Dry Encounter of the Thirst Kind

In a lingo filled with guttural sounding words to the tune of “achtung”, “mein Gott” and “Schweinehund”, the noun “Riesling” is one of the German language’s more joyous components. I have always found Riesling to be a precise, pure sounding word evoking images of brisk forest streams full of clear water foaming over clean white pebbles, a pristine green mountain forest lying beneath glaciers and a blond German damsel, straight from her fortnightly shower, picking daffodils next to a Gothic cathedral.

As its name implies, a good Riesling wine is – for me – based on purity and a life-affirming freshness. And when the myriad flavours of fruit and spice do lift their heads above the tautly strung line of vinous gusto, they too must be clear, pronounced and shrouded in a cloak of crystal clarity.

Paul Cluver, the iconic Elgin estate, reignited my appreciation for Riesling during this past hot, thirsty summer. Although the farm’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are getting a lot of deserved mileage due to their enchanting individual character and superb quality, South African Riesling gets no better than on this farm.

The two Rieslings on offer are the Close Encounter and the Dry Encounter, the former exuding more perfumed fruit and lanolin as opposed to the latter’s bone-dry steeliness. A dry encounter might sound like some sort of menopausal shenanigan, but if you are talking about the Paul Cluver Riesling it is all spunky youth, verve and energy, my wine of the summer so far.

Paul Cluver Estate, Elgin....green, lean and Riesling.
Paul Cluver Estate, Elgin….green, lean and Riesling.

Riesling is famous for being a pretty accurate reflector of terroir. This makes Elgin the exact Riesling sweet-spot the former Stellenbosch Farmers Winery viticulturists who pioneered the variety there in the 1980’s predicted it would be. Cool air, sure. 300m above sea-level. Gravelly ferricrete soils on decomposed granite. What’s there not for a Riesling vine to like?

To further coax the desired purity from grapes grown on the 27 year-old vines, rigorous sorting of berries is done. Limited lees contact, some fermentation in large oak vats. Nothing too orchestrated.

The experience of Dry Encounter wants me to – actually has me – stating that this Riesling is more reminiscent of exuding a Chablis-like clarity and rockiness than most unwooded South African Chardonnays. These tend to have a bulked structure due to admittedly fine fruit notes dominating the attention-grabbing acidic thrust.

The Paul Cluver Dry Encounter 2015 leads with a nostril-clenching tang of grated finger-lemon and smell of plucked Thai coriander. The entrance to the palate is immediate, grabbing the attention and imagination with green almond, chopped quince and the slightest hint of wild sorrel. Then the wave thunders in, breaks with a bracing riff of cool, dry wine bearing fragments of broken rock, crushed citrus and gobs of green melon.


The 9g/l of residual sugar is enveloped by the total acid clocking in at 7.7g/l, ying-and-yang skating together through high vineyards, grabbing bunches of green grapes and devouring them with joy abandon. It is a wine for drinking early in the morning to arouse the senses from slumber, a wine for washing down bowls of mussels and fish cooked in a seafood broth, a wine to sip as the sun sets to excite all the senses for the next day to come.

KEVIN GRANT’s maiden Ataraxia Pinot Noir has been eagerly anticipated, especially since Kevin has managed to direct the Hemel en Aarde Ridge property into one of South Africa’s leading Chardonnay producers. Well, Monsieur Pinot has arrived, a beaut of a wine from the 2014 vintage.

Kevin Grant thinking Pinot.
Kevin Grant thinking Pinot.

For me, the wine’s charm lies in the delicate balancing act between the grace and charm of lyrical, showy fruit and the confident presence of firm tannins on the mid-palate. There is plenty of the sensual, perfume-fruited opulence that can make a hangman go weak at the knees. Pierced cherries, ripped green figs and plums spring to mind, with a gentle stroke of dried pimento. But it is not all for momentary show, the grip of the pungent tannins steering the wine towards greatness that will present itself after three, four years in the bottle.

Excellent Pinot Noir grapes from the Ridge. Coaxed in the cellar by Kevin the Craftsman. 11 months in French barriques, 21% new. Just so. Awesome, man.

What a great addition to South Africa’s Valley of Pinot by a maestro winemaker. Santé – and that’s French.

Emile Joubert


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