Butch and bold

We had a few more wines last night, with our lovely friend Richard, but I wanted to concentrate on these two as they showed that butch can be beautiful. However, I should make it clear that the England rugby team (who just got thrashed in the world cup final) are definitely butch but are pig-ugly bastards.

The first wine is a Syrah from South Africa. My friends Keith and Greg have introduced me to a wide variety of South African wines, and I think that some of the most exciting wines being made at the moment come from there.

Many people might recall when South African wine meant dodgy Pinotage made by KWV. Forget that shit, there is now an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Syrah is a particularly successful varietal in South Africa.

I must admit that when I started approaching South African wines again, after being put off them in my distant youth by dodgy Pinotage made by KWV, I was worried that they would all be clumsy booze monsters. I expected them to all be 14.5%-plus and reminiscent of the worst kinds of Australian wines.

Not a bit of it! This Syrah, called The Girl Next Door made by Duncan Savage from a 0.38-hectare vineyard near the Atlantic coast, clocks in at 13.5% and is as elegant as the finest Côte-Rôtie wines of the Northern Rhone. Most wines hover around that level, and I am yet to see anything above 14.5% from South Africa. TGND (as it shall henceforth be known) is an astonishingly fine wine.

The second wine is one I have loved for a long time. I purchased a case and three magnums when it was released, quite a lot of which got consumed before the remainder made it to my Burgundian cellar, from where all of it got pilfered.

I was very pleased when Richard revealed that he would be bringing this wine, de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots 2002, as his contribution to the evening’s excess and riotousness. I was over-joyed to have the opportunity to taste it again.

Let us get down to it, shall we?

Syrah ‘The Girl Next Door’ 2017, Duncan Savage

I double decanted this an hour before we drank it.

It has a nose of subtle berry fruit, blackberries and blueberries if I were forced to name them, very poised and very focussed. Deliciously tempting too.

There are some Northern Rhone-like grilled meat characteristics and a bit of pepper/spiciness present as well. It is all pure, focussed Syrah characteristics.

What there is not is any dicking about with new oak or high alcohol; it is a minimalist, sculpted little Syrah. Indeed, if I were given this blind, I would be guessing an elegant Côte-Rôtie producer like Clusel-Roch or Jasmin, producers I respect immensely. This is a seriously beautiful nose of an extremely high-quality Syrah!

The palate also pulses with quality. It is certainly rather tannic, a bit butch in fact, but those tannins are ripe and finely grained. They will give it supportive structure throughout its long life.

Acidity is usually lacking in the big, soupy Syrahs of the New World – not in this! It has a lively, energetic level of acid that will preserve the freshness and vivacity of TGND for a long time to come. I have only kept this wine for a year but it, like the great Côte-Rôties it resembles, will last and last and last, gaining elegance and refinement but maintaining the vivacity and structure of a vivid, beautiful wine.

The butch tannins and bright acidity form a structure that supports the brilliant fruit of TGND, it is a complex interplay of delicious and powerful but refined characteristics that results in this wine positively throbbing with dimension. I have had some good French Syrah recently, some Hermitage and Crozes from good producers, and this is far more complex and utterly desirable than them all.

Yes, this wine is quite butch on the tannin/acid structure side of things, but the harmony is spot on; it is a beguiling wine that keeps coaxing your lips back to the glass and demands you drink more in a sultry and lustful tone. Hugely enjoyable, complex and style just zips through every mouthful you have.

As I said, this comes from a 0.38-hectare vineyard of vines under great stress, there is bugger all made and when the wider wine world looks in its direction and demands to know why the hell it was not told there will be none left for us to buy and ravish ourselves with. I know the 2018 has just got into stock at Handford Wines and you should go there now and get as much as you can afford whilst you can still get it.

This TGND 2017 is undoubtedly the best Syrah I have had since the last time I popped a bottle. You want some bottles before there are none left to buy. Buy some now.

Pommard Premier Cru Grand Clos des Epenots 2002, Domaine de Courcel

If you are a weedy wet, you should run in terror as soon as you smell this. For sure, it has all the pretty Cote de Beaune pretty redcurrant and raspberry fruit, which has softened slightly to have a hint of pluminess. What it also has in a picture gallery of spades is a brooding, dark, possibly even malevolent intensity that says, “Beware! I am going to be very tannic!”.

I think it is perfectly possible to smell tannins, and this has been made by Yves Confuron at his most enthusiastic at the controls of his grape press. It is going to be very, very, very tannic indeed.

Once again there is no titting about with excess new wood or vastly overripe fruit. There is the beautiful fruit, a rich earthy complexity which is a bit like Nuits (but without the green tinge to the aromas) and the pretty bloody obvious character of it being squeezed until its pips squeaked.

So, I hold onto my nasties in fear and have a taste.

Yes, very tannic indeed. A butch bleeder that has tannins that will never really ameliorate.

However, it has an awful lot of that red/plummy fruit and a beautifully elegant mineral/acid backbone that drags this from turning your palate to leather to actually being quite sapid. It is rather nice!

That tannin, though, is really a bit too butch for the other characteristics to be in total balance. Indeed, I would say this will never achieve a wonderful level of harmony, the characteristics of this wine are about as integrated as they will ever be during the remaining lifetime of this wine, and if you have any more, you should drink up.

If I am totally honest, I think I made the right choice with most of my case (not the three bottles and two mags that got stolen – the bastards). Big, butch wines like this are often best when they positively bulge and throb with energy that is desperate to splurge over your palate and take to on a wild, rollercoaster ride of overblown power and intensity. They are hilarious when they are young and in that state; I was right to consume most of mine in the couple of years after release.

If you have any of this wine left it will give you an idea of those thrills, but the Yves Confuron de Courcel’s from around this time were best consumed on release accompanied by masculine bellows and slaying inconsequential forms of life with a massive battle axe.

This is merely a serving suggestion.

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