A few weeks ago there was this South African fling in Toronto. Anyone who fancies themselves as anything showed, because everybody was there. Joshua Corea and Archive Wine Bar graciously played host. Cape wine swelled like water and the mass of sommelier humanity flowed like wine.
After we had first returned to Canada from Cape Wine 2015, Will Predhomme and Wines of South Africa Canada’s Laurel Keenan had asked Rémy Charest, Scott Zebarth, Nicholas Pearce and I a question in requiem of some deep Jack Handey thought. Of the bottles we tasted in South Africa, what would we most like to see at a paradigmatic tasting back home? We offered up our lists and many of them were presented at Archive, along with a tumultuous quantity more. The likes of such an amassment had never been seen this side of the great pond. Cape Town loomed in de Chirico casted shadow in the backwater distance, watching, wondering, judging. So I tossed a pondered abstraction out to the winds that drift in the South African wine diaspora. “What page is loomed in the giver?”
Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape
My mind travels back to the Western Cape. The retrospection remembers wines yet brought to North American light, to intrepid voyages still to disgorge and to stories ultimately untold. Looking back it occurs to me, from a northern point of view, having witnessed and experienced an immersion and exposure into the culture and wines of South African life, that it is not the thing you fling. It’s the fling itself.
It began with the trebuchet. At Journey’s End the Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) threw a car boot and catapulted some rather heavy objects at targets far away.
The prepossession laid out with tastes of The Drift Farm, The Winery of Good Hope, Glenelly Cellars and Mullineux & Leeu. Later the night begged and belonged to vignerons gathered at Longridge Estate, the following morning a tour of the Franschhoek Motor Museum and a tasting at Anthonij Rupert Estate.
Each of the three days at Cape Wine begat evenings in Cape Town of world’s away preoccupation. Velvet dissident South African Braai at Publik, her majesty’s secret service at Ellerman House and born in the USA-DGB in the Winelands. Events de facto, recondite and unshackled.
Then the Canadian boys played cricket with the Swartland cowboys and while our swings looked more like hockey snap shots and our bowls like little league change-ups, in the end we held serve and thankfully no one got hurt. True Swartland smoking at the hands of Callie Louw linked Groot Frankenstein to Barque Smokehouse BBQ.
An epic 12 hours followed the matches, first with Ken Forrester and a speed tasting across a portfolio shot through the heart with some striking, older bottles. Then the group got down to trials at the Winery of Good Hope with Alex Dale and Jacques de Klerk. Remy Charest, Scott Zebarth, Kler-Yann Bouteiller and Godello helped mix, match, add and subtract percentages of fermented juice to decide upon the blend for the Pearce-Predhomme Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. Nicholas and Will are now taking orders for delivery in the new year. Then in order, wagyu beef and Radford Dale wines at Ken’s 96 Winery Road Restaurant, World Cup Rugby and Burgundy.
On the final day we paid a visit to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley along the Hermanus wine route, with a tasting at Bouchard Finlayson and lunch at La Vierge winery.
I tasted hundreds of wines during the eight-day journey around the Western Cape. In due course I will put up tasting notes for as many as possible but for now here are a couple of dozen, specific to and in conjunction with the people and places that hosted us.
The PIWOSA Wine-Car Boot, Journey’s End Winery
The Drift Wines Year of the Rooster Rosé 2014, Overberg Highlands, South Africa (Winery)
Winemaker Bruce Jack’s 100 per cent shaken, not stirred Touriga Franca was inspired by a trip to the Douro. Rhubarb and salinity rub the ripe fruit in the right way. If 007 were to drink Rosé, this would fit the metrosexual bill. From four barrels. Drink 2015-2016. Tasted September 2015 @
The Drift Wines The Moveable Feast 2013, Overberg Highlands, South Africa (Winery)
A blend (that drifts and changes every year) of Malbec and Shiraz with Tannat, Touriga Nacional and Pinot Noir. Though the notes are played without excess, the specs ruminate for infinite possibilities, with aspects as from mine run-off, ocean salinity, high body acidity, muted sunshine, rusticity and veneer. Rides a sonic highway, to “crossroads with nothing to lose.” The feast and the famine, a fighter, “put back together by a troubled groove.” From minimalist Hemingway to Foo from Grohl. Get the drift? Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015
The Drift Wines Mary le Bow 2011, Robertson, South Africa (Winery)
A farm-designate red blend (Wildepaardekloof, Langeberg Mountain) built upon Cabernet Sauvignon (38 per cent), Shiraz (31), Petit Verdot (23) and Merlot (8). In ode to the Cockney saint, big Bow Bell and crusader’s crypts. Extended barrel age and the deepest, darkest maturity makes for a brooding red reflective of a Kloof’s tale from a crypt. Not for the faint of red blends. Indeed it trembles with power. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted September 2015
A product of the first Sauvignon Blanc clones planted in South Africa (next to a weather station). The wine had been bottled less than a week ago so while the pyrazine factor is set to high the equal and mitigating fruit freshness trumps the green. Free spirited, of spice, in bite and quickly settling, into balance. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015 @ @ @
A nicely, effectively minor reductive Chardonnay that knows the barrel well. Divides by mitosis the cells of mineral and spice into furrows, chiseling a secondary cytokinesis flavour profile in cut by brilliant gemstone flexure. From fruit fracture to cellular overlap, out of (approximately 10 months) wood and into impressionistic stone. Tasting accessed through four stages imagines time to be exigent; through reduction (prophase), oak (metaphase), stone (anaphase) and texture (telophase), until the ultimate descent toward’s the journey’s end. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted September 2015
Two Cabernets and a Malbec conjoin to catapult funk-less, heavy laden red fruit into an atmosphere of veneer. The flavours are inclusive of pomegranate and anise, with some rust and circumstantial metallurgical magnification. The tang is a factor to be reckoned with in this primeval red blend. Crushes unsuspecting objects upon landing. Let it settle for 12 months. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted September 2015
A 100 per cent varietal wine from a wind that blew through and away. The child of a markedly perfect vintage blessed with chalk, grit and terroir. Views from within the new barrel have diminished along with once terrible teeth gnashing tannin. At six years-old it sits cross-legged, big-boned, fruit fleshy, structured and sure. The evolution is far from complete with berries seemingly so presently ripe, the late spice and coffee kick making cause for yet jittery times. Two or three more years will offer further guarantees of pay dirt and peace. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted September 2015
Screw cap Shiraz reason number one here, fresh from Stellenbosch, single-vineyard, whole bunch fermented for aromatics and 10 months in one-third new oak, for maximum flavour. “These wines are to be drunk young,” notes export manager Nicolas Bureau, “within five to six years of the vintage.” And so, why put a cork in them? From the hands of winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain and Secateurs minimal intervention wine consultant Adi Badenhorst. Sparkle, vigour and dew. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015 @ @
There are components of the Shiraz and the Cabernet in the Grand Vin though its composure comes neither from sparkle nor funk. Nor does it pay direct homage any more to the Rhône than it does to Bordeaux. With time, the Grand Vin will go it alone, from Stellenbosch to the world. Time spent in oak was lengthy (18 months in one-third new) for a blend composed of Syrah (42 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (40), Merlot (14) and Petit Verdot (4). The estate clearly considers blends as more than the sum of parts. The Grand Vin is the thing. The Glenelly king. It’s hard to get under its skin, to comprehend its nuance, to know it as a child. The wood, the terroir and the structure yet relent to understanding. A matriarchal wine to be sure, a generation may need to pass for the Grand Vin to carry the torch. The Pichon Longueville connection is not lost or left to chance but this prodigy will need to find its own voice. Red wine of such eternal maturity exists towards a future that begins now. Or on in two to three years. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted September 2015
Grasps the subterranean funk of the Swartland terroir and runs with in, through fields of atmosphere, in a wholly singular way. A culling combination if shale, schist and granite, brushed by (15 per cent new) oak for 11 months. Pure, natural, fresh and rising, by citrus zest and inflating acidity. The oscillating flavours prick, pierce, push and pull with elemental and mineral inflections. Like a light show in the sky, Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s Syrah is a quiet spectacle. Drink 2016-2026. Tasted September 2015 @ @ @
Tangy tangerine, rhubarb and liquid chalk are the emotive emissions from this skin contact blush as much orange as it is pink. Wild in sauvage, perfectly musty, a Rosé of its own accord and spacing within the parameters of its very won world. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015
An old bush vines blend of Chenin Blanc (80 per cent), Clairette Blanc (13) and Viognier, 10 per cent of which was fermented in old oak. A wild and carpeted ride for Chenin Blanc, melding into gentle acidity with layers of smithy portent and even a bit of Greekdom. “The son. And the heir. Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.” There is so much spice and complexity, from the skins of many citrus fruits. Strips, stripes and skirts the mouth with layers of mineral life. How soon is now for wines like these in South Africa and to be shared with the world? Drink 2015-2023. Tasted September 2015
If such cure, grip, ferric grab and intense tannin has ever infiltrated South African Syrah it has not yet found its way over to me. In a side by side comparative tasting with the Schist Syrah this one wrestles to win. The Schist is all perfume and soft elegance. The Iron draws power to strength from strength. It is an unrelenting conduit of energy, from soil clearly designed to outlive humanity. The Syrah is a product of geological wonder and winemaking that steps aside to let the terroir speak its mind. Demanding and filled with tension now, time will soften the stranglehold and loosen the wires. Lots of time. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted September 2015
From the Winery of Good Hope, vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques de Klerk. Ancient granite soil from a single-vineyard on Paardeberg mountain. Organic, dry-farmed, total consciousness, flowing robes, grace, striking. Low alcohol, high natural acidity, fresh, spirited, energetic Syrah. Impossible South African Syrah. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015 @ @ @ @
From old bushvine vineyards scattered amongst the granite outcroppings of the Swartland, the blend combines Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier for full Rhône homage, if not necessarily effect or intent. The percentages change with each vintage, left to seek harmony in the hands of master blender de Klerk, a man who plays and has the mandate to do so. Natural fermentations persist, as they should and they rightfully accomplish goals of freshness, natural acidity and that elusive you’re born with cure that extends health and longevity. Modern South Africa of ancient longing here on display is just the tip of the bare essentials, in ferments and blends, yet to come. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015
The Stellenbosch Experience, Longridge Estate
A markedly different and intriguing Chenin Blanc that saw seven to eight months in second and third fill barrels. Well-groomed, direct, crisp, clean and pure within the wooden framework and not even close to flirting with oxidative leanings or an overly creamy texture. A pleaser avec plaisir in excelsior, expression and exemplary restraint. Very tidy winemaking. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @
If it was not for this early sip of Fleur de Cap’s Pinotage on the first night of the South Africa trip I’m not sure the doors to new perception would have ever been opened. Fresh, red fruit juicy, base, natural and nearly naked. A step into giving new meaning for the great hybrid history and varietal future. Though other examples over the course of a week would blow my mind, this unfiltered beauty set the altering stage for what was to come. Unexpected excellent match to Venison with salted chocolate. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
Covers the essentials for Chenin Blanc in a Vouvray style; mineral, lemon, bitters and salinity. Emphasizes mastered qualities with proper stability and a strength of character. Will not usher in any sort of revolution but it takes beautifully bitter pear-like fruit from wizened vines and hits the target. And though it spent 11 months in second and third fill barrels you would never know it. A flinty fleeting moment, a slow ride and a shelter from residual sugar that might try to alter its corse. Instead it will munch on that sweetness to live on. Silky smooth, momentarily pungent and refreshing as can be. Stellar Chenin. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015 @
Mainly Grenache and inculcated with varietal layers thereof, though in the end it is the Rhône blend accrual that bounds over hills and dales. I’m not sure any number of Stellenbosch investigations will unearth more expatriate quality for the coin than is found in the Renegade. A true marker of its maker, The specs are spot on to produce heft, strength and confidence from tireless work. Healthy pH, minimal sweetness, virile acidity and generous alcohol. Like a blood transfusion even though you weren’t sick. Like drinking snake’s blood in grain alcohol on the side of a Hanoi road. Like an hour of intense yoga. Ken Forrester, all in, fully, completely engaged. This red blend speaks in his voice. “Renegade! Never been afraid to say. What’s on my mind at, any given time of day.” It’s no jay but it covers the Stellenbosch bases, from A to Z. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015
From the atmospheric growing conditions of Elgin, the new South African geographical epiphany for the cool-climate varietal future. From the winery’s Highlands farm, transported to Stellenbosch and fermented with tact, cold, stainless, with acidity intact. Tokara’s Sauvignon Blanc is bone dry (near and dear to 2.0 g/L of RS) and a straight piercing heart of an SB as ever there was. Takes the likes of Marlborough and teaches it a thing or two about the coastal ways of the Western Cape. Tasted with viticulturist Aidan Morton. Drink 2015-2017. Tasted September 2015 @
From vines planted in 2006 on alluvial soils. A tight, lean and bracing Chenin Blanc with seamless attribution. Simplicity of fruit meets oak (30 per cent ferment for 10 months in 300L French barrels, 50 per cent new) but somehow freshness wins outright. This in kind to sharp, feisty, sour-edged acidity that is lemon bracing and a linger for a good length of time. Also in spite of generous alcohol (14.11 per cent) and relatively low pH (3.21). Jasmine and honey? “Fields of flowers deep in his dreams (Ha ha, honey), lead them out to sea by the east (Ha ha, honey).” The reminder of Stellenbosch and Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015 @ @
Sparkling generously donated to with agreeable richness from eight year-old vines out of Tukulu soil. Generous of yield (16 t/hL) at low red/yellow saturated slopes near the basin floor. The dosage keeps it comfortably Brut, the acidity cozily numb. Classic bubble methodology, including three years lees aging, in line for such fine elegance. Runs for a straight purpose, of citrus incarnate with a penchant for piercing. In its youth it knows nothing of oxidative and yet that dimension will lengthen its future. For 15 years it will reside in the refreshing valley in between. Though he is a multi-varietal maestro and with no disrespect to the rest of his Thelma and Sutherland portfolios, if Sparkling is not winemaker Rudi Schultz’s true calling then I’ll have to spend three more hours at dinner with proprietor Thomas Webb to find out what is. Drink 2015-2030. Tasted September 2015 @ @ @
In the realm of two-thirds to one-third ratio from Seven year-old (at the time) vines grown on Tukulu and Glenrosa soils. The ramp up of Roussanne percentage elevates acidity to balance the richer, broader and wide-ranging Viognier breadth. There is great grape tannin in this Elgin white with healthy yet balanced alcohol, negligent sweetness and that bouncy, bountiful acidity. Lays about happily in a pool of bleed from rock and stone. Possessive of the je ne sais quoi all impressionistic whites must have, vry of the land and tonic attention. In the end bitter grapefruit draws a cheek full of wince and sends goose bumps down the spine. Gotta love that. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted September 2015
DGB in the Capelands
Chardonnay curried favour from impeccant and licid (2007 base wine) cool climate fruit and then ingratiated by 60 months plus one year on the lees. Of added significance by only having been sulphured at disgorgement. A yeasty B de B of beautifully beckoning oxidation and bone dry at 2.3 g/L of RS. Fizz of finesse and elegance, a feet sweeping, inveigling, influence exerting Stellenbosch cuvée. A skillfully applied mound of preserved lemon and freshly grated wild ginger, piled like airy mousse, or like lustrous wasabi without the burn. Benchmark for the Méthode Cap Classique B de B style. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted September 2015 @ @ @
Time is the settler is this Pinot Noir (51 per cent) and Chardonnay (49) of aeration and ripeness from its days as a sun-worshipper. From fruit primarily sourced in Stellenbosch with some help from the Elgin Valley. Disgorged in the Spring of 2014, six months post 36 months on its yeasts have brought it to a very happy place. As it found itself in requiem of a less than Brut profile, the sugar level is higher (7.8 g/L), a munching magic mousse transformative indeed, enacted during secondary fermentation and measured dosage. Distinctly nutty, rich, torch toasty and presented in purview by citrus. For Cape oysters, at the least, or foie gras and with a bowl of salted nuts. Drink 2015-2029. Tasted September 2015
From the highest of and one of the latest ripening mountain plateau vineyards in Elgin, 500m above sea level and only 18km away from the Atlantic Ocean. The Eikenhof farm offers well-drained Bokkeveld Shale soils and with a healthy yet restrained sugar component (4.4 g/L), here Sauvignon Blanc goes at it rich and grassy, herbal and highly textured. The white pepper olfaction in lieu of capsicum makes a yummo aromatic impression. Here SB executes in expatiated flection, with layers waiting to be peeled away in discovery of what lays beneath. I would suggest not treading near the surface. You will miss out on the mysteries weighted in its depths. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted September 2015
Slow-ripened, low-yielding Chardonnay seasoned from unirrigated mountain slopes of Bokkeveld Shale mixed with some clay. Chardonnay paid attention in detail only a small farm can afford, followed by prudent picking in a warmer than average vintage. The barrel has its say in a heartfelt way, the integration with delicate fruit sprouting wings more effete than mannish. One quarter of the 80 per cent oak ferment is new and the rest either second or third fill. Fresh now, reductive to a necessary degree and built for a minimum five with an optimum seven to eight year shelf life. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted September 2015
This is the bomb. Lizelle Gerber may be benevolently pegged as the white wine maker at Boschendal but place Pinot Noir fruit from the second highest vineyard in South Africa in her hands and shazam; welcome to the hallowed alchemy payoff. The treatment is not unlike what Gerber effects upon her Chardonnay; 50 per cent natural fermentation, 12 months barrel maturation in (25 per cent) new, (35) second fill, (15) third and (25) fourth French oak. Variability comes by way of heavy red clays, from Table Mountain Sandstone, Bokkeveld shale, Tukulu and Silica Quartz with underlying Caoline clay. So what? Balance, so what. Her Pinot Noir finds separation by soil. The small berries are so prized even the baboons want in. The windswept vineyards are a place of chaste, inviolable grounds, where Pinot Noir needs little human interference save for some predator protection. The gathering here imagines Willamette salinity, Otago purity and Beaune delicacy. Gerber’s Pinot is simple, cast from only overnight free-run juice, unpressed, pitch perfect, virtuous and riddled with the tension of decorum. It will age for 10 years plus. Drink 2015-2025. Tasted September 2015
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel