De Wetshof: Champion of Chardonnay and of Nature Conservation

De Wetshof Estate in Robertson is the first recipient of the WWF Conservation Pioneer Award, one of the accolades under the prestigious Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism and Wine Tourism Ambassador Awards. These awards, for 2022, were announced this week at Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Sponsored by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), the Conservation Pioneer Award intends to emphasise the critical role of eco- and social sustainability in the development and execution of a new generation of relevant and appealing competitive travel offerings.

De Wetshof Estate, situated in the Robertson Wine Valley some 160km east of Cape Town, is not only a world-famous wine farm, but has over three generations of ownership under the De Wet family been a leader of conservation and sustainability in the South African wine industry. The estate is now one of the 50 Cape wineries who are members of the WWF Conservation Champions initiative overseen by the WWF to recognise wine farms implementing exemplary programmes committed to conserving the flora and fauna on and surrounding their wine farms, as well as for their active involvement in producing wines to credentials underscoring sustainability in general.

According to Shelly Fuller, WWF South Africa’s sustainable programme manager for fruit and wine, De Wetshof is a truly worthy recipient of the first WWF Conservation Pioneer Award.

“De Wetshof lies in the magnificent Robertson Valley dissected by the Breede River and home to numerous indigenous species of flora and fauna,” says Fuller. “The ethos of the De Wet family, who have been farming there for over 70 years, has ensured that conserving this natural paradise receives as much attention as De Wetshof’s world-renowned wine-farming activities. The farm was one of the first Cape wine farms to in 2005 be officially recognised for these conservation efforts when the former Biodiversity and Wine Initiative was launched. Since the WWF’s involvement in recognising and collaborating with conservation-minded wine farms through WWF Conservation Champions programme, De Wetshof has been an exemplary Conservation Champion and is always finding ways to improve its profile as a pioneering wine farm in terms of conservation and sustainability.”

Wild-flowers between De Wetshof’s vines.

Johann de Wet, CEO of De Wetshof, says receiving this award is recognition for the ethos of conservation and sustainability that runs through all of De Wetshof’s operations.

“Having grown-up on De Wetshof, myself and my brother Peter have an ingrained respect for and love of our unique natural surroundings – something we inherited from our grand-parents and parents who pioneered wine farming here,” says De Wet. “To us, conserving the environment comes naturally. Thus, all our viticulture and wine-making endeavours are undertaken through environmentally responsible practices.”

One of the latest initiatives on De Wetshof which caught the eye of the WWF Conservation Champions, has been the conservation of indigenous flowers growing between the De Wetshof vineyards.

Here the rich indigenous fynbos has become a welcome ally with wild fynbos plants left to grow between the vines, offering various viticulture benefits as well as contributing to De Wetshof’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

“With our famous fynbos plant kingdom, we Cape wine farmers might just be sitting with the most unique cover-crops in the world,” says De Wet. “The Cape fynbos incorporates a mass of wild shrubs, bushes and flowers – over 9 000 different species, each divided into various categories throughout the geography of the Western Cape. On De Wetshof we are committed to conserving this majestic natural occurrence – not only by putting an area of our farm aside as wild, uncultivated veld to conserve the natural environment, but to make the fynbos plants a part of our viticulture.”

This natural integration between vine and veld is evident on the steep slopes of De Wetshof where young Chardonnay vineyards are planted alongside fynbos , including the famous vygie flowering shrub.

“The vygies and other indigenous plants play two roles in our viticulture,” says De Wet. “First, these plants extract carbon dioxide from the air and through their roots they put the carbon dioxide into the soil, which is beneficial to soil health. The other benefit of fynbos between your vines has to do with pest control. Unwanted critters, such as nematodes, tend to prefer shacking-up in the fynbos instead of attacking and chewing on your vines. This lessens the need for spraying insecticide, and due to the toughness of the fynbos, the insects are unable to inflict the kind of damage they do on the more delicate vine-plants.”

Fuller says that Conservation Champions like De Wetshof are truly ground-breaking in their innovative ways of managing farming practices while proactively conserving the natural environment.

“With every visit our field officers find new approaches to environmental management practices shown by the wine farms,” she says. “This spirit of innovation and respect of their land is a truly unique feature of the Cape winelands and has the potential of positioning Brand South Africa as one of the leading wine countries in the world as far as sustainability and conservation is concerned.”

Cape Rosé, the Joy of Fresh Pink

No other season steers the wine-lover to a particular style than when the call for rosé comes in late spring. Yes, the days of mid-October onwards can still offer a slight tug of chill morning air and the heavens shall, for a moment, darken with cloud before opening to emit a sheet of soft rain, inoffensive in its cooling dampness.

But in the light of day, spring is upon us and summer beckons. In the fields and on the mountainside, the soils and plant growth are drying as the last remnants of another winter gone-by disappear into the halls of memory. As the flowers dazzle on an iridescent palette sent by the gods, the world smells new and brimming with life and vigour.

In Provence, the home of rosé wine, we would be drinking the pink stuff from 10.00 on the little square in the village of Ansouis. After the papers have been read and the boules scores taken-in, lunch will be had at home, the eating of which shall – no negotiating here – be accompanied by another bottle of rosé. It is a wine called for by the light of dusk and dawn, by the shrills of cicadas, and it is demanded by the fresh produce that finds its way onto the market and into our kitchens: warm, purple egg-plants the size of the thighs of a well-fed infant; bloody red ripe tomatoes that explode under the teeth with the taste of sun, clay-soil and the sweetness of the morning’s first kiss. Fresh fish, crystal-eyed, that will head for the bouillabaisse pot, the prince of all seafood dishes that cannot, may not, be consumed with any wine other than rosé.

My late friend, the writer AA Gill, often came over to Abingdon Villas, where I lived in London, to partake of my sister Gina’s legendary bouillabaisse. I only met Gill after he had gone teetotal. But after that first spoon of bouillabaisse eaten on my porch, so sea-tasting you could hear waves crashing as you ate it, the great man said he “was missing a glass of rosé like a monk missing his prayer-book upon finding out his room-mate had died in his sleep”.

Here in the Cape, rosé wine has caught on swimmingly, although good bouillabaisse is hard to find. Christophe Dehosse’s Vine Bistro on Glenelly Estate is an exception – should you wonder.

But the local rosé wines are brilliant, winemakers having access to an abundance of riches in the grape variety department. In the cellar, the vignerons are bleeding the juice off immediately. Some whole-bunch pressing is done, and judicious timing and monitoring ensure that crisp, fresh and subtly hued rosés are here – in droves – to slake the thirsts of summer wine-drinkers.

Allow me to mention a couple, the first being the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen. This is a first release of pink wine from this venerable estate, and the wine is delicious and clever, and far politer than its belligerent winemaker André van Rensburg. According to the gospel of Van Rensburg, Stellenbosch farmers mainly make rosé by draining a portion of juice off from red grapes to concentrate their virus-infected fruit and “hopefully make better wine”. Obviously a superior winemaker, Van Rensburg cools and stabilises his juice and wine – something he cribbed from rosé specialists Pink Valley on the other side of the Helderberg.

Whatever, the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen leads with Malbec, and is an astute rosé despite the label, which looks like something out of a 1950s magazine article advising on ideal decorations for a tea party of widowed house-wives.

Copper and salmon in colour, this rosé has a zesty, stony aroma that entices the palate and builds the expectation. On the mouth the wine has soft edges of strawberry and persimmon before a lovely lip-smacking sour-cherry note takes over. The trick with rosé is to have it fragile and delicate, while presenting suitable grip and verve to cause one to repeat the sipping experience as frequently as possible. This the wine has in droves, and is a welcome addition to the Cape rosé culture.

Also out Helderberg way is the lovely Waterkloof Estate and its Circumstance Cape Coral Rosé made from Mourvédre grapes and a wine that has garnered a reputation for being one of the finest Cape pink wines. For a good reason. The packaging is stylishly elegant and minimalistic, allowing the wine’s classic onion-skin and Paul Cezanne sunset colour to glow, to appeal to the person fortunate to be drinking its beautness.

The Coral might refer to the colour, but the wine has a Jacques Cousteau, maritime allure to it as notes of detached mussel and sea-spray accompany the super array of textural fruit nuances. Raspberry compote is present, as is some ripe plum, but it rides a wave of pebbly ocean briskness, with a hit of savoury at the end. If there is one rosé that will have you longing for the sunsets of Provence, the sound of boules clacking through the aromatic wisps of Gauloises smoke and the fragrance of pastis, it is this rosé.

The season has broken.

  • Lafras Huguenet

Haute Cabrière is a Smoking Gun

Mention the art of smoking a cigar, and the heavies come out with instructions of what to drink while drawing-in those warm nicotine-filled clouds of dense and aromatic smoke. Whisky and cognac are deemed suitably classic partners to a Cuban cigar, as are Port and Madeira.

While the flavours of these spirits and the fortified wines might have the grace and power to stand-up to a good Cuban smoke, I find these drinks problematic. See, when I smoke, I smoke, drawing hard and fast and sending enough clouds of exhaled tobacco into the air to alert an American Indian war-party. And this taking-in of smoke, and the slight dryness it causes in the mouth makes me alternate every second or third puff with a sip of alcohol.

Which means that by the time I have knocked-over a Partagas No 4, I have had three to four glasses of liquor. Which might result in me setting the house on fire due to advanced inebriation or keel-over without finishing the bottle. Both extreme offences.

My drink of choice with a cigar, thus, is a cool white wine, a predilection that is sure to get me banned from the Woolstrat Club in London once South Africa is allowed to travel again. But mark my words, a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, sipped from a large glass hazy with condensation, matches the delights of a Cuban cigar like a hot-oil massage off-sets the rigours of bareback horse-riding.

My perfect cigar wine of the moment is an unwooded Chardonnay from Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek, home to the legendary Von Arnim clan. Founder and bon vivant Achim has passed the winemaking reins to son Takuan who shows much of his wine philosophy in this unwooded wine: terroir-driven (grapes from limestone soils in Robertson) and a lean thrust of steely sharpness on which hangs edgy and jittery shudders of citrus fruit.

I recently got this combination with a Sunday-afternoon smoking and wine session. The cigar was a Montecristo No.3, a thin diameter with a lengthy leaf that provides a spicy draw with hits of ground coffee and autumn bonfire. As the cigar burns to the final third, notes of vanilla, hazelnut-shell and vanilla bean come to the fore.

The me-time relaxation provided by the smoking process allowed for an in-depth appraisal of the Haute Cabrière unwooded Chardonnay, which happened to be from vintage 2021.

On the nose, there is harp-string tautness, a presence of clarity and calm, braced for doing exciting things. A scent of wet earth, peeled apricot tree bark and petrichor. A deep puff of Cuban smoke prepared the palate, fired it up, for the onslaught of the wine. This was heavenly, exuberantly refreshing as the purity of Cape Chardonnay broke onto a mouth dry and heavy, yet content, with the burn of fine cigar smoke. On this wasteland, the clarity of the wine bore great things.

As limestone soils tend to do to Chardonnay, the Haute Cabrière bore a riff of citrus: bergamot peel, fragrant and tender as the heel of a young woman who has spent her whole life walking barefoot on the beaches of paradise. The wine exuded lime, the tight fruit of Key West whose juice bears the splash of the ocean, the salt of Ernest Hemingway’s tears. And, as the Chardonnay warms on the mid-palate, there is a slice of green cantaloupe, iced melon as served for breakfast on those eerily warm mornings in the northern Portugal summers.

The wine is complete in its refreshment, delicious in its taste, decisive in its mission to leave a memory of the lasting kind.

Then, the beauty of this, one takes another deep pull on the burning Cuban leaf, launch the white smoke into the sky. You taste the wine, and now, it begins all over again. A never-ending story. Of beauty and taste.

NZ vs SA Sauvignon Blanc: Report

Background

The Encounter was devised by Erica Crawford, passionate Marlborough producer Loveblock Wines) New Zealand and Emile Joubert, wine writer and marketing consultant from Cape Town. Sportingly announced to celebrate the centenary of rugby relations between New Zealand and South Africa in 2021, the event is a celebration of the bilateral respect the two nations have for each other’s sporting, wine and other cultures.

Crawford worked with Cameron Douglas MW to select a line-up of 10 Sauvignon Blanc wines from her homeland, and all the wines were from the world-famous Marlborough region on the South Island. Joubert collaborated with Sauvignon Blanc SA, the marketing arm for Cape Sauvignon Blanc, who assisted him in picking a 10-wine line-up.

The Line-up

Team New Zealand

Te Whare Ra  Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Loveblock   Sauvignon Blanc 2020. SV, organic

Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Astrolabe Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Reserve 2020

Dog Point  Sauvignon Blanc 2020 organic

Zephyr MK111 Sauvignon Blanc2020

Giesen “The August” 2019

Jules Taylor OTQ 2018

Yealands State of Flux 2019

South African Team

Alvi’s Drift Reserve 2020

Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2020

Stellenbosch Vineyards Southern View 2020

D’Aria Winery The Songbird 2020

KWV Classic Collection Cathedral Cellar  2020

Le Grand Domaine Wines The Pledge Our Darling 2020

Spier Wine Farm 21 Gables 2020

Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain 2020

Steenberg The Black Swan 2020

Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2020

Dr Winifred Bowman, convener of judges.

Judging

Judging – blind, unsighted – took place on Diemersdal Estate in the Durbanville region of Cape Town on 22 September. The 100pt scoring system was used by the following judges:

Dr Winifred Bowman, Cape Wine Master

Steffi Layer (German), exports manager for Diemersdal

Erica Taylor (USA), wine and sommelier consultant

Rudger van Wyk, winemaker at Stark-Condé

Joaquim Sá (Portugal) Amorim CEO in South Africa

The brief to judges was to select the most delicious examples of Sauvignon Blanc instead of splitting hairs on minor technical aspects. It is, after-all, a celebration of Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc.

Insights

New World Sauvignon Blanc is no one-trick pony. The once popular perception that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a one-dimensional caricature, which has led to it being muchly maligned in circles of wine criticism, holds no sway. South African Sauvignon Blanc, which has to work much harder to get critical acclaim and recognition than other white Cape varieties – despite it being the country’s top-selling white cultivar – has also left preconceived ideas and labels of predictability way behind.

The overall impression of the 20-wine line-up was one of diversity, excitement, imaginative winemaking and creative expression, while at the same time offering wines that were accurate, focused and definite examples of wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

A few of the judges admitted to foreseeing that the New Zealand wines would “jump out of the glass” in the line-up and thus be relatively easy to spot. This they admitted after the tasting, noting their surprise at how the wines from both countries offered spectacular variation, which was according to Dr Bowman the result of “excellent winemaking aimed at utilising the offerings of geographical typicity to create wines of exuberant elegance and true class”.

This was the objective Crawford had in her selecting of the New Zealand line-up. Along with the characteristic “fruit-bombs”, they chose labels showcasing the Kiwis’ move towards offering wines of texture, presence and complexity, while at the same time still being “100% New Zealand Sauvy”.

Erica Crawford, aka Mrs Loveblock.

Thus, some of the New Zealand wines’ cellar processes included use of amphorae and concrete eggs (including State of Flux and Loveblock) as well as foudrés and big barrels of older wood (Giesen, Loveblock, Greywacke and Jules Taylor). Natural, spontaneous fermentation was also used by producers wishing to push the envelope and definitely contributed to the depth of flavour and lingering texture noted in a substantial portion of the Kiwi line-up.

Although, when it came to handing out the big scores in the line-up of both countries’ wines, classic Marlborough expression ruled the roost. Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley topped the judges’ ratings with an average of 93.4pts, with Astrolabe’s Awatere Valley expression of concentrated Sauvignon Blanc bounty coming second with a 93pt average.

These wines are both inoculated and had their profiles formed during lees-time in stainless steel to capture the essence of vigorous Marlborough terroir. Huge thiols and riveting melodies of tropical, citrus and stone-fruit gripped the judges’ senses, with the Villa Maria also showing a black-currant expression, especially typical of Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc.

Both wines, however, portrayed true class and stylistic grace along with their commanding presence. They had the judges using words such as “formidable”, “absolutely delicious”, “a wine-drinker’s delight” and “Sauvignon Blanc at its best.”

While all the New Zealand wines originate from the 28 000ha of vines planted in Marlborough on the South Island, the line-up of Sauvignon Blancs from the Cape comprised a more visceral regional diversity. Terroirs of origin varied from warmish Worcester to the cool Darling region on the Cape West Coast, the wine capital of Stellenbosch and Durbanville on the edge of South Africa’s Mother City.

That preconceived ideas of what makes a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc opposed to one from South Africa don’t hold water, was neatly displayed with the judges’ findings. The Pledge Our Darling Sauvignon Blanc from Le Grand Domaine Wines, made from Darling fruit, drew comments of “New Zealand-esque characters” with its immense concentration of granadilla and goose berry drifting on a cloud of canned-pea and sliver of asparagus.

Likewise, the Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch was termed “southern, cold and intense, the kind of complexity and punch you’d expect from Down Under”. Interesting was that Stark-Condé racked-up the highest-score out of the South African wines with 92.8pts – tying with the revered Kiwi wine Giesen The August 2019. In a taste-off with Winnie Bowman, convenor, and organiser Emile Joubert, the Stark-Condé nudged into the front by the barest of margins to take the official third-place.

As mentioned, the variations in style and the magnificent diversity dazzled, with all 20 wines noted as individual expressions with most showing no regard for conformity. In the Cape wines the judges’ notes made reference to elements of citrus coming to the fore, with some distinct maritime and oceanic influences, especially in the Diemersdal Winter Ferment (Durbanville), Steenberg Black Swan (Constantia) and the Sauvignon Blanc from D’Aria (Durbanville).

Top wine.

The Alvi’s Drift Sauvignon Blanc notched a commendable 92.2pts, one of the highest-scoring wines in total. Originating from Worcester, regarded as a warmer region, the judges found the wine’s combination of diverse fruit flavours ranging from tropical, citrus and melon, and the balanced balance weight and length of finish to be “fantastically satisfying”. At the revealing of the wines labels, most judges were amazed to find it to be a Worcester wine, reinforcing the fact that as far as regional potential goes, South Africa has still got a lot to reveal in future.

Stellenbosch continues its reputation as the mother-ship of South African wine, being able to offer a host of varietal wines at the very top echelons of quality. Besides the Stark-Condé, stalwart Stellenbosch Estate Thelema garnered a very respective 92pt rating with a wine showing “balance, poise and harmony”…”just the right amount of perky pyrazine perking-up the mélange of tropical and stone-fruit”.

Ironically, when descriptions of austerity were used, they were aimed at New Zealand wines, underscoring Crawford’s incorporating wines of less opulence, more texture and lower thiol expression.

Loveblock, an organic wine, was described as “fluid granite and minerals with a hit of stone-fruit and wild-flowers”. Zephyr Mark III was another wine with “forceful minerality and wake-me-up citrus zest”. State of Flux from Yealands Estate showed ample “bruised apple and lime-peel”, was “grippy and engaging” on the palate and had just enough reduction “to make it interesting”.

If this tasting had been held 10 years ago the notes would be filled with enough grass to feed a herd of Cape buffalo, more asparagus than found at an Auckland waterfront eatery and enough pyrazine to arouse a wine scientist.

Yet, talk of these traits was about as scarce as a Cloudy Bay clam in the Sea Point swimming-pool. “Dandelion” and “green-leaf” came-up once or twice, and an asparagus featured somewhere. Fruitiness, but restrained; ocean and mineral; texture and palate-weight; delectable drinkability….this was what was going around among the 20 wines. That were, all in all, fantastic examples of fine Sauvignon Blanc from two great wine-producing nations.

NZ Villa Maria Reserve 2020
NZ Astrolabe 2020
RSA Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Giesen The August 2020
RSA Alvi’s Drift Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2020
RSA Thelema Mountain Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Greywacke 2020                   
RSA De’Aria Songbird 2020
RSA Spier 21 Gables
RSA Steenberg The Black Swan  2020
RSA KWV Classic Collection Cathedral Cellar 2020
RSA Diemersdal Winter Ferment Sauvignon 2020
RSA Stellenbosch Vineyards Southern View 2020
NZ TWR 2020
NZ Jules Taylor OTQ 2020
NZ MK III Zephyr 2020
NZ Loveblock 2020
NZ State of Flux Yealands Estate 2020
RSA Le Grand Domaine Wines The Pledge Our Darling Sauvignon Blanc 2020
NZ Dog Point 2020

South Africa and New Zealand Each Get Slice of Glory in Sauvignon Blanc Test Match

With the first Southern Sauvignon Blanc Encounter between South Africa and New Zealand poised on a knife-edge, South Africa put in a superb showing in the final rounds, winning this unique competition with an average score of 90.4/100pts to the Kiwis’ 89.4/100. It was New Zealand, however, who produced the top-scoring wines of the day with its Villa Maria Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2020 and Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2020 topping the score-sheets with ratings of 93.4/100 and 93/100 respectively. South African winery Stark-Conde from Stellenbosch put in the best showing by a Cape wine with a commendable 92.8/100.

For this first Southern Sauvignon Blanc Encounter between the two Southern Hemisphere sporting rivals, 10 wines from New Zealand squared up to 10 from South Africa, both sets of wines specially selected for this competition by panels of experts from each respective country. The contest, organized by New Zealand wine producer Erica Crawford and Cape-based independent wine marketer Emile Joubert, was arranged as a part of the celebrations honouring 100 years of rugby rivalry between South Africa and the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Top Three: NZ, NZ and RSA.

Winnie Bowman, who headed up the judging panel of five wine experts from South Africa, Germany, America and Portugal, said that the 20 wines placed on the judging table were stunning examples of wines made from one of the world’s most commercially popular white wine grapes.

“The judges agreed that the Sauvignon Blanc producers from both countries are united in striving for excellence through pure, delicious wines showing the Sauvignon Blanc grape at its best,” says Bowman.

“Although the wines were tasted unsighted without us knowing what was in the glass, the panel expected a pretty clear indication of what to look for in the New Zealand wines, known for their brash expressiveness. However, like the Cape wine, the Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand were beautiful and charming, bright and elegant. It is clear the winemakers of New Zealand and the Cape are currently treating Sauvignon Blanc with reverence, using innovative cellar techniques to get the best out of the grape. The true winner here is the consumer of these wines, who are getting a tastier offering of Sauvignon Blanc year-on-year.”

Erica Crawford from Loveblock in New Zealand liked the result.

Upon hearing the results, Crawford said seeing the competition’s top two wines coming from New Zealand was no real surprise. “Both Villa Maria and Astrolabe are beautifully crafted fruit-bombs, packed with flavour and aromatics, and they really stand-out in a judging line-up,” she said. “People love these wines, and by including some of our best classic-style Sauvignons, we knew our Kiwi wines were capable of individual domination. Congratulations to the Cape for the overall win – your Sauvignon Blanc is coming on in leaps and bounds, and it is time you get the word and the wines out into international marketplace.”

Joubert said the Cape showed it was making some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world by ending the contest with the highest average score for its 10-wine line-up. “Our geography is more diverse than New Zealand, with Sauvignon Blancs made in warmer regions, such as Worcester and Paarl, as well as cooler areas in Stellenbosch, Durbanville and Constantia. This makes for an exciting diversity of Sauvignon Blanc expression,” he said. “But New Zealand is still the benchmark for New World Sauvignon Blanc. To make such consistently great wines under the big-brand volumes they do is remarkable. They are tremendous ambassadors for wines from the Southern Hemisphere and our partners in the New World wine culture.”

South African Team

Alvi’s Drift Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2020

Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2020

Stellenbosch Vineyards Southern View 2020

D’Aria Winery The Songbird 2020

KWV Classic Collection Cathedral Cellar 2020

Le Grand Domaine Wines The Pledge Our Darling 2020

Spier Wine Farm 21 Gables Sauvignon 2020

Stark-Condé Wines Round Mountain 2020

Steenberg The Black Swan 2020

Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2020

Team New Zealand

Te Whare Ra 2020

Loveblock 2020 organic

Greywacke 2020

Astrolabe 2020

Villa Maria Reserve 2020

Dog Point 2020 organic

Zephyr MK111 2020

Giesen “The August” 2019

Jules Taylor OTQ 2018

Yealands State of Flux 2019

A Squizz at Cape Fizz

Enjoyers of Champagne, Cap Classique and other fine renditions of bottle-fermented sparkling wine do not enjoy their drinks in silence. Once a bottle of fizz is popped, moods rise and inhibitions fall away. The wine gushes into the glass, foaming and bright with miniscule beads of intoxicating joy, and you feel good about life even before taking the first sip. I’d even smile while pulling on a glass of fizz with an anti-vaxxer or a lefty canceller of cultural artefacts from the University of Cape Town’s media studies department.

Having just checked into Tintswalo Atlantic Lodge above Hout Bay after a taxing flight from the northern bits of Africa, I heard much revelry from down below in the restaurant area. Now and again, the hollow pop of a cork convinced me there was some serious drinking of fizz going on. And so it was. There was an awards function for Cap Classique happening, and despite my jet-lag and my body still covered in desert dust that had accumulated on the camel ride to the airport that morning, I wished my place at aforementioned revelry had been secured.

Tintswalo, Hout Bay, South Africa.

But my time would come. And later, the revellers gone, I staked a place on the Tintswalo deck surrounded by the sound of sea and the aroma of kelp, wet granite ocean rock and salt flowers. For sure, I was up for a glass of Cap Classique. But had not pre-empted being allowed access to the wines that had been the subject of celebration, these having won gongs and trophies at aforementioned wine competition.

A joyous drink, a celebratory one does not permit for any beating around the bush. So, I will jump right in to announce that a Cap Classique from Kleine Zalze, the Vintage Brut 2015, did not win this year’s trophy for Best Wine on Show for nothing. It is truly one of the most astounding pots of fizz outside of Epernay, and if it wanted my attention, it sure got it. I hope this wine, when judged, found itself in the latter stages of the line-up. Had it presented itself to the judges in an early round of judging, it would have killed all comers right there and then.

The Klein Zalze Vintage Brut constitutes 60% Chardonnay and 40 % Pinot Noir, and quite frankly, I don’t know why the Cape still bothers with anything but these two varieties in the Cap Classique category. The two grapes were put on earth by a God who wished for them to evolve into bottle-fermented sparkling wine. So why bother with foreign elements such as Chenin Blanc, Colombar and – heaven forbid – Cabernet Franc in pursuit of a classy category such as Cap Classique?

Klein Zalze Brut 2015 falls golden and honey-hued in the glass with definite developed character on the nose: a proofing slab of sour-dough kneaded with finely ground wheat from Caledon, slivers of cured ginger and a whack of honey-suckle that would lead a worker-bee to apply for overtime. The beads of bubbles shot perkily to the top of the glass with alert accuracy.

One sip, and the wine made me ravenous. I wanted more, and I wanted it all. The five years’ lees-contact, in bottle, provided regal and discernible texture, causing the wine to lie on the mouth like a peregrine falcon that had found its perfect perch. Here, flavours struck hard, and they struck true. Green apple, warmed by a mid-day sun. Toast spread with salty butter and topped with fynbos honey. Barnacles from the North Atlantic, those of the sweet fleshiness to off-set the pronounced salty tang. Clouds of alluring forest flavours hanging in pools between the yellow-woods and elm. Deliciously drinkable, with a crisply weighted and perfumed finish.

It is a world-class fizz and I’ll be taking some to Epernay for Christmas to have with oysters and a Bresse capon.

Also from the 2015 vintage came the winner of the competition’s Blanc de Blancs section, namely Mariëtte Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc (sic) from Stofberg Family Vineyards in the Cape’s Breedekloof region.

The wine appears pale-straw, still in that terrific stage of youth when cares are few and energy abundant. To the nose the wine was shy, but hit the mouth like torrents of spring water arriving unexpectedly in the Mohave Desert. It leads with freshness, followed by a pitch-perfect harmony of developed fruit and lap-jerking edginess in its citrus-mineral core. Runs of gushing mousse are almost audible as the wine fills, splashes, roars and breaks, elevating its presence to those celestial reaches the great monk Dom Perignon saw when he first created bottle-fermented sparkling wine.

Taste it, and out comes ripe, browned loquat a whack of Key limes underscored by a feather-like, wispy delicateness, all backed by the cool and spirited abundance of sparkling grace.

Experiencing half-a-bottle of each of these wines, as the low breakers stirred below me and the sea shone under a mauve night-sky, it felt good to call this country my new home. I ate sparingly, but well, and slept until the next day broke with promise to see more good things.

  • Lafras Huguenet

South Africa Takes-on Mighty New Zealand in First Sauvignon Blanc Wine Test

Wine history will be made next week when South Africa and New Zealand square-up in the first Southern Sauvignon Blanc Encounter in Cape Town which sees the two countries’ best Sauvignon Blanc wines being judged to determine which nation can claim to be the king of this universally popular white grape.

This inaugural wine contest also aims to celebrate the intense, yet sporty, rivalry between South Africa and New Zealand who this year celebrate 100 years of Test Match Rugby, a contest that began in 1921 when the All Blacks and the Springboks first met in Dunedin in New Zealand. Like their shared passion for rugby, South Africa and New Zealand have a proud history of winemaking with both countries being leading producers of Sauvignon Blanc, the world’s most popular white wine variety.

Erica Crawford from Loveblock Wines in New Zealand.

And on 22 September a panel of wine experts will decide which of the two make the best Sauvignon Blanc when 10 wines from South Africa face 10 wines from New Zealand on the Diemersdal Estate in Durbanville, Cape Town. The competition was conceptualised by New Zealand wine producer Erica Crawford, founding partner of the Kim Crawford wine brand and currently owner of Loveblock Wines, and Emile Joubert, a communications consultant to the South African wine industry.

According to Crawford, the competition aims to celebrate the strong sporting and cultural links between the two countries, look at the style of wine coming from the two countries, and to have a bit of fun.

“With 268m litres of Sauvignon Blanc produced in New Zealand in 2021, South Africa makes about a third of the volume of Sauvignon that we do,” says Crawford. “But what it lacks in size of production, the Cape for sure makes up in quality. Having regularly been exposed to South African Sauvignon Blancs, there is no question that some of the best wines from this variety are made over there. The winemakers are smart and innovative, and the Cape has a diversity of terroir that comes to the fore in the wines. It is going to be really interesting to see how ten of the best Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand matches up to what South Africa is currently doing.”

Joubert says that when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc and a wine country in general, New Zealand’s story is miraculous. “Until the 1980s nobody had heard of New Zealand as a wine producer – rugby and sheep were the dominant associations,” he says. “Today New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most well-known categories across the world and rules the category in terms of the value it has created for that country, both economically and in terms of image and reputation as a wine nation. South Africa’s wine legacy might be much older than that of New Zealand, but in terms of profile and commercial success, the Kiwis currently lead the way.”

Emile Joubert

All wines judged will be from the 2020 vintage, and the panel of judges is led by Winnie Bowman, Cape Wine Master and a well-known South African and international wine judge.

“I am really looking forward to this match-up between two great winemaking countries,” says Bowman. “Both nations have played a role in establishing New World Sauvignon Blanc as an internationally successful wine category due to the delicious profile of the wines made from this variety. For any country making Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is a real force to be reckoned with. They have made the category their own. However, South African Sauvignon Blanc has a quality proposition of its own. Obviously, we judges do not know any of the wines the respective selectors have put into the line-up, but quality-wise, both New Zealand and South Africa will be challenged.”

Mullineux: 10 Steps to Legend Status

Seeing as the day was gloomy and foreboding under a gun-grey sky, with a Cold Front pounding the rolling green hills of the Swartland, a bit of drama of the opinionated kind is undoubtedly justified. This being that those persons present on Roundstone Farm on the Kasteelberg to experience ten vintages of Mullineux Syrah wines will a few years hence look back at the event and label this an historic occasion. And if they don’t, they didn’t deserve to be there.

Of course, the opportunity to engage with 20 Syrahs from one of the Cape’s finest modern producers is always going to be an irresistible experience and memorable proposition. A complete no-brainer, thus, on the front of the sensorial overpowering of those appreciating excellent wine. But the genuine reverence of this event lay in that it afforded those present to experience a wine producer with a solid foot-hold on the path to greatness in the story of South African wine. As assured as that footing currently is, it is only treading deeper. We are talking about a producer who will one day feature prominently in the talk of Cape wine legends.

Therefore, being exposed to the early years of Mullineux’s site-specific Syrah is the kind of stuff cemented in memory, ensuring that I-was-there feeling of being a part of something special and profound.

The kicker for the occasion was the 2019 vintage releases of the two terroir-specific Mullineuxs Syrahs, namely Granite and Schist. And on the hook of the new releases hung the tasting of each of the two wines’ preceding nine vintages, going back to 2010. As the whisky advertisement says, true privilege is rare.

All this was presided over by the easy-going Chris and Andrea Mullineux themselves, whose approach sends out a clear message that if anyone or anything is going to do any kind of impressing, it will be the wines.

Blue-cranes on the Mullineux Roundstone Farm.

And here, going through the first couple of vintages, I immediately threw off any shackles that might have me confining these wines to descriptors pertaining to a fixed perception of “Syrah” or “Shiraz”. Here before me were simply glasses embracing garnet-coloured red wines from two individually distinct patches of earth from the Swartland, Western Cape in the country that is South Africa.

The Mullineux Granite series alludes to the soil profile of a vineyard parcel in the Paardeberg area, while “Schist” dominates the earth on the Kasteelberg site where this wine’s journey begins. So, with ten vintages made from grapes originating from each of the two different soils, the chance to perceive the geological effect on the final product was one of the aspects of this tasting I was keenly anticipating.

A general observation from my specific set of senses-seeking physiological equipment was that the Mullineux Granite red wines were of firmer tannin, especially on the finish, where they left an energetic brushstroke of vivid wine flavour and taste. The Schist wines were generally sleek and graceful in their presence, the muscles sculpted and loosened compared to those of the Granite wines, which rippled and shivered with a robust virility.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux, the Golden ones.

As mentioned, the tone of this presentation was more focused on experiencing the wines than, thankfully, lengthy winemaker diatribes on fermentation, racking and oaking schedules. When prodded, Andrea mentioned the barrels were big and there was some new wood – less today than the 50% of earlier vintages before foudrés were thrown in the mix. Going through the tasting notes, it is evident the approach in cellar is of the gentle kind: whole-bunch fermentation, gentle foot-stomping to start the action, native yeasts and 14 days fermentation – a moderate pigéage, once to twice daily. Post-fermentation, the wine gets a four-week lie on the skins.

The Granite and Schist reds from the 2010 vintage threw down the gauntlet, preparing the stage for what turned out a magnificent show. My experiences with older wines made from Shiraz grapes have been forgetful, to say the least. But at 11 years of age, the two numbers the Mullineuxs put-up were staggeringly beautiful.

Granite 2010 had a sultry smokiness, so much bacon-kip that this ain’t going to crack the nod as a bar mitsvah wine any time soon. The savoury warmth lay like a log-cabin eiderdown on a mélange of blackberry and autumn-leaf, the presence of taste assured and evocative without any talk of overpowering or brash loudness.

Things got dangerous with the other 2010, namely the Schist. This winetasting occasion had me placed next to one of the Cape’s true wine ladies, a perennially attractive veteran of retail, and I hoped that she was not considering any of the signals of arousal I happened to show being aimed at her. For it was on record that, post-event, I wrote to Chris and Andrea stating that Mullineaux Schist Syrah 2010 was one of the finest South African wines I had ever experienced.

The wine was red and long and cool, a harmoniously aligned structure of nature and wisdom; understanding and human skill. On the nose, crushed crab-apple found raspberry compote spilled on a hot gravel foot-path in the countryside outside Aix-en-Provence. You could hear cicadas. The wine attacked the palate with a hasty, well-aimed and sharp onslaught, the kind you’d gladly die under, leaving a note of gratitude as the blood left your veins.

And then it danced. Awash with ripe plum, red-currant and fig-paste, the wine prodded the senses with other-worldly tastes: the wet wrapper of an aged Havana cigar; just-picked white peppercorn still damp with a salty breeze off the Zanzibar oceans. Sweet, fat mussels smoked by a fire made from sun-dried pine-needles. All this is heady and intoxicating, yet it runs a line of extreme civility and immortal culture.

In younger vintages, especially 2013 and those showing the brilliance of 2015, the Granite’s savoury rim lessened, overtaken by fruit of denser succulence. But the alignment remains seamless, the composure, balance and total charm being beautiful and expressive from one wine to the next.

The latest vintage of Granite, namely 2019, is forgiving and kind in its youth, now deliciously drinkable. But a dangerous power lurks in its charming smile, a lot of broodiness waiting to be unleashed in waves of visceral taste and joyous fulfillment as the years go by.

For the Schist, two words keep popping-up in my scribbles, namely “bloody plum”. In each of the ten times this wine entered my mouth, I detected that life-affirming sunny juiciness of fruit, followed by a pulsating feral tearing of sinew and flesh as the wine made its way straight for that one place for which God created it to strike into, namely the human heart.

Times like these make you realise how fortunate you are, for mere mortals must see, hear and sense greatness. Thanks to Mullineux and the few others, one is allowed to – on occasion – taste it.

  • Emile Joubert

Eight Rows from the Mother City

One of the wiser moves the South African wine industry made over the past few years was approving a Wine of Origin Cape Town district to complement the country’s range of regionally authentic offerings. This saw the wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay corralled under the inclusive name Wine of Origin Cape Town for use as the respective producers see fit.

The marketing potential of labelling wine under the name of one of the world’s best-known and exciting cities was obviously a juicy incentive for the wineries who fall in the boundaries of WO Cape Town. However, the authorities ensured the new demarcation was rubber-stamped and credible.

The late Duimpie Bayly, then-chairman of the Wine and Spirit Board’s Demarcation Committee, said that from a wine production side, the wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay meant to be together. “We considered the various wards in the new proposed district and found great similarity in terroir as well as clear boundaries in a district that at its furthest point is 36km from the Cape Town City Centre,” he said.

“We remained scientific in determining the physical similarities of the wards using the latest GIS technology available. After our findings and recommendation for this new wine district, the Demarcation Committee received no objections whatsoever and are now excited to add the new district to our Wine of Origin system.”

As with most new official developments wine wise, the decision was met with surprise bordering on shock in some circles. Wine critics and self-appointed aficionados laughed-off the idea that an area such as Durbanville can lay claim to being “part of Cape Town”. Sure, the town of Durbanville is 30km from Cape Town. But Sauternes is 50km from downtown Bordeaux City. And a Bordeaux appellation without Sauternes has been, and always will be, unimaginable, non?

Diemersdal in pastoral mood.

Almost three years down the line, producers donning WO Cape Town are ticking along very nicely. The brand has reverberated in the international markets where both bottle and bulk wine customers are finding Cape Town an increasingly attractive proposition.

Thys Louw from Diemersdal Estate in Durbanville was one of the drivers behind the new demarcation. And the quality of the wines he labels under the appellation goes a long way in ensuring that, with all its attractions and appeal, Cape Town is also associated with terrific wines.

Being holed up in the City Centre with Table Mountain towering into the blue skies has given one the time to reassess some of these quality offerings. The spring weather is Sauvignon Blanc-friendly, and a chilled bottle of Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (WO Cape Town), well, that should do nicely.

This is my favourite white wine in the Diemersdal stable and a wine that – among all his restless innovation – remains dear to Thys’s heart.

The origins of the Eight Rows go back to 2005 when he arrived as wine-maker on the family farm after completing internships at various other Cape estates, including Buitenverwachting. Tienie Louw, Thys’s father, who was then running the Diemersdal show, initially had to rein-in his exuberant son. Young Thys saw his wine-making ambitions restricted to Tienie permitting him to only make wines from eight rows of one Sauvignon Blanc vineyard on Diemersdal to see whether the kid was up to the task.

The rest is history. From the maiden 2006 vintage, the Eight Rows has been a success with critics and customers alike. Today the same eight vine-rows on Diemersdal are still harvested for this wine, delivering between five and seven tons of grapes annually.

Having known the wine since its inception, one word springs to mind: completeness. There is a purity and fine linear precision that I tend to associate more with a class Chablis than a Sauvignon Blanc from Cape Town.

But here it is, Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2021. As an ode to the site, wine-making is deft and un-cluttered. Controlled fermentation. Five months on lees, regular stirring. Bottled unfiltered.

Striking is the pale gold colour. The aroma is invigorating, long with a definite maritime presence in the whiff of oyster-shell and wet ocean rock. It is on the palate where the wine shows its status of being the complete Sauvignon Blanc. On the attack, definite slices of gooseberry and a few granadilla pips are discernible. But these are just to open the wine’s cloak, the glimpse of tropical leading to structure, mouth-feel and taste of riveting glory. Presence on the palate is strong and alert, without being thick or weighty – much like a modern French tight-head prop who does triathlons in the off-season and avoids extra frites at dinner. Flavours are kumquat and persimmon, with the ever-presence of ocean: a limpet-covered reef; crushed sea-urchin.

Anything maritime and of the sea needs citrus, and here, on the finish, a surge of lemon essence comes to the fore followed by a lick of salt and a wet, crashing wave of intense flavour.

Wines of great individuality tend to defy the restrictions of cultivar that limits imagination through the confinement of expectation. Thus best to just say it is a great white wine from Cape Town. What more reason do you need?

Restaurant Review: Toni’s for Portuguese

My editor is a Dias Tavern disciple, monotonously so, but when it comes to Portuguese joints in Cape Town, I am rooting for Toni’s. It’s in the chicken, and the spirit-sustaining comfort of its feijoada, a dish of pig and beans and rice.

I head to the veranda overlooking the Jan van Riebeeck High School and the colourful passers-by on busy Kloof Street. The evening is cool, with a salty tang to the air and a damp, broad promise of rain. This is good eating weather, the slight chill sharpening the appetite.

A Super Bock draught beer, cold and long, is downed without touching sides, and a friendly waitress appears to take orders. Starting with rissoles and caldo verde and chicken livers. Plus, too, a bottle of Portuguese baptizing water, also known as Vinho Verde Casal Garcia.

Caldo verde, here, has a hot shot in making it onto the list of the best in country. The green soup has kale swimming in a broth of potato and stock, with slivers of smoky chouriço rounding off the satisfying goodness of it all. Everything about this dish is as authentically Portuguese as a clay cock in a tourist shop in the Algarve.

You know what it is.

Rissoles present soft pastry pillows filled with moistly minced prawns flavoured with sage and garlic. Fun to eat, and playfully messy as the uninitiated rissoles eater bites into the case causing a lava-hot spurt of prawn liquid to ooze all over his and her fingers, dripping onto the skirt of the girl next door. The chicken livers are delicately and accurately cooked, tender enough to release the earthy, bloody and truffle scent of organ and perfectly complemented by a peri-peri sauce more savoury and tomato than mouth-scorching chilli heat. Sauce is soaked into fresh rolls with a soul-enriching crisp crust.

The Casal Carcia washes the stuff down, well and good and true. Another bottle appears as mains are ordered.

One chicken peri-peri, and a feijoada. God knows what the other people are having, but it’s fine by me.

Toni’s chicken peri-peri is unique and original to this restaurant. It is the Michelin Star of Portuguese chicken. The Grand Cru. The Veritas Double Gold and the Absa Top 10.

In the raw material, a few of the bird’s bones are removed with surgical precision, leaving the chicken flat and spread-eagled for consistent and evenly spaced cooking. This is done on order over a grill, constant basting with a secret colourless liquor taking place during the procedure of 30 minutes.

Brigitte Bardot

The chicken arrives at the table looking like Brigitte Bardot in her younger days on St Tropez: golden-brown, moist and all spread-open. Golden chips and lemon wedges complete the plate.

Flavour is chicken, salt and citrus with a slight kick of heat. But Toni’s home-made and bottled peri-peri does not stand on the table for ornamental purposes. I splosh this over the chicken, adding a scalp-tingling spiciness and crotch-warming heat to the beautiful freshly cooked chicken.

Between bites of bird, the feijoada is attacked with relish. Thumbnail-size portions of stewed pork lying amidst beans, tender and comforting. Sage, garlic and wine forms the basis of this stew whose flavour has me seeing fleeting images of fado singers, the vine-clad slopes of the Douro and Lisbon’s life-threatening trams bearing down on one in the heat of a summer’s day.

Feijoada

This, all, happens time-and-time again, over-and-over with each visit to Toni’s. Consistent as a Ronaldo cross-kick, as accurate as a Portuguese fishing vessel tracking a shoal of sardines. This place delivers. The gift that keeps on giving.

  • Earl Dexter