The nearest South Africa comes to Chablis has nothing to do with Chardonnay. That searing slash of steely minerality found in Chablis is amiss from unwooded South African Chardonnays. Whilst some wines do offer some of those features wine boffins refer to as tense, nervous, edgy or wired, the country’s southern sunshine and its eagerness to ripen Chardonnay prevent the stony and anguished structure of the fruit from penetrating the juice.
South African unwooded Chardonnays will all show a degree of pineapple, blossom, white pear and linen, but Chablis-like sharpness is lacking. Perchance, to dream.
Enter Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The chemical balance of these two is far more conducive to a riveting perky thrust than the great Burgundian Chardonnay variety. And when grown in the right environment they offer the assertive ring of clarity that echoes Chablis in all its glory.
This astonishing degree of perception and insight hit me like an iced beach-volleyball when Hermanuspietersfontein hassled me by dropping off a three-set freebie, including its Kaalvoet Meisie.
I love this Hermanus-based cellar for its quirkiness amidst the elegance of the fine vinous offering. As well as – like me – the folk at Hermanuspietersfontein know that it is quite impossible for anybody to truly comprehend the South African wine industry and its culture without a reasonable understanding of its native language, namely Afrikaans.
Posmeester. Swartskaap. Kat met Houtbeen and Bloos are some of the other names joining Kaalvoet Meisie in an offering whose uniqueness is matched by the superb wine quality.
But back to Kaalvoet Meisie and her Chablis shuffle, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon with a splash to Nouvelle. Grapes are grown in the Sondagskloof across Walker Bay from Hermanuspietersontein at around 300m above sea-level.
Soils are small stones, dirt and good clay in the top-soil, and sure as hell there is a good component of fossilised marine organisms in the growing matter. Add in the Sondagskloof’s exposure to the salty southerly winds tearing in from the Atlantic, and this is extreme viticulture.
The Kaalvoet Meisie 2014 is a brilliant, gusty piece of cold-climate wine-making which is a sitter for a Premier Cru Chablis in any blind line-up.
That nose, like sea-spray blasting from the blow-whole of a new born whale calf. Not a hint of fruit or vegetable, an ever-so-slight whiff of wild sage confirming these grapes originate from terra firma. Cool and severe on the attack, the wine has enough anxiety to confuse a Jewish psychotherapist working in the Cape Flats. Nervous like hell, edgy enough to warrant a Zopax prescription and lean as a Syrian refugee on the Tim Noakes Diet.
This is the wine that wants you to feel its issues, wants to liven you up with an austerity that makes the prose of Hemingway read like a manual for repairing railway carriages.
It is dry and cold, and awash with mysterious flavours and rigorous scents of the ocean, livening the spirit and the palate and going straight for the place that all fine wine aims for – the human heart.
Touché, Kaalvoet Meisie, toujours Chablis.
- Emile Joubert
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