Some time ago I arranged a South African Master Class tasting for colleagues. The experience was to make a conclusion about the state of south african wine production right now.
South Africa is quite interesting as a wine growing country. It is out of Europe but old world. There have been wine growing since 16th century. Still it remains closer to the productions that we see in Australia or Napa Valley. So it is a very interesting mix of old and new ways of making wine. There are huge differences in the climate. Very chill in the south which is growing zones for cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc (especially in the Constantia province), cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Hermanus (whale spotting point) – to the overheated and extreme warm climate in Paarl and Franschhoek, not to speak of Robertson, Klein Caroo and Swartland which is out of the scale. Stellenbosch is close to European climate though warmer is the daytime. So totally a country of huge differences with a lot of options in winemaking…
I managed to put together a range of wines that would represent some of the best wine producers in most regions of South Africa. Using our knowledge about producers, vintages, growing regions and leaning against the ratings of wine writer John Platter, Michelangelo, Veritas and Old Mutual wine competitions.
The sparkling wine from Stellenbosch PONTGRÁCZ called Cape Classique Brut n/v was surprisingly well-balanced with toasted bread and a medium body, quite refreshing but not light-bodied as I would have expected. I have heard a lot about Cape Classique and have also tasted some on occasions but this was the best I tasted so far.
The 2012 Viognier from FAIRVIEW in the warm region Paarl was just as appealing as I expected. I have always thought of this winery as being one of the best in SA. The fine and gentle but still juicy and fruity Viognier with ripe tropical fruit was just a flirt for the palate. Absolutely worth recommending.
I used to work as a sales agent with SAXENBURG wines. Nico van der Merwe always make great wines with elegance and an almost european coolness in the wines. This Stellenbosch property belonging to swiss family ….. has proved a star in SA. – and the white wines was always my favourites. Tasting the 2010 Private Collection Chardonnay was no exception. Pure and clean with a crisp fresh taste is the impression, much more like a super 1th growth Chablis with slightly creamy roasted oak. Really a great wine that shows the diversity in south african wine production (it’s not all blockbusters)…
DIEMERSDAL is one of the oldest wineries in South Africa (1698) and its reputation as a great supplier of wines is without question. I never tasted any wines from this estate before (and the Durbanville region as well) so I was looking forward to taste two wines today. Eight Rows Sauvignon 2012 was unfortunately corked but through the unfortunate error it was very clear that a very good wine was underneath. What a pity! The 2011 Pinotage Reserve was exceptional thick layers of flavors. Dark almost black colour and a well-integrated oak taste which only was a tribute to the full-bodied wine. Normally I really don’t like oak taste but it was clear with this wine that it was so well-balanced that it came out a super star!!
RAKA is a upcomming super star in South Africa. The winery is in the sub-region Klein River which is a part of Walker Bay. RAKA is well-known for they powerful full-bodied wines with lots of new oak. I tasted some of their wines on occasions but never the Biography Shiraz that they won so many prices with. The 2010 vintage tasted really great, not as dark/thick as I expected but really well-balanced and beautifully ripened but 2-3 years more would do wonders to this wine. GREAT wine.
FAIRVIEW once again this time their super red called Eenzaamheid Shiraz 2010. Sadly once again a corked wine, and this time so badly that nothing could be revealed…
RIJKS is a winery in the region called Tulbagh. I never tasted any wines from this very warm region that is far north of Cape Town. I tasted the 2007 Private Cellar Shiraz. Rijks has a great reputation that I chose this wine from but it was, to me, a total disappointment. Not that the wine lacked anything, simply there was too much of everything. Simply too powerful and too much alcohol, too sweet, too intense. Actually more powerful than a Vintage Port! Maybe with decade of ageing this wine could be pleasant or with decanting the wine a day or so? But with opening the bottle 3-4 hours before tasting – no good for me, sorry.
KLEINE ZALZE 2007 Family Reserve Shiraz from Stellenbosch is pretty much the same story as the Rijks Shiraz above. This wine has a slightly better appeal and more balanced, but still stand as too powerful in my book.
BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF (what a fantastic name!) is in the warm Franschhoek region south of Paarl. The winery is well-known as a great producer of South Africa.
The Chocolate Block 2011 is a blend of grapes; 69% Shiraz, 14% Grenache Noir, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cincault, 1% Viognier, so the inspiration clearly comes from the south of France. But the wine is also a blend of regions; the Shiraz and Viognier comes from Malmesbury (Swartland) with extreme warm and dry conditions, The Grenache Noir comes from Piekernierskloof (Citrusdal) with very sandy soils, much like in the Bandol region of Provence. This ensures a perfect ripening and tasty grapes. The Cabernet Sauvignon is from Franschhoek and the Cincault is from bushwines on decomposed granite soils in Wellington. Together these wines make a magnificent wine that deserves all the credit I can give. It should be kept for a decade or so, but nevertheless a great wine. And yes, it tastes of warm dark chocolate!
GLENELLY is another Stellenbosch winery with a great reputation. The 2009 Lady May is a Bordeaux blend made of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. It is very classical and a superior wine that should be aged a decade or so – at least. So elegant and complex that you would think this is a Médoc wine, but yet more smooth and less acidic.
The last wine tasted was from SPRINGFIELD ESTATE in Robertson. This is a very warm part of the Cape province – also known for their Port like fortified wines. The 2003 Méthode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon was at this tasting as joker. I sell this wine but in this highly praised range of wines, this is the wine I had the least faith in – BUT this is simply a beauty. Fully matured, really peaking now and elegant plum noted with coffee and tobacco, just like and great matured Bordeaux. Wow that was actually a surprise to me. I knew this wine was good but being the wine I actually preferred above all the others, I did not see that coming. Highly recommended but drink it within 1-3 years from now.
Conclusion: South Africa has a lot to offer. These wines represent some of the best producers in SA but there are many others to choose from, that could just as well have been in this tasting…and we didn’t even taste Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia which is one of the great sweet wines in the world. The diversity of the wines is great and there are many wellstructured wines to choose from. Mostly we think of South African wines as being powerful and rustique wines with high alcohol. Those wines are a big part of South African wine production, but there is more and more crisp white wine and cool climate reds. Really this is a very interesting wine country.