By Jacques Dommisse
A woman who caresses the cultivars in her cellar with soft hands and exceptional sensitivity but extracts maximum flavour and complexity; the outstanding terroir of Blaauwklippen in the golden triangle of Stellenbosch’s winelands and the taste explosion of the Malbec grape that is nurtured there, these are part of the winning recipe that earned Narina Cloete a 2022 Veritas double gold.
The Veritas Awards is the country’s leading wine competition, which has been running since 1991 and attracted more than 1 300 entries from cellars across South Africa this year.
Narina’s Veritas award is for a cultivar that was previously, for some, a bit of newness in the country but is increasingly appealing to South Africans. Especially with connoisseurs of red cultivars such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, who are ever more impressed with the robust flavours resembling a basket full of dark berries, chocolates, and the subtle smokiness wood ageing gives Malbec. This French cultivar is starting to catch fire in South Africa, particularly after the Argentines had great success with it. The Southern Hemisphere is much more suitable for its cultivation vis-à-vis the Northern Hemisphere, some believe.
Narina says the Malbec wine she makes is from vines planted in 2003 and 2007 on Blaauwklippen, in the soils of weathered granite on the slopes of the Stellenbosch mountain, ideal for classic Bordeaux-style red cultivars.
The grapes for the Blaauwklippen Malbec 2020 winner were picked at the end of February 2020 in crates of 500 kg and were only de-stemmed, the whole grapes being fermented in stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels. There were two pump-overs per day during fermentation and one pump-over during the extended skin-contact after fermentation. Even then, Narina says, she noticed that the 2020 Malbec is a unique wine. “The colour was an extremely bright and intense red-purple, and the nose and flavours were like a platter of the most fragrant berries, hitting the center of the roof of the mouth. Like a smörgásbord of the most aromatic berries and more,” she says.
Before being pressed, the wine spent 21 days on the skins and then in French oak barrels of 300 liters for ageing. About 23% of new wood was used, and it was in the barrel for 12 months. “I will never forget that a large part of that year’s Malbec barrels was filled the day just before the strict Covid lockdown of 2020. Later during the lockdown, on what was then a very quiet Blaauwklippen, my team and I barreled the balance of the wine.
Regarding the popularity of Malbec as a “new cultivar” for South Africans, Narina mentions that Blaauwklippen’s Malbec 2020 was the top seller at their tasting room in December 2021. “Our 2017 Malbec, the first Blaauwklippen red under my hand, also sold out within that year. In 2018, there was already a core group of Malbec buyers with us, and that year’s wine was also sold out. From 2018 to 2021, our volumes have doubled, and we want to grow our Malbec offering.”
“I believe Malbec is a wine that has a broad appeal, as several of the leading wine connoisseurs appreciate the wine, but the general wine drinker who prefers something exceptional that is not necessarily exorbitantly priced enjoys this palate pamperer. Malbec is a pleasure to work with, says Narina.
Blaauwklippen, a jewel of the South African wine industry for centuries, set the pace as a Cape winemaker with international recognition, especially around 1980 until the mid-nineties before the turn of the century. Now for the first time in two decades, the farm has won a double gold again, with the hand of Narina Cloete reviving the Blaauwklippen legend again.
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