So this is the official end to my time away from writing newsletters. I started the year with a bottling week (bottled 17 new wines), then had a 98 day harvest, a quick trip to the UK selling wine and some fun in France. I am back now and ready to release the first wine of the year. We are going to start with a red “The life of a Black Valentine”. This wine is dedicated to the Black Valentine […or mistress] of the South African wine industry and also forms part of the search in true SA wine-identity.
Back in the day, say 35 years ago or so, our more senior winemakers made fabulous wines, which turned out to age so very well. If these wines were stored in the correct way, they turned out to be beautiful, fine and elegant wines with spectacular freshness. The era thereafter though, winemakers aimed for super extracted heavy-oaked wines – more new world style wines. It turned out that the newer era’s wines aged differently. So what exactly did those older winemakers do to their wines that made a 35-year old wine taste so fresh and elegant? Of course there are many angles to this answer, but one possibility I find quite spectacular.
On the labels of these older wines they would mention only one varietal. Apparently this was not the case… In those days the basic pumps, which transported crushed grapes to the tank, struggled when it came to cultivars with super small berries. The amount of juice vs. skin was too little and the skins blocked the pumps. So they needed a lubricant. A consumable one. They made a plan – they would pick Cinsaut the day before harvesting the cultivars with small berries. Cinsaut has huge berries with thin skins, in other words: lots of juice. The crushed Cinsaut would lie in a tank with a little pipe running towards the pump, lubricating the lesser-juiced varietal with Cinsaut to enable the pump to handle the pressure. This had a dual function: firstly the pump would work and secondly they were changing a lower-priced varietal into a higher-priced varietal. Of course they had to keep this secret and subsequently only declared one varietal on the main label. But the one thing they probably didn’t realize at the time was that – and this is the important bit – Cinsaut’s typical characteristics are those of fresh strawberries and cherries, with a lighter tannin structure and older vineyards would produce very “perfumy” wines.
So many of these older wines have a large chunk of Cinsaut in – no-one really knows how much, but there is speculation that it is the Cinsaut indeed that is giving life to these older wines – the elegance and freshness. What confirms the suspicion are wines like old Chateau Libertas. It is a known fact that they used massive amounts of Cinsaut in those wines.
And as the South African wine industry is constantly searching for its own unique identity and style, I think Cinsaut is part of the puzzle.
So here’s to Cinsaut – “The life of a Black Valentine” – Mainly SWARTLAND Syrah, small bit of SWARTLAND Mourvedre and yes, a large chunk of DARLING Cinsaut.