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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


Caille A new name causing quite a stir in the Swartland is Porseleinberg (which takes its name from the Kaolin clay in the soils here, once used to make Porcelain). The project is the love child of Marc Kent, one of the Cape's most influential figures with his Boekenhoutskloof and Porcupine Ridge labels, and viticulturist and winemaker Callie Louw. In fact the project started in 2009 with the purchase of the land, some of it planted, but much of it a slate-strewn and impossibly rugged slice of virgin mountainside. Callie (right and below) bears the scars of the four years of backbreaking toil it has been to plant and nurture the Syrah and Grenache vines (quite literally - "We've rolled three tractors working on it so far," he says). The new vineyards are mostly densely planted bush vines with some slopes trained on wires, and all farmed organically from day one.

As Callie explained "The whole mountain is slate with very little top soil, so excess vigour is not a problem - no soil, very little rain, and all organic farming means our yields are naturally low." The slopes really are amazingly steep and massive physical effort has been needed to break up the slate and huge boulders. As we stand high on the hill, precariously balanced on a three-foot pile of broken slate, he looks around somewhat wistfully "It's hard graft. This is a super difficult farm; I've never worked on such a difficult farm."

One gets the impression that travelling to glamorous events to speak about his £60 a bottle Syrah is not for Callie. So far, only the first vintage from these young vines has been released and he is adamant that producing around 1,000 cases is as big as he ever wants to be. Extra fruit can be used by Boekenhoutskloof he says. "I'm a farmer, not a winemaker," he continues, "and for me the wine is just proof that we've got the farming right".

cellar All ferments here use only natural yeast, no destemming and no sulphur after an initial dose ("After ferment there's not a gram of sulphur left," says Callie). The cellar contains new concrete tanks from France, a few concrete 'eggs' and a big wooden foudre, but no small barrels. "We harvest super small berries, so you do not want to over extract," says Callie, and though his initial 2010 vintage is sold out from the farm, he is determined to hold back the 2011 longer to soften the tannins, so he will probably not release it until 2014.

Callie has that obsessive gene but a very clear and uncluttered approach to what he is doing. That extends all the way to him hand embossing every label using a wonderful antique Heidelberg printing press that he reconditioned, and a delicious bowl of meatballs and mashed potato he prepared for lunch. Porseleinberg will make only one wine, and that will be in very short supply. An initial selling price of £50-plus must have raised some eyebrows, but a visit here to see the determination that has been needed and the attention to detail being applied really does explain why.

the wine

Porseleinberg's wines are imported by New Generation Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Porseleinberg, Syrah 2010, South Africa
Made in 65% foudre, 35% concrete eggs from French firm Noblot, this is pure Syrah. It has an elegant, Northern Rhône style, and immediately reminds me of Mullineux's 'Schist' cuvée tasted the day before with a beefy and bloody streak across the ripe plum fruit. There's a nice trace of vanilla in there, but just a trace, the mineral, lightly earthy tones and that gamy streak the dominant forces. The palate has beautifully pure fruit, such lovely ripeness and sweetness, there's a juiciness and a fresh raspberry jamminess, but at the same time fine tannins at the core are firm, dry, with lots of dark fruit skin bite and tartness and very good acidity. Delicious stuff, really good length and concentration without any thickness. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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