Posted on 29 November 2011 by davidbiggs
Spier’s senior winemaker, Johan Jordaan, joins the elite line-up of winners of the annual Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award.
The category for this year’s competition was Bordeaux-style red blends and Jordaan scooped the title with his Spier Creative Block 5 2009.
His was one of 110 entries and the judges said the final selection was a difficult one, as there were several extremely fine wines in the line-up.
The Spier Creative Block 5 is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
Judging panel chairman Dave Hughes said the 2009 vintage was probably the Cape’s best vintage in the past 15 years. He added that entrants in this year’s competition had shown once again that South Africa was capable of producing wines good enough to compete with the top wines in the world. The winning wine was described as having “a great balance of fruit, tannins and alcohol”.
This year’s Young Winemaker of the year was Matthew van Heerden of Uva Mira in the Durbanville Valley.
The category for this contest was “any white wine”.
His winning wine was a stunning single vineyard Chardonnay aged in new French oak for 11 months. It was selected from an entry of 64 wines. Van Heerden serves as chairman of the SA Chardonnay Forum and is passionate about the cultivar.
It is interesting to see the wine is not dominated by big oak vanilla flavours in spite of its time in new French oak barrels. It’s fresh and tangy, with lemon notes up front – an extremely elegant and charming wine, delicate, but full-bodied at the same time.
The Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award was inaugurated in 1981 and the winner’s prize includes a free trip to any winemaking country of his or her choice.
The Young Winemaker of the Year Award has been running for 11 years and its prize is a trophy and R25 000 in cash.
Posted on 24 November 2011 by davidbiggs
One of the most exciting tasting sessions I’ve attended recently was of a selection of dry white blends.
Strangely, there’s a perception out there that blends are sort of second-tier category – something winemakers do with their left-overs. I think this is a hangover from the early “bus ticket” Wine of Origin stickers where a separate stripe was added for vintage, cultivar and origin. Many people thought a three-striper was better than a two-striper (like military ranks), and therefore a cultivar wine ranked higher than a blended wine.
Which is patent nonsense, of course. I believe blending is one of the really special skills employed by the best winemakers. A good blend is far more exciting than any of its components. And some grape varieties are, I believe, better in blends than they are on their own. Viognier is one such grape.
Viognier on its own can be a very dull wine, but blend it skillfully with Chardonnay and Semillion – as is done in the Stellenbosch Hills 1707 Reserve White – and you end up with a deliciously complex drink.
It’s the Viognier that adds fullness to the Perdeberg Chardonnay/Viognier Reserve wine and the enchanting Amani Kamili 2009 blend.
Another grape variety that doesn’t really seem to be great on its own in Merlot. I know it’s fashionable right now to say you love a Merlot, but there are many truly boring South African Merlots out there.
But blend it with a good Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab Franc and you often end up with a stunner. When I asked Colin Collard, founder of the very successful Wine-of-the-Month Club, what his advice would be to somebody wanting to select a good white wine, he said: “I’d advise them to go for a blend. There are so many good white blends out there right now.“ And he’s not talking about “playing it safe.” No, he’s talking about discovering great wines.
For everyday casual summer drinking I recommend wines like Groote Post’s Old Man’s White Blend and Villiera’s Down to Earth White Blend. They’re fresh and interesting and obviously made with great care.
Even sour old Sauvignon Blanc (which is so popular now, goodness knows why) can be made quite drinkable buy skillfully blending it with Chardonnay or Semillon.
Posted on 16 November 2011 by davidbiggs
What’s the most important sensory organ when it comes to tasting wine? The tongue? The nose? The eye?
I have a suspicion it’s none of the above.
I believe it’s the brain.
I’ve been tasting wines now for more than 30 years and the more I taste the more I realise how easily the human brain can fool its owner.
I remember one particular tasting which involved a panel of professional wine people – vintners, judges, wine writers and cellarmasters. We were offered a selection of 10 red wines and asked to identify the cultivar and country of origin of each of them.
The presenter, wine judge Dave Hughes, had recently been to a Pinot Noir celebration in Oregon, USA. On his return he’d presented a lecture at Groot Constantia on the Pinot Noirs of he world.
So we realised, of course, that this tasting would be of Pinot Noirs. It would simply be a matter of deciding where they came from.
We sniffed and sipped and, sure enough, we agreed they were definitely Pinots.
This one was probably from Burgundy, that one from California, one taster declared he recognized one as a wine from Alsace.
Then the wrappers were removed and we were embarrassed to discover they were all different vintages of our own dear old Chateau Libertas.
More recently a study was conducted in America in which tasters were given two glasses of wine and told one cost 10 dollars and the other cost 50. They were asked to select the one they preferred and describe the difference.
Almost without exception they chose the more expensive one.
It turned out they were, in every case, two identical wines from the same bottle.
But to the tasters they were distinctly different.
How does this affect our everyday perception?
Well, for one thing, if we know – or think we know – we’re drinking an expensive wine we’re likely to enjoy it more than a R20 bottle of plonk.
We approach the expensive one with high expectations. We want to be pleased by it, so we usually are.
We know the cheap one is probably going to be pretty awful, and if we’re lucky, it will be drinkable.
And of course it is. Maybe the important lesson from this is to approach every wine as though it was a precious gem from a perfect vintage produced in the best Chateau in France.
Sip it, savour its subtle nuances and enjoy every expensive mouthful.
You’ll love it, even if it turns out to be from a cheap bag-in-a-box.
(Do you know they sell thousands of litres of KWV Roodeberg in boxes in Sweden? The Swedes like their wines that way, even if they’re expensive. Maybe we’re missing some gems among our own boxed wines, but our brains tell us they’re rubbish because they’re sold in boxes.)
Your brain can save you a great deal of money.
Posted on 10 November 2011 by davidbiggs
It’s that time of the year when wise wine-lovers sigh with relief and say, “Well that takes care of Christmas gifts for Dad and Uncle Joe.”
The latest edition of Platter’s South African Wine Guide is about to hit the bookstore shelves and it’s bigger and fatter (and better, I believe) than ever, although no more expensive than it was last year, which is something not many products can claim.
You’ll start seeing this edition’s golden yellow cover on the shelves in about a week’s time.
As always, the new guide contains an unbelievable amount of wine information in compact and very usable form.
Most buyers use the book to see whether the wine they are about to choose is a good one or not.
(This may not be the best reason, as every rating is an opinion. If the Platter taster enjoyed a wine it doesn’t mean you’ll like it too. Far rather use your own taste-buds as a guide.)
If you plan a visit to any part of the Cape’s wine world, the Platter Guide is a must.
It contains clear maps of each wine region, addresses and telephone numbers of every winery, times of opening and valuable information such as whether the cellar is wheel-chair friendly or not, and what other attractions – horse riding, picnics, hiking trails and so on – are offered.
There’s a list of good places to stay in the Winelands, and wine-related places to eat.
If you plan to lay down wines for future enjoyment, there’s a list of wines that should improve with ageing.
For the less patient there’s also a list of “superquaffers” – wines to enjoy right now at prices that won’t annoy your bank manager.
Quite frankly, it’s impossible to keep abreast of the South African wine scene without a copy of Platter. There are now more than 7000 South African wines, and new cellars are opening at an average rate of about one a week!
(You could, of course, just stick to Tassies and Graca, but don’t expect many guests at your parties.)
It takes a big team of tasters, writers and researchers to keep up with developments.
The theme for this year’s guide is “Thinking Out of the Box,” and it focuses on people who have employed novel ideas to create, package and sell their wines.
Of course the highlight of every edition is the five-star line-up. These are the wines that have been judged by the entire Platter tasting panel to be the best of the year’s line-up.
This year a total of 45 wines have made it on to this elite list.
At a retail price of about R160 a copy it really is exceptional value.
Photograph: David Biggs
Posted on 03 November 2011 by davidbiggs
Roodeberg, that icon from the KWV, is undergoing a steady transformation.
Winemaker Richard Rowe presented a vertical tasting of the famous brand to members of the media recently, starting with a Roodeberg from 1977.
Remarkably, that 34-year-old wine was still quite drinkable – a bit tired, maybe, but still showing some charm and even a little fruity freshness if you looked for it.
Interesting to me was the fact that a significant part of that blend was Cinsaut.
Why, oh why, have our winemakers turned their backs on this wonderful grape? There was a time within my memory when Cinsaut was the Cape’s most widely planted red grape. It formed the basis of most of our everyday reds like Tassies and Chateau Libertas.
For some reason it lost favour and farmers uprooted thousand of vines and replaced them with varieties like Merlot (which, quite frankly, makes some truly horrible wines in this country).
The 1999 vintage Roodeberg was big and warm, with rich dark berry flavours and a hint of savoury saltiness. This was obviously a wine made to last many years. It’s still fresh and lively.
The 2009 vintage is acknowledged across the Cape winelands as one of the best red grape vintages in living memory. Here the style of Roodeberg changed a little. The blend is still designed for longevity and will benefit from a few more years in the bottle. The biggest change is in the 2010 vintage, which has been made far more accessible and ready for early drinking. This will set the style for future vintages of Roodeberg.
The good news, as far as I am concerned, is that the proportion of Merlot in future Roodebergs is to be reduced and replaced by an increasing proportion of Shiraz.
Rowe described Merlot as a “challenging” variety.
Alas, too many South African winemakers lose that challenge. Shiraz is a more winemaker-friendly variety. We should use it in more blends.
(And bring back Cinsaut, for gods’ sake!)
The big news is that the KWV is releasing a limited edition Roodeberg, labelled “Dr Charles Niehaus” in honour of the man who founded the label and guided it to greatness. It’s a 2010 vintage described as an “Ultra-premium Roodeberg”. Only about 9000 litres of this wine have been produced and they’re obviously intended for long maturation, bottled in heavy, almost black bottles.
The blend is Shiraz-based, with Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Merlot, all matured for 14 months in oak.
If you can get hold of a case, put it away out of temptation’s way for a few years. You’ll be well rewarded.
PS. An interesting aside. About half the Roodeberg sold in Sweden (one of the biggest markets for the brand) is sold as bag-in-a-box wine.
The Swedes obviously don’t look down on this form of packaging, and are prepared to pay almost as much for it as they do for Roodeberg in bottles.
The rest of the Roodeberg sold in Sweden comes in screw-cap bottles.
Sensible people, the Swedes.