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WBW#6 – South African Reds

16-Feb-2005

Background
Today is Worldwide Wine-blogging Wednesday!  This is an event started by Lenn of Lenndevours, last July as a way to get people learning and talking about wine.  Being fairly new to the blogging world this is the first time I’m participating, but you can expect to see more WBW entries in the future! I’ve been interested in wine for years and have been working on educating myself in a rather random way, I guess.  These events will be just the thing to help me expand my horizons!

This month’s theme is South African Reds.  The theme and roundup are being hosted by Jeanne of Cooksister!  Although she lives in London, she is South African and is very knowledgeable about wines from South Africa.  Her post giving us all quite a lot of background was extremely informative! I learned a ton and was very impressed….

Choosing the Wine
Based with information that Cooksister! had provided, last week while at the Pinot Noir tasting at Esquin I reviewed the South African wines they offered.  I have actually tried a couple South African wines in the past, although I am hard pressed to remember their names, except for Goats Do Roam Rosé.  Not because the wine itself was particularly memorable (it was a bit sweeter than I would have liked) but, of course, for the very clever name. 

I was happy to see that Esquin carried several South African wines.  It’s always nice to have a selection.  My goal was to find something in the $15 – $20 US price range.  I was concerned that less expensive wines might not be representative of good wines.  And, I wanted a price point that I would be likely to buy again, if I enjoyed the wine. And I was also thinking that it might be nice to try the Pinotage (since it’s a native grape), even though Cooksister! sort of warned against it.  After perusing the offerings and consulting with one of the (always helpful) sales people I actually purchased two wines. 

I decided against Pinotage because the price for the Esquin offering was too high. However, I did find a Shiraz that met my price range and based on the Esquin description sounded very interesting.  I also noticed a less expensive Shiraz which had been rated a Wine Spectator "Best buy" so on a spur of the moment whim I added it to my shopping cart. 

The Wines
The first wine I selected was the Onyx 2002 Shiraz Groenekloof from Darling Cellars.  Priced at $18.49 US it was in my price range and had also been given 88 pts by Wine Spectator.  Here’s what they say on their website:

"Matured in 300 liter French oak barrels for 15 months. A very attractive spicy nose with aromas of coffee and moccha accompanied by a full-bodied and well-balanced palate. Great concentration of fruit – a truly magnificent wine that seduces the palate through its finesse and sheer opulence.

The semi-precious stone of Onyx represents the dark granite bedrock so prevalent in the premium vineyard of Groenekloof. This vineyard, is without doubt, our most treasured pride and joy! It is only the very best of these selected parcels which produce wines of great depth and complexity that are bottled under Onyx."

The second wine I selected has lions on the label – something Cooksister! warned me about but I think she would be happy to know that it is the second label of Rust en Vrede.  :-) The Guardian Peak 2002 Shiraz retails for $9.99 US and, as mentioned earlier, had received a Best Buy ranking from Wine Spectator. 

The Guardian Peak site describes this wine as:

“Ripe and generous with bright cherry and plum flavours, revealing hints of crushed pepper, submerged in layers of exotic oak. Well balanced, with a mix of dark chocolate, cherries, plums and stewed fruit. This wine has a firm tannin structure and good length. Excellent follow-through of Cherry flavours on palate with strong hints of smoked ham and pepper. The wine has a long finish complimenting any cuisine.”

R was with me when I purchased the wines and I invited her to join me on Sunday evening to help with my taste test. 

Tasting notes from various websites had given these wines a "goes with anything" review.  While I was a little doubtful, one of the reasons I like Shiraz (or Syrah as we call these wines in Washington) is the relative versatility of the wine.  With that in mind I set up several types of small bites for R and me to have with the wines. 

The Food
We had an array of salamis and cheeses.  All salami was from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats and I chose a couple specifically for their peppercorns.  We had the namesake Salumi salami; the hot and garlic-tinged Soprasatta; the Winter, which is made with green and red peppercorns; and the Dario, which is flavored with garlic, mace and black pepper.  I thought the peppercorns would probably work especially well with the Shiraz.  In addition, we had a selection of cheeses including: Cambazola; young goat; and a Mango-Ginger Stilton.  I threw together a small pizza with red sauce, sweet onions and roasted tomatoes (I wanted to specifically test the Shiraz with tomato sauce) and warmed a couple of sausage-mushroom crepes, cut into bite-size pieces.  Crackers, toasted baguette, almonds, peppered cashews and a couple of mustards rounded out the mini-buffet. 

It was a chilly evening in Seattle so I made a fire and set everything up on the bench near the fireplace. (It was a rather romantic setting but, unfortunately, it was just two straight women sharing it!) We started with the Guardian Peak, thinking that once we tried the "good" stuff we might not have as favorable an impression of the other. 

The Tasting
The first impression is very jammy and fruity.  R described it as being slightly thin or I said that there was no finish – it just sort of disappeared but I think we were both describing the same thing.  Our first sip of this wine was about 15 minutes after it was opened.  We found that as a little time went by – about 30 minutes into the tasting – that the wine actually opened up and was a bit more assertive.  There was more of a finish and it felt fuller bodied. 

Our favorite food combination with this wine was the toasted baguette with goat cheese and moutarde violette.  It also did well with all of the salamis and the nuts.  The red sauce on the pizza brought out the acidity of the wine and it clashed with the crepes.  Overall though, we were pleasantly surprised at its drinkability.  I would describe it as a good wine to use when you don’t want to worry about people "appreciating" the wine – situations where you have non-wine drinkers or large groups that are focused on conversation not appreciation, like a BYOB barbeque.  (If that sounds snobby, it’s not meant to be at all!)

Then we moved on to the Onyx.  This wine was immediately so much beefier – of course, it had been open nearly an hour by the time we started on it but it was more than just that.  My first impression was very spicy, earthy, and full bodied.  There was deep fruit and a pleasant lingering finish.  R felt it was much smoother and less acidic tasting than the Guardian Peak.  This was more of a wine to savor.  And while it paired similarly with the food, it would also be pleasant as a late afternoon, sit-on-the-deck in the sun or an early evening, sit-by-the-fire glass of wine. 

As an experiment, after a glass of the Onyx I went back to the Guardian Peak, fully expecting to experience a decline in my earlier appraisal.  However, even after tasting the "better" stuff, the Guardian Peak still held its own.  It is definitely a lower-end wine but could certainly have a place in your wine cabinet. 

Summary
Bottom line – Would I buy these wines again?  That’s the real question, isn’t it?  And my answer is yes and no.  I enjoyed both wines enough to buy them again; however, I wouldn’t drive out of my way to purchase them.  Although, I drop by Esquin fairly often, it is not near my house and I don’t believe these wines would be readily available in the rest of the Seattle market, although I could be wrong about that.  Out of curiosity the next time I’m at Pete’s or Larry’s Market (two shops with more extensive wine collections) I’ll check it out.  If they were readily available, I’d probably pick them up every now and then. 

In the meantime, this was a really fun and educational experience and I want to thank Cooksister! for all the background information and for getting me to try something new! 

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