Savage Red; yes and yes

This Savage Red 2018 review is another #saveSAwine post. Remember, you should buy South African wine because their wine industry is in dire peril. In addition to all the other reasons why you should buy South African wine, it has just been whacked with an excise duty increase in its homeland for entirely spurious reasons. We need to boost exports and so help #saveSAwine.

Savage Red is Duncan Savage’s signature red wine; his domaine red. Savage Red has been getting better vintage after vintage, as the string of vintages I have tried demonstrates. He has also changed the cepage from initially being a blend to, in 2018, being 100% Syrah from an organically farmed vineyard with decomposed granite soils in the Southern Stellenbosch hills.

The grapes spend a total of three weeks on their skins, including 50% whole bunches (something of which I greatly approve), before being transferred to 500 litre French oak barrels for 13 months. It is then racked into 3,200 litre conical foudres where it rests for a further 9 months. Duncan made 11,400 bottles in 2018.

This is a Stellenbosch Syrah, those I have been trying recently have mostly been from Swartland. Will I be able to notice any difference? Let us find out!

Savage Red Syrah 2018 by Duncan Savage

Savage Red Syrah 2018, Duncan Savage

I double-decanted this Savage Red back into its bottle two hours before The Editor and I were going to drink it. A little taste confirmed that this was a good idea, it was rather tough. It smelled really delicious, however, and I feel sure that in two hours’ time this will have an even more attractive nose and far more accessible palate. Come back in two hours.

Ah you are back! I have just poured The Editor and me a glass each of the Savage Red 2018 and, wow, does it smell good!

It has a lot of cherry fruit, but the cherry-character seems more red than the black cherries in the Swartland Syrahs I have tasted recently. The berry fruit also leans more toward raspberries than the deep blackberry aromas of Swartland. Savage Red has an extravagantly fruity nose – it is delicious!

There are hints of the thyme/rosemary/lavender herbal aromas I detected on the Swartland Syrahs, but they are far less pronounced than on those wines. There is added complexity from a chipped-granite stoniness that gives the impression of crushed rock dust swirling around in the glass. Only nicer than that.

Savage Red is certainly rather attractive, but a hint more subtle and muted than the extravagant opulence of the Swartland wines. That does not make it worse or less appealing, it is simply a different expression of Syrah.

One thing that is distinctly different in the Savage Red is the amount of pepper character present on the nose and palate. You may think you have had very peppery things, but I assure you they are just peanuts compared to this wine. It is wildly, crazily peppery. This makes the nose vivid and gives the palate a savoury liveliness that is really engaging.

That chipped granite present on the nose of the Savage Red also shows as an involute seasoning on the palate. It suffuses all the other flavours and textures with its stone-y acidity and adds a lot of dimension. The general acid level of the wine is very pleasing and keeps the palate balanced and fresh. Indeed, the palate of the Savage Red seems very balanced and harmonious, except, perhaps, for one feature.

Jesus H. Christ this is really tannic!!

The tannins on the palate merit a little diversion. I have visited Cote-Rotie on several occasions and almost every time I have been there, at some point my travelling companions and I have been given a little taste test.

We are given two glasses and told the wines in them are identical except in one regard; we have been tasked with choosing a favourite and identifying the difference (the latter being easier every time one is presented with this particular challenge).

One wine would have tannins very much like this wine – somewhat coarse and unformed whilst being really gum-busting and tough. The second wine was almost identical except the tannins have been silky and svelte – much more refined. The difference has always been the the rough wine was unfiltered and the svelte one filtered.

Now, I do not state this simply to épatier les bourgeois of the fine wine world, as unfiltered wines are very much a la mode at the moment, but all these taste-challenges have shown something that I wish everyone, including Duncan Savage would do: bleeding well filter your Syrah!

Syrah is a thick-skinned grape packed with rough, tongue tanning tannins; you just do not need the most coarse of them in your wine. Filter the bleeders out. You will have a silkier, sexier wine that will be ready to drink after a shorter time in the cellar. Plenty of tastings I have had of young Syrah have demonstrated that you absolutely need to filter the bastard to tame its wildness. Duncan, your wine is lovely, it just does not need to be so tannic. Please filter future vintages!

Apart from making Savage Red a bit more of a fighting wine when it is young, maturity is 10+ years away. If it had been filtered it would have been lubriciously delightful at 6-8 years old. Savage Red is a really good wine, it just needed filtering to make it superlatively fine. My coffee filters will not do so I hope this is something Duncan will consider doing in future vintages.

If you ignore the fact that chewing through a bottle of this with a friend with leave you both with palates upholstered with the finest leather, it is really good. The solution to that lack of filtration will be ageing it longer (by the time it is ready I would expect the insides of the bottles to be black from precipitated polyphenols). If I am around in about 12 years, my bottles will be gloriously enjoyable; if you taste it before that make sure you start with a big mouthful of phlegm to precipitate some of the rougher tannins.

For those interested in ageing their Syrah Savage Red is a damned good buy at around thirty coins. Its red wax capsule and yellow label will make it easy to find at the back of your cellar when, in your dotage, you remember you had a wine that you were going to get around to drinking one of these days.

#saveSAwine at Handford – they have magnums too!