South African wines probably don’t appear here as often as they should, certainly not as often as fans of this country think. The South African wine lovers I’ve noticed rarely want to drink anything else, and it’s true that good things are exceptional.
And we should buy more because given the unstable economy, the winemakers there really depend on export markets to make a profit or even break even. I have already mentioned producers like BLANKBottle, Mullineux, Sijnn and Paul Cluver and of course Delheim (O’Briens) and Simonsig. This week, however, I have a few new wines to try, including some new Lidl wines that are really entry-level but still manage to top their price.
Liberty Wines has some fine South African producers in its portfolio and some of them got together for a tasting in mid-June. It was great to finally meet Charles Back of Fairview and Spice Route, as I have been tasting and writing about his wines since around 1999 when Goats do Roam first appeared here. His Swartland-based ‘Spice Route’ estate was founded in 1998 and it has helped bring attention to the once rather neglected Western Cape. Not anymore of course, now that’s where every cool natural winemaker wants to source their grapes.
I could only feature three producer wines below, so pay attention to Marelise Niemann’s Momento wines whose Grenache Noir was one of my favorite reds from the tasting with beautifully pure fruit and seductive freshness (Ely and WineOnline .ie). She even found a small vineyard of Grenache Gris to buy, a grape that I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted before as a varietal (it was flinty and tense at first, then became layered and almost tropical).
These young winemakers are forward-looking and focused on sustainability and climate change. Also outstanding were the ‘Crystallum’ wines of Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson, descendants of the famous Peter Finlayson (Ely, Mitchells, WineOnline) with a fragrant pinot noir and a luxurious but concentrated ‘Clay Shales’ chardonnay from Hemel-en-Aarde .
Gabrielskloof has a family connection to Crystallum through marriage and uses the same winery (as does Momento), but their wines were all completely different with the personalities of the winemakers showing through. Keep an eye on the Cape.
Chenin Blanc is the Loire variety of Vouvray and Anjou, but it also seems to suit South Africa and is found throughout the country, ranging from light and fruity entry-level wines to dry whites and desserts. more serious ones that can age for decades. It has lively aromas of pear and peach with a pleasant citrus freshness and just the right amount of acidity and spiciness on the finish.
Pinotage is a workhorse grape in South Africa used for everything from rosé to fortified. It can also be classy and expensive, but it remains divisive because it is rarely subtle – hence the name of this wine. This has a rich purple color with aromas of smoky black fruits, juicy red fruits on the palate and a pleasant sweetness. A solid barbecue wine, but best served slightly chilled to smooth the edges.
Delheim is a family business based in Stellenbosch and this is by no means their first appearance here. This one is reduced by €14 and their dry and fruity Pinotage Rosé is also reduced to €11.21. Here, the Delheim Chenin Blanc wild ferment is also recommended. It’s deliciously refreshing with aromas of lemon oil and white peach and a hint of tropical fruit, crisp, tangy and fruity on the palate with plenty of refreshing acidity.
A red blend mainly composed of southern Rhône grape varieties (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, etc.) from traditionally planted bush vines. Dark ruby color, aromas of spice and black fruits with a touch of licorice and mocha, ripe and full-bodied with fleshy intensity. Also watch for Spice Route’s crisp Chenin Blanc with citrus and pear drops.
The fruit for this came from four dry-grown bush vines over 40 years old on granite and shale in (mainly) Swartland. It shows just how good Cape Chenin can be – waxy and grassy with soft, rounded pears, full and complex on the palate with pleasant tension on the start and softer, honeyed edges on the finish.
This ‘Cap Blend’ is quite different from the other wines here – a blend of Roussanne, Chardonnay and Sémillon plus Chenin and Clairette – done in a more oxidative (natural) style, it’s layered and textured with apples, honey and waxy notes and a hint of saline – perfect for saying rabbit or guinea fowl.
spirit of the week
It’s fairly new to the Dan Kelly range, created by Niall Collier, a cousin of the McNeece family who grow 80ha of apples for their ciders. It’s a little lighter so perfect for the summer and was first created for the Big Grill festival which is happening again next week – watch out for them as they always bring experimental traffic jams.
This one is completely natural, fermented on wild yeasts and without any addition. Aromas of baked apples with a touch of citrus and pear, round and fruity on the palate with a pleasant flavor of bruised apple and lime on the finish.