Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saxenburg Special Selection Shiraz "SSS" 2001

Since we had the Saxenburg Dinner last year Ive always had a soft spot for their top cuvee, the "SSS". We served that from magnums on the evening, and it was definately one of the highlights of the year. Ive since been able to secure a dozen bottles of the 2001 vintage, and Ive sold about four now. Not bad considering it comes with a £120 price tag. If that was Australia or even California it would be too much of a problem to sell. But Stellenbosch? At the moment South Africa isnt really associated with top notch premium wines. That isnt to say that there arent any. I can probably name about half a dozen - Rustenberg's Peter Barlow, Meerlust Rubicon, Glen Carlou, Sadie Family Columela, Graham Beck the Ridge, Rust-en-Vrede Estate Red, and Vergelegen Vergelegen are the most memorable. But for the most part you very rarely see them outside of South Africa. They are produced in such tiny quantities that the strong domestic market snaps them all up before they go abroad. Unfortunately the economies of scale mean that the wines that are exported are generally of a lower quality, more volume driven type. This is where South Africa's previous co-operative winemaking system really had a big advantage. Lets not forget that for many years the political trade embargoes on South African products during the Apartheid era, meant that they had to build their domestic market. They were prevented from exporting their goods by the embargoes. Now the co-operative method is being slowly dismantled and many growers are turning their hand to making their own wines. I think that the next ten years are going to see a winemaking revolution in South Africa. It has already started with the movement away from Co-operative production, and the black empowerment movement is fostering the next generation of winemakers, as well as giving the local communities a greater share in their efforts.

Anyways back to the triple S. It is quite vibrant on the nose with typical shiraz aromas - black fruit, plums, cocao and a touch of licorice. There is also quite a dominant vanilla aroma, hardly surprising considering the wine had about 15 months in new american and french oak barriques, before being bottled without fining and with only a rough filtration. It actually put me in mind of the 97 Hill of Grace I had served the previous night, without the menthol tones. That ripe opulent fruit, medium to firm tannins that opened out with decanting, and the stunningly long, lingering finish with spicy peppercorn and cinnamon. Im told by friends that have visited South Africa, that this is really hard to get hold of there. I suppose it is kind of easy for me here, because of the relationship we have fostered with Saxenburg. It is one that I will continue to build on as long as winemaker Nico van der Merwe continues to produce such fantastic wines. Judging by the wines of his own that he has brought out - entry level Merlot Robert Alexander and top end Mas Nicholas, Saxenburg is an estate that continues to grow in stature and quality. Long may it continue.

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