Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

South African Chenin Blancs

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

Noble Hill Chenin Blanc Sur Lie 2021 

The grapes for this Chenin came from "the granite slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains" between Stellenbosch and Paarl, where wine fruit has grown for three centuries. The wine was left on the lees for nine months and aged in concrete vats. Alcohol hits 13.5% abv and the retail price is $19.

This wine has a clear looking gold-green tint. The nose offers plenty of minerals, a healthy dose of citrus fruit and an herbal angle which comes off as an earthy note. The palate showcases the citrus and minerality, while the acidity nearly rips through the sip. This is a very food-friendly white wine, one that will also serve well as a simple sipper. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

South African Chenin Blanc

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

Lievland Vineyards Old Vine Chenin Blanc Paarl 2021

Lievland's head winemker Riaan Möller says despite the view of South Africa's wine as "new world," he thinks there is enough of the "old world" there to say that it is at least a blend of both worlds.

The 2021 Lievland Vineyards Old Vine Chenin Blanc was partially barrel fermented, has alcohol at 13% abv and a retail price of $19.

This wine is tinted golden-green, has a very clear appearance and shows some slight bubbles upon the pour. The nose is mineral-laden, with a huge influence from the slate soils in which the grapes grew. There is also a citrus note in the aroma package. On the palate, minerals abound still. Citrus fruit joins the flinty flavors while a near-ripping acidity provides incredible freshness and food friendliness. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Man, This Is Good Chenin Blanc

When we think of South African wine, we may think of Pinotage, Cab or Shiraz for red grapes, but the white grape that leads the way on the Cape is Chenin Blanc. They like to call it Steen, but it goes by both names there. I have been given the opportunity to sample three examples of South African Chenin Blanc. 

MAN Family Wines Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc Cape Coast 2022

First of all, a bit about the winery's name. MAN comes from three women. It was named after Marie, Anette and Nicky, who started the business along with their respective spouses. The spouses did not get their names embedded on the label. The company's motto is "Everyday wines for wine geeks."

The 100% Chenin Blanc grapes were grown in the Agter-Paarl area of South Africa's Cape Coast wine region. They were harvested from old, dry-farmed bush vines. The primarily shale soil gives the wine a wonderful minerality.

They use only the free-run juice in this wine - no pressing of the grapes. They say that practice preserves the wine's character, acidity and flavor. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $12. That is a bargain. 

This wine carries a pale yellow tint in the glass and shows small bubbles as it pours up slightly frizzante. The nose is amazing, dressed in a citrus minerality that evokes not only a sidewalk after a rain, but a minty eucalyptus note as well. There are traces of smoke and pineapple in the aroma package, too. The palate is flinty and full of acidity. A plate of oysters will go nicely with this bottle. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What Kind Of Wine Is Tussock Jumper?

Tussock is a kind of grass that grows longer than the grass surrounding it.

A jumper is a sweater - in this case, a red one.

Tussock Jumper Wines says that "tussock" represents their commitment to sustainable wines, and the red jumper is a mark of quality.

A publicist tells me that Tussock Jumper is a French negociant.  They own no vineyards but select quality grapes from small farms in multiple regions, around the globe.  Their wines are blended and bottled locally in order to support micro economies.  The U.S. importer, TRI-VIN, has a list of 24 wines available, from eleven different wine regions around the world.  

Each bottle shows a different animal wearing the red jumper.  Despite the "critter label" aspect, I found these wines to be very tasty, even interesting.  A mobile app is available which allows one to scan the label and get an earful about what's in the bottle from the animal itself.  I found the iPhone app to be balky and just plain goofy, not at all representative of the wine - which deserves much better.

Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc 2020 - Stellenbosch, South Africa 

This off-dry wine was made with minimal cellar intervention, from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes picked in select vineyards in the Helderberg and Paarl regions, as well as from the high slopes of the Du Toitskloof mountains.  The Western Cape wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, where it lay on the spent yeast cells for about four months before blending.  Alcohol hits 13% abv and it is available for $13.

This wine has a slightly yellow tint and a nose that is all about the minerals.  The smell of lemon zest, tropical fruit and a wet sidewalk all play into the aroma package.  The palate shows various kinds of citrus, stone fruit and a rich salinity, not to mention the racy acidity.  It's time for shellfish or crustaceans, or any kind of seafood, really. 

Tussock Jumper Riesling 2020 - Mosel, Germany 

These Riesling grapes came from the Rheinhessen region of western Germany, along the Mosel and Rhein river banks, where some of Germany's warmest and driest growing conditions are found.  Tank fermented, the wine sat on the lees - the spent yeast cells - for three months, giving it more weight and added complexity.  Alcohol is low, at only 10.5% abv, and the retail price is just $12.

This pale, off-dry wine's nose features scents of lemon, apricot, apple and cantaloupe.  The palate is mineral-driven with a decent acidity, although not razor-sharp.  Pair it with Thai or Indian curries, sushi or seafood risotto.

Tussock Jumper Sauvignon Blanc 2020 - Marlborough, New Zealand

Marlborough's 2020 growing season had lengthy dry spells, which the folks at TJ say led to concentrated flavors and aromas.  This vintage is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, made from a blend of three vineyards, two in Wairau Valley, and one in Waihopai Valley.  The wine aged on the lees for approximately four weeks before filtering.  Alcohol tips 12.5% abv and the price is $12.

This pale, yellow wine smells extremely grassy - no surprise for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  There is also a large swath of grapefruit, cantaloupe and tropical fruits cutting through the nose.  The grapefruit comes through explosively on the palate, along with a mineral streak a mile wide.  The mouthfeel is quite crisp and the acidity zippy.  There is just a tiny hint of sweetness here, and the citrus flavor lasts a long while on the finish.  You can pair this with any sort of white meat or seafood, but I think it would be a great choice to go with one's breakfast eggs, if one were so inclined.

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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.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

South African Wine: Red Blend

Lubanzi Wines is named for a wandering dog who led the winemakers on a six-day journey along South Africa's Wild Coast. Founders Walker Brown and Charles Brain have only two wines in the line at the moment. One is a red blend, made of Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre and a white, which is 100% Chenin Blanc. Both South African creations retail at under $20.

Brown and Brain - not South African themselves - say they are working with two of the country's more noted winemakers. Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack were asked to be "forward-thinking, socially responsible and innovative" in making the Lubanzi wines. Brain says they're aiming at the millennial market, a demographic that he thinks has the buying power to lift South Africa's underrated status. He says they want to make a wine that "punches above its weight."

The owners are directing some of the proceeds back to those who helped make the product. Half of their profits will go towards The Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with low-income families on South Africa's wine farms. The back label claims "50% of the profits back to the hands that made it."

The Lubanzi red blend from South Africa’s Coastal Region features 46% Shiraz, 31% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre and 3% Grenache. The 13.5% abv is easy to take and the $18 price tag is almost shockingly low.

The Lubanzi red blend of South African Shiraz, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Grenache is a dark ruby wine with a nose and palate to match. Aromas of dark fruit are joined by a strong minerality, with a slightly smoky, savory, leathery whiff above the glass. The palate is fruity in the most savory sense possible. Big black cherry and cassis meet up with earthy herbs and spices. It's a lively wine, with acidity to refresh and tannins to make pairing it with meaty dishes a natural. The twist-off cork makes it super easy to open.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

South African Chenin Blanc

Lubanzi Wines is named for a wandering dog who led the winemakers on a six-day journey along South Africa’s Wild Coast. Founders Walker Brown and Charles Brain have only two wines in the line at the moment. One is a red blend, made of Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre and a white, which is 100% Chenin Blanc. Both South African creations retail at about $15.

Brown and Brain - not South African themselves - are working with two of the country's more noted winemakers. Trizanne Barnard and Bruce Jack were asked to be "forward-thinking, socially responsible and innovative" in making the Lubanzi wines. Brain says they're aiming at the millennial market, a demographic that he thinks has the buying power to lift South Africa's underrated status. He says they want to make a wine that "punches above its weight."

The owners are directing some of the proceeds back to those who helped make the product. Half of their profits will go towards The Pebbles Project, an NGO that works with low-income families on South Africa's wine farms.  The Brown and Brain say the group focuses on families "by providing resources and improving access to health & high-quality education."

 The Lubanzi Chenin Blanc  2016 is made of grapes grown in Swartland, just north of Cape Town. It has an alcohol content of 12.5% abv

The pale wine gives off an aromatic nose that's loaded with minerals and dressed up with a smoothly savory bit of lanolin. Lemon sneaks in almost unnoticed. The palate shows citrusy minerals and a clean, bracing mouthfeel with plenty of fresh acidity. The finish hangs around a good while, and lets that citrus flavor work its magic.

Friday, May 26, 2017

South African Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé

Everything's coming up rosé at Whole Foods Markets. It is the time of year when people love to turn to a nice, refreshing pink wine, although that time of year never stops for me.. Whole Foods has a slew of pink wines that are easy on the palate and the pocketbook. This wine is one of several that were offered to me for review. Whole Foods beverage guy Devon Broglie calls this one of the wines from their "rosé garden."

The Mulderbosch winery was started in 1989, and this rosé was introduced a decade later. It was a time when South African rosés were usually a byproduct of red wine production. This one has always been produced as pink, from vine to bottle. It is 100% Coastal region Cabernet Sauvignon, and the winery says that once the grapes are pressed after early picking, "the juice is handled as per Sauvignon Blanc." Alcohol content is restrained at 12.5% abv and it sells for $12 at Whole Foods.

The color of the Mulderbosch rosé is rich, a deep ruby-pink that looks almost like rosado. The nose is just as rich, black cherry and earth wrapped around an herbal note that hits just right. In the mouth, a zippy acidity made me forget this is a Cabernet Sauvignon. Red fruit takes a back seat to herbs and earth. The savory edge is so great, the spice so understated, the greenness just green enough. This is a classy rosé, and for 12 bucks, it should be on your patio well chilled.

Friday, April 25, 2014

South African Wine: Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2012 , Stellenbosch

Holidays in my family and my wife's family are polar opposites.  When I was growing up, my family spent holidays at home, at rest, doing as little as possible - except for Mom, who was expected to feed everyone.  There was always a lot of sitting around, talking.  That's still true today, except he responsibility of preparing food for the feast has fallen to younger family members.

In my wife's family, holidays are just that - a clean and total break from the routine, whatever that happens to be.  On holidays you'll find them at restaurants, movies, public events - they stay as busy as little celebrating bees.  It is my suspicion they do this to avoid sitting around, talking.  That usually leads to disagreements, which lead to arguments, which culminate in fights.  Better they keep themselves busy when everyone is idle and spoiling for something to do.

One fine holiday, my wife had the bug to go to a movie.  I agreed, on the condition we go to the theater that features a bar down the hall.  Fortunately, she thought that was a great idea.  Agreement is a beautiful thing, and a glass of wine facilitates sitting around and talking.

At said bar, aptly named The Wine Bar, I was moved to order a wine from South Africa, shown on the menu as a Petit Chenin Blanc.   I asked the waiter about a grape known as Petit Chenin Blanc, only to find out that Petit is the name of the wine.  The grape is that same Chenin Blanc they love to call Steen in South Africa.

The wine hails from Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape appellation, on the little spit of land that also contains Capetown.  Ken Forrester Vineyards boasts that they have been around since 1689, which is a long time to be doing anything.  The grapes for the Petit line are not actually from the Forrester estate - they are negoçiant grapes, sourced from other growers.

At 13.5% abv, the wine's alcohol content isn't at all presumptuous and the $9 price tag is a pretty good by-the-glass price.  A humorous side note on the website claims the wine's aging potential to be "half an hour with the cap off, then reach for the next bottle!"

Petit Chenin Blanc shows a straw color in the glass, with a green tint that makes it look as fresh as a daisy.  There is a very herbal nose featuring salinity and savory white pepper aromas.  The palate also shows savory salinity, with the pear and quince flavors practically bowled over by that wonderful savory note and a refreshing acidity.  A medium finish lets the herbal notes linger.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

White Wine - Because There Is Always A Warm Beach Somewhere

Recently we wrote about some South African wines, and now - before the Northern Hemisphere sun grows too faint to warm us, let's try the beach house Sauvignon Blanc.  It is actually a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon grapes from South Africa's Western Cape, clocking in at 12% abv and retailing for $10.

Made by Douglas Green, one of South Africa's largest independent wine producers, the beach house has a presence in 80 countries and is imported in the US by Pacific Highway Wines and Spirits.  It is labeled as "perfect for sitting out in the sun, on the porch or even better... on the beach."  Even if the season in your hemisphere does not cooperate, it's perfectly fine to enjoy this wine indoors.

Pale straw yellow in the glass, the wine's nose is full of bright citrus and minerals.  There is hardly a blade of grass to be found.  On the palate, grapefruit, Mandarin orange and lime peel dominate in a fruity and easy-to-drink setting that also includes a fairly strident acidity.  There is just a hint of that South African terroir - it is really a refreshing and fruit-forward wine.

Pair it with grilled calamari - the more charred the better, salads and Feta cheese.  It's even good with sausage and peppers.

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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.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"They Got This Recession On" Wines, Part 7

I'm a relative novice in the area of wines from South Africa.  But I like Chenin Blanc, and I've heard a lot of good things about South African Chenin Blanc, so I had my eyes open for a good opportunity.  Along comes a South African Chenin Blanc that costs under ten dollars.  How could I say no?  Let's bust this recession South Africa style.

Man Vintners Chenin Blanc 2009

Man Vintners is located in Paarl, in coastal South Africa northwest of Cape Town.  This is traditionally a white wine area, although reds are gaining in popularity there.  This steen - South African for "Chenin Blanc" - is produced in stainless steel, and it has crisp and clean flavors to show for it.  The wine is 13.5% abv and cost only $7 where I bought it, probably at a bit of a discount.  The nose shows a tropical and canteloupe profile that is quite pleasant, while on the palate are lime and orange peel.  It's a crisp, rather full mouthfeel.  The acidity seems a little lacking, making me think of it as a summertime porch wine.  It probably goes nicely with salads and light seafood, but I would like it on that warm afternoon out on the deck.

Varietal:  100% Chenin Blanc 
Appelation:  South Africa > Paarl
Vintage:  2009
Alcohol Level:  13.5% abv
Price:  $7
Acquisition disclaimer:  Purchased by the author