Besides the regular pleas to government to unlock our industry, the South African wine space was understandably quiet during the lockdown caused by we-know-what
Noticeable wine action, however, was instigated by the South Africa’s Chenin Blanc Association, the body representing the Cape’s Chenin Blanc winemakers. During lockdown they refused to go quietly, especially on 20 June when they brought the country to a stand-still with a tidal wave of promotional activities encouraging people all over the world to Drink Chenin. This was a gutsy, lively and admirable showing as thousands-upon-thousands of social media users stuck it to the authorities by espousing the merits of Chenin Blanc and, ultimately, the fantastic wine lifestyle.
It is thus difficult not to begin this missive without mentioning one of South Africa’s array of superlative Chenin Blancs. Even harder to select one, but I am going Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2018 from one of Stellenbosch’s finest exponents of South Africa’s most well-known white grape.
The Kleine Zalze Family Reserve is made from some serious fruit, namely grapes picked from vines over 40 years of age and grown on unirrigated bush-vines. Thus, no fixing and topping up the growing conditions with a spray of water, but using vines that survive totally exposed to the vagaries of nature.
This white wine is oak-aged, spending eight months in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill barrels, cellarmaster Alastair Rimmer believing that wood is non-negotiable for adding depth and structure, while he does not want the wine to taste like a cricket bat either. Something excessive new wood can do.
The result is a brilliant Chenin Blanc, a real example of why South Africa is known to make the best Chenin in the world. There is the refreshment, liveliness that white wine lovers find so appealing, a brisk medley of yellow citrus fruits. This crisp, bright profile leads to underlying nuances of white pear, honey-comb and quince, with just a slight note of toasted hazelnut. A delectable, nectar-like sweetness coaxes the palate on the finish, attracting another full glass and further enjoyment of a humdinger of a white wine.
It is weird to think that wines suffer from their names, and people’s ability to pronounce them. Take Gewürztraminer, the invigorating white grape from Alsace, Germany and Austria that does not enjoy the popularity it should due to the guttural sound one makes when pronouncing it. Jancis Robinson MW, arguably the world’s most-respected wine critic, names Gewürztraminer as one of two wines in the world having the most recognisable aroma. (The other is Sauvignon Blanc.) And anyone who has put their nose in a glass of Gewüztraminer can concur: the scent of litchi drifts towards the senses, complemented by heavenly aromas of rose petals and, yes, an obvious spiciness.
Delheim, situated in the beautiful Knorhoek-valley in the Simonsberg, is one of the few wineries in South Africa to grow and vinify this variety. Seeing that Delheim’s pater familias, the late Spatz Sperling was of German descent, the presence of this cultivar is to be expected.
Only some 94ha of Gewürztraminer vines are found in South Africa’s total vineyard space of 90 000ha, and those of us loving this grape sure wish there was more.
Delheim Gewürztraminer 2019 hit the market recently, and as usual I commandeered a batch, pronto. During the making, the focus is on capturing the zest and life of those characteristic floral and spice flavours. Thus, all fermentation and maturation are in stainless steel to bring the essence of the grape to the bottle.
The result is a life-affirming white wine with prominent hints of grapefruit, litchi pineapple and white flowers supported by a firm acidity preventing the wine from becoming cloyingly sweet. You taste sun and ripe grapes. You see bees buzzing around heavy bunches of fruit and taste summer in every glass. A beautiful wine.
Of course, with most of lockdown occurring over the winter months, some serious red wines were chosen for research, all for the purpose of increasing knowledge and gaining insight. I found a wonderful Shiraz from a newer offering in the region of Franschhoek. The 12 Mile Limited Release Syrah 2017 originates from the expansive range of wines under the auspices of the Old Road Co., which has a nifty tasting centre and restaurant as you enter the town of French Huguenots, croissants and monuments. The influential Wine Advocate recently rated this Old Road 12 Mile Shiraz among its 10 Best Wines from South Africa, so along with my current Shiraz fixation, it was worth checking out.
Shiraz has been an anomaly to me. One of the best South African wines I have ever had, KWV’s Perold 1998, was made from this Rhône variety growing on the slopes of Paarl. However, the memories of the very good Shiraz wines to cross my palate – Boekenhoutskloof, RR Melck from Muratie, Boschkloof, Porseleinberg – have been tarnished by the vast oceans of inferior, bitter, metallic Shiraz the Cape has been pumping out ever since we became Shiraz bos (loony) in the 1990s.
The 12 Mile Limited Release Syrah 2017, thankfully, reminded me of the true beauty this variety is capable of expressing. Aged for 18 months in 2nd and 3rd fill French oak, the colour is black-purple with ruby edges. The nose has the anticipated notes of spice, but this does not obscure the very intense perfume of fresh-cut violets, fig-paste, and just a tad of cigar-box. Liquid velvet is the first impression as the wine drifts between the lips, polished and refined as a Delft vase-shaped by the gifted touch of a master craftsman.
It is juicy and delicious and rich. Oozing clods of tightly-packed black-currant meet rivulets of scented pomegranate syrup and rosewater; a meaty grip of muscular tannins lifts the mid-palate, while a harmonious spread of succulent plums, crab apples and white peppercorns closes the first sip with a flourish.
That was lock-down. No we can confidently say: the bar is open.
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