Written by Clifford Roberts; Photography Johann Viljoen
South Africa’s three biggest cultivars by vineyard hectares, at last record in 2020, are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz respectively. In terms of production, however, Shiraz ranks Number One. Yet within the monolithic 88 905 tons of the red grape that are used for wine, the Swartland easily ranks among its finest sources.
Like many others, and across international competitions, UK-based Master of Wine Tim Atkin has heralded some Swartland vineyards as being among “the greatest Syrah sites in the southern hemisphere”.
There’s good reason wineries such as Boekenhoutskloof began using Shiraz grapes in its ranges including The Chocolate Block, Wolftrap and Porcupine Ridge long before it bought farms in the region. One of them produces fruit for Porseleinberg Syrah; the other, Goldmine, is located down Riebeeksrivier Road at the base of the Kasteelberg Mountain.
The area is also home to Syrah producers Andrea and Chris Mullineux, and a Rupert family property providing Shiraz for amongst others, the Anthonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier Syrah.
Not far away, Eben Sadie has long anchored his flagship Columella red blend in the variety too.
The history of the cultivar continues to be the source of much debate. Consider that it was only with the advent of DNA technology in the late 1990s that the variety was confirmed to have originated in France, rather than the Middle East. The grape was found to be the offspring of two obscure French varieties and is today an anchor of Rhone-style wines.
The specifics of its migration to South Africa are unknown, although there are claims it was planted at the Cape in the late 19th century.
According to Shiraz SA, a member organisation that promotes the variety, it was Bernard Podlashuk who in 1957 first bottled Shiraz as a single cultivar under the Bellingham label.
Yet in the Swartland, Shiraz certainly found a home, thriving in the drier Mediterranean climate and prevalent soils.
Here, it is neck-and-neck with Cabernet Sauvignon by hectare and the two represent the biggest local red varieties. For a Shiraz fan, there are few better places to explore the diversity of expressions this variety is capable of.
The Mullineuxs for example, produce three Syrahs in a single terroir range that illustrates the effect of location and corresponding variables such as soil and climate on the character of a wine.
Across the region, the variety is embraced as part of the weave of a blend, or bold standalone. In many cases, it is showcased in a single portfolio, often as an upper echelon wine as well as a blending component.
In the foothills of the Piketberg Mountain, organic wine pioneer Org de Rac uses Shiraz as a component of its Waghuis blend and for a reserve single variety wine. Riebeek West’s Allesverloren produces a single cultivar Shiraz, while melding it with Tinta Barocca for the winery’s 1704 brand. Riebeek Valley Wine Co makes the Shiraz limited release Kasteelberg and incorporates the cultivar in its Cape Ruby port. Lammershoek has the Terravinum Reserve Syrah, but also includes Shiraz in its Terravinum Reserve red blend.
The cultivar appears in the portfolio line-up of the Swartland Winery and at Babylon’s Peak too – two wineries that have excelled in demonstrating the suitability of Shiraz for blending. The latter Paardeberg Mountain winery focuses on Rhone varieties and blends Shiraz and Carignan as well as Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Grenache for its SMG.
There are many more, from Leeuwenkuil’s Heritage Syrah to the tiny Hofstraat Kelder, home of Renosterbos Wines. In fact, Hofstraat makes a good place to begin or end an on-site exploration of Swartland Shiraz – it’s the location of country-style bistro Myrtledene Restaurant.
Shiraz is often associated with a bold and sometimes smoky character. No surprise then that it’s so regularly recommended to a meat-loving South African public as the ideal partner with grills, barbecues and wintry stews. In fact, there’s no time like the present to book a table in the Swartland
You say Shiraz, I say Syrah…
The names Shiraz and Syrah are two names associated with the grape variety and commonly used in reference to a particular style. The lines are blurry depending on the country you’re in. In South Africa, a typical Shiraz can refer to a fruit-forward wine while Syrah is associated with wine made in an Old World style, pursuing greater depth and ageability.
Shiraz & waterblommetjie stew to counter the winter blues
Charl Badenhorst, resident chef and the go-to guy at Kalmoesfontein, was kind enough to share his famous waterblommetjie lamb stew recipe with us. The ideal home-cooked winter stew will pair perfectly with a full-bodied Shiraz.
- 1 kg lamb (knuckle or neck)
- Flour to dust meat.
- Olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped.
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ cups lamb stock
- 2 tablespoons soya sauce
- 1.5 kg waterblommetjies
- 500 grams baby potatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- 1 lemon, zested.
- Dust meat with flour. Add a splash of olive oil to a casserole dish and bring to high heat.
- Brown the meat in batches until golden brown.
- Add the onions and fry until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a further five minutes.
- Add the coriander, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and fry for a further two minutes.
- Add the lamb stock and make sure you deglaze the bottom of the pot to get all the flavour. Add the soya sauce.
- Close the lid and reduce the heat to medium heat and let cook for 40 minutes.
- Mix in half of the waterblommetjies and cook for a further 20 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and the remaining waterblommetjies and cook for a further 30 minutes on low-medium heat.
- Add the lemon zest five minutes before serving.
- Decorate with suurings.
- Cook some extra Waterblommetjies and butter and braise them for garnish at the end