Showing posts with label South African wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South African wine. 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.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Rosés For Spring: South African Pink

Hey, is it rosé season already?  Maybe it creeps up on me because it's always rosé season at my place.  We are taking a couple of weeks to spotlight some worthy pink wines which will help get us in the swing for spring.

The Wolftrap Rosé 2018

This pink wine comes from Boekenhoutskloof winery, on the Western Cape of South Africa.  They've been in operation since 1776 in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, less than a hundred years after wine production began in the country.  The winery website indicates that the name derives from words meaning "ravine of the Boekenhout" - pronounced Bookn-Howed.  That's a Beech tree native to the area which is used for making furniture.  The entire winery, vineyards and all, were retooled in 1993.

The Wolftrap Rosé was named after an old wolf trap found on the property.  It must have worked, as there are said to be no wolves anywhere around, although you may spot a leopard from time to time.

This rosé is made from three grapes, 69% Cinsault, 21% Syrah and 10% Grenache.  Winemaker and vineyard master Marc Kent reports that the Cinsault adds perfume on the nose and fresh fruit to the palate, while the Syrah accounts for the spiciness and the Grenache gives the wine a red berry character.  Alcohol is restrained at 13% abv and sells for less than $10.

This wine colors up exotically, a step past salmon and into day-glo orange.  There's cherry and apricot on the nose, along with a healthy helping of earth.  That dirt shows up n the palate, too, with cherry, apple and stone fruit flavors.  I find it an unusual taste, but not off-putting.  It's a bit like some wines I've tried that were made from North American hybrid grapes, although the grapes here have their roots in the Rhône Valley. 

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, 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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