Samantha O'Keefe“I’m multi-faceted”, Samantha O’Keefe jokingly responded when I wrote to her, with some trepidation as to what to say, asking for an interview. So much has already been said in the press – of herself, of Lismore, of the story which brought her here, and left her here with her two sons on the most beautiful farm, to make wine. I hadn’t been sure I could add to it meaningfully. Yet I felt compelled that I should.

What drew me back was a memory of a first visit to the farm, more than a year ago. Driving up the bumpy trail with a friend to her home, I was horrified at our wheels crushing hundreds of what I took to be crickets, jumping in the road. Later I saw they were frogs – tiny black ones, in their thousands. What brought me back now, so much later, was as much a sense of these frogs as of the burned but unmoved mountains, of a white dress in a box seen through a basement window as a sentence remembered: “love is supposed to be simple”. But mostly of a wine I’d had, and the person who made it.

This is sensational. It’s a new red wine from Duncan Savage, and it’s a blend of 58% Cinsault, 21% Grenache and 21% Syrah. We were served it blind and I reckoned it was a supremely elegant warmer climate red, but I didn’t get any further than that. It’s such a beautiful wine, but it will be incredibly hard to find, alas. I reckon it’s a new South African great. It proves once again that Cinsault is a serious variety in South Africa. [Disclosure: Duncan is a buddy who I judge with every year in South Africa. But I'm not doing him a favour with this review: I genuinely love the wine.]

I have been guilty of ignoring South Africa for a while. There was no malice behind this; it simply did not appear on my radar much of the time. It may be that the downturn has lead to fewer wines being imported, as has happened with many wine regions, or it could be our interest has switched back towards Europe generally.

In the not too distant past South African wine seemed to be on everyone’s lips (literally) but more recently it is certainly mentioned far less. Several retailers I spoke to said both interest and sales had stagnated. 

However, one person is determined to change that. Dr Éilís Cryan, a medical doctor (I am always pleased to find a medical doctor selling wine), reports that sales at Kinnegar Wines, her specialist South African wine-importing company, are going very well.

Read more from John Wilson's piece in the Irish Times

Oak ageing is an art. The barrels a winemaker chooses have a marked effect on how the wine will taste, lending flavours that range from sweet to austere, says Margaret Rand.

Every wine has a back-story. We’re accustomed to tracing a wine’s history back to the unbroken grape, then shrinking and greening the grape on the vine to a hard speck, and then watching the flowering. Is it early? Late? Homogenous? It’s how we explain why wine tastes the way it does.

But from the moment we reach the barrel in which the wine is aged, there’s another back-story. It branches to the cooperage – to the fire that toasts the wood, to a cooper examining the grain, to the ageing of the staves in the rain and the wind, to an oak tree growing straight in a French forest. In the first story we ask, which vineyard? Which winemaker? When it comes to oak, we ask, which forest? Which cooper?

About Kinnegar

Kinnegar Wines was born almost by accident and been growing organically since.

In 1998, I was in the midde of a two year diploma course with the London Wine & Spirits Trust when an opportunity came up to visit South Africa's Western Cape. Naturally, I was keen to avail of the opportunity to learn more about viticulture and winemaking in South Africa.

We had an excellent guide who brought us to a number of the Cape's leading estates including Thelema and De Trafford where we had in depth vineyard and cellars tours. At the end of the day, I wanted to take back some of the wonderful wines we had tasted for our own use. It was not possible to take two or three cases of wine with us on our flight and shipping such a small quantity was more than the cost of wines. So I had the mad idea of shipping a pallet! Clearly, I had to start selling these wines and so began Kinnegar Wines. Ashford Castle took many of the wines and continue to list them and newer arrivals ever since.

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