It is location, geography and a sense of place that makes wine the most diverse and interesting beverage in the world. No-one really cares from where the hops come that is used to brew a cold beer, nor do we ponder over the origin of the maize milled to distil the base-spirits for gin or vodka. But wine is on its own planet in terms of defining and emphasising provenance and specificity of vineyards from where it is made.
Here, our address counts. No other wine producing country can compete with South Africa when it comes to the diversity, natural heritage and spectacular beauty of its wine regions. The oldest soils in the world and a location slap-bang in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom with its thousands of species of fauna and flora makes Cape wine’s address, the place we call home, just incredible.
In this era’s emphasis on sustainability, conservation and preservation of natural areas so as to sequester those nasty carbon emissions, South Africa can become a world-leader in promoting its wines as far in-tune with the natural environment as humanly possible.
This aspect of the local wine industry has drawn the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the most recognised and important conservation body in the world, especially known through its panda-logo. Through the WWF, the Conservation Champions project has harnessed some 50 Cape wineries who each have shown an extraordinary commitment to protect and nurture the natural habitats of their respective farms whilst at the same time continuing to produce wines of which South African can be proud. In synch with nature through conservation, these wines sport the WWF Conservation Champions logo and validate the various members’ conservation actions – as well as helping promote the Cape wine industry’s overall commitment to its natural living environment.
Among these 50 WWF Conservation Champion members are found some of the country’s leading producers. Which makes it easier still – and logical – to pursue these wines in my purchases. As the following serve to illustrate.
Creation Viognier 2020
Situated in in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge area of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley outside Hermanus, Creation seamlessly incorporates it gorgeous physical location with the making of an extensive range of superb wines. These have not only sent Creation to the top of the Cape wine offering, but with its restaurant and tasting centre perched between two wilderness edges and the scent of fynbos in air, this has become one of the country’s most visited wineries.
Winemaker and owner JC Martin is a sure hand at Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two varieties that excel in Hemel-en-Aarde. But I find Creation’s Viognier to be one of the other exciting wines in the range. This white variety, origins being in the Rhône Valley of France, seems to flourish in cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde.
In its making, the wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel, thus keeping the perky freshness of the grape which so often turns into a glass of mushy apricot-driven juice when kept in wood. Creation Viognier is brisk to the edge of raciness, yet on the mid-palate shows a calm and cool creaminess with a broad, floral finish. Fruit and minerals come together for a delicious white wine of the kind of easy complexity one finds in the acting of Steve McQueen.
Neethlingshof 1802 Collection Pinotage 2017
This is one of Stellenbosch’s oldest wine estates, with a history traced back to 1692. Not only has the natural environment been kept in-tact, but so too has Neethlingshof done a great job in preserving its traditional buildings. Such as the old wine cellar that was completed in 1802, the date chosen to name Neethlingshof’s new range of premium wines.
The 1802 Collection sports a Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon, both great wines from vintage 2017. But there is something about the Pinotage that makes me want to traipse around Neethlingshof’s fynbos patches whispering good things to the caracal and owls who live there.
Made from a single Pinotage vineyard planted in 1997, this wine was crafted from hand-selected berries. Fermentation was done in barrel, after which the wine spent a mighty 26 months maturing in 300l vessels of French oak. The three finest barrels were selected for the 1802 Pinotage, and this focus is evident in the wine.
A sweet-fruited core drives this polished, immaculate red wine, the beauty of which lies in its completeness. No specific flavours leap to the fore, nor any notable hooks in the form of tannins or alert acidity. It is just a long, pure and refined wine of beauty and elegance. After finishing one bottle just to ensure that my assumption was correct for the whole journey, I ordered another few bottles as this classic Pinotage is going to mature beautifully over the next decade or two.
Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Boschendal, together with Groot Constantia being South Africa’s oldest wine estate, circa 1685, is a powerhouse when it comes to conservation with the protection of its natural surroundings complemented by incredible eco-projects incorporating, among others, solar energy and waste-water management. Of course, the wines are fantastic and despite its rich, long wine-tradition Boschendal continues to innovate. Such as its Appellation Range of wines made from grapes grown in specific areas identified as bringing out the best in the various varieties concerned.
Stellenbosch is Ground Zero for Cabernet Sauvignon, thus Boschendal has introduced its maiden Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, made from the comet 2017 vintage.
The grapes are grown on the Helderberg, along with Simonsberg Stellenbosch’s two finest regions for Cabernet Sauvignon as a result of the decomposed granite soils, afternoon sunlight radiation and consistent air-flows. Trucked to Boschendal’s Simondium winery, the grapes are fermented for over two weeks, pump-overs drawing maximum flavour, structure and character from the skins. Maturation is for 16 months in French oak, and the result is wine made very well from South Africa’s finest red wine variety grown in the best region for it.
Immediate aromas of pine-needle, dark fruit and fynbos waft from the glass. From the first sip, the wine is enormously satisfying in a sit-back-and-wonder kind of way. Ripe plums, dried figs and sun-kissed herbs come to the fore, with muscular tannins giving it a broody presence which, in the world of great Cabernet Sauvignon, is only natural.
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