan and Mountain Ridge also uses different batches to enhance different flavours.
What Shiraz Tasting Notes Can Drinkers Expect to Taste?
Elgin Vintners: Warm spicy notes, black pepper, buchu and fynbos flavours. The EV Syrah can be described as follows: Ripe dark fruit with smoky and herbaceous notes. Fresh and crunchy fruit, tart cranberries, blackcurrants and bramble and ending with notes of chocolate and sweet spice on the palate. This wine shows good oak integration and cool-climate elegance.
Jordan: Chalmar ribeye, game and duck margret.
Mountain Ridge: Black berries, pepper and spice. It has a good tannin structure to add to a full-bodied mid-palate and lingering aftertaste.
Kunjani: An inviting nose of white pepper and paprika spice fused with black olives and a savoury soy sauce aroma. Soft palate entrance flows to an elegant tannin structure filled with spice and juicy fruit.
What Food Does a Shiraz Work Well With?
Elgin Vintners: As a general rule, Syrah pairs very well with grilled meats. Also try Lamb Shawarma or Gyros, or a hearty Greek Moussaka made with ample warm spices.
Mountain Ridge: Venison and lamb dishes work really well.
Cap or Cork?
Kunjani, Mountain Ridge and Elgin Vintners use cork.
What Makes Your Proudly South African Shiraz Unique?
Jordan: The site in which the vines are planted, the tin prospecting close by, the gentle pump-overs and the soft oaking treatment we give the wine makes our Shiraz unique and delicious.
Elgin Vintners: Terroir, terroir, terroir!
Mountain Ridge: Our shiraz is a great expression of the Breedekloof region shiraz wines. With longer periods to ripeness, the aromas and flavours are more prominent and distinctive.
BIG THANK YOU TO ALL the wine makers who assisted us in learning more! Before you drink your next glass of Shiraz, read the label, see which area it comes from, explore whether it’s a blend of 100% shiraz and ENJOY!