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!

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WineAlign

Shades of South Africa

From left to right: Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Boschendal 1685 Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012 and Kanonkop Pinotage 2012

From left to right: Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Boschendal 1685 Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012 and Kanonkop Pinotage 2012

A sit down at Montecito Restaurant last month engaged three flights of South African wines, introduced by master of presentation ceremonies Will Predhomme, who declared a federal truth politic. “This is meant for sommeliers but you journalists will get what you need out of it.” Mr. affable’s public service announcement held great meaning. Pour 15 wines from South Africa to a group of somms, journos and consumers to discover there will be something for everyone.

When execution and style is so varied from within one very large wine region, things can turn into dramaturgy verging on the absurd. At any sort of political theatre tasting comprising a range of disparate wines, three things need to go right. First the presenter must have a keen sense of the rug that ties it all together. Second, the support needs to be in place from the larger powers that be and third, the wines must be good. Three for three, first in the care of Jimson Bienenstock and the kitchen at Montecito, then with thanks to Wines of South Africa Canada and finally by way of succinct explanation via Mr. Predhomme.

Lunch at Montecito

Lunch at Montecito

A tasting like this, explained Predhomme, “is about expressing what South Africa is but with wines that are available in our market.” South Africa’s wine history, or at least how it exists in relation to the modern world, is quite young yet has advanced with incredible speed. Imagine that Chardonnay did not arrive until 1983 and had to be smuggled in. Some of the world’s finest Chardonnay is now made on South African soils.

Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the country’s strive for democracy had a profound effect on the revolution, evolution and expedient rush to embrace modernity. Twenty one years later “South Africa as a whole is really starting to see where it fits,” says Predhomme, “though it will still take at least another generation to really figure it out.”

Home to 600 producers, the country exported 22 million litres in 1992 and 417 million in 2012. The U.K. is the number one buyer, followed by Holland and then Canada, who ranks number seven. “You can’t maintain this type of growth,” notes Predhomme, “but you can shape it.” This is why WOSA has set up shop in nearly a dozen countries.

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

Winegrowing regions of South Africa

South Africa is a geographical and geological land of wonder, of ancient soils and picturesque intrusions. Extreme examples include the shale and schist of Swartland that turns into dust and the granite domes of Paarl, which are 30 million years old. “Beginning of time stuff, but how does it impart into wine?” Taste fifteen wines and you will get a sense.

South Africa is barely older than Ontario in terms of the modern era of winemaking and yet it produces some 18,000 hectares of Chenin Blanc, double the amount in the Loire Valley. In Swartland the betide is nothing short of a Rhône revolution, with producers doing “whatever they want.” There are hot climate wines from dry-farmed table lands with bush vines similar to Mendoza, minus the Andes. A huge diurnal shift is taking place. Wines are coming from high elevations, where it’s hot but the nights are cool. New upcoming areas in cool, coastal areas, in places like Elgin, Bot River and Walker Bay’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley have Sonoma like conditions, with maritime influences and fog. All of this adds to the diversity of the South African palette.

Montecito

Montecito

Whites Flight

Villiera Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch-Elgin, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Western Cape in the hands of winemaker Jeff Grier is all about varietal fruit, here Stellenbosch helped into blending-like ambition by young, spritely Elgin berries. A kitchen sink varietal nose gathers gooseberry and fig fruit, incorporates earthly elements (3.46 pH), medicines, sugars and tonics. The Sauvignon Blanc aspect is riper than most. Where the discombabulation comes is from atmospheric pressures, rescued in part by a candied (3.7 g/L RS) Granny Smith apple, pyrazine palate. The MOR alcohol (12.9 per cent) and final act of tart (6.3 g/L) acidity is the calling card to remember, acting as the twist, the tie and the rock. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted April 2015  @villiera  @AbconWine

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (739995, $15.95, WineAlign)

Robust, high-strung, wrapped tight Chenin Blanc that acutely pushes the limits of excitable fruit. The aromatic tonality causes salivation and the eyes to water, as the nose drifts upwards, like the feeling of looking straight into the sun set high against a perfect blue sky. Then the palate lifts to off-dry, sending tingling sensations rippling through, with a cool-climate Chardonnay like prickling. Some oak and crunchy mineral add a smack of Stellenbosch in this rangy white from Alex Dale from the Winery of Good Hope. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, Stellenbosch, South Africa (231282, $17.95, WineAlign)

The 2013 Forrester OV Chenin has less early, obvious and striking appeal but that does not take away from its persistent and indubitable quality. This is a most fine and elegant vintage, with a faint yet obvious quiver of honey. Yellow fruit and their flowers mingle with the fleeting sweetness, in the name of balance and purity. A slide from one moment effortlessly into another, through a waft, from a swirl. Though the fruit is harder to find, it’s a cause of placing the origin; something south Asian but not quite tropical sweet. Like Salak or Kumquat or Jack. So much mineral, tightly wound on a spindle, wound to unwind, unwinding to rewind. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (339762, $29.95, WineAlign)

Even at four years of age, the wood aspect of this Chenin Blanc exaggerates rather then amalgamates. At the time, winemaker Carl van der Merwe held nothing back to fashion a white with considerable heft and weight. Alcohol (14.1 per cent) persists in linking with the barrel for a humid, toasty and sultry affair, cosigned by matching (7.7 g/L) sugar and acid tones. This is a prime example of a love/hate Chenin Blanc relationship. If you are on the varietal fence then the magnifications will drive you away. If Chenin Blanc and barrel fermentation are your splintered cup of tea then this will woo you with passion. The hyperbole of rocks, medicines, tonics, peats, elements (including iodine and heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds) are all here. It’s a veritable CB feast. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @DeMorgenzonWine  @TandemSelection

Glenelly Cellars Grand Vin Chardonnay 2012, Wo Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, South Africa (382200, $19.95, WineAlign)

From out of Stellenbosch in the Idas Valley, on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, opened in 2010 by May de Lencquesaing. State-of-the-art facilities give range and class to this whole cluster pressed Chardonnay, aged for 10 months in new and second fill 500L barrels and left for nine months on the lees. The intensity of chalk, remedy, tang and tart fruit volleys and assails in many ways. It hangs on the edge and teases. You can take the Chardonnay out of the Coastal Region but you can’t remove the ancient geology granite and schist, reinforced iodine aroma from the Chardonnay. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted April 2015  @GlenellyWines  @HHDImports_Wine

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

Bordeaux Cultivars

Raats Family Cabernet Franc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

From decomposed Dolomite granite soils and vines in that vigorous young adulthood range of 18 to 25 years. A Cabernet Franc of ripeness, extraction, warmth, picked at fully realized sugar potential and vinified nearly bone dry. No stranger to wood, it spent 18 months in French Vicard and Mercury oak barrels (25% new, 25% second, 25% third fill and 25% fourth fill). Was neither fined nor filtered. All tolled it is quite steroidal, highly ferric and plugged in. Transmits currants by frenetic current, by bush smoulder and melts with macerated cherries. What minor holes in the oak blanket that show through are patched with a thin veneer of pungent compound, decomposed stone and the effects of dry farming. The lack of irrigation trumps the iron gait and grit, limiting the solvent to minute drips and drops. This is a big, arid red with few tears and many years ahead. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted April 2015  @RaatsWines  @TandemSelection

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Wo Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (403964, $48.00, WineAlign)

A mouthful to be sure, this Simonsberg is a cup runneth over “red wine bowl” of a Cabernet. Such a ripe, rich, rapturous and varietally obvious wine, overflowing with red fruit (berries and plums) and gilded enough to beat the ferrous inference into submission. Just a dusty rub of greenery, a sage and charcoal aggregate residue that dissolves into the sappy juice and the rush of late acidity. Quite a clout of sauvage and garrigue in this modern red with a loyal, rustic swell. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates

Constantia Glen Three Cape Peninsula 2010, Constantia Valley, South Africa (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

A stone’s throw from of Cape Town comes this maritime red as close to cool-climate as you are likely to find in those environs. Two Cabs and a Merlot legato conjoin to continue the bent to modernist winemaking, with a twist of old world funk and soul. Smoky jazz beats darken the room filled with bright, ripe, con brio waves of concentrated fruit. Though this has the gauze and the grippy, firm, gritty B key blow of tenor sax, the cool middle tinkling keyboard bars temper the tension and the nerves. Bordeaux blend with a wall of sound and value to boot. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015   @ConstantiaGlen  @TandemSelection  @constantia1685

Hartenberg Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

A healthy swath of oak (18 months in 60 per cent new and 40 in second fill French) buoys and blankets this deep, cimmerian Cabernet. The nose is quite candied and while floral too, those edibles are dipped in a frosty coating. There are separations between the lines of intention, at once all forest floor, truffle and mushroom and again sugary, sappy and like a stew. Lustrous and silky of texture, with a grain running on tension and a drying out on the finish. Big, brawny, toothsome and hot. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @HartenbergWine  @hobbsandco

Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $18.95, WineAlign)

The nose is quite unusually pretty and floral. So much strawberry, of fruit and leaves. A cool and polished red with a late push of varietal ferrous on the back of the tongue. This has layer upon layer, wave over wave, a veritable cake and vegetable garden, a terrace of nightshades and beets. May not be everyone’s cup of multi-varietal Napolean but it is complex. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015

Rhône/Blend/Indigenous

Boschendal 1685 S & M Shiraz/Mourvèdre 2013, Wo Coastal Region, South Africa (403667, $19.95, WineAlign)

From the hands of winemaker Bertho van der Westhuizen, this puts 70 per cent Shiraz from vineyards in the Faure area of Stellenbosch, Helderberg and Bottelary hills sites together with 30 per cent Mourvèdre from the Paardeberg area. Goes directly to a happy place so not quite the S & M you might have expected. The playful reverse psychology and complex fermentation regimen spins the world right around (80 per cent of the wine went into 300L oak barrels, a quarter each in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill, while the remainder was left unoaked). The S & M spits out with a remarkable impression of weightlessness, of hovering inches above the ground. Like the gentle, almost awkward and swerving of a bouncing rubber ball, playful and innocent, into comfortable Rhône territory. Smoked berries, fine cherry and very persistent, in memory, forward and onwards. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted April 2015  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2011, Wellington, South Africa (Agent, $69.95, WineAlign)

A ripe, plush, super annotated, developed and slowly developed aromatic layering that defies even South African logic. A smoky, slow-roasted Syrah seemingly only winemaker Marc Kent could procure, like a combined 24-hour brisket and an entire porcine roast in a pit of sand on Brendan Beach. And yet tell me this does not somehow smell like Curry? Like a full-on, whole spice ground, stratified Masala, of cardamom, dalchini, jaiphal and kalonji. This is Syrah of intense concentration, ripe hauteur, serious breadth and a sense to be Rhône without the bacon cure. Won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2015  @TheWolftrapWine  @TandemSelection  @PorcupineWines

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Shiraz 2012, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (383570, $18.95, WineAlign)

The game is in The Game with musky scents from just charred roast venison and wild boar hide. Also modern, reminiscent of internationally-styled blends from Terra Alta or Montsant. The game works in smothering partnership with heavy, fully ripe and extracted fruit. This is a strong, big willed and boned $18 South African red that should help to alleviate old prejudices and is really quite seamless at the price. Almost tastes volcanic. Wood is used and used well, without pretence or obnoxious behaviour. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted April 2015  @GrahamBeckWines  @VinexxCanada

Kanonkop Pinotage 2012, Wo Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Estate, pedigree and price raise all the bars of expectation for the grape with a modern crush on and for espresso and mochaccino. OK Pinotage, what have you got at $45? A deep red wine in demand to draw plenty of attention, to pluck strings with pizzicato and reverberation? The answer is yes and my attention is indeed captured. Light on chocolate, mocha, creme and nary a lissom or bouncing tone, but instead this Pinotage sings straight lines of red fruit. A stone temple of Pinotage, a pilot of its own fruitful flight. The Pinotage flavour, of tar in summer comes late, is more obvious, notable and grounded as the wine dries to its finish. This is one of the better, even great renditions to date. Bravo. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates

Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2012, Hemel-En-Aarde, Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $47.99, WineAlign)

The varietal potpourri is an Italian-French polygamous matrimony, a cross-section of colour, aroma and flavour that somehow comes righteously together. Call it a lavandino della cucina or évier de cuisine but either way you translate this mix is one of gastronomy and oenology, crafted, blended, sautéed and vinified. Hanibal is barrel matured for sixteen months after fermenting the different grapes separately, comprised of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Mouvedre, with Nebbiolo and Barbera. The culmination revolves on an axis bold as love, of Brett, funk and circumstance. A wildly natural wine, very 1960’s, smoky and with wafts so thick you need a fork to eat and goggles to see through the haze. A wicked blend of heaven and earth. Meaty, cured, sanguine and charred. Super-charged and running hot. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted April 2015  @BouchFinlayson  @LiffordON

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