There were hundreds of bottles opened and drunk this year. Some were consumed in the company of bevies of energetic like-minded feasters on life. Other bottles were scrutinised in the company of true aficionados, anoraks and influential commentators upon whose every word of vinous intelligence I hung like an abalone to a piece of mossy rock.
Then there were the wines enjoyed in solace, with a MonteCristo cigar in the hand and Chet Baker on the sound-system. But there were ten wines that left their mark.
Listed here, in no specific order:
- Vergelegen The Mistake Merlot 2014
Magic from Merlot. The wine is far removed from the slushy broad berry notes of Pomerol, here gaining a sleek austerity, pretty much like the keel of a racing yacht. No plush velvet. Just a ripping acidity that is ebullient and noisy, riding on some regal flavours. Sour cherry and pomegranate cordial offers much drinking joy, while there is a hint of dry King Protea and parched river-bed dust on the finish. A very classy wine, and another Vergelegen classic.
- David & Nadia Platbos Chenin Blanc 2018
Brilliant wine from exceptional people. From vines on granitic soils. There is a half-eaten oyster on the shell, and it is fresh and briny. I good dollop of thick-peel, old Cape lemon adds zest and zip, while a wind has risen bearing scents of wild-flowers, spring citrus blossom and kukumakranka. The wine lies on the palate like a lazy, tanned surfer, bopping along before the next wave of flavour brings it to its feet and everything is covered by a glistening wet barrel, a surge of something bigger than what this world was made for.
- Newton Johnson Albarino 2018
Pitch-perfect rendition of the white grape whose home is in northern Portugal and the Galicia region of Spain. Herbaceous and floral on the nose, the taste is wonderfully fresh and zippy held together by a firm grip that allows the wine to assert itself throughout the entire glass. A fine example of what South African wine-makers get up to when approaching a new variety, this wine brings together site-specific vineyard focus and skilled, technical craftsmanship to create a very fine wine. Signs of a bright future.
- Delheim Iconoclast 2012
From the classic Stellenbosch Simonsberg estate, a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Petit Verdot in honour of the late patriarch Michael Sperling. Clean and bright, with a rapier-like thrust of pure-fruited clarity that would have any member of the natural wine movement throw his organic leather sandal through the window of a Swartland delicatessen. The freshness leads to a waffled quince tart, prunes dipped in pomegranate juice, a vibrant line of fallen mulberry lying on thin slices of yellow-fatted jámon Iberico. The sum is greater than its parts in this classic from Simonsberg.
- De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay 2016
The vineyard was planted in 1987 from plant material sourced at Clos de Mouches in Burgundy, so being classic in pedigree the Bateleur is susceptible to huge vintage variation. The 2016 is a beaut, the best South African Chardonnay at the moment. The stony, sage-brush notes present an initial sense of austerity and leanness, yet the wine opens in the palate to reveal broad layers of grilled nuts, lime-peel and white flowers. Add to this a texture of silk strips fluttering in a brisk ocean breeze and the result is the best Chardonnay the New World can offer. Monumental.
- Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Made in limited volumes from a parcel lying in one vineyard, this remains a classic example of South African Sauvignon Blanc. Unwooded, yet the quality fruit gives depth and voice to a wine that always seems to show crystal clear interpretation of bright, precise and accurate Sauvignon Blanc without excessive pyrazine greens or thiol-intense tropical vibes. The palate is dense and satisfying, filled with pear, grated apple and cool water from mountain rock-pools. A total original.
- Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2018
Leads my choir in singing the merits of South African Pinot Noir. Pure Pinot Noir characteristics of cherry, bramble-berries and black jelly-babies enhanced by forest floor and dried porcini. Wooded for suppleness on the palate and muscular tannins that offer a lasting, celebratory finish. Refined and coolly elegant, the Bryan Ferry of local wines. Pure joy.
- Chamonix Graywacke Pinotage 2015
The colour is purple-black with a rim the colour of the blood of a just-shot Cape buffalo. On the nose I got potpourri and all sorts of sappy, juicy stuff including the liquor that runs out of the dish after you’ve baked a plum pie. The wine is sensual on the palate, gentle and coaxing, with a delectable array of tastes ranging from prunes, sour cherry, just-grated nutmeg and that delicious touch of liquorice. Full-blown Pinotage, but with a sexy touch of the exotic.
- Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs 2012
For me I cannot think of a stylistic equivalent among the 200 or so Cap Classiques on market. In the glass, the wine has hues of pale gold and straw, the bubble float being vivid and bursting with energy. I smell white flowers and cut pear, with a splash of oyster shell and tidal kelp. The attack on the palate is like that of a well-dressed, slightly dandy Prussian cavalry officer: loud, broad and quick, yet settling down to offer a charming smile before charging at you with a flashing sword. Apple, brioche and purity in a edgy cloak of foam and bubbles. Exciting. Edgy. Benchmark.
- Groot Constantia Grand Constance 2009
As beautiful as it is historical. Tamarind and clove meet citrus peel and nutmeg on the nose. The attack on the palate is seductive, yet loud and showy in announcing itself as something it knows you are not going to taste anywhere else in the world. Lying on the palate like a levitating Rubens model, the wine intoxicates the mouth, the nose and other areas only extremely clever Ear, Nose and Throat specialists are privy to. Hot, just spread tar. Dried Turkish figs. Black Moroccan honey thrown by bees feeding on the pollen of marijuana plants. Sappy early summer apricots from nameless Greek islands, a run of soul-reviving citrus freshness causing your contact lenses to slide away from the pupils to reveal a vision of something new and dream-like. Legend.
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