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Stark-Conde Stellenbosch Syrah 2012
I never went to school to study winemaking but rather did my time reading books and experimenting along the way. I'm pretty stubborn, which turns out to be a good thing.
Crafting wine requires patience and the crazy belief that the shortest line drawn between two points may not always be the right one. Take a simple task like fruit-sorting. That's when we meticulously go through all the de-stemmed berries to pick out any under-ripe or bird-damaged fruit, leaves, stems and other MOG (Matter Other than Grapes). During harvest. there comes a point when everyone's exhausted and baskets of grapes keep coming. It's even debatable how much difference sorting will make in the end. That's when the stubborn kicks in.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one having so much fun. We stick to traditional winemaking methods; we ferment our juice in open tanks, do hand-punchdowns around the clock, basket press, and mature the wines in small French oak barrels. The name Stark-Condé is a simple marriage of my wife's family name and my own.
- José Conde, winemaker
South Africa’s most famous wine-producing district, Stellenbosch, surrounds its historic town with the same name; fine winemaking here dates back to the late 1600s. Its valleys of granite, sandstone and alluvial loam soils between the towering blue-grey mountains of Stellenbosch, Simonsberg and Helderberg have the capacity to produce beautiful wines from many varieties. The climate is warm Mediterranean, tempered by the cool Atlantic air of nearby False Bay.
Perhaps most well-known for its Pinotage and Bordeaux blends, Stellenbosch also produces noteworthy wines from Syrah, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc. The district’s wards—Banghoek, Bottelary, Devon Valley, Jonkershoek Valley, Papegaaiberg, Polkadraai Hills and Simonsberg-Stellenbosch—all produce distinctive wines from vines with relatively low yields.
Marked by unmistakable aromatics, a savory palate, and an elegant texture, Syrah is capable of producing fascinatingly complex and long-lived wines with a stunning purple hue. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s best examples are found in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. It is also an important component of the GSM blends of the Southern Rhône and beyond, alongside Grenache and Mourvèdre. Both varietal Syrah and GSM blends are common in Australia and California and are gaining popularity in Washington State. In Australia, Syrah is known by the synonym Shiraz, which tends to indicate a bolder, fruit-driven style of wine, and is occasionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for added depth and structure.
In the Glass
At its best, Syrah shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper, smoke, and even bacon fat. Many examples from California aim to recreate this savory style, while others focus more on concentrated fruit flavors. In Australia, under the name Shiraz, it shines as that country’s unofficial signature red grape, producing deep, dark, intense, and often jammy reds.
Cool-climate Syrah, with its peppery spices, is a natural match with flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb dishes, where the spice is more about flavor than heat. With Australian Shiraz, grown in warmer regions, heavy meat dishes with abundant protein and fat are a necessity to match the intensity of the wine.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” this synonym for Syrah has been adopted by winemakers throughout the world. If the label says “Shiraz,” you can typically expect a plush, fruity, and potent wine made in the Australian style. New World "Syrah" will generally more closely resemble the French style.