The room was heaving to the sound of heavy rock as excited guests entered with eager haste to find the best seats.

This was going to be no ordinary wine tasting but then the annual Young Guns event never has been. Since it was first held in 2010, when the audience numbered around 30 to 40 wine lovers, it has seen exponential growth. This year, the Cape Town showing drew 180, with a waiting list close to three figures.

The idea of showcasing emerging talent among winemakers pushing the boundaries was the brainchild of Wine Cellar director Roland Peens and a former employee, Tessa Miles (now married and living in Austria). Peens explains that as Wine Cellar imports fine wines from around the world as well as selling top South African wine “key young winemakers most likely find their way to us”.

It is from meeting and tasting these youngsters’ wines that Peens selects the Young Guns. He looks for winemakers “pushing the boundaries, owning the brand or having a financial investment in it, that’s a must – many talented winemakers are inhibited by management, brand or style”.

The room is full, the music still pumping, and three screens across one wall flash photos of the winemakers as well as a Twitter feed which is kept well supplied from the actual and virtual audience with comments and photos, much generating raucous laughter.

“You are now entering a pyrazine-free zone,” Peens announces, as he introduces this year’s bunch of young gunners. “There’s no Sauvignon Blanc, no Merlot this evening.” What are on show are Chenin (a lot) and Syrah, with or without its Rhône cohorts, much from old vineyards, and the winemaking approach: whole bunches, natural ferment, older oak only, no additions and often neither fining nor filtration. The result? Wines full of character and individuality.

Jasper Wickens is first up with Dylan singing All Along the Watchtower (the music choice of each participant just adds to the vibe, though it does date one when Dylan and Pink Floyd are the only familiar names!). His daytime job is working with Adi Badenhorst in his Kalmoesfontein cellar in the Paardeberg. Wickens’ Swerwer Chenin Blanc and red blend from Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah all come from old vines, the oldest dating from 1951. Both wines exude the generosity and warmth of the Swartland in an elegantly rustic style; both are delicious.

Then we’re off to Portugual with Marelise Jansen van Rensburg. Her Momento white blends Chenin with Verdelho and the red is a straight Tinta Barocca, a grape she describes as “untameable”. Working with Sebastian Beaumont at this eponymous Bot River winery, she sources Verdelho from neighbours, the Feiteiras family, one of the few to produce a varietal Verdelho. Both wines are gentle, subtle and tempt one for a Klein Bietjie Wyn, her song by Anton Goosen.

Jacques de Klerk works at The Winery of Good Hope in Stellenbosch but his Reverie Chenin is Swartland sourced. “Freshness,” he insists, “is not dependent on acid but harnessing the energy in the grapes even at low acid. Why is texture so underplayed?” Long skin contact and time on the lees imbues his wine with both satisfying freshness and texture. His red was the fresh, elegant Radford Dale (a Winery of Good Hope label) Syrah; his music, the more esoteric Butterfly by Bassnectar.

Thorne and Daughters’ pair of whites were overnight wonders for John and Natasha Seccombe (she’s the professional photographer responsible for the photos here) when released earlier this year. Seccombe describes himself as ”a middle-aged gun” – he spent several years working in France before returning to South Africa – but there’s nothing middle-aged about his Rocking Horse blend of Roussanne, Chenin and Semillons Blanc and Gris. Tin Soldier is also a blend of these latter two Semillons. As an ‘orange’ wine which spent 10 days on the skins it’s even more modish; with oxidative savouriness and firm grip of tannin, it’s a food wine par excellence. With wines like these, Semillon deserves re-discovering. Seccombe’s choice of music, Obsession by Frankie Animal, seemed entirely appropriate.

Johan ‘Stompie’ Meyer is responsible for the avant-garde Mount Abora wines but was at this tasting on account of his more mainstream JH Meyer Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Elgin. Meyer’s hands-off approach sees his Chardonnay stop fermenting over winter, recommencing in spring. The early-picked Pinot is whole-bunch fermented, left eight weeks on the skins, 10 months in 300-litre barrels then racked into bottle. “There you go, bam!” Meyer smiles. Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap well reflects these wines.

Bor…boo Blanc? Francois Haasbroek’s Blackwater ‘Exemption 60’ (it’s a complicated story) proved easier to drink, especially at 10.6% alcohol, than pronounce: Bourboulenc, South Africa’s first ever bottling of the variety from a 2.5 hectare vineyard in Ashton. Somehow it fell off the list of official varieties, so the next step is to get the Department of Agriculture to reinstate it. Yes please! Let’s get this southern Rhône variety officially in our vineyards or, as Pink Floyd sings, put Another Brick in the Wall! Swartland Syrah lends itself to being picked young, Haasbroek maintains; in his Noir, Syrah marries with Grenache and Carignan in a fresh but flavourful blend.

Mick and Jeanine Craven are busy showing that normally conservative Stellenbosch can be hip. He, part of the Mulderbosch team, and she, winemaker at Dornier Wines, have made their first wines under the Craven Wines label from Stellenbosch-sourced Clairette Blanche with a red from Pinot Noir. Half the Clairette was fermented on the skins, the balance in a standard method. Tasted from the barrel, the wine is a little cloudy, hence its nickname – cloudy Clairette – and the Craven’s warn it will be bottled that way, with no fining or filtration, but this is no detraction from its textured savouriness. Their whole bunch Pinot is full of juicy vitality and casts a new light on a variety they say “is finding its feet in Stellenbosch”. Oh, and Aussie Mick did add he wasn’t responsible for the choice of Down Under by Men at Work!

As I tweeted after the following evening’s Johannesburg event: “Judging by response to #youngguns4 tastings, this is way to excite people abt wine, great authentic wine made by boundary-breaking w’makers.”

It seems many agree and an even larger venue will be required for #YoungGuns5.

– Angela Lloyd