jamie goode's wine blog: South Africa's Fine Wine Dimension

Monday, November 09, 2009

South Africa's Fine Wine Dimension

So, after my recent trip, here are my thoughts on the state of South African wine. [Caveat: I'm not pretending that this is in any way anything more than my own personal perspective, so please excuse the presumption. And I know that I have just scratched the surface of South African wine through my various trips and tasting the wine here in the UK. But what I do have, FWIW, is a healthy international perspective.]

1. Much progress is being made over a short period. Since my last trip in December 2005, it is exciting to see how much has changed for the better. [Impressive progress has been made with the more commercial wines: this is really important for the industry, but here I'm going to be focusing on fine wine.]

2. South Africa's best wines are yet to be made, which is encouraging, I suppose. There is much potential.

3. I acknowledge the temptation to be obsessed with the new at the expense of the old. But while I acknowledge some of the classic wines made from Bordeaux varieties, I don't think this is the future of the wine industry, at least at the top end. Instead, I'm thrilled by the progress being made outside the the traditional Cape fine wine model (Estate wines/Bordeaux varieties/Stellenbosch and Paarl focus).

4. I'm very excited by the new Swartland/Paardeberg/Tulbagh wines. The Syrah-based reds and white blends (Chenin plus Rhone varieties) are frequently thrilling. It's so exciting seeing people driven by passion and ability seeking out special vineyard blocks and doing great things with them.

5. I was also excited by Sauvignon Blanc. It's great to see people beginning to understand that there's more to Sauvignon than just methoxypyrazines. I had so many really good Sauvignons on this trip, but clearly not all regions are suited to this variety: you need to focus on the right sites.

6. Syrah is doing so well. I think it will eclipse Cabernet fairly soon. South Africa does make some great Cabernets, for sure, but it is easier to make great Syrah (and Rhone blends) here.

7. There are many seriously talented people in the industry, and this is the hope for its future. And, encouragingly, many of them have got a brilliant sense of where they want to get to. This is important: you can be talented, but if you are aiming at the wrong destination, you won't make great wines. The people I met who impressed me had a clear objective: to make authentic, interesting wines that reflected a sense of place, aimed at elegance rather than power, and were made as naturally as possible. The likes of Marc Kent, Gottfried Mocke, Duncan Savage, Chris Mullineux, Eben Sadie, Chris Williams, Adam Mason and Bruce Jack are deeply impressive...and this is just an off-the-top-of-the-head list with many omissions.

8. Regionality is perhaps a lesser story. The important bit is the actual vineyard site. Identifying great patches of land for growing wine grapes, and farming them well, will be the factor that limits the scale of South Africa's fine wine dimension.

9. We shouldn't forget about sweet wines. Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance is definitely one of South Africa's great wines. The straw wines from the Swartland are looking very exciting.

10. I think the fine wine dimension of South Africa will be driven by great wines, with an authentic story to them. I think the 'icon' wines - reeking of ego and pretense, in unfeasibly heavy bottles - are a cul de sac.



At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Keith Prothero said...

A very interesting summary and it is encouraging to read that real progress is being made since the last time you visited.
The future of Cape wine making is in great hands with the mostly young guys you mention and of course a not inconsiderable number of gals!!

At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Affieplaas said...

So glad you mentioned the "sweet" wines, as many a commentator brushes these aside. Pity, you didn't get to taste some stonkingly amazing Muscats and those elusive Cape Port-styled wines - made from Touriga, Tinta and the rest of the Portugeuse gang. Next time, you'll have to make it a fortnight's visit.

At 2:20 AM, Blogger Paulo Coelho Vaz said...

And what about the known South African Port wine? Itís a provocation off course. Donít answer if you donít see any need?

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Affieplaas said...

Vociferous is the word. Boet, get out of your comfort zone and try different things. Unfortunately, you're the kind of bloke that irks New World folk like me endlessly, as you're patronizing, self-righteous and undoubtedly have never tried the wines in question and will never make the effort to. I sure won't be thinking of plonkers like you boet, when sharing a KWV 1930 Red Muscadel and Boplaas 1980 Colheita (sorry, Boplaas Cape Tawny 1980) while watching a majestic African sunset atop the Piekenerskloof.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

affieplaas you are too personal

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

Seconded. You come across like an ignorant boor, drinking your obscure wines alone, a long way from anywhere. Boet.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Mambo said...

Affieplaas appears to have become intoxicated somewhere between 19H25and 07H25 - a Boplaas hangover no doubt.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's a "boet"?

At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Afrikaans for 'mate', in that weirdly threatening 'you better move your faahking car mate' way.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Kwispedoor said...

I wouldn't quite use "aimed at elegance rather than power" and Adam Mason in the same sentence.
I've tasted the new releases of his (Klein Constantia's)Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blend recently. Nice wines both, but I felt they were over-extracted and hot. Upon investigation, they both indicated 15% alcohol on the label (so they're probably between 15% and 15.5%). Completely unnecessary from such a cool area!
I fondly remember the wonderful 1986 and 1987 vintages that, even from young vines, were gorgeous @ around 13% alc.
Luckily, there's enough winemakers in SA not obsessed with over-ripeness that make gorgeous, balanced wines.

At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Adam Mason, Klein Constantia said...

Given that the focus of Jamie's visit to Klein Constantia was the vertical tasting of Vin de Constance, I decided not to show any of our other wines. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to taste our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Marlbrook red blend with Jamie, as I am the first to admit that their alcohol levels are on the high side. It is not as simple as saying that because we are a cool area it is not necessary to have high alcohols. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it is because we are a cool area (for South Africa yes, but warm by international viticultural standards) that the alcohols are high, because we pick on flavour (not an obsession with over ripeness)and aim at picking when we believe the green/unripe/vegetal characters have ripened sufficiently so as not to present themselves overwhelmingly in the finished wines. The unintended consequence of this riper spectrum of flavours is an alcohol content of 15,19% for the 2007 Cab and 15,02% for the 2007 Marlbrook. Like Kwispedoor, I look forward to future vintages of our reds with more moderate alcohols, but as this is essentially a vineyard related issue the progress is incremental and on an annual basis.
I admit to obsession. Obsession to make elegant, distinctive wines worthy of the name Constantia.


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