What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

A Canadian summer for South African wines

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Great heart and value from the Western Cape, alcohol bans, limited time offers and 15 reasons why you should support the wineries of South Africa 

by Michael Godel

 

as seen on WineAlign

There is an undeniable truth that South Africa is responsible for producing some of the finest wines in the world, at all price points and for every imaginable palate. A local perspective shows how fortunate Canadians are to have access to so many of the Cape’s essentials. Wines so very helpful as chaperones whilst Canada finds itself in the throes of a steamy and canicular July, still weeks ahead of the dog days when the star Sirius will first appear in the night sky. Essentials, as in chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Cap Classique, Rosé, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Capelands are the proviso and if there were ever a time to spend Canadian dollars on South African wine, that time is now.

Winegrowing areas of South Africa

As Canadian vaccination rates rise to a global lead and the economy continues to trend in an open and forward direction, here at home many wine consumers finally find themselves in a charmed position. Yet the story is not the same around the world. In Ontario visits to local wineries can now increase in earnest while looking ahead in anticipation for six further weeks of summer filled with touring, tasting and relaxing. South Africa’s situation is less fortunate and it’s wine industry remains in static, suppressed and uncertain limbo. The government continues to enforce a total alcohol ban while ignoring sound proposals from its very own constituents, to dire consequences. There just seems to be no consideration for South Africans who face job losses and poverty as their employers struggle to meet even the base and necessary tenets of the bottom line.

South African wine producers will tell you that the current moratorium on selling locally is the stuff of crazy town. The collective contention will express the view that the government’s decision making is rash, ill-considered and reactionary in the most peculiar ways. The President’s claim states that the ban on selling or drinking alcohol “is to ease the pressure on hospitals which are under strain,” yet anyone worth their salt in common sense and trusting medical professionals will acknowledge that keeping booze away from alcohol dependants will only add to hospital visits. The shut downs (and other restrictive government decrees) are now leading to protests, violence and bootlegging tactics. Canadians have little power to effect political will abroad but consumers can make the choice to support their friends and colleagues in the wine industry.

New development: Following the publication of this article on WineAlign the government of South Africa has since lifted the alcohol ban.

Production areas of South Africa

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

The LCBO is now doing their part. To make things easier and wholly accessible to an Ontario consumer, a joint “Flexspace” program between Wines of South Africa Canada and the LCBO launches July 19 and runs through August 15 with eight General List products. These LTOs (limited time offers) offer four weeks of discounted prices as incentive during down time summer holidays for people to try South Africa, if indeed they haven’t before. The LTOs coincide with the VINTAGES July 24th release inclusive of a thematic promoting the idea of young Cape winemakers.

Cape Wine 2018

Cape Wine 2021(2)

In a pandemic-free world Cape Town’s Cape Wine would be taking place just two months from now but the difficult and necessary decision by Wines of South Africa has moved the trade show from September 2021 to October 2022. Intensive planning for one of the great triennial wine fairs on the planet begins 18 months out and so with vaccine promise and good hope the industry has shifted preparations for a Spring 2022 “Capelands” revival. Soon enough the hurdles, obstacles, impediments and hoops of pandemic lockdowns, sponsorship landing and export bans will be added to the growing list of “what has been overcome.”

Nature, farmers and winemakers continue their work. Grapes are still growing and wines are still being made. Cape Wine is one of the greats, a collection and gathering by an industry of more varied character and industriousness than you will ever find. Let’s hope a global correction and stabilization brings everyone back together. In the meantime we focus are attention here in Ontario to General List, VINTAGES Essentials and VINTAGES release wines to do our part in support of a heavily challenged, beleaguered and surely resilient community of WOSA estates, farms, winemakers, distributors, retailers, marketers and supporters.

Andrea Mullineux

The Cape’s Young Winemakers

In two visits to the Western Cape (in 2015 and 2018) I had the pleasure of meeting and tasting with some of the most impressive, erudite and promising young winemakers anywhere on the planet. The list is long and winding, the resumés noteworthy and the wines crafted nothing short of inspiring. They are the present and the future of South Africa’s wine scene; Andrea Mullineux, Duncan Rall, Nomonde Kubheka, Chris Alheit, Emul Ross, Duncan Savage, Marlise Niemann, Carmen Stevens, Sebastian Beaumont, David and Nadia Sadie, Ryan Mostert, Jacques de Klerk, Sheree Nothangel, Ntsiki Biyela, Christa Von La Chevallerie, Alex Milner, Callie Louw, Patrick Ngamane, Francois Haasbroek, Eben Sadie, Tariro Masayiti, Lukas van Loggerenberg, Mick and Jeanine Craven, Samatha O’Keefe, Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer. This is but a small sampling and my sincerest Canadian apologies to those I fail to mention and also to those I have not yet had the pleasure to meet.

In South African winemaking terms and schemes, as the boomers and now the next generation have grown older their collective winemaking continues to mature and become exceedingly wiser. There will and should not be any abandoning for the call to uprising, subversion and experimentation, but there is a contiguous and concerted effort to create wines that are simply pleasurable to drink. Isn’t that the point? By the time I looked at Cape wines in 2018 assessment it seems that everyone had it all figured out. Tasting through 2019, 2020 and half of 2021, albeit here in Canada causes a persistent thought pattern wherein South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with as much precision, purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their recent decades long developing epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of next level, reinvented and deeper understanding.

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger

Heritage Vines

According to founder and viticulturist Rosa Kruger, “aged vines bring an intensity, a perceived freshness, a texture, and a sense of place. They show less fresh fruit and varietal character, and more terroir and soil.” No discussion of the South African landscape can be introduced without a nod to the biodiversity and heritage work associated with the Old Vine Project. With great kudos first and foremost to long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings and pioneer Rosa Kruger, but also winemakers Johan Reyneke, Eben Sadie and OVP Manager André Morgenthal. Kruger, along with a select few viticulturists, started scouting for South African old vines in and around 2002. Then, just beyond 2006 Sadie released his first wine under the Old Vineyard Series, a Stellenbosch wine made from the oldest chenin blanc in South Africa.

Today winemakers all over the Western Cape are seeking out these old sites of dry-farmed, (un)trained bush vine plots of gold. “Stories sell wine,” says winemaker Johan Kruger, “and what better story the tell than the old vine one.” The Old Vine Project is all about preserving vineyards 35 years and older, through trade initiatives and sustainable projects to protect South African heritage. Only South Africa offers the possibility for wine labels to ensure certification by the regulatory authority. “Members of the Old Vine Project (OVP) can put a Certified Heritage Vineyards seal on bottles of wine made from vineyards of 35 years or older, together with the planting date. This is a guarantee to the consumer of authentic wines grown according to the OVP viticultural and winemaking guidelines.”

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others take great promise from their old vine sources there can be little argument against chenin blanc being the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude, focus and acumen as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. Just last month a chenin blanc day Zoom session with four Cape winemakers yielded this Polkadraai gem from Bruwer Raats.

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018

Raats Family Wines Chenin Blanc Eden 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($80.00, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

A single vineyard chenin blanc and the first vintage to the Ontario market for a unique project celebrating the family farm called Eden. From their Stellenbosch ward of Polkadraai and high density plantings on dolomitic, granitic soils. Of a richness, an intensity of parts and a presence only a handful of South African blanc ever reach. A wine that achieves a level of status by its work underground (through root competition) and a clone called Montpellier that produces small berries and even smaller yields, not to mention the plot is just 0.6 hectares in size. Eden is the mothership and matriarch of this clone and for that variety in South Africa. All parts contribute to a wine of outrageous acidity that is never sharp, vivid or dominant. Fruit, mineral, focus, elements and precision. Wet stone is pure Polkadraai, vaporous, omnipresent, all over the wine. “The most successful winemakers (and wine projects) are ones that specialize,” says Bruwer Raats. This Eden follows the credo to a “T” and with a capital “E.” Really cerebral and also age-worthy chenin, in the upper echelon of the finest in the pantheon. If ever a chenin signified “Bringing it all Back Home,” the Raats Eden is it. “Discuss what’s real and what is not. It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden.” Drink 2022-2030.  Tasted June 2021

Braai

The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc. And is there a finer example that also happens to be stupidly affordable than this.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (23128, $17.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.)

Gets me every time. Not just one of the finest meets best value chenin blancs available out of South Africa but an example to hang all your hats on no matter where white wine comes from in this world. Still the knowing nod and incredulous head shake that $18 CDN can buy you fruit from six blocks that are mainly 38 years of age but could possibly include 1974 Helderberg planted vines in Stellenbosch. “Core of the business” and arrow through a chenin heart. Great ferment, like a (catherine) wheel. Layers of design, creamy with thanks to secondary lees aging but somehow still texturally chewy. Barrel notes make a point in a vanilla brûlée way and yet each sip is like taking a bite from a piece of firm, ripe fruit. “I need more texture. You need to give me more texture, texture, texture. You need to give me more texture.” Old Vine Reserve obliges every time. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted June 2020

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020

Sometimes you just need some fun, spirit and energy in a well-priced chenin blanc that speaks to everyone. This by Bruce Jack and former Hidden Bench winemaker Marlize Beyers is just the ticket.

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 13356, VINTAGES May 29th, Lifford Wine & Spirits)

There’s a whack of chenin blanc personality in the 2020 by Bruce Jack, proprietor of The Drift, literary philosopher. The vineyards are located in the Breedekloof, in the west of the Breede River Valley, an arid rift of alluvial soils with a river running through. Here from the Western Cape’s newer wine route area chenin blanc is exulted as a most important varietal component. Older barrels, the alluvial soils and a warm location are involved, which are duly noted in the platinum hue, tropical fruit and developed ripeness. Sunshine chenin blanc Superman, especially considering the price. Sharp and in flight. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted June 2021

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Buyers’ guide to South African wines from current LTOs and the July 24th VINTAGES release

Back in late June (and we will do so again next week) the WineAlign cru sits down to taste through the LCBO LTOs and July 24th VINTAGES South African releases. When asked for his four top picks my colleague and mentor David Lawrason exclaimed, “Here you go Michael!  Kinda tough to narrow down these good values.” That’s exactly what you will find from these collective picks. Great value, as well as great heart from South Africa.

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling

Haute Cabrière Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose Brut Sparkling, Traditional Method, WO Western Cape ($19.95, LCBO 18569, VINTAGES July 24th, LUSOCAPE)

This sparkling wine is part pinot noir, part Franschhoek and part traditional method in Cap Classique form. Haute Cabrière is the work of the von Arnim family in bubbles comfortably under a Brut number by residual sugar in attack mode made wholesome and free with a great pulse of acidity. Gingery and frothy, of red apple skins and a hint of blood orange. Also tannic, like rooibos tisane while ultimately sharp dressed, soda cracker crunchy and so properly defined. Good wine. Drink 2021-2025. Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020

Rustenberg Petit Verdot Rosé 2020, WO Stellenbosch ($14.95, LCBO 451773, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

Here is what you get when you combine Rosé (first made in the 1980s) and petit verdot (first planted in the early 2000s). The grape is no longer employed solely for the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend but it is the same varietal stuff grown on Stellenbosch decomposed granite. Not exactly dry and salty with the specs tilting more to sugar over acidity but it is certainly balanced and quenching. Tons of fruit and flavour at $15 with a lovely side-step into adult lemonade. And it tastes like petit verdot, for what it’s worth. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Robertson Valley ($10.00, LCBO 495507, Univins)

Made by winemaker Rianco van Rooyen as part of the “cultivar” range, of moderate acidity and a slightly higher content of residual sugar. Soft and cuddly, fuzzy peach, pear and apple slices. Simple and effective, Expect lots of floral perfume and plan to make use of this tropical chenin at brunch. Drink 2021.  Tasted June 2021

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018

Fleur Du Cap Essence Du Cap Chardonnay 2018, WO Western Cape ($12.95, LCBO 358960, PMA Canada)

The grapes were sourced from Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson. The oldest vineyard located in Stellenbosch was planted in 1990 while the rest of the vineyards were planted between 2000 and 2006. For 20 per cent of the wine, fermentation started in tank and was completed in French (90) and American (10) oak barrels. The remaining 80 per cent fermented in tanks on French (55) and American (45) oak staves. Quite heady, spiced and developed chardonnay for the cost with a flinty smoulder and notable reduction. Lots of wood feels but well integrated and pretty well in balance. Crafted with specific intention and there is lots of wine here for $13. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Spier Seaward Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Vegan, WO Cape Town ($15.95, VINTAGES July 24th, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits)

A coastal sauvignon blanc by winemaker Jacques Erasmus with plenty of marine influence. Healthy of alcohol and weight, with some sugar but even more so acidity to blow an ocean breeze through the wine. Notably pungent and exotically perfumed, all passion and grape fruit. More texture than many, crunchy, tin cup sweet and roasted cashew salty. Lots going on in here. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2019, WO Coastal Region ($14.95, LTO, Select Wine Merchants)

Always worth noting Boschedal’s connection to the natural world with the estate situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest such plant biosphere on earth, with an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. Their lands are still in inhabited by indigenous creatures such as duiker, klipspringer, porcupine, mongoose, caracal and even leopard. Michael Langenhoven is Boschendal’s white winemaker, here with sources threefold; Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley and Boschendal Farm. Just lovely and amenable coastal-influenced chardonnay, easy, somewhat soft and no obstructions in the way. Neither reduction nor barrel do anything to distract and the wine’s touch of sweetness is well managed by herbs, elastic acidity and sapidity. Very well made. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Lomond Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

This 100 per cent Cape Agulhas sauvignon blanc is crafted and delivers specs eerily similar to the SSV, from the same sites on the farm’s upper reaches perched over the sea. Same soils and as a varietal wine the elements from various blocks are employed “to ensure that the result is greater than the sum of the parts.” Perhaps on a lower tier of complexity but surely expressive and satisfying. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Lomond Ssv 2021

Lomond SSV 2021, WO Cape Agulhas ($19.95, United Stars Corporation Group)

Mainly sauvignon blanc (80 per cent) with sémillon (15) and viognier (5) from the Cape Agulhas growing area. High ranking acidity and near to bone dry attitude make for a wine that shares it’s true sense of place, in this case south facing blocks on the higher reaches of the farm, as well as within views of the sea. The soils are sandy, gravelly and highly weathered with a clay substructure. If you have yet to discover these saline, sapid and spirited whites of the Cape Agulhas then it’s high time and tide you did. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Big Bill Shiraz 2018

Big Bill Shiraz 2018, WO Western Cape ($13.95, LCBO 10418, Philippe Dandurand Wines Ltd.)

William “Big Bill” Millar was a boxing champ, decorated war hero and most celebrated for so many South Africans as their Springbok rugby captain. Also the first General Manager of KWV. Like the larger than life man it is the largest of barrels that houses this shiraz, a 22,000L oak stuk vat. Pretty much classic (Western) Cape shiraz of heavy set red fruit, bone density and rippling musculature. A commercially viable drop of work ethic and muscle memory exuding attitude and confidence. The Michael Jordan of South Africa. Be like Bill. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2019

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre-Viognier 2019, WO Western Cape ($14.00, LCBO 292557, Univins)

Generally speaking the Wolftrap by Boekenhoutskloof is two-thirds syrah and one-third mourvèdre with a few points splash of viognier. Malmesbury in the Swartland is the source where the dominant soil type is the aptly named Malmesbury shale. The 2019 brings out the sweetest and most proficiently perfumed Wolftrap yet, with less grip, spice and bite. There is a warmth that is especially noted on the back end, like a hematic seep of plasmatic liquid but felt quite subtly so. Fine if not exceptional acids keep the pulse and truth be told the mourvèdre really stands out. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted June 2021

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch ($17.95, LCBO 132992, VINTAGES July 24th, H.H.D. Imports)

Fruit is Simonsberg-Stellenbosch from a most arid vintage with all aspects of the growing season having occurred with haste. Less than normal winter rains, early bud break and harvest in the third week of February. This is 100 per cent cabernet sauvignon with thriving acidity and a minor pinch of sweetness, fully versed from Cassis to Kirsch for a truly gelid, glycol and glycerin cabernet sauvignon. While seemingly soft and fruity at first it gains speed, traction and vitality because of the well captured acidity. Still seems just a tad sweet but overall the balance is quite good. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted June 2021

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018

Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2018, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ($24.95, LCBO 414151, VINTAGES July 24th, Woodman Wines & Spirits)

The artist formerly known as “Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah” is now the “Buzzard Kloof Syrah,” aptly named for the Jackal and Steppe Buzzards that circle the thermal currents rising above the kloof. The syrah vineyard sits in the Afrikaans ravine, a cool, sun-deprived location ideal for growing meaty, savoury and sapid syrah. This is in great Stelly hyperbole, like a grilled and sliced loin of lean, sweetly gamy and iron-rich Springbok. Optimum ripeness, cool acidity and finesse take this buzzard on swift currents through breezy skies. Bloody delicious. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2021

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign