Just how good is Constantia Shiraz?

Friday, 15 February, 2013
Christain Eedes
Could Shiraz become Constantia’s signature grape? On the face of it, this appears unlikely. As is common knowledge, it was the sweet wines of the area that became famed throughout Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries while in the modern era, it’s the whites which have come to the fore.
However, the argument might be made that for fine wine producers looking to survive the tough trading conditions which seem to have set in almost permanently, the trick is not simply to make wine of a suitable standard but to make wine whose provenance is something that the consumer recognises and cares about.

And although Constantia’s Shiraz plantings might be small, producers working with the variety have enjoyed exceptional success recently. Leading the way is Eagles’ Nest (with 5.6ha out of 14ha under vine):  the maiden 2006 won best in class and best red wine overall at the 2008 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show before going on to be rated 5 Stars in Platter’s 2009, the 2007 won the IWSC International Shiraz Trophy, the 2008 was again best in class and best red on show at Trophy Wine Show 2010 and was rated 5 Stars in Platter’s 2011.

Winemaker Stuart Botha says all at Eagles’ Nest have “watched with awe and wonder” as the property’s Shiraz has attracted accolade after accolade. Any thoughts on why the variety is performing so well? Constantia’s cool climate is a “massive factor” ensuring that freshness and spice don’t get lost as they tend to do in warmer growing areas. In addition, the vineyards are planted on a patch of unusually rocky scree, which along with the strong winds coming off False Bay during growing season, helps to control the variety’s naturally high vigour. Vineyard plantings start at 100m and go up to 405m above sea level across a distance of about half a kilometre so altitude plays a role, too.

Groot Constantia is another leading producer of Shiraz in the ward and Boela Gerber reveals somewhat surprisingly that the variety makes up the biggest plantings of any on the property, specifically 11ha out of a total of 90ha. “Groot Constantia has always been closely associated with the variety and we’ve got bottles going back to the 1950s”, he says. Once again, it’s the area’s cool climate that’s key for him: “We get a lot more spice which makes our Shiraz really distinctive”.

JD Pretorius , winemaker at Steenberg, also makes an very good example of Shiraz, even though he only has 3.56ha out of a total of 53ha. “Constantia Shiraz seems to have a unique flavour profile – I’m not saying it’s better or worse than elsewhere in the country but we do seem to get more spice as well as some very floral characteristics”. Again, it’s because Constantia is a cooler growing area. “Ultimately I’m more confident in Shiraz than the Bordeaux varieties to do well here – greenness is always going to be an issue but somehow it’s more appropriate on Shiraz”.

Back to the thought that the likes of Eagles’ Nest, Groot Constantia and Steenberg, are obligated to make provenance matterif these properties are to survive and prosper. “The amount of capital invested means we’re compelled to produce premium wines, that is wines which sell for R100 a bottle and upwards”. The Eagles’ Nest 2009, which commanded a price of R225 a bottle from the farm, is sold out so something’s working.

Constantia Shiraz is set to feature during the fourth annual Constantia Fresh festival. On Friday 1 March, Jörg Pfützner of Fine Wine Events along with Peter Tempelhoff, chef of The Greenhouse will present a dinner paired with top Constantia and international wines (R1 500 per person) while on Saturday 2 March, wine enthusiasts can wander the lawns of Buitenverwachting sampling South Africa’s finest and freshest wines paired with canapés made by South Africa’s best chefs (R400 per person). For more information, visit Constantiafresh.com and to purchase tickets visit Webtickets.co.za.

Constantia Shiraz is set to feature during the fourth annual Constantia Fresh festival
Constantia Shiraz is set to feature during the fourth annual Constantia Fresh festival

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