There’s a flavour in South African red wines that I can’t stand; not in all of them, but in enough to make me approach Cape reds warily. It’s a flavour like burnt rubber or tar, often combined with leathery baked fruit and hard green notes, as if the grapes were over- and under-ripe at the same time. It’s no respecter of price or reputation – it goes from top to bottom – nor of grape variety .
If this was a personal fad, the problem would be mine. But others feel the same, although, puzzlingly, British wine writers appear to be more sensitive to it than commentators elsewhere. And many Cape wine producers don’t get it at all, which is one reason it remains a problem.
The other reason is that no one knows the cause. Ten leading winemakers, assembled in London by importer Richards Walford recently, came down on the side of faulty winemaking, but others think a vine virus is the culprit. Either way, the end could be in sight. For the first time serious research to identify it is underway at Stellenbosch University. Fingers crossed. Three Cape reds I highy recommend below.
2005 Rustenberg John X Merriman, £9.99-£11.99
Cabernet-merlot blend with succulent fruit and a fresh coffee note (Majestic, £9.99 when you buy 2; Waitrose; Stone, Vine & Sun, 01962 712351; Harrogate Fine Wine, 01423 522270).
2005 Ken Forrester 3 Halves, £10.99
Rich, spicy, Rhône-like blend of shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre (Waitrose).
2004 The Foundry Syrah, £11.99-£20
Top-notch, powerful but polished, peppery syrah (The VineKing, 01737 248833; Harrogate Fine Wine; Planet of the Grapes, 020 7405 4912; Hanging Ditch, 0161 832 8222).