Home > Food, Wine > Carl Schultz on Shiraz

Carl Schultz on Shiraz

Carl Schultz in the cellar at Hartenberg with a glass of his fine Shiraz

The first time I listened engrossed while Carl Schultz spoke about wine was about a year ago. The occasion was a dinner and tasting of 11 South African Rieslings. A notoriously difficult grape from which to make a good wine in South Africa, Carl’s discourse about the varietal, its origins, the difficulties a winemaker faces in working with it, its the peculiarities, what happens when it ages, and his reflections on the great Rieslings he has tasted over the years (it is evident from his reflections that he has travelled widely in pursuit of his understanding of Riesling), gave me the most remarkable insights. In short, I learned much that evening.

Chef Stephan Marais animatedly explaining his upcoming menu at Societi Bistro

A lunch at the very fashionable Societi Bistro in Upper Orange Street in Cape Town a few weeks ago with Carl afforded the opportunity to once more sit and listen, fascinated, as he spoke about wine, this time about Shiraz, or as it is more elegantly known in its home range of the Rhône Valley, Syrah.

Carl presented three different Shiraz’s that day, over a magnificent four course lunch, lovingly crafted by chef Stephan Marais, who incidentally is one of those rare chef finds: his competence in the kitchen is matched by an innate ability to engage with his diners and to discuss his food in such a away that you end up salivating copiously in anticipation.

Director of Hartenberg Estate in Stellenbosch since 1996, Carl has been making Shiraz there since he joined the winery in 1994, by that time already well known since the 1970’s for great Shiraz, originally under the Montagne label.

Touching on the oft contentious issue of terroir, that much debated French term which describes the impact of soil, climate, weather, geography and farming practices on the final product, Carl noted that in his view it is relevant, and his descriptions of the 15 blocks of Shiraz on the farm, their location, attitude, altitude, and differing soil type amongst others clearly support this view.

Of these 15 blocks, only nine yield fruit that meets Carl’s stringent standards for inclusion in one of his single varietal Shiraz’s, the balance being incorporated in the blend. And it is his intimate knowledge of the land from which the fruit comes, that informs these choices. With Shiraz constituting fully 60% of the farm’s production, its importance is self-evident.

In the same vein that his travels have contributed to his understanding of Riesling, so to his descriptions of the influence of climate, soil, orientation to the sun, left bank or right bank of Syrah grown in the Rhône Valley has clearly influenced his choices and direction in crafting Shiraz at Hartenberg.

Seared tuna Bordelaise paired with the 2004 Hartenberg Shiraz

The 2004 Hartenberg Shiraz was first up to the plate, paired perfectly with Stephan Marais’ seared tuna bordelaise, hassleback potatoes, buttered spinach and slow roasted tomatoes. Deep purple in colour, it proffers a bouquet of black cherries and plums on smoky bacon notes. The palate is redolent of bright fruit, with balanced acidity complementing the long mid-palate. Tannins are complex and malleable, the finish satisfying. This is the workhorse for want of a better title, and at R130 a bottle for the currently available release (Platter 4*), deeply satisfying.

The 2003 Stork – named after Ken MacKenzie, the long-legged WWII Spitfire fighter pilot ace who bought the farm in 1986 – marched on stage next, accompanied by Crispy duck leg and peas a la Français. Grown in deep rich red terra rosa soils at the top of the far, the wine is bold, big and challenging.

Crispy duck keg paired with the 2003 The Stork Shiraz

Meaty spicy notes on black cherries and vanilla whiffs, morph into bright black and red berry fruit in the mouth. The line of acid in mid-palate is supported by the fruit, and the complex, gently tactile tannins (the 26 odd months in new French oak has clearly worked its magic) and the finish is seductively fruity without being in anyway sweet.

Carl says the inspiration to plant Shiraz  – a Southern Rhône clone – on that part of the farm around 1998/1999 was forthcoming from consultant wine maker Alberto Antonini, who Carl describes as “one of the few English speaking Italian wine makers”, a decision deeply affirmed by what The Stork has to offer. At R375 a bottle, it is clearly in the premium class, but then again what’s in the bottle justifies the price tag.

The piece de resistance (and this in no way suggest that the afore-going were in any way sub-standard) was the 2000 Gravel Hill. Tellingly, it was served solo, Chef Stephan informing the diners that he was unable to come up with a suitably matching dish, despite much thought and effort. Wise move I thought, since this is one to enjoy on its own.

Grown by contrast with The Stork on just 4ha of much poorer stony soils (hello, hello Gravel Hill!), it is elegant and refined. The Northern Rhône clone has smaller pea-sized berries says Carl, which makes for greater fruit concentration, and he must be careful not to over-extract.

The nose offers elegant red berry fruit aromas, on liquorice and a delicate earthiness. On the palate, the fruit is complemented by balanced acidity, and the tannins are edgy and complex, fading as the elegant fruit lingers. Seamless restrained elegance. Not your everyday drink at R675 a bottle, but for a special occasion a lover Shiraz would not balk.

The 2005 Gravel Hill Shiraz was paired with this sumptuous pork belly

Carl makes the astute observation that the reputation of great wines is largely built on aging ability, to which and ten years on, the 2000 Gravel Hill bears abundant testimony. As much as I’d like to taste the 2005 Gravel Hill – still somewhat tight and young, it shows great promise – in five years, I would also very much like to taste the 2000 Gravel Hill in another 10 years!

Three fine examples of the winemakers’ art, by a man who not only approaches his craft with a deceptively self-deprecating demeanour, but whose wines speak so eloquently for themselves.

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