14/12/2014: There was a time when I counted myself firmly among the ranks of the ABC Brigade – Anything But Chardonnay.
Maybe I’ve changed with time, or maybe the winemakers have changed the style of Chardonnay they make.
I think it’s the latter.
When Chardonnay first swamped our bottle store shelves it tended toward an over-wooded, buttery style that was fine for the first few sips, but quickly became cloying. You can take only a limited amount of butterscotch.
Since then Chardonnay has swung more toward the clean, citrus style and is far more drinkable.
When I saw the Barista label on this one I was intrigued. Barista is known for their coffee flavoured Pinotage, which I believe has found a huge market in the US.
But a Barista Chardonnay?
I like it.
It’s a wine that’s packed with juicy fruit flavours – plenty of ripe gooseberries, peaches, melons, all held together firmly by a squeeze of lime tartness. There’s some oaky vanilla in there too, but certainly not enough to give the wine that overwhelming buttery character that scared so many of us away from the grape variety.
This is a wine I’d like to drink outdoors on my patio on a summer evening, served well chilled and possibly accompanied by a savoury snack or two.
I think the Americans will enjoy it as much as they like the Barista Pinotage. I just hope local wine lovers aren’t discouraged by the label. This wine is fun.
Landau du Val Semillon 2012.
11/12/2014: It’s not often that you find a wine farm devoted to a single grape variety, but Basil and Jane Landau’s Franschhoek property is home to what is probably the oldest Semillon vines in the country.
I imagine if you produce only one variety of grape you’re able to put all your energy into coaxing the very best from it. This certainly seems to be the case here.
Planted in 1905, the bush vines produce a low yield but the grapes are packed with concentrated flavours, all of which make this a wine to be explored and sipped, experiencing all the layers of taste and aroma as they unfold.
I found suggestions of citrus peel, cloves and nuts, Seville orange marmalade and dried figs—all adding up to a big, bold Christmas cake combination.
The finish is long and lingering and very more-ish.
I think this is a wine that will team up perfectly with a Christmas turkey or turducken, or a traditional Christmas ham studded with cloves.
Don’t serve this Semillon too cold. Take it out of the fridge at least half an hour before pouring, so you get all the fragrant nuances as you sip.
And buy a second bottle. The first one will disappear before you’ve really got to know it.
07/12/2014: While South African wine producers are trying hard — and rightly so — to improve the quality, and the image, of Cape wines, we should not lose sight of the fact that we produce excellent and acceptable wines down at the bottom end of the price range.
I enjoyed a visit from some German friends recently and was contemplating what wine to serve them at lunch-time.
I remembered being given a bottle of Kupfelberger Auslese, one of many of the cheaper wines produced by the Bergkelder.
The label claims it is made in the “Rhine Wine Auslese Tradition.” I thought it would be interesting to see what the Germans thought of it.
It was, they declared, the best South African wine they had tasted during their holiday. They took down the name, demanded to know where they could buy more and the bottle lasted only a few minutes. It’s really a pleasant midday wine. With a lowish (12%) alcohol content it is off-dry, but nicely balanced with a crisp splash of acidity.
There’s a touch of wine history here, too.
Kupfelberger Auslese was one of the first wines, back in1952, to be made using cold fermentation, a technique now almost universally used in white wine making.
And if it’s being going strong for more than 60 years it must have something special about it.
Shannon Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014
01/12/2014: Sauvignon Blanc can be a bit of a disappointment in the Cape. Far too many winemakers get it wrong. On one of the tasting panels I attend regularly we usually cringe when faced with a line up of Sauvignon Blancs. Acidity usually rules with a searingly heavy hand.
Luckily there are exceptions and sometimes they’re well worth trying. When a Sauvignon is good it can be really wonderful.
I am usually encouraged to see “Elgin Valley” or “Durbanville” on a Sauvignon Blanc label. It seems those areas produce consistently good ones.
Shannon’s Sanctuary Peak in no exception. Made of grapes from the Elgin Valley it has depth and complexity and a lusciousness that’s truly enticing.
I tasted melons and tropical fruits in generous abundance and was rather surprised — and disappointed — to find the bottle empty before I was ready.
The wine has just the right delicate balance between juiciness and acidity and the finish is long and… “Isn’t there another bottle tucked away somewhere?” No?
It doesn’t seem so long ago that Perdeberg was just one of many co-op wineries dotted about the Cape, producing cheap and cheerful quaffers, but selling most of their output (the good stuff!) to the big wholesalers.
How things have changed! The Perdeberg name now appears regularly on awards lists and the wines are individual and memorable. It’s become a label to look for.
The 2014 Unwooded Chardonnay is a typical example.
I love the crisp tang of lemon zest on the nose, and the lemony character carries through to the palate, clean and elegant without the searing acidity one so often finds in a Sauvignon Blanc or the unctuous toffee flavours that gave Chardonnay a bad name. . There’s also a nice hint of pineapple in there. Tropical fruit flavours keep coming to the fore, but always subtly and unobtrusively. Complex but unpretentious.
This is a versatile wine to enjoy with almost any fish dish. I’d like to try it with a crumbed pork schnitzel or a smoked chicken breast.
And if you’re still one of hose old-fashioned drinkers who believes they don’t enjoy Chardonnay, this one may just change your mind.
So I was intrigued to come across a drink labelled Pomula Wine Spritz Passion Fruit. The back label, which I suppose contained all the technical detail, was carefully printed in white on a pale yellow background to make sure it was virtually unreadable. Only the bar code was legible, as it was in black.
I did manage to ascertain it had an alcohol content of 5,5% — about the same as beer.
A lady guest later asked for a fruit juice and I suggested she try the Pomula.
She loved it and declares it will now be her drink of choice.
Basically it’s a white wine with added grape juice and passion fruit concentrate and “purified water.” Not bad, really, unless you’re expecting wine. I think it would be fine for a casual poolside drink if served nicely chilled.It tastes like a passion fruit squash and has the added advantage of a slight alcoholic kick.
You could even drop a blob of ice-cream in and make a “Pomula Float.”
Well, why not? Maybe we wine snobs tend to become too set in our ways. If it’s fun. let’s do it.
Nuy Barrel Selection Syrah 2010
13/10/2014: Mention Nuy and most wine lovers smack their lips and murmur: “Mm, Muscadel. Yum.”
We tend to forget that Wilhelm Linde, who was winemaker at Nuy for many years, won the coveted Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Award twice – once for his Muscadel and also for his Nuy Riesling.
There’s obviously much more to Nuy than sweetness.
I was delighted to taste the Nuy 2010 Barrel Selection Syrah recently. What a treat!
This is a big, fruity red wine packed with berry richness and a pleasantly understated oak finish to add finesse. Its underlying spiciness marks it unmistakably as a Shiraz, but it has a delicately poised balance making it the perfect wine to serve with a lamb shank or a game pie.
I find Shiraz (or Syrah) the most reliable choice when buying a South African wine blind.
I’ve tasted truly horrid Merlots and some very indifferent Cabernets, not to mention some uninteresting Pinotages (although it seems almost disloyal to mention this), but very few Shirazes have disappointed me.
If I were to stop in at a wine shop for a last minute purchase on the way to a braai, I’d select a Shiraz without hesitation.
This Nuy, however, is far too good for a casual last-minute braai wine. I’d take it home and talk seriously to it.
08/10/2014: There are times when you don’t want to sniff and spit and pontificate about a wine. Not all wines need to be tasted in competition style. On a warm summer’s day all you need is something fresh and crisp, well chilled, to enjoy with your cheese and tomato sandwich under the pergola. Ot with a fish braai with False Bay creating a suitable background.
Grunberger Spritziger is one of a whole range of easy-drinking, inexpensive party quaffers produced by the giant Distell organisation for everyday enjoyment.
As the label suggests, the spritzer is made with a slight fizz, so you get a bubble for your bucks.
It’s an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Rhine Riesling and presents a clean. green apple character with a sweetish muscat undertone, all set on its merry trampoline of bouncing little bubbles.
The pretty cylindrical green bottle adds a touch of spring to the patio table and it’s sealed with s screw-cap to make sure the bubbles sty in place between sips.
Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2009
14/09/2014: Sutherland is the second label from the cellar of Gyles Webb’s Thelema Mountain Vineyards, so one approaches the wines in the range with great expectations.
I was certainly not disappointed. This Cab/Petit Verdot blend is bursting with full, ripe fruit surrounded by layers of warm flavours — smoky dark chocolate, liquorice, spice and savoury, meaty notes.
The savoury aftertaste lingers on and on, prompting another taste, and another.
This is the kind of wine that will accompany a plump winter stew or or a juicy rump steak. It’s also the sort of wine you can simply open and sip in good company without a meal. Very more-ish indeed.
I suspect a shared bottle of Sutherland Cab/Petit Verdot will produce some deeply philosophical thoughts.
Freedom Hill “Freedom Walk” Chardonnay 2013
01/09/2014: There are times when you want just a little more from your glass than a casual accompaniment to conversation. The Freedom Walk Chardonnay offers a whole, layered tasting experience that deserves your full concentration.
This elegantly oaked wine has an attractive golden colour and greets you with wafts of vanilla and lemon zest. Flavours come rolling across the tongue like waves on a sunny beach — lemon cream biscuits, lemon curd tartness, vanilla pod … big, zingy flavours that linger and linger.
This is a wine to enjoy with a really special dinner — roast duck, maybe, or a rich roast leg of pork complete with crispy crackling.
Glenelly Chardonnay Unwooded 2013
01/08/2014: Owned by French wine personality May-Eliane de Lencqesaing, Glennelly has rapidly gained a reputation for creating fine wines intended more for continental than New World palates. Madame May’s new cellar was built in 2003 along environmentally friendy lines and incorporates an ingenious water-saving system. Glenelly is also deeply involved in projects for the upliftment of local farm workers and the education of their children.
This 2013 Chardonnay unwooded is a quietly elegant expression of the grape. At first sip it may seem almost bland, but as the subtle flavours unfold on the palate exciting hints of lemon and lime freshness appear, together with a warm, buttery undertone from long contact with the lees. There’s s suggestion of attractive nuttiness there too. By the time you swallow that mouthful you realize what seemed like a simple little wine was really a very clever creation. I think it’s a wine that could happily be matched with a subtly-flavoured soufflé or a salad of spring greens.
This is one for the connoisseurs rather than the gulpers.
Grande Provence Sauvignon Blanc 2013
28/07/2014: Sauvignon Blanc is often a disappointment in the Cape. Too many winemakers concentrate too much on youthfulness and end up with acidic, lean. mean and rather unfriendly wines. It’s good to find a Sauvignon Blanc with a generosity of spirit that shows what can be done with this grape variety in our almost perfect climate. Grande Provence’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc has had just enough time to become comfortable with its character. The rough fermentation brashness has softened and in its place is a fine sumer salad of tropical fruit flavours — pineapples, passion fruit, melons. There’s an initial aroma of newly cut grass that’s typical of this varietal and the finish is long and clean. Writing in the midst of a particularly chilly and damp winter, I think this is a wine to remind is of the warmth of summer evenings and lazy lunches on the patio. I look forward to enjoying a bottle teamed with a salmon salad or a selection of cold meats and imaginative salads.
Bon Courage Inkara Shiraz 2012
A good Shiraz is always a pleasure. A great Shiraz is a real treat. This one, from Bon Courage’s flagship range, is undoubtedly a treat. No wonder it was recently awarded a gold medal at the Syrah du Monde competition in France, where Shirazes from all over the world competed for top honours.
This is a rich, warming wine packed with smoky, dark berry flavours, chocolate, coffee and spices, a suggestion of savoury meatiness, all carefully balanced on a subtle cradle of oak.
This is a wine that could age well for a few more years, but why wait? It’s perfect right now to enjoy with a meaty winter stew while the cold weather grips us.
I suggest you buy a few bottles and open one every six months to follow its progress.
Nah! Actually just enjoy them at any time.
Muratie Ben Prins Cape Vintage 2009
15/07/2014: One of the first winemakers I met when I was starting to write about wine back in the 1980s was a rough and ready fellow called Ben Prins, who ran the cellar at Muratie.
Ben never bothered with shoes and became known as the “barefoot winemaker”.
It was a rough and ready cellar too, with old machinery that creaked and groaned, but the legendary Ben managed to produce some good wines from it. One of the wines was called Golden Amber, made from Hanepoot and a favourite of my late father. I always had to take him a bottle when I visited the Karoo.
Now, many years later, Muratie has released a delicious port-style wine named in Ben Prins’s honour.
The 2009 Ben Prins Cape Vintage is a warming, nutty flavoured drink made from traditional Portuguese grape varietals. Deep inky coloured, the wine has flavours of black pepper, cloves and sweet prunes all held together with a sturdy alcohol content of almost 20%.
This is a comfort wine if ever there was one — perfect for enjoying by the fireside on a chilly evening like the ones we’ve been experiencing recently.
Try it with a slab of ripe blue cheese on a salty cracker.
Reyneke Organic Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
01/07/2014: Most wine farms in the Cape are heading toward sustainability and planet-friendly practices. The Reyneke family farm is one of the first to be registered as a biodynamic property.
This delightful red blend shows that wines of outstanding quality can be made without the use of pesticides or chemical sprays.
The blend is almost entirely (92%) Shiraz and this comes through on the nose and palate as a warm, slightly earthy character with plenty of juicy dark fruit flavours and a suggestion of cinnamon and cloves. It’s the kind of red wine you can sip on its own while watching the sunset or team up with a comforting winter beef stew. The tannins are soft and gentle and the wine slips down in a very more-ish way. One is tempted to finish the bottle, but it does have a 14% alcohol content, so put the car away before popping the screw-cap. A truly friendly wine.
Robertson Pinot Grigio 2013
22/06/2014: Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris, is not widely grown in South Africa. It’s an interesting grape variety, actually a mutation of Pinot Noir, and becoming increasingly popular for producing soft, gently perfumed wines.
It gets its name literally “grey pinot” because the berries range in colour from creamy white to a sort of greyish blue.
Robertson’s Pinot Gris is a light golden colour and has a charming perfume rather like that of ripe pears. The flavour is a subtle combination of pears and peaches, ending on a clean, dry note that lingers quite a while before fading. There’s nothing brash or pushy about this wine. It’s all restrained and refined.
It’s the sort of wine you can enjoy happily on its own, or equally easily with a dish of something slightly spicy, like a traditional Cape pickled fish or a mild babotie.
Actually, it’s likely to team up well with almost any fish or poultry meal.
Flagstone Fiona 2010 Pinot Noir.
09/06/2014: Comes the end of a busy day and I shut down the computer, put on a CD of Vivaldi’s Harmonic Inspirations, cut a few chunks of ripe cheddar and select a bottle of something interesting to sip.
A Cabernet would be a tad serious for a casual wind-down drink, and a Chardonnay is a summer drink. It’s too early to drink a Muscadel, and anyway, Muscadels are for sharing.
I settle for a bottle of Flagstone’s Fiona Pinot Noir 2010, which turns out to fit the bill exactly.
This is a wine that gives the first impression of being quite frivolous; a nice pairing with Vivaldi. There’s no harsh tannin or searing acidity. It’s mostly about clean, red fruit — cranberries, maybe or mulberries. The cats settle down on the arms of my chair to share the company and the music, although they have never understood this enthusiasm for vrot grape juice.
Then, as sip follows sip I realize this isn’t a simple little quaffer after all.
New and subtle layers of flavour come peeping out from under the fresh fruitiness. There’s a touch of dark chocolate in there, maybe some herbs, and then a suggestion of forest mushrooms. This is a seriously good wine.
As the level in the bottle drops I begin to regret that I had not kept this to share with someone special. Ah well, there will be more bottles of Flagstone Fiona in the wine shop.
I’ll make sure I get one for next time.
Stellekaya Orion 2008
02/06/2014: The traditional grapes from the Bordeaux region of France often get together for a blend made in heaven. Even when they are far from their native France.They have become the flagship blends of many Cape cellars.
One such blend is Stellekaya’s 2008 Orion, made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The first sniff offers very “masculine” notes of cedar wood, new leather and toast. Maybe even a hint of biltong. These are followed by delicious sips of blackberry, plum and cranberries held together by a soft suggestion of tannin, just enough to add grip without aggression. There’s also a hint of coffee flavour lurking in there, probably from the Merlot.
A good winter wine this, I think. Ready to accompany a hearty stew, an oxtail casserole or a hot venison pie. Expect to pay around R120 a bottle.
De Krans Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend 2011
21/05/2014: With the market for port style wines rather stable, port producers are turning their attention to making fine, serious table wines using the Portuguese grape varietals traditionally used in port.
One of these, the De Krans Tritonia 2011 blend, has already achieved recognition by being included in the list of winners of the Top 100 SA Wines Competition.
Made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca and Tinta Roriz grapes, the wine has a seductive, violet aroma with hints of spice and juicy red fruit. The flavours are slightly savoury, rather than up-front fruity, and there’s a suggestion of oaky vanilla woven into the mix. It’s a perfect winter wine to enjoy with venison and rich, juicy stews and potjies.
It retails at around R150 a bottle.
I believe this is one of the forerunners of a whole new wave of Portuguese -style table wines we can expect from our traditional port producers.They’re worth watching out for.
Protea Reserve Red 2011
18/05/2014: Shiraz has always been one opt my favourite red wine grapes, so I was not surprised to discover it was the main component of this delightful blend red wine.
The Protea Reserve Red is made of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viognier and the very first sniff tells that it is obviously shiraz-driven.
It has that wonderfully masculine aroma of new leather, wood smoke and boozy plum pudding. All of these follow through on the palate, giving the perfect combination of flavours to enhance a winter’s evening by the fire. Maybe the whole experience could be rounded off with a small bowl of thinly sliced springbok biltong.
If you plan to serve it with a meal I’d suggest something quite robust to accompany it. Maybe a Guinness and venison pie, for example, or a rich Irish stew.
But I’ll settle for the biltong.
Winter’s Drift Pinot Noir 2013
12/05/2014: Winemakers say Pinot Noir is a tricky grape to work with. You either have to steer clear of it altogether or devote a whole lot of passion to realising its full potential.
After the very first sip of Winter’s Drift 2013 Pinot Noir I reckoned the winemakers had got it just right. There’s just such a lot happening in this wine! It begins almost frivolously, with light, ripe cherry fruitiness, and then unfolds in layer after layer of exciting flavours — there’s spice and earthy mushroom character, deliciously mouth-filling, billowing fruity juiciness and a long, very more-ish finish.
There’s nothing harsh or astringent about the wine. It slips down like silk, leaving you aching for the next mouthful.
Even though it’s only a year old, it’s delicious for drinking right now, but I believe it will last and improve for a good few years yet.
I think this wine will go perfectly with a whole range of foods. I can see it acting as a comfortable foil for crispy roast duck, for example, or a slow-roasted lamb shank.
Trouble is, once you’ve opened the bottle you’ll probably find it’s all gone before the supper’s served.
Suggestion: Keep a couple of bottles in reserve.
Idiom Zinfandel 2011
07/05/2014: There aren’t many South African Zinfandels, so it comes as a happy surprise to find one – and particularly an excellent one.
I was offered a glass of the 2011 Idiom Zinfandel recently and found it most intriguing – unlike any I’ve tasted before.
It has a bright, youthful ruby colour and wafts of earthy cedar aromas with a hint of ripe plums. The spicy, rather masculine notes follow through on the palate, offering an almost tobacco flavour, warm and rich, like the scent of a log fire.
It slips down very easily, as the tannin is soft and silky and well integrated with the succulent fruit compote flavours.
This is a serious wine to enjoy with a special meal. I’d like to drink it with a rare steak or a venison pie.
Or simply enjoy it by the fireside on a friendly winter’s night in good company.
I think it retails at around R160 a bottle, although I was, of course, too polite to ask my host what he’d paid.
Du Toitskloof Cellars Beaukett 2013
06/05/2014: There are times when only a semi-sweet wine will do. Life would be incredibly boring with only dry wines.
Du Toitskloof’s Beaukett is one of those cleverly made wines with a splash of sweetness balanced by just the right degree of acidity to let it leave you with a clean. refreshing aftertaste.
Made from Muscat, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer grapes, this delightful wine has the aroma of a walk through a rose garden, complete with flowers and warm summer honey. It fills the mouth with juicy grape flavour and ends up quite dry.
I like to drink wine like this with a mild oriental dish — maybe a chicken Korma or a lamb rogan josh. It may also go well with a traditional Cape Babotie or even a Smoorsnoek, which is traditionally served with grape jam anyway. At about R40 a bottle I think it’s a must for any wine store cupboard.
It may even be a refreshing drink on a warm day, served with plenty of crushed ice.
Lemberg Cape Blend 2012
01/05/2014: What a delightful surprise it was to taste a wine from Lemberg again. I thought this little Tulbagh winery had faded from the scene completely since the legendary Janey Muller owned it. Apparently it’s been rejuvenated by the new owner, Henk de Bruyn and good wines are coming from the cellar again under the direction of winemaker David Sadie.
I tasted the Lemberg Cape Blend 2012 this week and was delighted with it. It’s a Shiraz-based blend with a good dollop of Pinotage and a small amount of Pinot Noir, all adding up to a very drinkable and juicy wine. The tannins are gentle and unobtrusive and there’s a good ripe mulberry character to make it very more-ish. I think this is a wine that will last a good few more years, although it’s drinking pretty well now. I’d like to serve it as an accompaniment to a rich slow-baked lamb shank or a warming winter stew.
Avondrood Vineyards Ancient Mountain Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012
11/04/2014: The world of wine is full of surprises. I had almost decided I didn’t like Sauvignon Blancs very much — mostly they were too hard and acidic and mean — when along comes a juicy delight like this.
Frankly, I’d never tasted an Avondrood wine before. The Rawsonville cellar, which belongs to the Van Rensburg family, was only established in 2005, so it hasn’t had much time to make a great impact on the market.
I approached the Avondrood Sauvignon Blanc with reservations, but the very first sip won me over. Here’s a wine full of warmth and sunshine, ripe tropical fruit flavours and a beautiful acid balance that’s just crisp enough to give the wine grip without threatening to dissolve the enamel from your teeth.
Juicy, friendly, delicious. I could become a serious fan.
Before you write off all Sauvignon Blanc as a good substitute for drain cleaner, give this one a try. You’ll see what this ubiquitous grape can do when treated right and grown in the correct soil.
Winemaker Albertus Van Rensburg suggests it would be a good companion to seafood or poultry dishes. I think I’d like to drink it on its own in good company.
But I’d like to have a back-up bottle nearby. I think my bottle had a leak. The wine was gone before I’d had time to give it the attention it deserved.
Delheim Unwooded Chardonnay 1013
26/03/2014: There was a time not so long ago when wine judging panels sighed resignedly when faced with a selection of Chardonnays. A strong movement, known as the “ABC” drinkers (Anything But Chardonnay) sprung up.
Chardonnay was just TOO MUCH of everything. It was OK for a few sips, but then you yearned for something a little less bombastic. Less wood, less butterscotch, more gentle fruit flavour.
Happily, the wine industry was quick to realise what had happened and pretty soon they reined in their enthusiasm for big, bold Chardonnays and began producing really pleasing, elegant wines.
Delheim’s 2013 unwooded Chardonnay is one of these. Instead of depending on new French oak barrels for its flavour, this wine has spend some time on the lees to pick up just the right amount of natural complexity without being too pushy. It has a freshness and elegance from the fruit, presenting tangy lemon/lime flavours and a lingering, clean finish.
It’s a perfect seafood wine and at about R77 a bottle it should be a good partner for calamari steaks, or crayfish. It would also be a wonderful partner to a creamy pasta dish.
Muratie Isabella Chardonnay 2012
26/02/2014: Raise a glass of this superb Chardonnay in honour of its winemaker, Francois Conradie, who died far too young and full of promise earlier this year.
Isabella, named after the Melck’s daughter, is a big, handsome wine, rich with the flavours of tropical fruit and dried peaches, while a hint of nutty savouriness peeks round the edges. Like all good wines, this one reveals layers of complex flavour that unfold on the tongue. It would be a perfect accompaniment to a succulent roast duck or a juicy slice of roast pork with apple sauce. It might also reward a few year of bottle maturation, but I certainly don’t have the patience for that. My bottle didn’t last an hour.
Clos Malverne Spirit of Malverne 2011 (Limited Release)
30/01/2014: Clos Malverne’s Seymour Pritchard is a devoted searcher for the perfect “South African Blend,” based on our own Pinotage grape.
For this blend, labelled “Spirit of Malverne” after the Pritchard’s yacht, built on the farm for a world cruise, Pritchard has allowed his winemaker a completely free hand. The blend is made up of Pinotage (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (33%) and the rest Shiraz. The grapes were pressed in a traditional basket press to add a touch of romantic magic and the result is s big, juicy and powerful wine. The blueberry flavours come through, along with a spiciness from the Shiraz and it’s all built on a bed of noticeable oak vanilla flavour. The tannins are firm but not aggressive. I think this is a wine to keep for a while to allow the various components to come together more seamlessly. It’s a wine with tremendous potential and I think it will be stunning in five years’ time. It will be worth the wait.
Asara Sauvignon Blanc 2013
22/01/2014: Carefully made Sauvignon Blancs can be delicious and this one certainly hits the spot. It has the signature green pepper flavour and has obviously been given some time on the lees to add a comfortable butteriness to the profile. I found nice suggestions of tropical fruit — pineapple and melon — and a long citrus finish. This is an elegantly dry wine that should team up beautifully with almost any fish or chicken dish. According to the label it’s the product of a single vineyard with granite-based soils. The 2013 is delicious right now, but I would like to try it again in a year’s time. I think it might mellow quite graciously.
Nederburg The Beautiful Lady 2012
21/01/2014: Wine writers and connoisseurs use all kinds of interesting words to describe the flavour of a wine. They refer to “smokey, dark berry flavours, with a suggestion of vanilla and a hint of cranberry,” for example.
There’s very seldom any mention of grapes, which is rather odd, because that’s what wine is.
The very first thought that sprang to mind when I tasted Nederburg’s 2012 The Beautiful Lady was “GRAPES!”
This delicious Gewurztramier couldn’t be mistaken for anything but grapes — fresh, cool grapes. The grapes are surrounded by wafts of elegant Turkish delight, rose petals and litchi scents, but it’s the grapes that stand out.
This wine solves an old dining problem — what to serve with Indian food. I tasted it paired with a gently spiced lamb Rogon Josh, and a lamb taka tak, and both combinations were sublime. Keep a bottle handy for your next Indian meal.
This elegant wine is named after the beautiful Ilse Graue, wife of Johann Grauer, who lived at Nederburg and was known for her excellent piano playing skill. The Grauer family is also remembered at Nederburg by the large Grauer Hall in which the annual Nederburg Auction of Rare Wines is held.
Ormonde Shiraz 2009
13/01/2014: The Ormonde wine farm dates back to the 1970s and was probably the first cellar that put the Darling wine area firmly on the map as a producer of high quality wines.
Shiraz has always been one of my favourite varieties and the Ormonde 2009 vintage is a real winner. This is a big, generous wine packed with flavours of savoury meatiness, black plums, berries and spices. There’s just enough oak finish to add a layer of elegance and it all adds up to a very satisfying wine experience.
This is a wine that deserves a special meal. I’d suggest a roast leg of lamb if it wasn’t so astronomically expensive (what do they feed sheep on these days? Caviar?) It will go well with almost any full-flavoured meat dish — or a pasta dish for the budget conscious.
It’s easy to see how this wine earned silver medals at Veritas and the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. (I think it deserved gold). It also earned four stars in the recent edition of the Platter Wine Guide.
Boschendal Grande Cuvee Brut 2009
12/01/2014: A well made MCC sparkling wine is always a treat and it’s not surprising this example earned four and a half stars in the latest edition of the Platter Guide.
Three years on the lees have given the Boschendal Grande Cuvee Brut a deliciously yeasty, fresh-bread character and a cascade of tiny pin-point bubbles to tickle your palate. The crisp acidity of the Chardonnay comes across refreshingly citrusy while the Pinot noir adds just enough gravity to the experience.
It’s good to know that more and more wine lovers are drinking sparkling wines for everyday enjoyment and not only to celebrate important occasions.
This MCC would be a perfect drink for a summer brunch outdoors, but is serious enough to serve at the most important anniversary or birthday.
Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2012
08/01/2014: Glen Carlou was one of the first cellars in South Africa to produce Chardonnay wine on a serious scale. Glen Carlou’s founder, Walter Finlayson made the first vintage there in 1988 and the cellar has continued to specialise in this classic grape variety.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of that first Chardonnay and there’s a range of 2012 vintages to mark the event. A special Commemorative Chardonnay is available at R295 a bottle, in very limited quantities and numbered bottles, and then there’s the standard 2012 Chardonnay at R90 a bottle and an unwooded version selling for R78 a bottle.
A feature of the “regular” Glen Carlou Chardonnay is its maturation for 10 months in French oak barrels, to give it roundness and that characteristic biscuity lees character. The wine has a gently creamy character to compliment the basic citrus tang and there’s enough body to ensure a good few more years of development.
It’s interesting to taste this in company with the 2012 unwooded Chardonnay, which was fermented in concrete “egg” tanks. The unwooded version is slightly leaner and sophisticated rather than voluptuous. Both are delightful and could handle some more time in the bottle.
Muratie Ronnie Melck Shiraz 2010
06/01/2014: I’ve often said Shiraz is the most reliable red wine variety in South Africa. If you’re not sure what to buy for your dinner or braai, choose a Shiraz and you’re not likely to be disappointed.
Muriatie’s Ronnie Melck 2010 is no exception.
It’s a big, generous wine, full of spicy mulberry and blackberry flavours and violet scents, all firmed up with just enough gentle tannin to give it a serious structure.
This is a wine you could serve proudly with a succulent roast leg of lamb at a special occasion, or enjoy with friends around the Saturday evening braai.
Ronnie Melck, for many years director of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (Now part of Distell) was a direct descendant of Martin Melck, the first owner of Muratie back in the 1700s. It was his lifelong ambition to buy Muratie and return it to the family.
He achieved this ambition and the farm is now in the hands of the Melck Family Trust. The charming old, cobwebby character of the farm remains unchanged, although there have been many modernising touches in the cellar, where Winemaker Francois Conradie is producing stunningly good wines.
Clos Malverne Ellie Sparkling Rosé 2011
17/12/2013: If you’re looking for a Christmas bubbly that’s slightly different from the rest, Clos Malverne’s Ellie Rosé is worth a try.
Made from Shiraz (always a favourite of mine) in the traditional Méthode Cap Classique way (MCC), Ellie has a pale pink colour and invites you with aromas of strawberry and spice. The flavour suggests fresh pink fruit, but the finish is crisp and dry. The tiny bubbles last and last.
Named after the mother of Sophia Pritchard, wife of Clos Malverne’s owner, this is a bubbly that will go perfectly with smoked salmon or even a Christmas turkey with cranberry sauce.
Ellie is a worthy addition to the growing list of MCC sparking wines. No wonder this is one of the fastest growing sectors of the South African wine market.
Villiera Chenin Blanc 2013
11/12/2013: When you’re looking for a South African white wine to pair with a meal, Chenin Blanc is usually a reliable option. It’s not usually as searing acid as some Sauvignon Blancs and not as overpowering as many Chardonnays.
Villiera’s 2013 Chenin will certainly enhance any meal of poultry or seafood.
It has an aroma of lemon zest and crushed herbs, followed by mouth-watering, juicy flavours of ripe peaches and pears. The finish is lingering and crisp, leaving you ready for the next sip.
We tend to drink our white wines far too young in South Africa. This one is great for immediate enjoyment, but I think it will improve and mellow over the next two or three years. It sells for less than R50 a bottle, so I suggest you buy several and taste them over a period of time, noting the changes as it develops.
Van Loveren Blue Velvet Pinot Noir 2012
02/12/2013: Ever since the launch of their River Red some years ago the Retief family of Van Loveren have shown themselves to be masters of marketing, producing wines exactly suited to the palates of their target markets.
Pinot Noir can be a difficult grape, sometimes producing wines that are earthy and tough and not to everyone’s liking.
Van Loveren’s Blue Velvet Pinot Noir is anything but rough or tough. As the name implies, it’s a velvety smooth wine, light on the palate, very lightly oaked and with a pleasing savoury-fruity character. You hardly notice the slick tannin grip, but it’s there in the background. It’s the kind of wine you want to drink on its own on the patio at the end of the day, but it will also provide a perfect accompaniment to Italian food or roast duck.
It’s also the kind of wine you’ll find disappears far too fast. You’ll reach for the bottle to pour another glass and be disappointed to find there’s none left.
Buy a case. It’s very reasonably priced.
Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault 2012
19/11/2013: Thank goodness the Cape’s winemakers have come to their senses and realized Cinsaut (or Cinsault if you prefer the French spelling) is the grape they’ve been missing all these years.
Cinsaut was once the most widely planted red wine grape variety in South Africa. It thrived in all our wine regions, producing wines that were fruity, easy-drinking and uncomplicated. For many years it was the main component of Tassenberg, the wine that launched a million love affairs with red wine.
Before that – and before the authorities were strict about labeling, many of the Cape’s great “Cabernet Sauvignons” contained a large percentage of Cinsaut. Those old Cabs have lasted decades, largely because of the suppleness of the Cinsaut in them.
For some strange reason Cinsaut fell from grace in the 1980s and wine farmers pulled out millions of vines, replacing them with more fashionable grapes like Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW) had to import their Cinsaut all the way from Argentina to make Tassies. The Tassies labels bore a feint notice, hardly legible, saying: “Product of Argentina and South Africa, bottled in South Africa.”
It was an insult to generations of passionate Tassies drinkers.
Now new Cinsaut bottlings are popping back into the shelves of wine shops and being rediscovered by discerning drinkers.
The latest of these to come my way in the Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault 2012. Made specially for South Africa’s lifestyle, it is designed to be enjoyed cooler than most red wines. Pop in into your fridge half an hour before you plan to drink it. Don’t let it get warmer than 18 degrees C.
This delicious wine greets you with wafts of red berry aromas and a suggestion of violets, followed by pure fruit flavours that slip silkily across the palate, with hardly a hint of hardness or tannic astringency.
In spite of the smooth mouthfeel, there’s nothing thin or mean about this Cinsault. It’s packed with elegant and intense flavour.
“If you love Burgundy,” says Waterkloof’s owner Paul Boutinot, “You’ll enjoy this wine.”
It really is a delicious wine.
Delheim Shiraz 2012
12/11/2013: To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could recognize the smell of a blackberry without a little prompting. Smelling blackberries is not my regular thing. But if I were to try and guess what a blackberry smelled like, I suspect it would smell something like this Delheim Shiraz. The aroma is very, well, blackberry-like. There’s a suggestion of spice in there too – cinnamon, I think.
The flavour is complex, with a nice ripe dark-berry character (probably blackberries, I suppose) backed by a suggestion of smoky savoury meatiness.
This is a big, mouth-filling wine with very soft tannins, making it immediately accessible, although it will continue to develop for another two years at least.
I’d like to drink it with a rich venison and Guinness pie, or maybe a slow-cooked lamb shank.
Warning: Use a large glass. It disappears rather quickly in a small one.
Vrede en Lust Syrah 2010
07/11/2013: Whether it’s called Shiraz or Syrah, it’s always been one of my favourite red wine varieties. I love its warm, spicy character that reminds me of chilly winter evenings by the fire.
Vrede en Lust’s 2010 vintage certainly comes up to expectations. The aroma is spicy and inviting, with a hint of cedar-wood pencil shavings and the flavours come tumbling across the tongue with layers of cranberry, plums, and just a suggestion of liquorice. The finish is long and slightly sweet-sour. This is a lively wine, fresh and crisp without too much astringency.
I think it would be the perfect accompaniment to a venison pie or a slow-roast leg of mutton.
I believe this wine will continue to develop for a couple more years, although it’s drinking deliciously right now.
It may be worth putting a couple of bottles away for future enjoyment.
Fryers Cove Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2011
23/10/2013: I am told the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
I keep tasting acidic, nasty young Sauvignon Blancs and hating them, then, when I come across one that’s a couple of years old I suddenly find it’s delicious. I should never share a table with a Sauvignon Blanc younger than two years, it seems.
But I do the same thing …
The Fryer’s Cove 2011 Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc is just settling down into its stride now. It’s crisp and clean with a whiff of the ocean and delicious hints of green herbs and sun-warmed fynbos. Very more-ish with a long, dry finish that invites you back for another mouthful. The amazing thing is that this big, elegant wine has an alcohol content of only 12%, so you can go back for that second glass with a clear conscience.
Second glass? What the hell, toss away the cork.
I can see why the Platter Guide judges gave the 2011 the full five-star rating
Overgaauw Touriga Nacionale 2012
27/09/2013: Overgaauw, in the Stellenbosch area, has been in the hands of the Van Velden family for four generations and has built up a reputation of solid reliability. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Tria Corda classic red blend are icons in the red wine world.
Touriga Nacionale is a grape more usually grown for the production of port style wines. Increasingly, however, South African wine makers are finding this variety can make excellent, bold-character table wines as well.
Overgaauw’s Touriga Nacionale has a deep, dark ruby colour, the scent of ripe berries and loads of tangy berry fruit on the palate — mulberry, ripe plum, crisp cranberries and a delightful spicy finish.
There’s a firm tannic grip to keep it all together, but I believe this will soften within a year to give the wine a velvety soft mouthfeel. I seriously recommend you set aside a couple of bottles for future drinking.
This is a heart-warming winter drink for fireside enjoyment. I’d suggest pairing it with a big, friendly winter stew or a slow baked lamb shank.
Radford Dale Vine Dried Viognier 2010
19/09/2013: There are several ways of making delicious sweet wines. One of them is by crushing or breaking the stalks of the grape bunches as they hang on the vines, thus cutting off the supply of sap from the vine to the grapes. Naturally this causes the grape berries to shrivel. Once the grapes have shrunk they are harvested and pressed and the resulting juice is packed with highly concentrated flavor.
Radford Dale Vine Dried Viognier is made in this way and because of its highly concentrated flavor it’s sold in elegant little 375ml bottles. You need only a small sip to fill your mouth with flavour.
And they’re complex flavours. Layers of sweet-sour dried apricot, citrus, green apple and juicy cling peach notes drift across the tongue. The finish is lingering and tangy.
The wine I tasted was slightly cloudy, which would normally have put me off, but the flavour was so intense and charming that I soon forgave it the cloudiness.
I’d like to try this on a hot summer’s day, trickled over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
But it’s pretty good without the ice cream.
Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2010
05/09/2013: I’ve said it before. Maybe the reason why so many of our Sauvignon Blancs are acidic and unforgiving is that we drink them far too young.
I recently opened a bottle of Constantia Glen 2010 Sauvignon Blanc which (I confess) I had forgotten in the back corner of my wine cupboard.
I approached it with some misgiving. Could it still be good after three years?
Admittedly, this vintage did contain a small proportion of Semillon, and that always seems to lift a Sauvignon out of the ordinary.
Also, it was made for longevity. The Constantia Glen policy when this wine was made was to keep it for at least 16 months before releasing it for sale.What a treat!
It was wonderful tropical aromas of gooseberry and mango, with juicy fruit salad flavours sliding across the tongue. And the years have integrated all the components into a seamless elegance.
This wine deserves a special accompaniment and I’d suggest a fine prosciutto ham or a few slices of smoked Norwegian salmon as company.
When it came on the market it was priced at around R100 a bottle.
If you can still get it, that’s a bargain.
JC Le Roux Pinot Noir Rosé 2008 MCC