On a Rall in South Africa

Donovan Rall

When I returned from South Africa two months ago people immediately began to ask. What’s it like? What’s new, what’s changed, what’s hot? I asked myself the same questions and the most obvious answers forthcoming were charged with the notions of quality and especially confidence. Case in point, fact and controlled emotion regarding the man, the winemaker and the wines of Donovan Rall.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

Three years ago I had the opportunity to taste two of Rall’s wines at Cape Wine 2015. I was impressed with the quiet swagger of the Rall White and Rall Red. The former was from old Swartland (Paardeberg) and Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) fruit I noted as “pure white stone groove.” The latter of Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. This sourcing, grabbing and snapping up grapes from vineyards, blocks and plots spread across the Western Cape is the humanistic phenomena of an independent South African winemaker’s condition. It’s what they do and yet Donovan Rall has taken the art form to a whole new level.

For one thing he has found the last Mohican of Wellington cinsault blanc and kept it alive for a very small portion of the world to enjoy. He’s mainly a Swartland guy but he also climbs high into the Piekenierskloof and dips into the depths of Darling cinsault. Mostly Donovan Rall is a Schistosier, a man of the Schist, El Schistorino, the Schister. He likes vines grown in the coarse-grained metamorphic rock, especially syrah and it is his latest varietal effort that blew my mind. It is truly one of South Africa’s most impressive varietal syrah.

Rall wines was established in 2008 after Donovan graduated with a Viticulture and Oenology degree from Stellenbosch University in 2005. He set out to travel and then returned to South Africa in 2007 for a Swartland vintage. Mediterranean varietals under his own label from scattered old Cape vineyards was the natural next step. Cape Wine 2018 marked the release of his 10th and 11th vintages in bottle, quite significant to mark the inaugural culmination of his early life’s work.

Donovan and I made eye contact at this most recent Cape Wine and I was flattered that he remembered tasting with me three years before. And so he went out of his way to pull seven bottles, disappear behind a partition and away from the mayhem of the Swartland booth and taste these seven South African beauties with me. The quantities are small but the hearts so very big. Here are my notes.

Rall Wines Cinsault Blanc 2017, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The fruit comes from a 32 year-old, tiny 0.2 hectares of certified vines and the only remaining vineyard planted to the varietal. Like red cinsault this thing drops acid as fast as anything else. What you will taste is only the grape, on the skins three days for phenolic pulling and then straight into the clay. Seven months only, not too far and so freshness is preserved. Not just spirit but mouthfeel with the lightest frame and 10.5 per cent alcohol, with nice dry tannins. It’s like a shout out louds very loud matter of “nothing is hard cause something always comes out.” Lemon like you’ve never experienced before, leaning lime, like clairette and grenache blanc, but then again no. It’s just this. Donovan Rall managed 1005 bottles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  #Rallwines    @RallWines

Rall Wines Grenache Blanc 2017, Piekenierskloof, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

It would be hard to argue with Donovan Rall that in the Western Cape grenache blanc needs to be made in the freshest, anti-oxidative, anti-leesy way. Zippy, salty, driven by minerals and acidity. In the Piekenierskloof, at 650m plus, done in concrete egg after early-picked fruit, but some skin-contact (like red wine, done in open top vessels constantly punched down) for texture because it’s approached with early-picked acidity preservation. Has the texture but no melon flavours. Love the unique epsom saltiness, low pH and generous spicing. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines White 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Leaving out the chardonnay component, the signature Rall White is now chenin blanc (60ish per cent), verdelho (30ish) and viognier. Mostly old oak, five years being the youngest, with various sizes. Other than the chard omission it’s the earlier picking that makes the difference to…lets say three years ago. That and the increase of the verdelho, which brings acidity. Whatever Donovan thought he might have been looking for and doing then, well he’s really doing it now. This shows how proper wine is being made out of necessity, not from a recipe, but most importantly out of adaptation. Great saltiness, bite, drive and instruction. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Chenin Blanc AVA 2017, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

AVA is named after Donovan’s daughter. From an adjuvant site close to Riebeek-Kasteel off of 20 year-old vines that deliver great concentration by the impetus of decomposed shale, schist and quartz. There are two unique vineyards with rocks galore in the soil. Richly textured and so layered. The concentration delivered is ridiculous. It’s somehow stretched elastic and makes for this viscous, saline, briny and beautiful wine. Malo was done in a week, the pH low and then, nine months of beautiful fluidity and suppleness. While not exactly dry, the minor tough of sugar will help it go petrol, glück and oily over time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Cinsault 2017, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

From two vineyards, one in Swartland and one in Darling. A direct, lithe and purposed red looking for freshness and the Darling light transparency this varietal storm has created. Really pure berry fruit. Delightful, chalky, traversing the new South African ethos into a realm occupied by the ethereal. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Red 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Four poster blend, Rhône-related, deeply rendered with great transparency but also major tannins. The syrah is 18 months in barrels, the cinsault and carignan are 15 per cent 2017 vintage, allowed under Swartland regulations. They bring back freshness and nervousness into the wine. It helps to manage that tannin and injects some life and spirit into their grainy weight. The red fruit also balances the purple profile of the syrah. Good glycerin and length. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines AVA 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The red blend carrying his daughter’s name is Donovan Rall’s 2.5 hectares sourcing from the schistose section of 18 year-old planted vines. This is consistent with with many of the vineyards he works with, from dry land conditions, cause he’s the Schist Man. It’s varietal syrah of 1000 bottles, a true cimmerian beast, from struggling vines, between 50-60 whole bunch (as opposed to 100 in the RED). Pure ferric initiative, real hematic following. The glycerin, candied flower and aged balsamico is almost IGT, of Cortona but really more so in a mind’s eye memory of Cornas. Freshness is preserved and structure is infinite. Great, great acidity. One of the Cape’s greatest achievements in syrah. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Donovan Rall

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Around the Cape in 50 wines

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Take Godello to a place that’s far away and it will fill him with words. With memories still thick as Bredasdorp pea soup, it is hard to believe it has already been four months since travelling to South Africa in September for Cape Wine 2015. I think it wise for the reader to be offered fair warning. The following wayfaring log is not brief and while it may be broken up with images of food, bottle shots and scenery, there are five thousand plus words to wade through. Feel free to skim at your wine tasting note leisure.

For a comprehensive look at South Africa’s Capelands, read my report at WineAlign.

Related – Welcome to South Africa’s Capelands

Table Mountain behind the clouds, Cape Town

Table Mountain behind the clouds, Cape Town

It has been four months since Cape Wine 2015 and many wines remain to be mentioned. My initial ramblings covered the three-day wine fair, varietal awakenings, Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits.

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

Lemon butter poached crayfish tail, kale, parsnip puree and bisque, Open Door, Constantia

Lemon butter poached crayfish tail, kale, parsnip puree and bisque, Open Door, Constantia

I tasted hundreds over three days at the bi-annual Cape Town event, along with dozens more in restaurants and at wineries in Stellenbosch, Swartland, Franschhoek and Constantia. One of the more memorable culinary experiences happened at Open Door Restaurant located at Uitsig Wine Estate in Constantia. The wine selection opened doors to new Cape perceptions and forward-thinking measures.

Springbok loin, orange sweet potato, lentils, pickled cucumber, cranberry jus, Open Door, Constantia - @OpenDoorSA

Springbok loin, orange sweet potato, lentils, pickled cucumber, cranberry jus, Open Door, Constantia

Related – Wines of South Africa: Go Cars Go

A visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum at the Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate rolled into a tasting of wines with Gareth Robertson, Sales and Marketing Manager at Anthonij Rupert Wines. Verticals were poured; Cape of Good Hope, Leopard’s Leap, La Motte and Optima L’Ormarins. Then the varietals of Anthonij Rupert Estate

Hitching a ride on the Anthonij Rupert Estate

Hitching a ride on the Anthonij Rupert Estate

A full on Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) experience at the Car Wine Boot was nothing short of a wine-soaked, large object flinging hoedown throw down.

Related – Wines of South Africa: It’s the fling itself

Wine Car Boot, Journey's End Vineyards

Wine Car Boot, Journey’s End Vineyards

The act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning. Though just the beginning of what I hope to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine, these 50 reviews prepare and pave the way.

Beaumont

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2013, Bot River-Walker Bay, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Named after winemaker Sebastian Beaumont’s grandmother, Hope Marguerite Beaumont. Thirty-five (400L) barrels of Chenin Blanc from 1975 and 1978 plantings anointed by natural fermentation and maturation. Reductive, malo-avoidant and lees stirred for 10 months to dess effect. Acidity swallows and trumps sugar while bitters, well, these bitters don’t even realize they are bitters. Possessive of that torched orange peel, lime skin and hinting at something faintly tropical. Many shades of Chenin Blanc within one tight-knit bottle. A benchmark of species. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @Beauwine

Paul Cluver Riesling Dry Encounter 2013, Elgin, South Africa (Winery, $23.99, WineAlign)

Riesling from South Africa’s largest and nascent varietal growers, one of three Cluver bears and wholly antithetical to the “Close Encounter’ simply and primarily because of its omnipresent aridity in the face of 9.0 g/L of residual sugar. Based on fruit from a variegated 27 year-old block of ferricrete (surficial sand and gravel masses) layered over decomposed Bokkeveld Shale and/or light clay. From a basin, a true amphitheatre between the mountains. The dry one shows off the cooler climate charity, offering up the opportunity to make Riesling the way it needs to be. Floats boats of blossoms piled in apples, honey and native fynbos. Elevated in nervousness, tension and anxiety through the conduit of acidity. This guy is the tip of the spear that pierces the palate. Though dry to that pointed end it is the primitive passion of grape tannin that churns the combine.  Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @paulcluverwines  @PIWOSA  @paulcluver

Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2015, Elgin, South Africa (Winery)

If Riesling is a South African anomaly, the nine hectares planted to Gewürztraminer on the Cluver estate is at least preternatural if not verging on antediluvian. The throwback approach to varietal expression takes on the do anything in South Africa mandate and runs with it. A tightly wound white, like Riesling driven by acidity, inconsequential in sugar (10.2 g/L) and rushing with rivers of grape tannin. Lime is again the thing in a world where sweetness finds it hard to live. Anything but soapy, less than sticky and so very clean. Purity out of Elgin in Gewürztraminer. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Riebeeksrivier

Cape of Good Hope Riebeeksrivier White 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From the stable of Anthonij Rupert Wines, a blend based on Chenin Blanc (65 per cent) with Rhône assistance from Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. Similar in a way to the old vines Chenin in its purest form in a clean amalgamation of weighty varietal relations. Naturally driven acidity and an increase in creamy texture is accompanied by lactic notes and a greener, sharp apple bite. A wow reversal of impression with an anise under current and a toasty, nutty omnipresence. Quite fine. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @AnthonijRupert

Rall Wines Red Coastal Region 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Superior Syrah spine (85 per cent) with a 2014 Grenache (15 per cent) addendum. Healthy and happy in alcohol (14 per cent) from Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. Liquorice, easy tannin and illimitable fruit (for a two to five-year run) from the gifts of a terrific vintage. Open-knit, expressly serviceable with a not overly piquant, peppery finish. Tobacco moment is just a pinch between the cheek and gums. Easy on the extraction and 50 per cent stainless housing for nothing but Swartland fruit with some added stems for the perception os sheer freshness. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @SwartlandRev

David and Nadia Paardebosch Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A blend of 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s, mainly dry-farmed bush vine Chenin Blanc vineyards throughout the Swartland. Sweet textured Chenin with endemic herbiage and territorial tang. Varietal identity is never an issue for South Africa’s signature white but how does definition out of disparate plots come together? For the Sadies “the meaning always lies somewhere that’s right between the lines.” Connotation and significance in what’s left behind. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  @DavidandNadia  

David and Nadia Aristagos 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

David and Nadia Sadie

David and Nadia Wines

A bush vines dominant, 12 vineyard, five-varietal interface of Chenin Blanc (35 per cent), Roussanne (25), Clairette Blanche (20), Viognier (15) and Sémillon (5). The latter (not inconsequential) addition is from a 1950’s planted vineyard. Round and round aromatics integrate Swartland harmonies in transition to palate promptitude of spry lemon and lime. Emits that fleshing four to five-year pursuit to honeyed possibility, in which the Sémillon is not lost on that ideal. We should all be willing to wait that long though not be greedy for anything more. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2015

David and Nadia Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A riveting (85 per cent) Grenache honed from two vineyards planted in granite mountain soils, mixed and matched with (15 per cent) fruit off of organic vines grown in deep iron rich soils. A scintillant of reductive freshness gets busy with chalk ou of ferric soil in romantic and heavy breathing passion. Though nearly carbonic, atomic and more exhalant than inhalant, the freshness is always halted by a weight in denouement. The obdurate cessation is helped along by 10 to 11 months in oak. Very thoughtful, engaging and consummated Grenache from the Sadies. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015

Godello and Billy Hughes at Cape Wine 2015

Godello and Billy Hughes at Cape Wine 2015

Hughes Family Wines Nativo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Certified organic from the Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is high in Viognier with Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. Picked at three separate intervals, the bifurcate prongs of sugar, acidity and alcohol are remarkably streamlined towards an upwards push skyward. A very base and elemental white wine that hovers in the lower reaches of the stratosphere, wanting to rise but held secure by the heartstrings of older oak filaments. This is fresh and yet filled out by a density defined in Swartland ways. An appellative white blend with my thoughts of Cape Town’s Chef’s Warehouse crudo in mind. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @NativoWines

Crudo and Kimchi #tuna #kingclip #chefswarehouse #capetown

Crudo and Kimchi #tuna #kingclip #chefswarehouse #cape town

Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2009, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is Shiraz (56 per cent), Grenache (16), Merlot (13), Mourvedre (9) and Pinotage (6). Swartland’s local master of assemblage Billy Hughes (the J-L Groux of South Africa if you like) counselled separate and all natural fermentations, barrel malolactic, eight months in 225L barriques (none new) plus four more post blending. The core aroma to palate thematic is ingratiated by a grape in raisin initiation stage, habituating the right side of ripe. This is a soft-styled Swartland red having fully realized its progressive road to enrichment. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Hughes Family Wines Nativo

Hughes Family Wines Nativo Red 2010, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

As in 2009, certified organic from natural, dry-farmed estate Kasteelsig Vineyards on the Hughes Family farm in Malmesbury.  The blend is Syrah (52 per cent), Mourvedre (22), Grenache (13) and Pinotage (13). Fresher, lighter even than 2009, floral, feathery, feminine. Through the pretty dab of perfume there is the presence of clay, iron and a feeling of warm Cassis. The red fruit while anything but dark has a presence, an attitude, an unfailing condition. Will live longer than the previous vintage. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Wildenhurst Velo White 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Juicy Colombard, Chenin Blanc and Viognier in cohorts simply, basically and ostensibly about town for texture. Beautiful freshness, grace and grape tannin. The juice and nothing but the juice. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @WildehurstW  @ShereeNothnagel  @SwartlandRev

Wildenhurst Velo Rosé 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A multi-cultivar and double-hued blush by way of Grenache, Viognier, Mourvèdre, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. Really widens the fresh fruit spectrum, in manifold customary shades of red. From a hot vintage where sugars ran higher than 2013 yet still just about as dry as a skeleton way past tissue. Despite all attempts, the brine and herbiage outplay the salinity and aridity. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Wildenhurst Chenin Blanc 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

The only straight up cultivar in Sheree Nothnagel’s portfolio from 30 year-old bush vines. Arranged low, natural and slow across a two month fermentation period in 3rd fill (225L) barrels towards a dry end. Matured on the lees for a further five months. Handy, prosaic and unostentatious Chenin Blanc of texture and mouthfeel. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Silwervis Cinsault 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

First introduced at the inaugural Swartland Revolution, winemaker Ryan Mostert is a key player in the South African Cinsault revival. His naturally exhibited (with only added sulphur) old-vine Swartland Cinsault was matured in one Nomblot concrete egg. His is the Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Deerhunter rolled into one varietal ode “to the malleability and uniqueness of Swartland.”

One of hundreds of wines tasted over an eight-day period in requiem to exclaim, “I am saved, I am saved. And oh, would you believe it?” So fresh, salty, ultra-carbonic, russet roseate raspberry and orange peel. It really feels real, unlike anywhere else. The varietal and the reformation. “We’re in a revolution. Don’t you know we’re right. People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.” Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Silwervis  @SwartlandRev  @PascalSchildt

Terra Cura

Terra Cura 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Silwervis winemaker Ryan Mostert is behind the new Terra Cura label with Samantha Suddons. From just outside of Malmesbury in the Western Cape. This cracker of a bottle is one hundred per cent Syrah from rolling hills rocking down to the sea. Ferric, burrowing into depths, rooted and heavy. Structured, chunky savoury, of wild sauvage, from a fierce and filthy athletic vintage. Reeks of potpourri, ambition and is yet remarkably ready to drink. A messenger to herald a land of opportunity, a revolution, the future. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Terra_Cura

Johan Simons, Dragonridge Wines

Johan Simons, Dragonridge Wines

Dragonridge Wines Supernova Ancestral 2014, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)

Chenin Blanc works with Sangiovese and with Pinotage to lead this ancestral method sparkling blend. From Joubertskloof’s Fynbos Estate, this fizz is really nothing like Méthode Cap Classique in that it adds nothing to the fermentation in the bottle, relying only on its own sugars and wild yeasts. When it does not explode it goes this way, so, so natural, all in. Winemaker Johan Simons happily sees it persist through the problem. “We do it because we can, and we want to.” From two blocks planted in 1964 and 1990 with a section going back to 1920. Picked on the 19th of January and from a ferment that finished two months early. These very old, unirrigated bush vines offer up lemon funky, low pH fruit. Goes straight to the roof of the mouth with rising, unassertive flavours. The question begs, is this an oasis of South African fizz or a desert where ancient longings go to die. The answer lies “caught beneath the landslide in a champagne supernova.” We’ll see about that. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @FynbosEstate

Dragonridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Paardeberg, South Africa (Winery)

No wood. From five barrels of naturally thick, free-run only juiced, patchy, basket pressed elixir. This is simply brilliant, drink the hell out of it until it’s gone Cabernet Sauvignon. Forget the barrel. Bring it on. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015

Elementis Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2014

Elementis Skin Contact Chenin Blanc 2014

Intellego Wines Chenin Blanc ‘Elementis’ 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

A private label by Lammershoek’s Jürgen Gouws, from two 40 year-old bush vines parcels. A direct, right at you, citrus and dry-farmed tang Chenin simultaneously pretty and bitter. Three weeks of skin contact detour to grapefruit and guava with a level of great elegance in its laundry soaking up dirty water. Cloudy and slightly dangerous, Basque cider like and built by the bare necessities of salinity and trim, briny orange elements. As snake-driven a purposed accumulation as found anywhere in South Africa. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @jurgengouws

Intellego Wines Syrah Kolbroek 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Same natural fermentation as the Chenin in this single-vineyard, 100 per cent Syrah. Comes up firing after time spent on its skins, soaking up and in its own tannic juices. Fresh if tight for elegance in Syrah. Refined bitters adhere to the supreme purpose which is an expression of spritely, red energy. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013

Black Oystercatcher Triton 2013, Elim, South Africa (Winery)

From owner & winemaker Dirk Human at Cape Agulhas, this is highly modern and refined Shiraz major (86 per cent) with minor Cabernet Sauvignon (12) and Cabernet Franc (2). Stylish without a whack of new oak, with independent varietal fermentation, maturation and ageing for 12 months. In a multiple choice Shiraz world of spicy, piquant, snappy and sharp the fill is all of the above. The present day South African cliché encompassing fresh, tight and elegant reds comes ’round again though here you can add cool-climate (southernmost tip of Africa) feel to the mix. What comes from the wood is in the finish, over charcoal and brushed by tar. Should show best in 2018. Drink 2015-2021.  Tasted September 2015  @BOC_Wines

Francois Haasbroek, Blackwater Wines

Francois Haasbroek, Blackwater Wines

Blackwater Wines Underdog Chenin Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

A mere 5500 bottles from winemaker Francois Haasbroek, a balanced tannin, alcohol (13.3 per cent), acidity (5.8 TA) and sugar Chenin, culled from high slope, (46 year) old bush vineyards of Bottelary Hills. Concrete tank housed ferments and aged on the fine lees for six months. Texture drives the green apple machine, fuelled by salinity and faux candy bursts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Blackwaterwine  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Blackwater Wines Blanc (MMXIV) 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

Chenin Blanc 80 (per cent), Sémillon (15) and Bourboulenc from vineyards in Durbanville and Ashton. The Chenin was skin fermented for 7 days and then blended with 2013 Sémillon (equipped with 12 months of texture gained on the lees) and what Haasbroek quips was a “smidge” of Bourboulenc. The 1200 bottle blend saw further time (16 months) in old (225L) barrels. Possessive of apples glazed in lemon polish, terrific, granitic grain in tannin and Deiss-esque Pinot d’Alsace surrealism. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted September 2015

Blackwater Wines Cultellus Syrah (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Schist Syrah in its entirety, mineral warm and tempered, moderately spiked by its alcohol (13.7 per cent) and five-plus year controlled acidity (5.6 TA). Blackwater’s steep block of Riebeek Kasteel vineyards offers up fruit begging to left alone. Haasbroek consented to four weeks of contact on the skins, followed by nothing more indulgent then a drain & whole-bunch press into eight to ten year-old (600L) barrels. Twenty-six months later, sans filter, nary a fining and voila. Syrah in fancy-free finesse, smoky elegance, Swartland schist, sour cherry and more schisty ferric earth. Dynamic though never in danger of inflammation, inflammatory or flaming behaviour. In the end, the sweetness is impossible. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Blackwater Wines Noir (MMXII) 2012, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

The largest output in the Blackwater portfolio with a whopping 6000 bottles. A multi-site Swartland Syrah (92 per cent), 10-15 per cent whole bunch fermented and then blended with Carignan and Grenache after a year of ageing. This follwed by an additional 12-14 months in old 500-600L barrels. Deep and meaty, but like modern Nebbiolo, of finesse in the clarity of its recesses. Marked by gnashing tannin and grippy structure. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015

Omerta

Blackwater Wines Omerta (MMXIV) 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

It begins with a shush, this “code of silence,” although it has nothing to do with “criminal activity” and yet its aromatic sweetness should be illegal. Caring proposed in 100 per cent terms, off of 28 year-old Swartland bush vines, fully entrenched in the revolution and the revival, while in “refusal to give evidence to authorities.” The single vineyard, predominantly granite soils are the source of amazing purity and acidity as if by wrote. Healthy (30 per cent) whole bunch fermentation and a 25 day linger on the skins imparts more tannic by-product nectar. The older 500L barrels for 16 months   makes for a dusty, carefully curated cure. When it comes to thinking about drinking this Omerta, “Old black water, keep on rollin’…I ain’t got no worries, ’cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.” Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2015

Savage Wines White 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

In which Sauvignon Blanc (70 per cent) and Sémillon (30) keep good vibes, smile and celebrate a pure purée of progressive white tannin. This is the last of the straightforward Bordeaux Savage Mohicans with subsequent vintages adding more varietal diversification. Duncan Savage sees the future replete with appellative blends as per a Western Cape necessity, free from the posit tug of French heartstrings. This last kick at the Left Bank can is bright, pure and composed to reflect sunshine and stone.  Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Savage Wines Red 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Essentially Western Cape fruit with a dab of Darling in a blend that emits polished Syrah (67 per cent) with naturally supportive Cinsault (12), Grenache (9) and Touriga Nacional (9). Duncan Savage procured 3500 bottles to market of this ranger, a red thinking cool Rhône thoughts and rooted firmly on the median line between his single-vineyard Syrah and the precocious Follow the Line. Will increase in complexity when Syrah gives away some floor time to the other grapes. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Savage Wines Syrah 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery)

Perhaps the most personal of Duncan Savage’s wines, even more than the Farmhouse draw in his red blend Follow the Line.  This SV Syrah is the home block, the place where he lives. His blends are a pure blur while this Syrah offers up a not too distant future filled with early life appreciation, graceful necessities and gifting niceties. It just hints at this now and subsequent wines will sing. Let this one and what’s left of the other 599 bottles produced sit for a year, to smooth out harsh bits and to integrate the Cape funk and Syrah cure. Oh, it’s like an animal farm, but you’ll come to no harm in the country.” Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted September 2015

Momento Wines Chenin Blanc-Verdelho 2014, Bot River, South Africa (Winery)

The Chenin Blanc (85 per cent) grows in old vineyards from Bot River and Darling and together with 11 year-old Bot River Verdelho (15) they reside in Bokkeveld shale, with portions of sand and clay. Five (400L old) French barrels carried natural Chenin ferments with some fine lees. Stainless tanks and older oak housed the riper Verdelho which joined the Chenin just before bottling. Winemaker Marelise Niemann was able to produce a healthy yet manageable quantity (200 cases) of a blend directed to deferential texture. This from a cloudy ferment once clarified turned to secondary, mineral flavours. The early pick and moderate (12.5 per cent) alcohol gained on bacteria and made for pure white fusion. The orchards are spoken for, from pit, through seed and back to pit. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @momentowines  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Marelise Niemann, Momento Wines

Momento Wines Grenache 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

From porous, sandy soil, Grenache loving dryland (10 year-old) bush vines, for the time being at least, until the Bot River vines mature. A smaller (one half) production than the white raised in open fermenters, one-third punched down and only old barrels used. So opposite in feel to the Bokkeveld shale, regardless of the grape hue, bringing a foxy, natural cure to Grenache. Direct, tight and autotelic fresh, crunchy and popping. Unalloyed red fruit, hidden citrus and a racy finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc and Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc and Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)

Winemaker Ginny Povall draws fruit made on the Stellenbosch farm from 55 year-old vines set in a 1600m high dry-farmed vineyard. The location is the rugged Skurfberg slopes in the mountains of Clanwilliam, 40 kilometres from the sea. These vines are low yielding, producing a scant 2.5 tons per hectare and picked early. Half of the just on the lee side of ripe fruit is barrel fermented and matured in 400L French oak and spends nine months on the gross lees. Juicy, bright, full on citrus, striking and crackling Chenin. Wood adds some weight and oh, the Rooibos. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @ginnypovall

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc Untitled #1 2014, Citrusdal Mountain, South Africa (Winery)

The approach is small batch, from lower Skurfberg altitude, chosen out of a specifically identified parcel and intentionally managed with 100 per cent (20 new) oak intervention. Lower alcohol, higher reduction and an ulterior, gemstone mineral manifestation. On one hand the Chardonnay like approach causes a perplexing feeling and on the other, a sense of wonder. The tropical abutment and real-time citrus symbiosis carries the weight and then the Rooibos, again. Occupies high ranks in the wooded Chenin outpost territory. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

The Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2014

The Tea Leaf Chenin Blanc 2014, Piekenierskloof, South Africa (Winery)

Made by Donovan Rall for Boutinot in the anti-Western Cape unicorn region Piekenierskloof, from where Chenin Blanc seems to have risen to sudden and darling prominence. The 70 year-old vineyards are at 750m, which is not nothing and the fruit is cropped from 40 year-old vines. All natural fermentation is the modus in this fuller, deeper, mineral completed Chenin that runs the gamut from creamy to bitters. And unfermented redbush, Aspalathus linearis. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @BoutinotWines

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2024

Boekenhoutskloof Sémillon 2004, Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

If anything, Marc Kent’s decade and a year Sémillon has travelled down a long road to a very quiet place. That retirement home is filled with honey and dates, all gathered up nicely in tangy, gift wrapping acidity. The orchard fruits are gone and the truth no longer lies in the second half of the bottle. It speaks with early clarity. Time to drink up, sipping slowly, with the “sun going down, blood orange, behind the Simonsberg.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015  @UNIVINS

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2013

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2013, Constantia, South Africa (Winery)

Another achievement in what can be cultivated, nurtured and brought to fruition with great success in South Africa. A ringer for Serralunga from Nebbiolo treated to 60 per cent second and 40 per cent third fill 225L French oak barrels for 14 months. Roses meet tar, tea, red citrus and bright, vital flavours. The life affirming and balanced qualities of Nebbiolo in the cooler, temperate and Mediterranean-mimicked Constantia climate will bring longevity to this wine. Should flesh out, settle and sing in three to five years.  Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2015  @SteenbergWines  @ConstantiaWines

Allesverloren Tinto Barocca 2013

Allesverloren Tinto Barocca 2013, Swartland, South Africa (Winery)

Dating back to 1704, Allesverloren is situated on the south-eastern slopes of the Kasteelberg near Riebeek West, is the oldest estate in the Swartland Wine of Origin district. “The Naked Winemaker” Danie Malan farms dryland, trellised vineyards, situated 140m above sea level and facing south-east, were planted between 1958 and 1996. Here exemplary bread basket viticulture with a perfectly habituated expatriate Portuguese grape, rich in warmth, tannin and texture after having been aged in second and third French oak for eight months. The hematic push is elevated, as per the Swartland soil give, so the brooding capitulation is both deep and vaulted. High pH mixed with upwards and capped acidity ensures brightness, to speak the correct dialect and fanciful expression. Finishes with style. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @AllesverlorenSA

Innemend teenage Cabernet @Uitkykwines

Innemend teenage Cabernet @Uitkykwines

Uitkyk Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

From north-west facing vines planted in 1989 to 1993 in soils rich in decomposed granite at 300 meters above sea level. Aging was completed for 18 months in 300L French oak barrels of which 53 per cent were new, (35) second and (12) third fill. I begin with “Hello? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?” The answer is very much yes. At 15 years of age the Uitkyk is a treat in the latter stages of a comfortably numb dream. Deep pink, raspberry dusty, funky of triturated earth and ground stone. Still much aridity and acidity hanging on for dear life. Seems to drone on with mostly rising breaths and strings in oscillation. A remarkable older drop. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted September 2015  @uitkykwinemaker

Grangehurst Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1995, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery)

Quite the treat to see this pouring at the older wines, help yourself tasting session at Cape Wine 2015. It was from what is widely considered Stellenbosch’s vintage of that decade and 20 years is not nothing for Paulliac let alone Stellenbosch. Grangehurst has made this wine in every vintage save for one, since 1992. What a remarkable old drop from winemaker Jeremy Walker, alive and kicking, as if by any means necessary. This from a guy who was quoted as saying “the more you surf during the harvest season, the better the wines.” His 1995 is replete with notes of cedar, thyme, coercing currants and really grand minerality. Has survived with acidity and tannin intact, stretching, yet persistent and working with what had to have been a harvest of such perfect fruit. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @grangehurst

Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 and Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015

Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 and Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

From Tukulu and Kroonstad, augmented with nine or 10 percent Roussanne. Some barrel aging (nothing new, mostly 4th fill French 300L) plus a final 30-60 days in concrete eggs. Beautifully restrained, classically styled and tempered Viognier. The respectable alcohol (12.9 per cent), piqueing acid (6.0 g/l), low pH (3.22) and necessary residual sugar (4.4 g/l) are the specs of attentive and pinpoint winemaking. The result is remarkable freshness and purity with a bit of stuffing. Picked on the model of “flavour faith,” the softness “just dropped in to see what condition” the grip’s “condition was in. It was with cool fleshy fruit against a backdrop of warm, tropical flowers. Chic, first edition Viognier. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @Tamboerskloof

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

The blocks are Tukulu/Kroonstad/Klapmuts/Witfontein and vines at 12 years of age. Five per cent Mourvèdre and a couple of points Viognier clean and lift the Shiraz while 10-12 days of skin contact roll out the red carpet of elixir vitae. Imagine the possibilities if Gunter Shultz had opted for 24-30. The engineering in l’élevage pays heed to 18-20 months in 300 and 500L French oak barrels, 15 per cent new, (20) second, (25) third, (20) fourth (20) fifth fill. A further 18 months in bottle delayed the patient and philosophic release. Shiraz rarely gains a compatibility like this. Big to elegant, brawn to finesse. The purity is only overshadowed by the youth. Five years are needed to reverse the ratios of cosanguinity. The Tamboersklook is a prime Stellenbosch example of thoughtful winemaking taking full advantage of technology and techniques firmly entrenched in the progressive and the forward thinking. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2015

Big wines. Bigger, balanced finesse @Tamboerskloof @CapeWine2015 @WOSA_ZA #upperblaauwklippenvintners

Big wines. Bigger, balanced finesse @Tamboerskloof @CapeWine2015 @WOSA_ZA #upperblaauwklippenvintners

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

It’s quite amazing to see a wine made in virtually the exact same way as the forbearing 2011 turn out to be so different. The only noticeable adjustment is the few points increase in Shiraz but the approachability and accessibility factor is manifest tenfold. Lush fruit, plush texture and tannins sweeter yet still firmly structured lead this down a much friendlier road. For winemaker Gunter Shultz this could be the result of exceptional planning or just dumb luck. Does it matter? The fact that this can be enjoyed in just two years time while the 2011 broods and sulks means that four years on you could switch back and forth for maximum mini-horizontal enjoyment. Drink 2017-2027.  Tasted September 2015

Kleinhood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz Rosé Katharien 2015, Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineryAgent WineAlign)

Fundamentally bone-dry Rosé first picked at 20 brix and then at 24, so very lightly pressed and then finished at 13 per cent alcohol. Mostly stainless steel in ferment with some time in “odds and ends” of French oak barrels. A dry and dusty blush with Shiraz that goes straight to strawberry and candied fruits. The simple pleasures found. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Shiraz John Spicer 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Single-vineyard (Tukulu block), 100 per cent Shiraz from 20 months in 300L French oak, split between 25 per cent first, (20) second and the remainder third fill. As a comparison with the ’11 and ’12 (less than 100 per cent) Shiraz this is the one with the “devil’s grip, the iron fist.” Follow up to the maiden voyage, the motorhead 2010 broods under a moonless sky, a dark night and a wine with which you “walk in circle lose your track, can’t go on but you can’t go back.” Like the song, this is one of those wines you can actually lose weight while sipping. So hard to tame this ferric, oozing beast but the far eastern, temperate, somewhat fertile savour, from mint, eucalyptus and clove is nothing if not intriguing. Built from north facing, Clone SH470 Shiraz vines of cool acceptance, there also invades a Mediterranean brush of garrigue and délicasse. Enough finesse in its largesse causes pause for thought, that like any contemporary sound, smell or taste it often just takes getting used to. With time the immensity and reverberation settles and immunity sets in. A newer, larger expression will take centre stage and the old bark won’t seem so loud. John Spicer 2010 will seem like a ballad some day. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted September 2015

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, Darling, South Africa (Winery)

Coined the Boetie Van Reenan Darling Cinsualt from dry-farmed fruit in a tertiary-carbonic, whole bunch stomped, gassed and left t0 reach one-third of the total ferment state. A short stay in old, left for naught oak barrels. The result is a wine the world knows not from or how. The resolution is where South Africa is heading, into fine, pure, fresh berry tonic territory. The clarity of the language is downright biblical. The elements are base and instructional, of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, sulphur and a few other unnamed elements. Their accrued spirit is not one of sophistication but they succinctly prepare us for a path to civil and ceremonial wine consuming law. This my friends is a Monday to Friday breakfast wine. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisAlheit  @ZooBiscuitsWine

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Maps & Legends, from Cartology to Flotsam & Jetsam @ChrisAlheit @ZooBiscuitsWine #alheitvineyards #hermanus #capewine2015

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Chenin Blanc-Sémillon 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

An exploratory cuvée of recherché to examine the diversity of mature dryland bushvines out of vineyards dotting the Western Cape. Eighty year-old Sémillon from Franschhoek is the catalyst to complement and ramble with heritage (30-40 year old) Chenin Blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. A natural fermentation is performed to imitate a cold night in the vineyard. The wine is a map with the compass to lead you back to the vineyards, to taste the grapes in their naked states. The South African version of atticism and rhythm in Cartology is utterly Western Cape and nothing else tastes just like this. It bleeds lime and stone with subterranean salinity trailing all the way. Criterion Chenin Blanc and paradigmatic Sémillon. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015

The wines of Diemersdal

The wines of Diemersdal

Diemersdal Grüner Veltliner 2015, Durbanville, South Africa (Winery)

From a vineyard planted in 2009 of Scali and Hutton soil and South-West facing slopes. This third vintage of 12,000 bottles was 50 per cent fermented with “X5,”  a Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling yeast and the balance with a traditional varietal strain from Austria, Oenoferm Veltliner.  Six months post fermentation lees are `stirred up to once a week. Classic mineral and fruit 50/50 GV style though equally and tangibly in poesy to regional Sauvignon Blanc; crisp with a touch of herbal spine. Vibrant, tightly wound acidity and a peppery bite on the back-end. The SB bent is written and exploited in the best possible way. Will be a great wine when the vineyard grows up just a bit. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @diemersdalwines

Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc Eight Rows 2015, Durbanville Hills, South Africa (Winery)

When sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw wanted to make a block specific Sauvignon Blanc his father Tienie’s offer fell short. “Why get out of bed for three rows?” Eight it was. From soils of decomposed granite with high clay content off of vines nearly 30 years of age. The locale, pinpoint picking from carefully chosen contours and the attention to detail have come to a cleaner, finessed and wisely distinct Sauvignon Blanc expression. The ride is calmer than the reserve and the finish still replete with freshness. The citrus preserves, locks in and bottles acidity. The obvious grape variety avoids cliché and the obscurity of “stand by me…nobody knows the way it’s gonna be.” Instead the eight rows oasis produces a Sauvignon Blanc that understands where it comes from and knows what it wants to be. Knows where it’s going. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted September 2015

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2014, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (Winery)

From Meerlust’s cellar master, Chris Williams, in partnership with his Kumala brand manager, the Scot James Reid. Fruit sourced from growers across the Cape. The wines are produced at Meerlust in Stellenbosch. The Grenache Blanc comes from the Malmesbury shale and decomposed granite soils of the Voor-Paardeberg. A mineral streak runs through and this bears little resemblance to the Rhône, nor does it reminisce about Catalonia. This is futuristic Grenache Blanc, the kind only found in dreams because of its high level of sumptuousness despite the elevated stone count. Tack on scents of lead and/or graphite and the revelry ascends. Perhaps it should be looked at as a block of chilled rock as holding vessel for selling fruit. Longevity from 100 per cent Grenache Blanc is a rare, cool and beautiful thing. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2015  @ChrisTheFoundry

The Blacksmith Vin Noir

The Blacksmith Vin Noir 2014, W.O. Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery)

A personal project of 600 bottles for Tremayne Smith, assistant winemaker at Mullineux & Leeu. A blend of 59 per cent Cinsault from Paarl and (41) Carignan from the Swartland. Neither Irish Planxty nor traditional folk Steeleye Span, the Vin Noir’s power chords and mineral metal imagines “uncrushable shields, power belts and magic rings.” A Falconer in Cinsault-Carignan clothing, smoky sweet, savoury emulsified, vaporous, beautifully murky. The Carignan is devilishly Rhône, built with spice, liquorice and dried sassafras. A slow release of red citrus Cinsault and a final, flinty feign of sweetness. A far cry from the old days of drinking South African tassies. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted September 2015  @tvsmith85

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, Outeniqua, South Africa (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

From the Cape outpost of Outeniqua, of all deity forsaken places, in the mountains above George and named for the highest (1578m) peak. The montane fynbos terrain makes for Pinot Noir of wild depth, tannic breadth and a natural, unfined, unfiltered bush vine pressed sensation. Though so unknown, this southeast facing slope drives a point not just new but also important to the South Africa Pinot Noir discussion. This Cradock Peak is a pushy Pinot, plush and demanding. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted September 2015  @Nicholaspearce_  @PublikWine

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, photo (c) Nicholas Pearce

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, photo (c) Nicholas Pearce

Good to go!

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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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