Cape Wine (6) exploring Italian grape varieties in South Africa

What is it with Italy’s grape varieties? They are really interesting in Italy, but seldom travel well. Still, they attract their devotees, and they are planted in a range of different locales globally. This tasting focused on Italian varieties grown in South Africa, and it was hosted by Roberta Bottega who is from the family that owns the Idiom winery.

It was intended to be partly a benchmarking exercise, including some Italian wines in each flight. ‘It gives us some sort of reference point to see how the Cape terroir influences the outcome,’ explained Bottega. He pointed out that Stellenbosch is 34 degrees South and Sicily is 34 degrees North. Sicily is about the same size of the Cape winelands.

Italian varieties are niche in South Africa, making up 1% of plantings in the Cape. This includes 367 ha of Pinot Grigio, which makes the biggest contribution, although this is not strictly an Italian variety. The other significant varieties are:

  • Sangiovese 70 ha
  • Barbera 32 ha
  • Nebbiolo 26 ha
  • Primitivo 24 ha

Many of the Italian varieties currently grown were smuggled back after what has become an infamous tour by some South African winemakers to Italy back in 1992. Since then, more official imports have followed. Nursery owners the Bosmans have brought in 11 varieties from Italy, with climate change one of the considerations, and have released the first South African Nero d’Avola.

Some of the winemakers

It was an important tasting, but on the basis of many of these wines I wouldn’t be rushing to plant Italian varieties here. However, there were some very encouraging wines that showed that if viticulture and winemaking are spot on, some of the varieties could make something quite serious.

Flight 1

Terra del Capo Pinot Grigio 2018 Franschhoek
Decomposed granite, two clones. Whole bunch pressed and cold fermented, 6 months on fine lees in steel. Zippy, lively and citrussy with a slight pithy edge to the focused lemony fruit. Nicely compact with good acidity. A bit chunky. Has presence. 89/100

Idiom Bianco Di Stellenbosch 2017
Two blocks, one in Banghoek, one in lower Stellenbosch. Cold fermented after whole-bunch pressing, left on light lees after ferment. 9000 litres, 1000 of this is in barrel. Bright, fruity and expressive on the nose with a slight mintiness to the compact citrus fruit on the palate. It’s a bit smoky, mineral and very dry on the palate. 87/100

Nederberg The Winemaster’s Pinot Grigio 2018 South Africa
Grapes come from Darling and Paarl, 9 g/l sugar, 15 C fermentation for three weeks. Light, fruity, attractive and quite mineral with bright citrus fruit. Dry and appealing with nice fruitiness and a hint of spice, and a subtle nuttiness on the finish. 86/100

Zenato Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2016 Italy
Dry, lively and fruity with good acidity and a hint of citrus pith. Linear and quite stony with nice fruit: it’s quite a gastronomic wine, and really appealing, if not all that complex. 88/100

Morgenster Vespri Vermentino 2018 Swartland, South Africa
Whole-bunch pressed and fermented in stainless steel. Exotic and lively with intense citrussy fruit and some nice spiciness. There’s a bit of grapefruit here as well as a hint of green tea and mint. So zippy and expressive with lots of personality and freshness. Very appealing. 92/100

Ayama Vermentino 2017 Paarl, South Africa
The owners come from the Friuli region. Aged in used 500 litre barrels. Quite rich, dense and pithy with lively citrus fruit. There’s some pear and peach here, and it’s dense and full flavoured. Bold style. 87/100

Sella & Mosca Vermentino di Sardegna 2016 Sardinia, Italy
Very bright and lively with a tangerine and fine herb twist to the lemony fruit. Delicate, fresh and drinkable with nice fruit. Juicy and vital with some green tea hints. 88/100

Volpaia Prelius Vermentino 2015 Maremma, Tuscany
Dense and structured, but well balanced herb-tinged pear, peach and citrus fruit. Some nuttiness and depth with some nice freshness. Quite gastronomic with nice depth. 89/100

Flight 2

Bosman Family Wines Nero d’Avola 2015 Wellington, South Africa
The only Nero d’Avola in SA. 3 hectares planted: it took 14 years after bringing it in until the first commercial release (this wine, 6000 bottles made). Fermented in tank and aged in old oak. Bright, juicy and lively with nice berry fruits. There’s some freshness here. It’s juicy and attractive with good acidity. Uncomplicated but tasty with nice brightness. 88/100

Tasca d’Almerita Sallier de la Tour d’Avola 2015 Sicily, Italy
This is quite generous and ripe with sweet cherries and plums, and a hint of meatiness, as well as some tea notes. Has a savoury edge to it. Satisfying stuff. 89/100

Idiom Zinfandel 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Concentrated and dense with nice compact, stony, grainy blackberry and black cherry fruit. There are some herb and tea notes, too. There’s a silkiness and fleshiness to this wine, and it handles its ripeness really well, finishing fresh. 91/100

Feudo S. Croce Imperio LXXIV Primitivo di Manduria 2015 Puglia, Italy
Sweet and ripe with nice density. Grainy structure with black cherry fruit and nice structure. Has black tea and a nice chalkiness. Ripe and rich but balanced. 91/100

Flight 3

Arcangeli Nebbiolo 2016 Bot River, South Africa
Made in 500 litre barrels, with a stainless steel lid that can open and close. Whole bunch. ‘I wanted to make a wine with infusion and not extraction,’ says Krige Wisser. Very natural with a total sulfur of 16. Taut and complex with a savoury, spicy, waxy edge to the compact raspberry and cherry fruit. Floral rose petal and herb overtones. Nice grippy structure. Primary and dense with lovely focus to the wine. Serious effort. 93/100

Steenberg Nebbiolo 2016 Constantia, South Africa
Planted in 1994, the oldest Nebbiolo vineyard in the country. Suitcase clone, just over a hectare. All destemmed. Ripe and sweet with a green herbal edge to the sweet berry fruits. Leather and herb complexity, with nice density, but there’s some greenness here that’s a little overpowering. 86/100

Domaine des Dieux Nebbiolo 2013 Hemel en Aarde, South Africa
Maiden release, 0.5 ha of vines. 15% alcohol. Sweetly aromatic, with some floral cherry and berry fruits on the nose. The palate has nice juiciness and a bit of grip. Spicy on the finish. There’s some richness here, with a bit of lushness to the fruit. Attractive. Dry finish. 88/100

Enrico Serafino Roero 2013 Piedmont, Italy
Savoury and grippy with firm structure under the red cherry fruit. Some herbs, tar and leather hints, too. Grippy and fruity with nice weight. Quite savoury. 89/100

Du Toitskloof Nebbiolo 2015 Breedekloof, South Africa
Deep sandy loam soils. 26 Brix harvest, rotor tanks, cold maceration for 3 days, then inoculated, fermented at 24 C. This is a fruit-driven yet elegant style of Nebbiolo. Very approachable with sweet red cherries and plums, with a really silky texture and some liqueur-like richness. There’s some nice waxy, spicy complexity, too, with great balance and integrated structure. The tannins have been managed really well. 90/100

Idiom 900 Series Nebbiolo 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
First Nebbiolo vineyard was planted here in 1999, in a windy area, but Nebbiolo hates wind. So they have struggled to get a good crop. Have done quite a bit of work in the vineyard. Ferment in 500 litre barrels open at one end. Lively aromatics on the nose with floral red fruits and some plums. Some oak is evident, too with a vanilla sheen. The palate has sweet, lush fruit with nice raspberry and cherry. Quite liqueur-like in character. An attractive, fruity wine in a modern style. 89/100

Morgenster Nabucco Nebbiolo 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
First planted in 1999, with two clones. Nebbiolo has brittle canes that break quickly in wind. It also has low basal bud fruitfulness so needs to be cane pruned. Lovely freshness with pure, sweet black cherry fruit. Dense and compact with nice purity and good acidity. Lovely grippy structure. Primary still, even after five years, with pure fruit. Vivid and linear. 91/100

Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2015 Piedmont, Italy
Modern but really good, with a spicy, leathery underpinning to the floral black cherry and plum fruit. Nice grippy structure, but it is carried by the slightly fleshy black cherry and tea fruit. Savoury finish. Satisfying stuff with good balance. 92/100

Fairview Barbera 2014 Paarl, South Africa
Open oak fermenter, worked gently. Older French oak barrels. Sweet, ripe, creamy and dense with lush black fruits and some oak, as well as a slightly bitter twist on the finish. A ripe, bold style. Modern and a bit flashy. 87/100

Idiom 900 Series Barbera 2012
One of the varieties that’s easy to work with and it always has lots of colour. 40% new oak, 24 months. Nicely dense and sweet with fresh black cherry and blackberry fruit. Lovely acidity with a slightly bitter twist. Nice focus here with good acidity and nice brightness. Lovely sweet and sour character with pure fruit. Impressive with plenty of impact, but also balance. 91/100

Braida Montebruna Barbera d’Asti 2015
Savoury, grippy and quite dense. Has a leathery, spicy edge to the raspberry and plum fruit. Good acidity and a nice grainy structure. 88/100

Flight 4

Morgenster Sangiovese 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Bright, juicy, gluggable and fruity. Nice red cherries and raspberries. Very fruity and easy and drinkable. Joyful glugger. 86/100

La Vierge Satyricon Sangiovese 2017 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
11 year old vines, 0.8 ha. Fleshy and bright with nice juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. Supple and lively with a bit of grip. A juicy style that’s easy drinking and not too complex. Good acidity. Nice fruit purity here. 88/100

Idiom Rosso Di’Stellenbosch 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Has a bit of Barbera (3%) in the blend. Nice fruit here: bold and quite spicy with sweet, lush black cherry and plum fruit. Good density and concentration, but also a nice fine structure. Modern and fruit forward, but with freshness and nice structure. Stylish. 90/100

Idiom Sangiovese White Label 2015
Concentrated, dense and spicy with lots of tannin, well integrated oak, and vibrant blackcurrant, blackberry and damson fruit. Powerful and convincing with real impact and a nice bitterness on the finish. Good acidity, and nicely savoury. 92/100

Terra del Capo Sangiovese 2015 Swartland, South Africa
Fleshy and attractive with sweet berry fruits. Modern and quite lush with appropriate structure. A sweetly fruited style that’s very approachable with nice freshness. Smooth mid-palate. 88/100

Domaine des Dieux Sangiovese 2015 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
No new oak here. Convincing style: quite dense and grippy with some sweet and sour character. Vibrant red fruits with some plum and a bit of tar and herb complexity. Good structure with some damson bitterness on the finish. Structured with high acidity, showing good varietal character. 90/100

Badia e Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2015
Good balance here. There’s a nice blend of the sweet cherry and plum fruit with some savoury earth and spice notes. Fine-grained with a nice waxiness. Seamless and integrated, this has some generosity but also nice savouriness. 91/100

Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2016
Aromatic. Juicy and lively with sweet berry fruits. Plummy and open with a bright, grippy edge. There’s a bit of tangy spritziness here on the finish. A ripe yet fresh drinking wine. Grippy finish. 87/100

Morgenster Tosca 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sangiovese with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Concentrated and quite spicy with some bitter damson sitting under the cherry and plum fruit. Has nice structure and a savoury complexity. Nicely balanced with potential for development. 90/100

Nederburg Ingenuity Italian Blend 2014 
Sangiovese, Barbera and a splash of Nebbiolo. Fermented in open fermenters plus open barrels. All new oak. Sweet, ripe and fleshy with modern, forward black fruits and some creaminess on the mid palate. Lush and seductive with nice ripeness, but also showing some oak. 88/100

Fairview Homtini 2014 Darling, South Africa
Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. Ripe and generous but fresh at the same time with good structure supporting the raspberry and cherry fruit. Grippy and quite savoury but with nice fleshiness. Has a slightly spicy finish. Nice. 90/100

Dalla Cia Teano 2014 Western Cape, South Africa
Supertuscan-style blend. 12 barrels (4000 bottles). 30% Sangiovese with the rest Bordeaux varieties. Ripe and concentrated with tar, blackcurrant, damson and plum. Grippy and grainy with some chalk, gravel and tar, with a twist of herbaceousness. Finishes drying and firm. Nice balance: ripe and fruit forward but with good savouriness. 92/100

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