What exactly is a vertical tasting? A vertical tasting is designed to showcase a variety of vintages – or harvest years – of the same wine from the same producer. If grapes come from different blocks, then you really comparing blocks instead of vintages. It also doesn’t make sense if winemakers chop and change, as each winemaker’s techniques will differ.
It needs to be an estate wine meaning that you use your own grapes from the cellar and bottle it on the premises. This way you have complete control of the process.
Vertical tastings usually progress from youngest to oldest. That’s because young wines tend to be less complex than older wines. It’s nice to build up to the big finale.
Almenkerk did a 5-vintage vertical tasting of Syrah with winemaker and owner, Joris. We tasted 5 vintages that come from the same block, picked in same parameters, made from the same cellar by the same winemaker and same winemaker’s approach was used. So what really is in the glass is vintage.
The nice thing about Syrah is that if you give it enough time, it will develop more range of different flavours. Syrah is broad and complexed. South African Syrah tends to be heavy in blackberry and plum, with a voluptuous full body and a good dose of tannin.
So is is Syrah or Shiraz?
In most of the rest of the world, the variety is referred to as Syrah. New World producers, such as South Africa and Australia, have recently started using these terms to indicate a style of wine.
Syrah is reserved for more traditional Rhone Style wines with restrained fruit flavours, while Shiraz is used for more modern wines of which the berries are picked at a riper stage and that have higher alcohol levels and more upfront fruit flavours.
We tasted vintages from 2014 to 2010 and Joris took us through when the grapes are picked, the colour of the pips and what are the flavours of the grapes. As Elgin is the coolest wine region in South Africa, the ripening is slower, you lose less of your natural acidity. Picking grapes that have been longer on the vines, develop more flavour, building towards a more fruit flavour in Syrah. If you smell the wine, you get fruit and red plum flavours with spicy snd meaty characters.
ALMENKERK SYRAH 2014
This was a difficult vintage with headwaves followed by rain. Only 4000 bottles made instead of 10 000 bottles. This wine has an upfront nose of blackberry & blackcurrant, underbuilt by savoury, meaty characters and a definite elegance that reflects Elgin. The palate shows clean fruit, spicy, meaty characters. It has a firm, medium-full-bodied structure with a lingering finish.
ALMENKERK SYRAH 2013
Supple and fresh with nice black cherries and raspberry as well as some blackberry richness. Nice weight here with some spicy warmth. Elegantly structured, full-bodied palate. Supple texture with fruit concentration. Fine grained tannins and a long lingering finish. It was a different vintage with beautiful weather throughout ripening season. It’s elegant but not as concentrated.
ALMENKERK SYRAH 2012
Similar vintage as 2014. This translates into complex aromas including dark cherry, blackberry and warm, earthy, spicy, slightly meaty notes. Quite stylish with a subtle spicy edge to the berry fruits. There’s nice black cherry and berry fruits with a hint of mint, and nice focus to the palate.
ALMENKERK SYRAH 2011
This wine is packed with sweet clean fruit and meaty, slightly spicy characters. The gentle ageing, 24-months in French barriques, softens the firm tannin structure. Supple, spicy and quite smooth with nice weight to the pure berry fruits. There’s some warmth here but also some definition. Smooth mid-palate with some tannic structure.
ALMENKERK SYRAH 2010
This was picked ripe. Ripe, sweet and spicy with rich berry fruits. Smooth and quite lush with red plums and currants with beautiful aromatics.
It’s quite a versatile grape, so the wines vary from place to place. It’s a rich, deep wine with a distinct spiciness. Quite enjoyable. Que Syrah Syrah!