Through the Roof and Beyond – Rosé Rising

It was not quite the answer I had expected, but forty years later I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was in Paris talking to my father’s friend François Engel, a local journalist and novelist, while drinking – as one does at French cafés – a bottle of red wine. Conversation turned to wine, and I ventured that predictably naïve question, “François, what is the best wine you have ever had?”

Monsieur Engel was definitely equipped to answer this. During his eventful career as travel reporter, raconteur and bon vivant, François sampled the finest vinous offerings his homeland had to offer. The Grand Cru Burgundies. Bordeaux Growths One to Five. Enough Champagne to bathe a bevy of Cleopatras in. He had had it all.

“My best wine ever? Now, that question is not as simple to answer as it might seem,” said François, thoughtfully peering at me through a grey-blue wisp of Gauloises smoke. “But if I had to be really honest, the most delicious wine I remember ever drinking was a bottle of rosé. I was a student, working on a wine farm in Provence. Picking grapes under a tremendously hot sun. And at lunchtime we workers were given a sandwich of half a fresh baguette with ham and cheese and one bottle each of an ice-cold rosé wine. Well, the bottle did not even have a label, so I can’t say what it was. But that cold rosé wine on a hot day, with the scent of grapes and the wild herbs of Provence in your nose, well, drinking that was the best wine I can remember having. Ever.”

Monsieur Engel’s experience of a fresh, bracingly simple and deliciously cool wine is exactly what has made rosé such an easy drink for the world to fall in love with. However, although this pink wine style has been around for as long as any wine drinker today can remember, rosé is enjoying a spectacular surge popularity.

While other still wines – white and red – are seeing demand and consumption patterns slacken, global sales of rosé are currently growing at a rate of knots. In the UK, South Africa’s largest wine export market, rosé consumption is growing at over 20% per year. Across the channel in France rosé sales are closing in on those of red wine, threatening to topple the grip vin rouge has had on la grande nation for the first time in history.

Reasons for this charge by the pink wine sector are numerous. There is the fresh, appealing and uncomplicated flavour profile most rosé wines share. The lack of emphasis on grape varieties used to make rosé rids the wine of the geeky, complex baggage that drives younger consumers away from wines where cultivars and vintages act as an intimidating barrier.

Most rosé’s have modest alcohol levels of 13% and lower, itself a fashionable element among today’s new generation of wine drinkers. And talking of the new generation, the instagrammable appeal and social media street credibility of a glass of pink wine set among a vibey background of al fresco dining and sun-worshipping bodies dare not be underestimated. Fashionable and style are king and queen, and as far as wines go, only Champagne and sparkling wine can equal the vivacious appeal of the rosé inspired lifestyle.

Sweet for my sugar

Although rosé wines had enjoyed global popularity since the 1950s, the big brand pink versions that ruled the wine palates six and seven decades ago were far removed from the delicately styled wines driving today’s rosé sector. And to boot, they weren’t even French.

Mateus Rosé from Portugal, a semi-sweet wine coloured a vivid shade of light red and bearing a tongue-pricking petillant sparkle, took the world by storm in the 1950s to 1970s. This perky fruit-bomb of a wine in its characteristic round flagon bottle was at its peak one of the world’s top-selling wines, with some 40m bottles annually exported from Portugal to the USA alone.

With the former Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique on South Africa’s doorstep, Mateus was also the first rosé wines many South Africans encountered, and still today it is found on the wine-lists of local peri-peri houses from Milnerton to Alberton. And for a long time, the Mateus style was what most people associated rosé wine with: brightly coloured, semi-sweet and for fresh, cheerful glugging.

Of course, with a pioneering and innovative outlook, South African winemakers were not going to allow the Portuguese to take the whole rosé pie. Various local wineries were making rosé in the latter half of the 20th century, with Bellingham recognised as the first Cape cellar to offer a pink wine with the introduction of its rosé in 1951. Big commercial brands such as Nederburg, Grünberger and Autumn Harvest were making semi-sweet rosés, although I do recall that in the 1970s the blue-blood Stellenbosch estate Rustenberg was offering a rosé that swam against the grain of most of the local pinks by being bone-dry.

Provence and all that

Many global wine trends developed in the 1990s, a period announcing an increased world-wide interest in wine and wine culture, as well as introducing wine-lovers to the excitement and innovation found in the burgeoning New World wine countries. Paramount among factors driving this new wine wave were, among others, the influence of accessible fruit-driven Shiraz wines from Australia, New Zealand’s stratospheric success with Sauvignon Blanc, the sparkling wine offerings from Spain and Italy and South Africa’s re-entry into the wine world after decades of economic sanctions due to apartheid – to name a few.

With world-wide interest in wine increasing and France being as always recognised as the ancestral home of the fermented grape, eyes were always keenly slanted towards new and interesting drinkables from the Motherland of the vine. And here the Mediterranean French province of Provence was basking in the limelight. Keith Floyd, the pioneer of the witty and engaging television cookery show, was prancing around the Provençal countryside cooking ratatouille and beef daube among the lavender lanes and olive trees. Retired advertising executive Peter Mayle wrote a string of best-selling books about his retired life in France’s south. Starting with A Year in Provence, Mayle’s atmospheric sun-drenched, rosé-soaked memoires led to millions of people outside of France cultivating an awareness of the country’s southern region with its gorgeous scenery, easy-going lifestyle and history going back to Roman times, and before then.

Keith Floyd, the galloping gourmand.

And of course, looking towards all things Provence between the games of pétanque played with the metallic boules, the lavender honey, the Roman ruins and the olive groves, Provence-acolytes noted a wine, and the wine was rosé. If you wanted a taste of Provence, as the world did, you had to drink rosé. Because whether one is a visitor or resident of Provence, when wine is asked for, it will be rosé.

The history of rosé wine in this part of the world can actually be traced back to the Phocaea people from Greece who founded the city of in Marseille – capital of Provence – 2 600 years ago. As was the wont of colonists in early times, the settlers immediately began to plant vines and these here in Provence were the first vineyards to be established in France, making it the country’s oldest wine region.

The wine these first “French” wine farmers made was blended from red and white grapes, resulting in – yes – a pink wine. And by the time the Romans began colonising France 2000 years ago, the pink wines of Provence were already a regional feature.

Marseille, the ancestral home of the pink wines.

As they say in the classics, why mess with a winning recipe? The Romans took-up where the Greeks left off, continuing to make this characteristic pink wine of Provence, although for centuries the practice of creating these rosés has not involved the blending of red and white, but a technique that forms the foundation for rosé production in South African and other parts of the world.

Let it Bleed

Before being influenced by the Provençal style of making rosé, the common practice among South African and winemakers from other countries was to simply blend a red and white wine until it had developed the right shade of pink deserved of the rosé name. However, with a few thousand years ahead of other wine nations in the making of a blush, pink wine, the French were to lead the way – as they so often do in things wine – in teaching the world how to make rosé that tastes like a true Provençal rosé.

This involves making rosé exclusively from red grapes. Because the juice of most grapes is white, all a wine needs to gain a slight hue of onion-skin, salmon or sunset pink, is the briefest contact with its dark skin. Thus, unlike the making of red wine which involves days’ and weeks’ contact with the grape-skins to draw out the dark colour, making rosé involves a gentle crushing and bleeding-off of the juice after it has had the briefest of contact with the dark skins.

Petri Venter, winemaker at Pink Valley Wines in Stellenbosch’s Helderberg and a winery exclusively committed to making rosé, says that among the winemakers and wine-lovers of France, when it comes to rosé, it is all about colour.

“In Provence a rosé is judged by its colour before aroma and taste, which I initially found quite weird,” says Venter who has made rosé at Domaine Vallon des Glauges near the Provence town of Eyguières. “But I suppose that if a wine’s very character is identified by a colour – rosé – it probably deserves playing an important role.”

Accordingly rosé winemakers go to great lengths to achieve the lightest colour possible, a feint onion-skin hue being seen as the ideal. Venter said that his sojourn in Provence taught him the method of making an exceptionally lightly coloured rosé at the Pink Valley winery, the result being a wine so light of colour that its initial rosé status was queried by the local wine authorities.

“It is all about timing, as whatever rosé wants to be, you have to capture freshness along with the distinctive colour,” says Venter. In making his style of rosé, the grape juice from Sangiovese and Grenache Grapes spend 45 minutes in contact with their red skins. But even this brief brush with the dark skins is not enough for achieving the desired palest of pale colour. Here the Provence trick comes in. “Once removed from the skins, the juice spends five weeks in stainless steel, cooled to 2°C degrees to prevent fermentation,” says Venter, “and this is where the classic onion skin colour is achieved. During this time – prior to fermentation – the phenols settle at the bottom of the tank, resulting in the extraordinarily light colour we want.” 

Although French Mediterranean varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsaut, to name a few, are also frequently used in South African rosés, there is no limit to the red grapes that can be used to make the lovable pink wine. Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a cracking rosé as shown by Stellenbosch property Mulderbosch in a wine of depth and complexity while still retaining the vivacious, zesty elements of refreshment for which this wine style is renowned.

Pinotage, that legendary variety that was developed in 1925 and which South Africans like to call their national grape, has proven particularly suitable for rosé. The late Spatz Sperling from Delheim pioneered Cape rosé from Pinotage, and the suitability of this early-ripening variety has made Pinotage Rosé a formidable category on its own.

A prime example is GlenRosé from French-owned Stellenbosch winery L’Avenir. Dubbed South Africa’s first luxury rosé, GlenRosé is made exclusively from Pinotage and its inviting, sensual powder-pink colour is enhanced by an elegant, crafted bottle, underscoring L’Avenir’s belief that rosé deserves a rightful status at the top echelon of premium wine offerings and priced accordingly as just shy of R300.

The current rave around rosé will no doubt soon be raising the issue of whether these quaffable pinks and their fashionable status deserve recognition as harbouring the same iconic appeal as white or red varietal wines such as Chardonnay from Burgundy or Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch.

It is going to be interesting to watch this discussion unfold with a bottle of chilled rosé on hand whilst determinedly looking at the world through rosé tinted glasses. And thinking that Monsieur Engel just very probably could have been right.

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Seven Take-outs from Prowein 2023

After 20 years of enjoying a peaceful week in March at home while all his PR clients jetted off to the Prowein show in Düsseldorf, Germany, it was time for Emile Joubert to join the fray. Here are his top impressions of the world’s largest wine trade fair.

  • The vastness of it all. This is truly something to behold. On paper the facts of 6 000 exhibitors from over 40 countries showing their liquid-wares to 50 000 people from all over the world does not begin to do justice to the real-life experience of three days at Prowein. The 13 halls, some inter-connected, others detached demanding a few hundred metres’ trek across a glum tarmac, are each at least twice the size of the Cape Town International Centre. Each hall is filled to the brim with stands of various sizes, colours and dimensions representing producers of wine and other beverages from all corners of the globe. From 09:00 to 18:00 the exhibition centres buzz as sections of the aforementioned 50 000 visitors move around the stands to conduct business, meet-and-greet and to pursue that shared inbred trait of satisfying curiosity. Pausing to take a breath while walking the 1 200m from Hall 14 – where the South African delegation camped-out – to my German mates in Hall 1 – I could not but philosophically reflect on how big the wine world actually seems. How small South Africa is. How challenging the prospect of, among all these vast vinous offerings, getting one’s wines into the global market-place. Wine gladiators, we salute you.
  • It’s all business. For the opening hours of the show, that is. While some cruisers who managed to score a Prowein ticket are happy to aimlessly waltz about tippling a drop of Uruguay Alvarinho or sculling a glass of golden Commanderia from Cyprus before attempting to swop phone numbers with one of the ice-queens on the Moldovia stand, most people attend Prowein for business. Importers, distributors and buyers from over 140 countries flit from one scheduled meeting to another reconnecting with familiar suppliers or filling an appointment with a new winery from a new country which has been identified as being, possibly, the next big thing. Down where the South African exhibitors were strutting their stuff it was impressive to see local wineries such as De Wetshof, Chamonix, Diemersdal, Kanonkop, Delheim and Kleine Zalze hosting back-to-back meetings with clients from all over the world. Making deals. Fielding queries on the general state of play back in South Africa. Providing updates on their respective farms and wineries and families, with which many of the international buyers appeared to be reassuringly familiar.
  • South African wine is on the map. Introducing myself and chatting down the diverse halls of collected nationalities, it was apparent that South Africa is seen as a major wine player and an inextricable part of the global wine space. From the more familiar wine countries of Germany, France and Italy to the exhibitors from Serbia, Ecuador and Macedonia, everybody knows of South Africa. Not all of them might be able to point-out the country on the map – or find the African continent, even – but an awareness of South African wine was evident among everyone I spoke to. Granted, most wine professionals – i.e. everyone attending Prowein – would have come across the name South Africa in their business reading and statistics lists, but the tone of familiarity shown about the country as a wine producer was pretty awesome to experience. Stellenbosch is recognised as a top region. South Africa’s hosting of the international Concours Mondial du Sauvignon Blanc was noted. Robertson has limestone and Chardonnay. And Kanonkop is one of the world’s best wineries. Familiarity, yes, and not the kind breeding any contempt as far as I could tell.

Maryna Calow from Wosa and Johann de Wet, CEO of De Wetshof Estate.

  • South Africa has a sellable varietal mix. Moseying around the South African hall and eavesdropping in on the conversations and hustling, it is clear that the selection of Cape wine is appealing in its uncomplicated yet interesting spread. Unlike countries offering wine varieties such as Tamjanika (Serbia), Mavrud (Romania) and Malagousia (Greece), the South Africa selection represents a smorgasbord of want and familiarity: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot do not have to be explained, not even to wine-buyers from Kazakhstan or Albania. As exotics, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage have built-up an identifiable international presence with just the correct degree of curiosity-inducing edginess to round-off a undaunting, yet exciting palette of wine offerings. To this must be added the fact that Cape wines are deemed generally well-made, structurally sound and delicious, with accurate displays of varietal character. This is something the buyers at Prowein want. As one representative from a Belgian supermarket chain told me, “I am here to buy wine for my paying customers, not for impressing wine critics”.
  • We are a Vibe. As a collective of producers and marketers representing their country’s brand, South Africans are a discernibly effervescent, vivacious and spirited lot. Traipsing the Prowein halls I was on a daily basis exposed to restrained yet polite Germans, surly Eastern European wine reps who eyed you as if you owed them something, vacuously smiling Spaniards and over made-up Californians more intent on showing their dental-work than the wines before them. The South African contingent, however, greeted known and unknown visitors with hearty guffaws, spirited smiles and that “I am genuinely glad to see you” look. A shared spirit prevailed, one of warmth and confidence and genuine pride in what the gaggle of Cape wine producers have to offer.
  • It’s tough out there. To quote the great Steely Dan song – “The world that we used to know, people tell me it don’t turn not more.” Speaking to wine marketers, from those representing small producers in Alicante to French behemoths it is clear that the current global wine market is a tough one. Energy crisis in Europe. Rampant inflation. Cost-of-living. Long-term effects of Ukraine-Russia….belts are tightened and the European supermarket space is about as friendly to a wine producer as a Macedonian bouncer is to a late-night post Prowein reveller in downtown Düsseldorf’s Altstadt. Average wine prices per bottle in Europe remain shy of 2.5 euro per bottle amidst an environment where beer, ciders and non-alcohols are aggressively invading shelf-space. South African exports of packaged wine for February 2023 are 40% down on the same month’s reportage for last year, an indication of the current international environment. Suffice to say that this global market uncertainty, which is set to hang around for a while yet, is not conducive for a major overhauling of the Cape wine industry in terms of investing in the large-scale replanting of vineyards from Chenin Blanc and Colombard to more profitable varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Trendspotting among this gargantuan display of drinks offerings was about as challenging as trying to find a vegan curry-wurst, but with keen foresight and an accurate fashion sense a few focus points of attention were identified. Fizz is going great guns, for one. Champagne houses are not meeting the incredible demand for the real stuff. Prosecco is going ballistic, Spanish Cava is on the rise and even German producers of carbonated sparkling wine can’t find enough order-books to fill. Rosé is huge, with the French putting themselves forward as the only makers of pink wine worth indulging in. And brace yourselves, inky black sweet wines made from Primitivo are continuing to take European markets by storm. Wine nations stepping to the fore appear to be Portugal and Greece, both taking-up huge Prowein space with EU subsidised stalls. Although as far as the New World goes, it must be said that South Africa has an edge in terms of grabbing the imagination. Opportunity beckons, awaiting to be unleashed.

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Breaking New Ground for Riesling that’s Staying Alive

Lafras Huguenet

Were it not for sport, I would never have made it to Germany in 1972 and discovered the delights of Riesling wine. In a rare moment of spontaneity, I bought a ticket to Munich where that year’s Olympic Games were held and ended staying at the home of the South African consul who, besides having passes to the magnificent Olympiastadion, entertained lavishly. Fellow diplomats from South Africa, Britain, Australia, Switzerland and the United States descended on Mr Willem Retief’s rambling Munich home where he and his wife entertained us with barbecues, Mrs Retief’s famous bobotie and enough Riesling to drown a pod of orca whales in.

I did see Valeriy Borsov, the ace Russian sprinter, win the 100m gold and was able to marvel at the legs of German high-jumper Ulrike Nasse-Meyfarth, while at nights I joined the merriment at Casa Retief. Before terrible things happened with that terrorist incident inflicting mayhem and murder on the Israeli athletes’ compound.

What I do remember as well, was truly falling in love with the German Riesling wines that were laid on each evening, one of the reasons being that their low alcohol count meant I could spend the full night imbibing without having an oompah band playing in my head at the next day’s wakening. Being a connected diplomat, Mr Retief hauled out some big-gun German wine names: Weingut Gunderloch, Kloster Eberbach, Schloss Johannisberg – to name a few. And there were even some local winemakers around with whom one could discuss matters vinous between bites of bratwurst and pickles and the frequent bouts of song the German guests would break into.

Marlene Dietrich

German Riesling, I discovered then, was intriguing stuff. But much like South African Chenin Blanc, you never quite knew what you were getting. Under one grape’s name, the wine could be drier than the humour of a Berlin accountant, fleshier that a model in a Leni Riefenstahl film or as sweet as the lipstick John F Kennedy tasted when he canoodled Marlene Dietrich. This being the case, of course, before one had learnt to decipher the German wine-labels. Gothically confusing, these bottle adornments made ancient Cyrillic script seem as legible as a Dick Bruno kiddies’ book.

But, astoundingly so, in all its variety of renditions, good Riesling for me remains intensively true to its classic fruit origin. Even the sweet stuff has a spatial, glowing sunniness about it backed by a goose-step run of fine acidity. The dry stuff matches white Burgundy for the riveting expression of geography, and like Burgundy, the wine houses of Germany were founded by monks choosing to grow grapes in challenging environments so as to remain true to the maxim of “the more you suffer, the closer you are to God”. Well, try telling that to someone tackling a cloggy natural armpit wine from the Swartland of South Africa.

I had fond memories of my introduction to Riesling back in ’72 when German winemaker Christoph Hammel breezed into Cape Town recently to talk about the state of wine-play back in his motherland. He was also here to introduce a new label he had made in conjunction with the Delheim Estate from a Riesling spread on Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg. Christoph is a ninth generation winemaker at Hammel&Cie, out in the Pfalz, and during his visit he was keen to share the direction the newer generation of Riesling producers were taking.

He laid-out some German wines from Künstler in the Rheingau and Kruger Rumpf in Nahe, as well as a beautiful number from his own Hammel&Cie outfit, and Herr Hammel enjoyed hearing my noting the lack of a character that one often found in Riesling, namely a slight petrol, turpentine feature. Christoph explained that, yes, that feature was being discarded. Obsessed with the little sun Germany’s wine regions get, the wine-growers had always opened their canopies to invite light and warmth. But, this caused tough, tanned skins which, during fermentation, encouraged the fermenting Riesling to literally fart-out a slight petrol-whiff into the wine.

Subsequently, the German farmers are limiting the Riesling vines’ exposure to sun, creating purer, cleaner white wines with brilliant focus and unhindered varietal accuracy along with vivid terroir manifestation.

Of the three German wines, the Hammel&Cie offered more fun-filled enjoyment in one glass than a whole team of Prussian comedians could provide. There was freshness and lustiness in the wine, but also a poised delicacy and tender coolness. I loved it, have ordered a case.

The Künstler Riesling, made with a touch of oak, offered a clod of apple-peel and smoke, yet was still true and whistle-clean, while the Kruger-Rumpf – from vines planted in 1937 – was just statuesque. White wine at its most complex and engaging.

Of course, Herr Hammel was most enthusiastic about his collaboration with Delheim in making the maiden Staying Alive Riesling 2022, which was cobbled together in partnership with Delheim’s Roelof Lotriet. Christoph had worked at Delheim in 1985 under patriarch Spatz Sperling, fell in love with South Africa and when Spatz’s kids Victor and Nora asked if he would collaborate on a Riesling, it was like asking a Berlin night-club bouncer if he’d like another tattoo. Jawol!

Christoph Hammel and Roelof Lotriet.

The juice was kept cold for six weeks before fermentation. And this was done with the 1895C yeast, a strain discovered in the residue left in wine bottles aboard a ship that in 1895 had sunk in Lake Zurich, Switzerland. The wine was then aged in barrels consisting of oak staves and acacia wood head to finish-off the uniquely singular approach to Staying Alive.

Tasting the Staying Alive Riesling truly reminded me of experiencing this variety for the first time in the celebratory air of Munich in 1972, also allowing me to relive the sombre, despair-filled atmosphere that set-in over the city after the attacks on the Olympic Village. It is a very fine wine, and one that truly introduces a new taste-offering to the brilliant palette that is South African wine.

Staying Alive takes a line from the Riesling playbook Christoph had recited, the accent being on taut restraint but not without expression, character or personality. The nose is clarion and unobtrusive, just a tickle of dry grape perched on a shard of clean, brittle slate. As it opens up, a brief heather-scented airiness rises from the glass, not the colourful honey-laced scent of spring fynbos, but a northerly smell of broad valleys where rocks and plants precariously perch with expansive views of wide, strong flowing rivers.

Oh, but the taste is delicious, actually more experience than taste. A prickle of aroused acidity does disco on the palate, settling down to give the soul of the Riesling chance to take the beat. Fresh, dew-moist petals of white flowers abound, a lick of grated grape-fruit peel drifting around the essence of green-apple, raw almond-skin and just a slightly teasing spot of bitter thick-peel Cape lemon.

Structurally, Staying Alive Riesling makes John Travolta’s solo-dance scenes in Saturday Night Fever resemble a Bavarian folk dance by ten buxom Fräulein wearing cement loafers. The wine hits the mouth with a frosty clarity, a surge of crystal-clear taste creating experiential enhancement on the mid-palate and ending in a slice of surgical precision, like a samurai-sword effortlessly cutting through virginal Egyptian cotton.

It is a stupendous wine, the art of its structure and its classic framework deftly offset with the warm, fun-hearted label.

If Riesling tasting were an Olympic event, one would have to clear the podium as currently, to my mind there is only one winner. And it’s staying.

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Cape Rosé: Showing a Blushed for Life

The drier version of that delicious blush wine known as rosé has been one of the success stories in the Cape wine industry, with more quality rosé’s than ever being on offer, and consumer uptake making sales thereof increasing year-by-year. I for one am not surprised, as South Africa’s climate and our get-up-and-go outdoors’ lifestyle make rosé a perfect wine for quenching the national thirst and cultivating home-grown wine appreciation for this beloved product of our winelands.

Provence, the southern part of France where sea, olive groves, lavender and seafood define its being, is the world’s central point for rosé. Over there the stuff is made by the hundreds of millions of litres, and from May to September a glass of rosé is found on every table, picnic spot and al fresco restaurant.

This is also the region where the making of rosé has been perfected. Red Mediterranean grape varieties such as Grenache, Cinsaut and Shiraz are picked and the juice immediately bled from the coloured skins, allowing just a slight blush colour liquid to make its way to the fermentation tank. Ferment, keep it on lees for a few months, and voilà, you have a dry wine bearing a subtle hue ranging from pale onion skin to salmon pink to one of the gorgeous light pink lipstick-shades that were so in vogue among 1960s actresses.

For long, South African rosés were made sweet and sticky, the colour more candy-floss than the blossom duskiness of the classics. But over the past 15 years more-and-more wineries have gone the classic Provençal route of offering dry rosés showing a more refined colour. It is not just about colour, though. Remember, these wines are made from red grapes and even if the time the wine spends on the colour-enhancing skins is brief, the wines do grasp some lovely berry flavours and a hint of tannin to give them a presence in the mouth.

What local producers also have going for them, is the national red grape of South Africa, namely Pinotage. This has shown to make brilliant rosés, therefore giving our rosé-offering an edge on what can be expected from the French stuff.

Delheim Estate in Stellenbosch was one of the pioneers of Pinotage rosé, and due to its success continues to be one of the leaders in Cape rosé production.

The Delheim Pinotage Rosé has a cherry-blossom colour and what stands-out for me is its bracing dryness. As a rampant enjoyer of all things cold and refreshing – including beer and gin-and-tonic – the Delheim Rosé can be found in my fridge for most of the summer months. And I have no qualms about adding an ice-cube or two to the glass to increase the pleasure, as this is the kind of wine for drinking with wanton abandon.

Bone-dry, the wine has subtle notes of plums and crunchy berries with a bracing finish full of zest and accompanied by that moreish calling. It is the ideal partner to sushi, especially if you like to go heavy on the wasabi, and is truly summer in a glass.

The world-famous Kanonkop Estate, like Delheim situated on Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg, is known for robust red wines, including the Paul Sauer Bordeaux-style that is arguably the country’s finest offering. But this iconic farm could, too, not let the opportunity pass of tapping into the lucrative rosé market, and its Kanonkop Pinotage Rosé has become one of the most popular wines in this category.

Sourcing the finest Pinotage grapes, the wine is oozed off the skins, the ferment and other winemaking stages presided over by Kanonkop’s wizard winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. The result is an astounding rosé that I would like to see in a line-up of the best the world has to offer. For besides being a most charming pink wine, this has a true taste of the Cape.

Sure, being of local DNA, Pinotage does give the wine a wow factor with the vivid, bright berry profile and an underlying savoury character. But along with this elegant cool freshness comes a brisk note of herbaceous fynbos together with a saline, maritime thread.

Even served ice-cold and merrily glugged, there is a discernible refinement in the wine, true polished  class showing that despite its glitzy fashionable image, rosé does manage to get an edge on the porch of wine greatness.

For something completely different, there is the Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé. Diemersdal proprietor and winemaker Thys Louw is a classically orientated winemaker, but now and again he goes off-kilter, following his nose and with successful results.

So, Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé eschews the conventional route in the winemaking process. Two Sauvignon grape varieties are used: The red Cabernet Sauvignon and its white partner Sauvignon Blanc. (Incidentally, Cabernet Sauvignon as a variety resulted in France as a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, making the weighty Cabernet the offspring of the fresh white Blanc.)

Sauvignon Blanc forms the foundations of the Diemersdal Sauvignon Rosé, and the pale garnet hue results from Thys simply adding a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon to the white wine.

The result is a fullish rosé, dry, but oozing black-current and cherry riding the characteristic wave of nettle and gooseberry freshness Sauvignon Blanc is known for. Invigorating and juicy, this wine is brilliant with fish just-off the braai-coals or a spicy curry.

But as we rosé-lovers know, one does not need guidance or parameters to live this style of wine, as a rosé of any name remains just as delightful and enjoyable.  

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Iconoclast: Tribute to a Real Icon

Mr Michael Sperling

People provenance leads me to wine. For as that old sage Duimpie Bayly, former production head of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, likes to state: “I suppose they can say that wine is made in the vineyard. But I’ve never seen a horse win the Grand National without a jockey.”

For me, the minds, hands and hearts of people play as important  a role in a wine’s attractiveness as terroir, cellar skills and perfectly grown grapes.

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Summer-wine and the living is Breezy

While there is more than enough action on the South African wine scene in terms of things new, alternative, fresh and different, it is the tried-and-trusted, classical stuff we do best. On the red wine side, this be the royal wine that is Cabernet Sauvignon which has always delivered and will always deliver the finest local reds. And when it comes to white grape varieties, South African Chardonnay is now recognised as the best in the so-called New World with many international critics reckoning the best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy – Ground Zero for this grape – are indeed from our land down south.

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The Heartbeat Wine that is South African Cabernet Sauvignon

The sun is high, high above the mountain that can no longer cast any shade. That mountain is a good mountain, it is Simonsberg mountain outside Stellenbosch and I am drinking South Africa’s best wine varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon. For me, that is, as like mistakes and secrets, all opinions and tastes and loves are personal.

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Pinotage on the Verge of Greatness

There are real benefits aligned to growing older in the wine industry. A chap becomes deft at selecting preventative measures for the tackling of gout, you know just when to slip out of a speech-laden wine event without upsetting the organisers and can impress vino virgins by recalling the weather conditions of those fine Cape vintages of 1974 and 1982.

a pinotage

Of course, in wine nothing is as valuable as experience. A bum-fluffed Cape Wine Master, glowing with the confidence of youth, has nothing on us old-timers who can vividly recall the fine old South African red wines of Stellenryck and had attended tutored tastings held by the great Ronnie Melck, former MD of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery.

Pride glows when I immerse myself in the Pinotage offerings of late. Vintages 2011 to 2013 are delivering more than a line-up of delicious, fine wines – they are announcing Pinotage’s progress from a noisy half-breed to a varietal that is achieving a reputation for greatness.

It was, of course, not always thus. Good Pinotage has been around since the first commercial bottling in 1959, but a lot of wading had to be done through a pool of wild, rude wines before reaching the cherry tree. The commentators, critics and wine makers who trashed the variety were obviously unfair in their generalised dissing of the grape, but in all fairness, after tasting 15 tots of examples showing nail varnish, banana-peel and sweaty goat scrotum one can be offended.

But as that great Virginia Slims cigarette advertisement read, “you’ve come a long way, Baby”.

The preliminary 20 wine line-up for this year’s Absa Top 10 made for riveting foreplay to the eventual Top 10 Trophy Winners who represent a selection of some of the finest red wines made in South Africa over the past few years. And this all from Pinotage.

Pierre Wahl from Rijk's Private Cellar in Tulbagh.
Pierre Wahl from Rijk’s Private Cellar in Tulbagh.

In general, the Top 10 wines showed seamless and refined composition, elegance being one of the challenges posed by the Pinotage berry. The thing has a skin thicker than an EFF media-spokesperson and ferments faster than the Ebola virus spreads in Libreville. During the hasty fermentation – four to six days compared to two to four weeks for other reds – a lot of graceful harmony bleeds off and as a wine maker you have to keep your head to maintain balance until the juice has fermented dry. Racking and barrelling must be done with much care and focus – remember, as a variety Pinotage was only born in 1925 so compared to other cultivars it is still very much a work in progress.

All the Absa finalists were made with skill, every wine polished, shining and good.

Another golden thread – for me – is the sumptuous, juiciness of the wines on show. They are rich and plush, and unashamedly so. A direct fruit-core can be tasted, the wines have lavish palate weights and are smooth as silk. Like their wine makers, the Pinotages are confident in their robustness, undeterred by calls for lower alcohols, easier wooding, gentler tannins and other finicky requests.

Still on a high of admiration for this year’s Top 10 line-up, I do not have any outstanding favourites. But Pierre Wahl’s Rijk’s 2010 Reserve is a gut-wrenchingly great South African red wine full of spice and crushed cherry with a whiff of mocha. It was great seeing Delheim under the Top 10, its Vera Cruz Pinotage 2012 showing great Simonsberg terroir expression. A bead of forest-floor gives the rush of fresh red fruit a complexity on which neighbour Kanonkop would be proud.

Spier’s 21 Gables 2012 Pinotage has a soya sauce and berry umami-like profile, with an intriguing smokiness from the barrel. Windmeul is no stranger to the Pinotage Top 10 and their 2013 Reserve has a lovely brush of fynbos leading to a meaty, moreish length of appetising red wine.

The list continues, as does the fine display of what Pinotage is really capable of doing. And we’ve only just begun.

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