South African winemakers matching terroir with grape varieties

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 11th, 2011

Out of the great revolution in South African wine we’ve seen in the past few decades, something of a contradiction is emerging.

Two tendencies we might expect from a leap forward in growing grapes and making wine are becoming evident, perhaps acting against each other — although we can no doubt expect more from their complex interaction.

First, growers of grapes are learning the potential and strengths of their regions down to specific vineyards with slopes, soils and climates that might favour one grape variety, or a few of them.

This is the tendency towards specialisation that proceeded inexorably in old Europe for hundreds of years and is now solidified into law, as well as custom, to the frustration of some.

Second, better-trained growers of grapes do their work ever more skilfully, while winemakers translate these efforts into finer wines.

We have two strands of progress, then. So what’s the clash? Well, for example, just as we marked the Hemel and Aarde area as specialising in pinot noir and chardonnay, winemakers there cleverly managed to make good wines from other grapes, too. It seemed clear that Elgin was for white grapes only, but Shannon broke the norm with its brilliant merlot, Mount Bullet.

As for cool Constantia, it seemed right that the valley should also keep, by and large, to white grapes (Buitenverwachting Christine was one of few fine anomalies). If you want sauvignon blanc, which you probably do, or semillon, which you probably don’t but should, Constantia is an excellent place to go. But hard, intelligent work in the vineyards and cellar at Klein Constantia produced some good cabernet sauvignon and the Marlbrook blend — rather dreary for decades — suddenly became lovely.

Further up the mountainside, angled better for the sun, the still-youthful vineyards of Constantia Glen are producing two fine red blends, respectively named Three and Five, reflecting the number of varieties in each. The 2008 Five, which will be available later this year, seems to have a distinct edge on the 2007 — it is elegant and poised, despite its ripeness and power, and easily matches in style and quality some vastly more expensive ­Bordeaux.

Most successful of the newer Constantia reds has been the shiraz from Constantia Glen’s neighbour, Eagles’ Nest (both were beneficiaries of the fires of 2000 that allowed vines to replace pines).

The Modest Maiden 2005 is still drinking well, but 2006 marked a big improvement. The 2007 had a surfeit of new-oak influence (older barrels were not allowed across the threshold of the cellar where it was made) and I find the oaky flavours excessive. Fortunately, the following vintage was made in the newly built home cellar — and it’s all one could hope for. Tasting it alongside the 2009 it’s easier to see that the 2008 is a little too ripe and fleshy, lacking the greater degree of freshness and elegance that makes the new release, to my taste, the finest yet.

It’s a testimony to the intentions and skill of young cellarmaster Stuart Botha (advised by grandmaster Martin Meinert) and further disputes the idea that narrow specialisation is the way Cape winemakers need to go.

Article by Tim James

Age-worthiness is a particularly beloved topic of wine geeks!

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 8th, 2011

It has been said that Sauvignon Blanc for instance is not age-worthy on the basis that as it gets older it simply shows more of what it showed at a primary stage – more herbaceousness, more asparagus, more tinned peas. Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, is particularly noted for its keeping qualities, able to emerge more complex after sometimes decades in bottle.

10 years on from vintage is typically a good measure of whether a wine is maturing with benefit, at its peak or past it. I’ve had occasion to look at a few wines from the 2001 vintage so far this year and although modern-era South African wines do not have a great reputation for their maturation potential, I’ve generally been impressed.

Among the whites, a stand-out wine was Vergelegen White which combined lime and leesy flavour with great texture balanced by fresh acidity. Two Rieslings were also pretty smart, Klein Constantia showing honey and spice to go with the terpenes typical of the variety, the wine appearing relatively broad on the palate while Thelema was slighter and more primary with lime flavour and fresh acidity.

As for reds, Boekenhoutskloof Syrah was its sexy self appearing juicy and fresh with plenty of dark fruit, spice and pepper flavours. Meerlust Rubicon 2001 meanwhile proved a worthy winner of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande trophy for best blended red wine at the 2006 International Wine and Spirit Competition, a wine with a wonderfully complex nose of cassis, black olive and pencil shavings, the palate displaying plenty of finesse with fresh acidity and fine tannins before a saline finish. Classic stuff.

Also very refined was the Grangehurst Nikela , the Cab-Merlot-Pinotage blend from Jeremy Walker and proof once again that he makes some of the most long-lived wines around. A label that’s so uncool it’s cool.
I’ve encountered the Kanonkop Paul Sauer and the CWG auction bottling from 2001 in two separate blind tastings and curiously in both instances thought the wines to be Pinotage. Plumy fruit and somewhat astringent tannins. Proof that terroir ultimately will out?

Perhaps most interesting out of all the wines from 2001 that I’ve tasted so far this year is the Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay. I’ve had this twice in blind tastings and what was remarkable was the subtle but distinct difference between the two bottles. The first showed honey and toasty oak on the nose while the palate was rich and broad with marmalade and vanilla flavours and gentle acidity. Just a bit tired.

The second bottle was superlative. Citrus, burnt matchstick and attractive oak spice on the nose, while the palate showed pure, juicy fruit but simultaneously lots of intriguing secondary character thanks to deft handling in the cellar. A wine that could hold its own against much of Burgundy.

How to explain the difference? The two bottles came from different cellars, but their respective owners are both meticulous in terms of ensuring optimal storage conditions. There’s an old adage which holds that after a certain point, there aren’t good wines, only good bottles and here was a case of this if ever there was.

Author: Christian Eedes

Young Gun Winemakers pushing the absolute boundaries

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 7th, 2011

I hate to think that there might still be people who consider wine a daunting product, only understood and enjoyed by old fogeys. A recent tasting at Wine Cellar defied this notion in its totality. Touted as ‘Young Guns – pushing the absolute boundaries’, the tasting focused on idiosyncratic wines made by equally eccentric (young) winemakers. It was far from boring; in fact words like cool, hot, awesome and sexy rather spring to mind…

Contributing to this wicked tasting was the winemakers’ tune selection, which was played as they poured their respective wines. Apart from providing an upbeat interval in what can be the most boring part of any tasting (waiting for the wines to be poured), this exercise provided insight into the minds of those involved in the creation of these crazy wines.

Howard Booysen picked Michael Bublé’s ‘Fever’ to accompany his presentation of his 2010 and 2011 Rieslings. The 2010 is an incredible wine: waxy, lanolin notes, brazing acidity, structured palate and layers of depth; this wine definitely provokes some burning feelings… I have to add that, although they year isn’t over yet, it is one of my Top 10 wines of 2011. (Buy it for R124 from Wine Cellar.)

Next up, Jurgen Gouws, with the latest club hit to complement his production: LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’ (you might just know it as that ‘Everyday I’m shufflin’-song’). Ja. He thinks his wines rock and he’s not wrong. Swartland Chenin Blanc in the line-up here: Intelligo Chenin Blanc 2010, which suitably showed oxidative in character. Not incidental then that intelligo is Latin for ‘I understand’, as it is a rather acquired taste.

The same applies to the wines produced by Craig Hawkins, the Lammershoek Cellar Foot Hárslevelü 2010, Mourvèdre 2010 and Testalonga El Bandito Chenin Blanc 2009, displaying those opulent, oxidative aromatics that have become so distinctive of the Swartland. My notes depict lots of minerality, spice and peaches. The Testalonga Cortez 2009 offered marvellous intrigue. Also a Chenin Blanc, but this wine is made according the solera system, with back lees from previous vintages blended into older barrels to make up the final wine. The result? A fully engaging wine with lavish, honey-like notes on the nose.

Wine-of-the-night belonged to Bryan McRoberts who owned the stage with his Tobias label. Bryan is the ghost winemaker at Eben Sadie Family Vineyards, and mentoring by the legendary Sadie has clearly left its mark. The 2010 Tobias Red was by far my favourite wine of the night. It is a blend of Cinsaut, Shiraz and Mourvèdre – it smells like roses and drinks beautifully. For those bored with ‘normality’, this one is for you. (I’m still trying to figure out why he chose ‘Blaas jou Vuvuzela’ by Jack Parow to accompany his presentation.)

Crystallum winemaker Peter-Allan Finlayson is one of those winemakers who can do no wrong in my eyes. He’s just become engaged, which is perhaps why ‘Lover’s Day’ by TV on the Radio was his theme song. He showcased a bottle of his (as-yet-unnamed) Rhône-style red blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut. Beautiful expression of fruit here, with lots of intrigue offered by the Grenache and Cinsaut.

Lastly, Spookfontein winemaker Craig Sheard, of the Elemental Bob range of wines fame, took to the podium to the swaggering tune of ‘Congo Man’ by Ernest Ranglin. I am totally enthralled by the mind of this winemaker. There’s no disputing that here’s a complex artisan, pushing the boundaries with wines called The Turkish and The Delight. The Turkish 2008 is a Barbera/Gewürztraminer blend that looks, smells and tastes exactly as is implied by its name. The label is equally peculiar but wonderful. Craig commissioned artist Joshua Miles from Baardskeerdersbos to do a visual representation of the wine. The result? A colourful jumping castle obscured by aloe succulents in the forefront… This is as unconventional as it gets, but I thought it was absolutely brilliant. His other blend, The Delight, is a more conventional Barbera/Shiraz blend, and didn’t quite pique my interest like the former.

Wine Cellar posed the following question as a prologue to the tasting: “Do we really need a textbook to make wine? Must all wines fit neatly into little boxes?”

My conclusion after this evening is a resounding “Hell no!” – and I don’t think anyone will dare to differ.

Author: Jeanri-Tine van Zyl

Tim James tastes his way through 350 wines – phew!

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 6th, 2011

Boxes of wine are accumulating around me – packs of two, six, or, most threateningly, 12. The three wintriest months are also those in which 5 000 or 6 000 wines are sampled and rated each year for Platter’s South African Wine Guide, and I’m part of the team responsible for it.

Hence the 350-odd wines (multiplied by two, as there’s a spare sample of each) that will pile up rather faster than, at first, I’m able to work my way through them. Hopefully my progress will speed up but I’m still at the early stages when I’m tentative and slow.

I’ve just spent hours dithering, for example, with many judicious sips, over a mere half-star for one modest wine. The maximum is five stars but the rather odd concept of a half-star is allowed to give greater flexibility — and greater scope for my vacillation. Somewhere, sometime soon, I hope again to reach a confident but unassuming balance between arrogant certainty (these are personal assessments, after all) and pathetic unsureness.

The step following the judgment is to assemble some words to characterise the wine and implicitly justify the rating. Then I log on to the remarkable online world of the Platter intranet, on which a few dozen people in the large Platter team can be working simultaneously. Some will be from the support crew, entering basic information into the database about the wines that have been submitted and delivered to Platter’s Stellenbosch HQ. The tasters (15 of them, working at the HQ, at home or at one of the regional centres where some areas’ wines are tasted) enter their notes. Winery introductions are written, and the editors check and check again.

Problems are dealt with as they arise or are anticipated — many wines will be retasted by others as a confirmatory mechanism, for example.

Editor Philip van Zyl has already entered the dark, lonely spot at the centre of this large electronic web. Agonisingly painstaking, and apparently sleepless for four months, he will stagger forth in September, pale and hollow-eyed, clutching the large file generated from the database and deliver it to the printers in Singapore.

Meanwhile, as those boxes pile up, other wines delay my response to their mute demands – deliciously delay, sometimes, like a pair of Sequillo wines just released on to the market in something of a rebranding exercise. Sequillo is a Swartland winery whose presiding genius is Eben Sadie, best known for his Sadie Family Wines label. Sequillo offers marginally larger quantities of wines sourced from other vineyards — thankfully less expensively.

The new presentation of the wines is original, even startling: clear-glass bottles, with funky, charming labels evoking the rough, rural farming atmosphere of the vineyards. Most importantly, the wines are excellent, sophisticated yet approachable. The Red 2009 (a blend of shiraz and other southern French varieties) is packed with red fruit but is too fresh and disciplined to be simply fruity — it verges on profundity, but easily sidesteps solemn austerity. Friendly enough, then, but deep-souled and thoughtful.

The pale-gold White 2010, a complex blend based on old-vine Swartland chenin blanc, is similarly a triumphant unity of freshness and light richness, intensity and delicacy, sweet fruit and dry elegance. You’d have trouble finding the equals of these wines, especially the Red, at anything approaching R150. Warmly recommended, both.

Article by Tim James

Neil Pendock reports on a week of wine in Hong Kong

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 5th, 2011

The streets of North Point, Hong Kong Island, look like the set from Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian view of the future. Especially after you’ve spent an hour roller coastering above the airport, waiting to land in a typhoon and they’re all shiny with rain. The debt this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China pays to Sci-Fi was brought home watching the Green Lantern in 3D in the International Finance Centre, tallest building in Hong Kong. HK$252 (R222 including two sets of 3D glasses), Lantern was a compromise as we’d wanted to watch Beginning of the Great Revival, a new propaganda flick showing a young Mao frolicking in the snow, but my Mandarin is not yet up to speed.

Snow is totally alien to Hong Kong in summer where a balmy 32° and 90% relative humidity turns skyscrapers like the IFC into air-conditioned pleasure domes and showcases for the great panoply of European luxury brands like Prada (which listed the previous week on the HK stock exchange), Emernegildo Zegna, Versace and Agnès B. which features an in-store restaurant le pain grillé which we ignored as we’d had lunch at Bo Innovation, a Michelin one-star restaurant in Wan Chai. Wan Chai would be a perfect venue for Christo Wiese’s SA Fine Wine shop or a pop-up store promoting Stellenbosch wines like Rémy Martin does to market Louis XIII Cognac.

At Bo, just about the cheapest thing on the wine list is a bottle of Bollinger Champagne at HK$750 (R660) a pop – cheaper than you can buy it retail in SA. Drappier 2005 vintage is even cheaper at HK$580 – R500 for a vintage bubbly in the world’s 64th best restaurant according to San Pellegrino mineral water, who know about these things. To put this in perspective, when top Champagne executive Daniel Lorson was in Johannesburg earlier this year he paid R560 for a glass of non-vintage French fizz in a restaurant.

The Bo list featured no SA reds but did include three whites from the Cape: Meerendal Chenin 2007 was the most expensive at HK$600, Mul-derbosch (their hyphenation) Chardonnay 2008 at HK$580 and Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2008 for HK$430. Which turns the SA price/cultivar equation on its head when Chenin Blanc is pricier than vintage French Champagne and Chardonnay – especially a heavy hitter like Mul-derbosch. Music to the ears of the Chenin Blanc Producers Association and confirming the unbeatable position of a funky restaurant like Bo as a showcase for SA wine.

The tip about Bo came from Debra Meiburg MW, first lady of Hong Kong wine. We’d lunched at the China Club in the old Bank of China Building, which gave us a chance to catch up on her recent judging in SA where Sauvignon Blanc was her standout class, even if there was some initial confusion about her opinion of the grassy green style which is running into a fair amount of palate fatigue among Asian wine lovers. Which could explain her choice of a William Fèvre Chablis for the delectable dim sums from an extensive buffet that was replenished at regular intervals.

The delicate licorice flavours of the Chablis reminded me of the Canton Love-Pes Vine Drink made by Hung Fook Tong. A crafty blend of love-pes, licorice root and momordica fruit, I quickly became addicted to the stuff and reckon both Chablis and Love-Pes are good matches to crispy chicken feet. China Club is something of a modern art gallery with exotic works curated by FT Agony Uncle, Sir David Tang: Bevis and Butthead as Maoist generals, fat babies with adult faces and naked youths like those on the walls of Annatjie Melck’s house on Muratie that will hopefully grace a label soon.

For mains Debra ordered a bottle of Craggy Range Syrah from New Zealand, confirming that the Club has a catholic palate when it comes to wine with the usual local suspects Warwick and Meerlust also on the list. Debra is no stranger to SA, having been to the Cape a biblical seven times. In fact she even claims distant kinship to Hannes Myburgh of Meerlust fame. She’s done a harvest with Meerlust winemaker Chris Williams and competes in the Cape Argus.

Chinese tea is the de facto drinks order for any meal – so much so, it usually arrives automatically, the same way water appears at American meals. It’s usually jasmine tea, but Debra ordered chrysanthemum, which is tangy and peaty like Scotch without the alcohol. Even more so, as the pot empties and the smoky tannins accumulate. It even looks like whisky.

Debra reckons SA wine should be a winner in China: “the style and price is right – unlike some wines from California – and the Chinese government is keen to boost trade with Africa, which will help a lot.” When Chinese entertain, they typically do so in the private dining room of restaurants like the China Club, rather than at home. “Decide on a menu and bring your own wine and show your friends how much you love them” says Debra. No reason those wines should not include a few from SA – after all, we’re all happy members of BRICS now, almost family.
Article by Neil Pendock

Rijk’s Pinotage 2007 earns 95 points and Trophy for Best Pinotage

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 5th, 2011

Rijk’s Private Cellar Pinotage 2007 takes the Trophy. Again.

Chairman of the Trophy Wine Show, Michael Fridjhon, announced last week that our Pinotage 2007, just released and awarded 95 points, received the Trophy for the Best Pinotage of the show. 1070 wines were entered in the competition. A Gold Medal is described as “superlative, world class”. Three Pinotage’s are produced at Rijk’s. Pinotage Touch of Oak – lightly wooded with exceptional friut, Pinotage Private Cellar – full bodied and complex, and Pinotage Reserve.

Rijk’s Pinotage Awards since first release in 2000
2000 Absa Top 10
Michelangelo International – double gold and best wine of the year
Veritas – double gold
Wine magazine – champion of the year
2001 Absa Top 10
2002 Absa Top 10
Veritas – double gold
Michelangelo International – gold
Concours de Mondial – trophy winner
2003 Michelangelo International – double gold and Trophy for best pinotage
2004 Absa Top 10
Michelangelo International – gold
Swiss Air first class
SA Young Wine Show – gold
2005 Absa Top 10
Michelangelo International – gold
2006 Absa Top 10
Michelangelo International – double gold
International Wine and Spirits competition, London -
2009 and 2010 best pinotage in the world
Hong Kong International Wine Show -
Best South African red wine
2007 Just released in May, 2011
Wine Magazine – 4½ Stars
Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show – 95 points best pinotage

In Dutch the word ‘rijk’ means rich – a perfect description of how Tulbagh producer Rijk’s Private Cellar has been blessed with the quality produced here. Last year saw Rijk’s celebrate it’s first decade. With owner Neville Dorrington and winemaker Pierre Wahl, this go-getting cellar has notched up many prestigious awards for both reds and whites, showing a distinct versatility and obvious skill across the board.

Last years Trophy Wine Show saw the team winning the Trophy for the Best Chenin Blanc. But it’s our proudly home grown variety, Pinotage which first cemented Rijk’s Private Cellar as a serious contender for SA’s Pinotage crown. Numerous accolades over the years attest to a passion for this variety.

When Dorrington purchased the property he was adamant he would plant Pinotage with the aim of producing a world class food wine. Wahl insists it’s become his favourite variety – with Chenin Blanc and Shiraz.
Wahl travelled to the States to study the Californian’s approach to Pinot Noir – the variety crossed with Cinsaut which together produce this indigenous South African grape. He prefers the use of open fermenters, cold maceration prior to fermentation and malolactic fermentation in barrels.

The fruit for this wine is exclusively from Rijk’s vineyards and was handpicked in the cool of the night to retain freshness and flavour. The result is a wine with a deep ruby red colour. On the nose, expect a complex infusion of cherry and plum. These red fruit aromas carry through to the palate, supported by a full concentration of well integrated tannin and oak.

Wahl recommends one to decant this wine prior to serving and, for those with patience and cellaring capacity, it has 15 or more years of ageing potential. “Reflecting elegance, finesse, complexity and concentrated fruit, this wine embodies the character of the cultivar and our soils, and perfectly represents the hallmarks of Rijk’s Private Cellar wines,” says Wahl.

Having supplemented their Pinotage plantings last year the team is confident that their future, and that of this iconic variety, is looking very rosy indeed.
Editorial by Sara de Villiers.

South Africa Has Best Terroir, Best Winemakers

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on July 4th, 2011

The image of South African wine in the US has received a significant boost from a doyenne of France’s Bordeaux wine region. Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing informed an influential US audience that winemaking in South Africa has been going on for as long as Medoc’s with vines first planted in both regions in 1688. Combined with its history and the experience of the region’s winemakers, she commented: “South Africa has the best terroir, best winemakers.”

Madame de Lencquesaing is such a firm believer in the potential of the South African wine industry that in 2003 she acquired land on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch and founded Glenelly Estate.

While in New York she met with press, top distributors and key restaurant and retail accounts to share her stories and passion for South Africa.

A whirlwind of events organised by US importer Cape Classics included a first-ever meeting between influential Wine Spectator editor James Molesworth and Madame de Lencquesaing.

There were also meetings with the likes of Food & Wine magazine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin and a dinner with the top 10 wine distributors in the US – Madame de Lencquesaing spoke eloquently at the dinner of the history of South Africa’s terrior and winemaking history, drawing a parallel to that of Bordeaux’s.

On the final day of her visit Madame de Lencquesaing was interviewed by “World Wine Guys” Jeff Jenssen and Mike DeSimone for a new book project titled “The Complete Wines of the Southern Hemisphere”. Her visit concluded with a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine dinner at New York’s upscale Compose restaurant.

Considering herself more of an artist than a winemaker, Madame de Lencquesaing spoke of her passion for collecting glass pieces. She compared winemaking to glassmaking, explaining both are created from poor matter – sand and grape – to form rich pieces of art.

About Glenelly Wines:
Glenelly Estate is located on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch, South Africa. In 2003, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing acquired the land. For over 30 years Madame de Lencquesaing was owner of Bordeaux’s Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain joined Glenelly in 2007. Luke has also worked abroad at such prestigious wineries as Screaming Eagle and Château Angelus. Winemaker Adi Badenhorst serves as a consultant. Glenelly’s wines are fermented naturally and made with as little intervention as possible, seeking to achieve the perfect balance of French style and South African terroir. From the entry level “Glass Collection” — inspired by Madame de Lencquesaing’s antique glass collection — to the “Grand Vin de Glenelly” signature red blend and the flagship Bordeaux-inspired “Lady May” Cabernet, Glenelly crafts inspiring wines that possess quality, complexity and elegance while remaining a true expression of their vintage and terroir.

 

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