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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


"I will never add Viognier to my Shiraz," says Niels Verburg (right, sandwiched between Kathy Jordan of Jordan Estate and Yvonne Le Riche of Le Riche Wines). Niels is a giant of a man, and the epitome of a 'Luddite' - short on BlackBerries and Ipods, big on ideas and wrestling something special from his Walker Bay vines. He warms to his theme: "Viognier always dominates too much and gets more and more obvious as the primary fruit of the Shiraz takes a back seat." Indeed, Shiraz is the sole focus here, with a production that runs to little more than 20,000 hand-numbered bottles. Niels' single-mindedness is shown by a decreased production from 24,000 bottles in 2005 to only 21,000 in 2006, as wine was sold off as "not good enough for Luddite."   

Niels started by buying all of his fruit, but now uses around 25% of grapes from his own farm, "but we will hopefully have 100% estate wine from 2012," he tells me. He farms "close to organic," in this dry region and is excited by his programme of ploughing the fynbos he uses as a cover crop back into the soil. "It will definitely affect the aromas and flavours in the wine," he says with conviction. "There's a particularly curry bush fynbos that is undeniably in the vineyard, and apparent in the wine."

He uses around 25% new oak, and then a range of older barrels, mostly French with some Hungarian and a few American barrels. "I'm obsessed with Shiraz. When I was younger I had no taste for beer, but I loved wine and grew up with favourite Shirazes, like those from Hartenberg." He worked for seven years with Beaumont, whilst also travelling all over the Cape to find the best site for his Shiraz dream, finally settling on Walker Bay where he was the first to plant the variety.

the wines

UK agent is Caves de Pyrène. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Luddite Shiraz 2005
Very floral nose, hugely aromatic. Lots of lift and spice, bold red fruits. The palate has lots of creamy, soft fruit, but that spice, pepper and those firmer cherryish flavours really come through. It has layers of complexity, with cedar and spice, and really nice tannins adding a smooth, creamy but firm edge. Acidity is fresh, and the finish is long and balanced. 93/100. £19.99 - £24.99.

Luddite Shiraz 2006
Slightly more foursquare, with a more obvious layering of spice and Sandalwood, and more peppery and meaty notes coming through here. The palate has a more density than the 2005, at least at this stage, and there's a sense of bigger, sweeter, more voluptuous wine here. Plenty of dry extract, but the sweetness is lovely. Bigger and quite different in many ways to the 2005, but a another lovely wine. 93/100.

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