Saxenburg reds to seek out
Sometimes the roly-poly little god of wine deigns to smile on me. How else to explain the pocket vertical of Guinea Fowl, from South Africa’s venerable Saxenburg Winery, that arrived recently? I’ve long been a major fan of all the red wines from this venerable house. The Guinea Fowl blend—revolving customarily around Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz in varying proportions, is a particular favourite.
The various vintages that have found their way to my table since the label first started to show in B.C. have fuelled many hearty dinners (meat is a big winner with these wines), challenging tastings, and heated discussions. It’s not always been easy to locate them—quantities have been scarce; stores that stock the wines are even scarcer. Still, when the stuff tastes so good one perseveres.
Four consecutive Guinea Fowl vintages showed up: library wines ’96, ’97, ’98, and ’99. (Unfortunately, the only one currently listed in the LDB system is the 2009 vintage; for a reasonable $18.99, it’s fine for the price, and a good introduction to the label’s blending style.)
All four were wonderful. Three were fronted by big blasts of Merlot in the mix, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, then Shiraz. Only the ’96 turned the blend around, putting Cabernet first, then Merlot and Shiraz. The earliest vintages tasted here used conventional corks; by ’98 screwcaps had set in and we all said hurray!
We started with the ’99—smoky, light, a little bit bitter, but gently so, and found it great with fatty foods and hearty grills; barbecue, too. All agreed it would like a little more time to rest, so this is the one to buy and hold.
The ’98 was softer and mellower; easier on the palate and with a silkier finish; smoother sliding down. What a difference a year in bottle can make. Generally, these are all excellent meat wines and with considerable subtlety marching right alongside the depth of flavour and finish. The ’97 began with a very shy aroma, but then pushed its way all over the palate, big and hearty, full and elegant. Despite having a surprisingly short finish, it showed the best balance of the quartet.
The senior wine—’96—was also well-balanced and surprised the front of the palate with touches of toffee and honey, a lingering, smooth finish. Any of the four you can locate would (still) make fine cellar-dwellers for a few years. Start with the 1999; it’s in the South African section, if you can find it. What about the other older three? It’s anybody’s guess where those might be lurking. Or even if.
There are also a few bottles of Saxenburg Private Collection Shiraz in the system for $29.99. It’s recommended to Shiraz fans especially, for depth, clarity, heartiness, and elegance, and an overall approach somewhat different from the more familiar Australian varieties. It’s specialty listed, meaning supplies are on the wane here.
Speaking of Shiraz, we all fell all over our adjectives at the Jackson-Triggs Gold Series SunRock Vineyard Shiraz 2008 ($35.10) and, at the price, who’s surprised? It’s every bit as lovely as the same (new) series’ Chardonnay, as tasted in last week’s Uncorked. All of 550 cases went out into the world, and I’d imagine there are still a few left, perhaps mostly at the winery. There’s big oak here—French and American—but the cherries and a hint of clove burst through with lightly spicy, rich, round, plum and pomegranate fruit. Having tasted only the two wines from this series, I’m impressed.
Who’s ready for a $40 Farnese? We all remember when Farnese first hit town: a $6 or $7 Italian red that brought the total price of a pasta dinner at home up over 10 bucks. And it was just right, flying off the shelves.
Eventually the quality of the red wine deteriorated or the palates of the pastaphiles improved, but there came a point when a bottle of the stuff wasn’t anything to proudly bring to dinner. So here comes what? Overkill? New in town is Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni Lot 11 ($39.99; restricted listing). No, there is no vintage specified and the back label essays an explanation: “Edizione has no vintage as the grapes originate from two different regions; for this reason, the wine is named with the progressive number of the vintages produced.” I don’t really understand it, either.
The bottle weighs a ton, and there’s lots of sediment because the wine is unfiltered. There’s also lots of flavour—very big and powerful, 14 percent alcohol, no shrinking violet wine, here.
It’s produced from five different grapes—Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Malvasia Nera. I can’t imagine sipping it solo but with the right hearty fare it would go great. Mind you, there is that price!
For the same price (and change back), you can get two bottles of Firriato Santagostino Baglio Soria IGT 2007 ($17.99; specialty listing); its preceding vintage was included in the Top 100 Wines of the Year by Wine Spectator. It’s a recently arrived Sicilian mix of Nero d’Avola and Syrah, with both varieties separately aged in oak before being blended into this harmonious and hearty mix. The Firriato winery is relatively recent on the scene (1985) and has been named “the personification of the New Sicily”. The wines are lighter, fresher, rounder, bedecked with medals and other accolades—and definitely ready for whatever you’ve got coming out of the oven.