Sparkling Cape Wine crawl through Méthode Cap Classique

Charcuterie and cheese with Méthode Cap Classique at Gondwana Family Lodge

At the present time there are three, count ’em, three Méthode Cap Classique available in the LCBO and/or VINTAGES stores. Three. For and from one of the world’s most complex/best value bubbles and from a country where exceedingly high levels are coming into focus due to research, trials, experimentation and just plain passion for making traditional method sparkling wines. This Ontario situation my dear readers, is a travesty.

My return engagement with South Africa for a tour included a three-day tasting marathon at Cape Wine 2018 and I’ve since published articles on the whole experience plus more intensive looks at regional associations (Bot Rivier), varietal explorations (Pinotage) and producer portfolios (Rall and Alheit). It’s time to expand upon an important and fast growing category: Méthode Cap Classique.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

Méthode Cap Classique

Plain and simple, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. That said, there is nothing simple about MCC and who would argue that as a category it produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. It’s also very much a wine about terroir. As it stands, MCC has to now age on the lees for a minimum twelve months to be labelled as such. “We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum should be raised to 15. “Sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” 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.” It is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira that 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. “For Brut we have to extend (the less aging time) to 60 months. So there is no lipstick or eye shadow.”

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 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).

Grapes are selected from a diversity of regions in the Cape with only specific white and red grape varieties considered worthy “to ensure delicate fruit and rich complexity.” In this report I’ve tasted and reported on MCCs from Robertson, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Bot Rivier, Paarl, Prieska Noord Kaap and the Western Cape. This diverse regional cross-section of Cap Classique sparkling wine shows just how malleable and functional the range of styles are adaptable to many different South African growing areas.

Whole bunch pressing is at the heart of the winemaking process, with only the first pressing used to make the various base wines destined to be called Cap Classique. Individual base wines and blends are tasted annually by the Association’s own members to ensure that the final wine is of a high quality. A minimum of twelve months is required under the rules of the road and indeed there are members who ensure much longer yeast contact time, depending on the style and vintage.

On my first morning at Cape Wine in September 2018, my wine-négoce partner Scott Zebarth and I made a conscious decision to walk the congress floor and taste as many examples of MCC as we could before the lunch bell struck. Zebarth was duly impressed with Le Lude’s Cuvée Agrafé, Charles Fox Prestige Cuvée Cipher and Graham Beck’s Brut Rosé. Said Scott, “let’s do this.” And do this we did, to the effect of a sparkling wine crawl across Cape Wine that took us through 23 examples of MCC made by 14 producers. These are my notes on the wines.

Avondale Wines Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2011, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Paarl, South Africa (451930, $34.95, WineAlign)

The first vintage was 2003 for the Armilla blanc de blanc, now out of 2011 and having spent six years lees post whole bunch pressing. It’s a naturally fermented chardonnay of which two per cent saw some older barrel. After two years of coarse lees aging there began this formidable bringing of citrus and sharp apple bite. The following four on fine lees delivered the integration of acidity ahead of the gainful accumulation of toasted brioche. Richness at its best for this Méthode Cap Classique, of preserved lemon, fine aridity (under 5 g/L RS) and high acidulation (over 9 TA). Terrific MCC. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018  avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut 2013 Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Time always delivers for Boschendal’s pinot noir and chardonnay split from fruit ripeness out of Stellenbosch with some specific vintage help by the Elgin Valley. Disgorged a while back in 2018, the Grand Cuvée has had its bottle settling after having made the most of 36 months on lees. Dosage is elevated in this styling and worthy of the distinction when you consider the richness, nuttiness and toasty sensations. Plenty of citrus and looking for crudo, bivalves or scallops. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  boschendal  boschendalwines  liffordgram  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON @boschendal  @liffordwineandspirits

Bocca, Cape Town

De Grendel Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2015, Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

De Grendel’s is a straightforward, creamy, highly pleasurable and vouchsafed Méthode Cap Classique of low pH and equanimity in residual sugar meeting total acidity. In fact it’s assemblage is done with such precision that it is in fact acidity that strikes its parts as being very pronounced. Mouth-watering with persistent mousse and length. Nothing particularly shocking or complex mind you, but certainly serviceable for all basic needs. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport  @degrendelwines  Churchill Cellars Ltd.

De Wetshof Méthode Cap Classique 2009, WO Robertson, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

As rich as it gets for the category, made by Pieter de Wet from estate chardonnay off of limestone Robertson soils.The low pH, generous yet proper dosage and high acidity all add up to a distinct, herbal and fine pettilant MCC of great distraction, complexity and at this stage, near-complete evolution. Plenty of citrus comes in every possible way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Genevieve is Cap Classique made by Melissa Nelsen and was first made in 2008, released in 2010. Now with 2014 the lees aging time is 48 months with total output in the 12,00-13,000 bottle range, up from the 5,000 of that first vintage. The goal is 20,000 in the very near future. It’s essentially blanc de blancs, 100 per cent chardonnay as a wise, calm, mature and elegant traditional method sparkling. Just lovely. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  #melissagenevievenelsen  @Genevieve_mcc  

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From proprietor Melissa Genevieve Nelsen this chardonnay spent four years on the lees and is what she calls “my soldier, it stands up right, expresses itself very cleanly.” Tasted two years after she gave us that assessment of the vintage it’s now even more Cap Classique than ever, feathery oxidative, gingery and toasty. It’s classic really and perched on the richer end of the spectrum, evolving with some haste and more than ready to go. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Graham Beck wines and a rare moment when Pieter Ferreira isn’t smiling

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Western Cape, South Africa (175588, $19.95, WineAlign)

The ripeness is expressly up front in Beck’s 50-50 pinot noir-chardonnay joint and we’d all be hard-pressed to find its MCC equal in terms of focus, integrated and polished. Drink 2018-2021.  Last tasted September 2018

An ode and an adherence to the magic of Cap Classique style, always with that sage feeling of evolution in age. Made pretty with its skin pink depth though I must admit to nosing and tasting the inimitable South African soil. Still, it is clearly and decisively Pinot Noir that floats the boat and rights the ship. This has noirs in its psyche and the Western Cape in its soul. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted January 2016

Graham Beck Prestige Collection Cuvée Clive 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

Clive is Graham Beck’s most prestigious and important cuvée, what méthode cap classique cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira calls “a respect to Champagne. While previous incarnations were wines of “best selection” the 2012 chardonnay and pinot noir are drawn from a single-vineyard for the first time. Stand in the tasting room and there it spreads out below, on soil riddled with limestone to equip this crisp and arid sparkling wine with all the necessary attributes. Bronze-parched apple and dried quince are noted. Sentiment and data from a 10 year study project of varietal, lees and aging are collected and come to this; a toast demure, a love divine, a wild control. Brilliant sparkling wine and undoubtedly a South African gem. Drink 20189-2027.  Tasted September 2018  grahambeckbubbly  vinexxperts  @GrahamBeckSA  @Vinexxpert  @grahambeckmcc  @Vinexx

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (435453, $23.95, WineAlign)

Slanghoek pinot noir (77 per cent) meets limestone-Robertson chardonnay for a driest of the dry sparkling wine that spent 60 months on the lees. Beck’s attack for the Brut Zero “is based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne,” notes Peter Ferreira and as such it surely ranks as one of the more mineral-toasty bubbles in the entire Cap Classique category. No sugar added during dosage allows the land to speak. There is a deeper intuition beyond flint-struck, something categorically chalky while delicate and flavour wise it’s simply limon-delicieux. The fineness is noted and the vintage too, from which the team saw enough to make use of the highest quality juice for a tête de cuvée wine. High ceiling for aging here. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc de Blanc 2013, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (907568, $26.95, WineAlign)

Beck’s Roberston chardonnay is just one of those wines that settles seamlessly into that beautifully integrated dyadic realm where mousse persistence, acidity and texture meet at the vertices of balance and blessed. Always that minor hint of reductive lemon pith and toasted almond. Persistent and consistently fine, affordable and celebratory worthy bubbles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut Nature Kap Klaissque NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Filia is the daughter of the Paardeberg, a self-described and cheeky Swartland Kap Klassique chenin blanc made by Christa Von La Chevallerie, dogter to Juergen and the Nuwedam Farm just off the R45 outside Malmesbury. Not just any sparkling wine mind you. Although the early stages of this old vines project from the (mainly) 2015 vintage only gives 18 months on the lees it also provides 1974 planted chenin blanc, for shits, giggles and shut the front door attitude. For Christa it’s a matter of “how far I can go with (the combination of) chenin and lees.” Clearly just the entry point here, with an announced mix of richness and tension, not yet knowing what can and will happen. The coast is clear, the chenin blanc is ready, willing, able and the winemaker will stop at nothing to make this bubble in her own image and way. Look out sparkling world. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  christalachevallerie  @HuisChevallerie  @ChevallerieZA  Christa Von La Chevallerie

Jacaranda Wine Estate “Q” Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Jacaranda is on it’s way towards establishing itself as one of the Western Cape’s Méthode Cap Classique specialists and this new cuvée is called “Q” for quality. The organic estate invests heavily in their agriculture and this just disgorged specimen saw 24 months on lees and a base wine in oak for a few months. It’s 100 per cent chenin blanc, from old vines in 80, 60 and 40 year-old blocks. They work with low sulphur and in spite of the minimal interventionist and risk-taking program this is quite toasty bubbles, yet also rich, creamy and palate swarming. Lingers as one does, long and properly, leaving you with a feeling of it being just lovely. Surely the beginning of a great relationship all around. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  jacaranda_wine  @jacarandawines

Jacaranda Wine Estate Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Reserve is actually a Blanc de Blancs, from 100 per cent chardonnay with higher elevations of sugar (11 g/L rS) and conversely acidity. It comes across dried than it is with richness in posit tug by citrus and cream, like lemon curd with a toasty edge. Once again an MCC of good persistence and length and will develop an extra layer of oxidative complexity at three years of age. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lanzerac Wine Estate Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

A most traditional Cape sparkling wine with aromas of yellow citrus, wet concrete and cold rooms with hanging and curing meats. It’s on the oxidative MCC side though acidity brings tension and balance. As a chardonnay bubble it does what is asked of it and treads well top age a few years. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  lanzeracwineestate  @LanzeracWines @LanzeracWineEstate

L’Avenir Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

L’Avenir Estate’s Méthode Cap Classique is mainly pinotage with some chardonnay and arrives in the glass as a light and nearly delicate bubble. It’s a succulent, sweet rusty, lively enzymatic sparkling wine with an opinion and a plan of action. Pleasurable to sip from a definite MCC teachable moment. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

Le Lude Vintage Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Rosé is a chardonnay and pinot noir split of 5.5 g/L dosage, just slightly drier than the MCC Reserve Brut. It’s beautifully pale, pure, fresh and regaling in high acidity. All about nervousness which is so engaging for pink fizz, pulling finesse and pushing tension. Raspberry and currants are fruit indicators for amazing work in Rosé MCC. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  leludemcc  @LeLudeMCC  @LeLudeMCC

Paul Gerber – Le Lude

Le Lude Vintage Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The blend is with pinot noir but in this sister cuvée to the Brut Rosé it’s really about what chardonnay is going to bring to the MCC table. The dosage is just slightly higher than the Rosé, here at 6.5 g/L and 24 months on its lees. Here the shift is towards more richness, almost counterintuitive when you think about blanc vs. rose but Paul Gerber is on to something big. There is a plum compote luxe note stirred into the citrus and so both ends of the fruit spectrum are involved and incredible. “You must taste the sun in the fruit,” insists Gerber, sparkling wine or not and so with verve, intensity and balance this travels to terrific and back. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Vintage Cuvée Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Le Lude’s winemaker Paul Gerber assembles two non-vintage Bruts, blended each vintage for a house style. The fruit is primarily Robertson with some addendum out of Franschhoek. The first vintage was indeed 2012 and this chardonnay (80 per cent) plus pinot noir comes sweet herbal straight out of the riddle with a sultry, piqued spiciness. Already showing a hint of secondary notation by way of a honeyed nougat melted into the soft and delicate mousse. Still plenty of intensity and drive with citrus in whole represent by lime, fresh and juicy. Less red fruit (much, much less) and more white flower with the idea of yellow and green fruit. Stylish, persevering and precise. At 2.6 g/L it’s perfectly albeit sparsely seasoned and mature with Champagne confidence. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Reserve Agrafé Tirage Liége Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Agrafé translates literally as “staple,” from the French term and how a metal clip or clasp is used to secure the cork in a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. Le Lude’s Tirage Liége, or “cork draw” is packaged as such and is a blend of 54 per cent chardonnay with pinot noir. It undergoes traditional cork fermentation and maturation on (premium) cork 36 months. The methodology takes this beyond intensity and into texture with creamy preserved lemon mousse persistence. As a whole it strikes as riper in ode to vintage and almost into something akin with Limoncello. Though it’s a most complex specimen of sparkling wine you might almost forget its highly accomplished nature and simply drink it up. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2013, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Recently disgorged and not yet labelled but actually goes back two years further in terms of lees aging than the 2012. Expressive of riper fruit and the effect of the vintage skins. Still the creamy mousse and texture in great persistence though not as much tension. Both oxidative and reductive in the MCC way, from fruit pulled off of various blocks and picked at various times. Real attention to detail and towards crafting an estate signature style from a specific vintage. Fleshes without any need for real dosage by finding its way from ripeness forward. Lime is the dominant flavour and balance is struck by masterful blending. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Brut Méthode Cap Classique, WO Prieska Noord Kaap, Orange River, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Lowerland is the small if far northern outpost work from Bertie Coetzee and Alette de Beer in Orange River, Prieska Noord Kaap. Time to re-adjust the set, for South Africa and Méthode Cap Classique and approach the game with eyes, nose, ears and palate wine open. Take a trip 1000 kms north of Cape Town to discover fields 1000m above sea level, where the summers are hot and winters see temperatures of -10 celsius. Now take this first estate kick at the MCC can, of 11 months on lees for fruit grown on the warmest spot. Carries an uncanny nose of orange creamsicle mixed with lemon pith, turning over to more things completely other. So persistent in aromas and bubble, with extraordinary acids and a healthy dosage in search of and gaining balance. Shows off a deft and gentle touch with capable grip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018 bioboertie  vanloggerenbergwines  alette.waterboer  lowerland_wines  @CoetzeeBertie  @AletteWaterboer  Bertie Coetzee  @LowerlandFarm  Alette De Beer

Môreson Solitaire Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Solitaire is an estate-grown, clonal driven chardonnay in blanc de blanc dress. It’s both Franschhoek notable with its earthy soil construct but also “C455” clonal from an estate with a deep-rooted drive to advocate for this type of work for Méthode Cap Classique. It’s mainly fruit drawn from the 2016 vintage and while the house looks for consistency the vintage plays a dramatic role in terms of the social grace, aspect and communication. Saw some malolactic fermentation as well as some large format older oak, to bring some clarity out of the realm of authentic reductiveness. Normally sees 18-24 months on yeasts and this one was disgorged as far back as March 2018. The bottle time is a positive thing for an MCC with some anxiety and what the house might call a penchant to get “frazzled.” Can’t help but recall Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die, the psychic in the employ of Dr. Kananga. Might as well use this MCC for the Bond moments in your life. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  moresonwinefarm @moreson  @moreson

Wildehurst Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Sheree Nothangel’s sparkling Cap Classique is composed of chenin blanc and chardonnay (56/44), at 4 g/L dosage after 24 months on the lees. This is the third year of the program and the first stage speaks to a style that acts in delicasse incarnate. Just lovely and creamy in which lemon billows with elastic solids as curd and there is a real feel of fine lees. Though downy it too is lifted but not explosive by acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  wildehurst  @WildehurstW  @wildehurst

Good to go!

Godello

Charcuterie and cheese with Méthode Cap Classique at Gondwana Family Lodge

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Going back to South Africa

In just a few more sleeps I’ll be back in South Africa. Since attending Cape Wine in 2015 I have had the great fortune to spend many mornings, evenings and excursions with several groups of South African producers here in Ontario. In the past year we entertained visits from the Premium Independent Winemakers (PIWOSA) and most recently this May Chris Mullineux led a masterclass on mostly Chenin Blanc at lbs. Restaurant. Chabrol Restaurant also held a tasting and lunch with representatives from seven outstanding South African wineries.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

On my way to one of those events I was in the car and listening to the CBC. The DJ began talking about Handel as being the composer who could have become a hip hop artist. I’ll explain what he meant in a minute. When I think about South African wines it’s almost impossible to put your finger down to think of it as one thing, one style, or one type of music. You can apply this just about anywhere but in the Capelands there is so much diversity; 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.  What the DJ was trying to say is that a composer who writes with this 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 ease, it just flows. South African wines, collectively, have flow.

Great soils, weather and a Mediterranean climate

When I returned from that 2015 Cape Wine congress I said that South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk.

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

LK @wosa_ca introducing Chris @mullineuxwines for what will be a wild ride through the Western Cape ~ #winesofsouthafrica

I don’t feel the same way, not quite exactly the same way, three years later. Now I see the necessity of not planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel like, but specializing, picking out micro-plots of terroir for very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. I am also inclined to agree with the heritage seekers and protectors. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

At the lbs gathering Chris Mullineux noted there was a time when chenin blanc tasted like sauvignon blanc, green and sharp, or creamy like chardonnay and sweet. There have been so many styles. Mullineux explained. “We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter.” The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality. Sixteen wines were presented that morning, including eight by Andrea and Chris Mullineux.

Into the South African mystic ~ A formidable line-up led by @mullineuxwines with thanks to Chris, LK @WOSACanada JG @lbstoronto @wosa_za @NicholasPearce_

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (981167, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Stellenbosch, the pride and joy, the rainmaker, hay-maker, large volume wine. Decomposed shale provides perfume to chenin, picked over three passes, early acidity, middle palate savour and later harvest tropical fruit, namely guava. There is texture, something firm in its structure and a clear-cut ripeness of acidity. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted twice, May 2018   simonsigwines  azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureauwinesandspirits

MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc Essay 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

‘Essay’ is MAN’s chenin blanc with more more stone and citrus fruit, crisp, almost crunchy, getting into texture and would really elevate the fish game. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Deetlefs Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa (465443, $16.95, WineAlign)

The youngest wine route in South Africa and just 90 km outside of Cape Town, the Breedekloof wine route lies in the Breede River Valley, which stretches from Gouda in the west, McGregor in the south, Montagu in the east and the Tankwa-Karoo National Park in the north. “We call it over the mountains,” explains Chris Mullineux, “around that bend from Cape Town.” It’s an area with a long history of chenin by the river bed. A place of fertile soils, where young vines have great vigour and then when they reach 35 years plus, deliver great concentration. Some green pepper and pyrazine here, a throwback to the sauvignon blanc ringer days and also more weight and laced up tightness. It’s a savoury but quite cool expression. Gets crunchy and chewy, one and then the other, like Napolitano pizza dough, in a way. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   deetlefswineestate  nicholaspearcewines  @Deetlefs_Wine  @Nicholaspearce_   @DeetlefsWineEstate  Nicholas Pearce

May 23rd, 2018 #lobsterroll by @lbstoronto ~ #lostinamoment ~ pairs beautifully with South African #cheninblanc

Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc Old Vine/Wild Ferment 2017, Clear Mountain, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

The next chapter in the Nicholas Pearce-Will Predhomme chenin blanc joint is the richest to date, as a matter of unction without presumption. The great blended barrel and tank amalgamation dishes an orchard tone citrus smoothie with rigour, tension and then perhaps, yes, a posit tug of confident Stellenbosch belief. Presumption even, knowing that you will adore it. And you will. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018   pearcepredhomme  nicholaspearcewines  willpredhomme  @PearcePredhomme  @Nicholaspearce_   @WillPredhomme  Nicholas Pearce  willpredhomme

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Texture from old plants can never be underestimated and this number two of four tiers in the Forrester stable digs so much deeper. It’s more passionately meets seriously defined out of a labour of love so you have to pause and stay with it.  Last tasted May 2018

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside for further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Fruit and mineral are entrenched in this great posit tug of war, each shredding the twain and meeting at the trenchant median. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017   fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

I want to eat the dishes chef wants to cook ~ @jwillcook killed it last night @lbstoronto with the wines of South Africa

Survivor Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Survivor is richer, deeper, creamier, the chardonnay chenin, in a way, with round and mild acidity. Very tropical, from guava and papaya to mango and ultimately, simple like a banana, with coconut and cream. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   survivorwines  kirkwooddiamondcanada  @SurvivorWines  @KDC_NATIONAL  @SurvivorWines  @KirkwoodDiamondCanada

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2017, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $27.26, WineAlign)

Still in the middle of drought, the 100 per cent chenin is so youthful right at this stage. Part Paardeberg, ancient granite decomposed into sand, plus rocky, shallow slate, better in the blend out of cooler years. Still a flint strike but also something verdant, smouldering too, like white tobacco, if there is such a thing.  Last tasted May 2018

You would think this came straight from the vines and into the glass because fresh was never this new, exciting and getable. In fact when thinking about tasting 2015, 2016 and now this 2017 there is no doubt this is the most immediate and gratification guaranteeing Kloof Street yet. It’s already in delivery of ripe citrus, orchard and tropical fruit, all three, fleshy, unctuous and divine. So juicy, unconsciously so and as drinkable as any chenin blanc on the planet. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018   mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2016, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

From the very dry year this 100 per cent chenin is from 36 and 38 year old vines in two vineyards, so considered old vines because its certified (above 35, a labelling law that came into place this year). Natural ferment, freshness meets a terrific sense of place, with downy texture by one third barrel. Aging nicely.  Last tasted May 2018

Some older vines (in the 40 year range) combed off of variegated soil types from several Swartland vineyards combine for definitive Western Cape effect. Kloof Street is the poster child for the way in which Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s are taking South African by storm. Though they spend so much effort concentrating on specific soils with über specific wines, this chenin blanc is the multi-purpose white to teach a thing or two about the rest of their work. It’s exemplary of ripe and perfectly extracted, multi-sensory fruit and personality. Though this 2016 is a bit warmer and deeper than previous vintages (and the portion of barrel ferment is further felt), it continues the thread of honesty, decency and consumer educational necessity for the Cape wine oeuvre. It will also develop some peaches, herbs and honey with time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017

Mullineux Old Vines White 2016, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The old vines are between 36 and 65 years old and the 60-65 per cent chenin blanc is blended with grenache blanc, clairette blanc and viognier. There is also a smidgen of sémillon gris, unique to sémillon, then mutated after 45-50 years, becoming like gewürztraminer. Really flinty, lightning across the sky moving with strikes through the glass, but somehow rich and grippy, then elastic, slippery, moving like an glacial ooze. Extraordinary really. Cryptic white blend, in the end.  Tasted again, May 2018

From French water mill to Swartland bread basket the Old Vines White continues to woo and sooth savages with its exceptional quality. From winemaker Andrea Mullineux this is equation building by chenin blanc (62 per cent) plus grenache blanc (15), viognier (11), clairette blanc (8) and sémillon. It may as well be Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières or Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc transposed into the body of chenin-plus in South Africa. The combination of flinty strike and sun-fleshy body is perfectly tugged with posit force, stretching, flexing and relaxing with each effortless sway. The tease of lemon curd, sweet herbal pesto and creamy warm climate fruit never submit to the realities of ambition or extension. All remains calm, purposed and transfixed. As am I. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Old Vines White 2015, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The Old Vine White 2015 is a revelation, built by 36-65 year-old vines, of 60ish per cent chenin blanc mixed with grenache blanch, clairette blanc, viognier and the mutated sémillon gris. A year adds almost nothing to the development save for a minor magnification of the flinty feeling but the linger, oh the linger. This is length unparalleled for South African white wine and how it is left to breathe in its broad expression is there forever. You can walk around the block and these old vines will be with you, by your side, in mind, body, spirit and never-ending flavour. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc The FMC 2016, Stellenbosch, South Africa (37291, $64.95, WineAlign)

The straight-lined FMC is chenin blanc on a path of the shortest distance between two points from straight-shooting Ken Forrester. It’s ambitious and righteously so, a statement wine, no longer (if ever) Loire but now indelibly Stellenbosch stamped,. Not an off-dry, botrytis copying style but now from larger barrel and so minor oak and lack of noble rot addendum. It’s simply older vines from the same old vineyard and so comfortable in its own skin. Yes it has a honeyed note but it’s from the bees replete with a sexy, waxy feeling. The aging possibilities are long to endless. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2018

Varietal and single-vineyard wines are great but #cartology is forever ~ so pleased to get a chance at this today ~ another laser from @chrisalheit

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bushvine Chenin Blanc Sémillon 2016, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

Chris and SuzaanGroupe Soleil Fine WinesAlheit’s Cartology ’16 exhibits a citrus layering that separates it from other Western Cape white blends and an implosive intensity that is simply stunning, but also frightening. As a reminder the blend is a smaller amount of eighty year-old La Colline sémillon from Franschhoek running ambagious with 30-40 year old chenin blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. Few white wines anywhere in the world are even remotely positioned in this field where energy and light spin with infinite speed in the centrifuge of life. That doesn’t even speak to texture for a wine that is the topographical depiction of these nooks of the Western Cape. Needs two years to flesh out, evolve just a hair and bring another level of interest to the glass. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Suzaan Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Schist is a 100-120 case production (though only 72 in 2014), from schist, of course, not granite, which adds mid-palate weight and texture. Also from older (36 and 40 years) vines based from soils of the Kasteelberg. It’s a heartfelt message and cerebral pulling string from the 2014 density gifting vintage. Older barrels wrap like a blanket for fruit richer than you’d ever imagine, full-bodied, beautiful and robed in petticoat unction. It’s also dry as the farmland desert. Truly one of the finest chenin blancs from South Africa and beyond. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted May 2018

Mullinuex Olerasay Straw Wine NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s non-vintage Straw Wine is fashioned from grapes hung in trees for three weeks. The key is to concentrate the acidity which doubles from the pressing number, plus sweetness that is off the charts. No rain in the picking season means no fear of rot. The use is of chenin blanc from the same vineyard as Kloof Street and it’s amazing how the same grapes can deliver such a different expression from the same place but with the simplest adjustment of winemaking methodology. An amazing look from a healthy 14 barrels made, so distinct as a dessert wine, with pineapple, lemon preserve and apple purée. Bold and delicious. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted May 2018

A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A little bit of schist, a little bit of granite. Amazing vintage variation, from ethereal to powerful. Singular @mullineuxwines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Syrah is sourced from several different vineyards around the Swartland, from granite, schisty slate (structure and tannin), plus the mid-palate giver, from lighter, porous soil suited to arenicolous vines. Here is a complex weave of geology, barrel usage and ultimately textures. There is a meaty char but also a floral, violet potpourri. A wine with a lot of integrity and generosity. From a vintage widely considered fantastic everywhere, moderate in every respect; cool, rain, sun, wide picking window. Easy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2018

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

A few wines from the PIWOSA visit, June 2017

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2015, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, $23.99, WineAlign)

Paul Cluver’s Close Encounter is a matter of remarkable contrast elevated by texture so that sugar and acidity are seamlessly meshed, gathering both apple orchard and mango grove into one sweet and sour package. Channels its inner Rheinhessen like no other southern hemisphere riesling but does so with pure Elgin elegance and individuality. Most excellent riesling.  Last Tasted June 2017

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  paulcluverwines  hobbsandcompany  @paulcluverwines  @amargarethobbs  @paulcluver  @HobbsandCo

De Grendel Op Die Berg Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

“The Latch” in Dutch it means, where once settlers used the hill as a beacon for navigation. A crunchy, chewy and soil driven pinot noir, so bloody terroir driven, as if the bleed of the earth wells in the bottle and glass. There is fineness to the tannin but more than this acidity that defines the structure, or drives it and leaves you sipping on repeat. Cool summer nights do the savoury, spicy accents. Clearly this piece of Elgin was meant to raise pinot noir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2017   degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport   @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport

Exceptional lads of South African wine take Toronto @chabrolto led by fearless leader Will ~ @WOSACanada @WOSA_Za

Seven producers, seven varietal wines

This tasting was led by master South African messenger Will Predhomme at Chabrol, Toronto’s smallest space and largest kept secret in the hands of Niall McCotter and Chef Doug Penfold.

First up was Sean Griffiths introducing Mulderbosch, based in Stellenbosch, “the centre of the universe,” He spoke of how South Africa has a long history of winemaking and Mulderbosch started in 1659. Looking forward to 2019 that is 360 years, a perfectly symmetrical number, of degrees, coming around full circle.

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (933424, $17.95, WineAlign)

The 2017 is the 25th vintage and “we’re always looking for cool-climate fruit.” notes Sean Griffiths. Fermented with its lees in the search for a fuller, richer style. It is surely round, rich and finish-able. A wine of great heritage, for itself and South Africa as a bigger entity but it’s not a replica of anything, least of all “old world.” Hints at a subtlety of weight, pungency, citrus, thiols, vegetation and flint. It’s 100 per cent sauvignon blanc, more passion than pamplemousse, more fruit than mousse. Touched but not bound by tradition. Maritime salinity finishes the spirit. Everything is under control. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   mulderboschvineyards  abconwine  @MulderboschV  @AbconWine  @Mulderbosch  Abcon Wine

Next up, Johannes De Wet from pioneering chardonnay specialist De Wetshof in Roberston, an area of limestone presence and the context of that rock is important. All estate work; farming, winemaking and bottling. First regional planting of chardonnay was in the late 1970s and then in the early 1980s. Johannes’ dad was a chardonnay smuggler.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2017, WO Robertson, South Africa (419622, $16.95, WineAlign)

From four vineyards on clay with high limestone content, and high pH soils. Citrus abounds, all around, first lemon peel, and then grapefruit. Lots of lees (110 days) but unoaked with the end result being a desired weight. The source is 80 kms from the sea, a place of wind and cold nights, not surprisingly a great area for bubbly. Limestone Hill is a ridge, a step up to the mountain. This chardonnay is striking, sharp, full of energy and then calm, so drinkable. Crunchy and pure, honest, transparent and in its way, just perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018  dewetshofwines  glencairnwines    @glencairnwines  @dewetshofwines  @GCwines

Marthinus van der Vyver is Country Manager, North America, Ken Forrester Wines. Ken began with five restaurants in Stellenbosch and one day he saw an auction sign and three hours later, boom he walked away with a winery. If you have met or just heard of Ken Forrester, you know he is a force not just in wine, but a figure larger than life and hugely responsible for putting South African wines on the world’s stage. Partly because of his work to establish a premium level Chenin Blanc but also because of a tireless ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit and certainly his ambassadorial work. Forrester is a team player in the way a Football or Rugby captain rallies his teammates, his club and his country. I’ve had the pleasure of a four-hour tasting session with Ken in Stellenbosch and that interaction is indelibly stamped in my memory forever. Great guy whom Marthinus has the pleasure of calling Dad. He is Ken’s son-in-law and is responsible for taking care of the most important treasures in his life.

Ken Forrester Roussanne 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The 2016 is the third vintage of this wine, from 39 year-old vines. ‘Tis a risk-reward white held at bay, away from the safety of blending, of barref fermentation, and time spent in 80 per cent used 400L barrels. The vineyard is on the second last farm before you reach the Heldeberg, where hot days give way to late afternoon sea breezes. These are 15 of 60 roussanne hectares in Stellenbosch. Striking aromatics, a flinty, saline and pulsating white with presence and a stand up demand to be noticed. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018  fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

Stephen Joubert is viticulturalist at DGB. “My passion is to understand South African terroir and to figure out what grows best and where.” Ocean is the thing, heavy soils, cold winters, dry summers, sea breeze influence, to keep acidity and freshness. We happened to have been in Sicily at the same time back in May. I’m curious to see what grape varieties gave him ideas for what to do back home in The Cape.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (12724, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Bellingham Estate chenin blanc from old vines watched over by viticulturist Stephen Joubert carries an indelible stamp of richness, from that vine age and the leesy style. From granite and weathered shales, a minor note of reduction climbs over top of the rich, chic, stylish and full fruit and while it seems like the wood is very much in play it’s really more lees than anything that terms the texture and renders the weight. Old vines provide the density and structure to allow wood to take part in an ambitious attempt to create longevity. The locked in    spirit will go a long way to seeing some developed fruition but there may be a bit too much extraction so an oxidative quality might creep in before the wood has fully settled and integrated. Should work out well in the mid-term. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2018   bellingham_wines  dionysuswines  @Bellinghamwines  @DionysusWines   @bellinghamwines  @DionysusWinesTO

Danie de Kock presents Spier from Stellenbosch, going strong since 1692, always family owned, most recently purchased in 1993 and since 1996 Johannes Smith is the viticulturalist. Using the word “Signature” on their labels infers or might be what the chef wants to be known for. You should recognize varietal and get what you expect from that name on the bottle. In Spier’s case merlot should be a grape that gives you a great big hug.

Spier Signature Merlot 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (454827, $15.95, WineAlign)

Spier’s Signature Merlot 2016 is raised on alluvial soils, some estate, some purchased. “We’re trying to show a good solid wine.” Receives seven to eight months of dance floor wood for the fruit to express its moves, of 3rd and 4th passage. The best selling South African merlot in the LCBO happens to be the only one. Acidity and tartness at good height and level while reduction is lower than low. Breadth is a matter that is chalky, in chocolate guise and far from reduced, cooked out, even with just a touch of honest pyrazine. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   spierwinefarm  @SpierWineFarm  @SylvestreWSON  @spierwinefarm  Stephen Marentette

Francois Bezuidenhout from MAN family wines explains how the estate’s seven varietal wines are each equipped with an Afrikaans name. The vintner started out with three friends looking to make everyday varietal wines in 2001, as an anagram after their wives, Marie, Annette and Nicky. MAN. Chenin is the signature white.

Man Vintners Shiraz Skaapveld 2016, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (71332, $14.95, WineAlign)

Named Skaapveld, meaning “sheep’s field” this shiraz is a spicy, deep plum and raspberry red fruit red, a touch reductive and rusty-firm-grippy-transparent. Fruit is essentially from Paarl (with also some out of Stellenbosch), on decomposed granite and clay, dry-farmed and not the usual irrigation because of water retentive soils. Liquid chalky, talcy, oozing of chocolate and a shot of espresso but always returns to the red fruit. Mediterranean, black olive mixed with the chocolate. Peppery rotundo and lovely really. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Murray Barlow manages the winemaking at the 880 hectare property, larger than Pomerol, from an estate who’s first wine was made in 1692. In the early 1800s it was split in two, one purchased by John X Merriman. Rustenberg was one of the first to re-plant vineyards after phylloxera. The pioneer owned it until 1926 and was also the last Prime Minister previous to modern day South Africa. In 1941 Peter and Pamela Barlow bought the estate. Their son Simon took over the running of the farm in 1987. Winemaker Barlow represents the third generation of his family to make wine at Rustenberg wines on the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Murray is the vini, father Simon is the viti. The Barlows have been at Rustenberg for 77 years: the longest period any one family has owned the farm during its well over 300 years old term. It’s a new world estate and like many others is  much older than the Boredelaise.”

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2014, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is from altitudes between 250-500m, of deep rich red granite, high iron soils at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains. Always 100 per cent estate fruit, merlot on south facing slopes which are cooler spots and then cabernet from those leading west (for afternoon sun). Fruit that thrives on cooling influences but no frost or hail and including beneficial breezes. A wet season preceding three successive drought vintages. Wow in that it’s so very Bordeaux and that’s saying alot because so many varietal or regional ode South African blends are not like their old world ancestors. Here all five Bordelais varieties work together, see plenty of barrel (20 months) and bottle time (one year) for it all to come together. Tobacco, olive, chocolate, classic Bordeaux stylistically and in the hands of a true South African pioneer, right along with the Meerlust Rubicon. Best at 10-15 years but can go 30. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2018   rustenbergwines  woodmanws  @RustenbergWines  @WoodmanWS  Rustenberg Wine Estate  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Cape Wine 2015

Cape Wine 2015

Independents, rebels, rogues, zoo biscuits, risk takers, revolution. Buzz words, gathered sects and constituents of rebellion. Clusters of assemblage ruminating, circulating and percolating at the latest edition of organized wine in South Africa.

Who among us might have foretold in dramatic foreshadowing the story of September’s Cape Wine 2015? Who could have known that the southern hemisphere’s largest gathering of producers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists would do more to quell preconceived notions and stereotypes for any wine producing country than any trade show that has come before? Total, utter energy.

PIWOSA

PIWOSA

Centuries ago, when the fishing and trading boats would return west to the Cape they would mistakenly enter the wrong basin. “There’s that confounded bay again,” they would curse. False Bay. During the week preceding and following Cape Wine we climbed aboard cars and vans headed out from Cape Town or Stellenbosch. En route to a farm, estate or winery, more often than not, out the window, there was False Bay, like a magnet, drawing attention, setting and re-setting the excursion compass. As we watched the bay ache into and fade out of view each jaunt-acquiesced day, it just seemed as though we were always heading north and gaining altitude. Not really.

Cape wine country meanderings exist in requiem well beyond points A to B. Directional challenges are inclusive of L-shapes, U-turns and rotations. Lines draw as much east, southeast and northeast as they do falsely north. Journeys always conclude in a valley, at the base of a mountain or in an amphitheatre bound by geological reality. The getting there is often hazy but the arrival always comfortable.

Maybe I’ve a reason to believe 
We all will be received 
In Graceland

South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Ventures into the wine lands compounded the about-face turn of mind. Tastings, tours and zealous immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde saw to that. South Africa is not what you thought folks, but it just might be what you dare to dream. If you’ve not visited you can’t possibly know what revelations lurk.

The frontier is inhabited by cowboys and their multifarious varietal schemes. It’s surfeited by demi-century established Chenin Blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tinta Barocca, Albarino, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo and Tannat. Nothing is sacred and everything is fair game. Rhône blends are the current rage and Cinsault is going it alone with nothing short of remarkable results.

The Zoo Biscuits

The Zoo Biscuits

Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. The eco-bio movement has challenged the fundamentalist incumbency and forced sweeping reforms. Fresh, natural, orange, caliginous and tenebrous have taken the Cape by storm. Praetorian makers are changing their ways. Pinotage has abandoned decades of Bordeaux wannabe style to once again don bell bottoms and retro suede. In 2015 South Africa, cats and dogs are living together.

Zoo Biscuits poster

Zoo Biscuits poster

Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk. So what? What’s so special about a nation of winemakers who work as one with their soil, their meso-climate and their geology? You’re supposed to intuit those abstracts to make great wine. “You’re supposed to take care of your kids!”

No, what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is the playground mentality and the execution in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. Any varietal of choice can find its way to achieve perfect phenolic ripeness virtually anywhere the grapes are planted. The mitigating effect of Cape winds eradicates all disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa is the wine collective equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes.

Heap big trouble in the land of plenty
Tell me how we’re gonna do what’s best
You guess once upon a time in the west

I will expand, in due course, on all the wines tasted during the eight days I spent in South Africa. A list of top wines and a preponderant unfurling are sure to follow in the form of fifty odd tasting notes. For now I will concentrate, in the name of lede consistency, on the varietal and stylistic revolution taking place.

Swartland Independents

Swartland Independents

The following notes will unquestionably focus on three platoons, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits. The first is a collective of straight-shooting, accordant, premium, independent wine producers from across the diverse wine regions of South Africa’s Western Cape. The second comprises 25 (give or take) cricket playing, indigenous fermenting, Anglikaans-gabbing grape shepherds. The third may draw their name from beloved childhood memories of packaged iced silhouettes of animals on cookies when in actuality they are a gaggle of like-minded, boundary-pushing, fun-loving, serious winemakers.

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Suzaan and Chris Alheit

Cape Wine 2015 may have seen 300 presenters toting thousands of South African bottles but the swagger of 40 young vignerons stole the proverbial show. They did it with passion, innocence, acumen beyond years and attention to history. They go it alone and with a pack mentality. They care about old vines, tradition and respect for the land but they also have chutzpah. They don’t really give a fuck what the establishment thinks about their winemaking.

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Jamie Goode and Godello, CapeWine2015

Three days at the Cape Town International Convention Centre allowed for extensive coverage of the South African wine scene. It was a perfectly organized show. Credit begins with the vignerons. Their work is tireless, especially when all must be dropped to focus on all-in, three relentless days of pouring while offering elaborate dissertations about their wines and their place in the South African scene.

At the lead there is Wines of South Africa, headed by Michael Jordaan and Siobhan Thompson, chair and CEO, respectively. André Morgenthal and Laurel Keenan head up communications, marketing, events and PR for WOSA, in South Africa and in Canada. The show and the excursions around the Cape Winelands were made possible by their collective efforts. Their immense efforts and impeccable work can’t ever be overestimated

Chenin Blanc

No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Chenin Blanc Skin Contact 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with viticulturist Rosa Kruger and the cleanest fruit this side of Matroosberg Mountain. Vigneron and winemaker Chris and Andrea Mullineux use egg inversion to press and skin contact lasts for three months. This plus old barrels hyper-intensify umami; part bread dough, some pine forest, all wild yeast and a hint of Matsutake mushroom. The meld into acidity is a wild carpeted Chenin ride. Exhibits layers of Greekdom, in spice and complexity. The long inosinate to guanylate finish arrives and lingers in thanks to the scraped skins of many citrus fruits. They strip, stripe and spank the mouth. The spirited lashing and accumulated bejewelling is a sign of spiritual and plentiful life. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @MullineuxWines @MullineuxChris  @SwartlandRev

A A Badenhorst Wines

A A Badenhorst Wines

A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, SAQ 12135092 $18.05, BC $23.00, WineAlign)

From Adi Badenhorst, old bushvines planted in the 1950’s and 1960’s and whole bunch handled with no crushing or de-stemming. Fruit is transferred to concrete and 500l old foudres. The simple, minimalist approach and lots of less stirring, leading to great texture, right up there with the most complex Chenin. Also possessive of the righteous level in bitters, intense citrus and bookworm herbology. Lucent, lambent, capable Chenin Blanc. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AABadenhorst  @SwartlandRev

Riesling

Not exactly household or predominant by any stretch of the imagination, Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more Riesling, Gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, LCBO 500396, $23.00  WineAlign)

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this Riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry Riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African Riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for Riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA

White Blends

A category not to be taken lightly, what with so many varieties available to work together and with the idea of appellative blends not necessarily so far off or far-fetched. Chenin Blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from Clairette Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Colombard.

Duncan Rall

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines White Coastal Region 2014 (Winery)

A contiguous king blend of Chenin Blanc with Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier from vineyards allowing for increased production year after year. Natural fermentations acquiesce varying degrees and species of spiced dipped flowers set upon expressions of lees. The Chenin is 41 year-old Swartland (Paardeberg) fruit with Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) quartz soil Chardonnay and Verdelho. Anise, star anise and pure white stone groove me in a gather of complimentary and controvertible Chenin (and friends) complexity. “Uhh! Awww, sookie sookie now!”  @SwartlandRev

Other White

What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are at even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz varietal wines show up at a CapeWine Fair sometime soon.

Cederberg Bukettraube 2014, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

David Nieuwoudt’s Dwarsrivier rare take on the cultivar (less than 77 hectares of vines remain planted worldwide) is a wine with altitude and attitude. Cederberg is one of only three South African farms in kind of these vines in Glenrosa and sandstone soils on the escarpment atop the Cederberg Mountains. Natural sugar of 25 g/L from the arrested ferment is toothsome in a next to Spätlese way, though the citrus and herbal crasis separates this from Riesling. What brings it circling again is the formidable acidity, circulating and rounding up, culminating in a viscosity and a palate coating that ends with none word. Delicious. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @Cederseun  @imbibersreport  @PIWOSA

Cinsault

There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern Cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of Cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.

Radford Dale 'Thirst' Cinsault and Gamay Noir

Radford Dale ‘Thirst’ Cinsault and Gamay Noir

The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

If the Thirst Gamay from vignerons Alex Dale and Jacques De Klerk is “a live rock concert rather than a manufactured, boyband studio album,” the carbonically macerated Cinsault is weekend long palooza replete with music, clowns, acrobats and roaming minstrels. The wonders of natural, nouveau Gamay are well known but the natural fermentation application on Cinsault goes funky, wild and complex in a whole other attitude. Chilled properly this Thirst adds a Mad max factor to the circus, tannins even and most certainly an explosive grit. If the Gamay is smashable, the Cinsault is obliterateable. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @Radforddale  @WineryGoodHope  @Noble_Estates  @PIWOSA

Syrah

The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with Cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of Syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential Syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.

Journey's End

Journey’s End

Journey’s End Syrah ‘The Griffin’ 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

The ’12 signifies a departure and a new style for the winery and for Syrah in the Cape. Some (three weeks) of carbonic maceration leads to a dichotomous passion play in which the middle romance is acted out in seven barrels for 18 months of (70 per cent American and 30 per cent French) oak. It’s as if the grapes are shocked into an awakening and then slowly brought down to calm. As if the fruit develops a protective shell, protected from and coerced by and with ushering along by slow motion micro-oxidation. This is Syrah void of cracked nut, pepper, veneer and big league chew. It’s a terribly beautiful experiment, the Syrah equivalent of similar function world’s away, done with Chardonnay, in Orange and all the while with natural yeast that sling the fruit to destinations previously unknown. At least around here. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @JourneysEndWine  @colyntruter  @vonterrabev  @PIWOSA

Callie Louw's smoker

Callie Louw’s smoker

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

They call Callie Louw a lekker ou. Having played on his side and under his tutelage for a bowl and a bat or two, I can concur. He is a nice guy. Having eaten his smoked pork shoulder, brisket and wings, I can tell you that he is a master smoker. Having tasted his ’13 Syrah twice, I can also say he is a great winemaker. Louw is proficient at many things, including cricket and smoking Swartland’s best BBQ. Making Syrah from the schist soils of Riebeek Kasteel is his true calling and with thanks to Marc Kent (of Boekenhoutskloof) he is able to work with some of South Africa’s best fruit out of one of its harshest climats. Picked fruit is left to its own devices, 40 per cent in concrete eggs and 60 in larger foudres. I’d hate to smack a natural sticker on this one because it resides outside the realm of labels, generalizations and uneventful stipulations. It has killer tannins and the legs to walk the earth. What else do you need to know? Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013

Pinot Noir

The future for Pinot Noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Pinot Noir Cuvée Terra Lux MMXI 2013 (Winery)

Winemaker Francois Haasbroek is not merely on to something. He has it figured out. The elegance of his wines (sourced from vineyards across the Western Cape) share a strong affinity with one another. In a consistently distinguished line-up this Pinot Noir may not be his most accomplished but it is his most definitive bottle. From three Elgin Vineyards this spent 18 months in older 225L barrels and help me if this does not purely express the humanity of Pinot Noir. Oh, the natural funk of Elgin, where Pinot Noir need be embraced and fostered. Not unlike Haasbroek’s Syrah, the sweetness is impossible, the imagined imaging haunting and asomatous. With time the true luxe will emerge, in the form of mushroom, truffle and candied cherry. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Pinotage

For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from Pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new Pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.

David and Nadia Sadie Wines Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Pardelbosch Pinotage 2014

David and Nadia Paardebosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From parcels of the highest possible elevation and black rock that imparts swarthy tannin on a frame of alcohol sharpened at 12.5 per cent. Nothing short of stunning aromatics. Whole bunch fermentation, three weeks of skin contact and minimal punch downs are directed with pinpoint precision to what Pinotage should and simply must be. Fresh, lithe and promising. Good-bye Pinotage being Pinotage. Hello Pinotage in pure, honest perfume. Older oak barrels (4th, 5th and 6th fill) round out the texture, amplify the arroyo seco and excellence washes through, with simple acidity and riverine length. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015 @DavidandNadia  @SwartlandRev

Red Blends

The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Sheree Nothnagel, Wildenhurst Wines

Wildenhurst Red 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Shiraz (62 per cent) co-fermented with Viognier (5) is joined in rank by Mourvèdre (33, though is some years it’s Cinsault) in an unembellished red that not only lies back but rises in free spirit. A red to express the personality of its maker, Sheree Nothnagel. Silk and lace, cure and mace, spice and so many things nice are the aspect ratios of a very natal wine, like a prevailing wind. A real stretch in tannin, sweet and smooth of grain leads to length, from Koringberg to the slopes of the Picketberg and Paardeberg mountains. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

The wines of Duncan Savage

The wines of Duncan Savage

Savage Wines Follow the Line 2014 (Winery)

The Western Cape has likely never seen such polish and precocious affinity with its varied soils as it has or likely soon will when Duncan Savage is making wine. The blend of Cinsault (58 per cent), Grenache (21) and Syrah (21) is predominantly Darling grapes and shows a deeper, funkier understanding of Cape soil. Bright red cherry fruit supports life on this brooding planet and propagation is furthered with cinnamon-like spice and a purity for supplementary red fruit so direct and so very pure. The wine’s moniker comes from the farming expression “follow the line.” All rows lead to the farmhouse, eventually.  All winemaking roads in the Cape will lead to the name Duncan Savage or at least involve him in the conversation. He is the farmhouse. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam and Cartology

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days of Yore 2014 (Winery, WineAlign)

Chris Alheit’s brand might allude to a chapter in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers but Days of Yore must pay some homage to the 80’s thrash metal band and with great irony. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault blend is no Doomsday for the Receiver and certainly No Place for Disgrace. What it is instead is pure liquid brilliance. Old 1960 Cabernet Sauvignon bush vines are (even if unintentionally) farmed the way they used to be, back in the days of yore. Now cropped, tended and produced in pitch perfect cure, the resulting wine (when Cabernet is blended with Albeit’s dry-farmed, stomped and tonic-singular Cinsault) shows smoky depth and musicality. Sour-edged or tart can’t begin to describe the tang. It’s something other, unnameable, sapid, fluid and beautiful. It brings South Africa from out of the heart of its wayfinding darkness. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Other Red

Momento Wines

Momento Wines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2013, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

From a south-facing, 40 year-old, one and a half hectare vineyard in Bot River that Marelise Niemann convinced the farmer not to rip out so that she may continue to produce some 2,000 bottles of a variety you can’t really find or are want to grow anywhere else. This has been a small love affair since 2007 with this block. “My child, my charity case,” she admits.  I am not sure I tasted any other wine in South Africa with such fresh, pure, unspoiled innocence as this Tinta Barocca. “You have to have a connection to the vineyard. To guide it.” The underlay of perspicuity is a streak provided by Bokkeveld shale. The clarity of red fruit and deferential tannin is too sacred to spit, too beautiful to spill and too genteel to waste. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Godello and Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Good to go!

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