It was time to go in, right to the heart of the Stellenbosch Mafia. Guy who wrote the book about them, Pieter du Toit, well he reckons the local mobsters hang out at a joint named De Volkskombuis, pretty hard to pronounce for two New York wiseguys like me and Frankie the Juice. But nothing a little google-translate ain’t sorting out. Volks the kombuis and go volks yourselves, too.
One of the oldest white wine grapes in South Africa and still today the most widely planted, Chenin Blanc is being promoted as a national treasure. Over the past decade or so there has been a huge resurgence in the punting of Chenin as one of the local wine industry’s factors unique selling points, and quite rightly so.
If Chardonnay is not regarded to be an aromatic grape, what the hell is going on in this glass of Glenelly? Perhaps it was the dull, grey weather following a late-winter cold front or the impending gloom concerning another piece of news originating in the areas of State Capture or Bosasa that caused the senses to be so surreptitiously sparked by this wine. But there, sitting in Glenelly’s Vine Bistro with a piece of gelatinous pork-cheek, fat and sauce oozing in all directions, it was a Chardonnay made to rethink the border-transcending possibilities of the grape.
It tastes of mountain, sun, sea and Stellenbosch. “And fynbos,” says Christo le Riche, head of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective, the regional organisation formed in 2015 to get eyes seeing and mouths tasting what many deem to be one of the finest wine offerings in the world: Cabernet Sauvignon wines made in Stellenbosch from vines planted to the region’s ancient soils.
Bordeaux wine region: is it selling its soul? The French are famous for their rigorous traditional laws concerning their country’s regions of origin and what is permitted inside those regions. Now there’s a proposal to allow new grape varieties into Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellation vineyards.
The wines of Bordeaux have, after all, achieved their pre-eminent reputation on the back of the varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. But now seven varieties foreign to the region are being considered as a result of the effects of climate change and their being more resistant to disease.
So me and Frankie the Juice are not hot-footing it back to the Big Apple after our unsuccessful attempts to track-down this bunch calling themselves the Stellenbosch Mafia so as to politely enquire as to their relations with the Mob. No, we are still holed-up in the Cape on account of an assignment we’s got from the Don’s neighbour, Sockeye Salvatore, the job being to go and whack a Ukrainian gangster in a joint called Sea Point.
Icy rain pelting down over Stellenbosch and a wine cold enough to freeze the heart of a twice-divorced Texan housewife, this was no ideal day to go tasting Sauvignon Blanc. But when Erica Crawford from New Zealand is in town you’ll dodge polar bears to get a hook on those steely, bracing wines from Marlborough.
Ex-Capetonian Erica is a quiet force in the Kiwi wine industry. The former medical researcher headed to the Land of the Long White Cloud in 1990 to join husband Kim, a New Zealand winemaker whom she had met while he was doing a stint in the Cape Winelands, including Backsberg. In Auckland the Crawfords found themselves at the beginning of the wine world’s interest in New Zealand and began the Kim Crawford brand out of their garage in Auckland.
Durbanville wine estate Diemersdal staked a place as one of the most successful producers in the history of the annual Absa Top 10 Pinotage Trophy awards by this year raking in its eighth Top 10 trophy. The Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2018 was selected as one of the Top 10 winners in this year’s prestigious competition, which was held for the 23nd time attracting 161 entries.
“The Absa Top 10 Pinotage Trophy is one of the most sought-after red wine trophies for any South African winemaker, and winning it for the eighth time is a true privilege and honour,” says Thys Louw,” owner-winemaker at Diemersdal, which was also the only Durbanville winery to win a Top 10 this year.
“It just feels better each time you hold one of these trophies, an award you don’t take for granted. The number of quality Pinotage producers is increasing at a rate of knots as more winemakers discover the magical qualities of the grape and its ability to express the sites of our country’s best wine regions.
“Winning an Absa Top 10 in this environment of quality wines makes it very special. I’d like to congratulate every other Trophy winner, finalist and entrant for what they are doing to make Pinotage an extraordinary red wine category which is one of the showcases of the South African wine industry.”
Pinotage has a long history in Durbanville and on Diemersdal specifically. Some 50% of the grapes for the Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2018 originate from the property’s 44 year-old bushvines, the balance sourced from vines 20 years younger.
“Dryland farming on clay and shale soils and the maritime influence all add to the structure of the wine which is characterised by a formidable backbone complemented with bright fruit expression,” says Louw. “We aim for sturdiness in the wine, but elegance and refinement are non-negotiable.”
After harvesting the grapes were fermented in one ton open wood-fermenters for four days at 26-28ºC. The cap was punched through every three hours. 100% MLF completed spontaneously in 225L French oak barrels. Wood maturation was done over 16 months, also in 225l French, of which 60% was new.
“The cellar and vineyard teams have embraced Pinotage as one of Diemersdal’s key red varieties, and it is their understanding of the grape from the vine to the bottling of the final wine that enables us to make a Pinotage showing true quality,” says Louw. “And more importantly, this eighth Absa Top 10 Trophy has shown the quality to be consistent.”
A winemaker’s confidence comes effortlessly if it is earned. During a recent presentation of the new vintages from David & Nadia, the ease David Sadie showed in his own skin bordered on the edge of audaciousness for such a young man and relative newcomer to the South African wine scene. Firm, steady voice seamlessly jumping between English and Afrikaans. A no-nonsense and pared-down description of the vineyards and earth from which he and wife Nadia make their wines, and how they make it. Not a moment’s hesitation shown during question time, steering curve-balls to fine-leg and without an iota of doubt in his answers.
The last time me and Jackie the Juice did a job together was back in the Old Country when the Don’s son-in-law Flavio needed some skull-work on account of Flavio playing hide-the-prosciutto with the neighbour’s wife. Now Jackie’s sitting aside me at a joint in Africa goes by the name of Stellenbosch, where the Consiglieri sent the twos of us to check out the rumours that a branch of the Mafia is operating in this little old town.