WBW#6 – Beyerskloof Synergy 2001


BeyerskloofWhen I chose this month’s theme for WBW there was never really much doubt as to whether I would have a South African theme – I mean, hello, I’m South African and as far as I’m aware, the only South African blogger taking part in WBW.  So if I’m not going to suggest SA wines, who will??  Yes, I have had some good-natured digs about how unsurprising my choice is, and yesterday I found myself launching into a long defence of South African wines on another blog after somebody had dismissed everything we produce as “industrial swill” (!!!).  This crystallised for me the reason why (apart from a sense of patriotic pride and a homesick longing for the familiar!) I had chosen SA reds – because there are an awful lot of misconceptions out there about our wines, often propagated by people with no experience other than a couple of cheap bottles of SA plonk off their local supermarket shelves.  A lot of people see stuff like Kumala in the UK as “good” South African wine – I mean, with a slogan like “South Africa’s best-selling wine”, who can blame them? But Kumala should be obliged to add a rider to that slogan – “SA’s best selling wine if you only take into account sales outside South Africa“!!  Nobody that I know drinks Kumala in South Africa – in fact, I’m not even sure it’s available in South Africa!  It is the Coca-Cola of South African wines and in no way representative of what the country can (and does) produce.  And yet it is probably the most experience many people over here have had of SA wines!  Many of the smaller and more innovative wineries simply do not have the marketing budget nor the production volume to attempt to push their product into foreign markets and consequently you never see top SA wines on most supermarket shelves in the UK – or anywhere else, I guess.

If you are lucky, you may find a better selection from, say, Waitrose, OddBins or independent wine merchants, but these are likely to be relatively expensive.  Think about the costs of getting a bottle of Pinot Noir from France to London compared to the costs of getting a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson Pinot Noir from SA to London.  Do the math.  Of course the SA wine is going to be relatively expensive compared to the French wine!  And saying that SA wines are overpriced ignores these fundamental realities. Go to SA and buy wines on the spot and you will find them to be ridiculously cheap, much like buying French wines in France.  Along the same lines, I would be prepared to wager that I won’t find good American wine on the shelves of my local Sainsbury’s.  Getting the good stuff here is simply too expensive and the wines would be priced out of the market – so all we are left with are the Gallo offerings, and I wouldn’t dream of insulting the American wine industry by suggesting that they are representative of American wines!!  Anyhow, by including more detail and info that usual in my WBW#6 announcement, I hoped to pique the curiosity of people who had perhaps not had much luck with SA wines in the past or had dismissed the region as producing high-volume, low-quality wines.  I also hoped the practical tips on buying would prevent too many expensive disappointments… 😉

[Steps off soapbox.  Ahem.]

There was another reason for my choosing reds in particular – our own home-grown Pinotage grape (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, called Herimtage at the time) is of course red!  The grape is something of an enigma as it was developed relatively recently (in the 1920s) and is grown almost exclusively in South Africa.  I also have to say that I am not a huge fan – all too often Pinotage turns out to be unattractively bitter and astringent – all barnyard and no fruit.  But in loving hands, Pinotage can be a delicious fruity wine with supple tannins and an intriguing spicy nose, and based on this, it should also make the ideal blending partner to a grape like Cabernet Sauvignon.  So I decided that this WBW would be my chance to get reacquainted with Pinotage in some form.  While doing some research for the WBW announcement and this post, I came across a debate (a storm in a tasting glass…) that has recently been raging in the SA wine world and which centres largely on Pinotage.  It seems that some producers are pushing for the creation of a new wine category in competitions (and, by extension, on restaurant wine lists and in the public’s hearts) called Cape Blends.  The idea behind this is to create something that is as instantly identifiable with South Africa as Bordeaux blends are with France.  Obviously a Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc) was out of the question and it was felt that a Cabernet – Shiraz/Syrah blend is also out of the question as you could hardly call that unique, given that Australia does such a very good job at it.    So it was proposed that the blend should be defined as containing a minimum percentage of Pinotage (which would indeed make it a uinquely Cape blend) and the rest of the mix could be left to the creativity of the winemaker.  Sounds OK, no?

Well, apparently not to everyone.  It appears that the major proponents of the Cape Blend idea are approaching it from a marketing angle – we need to carve out some sort of unique SA brand identity in the international world market.  But detractors point out (quite legitimately) that this is putting the cart before the horse – surely if you produce a product that people like the branding will grow out of that? If loads of wine-makers are producing great blends using Pinotage, then by all means, call them something unique.  But starting out with a formula and then expecting winemakers to build a great brand out of that is a bit of an odd way to go about things.  Another big bone of contention is the percentages – just how much Pinotage will a wine need in order to qualify to be a Cape Blend?  30%?  10%?  5%??  Still others disagree with the nebulousness of the criteria – just saying that a wine must have 30% Pinotage is not enough – surely there must be other guidelines?  What if a winemaker adds 70% Chenin Blanc or something equally bizarre?  And so the debate rages on.   Whatever you call them, though, Pinotge blends do seem to be winning accolades abroad – last year the South African Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001 became the first Cape Blend to win Best Red Blend at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London – so we must be doing something right!

One of SA’s greatest champions of Pinotage is Beyers Truter, formerly the winemaker at the highly respected and successful Kanonkop estate but now making wines at his own Beyerskloof estate.  Among his many successes he counts winning the IWSC Robert Mondavi trophy for International Winemaker of the Year (1991) and being the only person to win the IWCS trophy for best blended red twice (1994 and 1999).  He is also just happens to be the founder of the Pinotage Association which aims to improve the growing, makiong and marketing of Pinotage grapes and wines.  The Beyerskloof site even includes a couple of recipe ideas for cooking with Pinotage, including an intriguing fish dish with Pinotage sauce – this man is clearly passionate! So I figured that I could do worse than placing myself in his hands when buying a Pinotage.

I’m afraid that time didn’t permit much of a trawl through independent wine merchants – it was more like a dash through the supermarkets…  And I had a vague idea of picking up a Beyerskloof Pinotage as I know I’ve seen them on the shelves around here.  But I was thrilled to find a bottle of 2001 Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 – the first (and possibly only) wine to be labelled as a Cape Blend.  Not only did it dovetail nicely with my ramblings above about Cape Blends, plus it was a Beyers Truter, but it was also a 2001 and probably just mellowed enough to be drinking well about now. Bonus!  Food pairing didn’t really go according to plan – I was makign chicken fajitas on Sunday night and had left Nick alone in the lounge.  Next thing, in he walks with the already-opened bottle of Synergy and announces that this is what we’re having tonight.  Erm, OK then!  The pairing didn’t actualyl work too badly as the fajitas were quite spicy and needed a wine that could stand up to them, but I would still rather have had some red meat with this one.

On to my notes.  The 2001 Beyerskloof Synergy (about £6.49 from supermarkets) is a blend of 39% Merlot, 36% Pinotage and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s alcohol content is 13,5%.  Its region of origin is Stellenbosch.  The colour is a deep ruby red, tending towards a cherry red at the edges – very attractive!  The nose was an intriguing mix of spice and tobacco, with plummy, blackberry-ish notes.  It definitely smelt like something you would want to get better acquainted with.  On the palate it showed the benefits of a few years in the bottle.  No one cultivar’s characteristics dominated and the tannins were mellow and supple, but still present enough to give the wine structure.  My first impression was of cinnamon and clove spices which swelled into tart plum and cherry fruits and then mellowed into a liquorice finish.  I would say the wine was medium-full bodied and the finish was extremely long.  Nick and I always say that if you were to represent a wine’s taste graphically, it should look like a bell curve – it should start off modestly, then swell to its full potential and then decline very slowly into a lingering finish.  Well, this is one of the few wines we have tasted recently that had that bell curve thing going on – highly recommended.  I would say that this is probably the best use that Pinotage an be put to.  Its soft tannins take the edge off the tannic Cabernet, while the Merlot’s soft fruitiness takes the edge off the Pinotage’s bitterness – the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.  Synergy indeed.

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Vivi's Wine Journal says

    WBW#6 – South African Reds

    This week Vivi’s Wine Journal and WineTalk.com have put in a joint effort for WBW. Serge and Susanne of WineTalk.com submitted entries for two interesting South African Reds – Guardian Peak, Syrah Mourverde Grenache, 2001 and a 2003 Attacqua

  2. The Thorngrove Table says

    Two South African Reds for WWBW#6

    Jeanne is hosting WWBW#6: South African Reds over at her foodblog Cooksister and here’s my contribution. Unfortunately my original tasting notes about these wines expired with my laptop and the indiscreet glass of Australian Shiraz, so sadly these note…

  3. says

    2002 De Toren Diversity Gamma

    The Saga: My entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday 6, hosted by Jeanne over at Cook Sister, was hard come by… I originally set out to review the 2001 Rust En Vrede Estate Red (a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot blend) which came highly

  4. says

    I totally agree with you about Kumala. The Oddbins I tried had some other interesting looking SA reds, though the price range was between about £7 and £14.
    Sounds like you definitely got the better deal than me on the blends! I shall keep my eye out for it.

  5. says

    WBW #6 – Blind Tasting

    Wine Blogging Wednesday #6 is upon us, with the theme being set by Cook Sister – “South African Red”. As mentioned in the previous post I decided to have a blind tasting. The selection of South African reds was not great at my local bottleshop, and s…

  6. says

    Hi Andrew – thanks for the info on the Pinotage Club – will have to make a plan to attend one of those!
    Hi Lenn, Beau, Rich, Marta, John and Kate –
    Thanks so much for all your contributions and your kind words about how much fun the theme was. Glad everyone enjoyed themselves!
    Christina – Oddbins does have a half decent selection – at a price!! But check the shelves at Tesco for the Beyerskloof Synergy – I thought it was quite a bargain. Thanks for playing along!

  7. says

    Hi, Andy mentioned the Pinotage Club. Its a free non-commercial appeciation society for Pinotage and the web site is at http://www.pinotage.org
    There’s an irregular newsletter sent out when I have enough news.
    Regarding the posts above, the Tumara/Bellevue/Morkell story is confused. Basically, Bellevue Estate found they couldn’t copyright their name in Europe. They’ve now decided to use the Morkel name – after the owner. Tumara, in the UK shops, is marketed by KWV. Look also in Marks & Spencer for Bellveue Estate Pinotage under the Houdamont name (M&S demands exclusive labels)
    Kumara was released on the SA market at the end of last year. There are quite a lot of SA wine names not found in SA. In fact, the most famous one – KWV – was never available in SA. Its only in the past couple of years members of the public could buy KWV by visitingthe winery shop. Many SA citizens are in awe of KWV wines, sincethey were only exported an they couldn’t buy them they thought they were something really special.
    Pinotage as a variety isn’t bitter. But there was a bacterial infection in some wineries that caused bitterness to develop. This should now be a thing of the past. I judged at Veritas and Pinotage Top 10 last year and after tasting hundreds of Pinotages, didn’t find any affected with bitterness. I love Pinotage and hate bitterness.

  8. says

    Hi Peter
    Wow – thanks for your detailed info! I’m glad someone was able to get to the bottom of the Tumara/Bellevue story – I guessed it had to do with naming issues after export but could not track down the full story. I stand corrected re. Kumala as it is now availabe in SA – but I do stand by the fact that at the time of writing, there is no way Kumala was the best selling SA wine within SA’s borders!! I still think it is a bit misleading as it paints the lot of us as Kumala swilling wine Philistines… (not that I have anything against Kumala – their Reserve range is delicious – but it certainly is not the best we can do!). Interesting what you say abotu KWV – I remember my parents being a little in awe of it. I guess you forget that the wine was not always available, because the brandy was, and you just get used to seeing the name around.
    Very interesting about the bacterial infection causing bitterness, as opposed to its being a varietal characteristic. I know I’ve had some spectacularly good Pinotages and they certainly haven’t been bitter. It’s just that I’ve also had quite a few that I just didn’t care for. In general, I do find that people are either huge fans or very anti.

  9. says

    I’ve had Pinotage from various wineries in California and New Zealand, never had bitterness. And the vast majority of SA Pinotage didn’t have it.
    There’s no getting away from the fact that Pinotage needs care taken with it, but the Pinotage Association is spreading the word and there are more and better Pinotages out now then ever before. My own particular favourites are ‘La Cave’ – that is incredible. I was even drinkingit with baked line fish in Fishmongers in Stellenbosch and it matched so well.
    Unfortunately its not available in the UK, tho’ it is in the US. L’Avenir is tho, and it has won the Pinotage Top 10 comp more than anyone else.
    I took some SA friends – they were the owners of the guest house I always stayed at until they retired last year – the the KWV shop in Paarl. They didn’t believe they could buy KWV wines and walked around in awe, eyes wide.

  10. says

    Go to SA and buy wines on the spot and you will find them to be ridiculously cheap, much like buying French wines in France. Along the same lines, I would be prepared to wager that I won’t find good American wine on the shelves of my local Sainsbury’s. Getting the good stuff here is simply too expensive and the wines would be priced out of the market
    Wine prices in SA have risen steeply. The reason good US wines haven’t been seen much in UK recently is because they are such a rediculous high price in the US. Its only with the fall in value if US dollar and overproduction that we’re seeing bulk US brands appearing here.
    People in the wine trade will tell you that the cost of transporting wine a long distance doesn’t make much impact on the cost; its fairly constant whether its come from SA, New Zealand California or south France.
    For a good California wine look out for Ravenswood Zinfandel. There’s the standard Vintners Blend, but for a pound or so more the single county bottlings are excellent – try the Amador County Old Vines Zin. Its in Sainsbury & Thresher about £9