Posted on 11 December 2010 by davidbiggs
Louis Strydom, winemaker at Ernie Els Wines, has been elected chairman of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild, taking over from Simonsig’s Johan Malan.
Strydom has built an enviable reputation for producing internationally acclaimed wines of a high standard.
He will manage the affairs of the guild for the next two years.
“It is a great honour to be elected chairman of the Guild,” he says, “and I look forward to meeting the new challenges of an ever changing organisation during my two year tenure.”
He will continue his current involvement in the Guild’s Protégé Programme and Development Trust in addition to his new responsibilities as chairman.
The two new members of the committee are David Finlayson of Edgebaston, a former chairman of the Guild, and Andries Burger of Paul Cluver. Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards has taken over the responsibilities of Guild cellarmaster whilst Bernhard Veller of Nitida will serve another term as treasurer.
Established 28 years ago by eight independent winemakers, the CWG’s vision has been to elevate South African winemakers to amongst the best in the world and to set a standard for winemaking that is a benchmark for the local industry and the rest of the world.
The Guild membership now includes 41 of some of the country’s most respected winemakers who have been invited to be members after producing outstanding wines for a minimum of five years, and who continue to do so.
Every year the members are required to submit a select quantity of wines made exclusively for the annual Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, which has become a showcase of what can be achieved by South African wine producers.
The next Guild Auction will be held at Spier in the Stellenbosch winelands in October 2011.
For further information visit the guild website or contact the Guild Office on 021 852 0408 or email email@example.com.
Posted on 30 December 2010 by davidbiggs
Merlot is one of those grape varieties that can produce superb wines – or complete rubbish. What makes the difference?
Whenever the tasting panel at the Wine-of-the-Month Club is confronted with a selection of Merlots a collective groan of anguish can be heard all the way from Muizenberg to Stellenbosch. We know from bitter (and I do mean bitter) experience that we are in for an evening of horrors. In a line-up of 20 Merlot wines we will end up with about four that are a pleasure to drink (on a good night). Most of the rest will be mouth-searingly tannic, bitter, thin, oxidised or vinegary.
And the cry will go up again: “Why do winemakers persist in making this muck? Why don’t they just pull out their Merlot vines and plant Shiraz, Cinsaut, or potatoes, or anything but Merlot.”
The other side of the Merlot mystery is that wine shop owners say it’s always a popular seller. One cynical dealer muttered to me: “I suspect it’s because people can pronounce it without making fools of themselves.” Maybe it’s this commercial popularity that prompts winemakers to keep on producing it year after year, in spite of having the wrong soil, the wrong climate and hardly any experience with the grape.
Let me hasten to say there are some excellent Merlots produced in the Cape. Cellars such as Thelema, Camberley, Raka and Hartenberg make delicious Merlots, as do Jordan, Noble Hill, Meerlust and Vergenoegd.
And of course, one of the most expensive wines in the world, Pomerol’s Chateaux Petrus, consists mainly of Merlot.
In his authoritative, but possibly dated book, Wine Grape Varieties in South Africa, Professor CJ Orffer says Merlot is grown in the Bordeaux district of France to “give softness to the wines of the area”. So a Merlot should, first and foremost, be a soft wine, a wine that adds an easy drinking character to the harsher Cabernet Sauvignon. It is added to the traditional Bordeaux blend to make the wines ready for drinking sooner than a straight Cabernet Sauvignon. It smoothes the rough edges of the blend.
So where do our winemakers go so very wrong?
I believe it’s a lack of understanding of the grape. Cellarmasters think: “I need a Merlot in my range, so I must plant some Merlot.” And they have a spare piece of ground so they stick in a few hundred Merlot vines and hope for the best. In all likelihood the soil is unsuitable, the situation too warm and the harvesting fitted in when there’s a gap between the other varietals.
In California they coined the term “Merlot madness,” when everybody suddenly decided Merlot was the fashionable wine to drink. Our own form of Merlot Madness attacks wine producers who suddenly feel the need to add the grape to their wine list.
My advice to unsure buyers?
If you want to be on the safe side, buy a Shiraz.
Posted on 22 December 2010 by davidbiggs
Christmas is the one time of the year we can spoil ourselves without feeling too guilty.
This goes for your choice of wines too.
Tucked away in your wine cupboard you probably have a bottle or two of special wine you’ve been keeping for “a suitable occasion.”
So what could be more suitable than a Christmas dinner?
I’ve been waiting for a chance to share a bottle of the 2004 Fleur du Cap Laszlo red blend with friends. I think it will be a perfect companion to the roast leg of Karoo lamb I plan to serve on Christmas Eve. It’s a big. bold and complex wine that cries out to be sipped and savoured and discussed.
It goes without saying that we’ll be opening a bottle or two of Methode Cap Classique bubbly. A glass of Philip Jonker’s Entheos Brut should be perfect to get guests into the festive mood at the start of the evening. Philip Jonker describes it as having “the energy of spontaneous laughter. Freedom”.
I’m looking forward to opening a bottle of La Motte Methode Cap Classique 2007 too. I’ve been saving it for just such an occasion and most of my guests enjoy a good bubbly.
I’ve always liked good sweet wines, but somehow there never seems to be an appropriate occasion to share them.
I think this Christmas might be the time to open my precious bottle of Groot Constantia’s 2008 Grand Constance. It’s a honey-sweet natural sweet wine made from Muscat de Frontignan (muscadel to most of us) but has an alcohol content of 13,5%, instead of the 17% or so usually found in fortified sweet wines. This very special wine comes in a little 350ml bottle, so there should be just enough for a sip for each guest to enjoy with the dessert.
I enjoy a small glass of good port with coffee after a big meal, and I’m planning to open a bottle of Axe Hill 2006 Cape Vintage Port on Christmas Eve.
As I sip it I shall raise my glass to the memory of the man who started Axe Hill winery in Calitzdorp, the late Tony Mossop, a man of so many interesting facets.
I believe Tony was a great influence in raising the standard of all South African port.
Some time during the festivities I hope to enjoy a slice or two of delicious smoked turkey, and I think something pink would go well with this – either a crisp pink bubbly, like Villiera’s Brut Rosé, or a dry rosé, like Grangehurst’s spectacular Cape Rosé Blend, unusually made with a splash of Chenin Blanc to lighten the red wines in the recipe.
Having listed all these vinous delights I should add that I do not plan to drive anywhere afterwards, and my guests will be more than welcome to stay over at my house until they’re in a suitable condition to drive home safely.
Failing that, I’ll call a taxi. Friends are far too valuable to lose on the roads.
Posted on 16 December 2010 by davidbiggs
Most people, when asked to describe the flavour of something new, will come up eventually with, “Well, it tastes rather like chicken actually”.
I’ve heard people describe rabbit, crocodile and frogs’ legs as tasting “rather like chicken”.
I just hope the day isn’t approaching when people around the world say: “South African wine? Oh, I don’t know about it. It all tastes rather like coffee to me.”
More and more South African winemakers are following the lead of Robertson’s Bertus “Starbucks” Fourie and producing wines deliberately made to taste like coffee.
Wines with labels like Fourie’s Barista and KWV’s Café Culture boldly advertise the fact they’re meant to taste like coffee.
Van Loveren recently joined the ranks of the coffee producers by launching their African Java Pinotage 2010, and De Krans has introduced a fortified wine called De Krans Espresso, which winemakers Boets and Stroebel Nel describe as “not a port, although it is has been produced using the classic port varietals. It’s not coffee, although it has sweet aromas of freshly ground coffee. De Krans Espresso is the perfect ‘’dessert to end off a delicious meal with good friends.”
Many others – Pinotages in particular – are coming out with the distinct flavour of coffee, even if this fact is not always reflected in their labels. I believe the coffee character is created by using very well toasted oak staves and not real coffee beans.
Now I have nothing against coffee, and I have tasted many of these coffee-flavoured wines and enjoyed some of them immensely.
I do see a danger, however, that they may become regarded as our flagship style, just as retsina is often thought to be typical of Greek wines.
I’ve tasted many fine Greek wines in Greece, where wine has been part of daily life for thousands of years. I’ve enjoyed excellent white and red wines in a variety of styles. I believe retsina accounts for only a tiny part of the country’s wine production. I didn’t even find many Greeks who enjoyed retsina. It’s definitely an acquired taste.
But ask anybody who hasn’t tried many Greek wines and you’re likely to get: “Oh no, I don’t like Greek wines. That retsina! Horrible stuff!”
At least the Greeks warn us by clearly labelling their retsinas as such.
Maybe our winemakers should get together to think up a generic name for coffee-flavoured wines.
May I suggest “SA Moerkoffie Wine”.
Posted on 02 December 2010 by davidbiggs
It seems very fashionable to have an allergy right now. Some of my friends claim to come out in a rash if they go anywhere near shell-fish, others are allergic to pollen, wheat products, bee stings, milk products, perfume, you name it.
I know several people who claim that the sulphur in wine is what gives them a hangover.
I always nod sympathetically, secretly wondering if it’s not really the alcohol in the wine that does the damage. But sulphur is a better excuse for a babbelas.
I was interested to hear Guy Webber’s remarks on the subject, when he launched Stellenzicht‘s two new Cellarmaster’s Release wines, that have had no sulphites added.
Stellenzicht’s no-added-suphites wines are an ongoing experiment. Webber released a 2009 Chardonnay and a 2008 Petit Verdot, both of which are deliciously different.
But when he submitted his first attempt at unsulphured wines to the Wine and Spirit Board, they rejected it – on the grounds that it contained more than the permitted minimum sulphite level of 10 parts per million for wines of that category.
But he had not added any at all. It was there from the natural winemaking process. Sulphur is a natural product of winemaking, so don’t let anybody tell you you’re drinking a “sulphur-free” wine. You may well be drinking a “no-added sulphur” wine, which is not the same thing at all.
Back to the newly released wines; These unusual wines were fermented in whole bunches. The Petiti Verdot was packed into closed 300 litre wooden barrels and rolled once a day to get the skins into good contact with the juice.
The Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel.
They remained on the skins for an astonishing 12 months.
Because the sulphur that is normally added acts as a preservative and anti-bacterial, extra care has to be taken at every stage of the wine-making process. Bottles must be perfectly sterile, corks must be as free from possible contamination as possible.
But as Webber points out, the real test of any wine, no matter how it was made, is its flavour. His first objective when making these wines was to produce something that tasted good. Health benefits were a secondary consideration.
And he has certainly achieved this.
The long contact with the lees has given both wines a warm, yeasty undertone. The Chardonnay offers a crisp, lemon-lime character that unfolds in the glass to reveal clean, green-apple flavours and a dry, lingering finish.
The Petit Verdot is packed with ripe, nutty plum flavours with some savoury notes that linger on and on. As there are so few Petit Verdot wines available, it’s hard to tell whether these flavours are from the grape or the winemaking process.
Whatever they may be, this is a fine and different wine to try.
I hope the label accentuates the Petit Verdot rather than the no-sulphites- added aspect.
These wines are for enjoyment, more than for health. They are fun.
Only about 1000 bottles of each were made and they retail for about R90 for the Chardonnay and R115 for the Petit Verdot.
Give them a try when you’re looking for something different.
You might like to buy a couple of bottles for your allergy-claiming friends.
They’ll have no excuse for that Christmas hangover.