'Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too,” wrote Voltaire in an essay on tolerance. The quote has become so commonplace you can now buy T-shirts printed with it (surely the act of buying and wearing such a mass-produced object defeats the injunction?). I’m pretty confident the great philosopher was brooding on matters more serious than wine, but the words still came to mind as I was going through some notes towards the end of last year. There were a few wines that I’d rated but not told you about. One in particular stood out because of the phone call I got about it from my friend Joe Wadsack.
“You know that South African cinsault we tried?” he said. “I think we underrated it when we tasted it together. I took the opened bottle to a dinner with a load of wine trade people and they went mad for it and said it was the best wine of the night. They were raving on and on about it.”
The wine in question was a beautiful pale red, a cinsault made by Adi Badenhorst from vines planted in 1956. It’s called Ramnasgras Cinsault 2014 and is available from Swig.co.uk for £24.50. I was pretty sure I had given it my maximum rating of two ticks on my two-tick scale and went to ferret out my notes straight away.
They proved amusingly predictive: “Very good indeed,” I had written. “Has a lovely transparency and lightness and it’s just 12% abv. Tastes slightly floral, and of pink peppercorns, sweet cranberries, [South African] fynbos herbs and soil. Not for civilians. One for your wine-bore friends, who will love it and also love going on about it.”
It’s unusual to find cinsault as the star of any wine, let alone one that’s more expensive. This southern French grape is usually seen playing a bit-part in the blends of the southern Rhône and the Languedoc, and I’ve always admired the contribution it makes to red blends in Lebanon to which it brings a softness, a soothing lightness and harmony.
Cinsault rarely gets much credit, though Badenhorst is not the only Cape producer to have got behind it: Waterkloof also makes a very good cinsault from old (only 40 years old this time) vines under its Seriously Cool label. And the fact that cinsault is one of the two grapes (the other is pinot noir) that were crossed in 1925 to create pinotage – a variety South Africa has made its own – makes a cinsault wine all the more interesting.
The Ramnasgras is also crackingly good, so why didn’t I recommend it in my Winter Top 50, for which I was tasting when I tried it? Well, I guess I thought it would get lost, and in more ways than one. Who would pick a £24.50 wine they had not previously heard of, ahead of other wines that were more familiar, cheaper or both? And if they did, would they be pleased to have done so? I wasn’t so sure.
Ramnasgras feels like a wine you need to think about. I could imagine it fading into the background if you slammed the lamb leg down on the table, filled a glass and started a family bicker about who got the nice burnt ends of meat.
Equally, while there are plenty of attention-grabbing fine Bordeaux I’d be more than happy to have in my glass as I settled into the box set of The Bridge Series 3 and the comfiest seat on the sofa, Ramnasgras just felt as if it needed a little more attention.
Attention, needless to say, is precisely what wine bores are always prepared to give to a wine. They’ll happily sit around discussing it for hours, and the background info, along with the knowledge that Badenhorst is a star winemaker in South Africa, gives them further food for thought.
Well, I decided to hold back from the nannying, write the wine up anyway, and take Voltaire’s advice to let everyone else think for themselves. The one other useful piece of information I can offer is that this is a wine that, as Joe testifies, can still hold its own three days after the bottle is opened, so if you’re rationing both thinking and drinking for January, it could be a good option.
Also, if you’re looking to make up a case from Swig, and to save you trawling through my back catalogue of recommendations, other attention-worthy wines of theirs include: Bourgogne Blanc Thibert et Fils 2014 (£14.95); Saint Veran Bois de Fee Thibert & Fils 2013 (£21); Domaine Saint Amant Côtes du Rhône Les Clapas 2013 (£12.95); Le Chateau St Jacques d’Albas Minervois 2012 (£12.50); Blank Bottle Nothing to Declare 2014 Western Cape (£16.50). They are all superb.
What I've enjoyed this week
Mount Benson shiraz 2014 Australia (14%, M&S, £12)
Mount Benson is a wine region on the Limestone Coast in South Australia, about 180 miles south-east of Adelaide. This sweetly fruity shiraz smells full and warm and is a classic, cosy bear-hug wine for dark, wet nights.
Bellamico Falanghina Beneventano 2014 Italy (12%, Stone, Vine & Sun, £7.95)
The falanghina grape, grown in southern Italy, makes refreshing white wines with a faint tinge of orange flavour. This is an excellent example, easeful and easy, and with a pleasing brightness. Try it with Ottolenghi’s boiled orange, chicken and saffron salad.
Craigmoor Shiraz 2012 New South Wales, Australia (13.5%, Telegraph Wine, £6.19 down from £8.29 until January 26)
A lighter, contemporary – rather than a blockbusting – style of shiraz, made by Larry Cherubino, this is a red to suit January budgets. It would make a cosy drink with a pork or lamb chop served on a chickpea, paprika and tomato salsa with some wilted spinach on the side.