Test: South African wines…doing well??

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…

     Source: http://www.vineyards.com

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.


Diggin’ In The Dirt – episode 1 (Vintage Port – Master Class)

TAYLOR, GRAHAM & FONSECA – 1966, 1970 & 1977

On a November-evening (the 8th) in 1995 I was a part of a magical tasting that I often recall as one of the most memorable tastings for me.

It was The Fyn Port Wine Club (often mentioned as one of the finest of its kind in the World). See more at: www.vintageport.dk

The theme was Taylor’s, Graham & Fonseca – 1966, 1970 & 1977. It seems like everything you would want from a Port Wine was cooked into this single tasting.

1966 Fonseca Vintage Port was unfortunately left out as it wasn’t possible to ship from London in time for the wine to settle before tasting. It was replaced with a 1970 Vintage Port from Gould Campbell that should be interesting to taste instead.

Eleven tasters were eager to be a part of this experience. Even for a tough crowd of Vintage Port-veterans this was indeed very exiting. To taste the absolute top producers in their finest hour as these three vintages are. And it is not very often you would find these exact wines to be compared directly against each other.

The wines were tasted semi-blind silent tasting, poured in three heats:
1. 1977’s
2. 1970’s
3. 1966’s

Tasting notes:

Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port
At this stage the Graham’s style of making Vintage Port is too pleasing and sweet for me. It is still world-class and my number two for this Vintage. Maybe not in Graham’s finest hour as I often think the wines after 1970 and until 1987 not quite as unique as the wines before and after. Probably because of Symington family’s take-over in 1970 from The Graham’s [Johnny Graham later started Churchill’s Port]. Though this is still a really stunning Vintage Port with lot of personality and ageing potential.

Fonseca 1977 Vintage Port
Strict and precise like you would expect a Vintage Port from Fonseca. definitely much too you and a very high quality Port. Like Croft Fonseca’s Vintage Ports represent this very english style in Port-making with acidity and firm alcohol. I prefer this more firm style of Port when it is much older. At this stage or younger it is almost unpleasant for my palate. Never-the-less this is a high quality Port with lots of potential for keeping in the cellar.

Taylor’s 1977 Vintage Port
One of the finest wines I ever tasted. At this stage it is just too premature, compared to the silky taste and ripeness of the older vintages. This wine will mature and take its place as one of the best Taylor Port’s ever made. Massive taste is what comes first; loads of dark chocolate, cherry, roasted nuts and raisins. Extremely young and potent wine that should not be enjoyed in two decades.

Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port
A serious outsider to best Port of the year. Deep mature fruit with hints of coffee and sweet dried fruit, caramelised figs. A masterpiece only downgraded simply because I like Taylor’s and Fonseca’s wines of the year better. What a pity for such a World Class wine.

Fonseca 1970 Vintage Port
Excellent body and structure with a velvety that shows just how well Fonseca’s wines age. This must surely be one of their best of the Century (unfortunately we wouldn’t be tasting the 1966 Vintage Port from Fonseca; it has the reputation of being just that!). The velvety taste og walnuts and well-balanced very long finish with long and complex taste. This is a wine that could be in a book about the 100 things you must do before you die!

Taylor’s 1970 Vintage Port
A VERY close runners-up to my prefered 1970 Fonseca. Go ahead make my day is what goes through my mind as I wonder about this wine. This is everything you could ever ask for. A fine, fine Port that shows maturity in all the right places. Still with firm body and grape nuances that lies underneath the thick layers of concentrated figs and honey and mostly walnuts. Rich and balanced rounded with raisins and spice. The wine is well on its way into maturity but it is still showing power and lively palate that is somewhere between youth and real maturity.

Gould Campbell 1970 Vintage Port
This is obviously a very good Vintage Port and in any other situation than this one it would be considered a treat. But as a substitute for a Fonseca 1966 Vintage Port it was measured in a scale that would seem unfair to most of the wines ever produced. Even though this is a neat and nice – in fact a classy Vintage Port that delivers a strong and impeccable taste. Everything you would want from an old Vintage Port. Good clean taste with fine matured walnut notes and a nicely matured body. In this tough company all of that just seemed to vanish in a group of 3 Ports that all should be considered in the top 50 of Vintage Ports produced in the 20th Century.

Graham’s 1966 Vintage Port
One of two wines from this Vintage – and by far the best of the two. A superb and very complex wine at its best. A mature and sweet wine with a hint of mint that ensures the balance in the wine stays in focus. A teat by any means.

Taylor’s 1966 Vintage Port
I always wondered about this wine. I tasted it, found it pleasant and absolutely a high quality wine by any standards, but it was a little bit strange maybe beginning to decline, orange color all through the glass, almost sweet and not very much like the Taylor-taste I so much appreciate and to me is The standard to be measured against when you produce Vintage Port (I re-tasted the wine from another cellar some years later with the same result). Though being harsh to this wine it is only because of the expectations and the high level of its competition. By any means this is a lovely high-class wine – just not World Heritage!

At the end of the tasting all of us had made our remarks and rated our own three top preferences with 3 points (best), 2 points (2nd) and 1 point (3rd).

My top preferences was:
1. 1970 Fonseca Vintage Port (3 points)
2. 1970 Taylor’s Vintage Port (2 points)
3. 1966 Graham’s Vintage Port (1 point)

– Taylor’s 1977 Vintage Port was a close runners-up but simply because of the prematurity it was not in my final 3 (this is probably one of the best Ports I ever tasted it just wasn’t as ready at this stage as the others).

The general opinion at this tasting was different:
1. Fonseca 1970 Vintage Port
2. Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port
3. Graham’s 1966 Vintage Port
4. Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port
5. Taylor’s 1970 Vintage Port

Overall all of these wines (except 1970 Gould Campbell and 1966 Taylor’s) should be considered 97+ on a scale of 100 points. I almost never judge the single wine on a scale like that when I taste wines in this league. I think it is insulting to the masterpieces that was meant to be enjoyed and not rated. The difference between the wines would depend on personal preference which should only matter to one-self…and by this I don’t mean that the wines can not be discussed!

After the tasting the glass washer-team shared a bottle of Fonseca 1991Guimaraens Vintage Port that was offered to the members as a bargain from the importer at a ridiculous price of approx. $20. As I write this I recall that I still have a few bottles of that in my cellar.

A few days later I tasted a Hooper’s 1912 Vintage Port that was in amazingly good shape. Silky and smooth with walnut and honey notes. Another fine experience!

All tastings notes are from November 1995 so all recommendations towards drinkability and maturity is from that date!

Off to Puglia

Tomorrow I am going to the Radici Wine Experience. I was contacted by the great Italian wine writer Franco Ziliani and Nicola Campanile who arrange this event. They asked if I could come and see what is going on in the south of Italy.
My first reaction was: count me in, this is something – but a difficult time of the year with Chrismas sales and everything…but the entusiast in me got the overhand. So tomorrow I am leaving cold and freezing Denmark to meet sunny Puglia. I will also have the pleasure of meeting American wine writer Charles Scicolone, whom I met in Barbera Meeting 2010 earlier this year. See you down there.

2009 Erdener Treppchen, Riesling-Spätlese
Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben (Mosel)
92 / This is a fabulous white from super-vintage 2009. Stunning and mouthwatering are superlatives that comes along without any hesitation.
This sweet but never candied Riesling offers great bouquet with fresh and sweet with peach, dried tropical fruits and a hint of grapefruit. Extremely well balanced. I always had a thing (or a fling) with German Riesling, and this is either a promise from a superb vintage – or simply a great wine from a great producer…or maybe a bit of both! 18.09.2010

Tasting notes from “One Night of sin…” posted 21.06.2010

1998 Tertre Rotebeouf, Saint-Èmilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux)
92+ Ι This very elegant and balanced Saint-Èmilion offers sweet fruit with that extracted dryness underneath that you would only get from an Merlot-based wine from Bordeaux in a great vintage. The wine developed fine in the glass a actually needed more than 45 minutes to open up. The reward was great and in this Merlot-trio tasted (the next 2 wines) this was clearly the wine that had taken the years past most well, and the better wine in with fine company. The structure of this wine is excellent and it seems slim and powerfull at the same time with a hint of mint. Also it would probably mature well for another 10-12 years if kept well. Too little of these wines on the market today. It reminds me of how Saint-Èmilion wines used to taste 15 years ago. 21.06.2010

Le Defi de Fontenil Lot. 00 (Vin de Table)
92 Ι Le Defi de Fontenil is a unique wine in Bordeaux terms. It comes from Michel Rolland’s Estate in Fronsac called Château de Fontenil. It is 2,47 acres of 100% Merlot grown under a plastic roof. Extreme in every detail. The wine is very extracted and the deep color defines how the bouquet and the palate is. Dark in every sense. This wine also could need extra time to develop but it actually is very attractive at this stage. One might say the opposite of Tertre Rotebeouf as this is more meaty and rustic. Also a great wine. 21.06.2010

1999 Château Cheval-Blanc, Saint-Èmilion 1. Grand Cru Classé A (Bordeaux)
90 Ι This is not the best vintage for Saint-Èmilion. Even though one always have great expectations when tasting royalty of wines. Sometimes you can have too high expectations to things, but then again if a wine is priced extremely as the giants in Bordeaux are today this is no good. In my opinion these medium (and also too bad) vintages should NEVER be on the market. Why they degrade their market value by selling these (a little) boring wines – I never understood – when the potential in great vintages is enormous.
With that said this is a good and solid wine that can still age well and opens up after an hour. It offers a good and fine wine experience that would be sufficient if we hadn’t had the two wines above. In this lies the problem. This wine should never be run over by the wines above if they want to sell to these high prices. Plus I was being nice giving 90 points to this wine. Another day my rating would have been lower. 21.06.2010

Ratafia Eugénie, Cahors
Château Eugénie (South West France)

87 Ι A fine wine, quite heavy and more rustic and farm styled wine than elegant. Really good quality with dried apricots and raisins on the palate. Very sweet and almost liquid honey. Maybe a bit too much in the end. But nice with broad appeal. 21.06.2010

2007 Nackenheim Rothenberg, Riesling-Beerenauslese
Weingut Gunderloch (Rheinhessen – Germany)

90 Ι Tasted blind I had no doubt that this was a young Riesling from Rheinhessen. It was wonderful, but as always from this region (in my opinion) there is a lack of acidity. Even though this is a very good wine, with a flirting taste with honey, peach and a hint of orange flower. Will keep well the next 12-15 years. 21.06.2010

1998 Burg-Layer Johannisberg, Weisser Burgunder-Eiswein
Weingut Michael Schäfer (Nahe – Germany)

90+ Ι This wine I have tasted several times. It never fails to impress. Though not being in the elite of German – or Nahe wineries – this is a clear example of the neighbor making almost as good wines as the star producer for much less money. The wine is perfectly matured at this stage with sweet but dry apricots in the nose and on the palate. Raisin notes and sweetness not as obvious as earlier. It doesn’t reach the skyes but it is a very good inexpensive Eiswein. 21.06.2010

1997 Madame de Rayneau (2nd wine Ch. Rayne-Vigneau), Sauternes (Bordeaux – France)
89 Ι
A bargain bought in a local supermarket. The poor bastards didn’t know what they were selling. Price? 7 Euro a bottle. Fresh and forward without any signs of declining or age for that matter. Very attractive, almost sexy I might add. Sweet but very well balanced. Not as much Noble rot as in the 1st wine from the estate but a fine and refreshing dessert wine with actually great potential. 21.06.2010

1998 Château d’Yquem, Sauternes 1. Cru Classé (Bordeaux – France)
93+ Ι
As always Yquem delivers what is expected. This is several decades too soon to be enjoyed fully, but even in this premature stage it performs in a unique way that only Yquem does. Mega concentrated and full bodied with heavy structure that seems to never end. After 25 minutes the wine opens up and gives layers of honeyed with peach and apricot. 21.06.2010

One Night of Sin…

This Saturday evening my wife Tina and I went to visit Gitte and Simon, very good friends of ours. The 2 wifes enjoys good wine, for Simon and I it’s a lifestyle.
For some time now Simon had me wondering what he had found of new strange/exiting/mouth-watering wines. It became an evening of extravagance (a night of sin).
After lately having tasted numberous overseas and italian wines.

1998 Tertre Rotebeouf, Saint-Èmilion Grand Cru

Lot. 00 Le Defi de Fontenil, Vin de Table

1999 Château Cheval Blanc, Saint-Émilion 1. Grand Cru Classé

Ratafia Eugénie, Château Eugénie, Cahors

Weingut Gunderloch 2007 Nackenheim Rothenberg, Riesling-Beerenauslese

Weingut Michael Schäfer 1998 Burg-Layer Johannisberg, Weisser Burgunder-Eiswein

1997 Madame de Rayneau (2nd wine Ch. Rayne-Vigneau) , Sauternes 1. Cru Classé

1998 Château d’Yquem, Sauternes 1. Cru Classé

I will edit this post with comments on the wines later.

Wine of the week – not a wine

After a long tasting week I took a break last week – and for the first time since I don’t know when I actually didn’t have any wine for a whole week. reason: I really needed something else on my palate after the 4 days of massive Barbera-tasting a period of relaxing and regaining my palate my was great.
So, some Danish beers and one Belgian Rochefort 10 was something completely different and almost calming in my mouth.

The “wine” of the week therefore belongs to my good friend, hardworking Eddie Szweda, who after taking over probably the worst microbrewery in 2006 called Midtfyns Bryghus turned toward prime quality and won the award Best New Beer 2007 by Danske Ølentusiaster (Danish Beer Enthusiasts) counting more than 10.000 beer crazy members.
March, 20 the achievement was repeated with the award Best New Beer 2009. Congratulations guys!!

“Wine” of the week!
Midtfyns Bryghus – Chili Tripel