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

The Master of Cape Syrah

Cape winemakers can hardly afford to be one-trick ponies. Unlike their Old World brethren who spend most of their lives committed to working a handful of grape varieties into two to three wine-styles, South African vignerons must tap into the national vinous psyche. Which in most instances demands an almost promiscuous approach in handling a vastly diverse array of grape varieties and wine-styles under one umbrella brand.

Here in the New South, it is not uncommon to find one winery happily producing Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and Merlot – with a Cap Classique bubbly or two thrown in for good measure. Port and Noble Late Harvest, optional. It is wild and varied, and we like it.

Specialisation is a rare luxury afforded only a few winemakers. Although, there are a handful of Cape winemakers whose skill with a certain variety has risen to the surface; the yin meeting yang, the experience, craftmanship and commitment offering the consumer a guarantee of something exceptional. Danie de Wet and Chardonnay springs to mind. Beyers Truter and Pinotage. Jan Boland Coetzee with Pinot Noir, while Sauvignon Blanc happens rather well when handled by Thys Louw.

Charles Hopkins.

When it comes to Shiraz, my leaning is towards Charles Hopkins of De Grendel, a man who has established an amazing track-record with the Rhône grape and one who has the wines to show why this is so.

Hopkins was one of the first to produce Shiraz from cool-climate, southerly sited Elim vineyards. He made a name at Bellingham, a pioneering Shiraz farm, before moving onto Graham Beck. Although known for Cap Classique, and rightly so, Graham Beck did make some of the best red wines around, The Ridge Syrah being one of them. Hopkins’s wines from the Shiraz grape have always seemed to show refinement and restraint, with brooding dark moodiness beneath the fruit core. But, at the same time, a joyous drink-me appeal.

Since 2005 Hopkins has been at De Grendel, home of the Cape’s blue-blood Graaff clan who, with Charles’s help, have added wine to their extensive list of interests in business and agriculture. In 15 years, Hopkins has helped elevate De Grendel to the top echelon of local wine offerings, making an extensive range of white and red wines accurately expressing varietal and terroir. For the latter, De Grendel sources fruit from wherever Hopkins deems the best sources to be.

The latest patch of dirt Hopkins got to play with for his De Grendel Shiraz ventures is high up, namely the Ceres plateau. A kilometre above sea-level and 140kms from the coast, this site is about as continental as a croissant breakfast in Brussels. It is called Op die Berg, a place De Grendel already palms for grapes with which to make a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A recent addition to the De Grendel range, thus, is the Op die Berg Syrah 2019, adding to the marque’s other Syrah, the one made from Elim.

During the on-line launch, Hopkins used his unique accent – an intriguing blend of English spoken with brushes of Afrikaans and French – to enthuse on the simplicity of his approach to this new Syrah.

The vineyard is high, dry and cool. The grapes are trucked in from the plateau in the dead of night. Pump-overs are done in closed tanks – fermenting Shiraz sucks oxygen like a F1 driver getting out of a car wreck. And maturation is in old wood, French oak ranging from 2nd to 4th fill, for one year.

There was some talk of pepper and elegance and other stuff in the De Grendel Op die Berg Syrah 2019, but the one thing that jumps at me from the glass is purity. High and dry the vineyard might be, but the wine is wet. It gushes and oozes, swirls and flows.

The nose is invigorating, a mountain stream at speed just before it breaks into white water. An aroma of salt and pickled ginger just manages to overpower the summer scent of lavender and sage-brush, petunia drifting out back. To the mouth, a line of elderberry and sour-cherry with a spread of sundried tomato. The splashing stream, however, returns and now the wine runs with bright energetic succulence, a bite of ripe fig, dried pomegranate seed and just an edge of truffled prosciutto.

Yes, in case one has missed it, the wine is absolutely delicious. Drinkable. Yet, a classical beauty becoming the work of a master. Pure thoroughbred.

Am I Becoming a Wine Snob?

Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so. After decades of being a proud non-fussed imbiber and glugger of wine – any wine –  and an unphased partaker in wine culture, there are signs that I am, too, showing certain traits that others might identify as being characteristic of homo sapiens vino snobbium, aka the dreaded wine snob. Against this, I have fought valiantly. By showing an open and non-opinionated disposition to any wine coming my way. By maintaining the habits and manners of the common man instead of breathing the rarified air sustaining the lofty residents at the top-end of the wine spectrum. A recent bout of introspection, however, showed red flags. The talons of wine snobbery have descended, the grip is being felt. For I am showing the following symptoms:

  1. I took a selfie of myself sniffing a glass of Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon. No, it was not the wine’s fault. There was just this overwhelming urge to document my manner of engaging with the wine. A desire to show the rest of the world that I can hold a wine glass decently and at the correct tilt, with an admirable studious look as I seductively engage with the liquid. Sure, vanity was involved as the scene looked pretty cool. But most of all the selfie was driven by a wish to let the rest of society know that I am not just a normal plebian wine drinker, but a serious student, worshipper and disciple thereof. At one with the liquid, a relationship earned and not by many deserved. Snob factor: 96/100.
  2. The fact that I admit to taking my own stemware to certain restaurants is a dead giveaway, from the word go. The word “stemware” says is all. No glass, white wine glass, red wine glass or wine glass. Glasses are for beer or whisky or organic mineral water. Wine snobs drink from “stemware”. Sure, this is like purporting a dog-leash to be a “canine restraining device” or a Covid vaccine is “China generated virus prophylactic”. But yes, when visiting eateries who still pour wine into Paris goblets with which – if forcefully thrown – one can cause serious concussion in a hard-headed wildebeest, I prefer to lug along a few carefully polished pieces of stemware. These not only do justice to the aromatic and flavour offerings of the wines, but look damn cool on the table. And also let others know that he is, well, a wine person, aka wine snob. Factor 90/100.
  3. French words are finding their way into my wine vocabulary, and this has to be stopped. Stirring the lees after wine has fermented is pretty self-explanatory, but now I only think “battonage”. The term “grape variety” is simple enough, however, “cépage” is creeping into my lexicon, leading to confused looks from those I am requesting to know what grape is planted out back. And of course, no talk of Cap Classique or Champagne is complete without throwing in terms such as “remuage” and “tirage” to the more familiar words of “cuvée” and “disgorgement”, which even the plebs know of. The strength of the snob factor for this French indulgence depends on the pretentiousness of the pronunciation, but usually hovers around 91/100.
  4. I’m beginning to laugh off young wines. One of the more common terms employed by the wine snob is “infanticide”, referring to some dark, mysterious abuse one is committing when daring to drink a wine which has, according to the self-determined rules of said wine snob, not undergone the necessary aging process. A Burgundy which has been opened without having been allowed to mature for 15 years in the bottle is, according to the wine snob, laughably young. And opening a Bordeaux 2nd growth or Kanonkop Paul Sauer from a vintage later than 2005 is assured to attract stares of disdain and mockery. The snob factor here is heightened by the stupidity thereof, as the statement of a wine being “far too young” is not backed up by any evidence. As how would you know if you have not tried it? Snob factor for infanticide obsession, thus 98/100.
  5. Let people know you are one of the fortunate few to receive “allocations”. For this, let everybody once and for all realise that you be no mere mortal when it comes to procuring wine. You walking aisles of Woolworths of Pick ‘n Pay liquor stores? Never – buying socks from Ackermans and cookery utensils from At Home would be almost as bad. Nor does the wine snob swing by a winery to stand alongside mortal wine loving tasters and purchasers to place an order. No, the true aficionado, the expert, the prophet of the vinous realm, he or she applies for winery allocations. Not necessarily because the wines are that much better than those labels found at supermarkets or in wine stores. But just by being given the privilege of receiving a wine or two that the relevant producer has deemed to apparently be rare enough to sell in limited volumes to discerning buyers, one cements one’s status as a paranormal walker of the wine earth. A special one. Snob factor year, 93/100.  

With some symptoms showing, advice on how to rid them shall be welcomed. Otherwise, bring on the next vaccine.

Duimpie Bayly: Loss and Memory

Whoever said that nobody is irreplaceable had obviously never met Duimpie Bayly. Many of us, so many, had the rug pulled out from beneath our respective worlds on Wednesday when the news came that Duimpie had died of a heart-attack at home. Fittingly, if there is such a thing in death, he had just returned from a visit to Neethlingshof Estate to collect wine before his number was dialled.

Francis Carr Bayly packed a massive slice of the South African wine industry into that short frame of his. Not that short, really, but the kids at St Andrew’s in Bloemfontein thought their fellow scholar was slight enough to be named after the Afrikaans word for a small thumb, that be Duimpie.

Everyone in wine knew him. And if they did not know him, they knew of him.

The son of a sheep-farmer who died when Duimpie was only 12, he came to the Cape in the late 1950s to study BSc at the University of Stellenbosch. His mind was set on science, wine he knew as an integral part of student life, something he lived to the full. He loved telling how he was asked to leave university residence and told not to return. The student authorities, apparently, wrote to his mother, informing her his son was expelled from campus lodgings for “the repeated use of strong drink”.

A chance meeting with the legendary former MD of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, Ronnie Melck, saw Duimpie landing a job in the SFW laboratory in 1962 doing analyses on samples. The fermented juice of the grape triggered something in him. Off he went to University of California, Davis to study winemaking and viticulture.

Back with his MSc Degree in Viticulture and Oenology, plus his American bride Sue and a throaty Mustang supercar, Duimpie hit the cellars of SFW where he selected vineyard blocks, negotiated contracts with grape-growers and made many of the wines in SFWs legendary range. He also travelled the wine world, learning with his eyes, honing his incredible skills as taster and making friends wherever the winds took him.

As small as the name Duimpie implies, as large was his personality and the effect he had on people. He was a thoughtful and interested listener, and an easy conversationalist, as comfortable talking to his lowest cellar-hands as he was with the global captains of industry he befriended. When the conversation opened to allow a gap for a joke or a story, Duimpie was first out of the blocks. He jested others in his company with a lovable quick wit and was a master of self-deprecation, always ready to laugh at himself.

Somehow you were always glad to see Duimpie, and he would appear happy to see you. A mischievous smile and an ever-present twinkle in his eye, waiting for a reason and opportunity to enthuse, riposte or help kick-start the conversation on whatever topic this might turn-out to be. In this, I for the life of me cannot remember Duimpie speaking unkindly about anybody or going off on some dull, negative and morose rant.

To me, the reason for this eternally positive outlook resulted from his appreciation of what he had, where he lived and the world he moved in. There was Sue in the house on the Lynedoch small-holding they shared with Duimpie’s beloved cattle. There were friends, so many friends, old and young, friends he felt just as fortunate to have as we ourselves were to have him.

And I think this was one of the reasons Duimpie so loved wine and saw in its fabric layers that are not often recognised, namely that the diverse facets of wine’s making and growing and selling and studying and learning, this draws people to one another. This allowed for life-long friendships. It saw him able to hold a wealth of friends. This wine gave him. Therefore, he loved it so.

For Duimpie, his friends would move mountains. Even years. Ask business tycoon Johann Rupert. In August 2010, Danie de Wet was visiting Rupert’s farm in Graaff-Reinet. De Wet remembers a call coming through to Rupert from Jan Scannell, then MD of Distell. Scannell needed Rupert’s advice concerning one Duimpie Bayly. With Duimpie turning 70 in October that year, he had reached the stipulated age for retirement from the board of Distell. Upon which Rupert told Scannell that “Duimpie will turn 70 – when I say so”. Duimpie remained on the board until 2013, into his 70s.

The wine industry he loved will forever be indebted to Duimpie’s selfless commitment in furthering its interests. Here he sat on more boards and committees than even he could remember: President of the South African Society of Oenology & Viticulture, as well as of the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society. He also served as chairman of the South African Demarcation Committee of the Wine of Origin System, the Wine and Spirit Board’s technical committee and of the SA National Wine Show Association. He was one the first people ever to earn the Cape Wine Master accreditation and he was a sought-after judge on many wine and brandy competitions.

I was fortunate to attend some meetings with him. When these were held in a winery board-room and the request for coffee or tea was thrown-out at around 10:30, Duimpie would put on a stern face complemented by a devilish frown and a look at the host. He’d nudge his head, egging-on our host to offer the third drink of choice, namely “a little something”. A glass of wine, preferably of the sparkling kind, would be brought for Duimpie, with the other guests soon following.

Now and again Duimpie would proudly refer to his Irish heritage, but Irish poetry was the one thing I never got to chat to him about. So, for you Squire, a few words from WB Yeats which I had the liberty of choosing now you are no longer here in body, but forever in spirit shall be:

Go ask the springing flowers,

And the flowing air above,

What are the twin-born waters,

And they’ll answer Death and Love.

The End.

Paul Sauer: The Great Man of Wine

It comes from good vineyards growing on broken granite soils of over 500m years old, and it comes from the heart. Thus, from 1 July of each year, usually a cold winter’s day beneath the Simonsberg of Stellenbosch, men and women visit this place of ancient earth and vineyards – and of other people living there – to buy South Africa’s most famous wine. Which is also one of the great wines of the world, and it is the place by name of Kanonkop where this wine called Paul Sauer is made. As it has been made every year since 1981, which sounds young to many, but the few will realise that four decades is old in South African wine terms.

This place with its flat earth to the right of the farm’s entrance and the sweeping, steep slope of vines stuck into rust-coloured soils on the left, is a wonder of nature, and of human vision and creation, and that man was Paul Sauer, after whom South Africa’s finest red wine is named.

New and old vines on Kanonkop Estate.

Here he tended the land he inherited in 1929 from his mother Mary, the daughter of Hendrik Cloete, past-owner of Groot Constantia. Paul’s father, JW Sauer, had died when Paul was a boy, but not without instilling in him a love of land, vineyards and people. JW and Mary, who lived on Uitkyk above where Kanonkop is today, were notable historical personalities in their own right. He, a liberal Cape politician and she a fervent advocate for human rights, with figures such as Emily Hobhouse and author Olive Schreiner being close family friends. In fact, Paul’s middle name was Oliver after his godmother, aforementioned Olive.

Upon inheriting the patch of land that was to be Kanonkop, the earth offered only bushes and trees and shrubs, not one vine or building. Paul and Danie Rossouw, his right-hand man, cleared the land and treated the soils, and planted vines. Because, if there was one thing Paul loved after family and people, and life itself, it was wine.

Paul and Danie built a cellar on Kanonkop in 1942. That the owner worshipped wine is not an exaggeration. Paul’s daughter, Cato, went to the cellar with her father, and she said his tasting of wine was like a religious experience. “He would remove his hat, demand silence, and study the colour of each wine and take the aroma and taste with emotion of wonder and reference.”

Yes, the wine from Kanonkop was and is good. Yes, the soils are magnificently suited to the wants of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that have found a home here, a home they love as much as do the people who today live and work among them.

Paul Sauer

But the founder’s heart lives on, and keeps on beating, and that is one reason for each year of the Paul Sauer wine being so special and very, very good.

And what Paul did for wine, he did not only for Kanonkop, but for wine and South Africa. He was the country’s first wine ambassador, a formidable contributor to the South African wine culture of the 1950s and 1960s. When not talking politics and general current affairs, Paul used his public persona to advocate the recognition of wine as an essential part of the South African lifestyle, something representing culture, history, art and beauty, as well as being an indispensable part of good-living.

He loved reverting to ancient history to endorse his praise of wine. “Since Roman times, the wine farmer was recognised as a cultured man of the soil,” he said. “The other farmers were cattle-herders and ploughman, but the wine farmer….now he was the one that moved among the poets and the philosophers,” said Sauer.

“And let’s face it, which poet ever sang the praises of the potato? Show me the philosopher that bestowed the virtues of the humble cabbage?”

Paul’s own drink of choice was Tassenberg, an everyday red blended wine. For if there was one pet peeve he had, it was wine snobbery, something Paul saw as an infliction that prevented the general public from accessing and enjoying wine.

On wine snobs, he said: “Don’t be intimidated by the pretentiousness of those who purport to be wine connoisseurs. Please, do not allow them to get in your way, and don’t allow the snobs to terrorise you. Don’t become obsessed with the ‘right’ wine. Decide for yourself what a good wine tastes like. For you, the best wine is the wine that tastes the best, and to hell with the rest.”

During a parliamentary debate in 1956 on the amendment to the country’s liquor laws to promote quality wine production, Sauer took to the floor in an impassioned call for the importance of good wine and the artisanal approach required to make it.

“I once visited a winery in Australia, a massive impersonal place that looked like a cross between an infirmary and a factory,” he said to Parliament. “I told the winery owner that you can’t make good wine in a place that looks like a hospital. Good wine is like a child, I said. It must be created through love and must be raised in a happy home, not in a place like this (Australian) cellar that looks like a hospital. As a wine farmer, I don’t believe in all this chrome and chemistry. I want an endearing and loving atmosphere.”

And at Kanonkop, this endearing atmosphere had, too, to prevail. That is why the estate was seen as pioneering when in the 1960s, and in the dark days of apartheid, Kanonkop led the way in the Cape winelands by providing dignity for its farmworkers through respectable housing, running water and electricity and various sporting facilities. Factors expected today, but six decades ago, something out of another world.

Thus, the heart beats through the wine, as it has and forever will. Under the name Kanonkop Paul Sauer – like the wine, one in a million.