Rem on Reds

“Elegance over power” was the sound-bite Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa was offering to sum up his Epicurean 2005 Bordeaux blend at its Johannesburg launch last week. Finesse is certainly flavour of this month. On Monday evening, Rhône ranger Remington Norman was arguing that Shiraz “can be wonderfully elegant if you treat it right.” A point well made by the Zandvliet Estate Kalkveld 2003 Shiraz that was being launched at garden requisite store Soleil in Bryanston.

z Rem on Reds

The wine was remarkable for several reasons. First off, releasing a 2003 vintage red five years after harvest is “a huge endorsement of belief in quality” as Rem pointed out. Especially as the wine won a gold medal at the Syrah du Monde competition last year and the clamour from trophy hunters to source stock must have been almost irresistible. An alcohol level of 13.5% is also a remarkable achievement for the vintage and appellation but perhaps the biggest coup was getting Rem to present the wine.

For although he may be the very model of discretion and good manners, Rem pulled no punches: “this is a cracking glass of wine in the making” he noted “but for those who like monsters, it’s a shrinking violet. This is no show wine.”

Turning to what it tastes like, he noted “I couldn’t care about descriptors – I just look for balance. People get bogged down by descriptors – whether the fruit is boysenberry of blueberry doesn’t matter as it’s going to change as it develops more richness and complexity over the next two to three years.”

On the subject of quite why limestone (kalkveld) is necessary for elegance, Rem noted “consultants are talking clotted codswallop if they tell you why you need limestone for finesse. My own thoughts are that it’s physical – factors like drainage – rather than chemical. One thing I have noticed is that in limestone wines, flavours start at the back of the palette and move forward.”

Expanding on the curse of show wines, Rem detects “an unfortunate expectation of ‘more of everything’. Many wines coming out of Australia and the United States are superficially impressive but are not great. You need to look at elegance and balance. It’s easy to produce over-extracted wines – turn the volume down. After all, you want to consume a wine, not have it consume you.”

On wood maturation, he was equally restrained. “Oak should be a seasoning for a wine, not a cure-all and wine should smell and taste of fruit, not oak. A one year moratorium on the importation of oak barrels into South Africa would be a very good thing indeed.” On the subject of that burnt rubber character some UK commentators detect in SA reds, Rem replied with an emphatic “not at all” in the case of the 1998 Zandvliet Shiraz, the Kalkveld 2003 and Small Berry Pick Hill of Enon 2003. So they may be safely added to the list of well-behaved wines pourable for the UK wine writing corps.