jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

South Africa's strong performance in the UK


Just got these latest stats through on the performance of South Africa in the UK market. Quite amazing really, especially seeing as South Africa has the handicap of significant vineyard area being wasted by means of being planted to Pinotage. [That last sentence was intended as a wind up.]
  • South African wine achieved the largest increase in UK market share during 2009 (10.4% of market to 12.3%, off-trade by volume)
  • South African category grew by 24% in value and 23% in volume for the same period
  • South Africa’s market share is now only 0.1% behind France, which is in decline
  • Exports to the UK were up 14% by volume, maintaining the UK’s position as the leading export market for the South African wine industry (so perhaps South African journalist Neil Pendock should cease his mean-spirited crusades against WOSA and UK journalists in general?), accounting for 32% of total global exports
  • Success from South Africa’s top brands helped to drive the category: FirstCape, Kumala, Arniston Bay, Two Oceans and KWV all grew significantly
  • But it's not just cheap wines doing well. There was an uplift of 15% by value above £5, a 27% increase above £7, and a 43% increase above £10

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dude, what have they done to your labels? Flagstone's disaster



Bruce Jack of Flagstone is one of my favourite South African winemakers. He's very smart, makes good wine and there's a lovely warmth to his character. You can't help but like him.

In October 2007 I reported how he'd (unexpectdely) sold his winery to drinks giant Constellation. Visiting him in November last year I found that the Flagstone wines were as good as ever, but the one deeply regrettable change that Constellation had made was in the packaging.

Jack's labels used to be wonderful (see picture above which shows some of them on the wall of the winery). Now they are hideously bad (see the bottle shot above). What's with the mock wax seal thing? And the signature on the Dark Horse (you may need to click on the picture to get a larger version)? It's not even his!

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Superb South African white: De Grendel Winifred


Very impressed with tonight's tipple, which is from Durbanville producer De Grendel. It's an unusual blend, but it works brilliantly.

De Grendel Winifred Viognier Semillon Chardonnay 2008 Durbanville, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Fantastic stuff: very fresh grapefruit and pear nose with some richer peachy notes. The palate has lovely herb, grapefruit and melon fruit with a hint of vanilla. Not at all fat or blowsy. Focused, with the Viognier (40% of the blend) dominant. 91/100 (£9.99 Oddbins)


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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Pendock: stirring up trouble on Pinotage

Slightly confused by a recent blog post by South African wine journalist Neil Pendock here. He quotes some comments I made (some time ago) on Pinotage.

Yes, I can understand how my hyperbolic, tongue-in-cheek remarks might have upset those who believe, like Pendock, that Pinotage is 'the national grape and the USP of South African wine'. But I don't see why he has to bring Wines of South Africa (WOSA) into it in the way he does.

Is he suggesting that WOSA should blacklist foreign press who are critical of Pinotage? Or that, if a journalist is hosted by WOSA, it is bad form, or impolite, for them to then be critical of any aspect of South African wine? [I'd have thought that WOSA is doing well if it reaches out to those members of the foreign press who are unconverted, or who are agnostic.]

Actually, I'm a friend of South African wine, as you'll see from the very positive coverage I've given to its top producers. But I disagree with Pendock about Pinotage.

I've had very good examples of Pinotage, but in terms of the South African wine industry moving forwards, Pinotage is not the USP he claims it to be. It should remain an important story in South African wine, but I think that the great examples of this variety are very few and far between. It's very difficult to make world class Pinotage.

South Africa's fine wine dimension is growing, and it's an exciting scene. But very few of the producers making world class wines are concentrating on Pinotage - most are avoiding it.

And as for the coffee-style Pinotages he refers to, they're an absurdity. Honestly.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Video: the spectacular Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, South Africa

One of the short films from my recent South Africa trip: the beautiful TMV, a biodynamically run estate in Tulbagh.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Video: L'Ormarins Estate, Antonij Rupert, Franschhoek, South Africa



Just uploaded a video from my visit to L'Ormarins, the home estate for Antonij Rupert Wines. Antonij Rupert is an incredibly ambitious project, based on four properties spread across the Cape. It's funded by the billionaire Rupert family, and while the best is yet to come, the wines are already impressive. The cellar here is one of the swankiest I've ever seen, with a revolving roof.

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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.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Day 5 in South Africa: Constantia, Cape Point and sheet rain

The final day of my South African itinerary was a really good one, only partially spoiled by some really awful weather. From lunchtime onwards, it poured with rain in true English fashion. This was pretty annoying, because we had left some time free in the afternoon for some R&R – specifically, we'd planned to go down to Boulders Beach to see the penguins. This was not to be.

The day started with a visit to Klein Constantia, where winemaker Adam Mason gave us a tour of their wonderfully scenic vineyards followed by a vertical tasting of the Vin de Constance, their remarkable sweet wine. It acknowledges the great sweet wines of hundreds of years ago coming from this region, which were among the most sought after in the world, but which went out of production. Klein Constantia revived them, and this tasting showed that it's a really serious wine that ages beautifully. The 1999 was my favourite of a very high quality line-up.

Our driver couldn't seem to find our next appointment – Eagles' Nest, a new Constantia producer. But eventually we did, and it was well worthwhile. They're making three wines: Merlot, Shiraz and Viognier, from some steep slopes on the side of the mountain. The Merlot is pure, refined and elegant, the Shiraz very old-world Syrah-style, with meat, pepper and vibrant fruit, and the Viognier is probably the best I've tasted from South Africa. One to watch.

Then, to the final appointment of the trip: Cape Point, with winemaker Duncan Savage (above). We tasted the wines over a really good lunch at the Food Barn, and I was very impressed. Duncan is known for making one of South Africa's top-rated Sauvignons, but he also does great Chardonnay and Semillon. He's currently shifting the focus of his Sauvignon away from the more methoxypyrazine style to one with more richness and depth, and he's stopping doing the Semillon because he wants to use this variety more as a blending component. These already wonderful wines will probably get even better. By the time we finished lunch the sheet rain had set in, so the visit to the beautiful Cape Point vineyard was a brief and damp one.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

More from South Africa: the day in pictures

Some pictures from a truly exciting day spent in Tulbagh, Paardeberg and Paarl.

Eben Sadie, who makes some of South Africa's very best red and white wines.

Bush-vine Carignan at Vonderling, Paardeberg

Flowering Cabernet Sauvignon, Vonderling

A Nomblot concrete egg next to a barrel, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (TMV)

Worm compost, TMV (and Rebecca the winegrower's hands)

The view at TMV

Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Mullineux wines, Riebecke, Swartland

Paul Nicholls of TMV with his bush-vine Mourvedre

La Capra, an exciting new brand from Charles Back's Fairview, Paarl

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Day 3 in South Africa - Franschoek, mostly

Had a great day today, even though for most of it the rain was lashing down in vast sheets. We began with another larger producer, continuing yesterday's theme: DGB, hosted at Boschendal. They have a range of brands, including Douglas Green, Bellingham, Franschoek Cellar, Boschendal and from 2010, Brampton will be all theirs. Highlight? The Bellingham Bernard Series wines, including (shock) an elegant, pure Pinotage. Pictured are winemakers Thinus and Lizelle.

Then it was off to lunch with Mark Kent of Boekenhoutskloof and Gottfried Mocka of Chamonix, at the wonderful Reubens. Mark and Gottfried's wines are all world class. I knew Mark's wines were great, but I'd not tried Chamonix for ages, and was utterly blown away. Highlights: Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2008 and Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2007. But all the wines were great.


Next? Off to Antonij Rupert, where a serious vineyard replanting program is taking place, and this grand, lavish property is looking to plant higher up the side of the mountain. The cellar here is remarkable, with a revolving roof and all the winemaking toys you could wish for. Highlight? The A Rupert Cabernet Franc 2005, which is utterly spellbinding in its refinement and character. Only 10 barrels made, though, and it will cost you a bit.

While we were there we also tried the wines from Rupert & Rothschild, which are very successful, stylish and European in their flavour profile. And also La Motte's wines, which are really good (and great value for money), with the highlight being the 2007 Shiraz Viognier, which is beautifully poised, smooth, fresh and elegant.

Tonight we're off to dinner with Mike Ratcliffe. But fellow journo Christian Davis has gone home, and we'll miss him.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Off to South Africa

I'm off soon (50 minutes) to South Africa for a five-day trip. It's the first time I've been since December 2005, when I tagged on a three day wine segment on the back of a scientific conference - those were the days when I had to juggle wine writing with a full time job.

It was a very enjoyable trip, written up in anorak-like detail elsewhere on this site. I'm hoping that this week's visit will be an eye-opener, and that I'll get a glimpse into South Africa's emerging fine wine dimension.

I'm particularly looking forward to a day in Swartland with the likes of Eben Sadie and Chris Mullineux.

The trip starts all geeky. When I arrive tomorrow after an overnight flight, I'll be meeting some scientists at Stellenbosch University. That's the way I like it.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 7

Another great Syrah. Now this isn't cheap, but it's great value for what is certainly one of South Africa's top 5 examples of this grape. Buy, buy, buy!

Mullineux Syrah 2008 Swartland, South Africa
A brilliant first vintage from Chris Mullineux. This has a profound nose of sweet dark fruits which provide a backdrop to the meaty, dark olive, spice and black pepper notes. There are real hints of the northern Rhône here, but with a bit more richness. The palate is sweetly fruited and rich with depth and power, showing notes of blackberry, spice, olives and herbs. Quite meaty with a lushness alongside the savoury intensity. Youthful and complex. 93/100 (£16.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 5

Latest installment in my selection of great value Shiraz, here's another South African.

Zalze Shiraz Mourvèdre Viognier 2008 Western Cape
14.5% alcohol. Great value here. Rich, smooth, pure dark fruits with a lovely meaty, slightly peppery edge. Good focus and bright acidity supporting the bright fruit, with sweetness as well as a more savoury dimension, too. The Viognier seems to add a floral, slightly peachy/fruity appeal to the nose without making it taste confected. A really successful wine of great appeal, and worth at least £2 more then the retail price. (£5.99 Waitrose)

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Video: two superb Syrahs: South Africa and New Zealand

A video of me tasting two utterly brilliant Syrahs: Mullineux 2008 (Swartland, South Africa) and Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2007 (Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand). I really liked these wines.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

South Africa: Platter 5 star wines 2010


These are the 41 wines that have received 5 stars in the 2010 Platter guide, which is the industry standard guide to South African wines. Comments are welcomed on these results:

White Wine of the Year
Sadie Family Palladius 2008

Red Wine of the Year
Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005

Sauvignon Blanc
Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Unfiltered 2009
Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Tokara Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Woolworths Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release 2009
Cape Point Vineyards CWG Auction Reserve Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2008

White blends – Bordeaux style
Woolworths Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon Reserve 2009
Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2008
The Berrio Wines Weather Girl 2008
Vergelegen White 2008

Chenin Blanc
Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2008

White Blends
Nederburg Ingenuity White 2008
Rall 2008
Sadie Family Palladius 2008
Woolworths Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards Spectrum White Limited Release 2008

Chardonnay
Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008
Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2008
Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2008

Pinot Noir
Newton Johnson Domaine Pinot Noir 2008
Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2008

Grenache
Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Grenache 2007

Pinotage
Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2007

Red Blends
Sadie Family Columella 2007
Spier Frans K. Smit 2005

Shiraz
Dunstone Shiraz 2008
Haskell Vineyards Pillars Shiraz 2007
Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah 2007
Saxenburg Shiraz Select Limited Release 2005

Red Blends – Bordeaux Style
De Trafford CWG Auction Reserve Perspective 2006
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2006
Morgenster Estate Morgenster 2006
Stony Brook Ghost Gum 2006
Woolworths Jordan Cobblers Hill Classic 2005

Cabernet Sauvignon
Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005

Port
Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve Port 2007
De Krans Cape Tawny Port NV
Boplaas Cape Tawny Port 1997

Unfortified Dessert Wine
Buitenverwachting 1769 2007
Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2008
Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Noble Late Harvest 2008
Mullineux Family Straw Wine 2008

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great value Shiraz, part 1


Just wanted to share a few recent, highly positive experiences with inexpensive Syrah, beginning with this little beauty from Boekenhoutskloof's Marc Kent.

It's the Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2008, from South Africa (Waitrose, £6.99). Quite simply, this is the best example of this grape available anywhere at this price in the UK. It's ripe and sweet, but it has a lovely savoury, meaty dimension to it. In some ways, it's a fusion of the old world (meaty, savoury, floral aromatics) with the new (bold, sweet, ripe and mouthfilling). I really like it. You owe it to yourself to go and buy a bottle and give it a try.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Video: tasting three great Syrahs from South Africa

Here's a clip of me tasting three rather good Syrah/Shiraz wines from South Africa. I've had half a dozen over the last week, and they've all exceeded my expectations. Less of the South African character, more purity to the fruit, and some personality, too.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Delicious SA Sauvignon at a good price

I've been slightly concerned by the direction that South African Sauvignon Blanc seems to have taken of late. The emphasis has been shifted towards methoxypyrazines - the grape-derived compounds that give that grassy, green pepper character. Now these can be positive in small doses, but when they're the main flavour signature, it's a bit yukky.

Here's a brilliantly balanced SA Sauvignon, that's also great value for money. It's from Warwick, who call themselves 'Warwick Estate' on the label where the grapes are estate grown, but here are just 'Warwick', presumably because the grapes are not all from the property: in South Africa, the term estate has a specific meaning.

Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a delicious, well balanced Sauvignon showing a mix of ripe, melony, peachy fruit with crisper herby, grassy, grapefruity notes. The overall effect is a wine that manages to be ripe and rich, yet fresh and crisp at the same time. Very stylishly done: one of the very best Cape Sauvignons around, and from far the most expensive. At the offer price, it's a total bargain. 89/100 (£8.99 Waitrose, currently on offer at £6.79)

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two top South African reds

I've neglected South Africa of late. I'm sorry. It's just that in so many of their red wines I get this South African signature that I don't really like: it's a sort of earthy, green, slightly bitter character that gets in the way of the fruit. These are warm-climate wines, yet they don't have the sweetness and purity of fruit you might expect from warm-climate wines. I got the South African character in the Warwick on the first day, but by the second it had pretty much disappeared to reveal lovely pure fruit. Perhaps it's a reduction issue, in part? Anyway, these are two pretty good wines that I enjoyed drinking, from two of the country's leading producers.

Warwick The First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Attractive dark, gravelly blackcurrant fruit backed up by earthy, minerally notes. On the first day this has the fruit obscured by a green, earthy, slightly bitter character that is often encountered in South African reds, but the following day the fruit is much purer with sweet berry and blackcurrant notes. Finishes earthy. Tasty wine. 88/100 (UK agent Louis Latour)

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Stellenbosch, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. Lovely dark blackcurrant fruit dominates, with meaty, savoury, earthy notes. There’s also some cedary woodiness, too. There’s an interesting tension here between the sweet, open fruit and the more savoury, minerally, earthy notes. Finishes dry and spicy. A sophisticated wine. 90/100 (£13.99 Majestic, SWIG, The Vineking, Hailsham Cellars, SA Wines Online)

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another remarkable day

It has been another busy day. I am lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world.

I began with coffee with Andre Van Rensburg of South African super-estate Vergelegen (pictured above). Andre is a wine journalist's dream. He's talkative, controversial, direct - and smart and well informed with it. Our discussion was wide ranging, taking in subjects as diverse as leaf roll virus/mealybug, the over-emphasis of methoxypyrazines in Sauvignon Blanc and the concept of icon wines.

Then it was off to the Sainsbury's press tasting. Two stand-out wines that you must buy are the 2007 Taste The Difference Cotes du Rhone, which is £5.99 but tastes better than wines twice the price, and the 'Limited Release' McLaren Vale Shiraz 2008 which was sourced from Phil Sexton's Innocent Bystander operation, has a splash of Viognier and 15% Victorian Shiraz in it, and has beautiful concentration and texture. It will be on the shelf at £8.99 (good value at this price) but then discounted to £5.99 (which makes it absurdly cheap).

Next up, the 2007 Vintage Port preview at Somerset House (pictured). I hadn't read my invitation properly, so I was delighted when I got there to find out that the Ports from 2000 and 2003 were also being shown. Included were the Symington/Fladgate Partnership/Noval Ports. I set about the older vintages like a kid in a sweet shop ('candy store' for Americans). I love the 2000 vintage, and love the 2003 vintage perhaps a little more. The good news is that the 2007 vintage is fantastic: perhaps more on the fruit-driven style, but the aromatics and intensity on some of these wines was stunning. Dow, Graham, Noval, Silval and Romaneira were my picks from 2007. For 2003, Fonseca, Graham, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and Warre were all stunning. For 2000, Fonseca, Noval, Taylor, Vesuvio and (surprise) Smith Woodhouse were my top picks.

Then it was off to Bibendum, for a tasting of 31 Pinot Noirs from Oregon, 2007 vintage. It was a blind tasting for Tim Marson's MW dissertation, looking at whether the various Willamette AVAs are recognizable blind across a range of producers. This was a vintage spoiled a bit by harvest rain - and, interestingly, some of the wines were showing some rot/geosmin characters to the extent that I'd dismiss them as faulty.
Tonight I've played football, and tomorrow it's day 2 of the test match at Lords.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Wine, episode 3: The Future

Tonight I caught the third episode of BBC4's series on Wine. It was set in South Africa, and followed the fortunes of two producers trying to make it in the UK wine market. I quote from the publicity blurb:

Oupa Rangaka and Mark Solms are two unlikely wine producers. Six years ago, Oupa, a retired philosophy professor, didn't even drink wine, let alone make it.
Today he and his family, including three-year-old grandson Kwena, are the only
black people to own a vineyard in South Africa. Its survival depends on their ongoing relationship with Marks and Spencer and convincing the judges at London's International Wine Challenge that their pinotage passes muster. Mark is a world-renowned neuroscientist who inherited the family business, and is struggling to reconcile his idealistic plans for the farm with the practical realities of post-apartheid South Africa. He worries that the harvest festival he is organising may degenerate into an orgy of violence and drunkenness. Via the struggles of these two remarkable men, wine becomes a prism through which to view the current state of the Rainbow Nation.
It was a really well-constructed programme, tackling some tricky issues in an intelligent way. I particularly liked the focus on the International Wine Challenge, including a three-second shot of me sniffing and slurping! Pictured above is the film crew in attendance at the challenge, following the course of these South African wines.
You can catch it if you missed it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00j0g7v

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Full-on crazy Chenin

I really like this wine, but subtle it ain't. It's a full-on, barmily intense Chenin that has plenty to offer, and I think it's great. It's from Bellingham, a South African producer that seems to have really upped its game of late, making commercial but delicious wines.

Bellingham 'The Bernard Series' Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2007 Coastal Region, South Africa
40 year old bush vine Chenin fermented in barrel. Remarkable stuff that will revive even the most tired taste buds. Wildly aromatic nose of peaches, cream, spice and herbs - warm and lively. The palate has an amazing concentration of rich, sweet peachy, figgy fruit with lemony freshness and spicy vanilla oak notes. There's also a hint of cheesy Chenin funk, and the texture is rich and mouthfilling. 91/100 (£8.99 Majestic)

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Serious Saffie Sauvignon and a top Champagne

Two very impressive wines today, a relaxed family Boxing Day. First, a remarkable South African Sauvignon Blanc. Second, a lovely Champagne.

Kumkani Lamner Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Groenekloof, South Africa
This is amazing stuff. Weighing in at 14.5% alcohol and with immense concentration, it's a serious Sauvignon from a vineyard whose climate is moderated by the fact that it's just 7 kms from the Atlantic ocean. It has a powerful green grassy, herbal nose with green peppery notes. On the palate there's tropical fruit/passion fruit richness balanced nicely by the powerful grassy methoxypyrazine character. Not at all subtle, but a serious, striking wine. 92/100 (£11.99 Majestic, £9.99 each if you buy two)

Mumm de Cramant Grand Cru Champagne Brut Chardonnay
12% alcohol. This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is beautifully precise with crisp lemont fruit and nice herb and apple complexity. It's concentrated and intense with lovely fruit expression. Quite dry and savoury - this has a lower dosage (sugar addition) than is normal for Brut Champagne. A brilliant effort. 93/100 (£43.99 Thresher, Harrods, Ocado)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

No-sulfur added Cabernet Sauvignon, mini-vertical

Regular readers will know that I take a keen interest in 'natural' wines: those with as little added as possible. Normally these are niche wines, available only from speciality retailers. But in February Sainsbury listed a commercial no-sulfur-dioxide-added wine (see my report here), and it was really good. Here, I retaste that wine to see how it has shaped up, as well as the latest release, the 2008. Both are tasting really good, and represent brilliant value for money at around a fiver.

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. Vibrant, aromatic, juicy and ripe, with sweet blackcurrant and berry fruit. This is fresh and vibrant with lovely purity. An utterly delicious inexpensive, fruit-forward red with a bit of spicy bite on the finish. Considering no sulfur dioxide has been used, it’s incredible that it’s holding up so well. Dudley the winemaker knows what he’s doing. 88/100

Sainsbury’s So Organic South African Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Western Capw, South Africa
14% alcohol. Made without any added sulfur dioxide by Stellar Winery; sealed with a tin-lined screwcap. A really vivid, vibrant forward wine that tastes like a barrel sample. It’s that fresh! It’s bold, blackcurranty and intense with lovely density and the sweet, forward, aromatic fruit balanced by lovely crunchy, spicy tannic structure. It’s just delicious with a grippy, crunchy mouthfeel that works really well with the sweet blackcurrant fruit. I’m really impressed. 89/100

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Football and South Africa's Cloudy Bay

Played football again tonight. I've been playing regularly again for the best part of two months now, and I really like it. It's a group of dads from my younger son's school, with a few ringers thrown in. The standard is pretty good (if you're c. 40 and prepared to risk stiffness for a few days afterwards, you have to have some commitment to the game), and it's great fun, as well as doing some good for us.

On the subject of football, younger son, who has never shown much interest in sport (he's more into wrestling, dancing, hip hop and AC/DC) has been playing for his school 'B' team, as captain. I went to see him play this afternoon, and he did really well. He's tall, skinny, athletic and committed, and while he's only just developing real awareness of tactics and position, he had a really good game. I was proud to watch him.

So, to tonight's wine. It's Spier Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa. This is as dramatic as Cloudy Bay was when it was first released: bold, aromatic, almost overpowering in its intensity, with rich tropical fruits, plus fresh grassiness, some chalky minerality and hints of smoke and spice. Concentrated and richly textured, yet fresh at the same time. It's a full-on style with real interest, and much better than I was expecting it to be. 91/100 (£13.99 Morrisons)

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Top SA Sauvignon and a classic Barossa red

Two wines from a batch of samples sent by Enotria. The first - a really impressive SA Sauvignon. Nice to see this, because most SA Sauvignons I've tried of late have shown overpowering methoxypyrazine character (green pepper/vegetal/chalky). The second - a traditionally styled Barossa red, with rather obvious but tasty ripe fruit and American oak characters.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elgin
A really fine, elegant South African Sauvignon. It has a very pure, minerally nose with delicate, subtly herbal, gently grassy fruit. The palate is really pure and minerally with some savoury, cut pepper notes, but also a bit of lemony fruit. It’s quite subtle but full flavoured, and would be great with a wide range of different foods, especially a really fresh, simply prepared grilled sea bass. This is one of the best South African Sauvignons I’ve yet tried. 90/100 (£9.99 Waitrose)

Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red 2005 Barossa, Australia
A traditional-styled Aussie blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot, this is great fun. It shows sweet, ripe, tarry, slightly minty, spicy raspberry, blackberry and blackcurrant fruit which carry over to the palate, which is rich, sweet, mouthfilling and really spicy, with some sweet vanilla oak. The classic Barossa blend of super-sweet fruit and American oak works well. It’s not a subtle wine, but it’s honest and delicious if you are in the mood for it. 88/100 (£7.99 Tesco, Waitrose)

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Burnt Rubber: the great South African wine debate



Here's a film from an event held yesterday titled 'The Great Cape Wine Debate'. It involved a group of UK journalists and a select band of South African winemakers to discuss several current topics, focusing in particular on the 'Burnt Rubber' issue. The debate was organized by South African specialist Richard Kelley MW (of importer Richards Walford), and he gathered a stellar line-up of winemakers:

  • Marc Kent (Boekenhoutskloof)
  • Roelf & Michelle du Preez (Bon Cap)
  • Gottfried Mocke (Cape Chamonix)
  • Bruce Jack (Constellation)
  • Chris Williams (Meerlust/The Foundry)
  • Niels Verburg (Luddite)
  • Carl van der Merwe (Quoin Rock)
  • Eben Sadie (Sadie Family Wines)
  • Callie Louw (TMV)
  • Mike Ratcliffe (Warwick and Vilafonte)

So what is the 'Burnt Rubber' issue? In brief, it's the off flavour/aroma that many people have been noticing in South African red wines. Critics, largely in the UK, have been pointing out that too many South African reds show a rather off-putting burnt rubber character that immediately marks them as South African. In response, Jo Mason of Wines of South Africa got together a group of these critical journalists and presented them with a number of South African reds (as well as a few ringers) blind. They reached more-or-less a consensus on which reds showed the burnt rubber character, and these were sent to wine science researchers in South Africa for analysis to see if any offending characters could be identified.

The 20-minute video covers the discussion between the journalists and winemakers. It's evidently a sensitive topic- and a controversial one. It should be pointed out that this group represents some of South Africa's top winemaking talent, and their wines (which we tasted) don't show any hints of burnt rubber. As such, it's a little unfair to be putting them under the spotlight like this.

You can read more about this issue in the following pieces:

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Vilafonte: the C and the M

Two wines tasted tonight. It's the 'C' and 'M' pair from high-end South African venture Vilafonte. This is a joint project between Mike Ratcliffe, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, aimed partly (I suspect) at the US market, which so far has been quite resistant to South African wine.

You can read more about the project at Vilafonte's excellent website, which also includes some video content. To supplement my tasting notes here, I'm also embedding into this post Zelma's own tasting comments on the two wines (she's in charge of winemaking at Vilafonte).

I think the wines are very good, and will likely age well. But at the prices they command (ranging from £25 at agwines.com to £28 at winedirect.co.uk to £43 at Handford), I have to be honest and say that I have some slight misgivings about the lack of fruit purity they are currently showing at this early stage in their evolution. I'd have expected young wines like these to be much more fruit-forward and linear in their early life; instead, these are both showing quite a few secondary spicy, earthy and even subtly medicinal notes. I hope that I will be proved wrong and that in a decade's time they will have evolved into something beautiful and complex. Currently, they leave me a little confused.





Vilafonte series m 2005 Paarl, South Africa
A blend of 52% Merlot, 17% Malbec and 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, weighing in at 14.5% alcohol. This has a dark fruits nose with a smooth, spicy, earthy edge and some hints of medicine and old libraries. The palate is earthy with smooth tannins and a long savoury finish. This is an interesting wine: it's not about primary fruit, but rather spicy and earthy notes dominate. Quite stylish with good ageing potential. 89/100

Vilafonte series c 2005 Paarl, South Africa
66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot and 6% Malbec. This is the more structured and dense of the Vilafonte wines, and I prefer it. The sophisticated, complex nose shows blackcurrant fruit with a herby, spicy, earthy sort of personality. The palate is strongly savoury with spice, earth and medicinal hints to the dense, structured fruit. A bold, savoury, tannic wine with a good future ahead of it. 91/100

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

An excellent Syrah from South Africa

Julien Schaal is a young winemaker from Alsace who also makes wine in South Africa. His home in the Cape is the Newton Johnson winery in Hermanus, but the grapes for this excellent Syrah come from Elgin, a cool-climate area not all that far away. It's really one of the best Syrahs I've tried from South Africa - perhaps not quite up to the Foundry, TMV or Columella level, but not far off. I picked it up today at Handford Wines on the Old Brompton Road, where it was recommended to me by Greg Sherwood MW. Handford are doing good work: they've got a really good selection of wines in at the moment. I was impressed.

Julien Schaal 'African Dream' Syrah 2005 Western Cape, South Africa
From a vineyard in Elgin, this is made by a French winemaker and matured in 900 litre French oak barrels, and it's really good. The nose is sweet and ripe with dark cherry and blackberry fruit framed by a subtly roasted, spicy character, as well as a bit of meatiness. The palate combines lush fruit with spicy definition, as well as bright acidity. It's very ripe, but minerally and fresh with it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it Rhone-like, as some has done. It's more like an elegant take on Barossa Valley. Finishes fresh. Great value for money, this. 91/100 (£9.99 Handford Wines)

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More on the coffee pinotage, and Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie


A few days ago I blogged, slightly tongue-in-cheek, about Pinotage and Diemersfontein's remarkable coffee-n'-chocolate example (although, of course, I was serious when I said Pinotage sucks and anyone who likes it lacks a decent palate).

Well here's some more information on it, gleaned from a number of sources, including Peter May's excellent site here, Grape here, and Wine here.

The winemaker at Diemersfontein who 'invented' this coffee and chocolate style was Bertus Fourie, who, because of his work, is widely known as Bertus 'Starbucks' Fourie. He was hired by KWV in 2005 to create their Cafe Culture Pinotage, and then left KWV in May this year for a boutique venture called Val de Vie (read more here).

According to Grape, the owners of Diemersfontein were not pleased that he left taking his 'recipe' with him (see here). They even went as far as initiating legal action. So what is this recipe?

The fruit is ripe, without much greenness. The destemmed grapes are hand sorted to remove any green material. But the key aspect is the wood, which in this case consists of staves in tanks. I'm guessing that there is something about the wood - perhaps the toasting process - that is causing those distinctive coffee/chocolate flavours, rather than the vanilla/coconut lactones that normally come from oak.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A crazy Pinotage and two from Waitrose

I can't help, when it comes to Pinotage, descending to a level of criticism that I object to when I see it from others, if you know what I mean. I become dogmatic and opinionated.

Normally, I reckon I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I embrace diversity. Live and let live; see the best in everything; every cloud has a silver lining; everyone deserves a second chance.

But Pinotage is vile. In fact, I've thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World's Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it's OK, they're sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.

Anyway, I think I have found a potential winner for my competition. It's the Diemersfontein Pinotage 2007 Wellington, South Africa. The back label reads:
'This is the one! The original coffee/chocolate Pinotage now in its seventh great vintage. It befriends - it converts - it seduces'

You know, Diemersfontein have sussed Pinotage. The way to make it work is to mask the flavours of the grape. This wine really does smell of coffee and chocolate, and it is seductive. There's a hint of roast bacon here, as well. The fruit is sweet, and it's actually quite delicious, in a rather strange, slightly weird way. This is available in the UK from Asda, and it's probably my favourite expression of Pinotage.

Also tasted tonight, with a barbecue after watching elder son play cricket (golden duck this time, alas, and after we'd spent ages in the nets trying to work on some sort of defensive strategy), a couple from Waitrose which go well with this balmy summer's evening. They're from the Waitrose own-label range, which are sort of hybrid 'in partnership with' wines.

The first is a beautifully balanced, rich Sauvignon from Villa Maria (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007) that's really delicious. The second is a Barossa Shiraz 2006 Reserve from St Hallett, which is smooth and pure with nice texture and a hint of vanilla and chocolate. It's suave and stylish, if a little primary.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Masters: a top South African wine to accompany it

I know golf is hideously uncool, but I like it. Each year, I watch the Augusta Masters, which is the first major tournament in the calendar, and because of the time difference is pretty convenient for evening viewing over here in the UK, glass in hand.

Even though we've had a family bash here for the last few days, I've managed to see most of the BBC coverage. Tonight it's the final round, and in honour of the third round leader I'm going to be drinking a South African wine - Meerlusts 2003 Rubicon. It's really good stuff. Earlier on I took elder son down to the golf range. He hits the ball really well - I'm hoping that he'll be my ticket to lots of rounds of golf in the next few years, without the guilt of abandoning the family!

Meerlust Rubicon 2003 Stellenbosch, South Africa
A South African classic that lives up to its reputation. In past vintages I've found Rubicon perhaps a little hard and angular, but today the 2003 is showing beautifully, with sweet, elegant fruit. The nose is ripe, sweet, mineralic and cedary, with a subtle gravelly edge to the ripe red and black fruits. There's some soft earthiness here, too. The palate has a lovely combination of sweet fruit with minerally earthiness, in quite a Bordeaux-like mould, but perhaps without the sternness that classic Bordeaux can show in its youth. It's a fantastic wine in quite a traditional style, which is drinking well now but which will age well. 93/100

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Sainsbury's stock a £4.99 'no added sulphites' wine

I've just had a news piece published on the Decanter.com website about a really interesting wine that's hitting the shelves at UK supermarket Sainsbury next month. Priced at £4.99, it's an organic Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa, made by Stellar Organics. You can read all about it in the Decanter article, but I thought I'd add some comments here, and a brief tasting note.

First, it's really difficult to make wine without adding sulphur dioxide at all. Few winemakers try, because the risks are so great. And those that do tend to be 'natural winemakers' who make niche wines in relatively small quantities. It's truly remarkable to see a £4.99 wine on supermarket shelves made without any sulphite additions.

Second, what is the benefit? It's unlikely that even asthmatics will have problems with the relatively low levels of sulphur dioxide added to today's wines, so I don't think we can talk about any real health benefits. So could there be a flavour/aroma benefit? Are wines without sulphur dioxide additions somehow purer and more elegant? Perhaps. I've had some that are; I've had others that are bretty or just plain weird.

This wine is really good, though. It's dark and intense with lovely purity of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There's a real aromatic precision here, and an openness to the flavours - is this due to the absence of added sulphur dioxide? It's hard to say. At this price point, £4.99, it's a wine that's punching well above its weight. I think it's quite delicious. I don't think you'd want to cellar it for too long, but for current consumption, it's lovely. As well as being organic, it's also a Fairtrade wine.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blind tasting at home, and a bretty Rioja

As I've mentioned here before, I often do blind tastings at home where I let Fiona select at random from the sample rack and then present me a few wines double-blind. It's a really useful educational experience, although you could argue it's not truly double-blind, because I have some idea of what wines are sitting there (usually around 250 different bottles).

Tonight's two are detailed below. I'm reproducing the notes I made as they were made, and then adding some brief comments made after the wine was revealed.

Wine 1. White. Fresh, spritzy and vibrant. A youthful white with zippy acidity and a spritz. Light, dry and a bit mineralic. There's a touch of herbaceous methoxypyrazine character. I think it's a youthful warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. Price guessing: £5. [It's the Flagstone 'The Berrio' Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Elim, South Africa. Tasting it sighted, I think I was a bit unfair calling this a £5 wine, or is this just the sight of the label speaking? It's quite refined and very refreshing, but there's a strong cool-climate feel here: it reminds me a bit of some of the Leyda Sauvignons I tried in Chile.]

Wine 2. Very deep coloured red/black. Rich, dark fruit here: quite weighty with a tarry edge to the dark fruits, together with just a hint of rubberiness. It's ripe and powerful, with black fruits showing some evolution. There's some oak and a hint of mint. Tastes quite expensive, and it has some evolution. It doesn't taste Australian, but it's new world. Chilean? I reckon a high-end Chilean Cabernet-based wine. Price £15. It's quite attractive; almost Bordeaux like in places. [It's the Santa Rita Triple C 1999 Maipo, Chile. Tasting it sighted, a bit later, this does have a lovely evolved aromatic presence that has a bit of a minerally, gravelly, tarry Bordeaux finesse. The palate is nice but doesn't quite match that - there's a hint of bitterness on the finish. Interestingly, this is more than half Cabernet Franc. It's quite a serious effort, actually. I'm pleasantly surprised.]

Interestingly, the Faustino VII Rioja Semi Crianza 2005 Spain (£5.99 Co-op) I opened earlier is remarkable, in that it's a widely available commercial brand, but it's stuffed full of (what my palate takes to be) Brettanomyces. It's worth trying if you haven't experienced a bretty wine before, I reckon.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two from Meerlust

Switching the focus of this blog away from Chile to South Africa - perhaps its closest competitor in the UK marketplace - I'm drinking two rather good wines tonight from the same producer. They share a family resemblance.

Meerlust Merlot 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is quite an elegant red, even though it has a bit of a traditional feel to it. The nose is distinctly spicy, with the sort of greenness that manifests as a rich, minerally, gravelly quality, and meshes well with the warm, ripe red fruits. The palate has some tannic structure and a bit of a drying finish, but there's enough flesh here to make the whole experience a pleasant, rather seamless one. I hope this all doesn't sound a bit off-putting, because this is actually a really well balanced, concentrated, complex red wine, albeit in quite a traditional style where fruit isn't the dominant feature. Because it's seen quite a bit of oxygen during its elevage, it should age well for a decade or more. 90/100 (£17.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely aromatic nose is old fashioned South African in style, but not rustic. It has smooth cedary, gravelly, spicy notes combining with warm red/black fruits. It's not too fruity, and there's a bit of smoke and tar. The palate is warm and spicy with some earthy notes. Well balanced, this works really well. Not a fruit-driven wine, but there is some blackcurranty richness. Structure for development here: this could happily be cellared for a decade. 91/100 (£18.99, imported by MMD Ltd)

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Interesting South African Pinot Blanc

I don't think I've ever had a Pinot Blanc from South Africa before, but this is a really good one. It's from pioneering winery Flagstone's BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) project Ses'fikile (see more here and here).

Ses'fikile Folklore Pinot Blanc 2007 Western Cape, South Africa
This is a really interesting white wine made from underrated variety Pinot Blanc, with a little Sauvignon blended in, too. It has a fruity, bright yet creamy nose. The palate is soft with lovely texture and a smooth creamy richness to the pear and white peach fruit. It's broad, moderately aromatic and delicious - quite unlike any south African white I've tasted before. 90/100 (£8 Marks & Spencer)

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The new Platter Guide and two South Africans

The new Platter Guide is out - the 2008 version. For those unfamiliar with this title, it's the pretty comprehensive annual guide to South African wines. It's a densely packed, information-rich tome that is a must-buy for any wine nuts with a strong interest in South African wines. It's not perfect, but it's hard to see how it could be much better.

In honour of its arrival, I opened two rather different South African reds, and then checked their entries in the Platter Guide.

Kloovenberg Shiraz 2005 Swartland, South Africa
At 15% alcohol, this is not a shy wine. While it's not aromatically overpowering, showing sweet lush fruit with a bit of a peppery, earthy edge, as well as a bit of meaty, olive-like character, the palate is full and sweetly fruited, with plummy bitterness allied with high alcohol on the finish. Despite the high alcohol, though, this isn't a wine made in an over-the-top dead fruit and new oak style. It's tilting towards fresh fruit and elegance, and I suspect that the heat is a result of a hot vintage. So judgement reserved a bit: I like it, but wish it had a bit more definition and lower alcohol. 87/100 (UK availability: Laithwaites)

Platter says: 4.5 stars (out of 5) - Northern Rhone-style red lacks some of the sophistication and harmony of previous wines in big 2005 (****) vintage. Very ripe and feshy, yet silky, with black olive notes, fynbos hints and fine tannins. Alcohol (15%) still a little disjointed. 2004 was elegant and seamless. [My comment - they seem to have nailed this one, although the scores are quite generous]

Rickety Bridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Franschoek, South Africa
A deep coloured wine that's spent a while in oak, this has a distinctly savoury, slightly medicinal old fashioned (but not unappealing) nose. It's meaty, slightly resinous, spicy and shows sweet dark fruits. The palate is concentrated and dense with prominent earthy, medicinal, spicy, tarry notes. Quite challenging and one for food. I'm not sure whether I really enjoy this old fashioned South African style very much. 82/100

Platter says: 3.5 stars - Harmonious 2002, more savoury, less overt berry character than previous, but food friendly, 30 months French oak, 25% new. [My comment - they haven't tried the 2003, but the fact that this spends so long in oak could explain its rather rustic, medicinal nature.]

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two stunning whites: South Africa and Spain

Thanks for all the comments on the first video blog. Really useful feedback - and for free! I appreciate it.

Now tonight, two stunning white wines in rather different styles. Actually, these wines are almost (but not quite) polar opposites. Both really good, but really different. Which is one of the reasons I think the notion of a 'best' wine is a bit silly. It depends on the intended use or context.

The FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is perhaps South Africa’s finest expression of Chenin blanc. It’s a big old wine with a mighty flavour impact, and comes mainly from low-yielding old bush vines planted in 1967, which is my vintage. Harvested at full maturity, the grapes are treated to a wild-yeast fermentation in new French oak 400 litre barrels, using late harvested botrytised Chenin as a blending wine. Maturation on the lees ensues, with a total of 10 months in the barrel. 9.7 g/litre residual sugar. This is powerful, viscous and concentrated, with sweet vanilla, herb, honey and spice notes. It’s very broad and attractive with an almost sweet tropical fruit quality and some warm, sweet creamy depth. Not really in a Loire style, but really intense and interesting. 93/100 (Tesco, Waitrose, Great Western Wine £16.95)

Terras Gauda Albariño 2006 O Rosal, Rias Baixas
This is utterly brilliant. It has a beautifully precise aromatic nose with perfumed, slightly herby, ripe melon and lemony fruit. The palate is deliciously fresh with light, subtly grapefruity citrussy fruit along with some richer ripe melon notes. Great balance here to create a thrilling white wine that’s a perfect match for seafood dishes. 93/100 (Les Caves de Pyrene)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

South African star with no added sulphur

I'm very excited by this wine. It's an inexpensive South African Cabernet Sauvignon but it is made without any added sulfur dioxide (the 'f' as opposed to the 'ph' spelling is the one now officially used by scientists worldwide, as per IUPAC guidelines - sorry about this boring aside). As you probably know, sulfur dioxide is the chemical almost universally added to wine to prevent the effects of oxidation and to deter unwanted microbrial growth.

Very few producers attempt to make wines without any added sulfur dioxide at all. There are a slightly larger group who don't use any during the winemaking process but add some at bottling. But, given the utility of sulfur dioxide, what is the motivation for doing without it? First, some people have a desire to make wine with no additions whatsoever, because they are committed to their vision of natural wines. Second, some people think that wines with no sulfur added have an aromatic purity and elegance that is worth taking a huge risk for.

I've had mixed experiences with no-sulfur added wines, but enough good ones that keep me pursuing this topic with interest. Yes, I know it's madness to try to make commercial wines without sulfur additions, but I admire people who try. And in this case, the wine is utterly fantastic - much, much more interesting and arguably better than any South African wine at this price point that I've so far tasted.

Stellar Organics Cabernet Sauvignon No Added Sulphur 2006 Western Cape
Made from organically grown grapes, with no added sulfur dioxide. A fantastic deep red/black colour, this looks like a barrel sample. It has a wonderfully perfumed, seductive nose of pure sweet blackcurrant fruit with an earthy edge and some gravelly minerally notes in the background. The palate is concentrated and quite lush, but underneath the sweet dark fruit lies a complex earthy core with a very subtle spicy green herby note adding an extra dimension. Despite the fact that this is quite a big wine, there's a lovely elegance here, and a delicious textural richness. I reckon you need to drink this gorgeously forward wine in the first flush of its youth: I suspect it will taste a bit tired and go all earthy by this time next year. 90/100 (£6.50 Vintage Roots, on offer a £5.95 until 11 January 2008)

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three Rieslings: Chile, South Africa and Germany

Riesling rocks, even though it's the grape that we in the wine trade have to like. By this, I mean it carries a moral premium and gets talked up perhaps more than it should, because there's this groundswell of opinion that Riesling is the greatest grape variety, such that to suggest otherwise makes you feel like a heretic.

Tonight I'm trying three rather different Rieslings. First, an inexpensive Mosel Riesling, and then two Rieslings from new world countries not normally associated with this variety: Chile and South Africa. Both are quite interesting, made in very different styles, and, at £7.99, relatively affordable. I wouldn't say these wines were quite yet ready to compete with the best from Germany, Austria and Alsace - they are more works in progress. But it is encouraging to see what strides are being made with this variety in the new world.

Morrison's The Best German Riesling NV, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Germany
There's a whiff of minerally sulfur on the nose, which leads to a soft, off-dry palate with honeyed tropical fruit character bolstered by some minerally acidity. Nicely balanced, and at just 8% alcohol this is a really refreshing, quaffable wine. 82/100


Cono Sur Vision Riesling 'Quiltraman' 2007 Bio Bio Valley, Chile
This attractively packaged wine has a forward, perfumed nose of bright lime notes mixed with minerals, sweet honey and floral overtones. The palate is quite rich, with a talcum powder and lime character, together with some savoury minerality and some richness of texture, which I suspect in part comes from a bit of residual sugar, and in part from the high alcohol (14%). It finishes off with crisp acidity. This is a powerful style of Riesling, but it's balanced and quite crisp. A striking wine, and given further experience here I reckon future vintages will be even better. 89/100 (£7.99 Majestic, but £6.39 if you buy two)

Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling 2007 Elgin, South Africa
'Weisser Riesling' is a term used in South Africa to describe the true Riesling variety, and this wine comes from the cool climate Elgin region. It's an elegant, dry style of Riesling with apple and lemon fruit combining with a distinctly crisp, mineralic core to make a bone dry wine with a distinctly savoury character that is extremely food friendly. This is a moderately serious wine that is extremely versatile, and represents good value at the price. It is stylistically similar to Clare Valley Riesling, I reckon. South Africa should be making more Riesling, although I imagine it can be a tough wine to sell. 88/100 (£7.99 Jeroboams/Laytons)

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