Monday, September 16, 2013

South African Wine At Whole Foods Market

A virtual wine tasting event with Whole Foods Market on Twitter in September 2013 featured a quartet of wines from South Africa.  The two whites and two reds were provided by my neighborhood Whole Foods store for the purpose of the event.

I don’t get to sample a lot of South African wine, so this event was a perfect learning experience for those of us who took part.  I’ve long been a fan of the wine department at WFM, and it is good to know there is a grocery store willing to stock the kind of wines they do.

These wines are all available at Whole Foods stores and are priced very reasonably.  They also show the South African terroir very well.  There is an earthiness and minerality to these wines that I find quite appealing.  Plus, I got the chance to try the Pinotage grape.

Protea White 2012

Antonij Rupert Winery, beneath Simonsberg Mountain in the beautiful Franschhoeck Valley, produces wine in South Aftrica's W.O. Coastal Region.  The Wine of Origin system is much like the French AOC system, only less rigorously structured and regulated.  This is the region where the French first made wine in South Africa, by the way, and they left a lot of their grape varieties behind.

The protea is a beautiful South African flower.  The winery claims its beauty inspired this wine.  Protea White is 100% Chenin Blanc - sometimes called Steen, and quite widely planted in South Africa.  The wine is bottled under cork and comes beautifully etched by Designer Mark Eisen.  The winery suggests using the bottle after the wine has been enjoyed, as a vase or drinking glass.  Protea is imported in the US by Terlato Wines.

The wine retails for $15 and the alcohol hits only 13% abv.  The website describes a laissez faire approach to winemaking:  "To make our protea White, our winemakers step smartly aside and allow the essence of the remarkable, too often underappreciated Chenin Blanc grape to arrive in the glass with rich fruit and verve."  Well, Chenin Blanc is not underappreciated around this house.

The wine sits pale in the glass, with the bouquet immediately apparent.  As advertised in big letters on the label, aromas of pear, citrus and honeysuckle burst from the glass.  The citrus element hits me as grapefruit, while a distinctive atmosphere of earth joins the fruit.

The palate displays fruit first, but the minerals stay in focus.  Grapefruit and lemon-lime hit first and leave last.  There's a generous acidity which has this white begging to paired with something.  Oysters would be nice, if so inclined - shrimp, lobster or crab if not.  Snacking?  Almonds and goat cheese pair nicely.

DMZ Chardonnay 2012

The DeMorgenzon Winery is in the W.O. Western Cape region, in the upper reaches of South Africa's Stellenboschkloof, in Stellenbosch.  The first vines were planted here in the early 1700s.  Views of both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are visible from their vineyards.  Visitors are treated to the sight of wildflowers throughout the estate.   Not only are the vineyards something to see, there's something for the ears.  They believe music is a powerful growth aid, so they pipe Baroque music among the vines around the clock.

The DMZ Chardonnay grapes grow in soils blessed with granite and sandstone.  One quarter of them were whole cluster pressed, while a combination of steel tanks and French oak barrels were used for fermentation and aging.  It has an easy-open screw cap on top, an alcohol level of 13.5% and a price tag of $17.

The wine's hue is a pale yellow, and its bouquet smells of peaches, pears, orange peel and lime.  The palate shows zingy citrus aplenty.  There is a wonderful acidity and a great sense of minerals.  I get a whiff of oak spice, and a huge blast of terroir.  The wine is clean and refreshing, with a strong mineral influence and grapefruit and minerals on the finish.

Robertson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Robertson Winery was founded by Dr. William Robertson in 1941.  Today some 35 grape-growing families contribute fruit to the Robertson wines.  Viticulturist Briaan Stipp and cellarmaster Bowen Botha head up the Robertson winemaking team.

The '11 Cabernet is fermented in stainless steel, then aged in French oak for four months.  This brings a very fresh style to a variety that is usually produced oak-heavy.  It costs $10 at Whole Foods.

This Cab sits medium-dark and ruby red in the glass, with an intriguing nose of blackberries and dirt. It hit me at first as dusty, then seemed muddy.  I mean all that in the best possible way, of course.  There's a hint of pencil lead, but not as much as one might expect in a Cabernet.  The palate is quite dark, with enough minerality to put the fruit in the backseat.  The plum and cassis notes do make their way to the forefront, though.  The tannins are very firm and the acidity is lip-smacking, but this isn't a Napa Cab by a long shot.  Not elegant, plenty rustic.

Flagstone Dragon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon - Shiraz - Pinotage 2009

This wine offers a grape to which we aren’t exposed very much in the US, Pinotage.  It is truly a South African grape - it was bred in South Africa in the 1920s.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which was known in South Africa as Hermitage at the time.  Bruce Jack, founder and winemaker at Flagstone, explains his use of the grape.

"The unmistakable wild berry Pinotage aromas and juicy flavours are only a small portion of its specific character. The real secret Pinotage gives in a blend is a burst of fruit on the finish – in the same way old vine Grenache can do to Rhone blends."

The Flagstone website recommends pairing this blend with North Indian curry or sushi - the more wasabi, the better.  Sounds strange, I know.  You can find both food items at Whole Foods to conduct your own experiment.

The name of the wine comes from a Dragon Tree brought from the Canary Islands to the Port Captain of Cape Town a century ago.  This was before a breakwater was constructed to protect vessels from suffering damage due to severe nor'westers, and it was known among world travelers that bringing an exotic plant to the Port Captain would insure a good berth in the harbor.

All this information comes from the fascinating and well-written Flagstone website, which you should plan to spend some time investigating.

This wine clocks in at 14% abv and sells for $17.

The vineyard sites selected for Dragon Tree are made up of stony, rocky soil, and the minerals show well.  It's the fruit that steals the show, though.  It is inky purple and has a powerful bouquet of dusty blackberry and currant.  On the palate, dark fruit is in the forward position.  Minerality, good acidity and firm tannins are a great buildup to the chalky finish.

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