The Foundry's 2001 reds Jancis Robinson's Wines of the Week

Thursday, 1 July, 2004
Jancis Robinson,
'What we must celebrate is that South Africa has got the hang of making red wine for modern palates so fast'.

South Africa is definitely in ferment. Red wines used to be relative rarities and often hard, green and/or malodorous to boot but this has changed almost faster than is seemly. There is now a host of fine red wines to add to the country's array of still well-priced whites. One must assume that many of the red wine vines are pretty young (not such a good thing), but then so are many of the winemakers (a very good thing). This new generation has travelled, absorbed information with admirable determination, and is making fully ripe reds with increasing confidence. Of course some are making overripe, overoaked monsters, but then that is the case in practically all of the world's wine regions. What we must celebrate is that South Africa has got the hang of making red wine for modern palates so fast.

One of the most exciting new names to come my way on my last trip to South Africa just over a year ago was The Foundry, a tiny, spare time enterprise founded by James Reid of Kumala and Chris Williams who is clearly someone to watch. He worked for six years at Meerlust before moving on to be head winemaker at the widely admired Delaire and has been appointed to take over from the famous Giorgio Dalla Cia, for many years winemaker extraordinaire at Meerlust doubling as grappa distiller and Father Christmas lookalike. Chris Williams made Meerlust's 2004s which should be worth looking out for.

The Foundry's first 500 cases of wine, from the 2001 vintage, were made, with no added yeasts, in Paarl from grapes grown in Stellenbosch, which is why they are entitled only to the capacious Western Cape appellation. And the owner of Meerlust is happy for Chris to continue to make 1,000 cases of wines a year under The Foundry label.

The Foundry Syrah 2001 has admirably rich but not facile Syrah (not Shiraz) fruit. Williams and Reid have always looked to the Rhône for their benchmarks "but we don't want to make just copies of Côte Rôtie or Crozes Hermitage, we want to make big, generous, flavourful, silky, opulent wines". Well that should do it, shouldn't it? The grapes for this Syrah came from 18 year-old vines grown on the Bottelary Hills north-west of Stellenbosch. The wine was meant to have 18 months in oak but ended up getting 20 because of the severity of the motorbike accident which nearly killed off both Williams and The Foundry in 2002. I was especially impressed by the neat, dry finish and the persistence of flavour, as well as course with so much richly nuanced fruit. It is beautifully perfumed and gentle at the beginning and then finished with real tobacco leaf bite. There is absolutely no hurry to drink this wine. I'd try again in a year or two.

I think if anything however I prefer its less expensive stablemate The Foundry Double Barrel 2001 however. This one-off bottling (The Foundry is now concentrating on Syrah) is a blend of 69 per cent new-oaked Tinta Barroca and 31 per cent lightly-oaked Cabernet Sauvignon, so called because it's a wine made by blending two, presumably very small, lots of barrels together. According to Williams this old port grape can taste pretty nasty if overcropped but will result in concentrated black-fruit flavours if yields are limited and it is not allowed to get overripe. The wine was apparently meant to include some Touriga Nacional too but it did not sit happily in the blend. It's a wine that needs aeration. It rather reminded me of Ridge Geyserville in its all-out fruit quality, but the texture is extremely gentle, silky and sophisticated, which bodes well for how Williams will be treating future vintages of Syrah. Sensitively, I'd guess. You could enjoy the unique (not a word correctly applied to wines very often) Double Barrel already.

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