Showing posts with label Pinotage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pinotage. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

South African Wine: More Than You Think

A cadre of winemakers from South Africa are trying to put a face on a region that is completely foreign to many U.S. consumers.  South African wines are somewhat hard to find, at least in Los Angeles, unless one shops specialty stores or huge wine inventories.  The region is not likely to be found on the supermarket shelf or very many restaurant wine lists.

Capensis winemaker Graham Weerts organized the tour, in which he and five friends are talking up South Africa, where a big shift in winemaking has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years.  Weerts and his pals say they are representing the country's 750 producers and putting their best wines forward.  I was invited to attend their event at the Los Angeles restaurant Republique.

Weerts, standing, his colleagues lined against the wall.
Weerts outlined some of the difficulties South Africa's winemakers have faced.  The embargo during apartheid prevented the export of red wines, causing many vines to be ripped up. However, plenty of old-vine white grapes remain.  That's because the white grapes were used for distilling at the time.

Weerts bristled as he spoke of big U.S. producers which have gone to South Africa in the past, telling winemakers to "make a funny little wine and put a funny little cat on the label" - failing in the process.  Now the focus is on quality, and Weerts says South African winemakers won't be told how to live their own lives, "won't be told what to do."

Considering the effort involved in bringing their story to California, it's no surprise that the eleven wines showcased during the masterclass were of the highest imaginable quality.  The reds all had the mark of minerals on them and the whites were among the most elegant sips I've ever had.


A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras 2017 - Adi Badenhorst was reportedly fired from a previous job for having a bad attitude.  He says he has "shed his German heritage and habits of punctuality and precision" in favor a more free-form method of making wine.  He claims that his Swartland region is "a very free place to make wine."  His Ramnasgras is 100% Cinsault from vines planted in 1963, aged for one year in a large wooden vat.  Alcohol tips 13% abv and the wine retails for $45.  It has a floral nose with minerals on the palate, almost a rusty quality.  Great acidity.

Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2017 - Eben Sadie says says "modern winemaking is like instant coffee, safe and secure," while real winemakers take chances.  He walks the walk, with one of the more varied plantings outside of a laboratory.  Sadie's Swartland Mountain Areas vineyards are full of grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Chenin Blanc, while experimenting with fruit such as Verdelho, Palomino, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Pontac, Alicante Bouchet and more.  His Soldaat is made from 100% Grenache Noir grown in Piekenierskloof, north of Swartland, in 48-year-old vineyards.  He says the high altitude gives Grenache the sun radiation it needs without the high temperatures.  The wine was aged in concrete vessels, carries alcohol at 13.5% abv and sells for $75.  It has an awfully pretty nose and a very savory palate with good fruit showing.

Storm Vrede 2016 - This wine is 100% Pinot Noir grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an hour and a half east of Capetown.  The wine was aged over eleven months in French oak barrels, 25% of which were new.  13.9% abv, $55.  A sharp nose, mineral-laden and peppery is a bit of a surprise.  The palate is tart and savory, with a tea note.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2016 - Abrie Beeslaar is billed as the "king of pinotage," a dubious honor considering the low regard the South African grape has found in the U.S. due to subpar efforts in previous times.  His wine is 100% Stellenbosch Pinotage grown in shale soil, aged 19 months in French and American oak.  14.4% abv, $55.  A perfumed nose of dark fruit and soy sauce, opens up to a palate that’s chalky with minerals and drenched in savory cherry flavors.  Needless to say, it's markedly nicer than the Pinotage wines I've had before.

Kanonkop Estate Paul Sauer 2015 - Beeslaar's Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape in a place known as the "red wine bowl" of South Africa.  This Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc was aged for two years in new French oak.  14.5% abv, $60.  It has a big, red fruit nose, a bold palate and an elegant herbal note.

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2015 - This is 100% Swartland Syrah, grown in red slate soil and aged for 18 months in big vats and barrels.  13.9% abv, $65.  The nose was rather tight, but pepper shows up after a minute or two.  On the palate are flavors of blueberry, raspberry, and minerals with a fantastic acidity.  The first vintage of this wine was in 1997 and was the last for 20 years.  The story goes that the vineyard was paved over for a golf course parking lot, and it took the winemaker two decades to find suitable replacement grapes.


Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018 - Sebastian Beaumont focuses largely on Chenin Blanc in the Bot River region.  Hope Marguerite was aged on its lees for ten months.  12.5% abv, $45.  A beautiful nose of stone fruit and citrus leads to a palate which is elegant, gorgeous, full and creamy.  Meyer lemon and tangerine flavors join a great acidity.

Capensis Chardonnay 2015 - Weerts explores Chardonnay on South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, from old vines in old soil.  He says the Western cape is either the "oldest new-world wine region or the youngest of the old-world."  His Capensis is 100% Chardonnay from the Western Cape, tank fermented with nearly a year in French oak.  14% abv, $80.  There is citrus and oak on the nose - almost a smokey, buttery feel.  The palate is possibly too oaky for some tastes, but it hit me just right.  It's the kind of Chardonnay I like to drink at Christmastime.  The fruit shines through.

Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2016 - A blend of eleven different grape varieties from 17 vineyards across Swartland, this wine is aged for two years in amphorae, concrete eggs and oak vats.  13.5% abv, $150.  The nose is tight, but light citrus on the palate adds to an elegant acidity and a savory angle.  Nothing seems to take charge, but everything works together.  Worth $150?  I don't know, but it's built to age for 10-15 years.

Vergelegen Flagship GVB White 2016 - This wine is 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch, grown close to the coast, "where the wind blows like a banshee."  It spent nine months in a barrel.  13.9% abv, not available in the U.S.  A big herbal nose, rivals New Zealand for grassiness.  There’s a new world palate, too, with more herbal notes.

Klein Constancia Vin de Constance 2015 - This dessert wine comes from 100% Muscat de Frontignan grapes grown in Constancia.  It was aged in a mix of French and Hungarian oak and French acacia.  13.9% abv, $95.  The wine is very gold in the glass and has a viscous mouthfeel, showing a nose and palate of honeyed apricots, peaches and nectarines.  No botrytis here, the grapes were vine-dried.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

South African Bubbles

Since the 1960s, Simonsig has been producing wine from South Africa's Stellenbosch region. 
This one, Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé, was intended for sampling by Valentine's Day.  Well, bubbles are still a good idea no matter what time of year it is.  Bubbles every day for the rest of 2018!  Go for it.

This South African bubbly hits the Pinot trifecta: 63% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinotage and 2% Pinot Meunier.  Pinotage is South Africa's leading red wine grape. According to Wikipedia, it was bred there in 1925 by by Abraham Izak Perold.  It's a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, which was known as "Hermitage" in South Africa back then.  The sparkler is made in the méthode cap classique, which is basically how Champagne is made in France, with bottle fermentation.

Winemaker Johan Malan says 2015 was a warm vintage in which the grapes were picked about two weeks ahead of schedule.  Alcohol is a low 12.1% abv and it sells online for about $25.

The wine bubbles up vigorously, but the festive nature disappears quickly.  The nose is earthy, but fairly muted in that respect and in that of the red fruit.  Palate-wise, the wine disappoints a bit.  It does have a tasty, savory flavor and a nice shot of acidity, but I wanted a little more fruit expression.  Maybe I should stop complaining and just enjoy what is a thoroughly drinkable, but slightly underwhelming bubbly.

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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Monday, June 7, 2010


Ernst & Co. Pinotage

Trying different grape varieties is important to me.  I never understood the concept of buying the same wine over and over.  That sort of comfort level offers me little comfort.  Think of all the wines you're missing that way!  Sure, when you try a different wine every time, there will be some disappointments.  But I love sampling all the flavors so much I don't think I could settle on just one.  Even the disappointments have something to offer.

I hardly ever drink South African wines, but this one caught my eye because I had made a mental note some time ago to get a Pinotage.  My knowledge of the South African wine regions is quite sketchy, but some research has led me to learn that Ernst & Company Wine Farm is on the Stellenbosch wine route in the Muldersvlei area.  This is about 40 km from Cape Town.  The Pinotage grape is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, which is known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the mashup moniker "Pinotage."

The wine has a very dark and inky appearance.  On the nose, blackberries and currants hit me with a faint overlay of alcohol.  I do know that some complain of a chemical odor in Pinotage, but it doesn't bother me.  On the Palate, it's very dark and dense.  A dry wine, this Pinotage is grippy with big tannins in the forefront.  The Ernst & Company Pinotage has a fruity taste, but in a strange way.  It's quite a dark and mysterious fruit, with licorice, too. 

I don't think Pinotage is a grape for everybody, but if you enjoy really strong coffee, it may be for you.  I find it fascinating and I will definitely seek out another version of it.  It might be a while before I do, though.  There are sooo many other grapes out there waiting.