9 Cape Winemakers Guild Wines to Punt On

The show is on. Cape Winemakers Guild season, and with the auction beckoning in October a selection of wines crafted by the Guild’s esteemed members was recently laid out for scrutiny. Your intrepid reporter scored an invite to this gig and decided that some gold reserves are to be cashed and Cape buffalo bulls sold to bid on the following stunning nine CWG vinos:

Kershaw Wines Ziggurat Chardonnay 2022

A master at work. And working well. Richard Kershaw takes grapes from Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge – Corton Charlemagne clone, to boot – gives them a whole-bunch squeeze and natural ferment. Bung in Burgundian barrels for 12 months with rigorous assessing done every eight weeks. As can be expected the paint is still wet on this master-piece, but signs of greatness are evident. The steely thrust of polished power, a neurotic edginess verging on the dramatic and electric rays of green citrus-peel, smashed almond and sun-baked buffalo skull. The most fantastic Cape Chardonnay in a long, long time.

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2022

The only Sauvignon Blanc in this year’s CWG offering, yet shows this variety has a role to play in the organisation’s lofty ambitions. Grapes from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley give momentous cool-climate flavour, with whacks of buchu and thyme joining grapefruit and gooseberry to offer a delectable juiciness. A slight salt-lick maritime edge adds to the deliciousness and drinkability, although a few years in the bottle will re-invent this wine as an austere Sancerre-like classic from the south.

Paul Clüver Wagontrail Chardonnay 2022

Andries Burger has made this wine a perennial CWG classic and vintage 2022 is unique in that the vineyards from which this Chardonnay is vinified are now 35 years old – the first commercial Chardonnay sticks planted in Elgin. All the classic features of Wagontrail are evident: the yellow citrus on the nose, honey-suckle and bitter-orange on the palate with a whisper of Meursault-like nuttiness. But vintage 2022 has a flirtatious complexity that I can’t recall this wine ever having, as if some Turkish delight, persimmon and green plum has joined the fray to offer a seductive and very beautiful white wine.

De Grendel Op die Berg Pinot Noir 2021

CWG member Charles Hopkins shows his versatility as a winemaker with a brilliant Pinot Noir made from grapes sourced from the Witzenberg mountains, the vineyard just shy of 1000m above sea-level. Hopkins does Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and red Bordeauxs at exceptional levels, but somehow, I think he’s outdone himself with this Pinot Noir. Scintillating stuff, with a brooding power waiting to pounce as the wine ages yet already offering enough sour-cherry, brittle pine-cone and seedy Marseille musk to make the wine evocative and vivacious with a long run of polite refinement.

Erika Obermeyer

Erika Obermeyer Wines Silver Linings 2021

I want to use an infantile expression like “fuck me, sideways”, and I shouldn’t.  But hell, this is a marvellous wine. The blend is Syrah-dominated at 63%, with Grenache and Cinsault filling in the gaps plus a teensy 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Not much information is available about the wooding, but this red wine is crafted with masterly skill by someone with the soul of an artist and an eye for beauty. A comforting plushness on the palate leads to that sensual grip of supple tannins as dark fruit – plums, currant, mulberry – oozes into the mouth, cut with a riveting line of pine-needle freshness. Truly gorgeous.

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Sandford Chardonnay 2021

Gordon Newton Johnson gets lotsa mileage for his perfumed Pinot Noir, but I’ve always reckoned Chardonnay is the best grape on this Upper Hemel-en-Aarde property. And getting this wine selected for CWG duty vindicates my assertion. It is Chardonnay greatness on every level and the offering of this greatness looks just so damn easy. The nose is a medley of floral aromas with a mouth-watering edge of burnt-butter. In the mouth a hospitable, broad generosity pumps nutty, citrus and floral flavours while a cool lasso of steely minerality keeps things fresh, wanton and very much alive. Take me to the edge of heaven…..

David Finlayson Wines Inkunzi Tempranillo 2018

The Zulu for bull, is inkunzi, and this wine has the biggest balls of any of this year’s CWG offerings – except possibly for Donovan Rall’s pony-tail look. Aged for four years in oak, as per a Rioja regime, this Tempranillo is brooding in colour and already shows enormous power in its feral tannic scent. The attack on the palate is about as coy and genteel as an Eben Etzebeth clean-out at ruck-time, but thundering tannins and a vice-like grip are tempered by succulent black fruit and a hit of paella spice, finishing with a musky sliver of freshly sweated flamenco dancer. The biggest and most unique wine on show, and a keeper. No bull.

David Finlayson

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2020

No surprises in this selection as this wine is the CWG’s hottest item, and that includes Sam O’Keefe. Vintage 2020 has Paul Sauer, made by Abrie Beeslaar, once again showing a low-alcohol refined elegance allowing one to ascertain the splendour and beauty while the wine is in a state of youth. Calm, polite and cool, Paul Sauer 2020 brings autumnal dark fruit together with graphite and oyster-shell to make for a wine of such classic profile that it can make a Rasta DJ switch to violin music. A whiff of oak still drifts on the surface, but a dive into the still depths reveal awesomeness where taste, mouth-feel and beauty await.

De Trafford Glenrosa Syrah 2021

This number from David Trafford is one of those wines that defies corralling into a grape varietal or a region in that it is just such a super offering transcending preconceptions and borders. As Terry Theise wrote, many wines let you hear their noise, but only the great wines allow one to hear the silence. And this is one of them. A shy, yet intriguing nose of damp, dew-wet plum grove. On the palate the wine coaxes with silk-lined tannins while a resounding power reverberates across the senses. Dark, deep and mysterious flavours evoke the will to pry, search, but the joy is right before you.

David Trafford

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Retrieving the Elgin Marvels

When the new CEO for the country’s latest industry body, simply named SA Wine, slips into his or her chair, there will no doubt be a number of pressing issues to contend with. One of which is to act on the acceptance of the fact that the Cape vineyard is too weighted on Chenin Blanc and Colombard – over 40% of total wine output – and that if the quest to premiumisation is to be followed, greater emphasis needs placing on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Reasons being that the latter are universally seen as desired white wines with captured markets, require no introduction to the wine world and command the kind of international prices able to inject the economic impetus into wine farming with which the local industry is tasked to expedite. The establishment of SA Wine no doubt being a new vehicle to help with this.

Be assured, the new CEO should be, that as far as espousing the merits of both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay go, there is great support from the growers and vinifiers of these classic and renowned varieties. Just look at Sauvignon Blanc SA, the first local grouping to bring an international wine competition to South African shores, namely the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon that rolls-in in March. Chardonnay brothers and sisters are also doing it for themselves and have done so ever since De Wetshof Estate launched its first Celebration of Chardonnay event in 2006. This was held until 2018, but since then the Chardonnay Forum has been active in spreading the gospel of Burgundy’s great grape in a Southern shroud. And through its annual Chardonnay Colloquium, Elgin continues to confirm its pride in the region’s commitment to growing Chardonnay, as well as making distinctive and diverse offerings from its 130ha under cool-climate Chardonnay vines.

The most recent Colloquium was held on South Hill Vineyards, one of the region’s 20 wine producers, and besides the variety of wines appraised and discussed, my take-out was that Elgin’s human capital has played, and continues to play, a major part in the establishing of the region as a force in Chardonnay, local and other. The team’s collaboration in sharing a common value of commitment to Chardonnay as a communally loved variety, together with a belief in the ability Elgin geography has to honour the grape through a ream of diverse excellence, is as attributable to the success here as are the cool, elevated vineyards growing on Bokkeveld Shale soils and the resident gifted winemaking skill.

Paul Clüver addressing the Chardonnay Colloquium.

Paul Clüver, MD of Paul Clüver Family Wines, who pioneered Elgin Chardonnay in the early 1990s, proudly asserts that Elgin Chardonnay leads the way when it comes to garnering awards for this category, outshining Stellenbosch, Robertson and Hemel-en-Aarde in appraisal from both local and international critics.

“With only 130ha of South Africa’s over 6 000ha under Chardonnay, I think Elgin can feel justifiably proud in what we have achieved in only 30 years of making wine from this grape,” he says. “This confidence has led to a real bullish feeling among Elgin producers who are now more than ever on a quest to show the world that not only Elgin, but South Africa is capable of making some of the best Chardonnay in the world. The more we get this message out there, the better for the South African wine industry as a whole.”

At the Colloquium, other notable personalities and Chardonnay acolytes included Andries Burger, Clüver’s winemaker from the outset, the commanding presence of Andrew Gunn of Iona and Richard Kershaw MW, who is the region’s local savant, information resource and, of course, a fine winemaker himself.

Joris van Almenkerk, Rudi Schultz from Thelema and Neil Ellis’s Warren Ellis are international wine voices in their own right. And throw in the youthful eager eyes of Jacques du Plessis of Oak Valley and Werner Muller, Gunn’s winemaker, and one has a pretty competent team of homo sapiens to espouse the gospel of Elgin vitis vinifera Chardonnay along with the overall brilliance of the wines.

Some 12 Elgin wines were shown at the Colloquium, with Margaret River, California and Burgundy thrown in to spice things up. The Elgin grouping reminded me of commentary from an American importer at last year’s Cape Wine, who said that he found a “lack of diversity in the overall style of South African Chardonnay”.

Going through the Elgin line-up, my view was of exactly the opposite – and here I am talking about 12 wines from one region. In the four flights, of which three wines originated from Elgin, there was a discernible and intriguing degree of variation, yet all harnessed by a thread of vivid varietal expression and accurate cellar-work.

The wines on offer were:

Highlands Road 2020

Idun Callipyge 2020

Paul Wallace Reflection 2021

Paul Cluver Estate 2020

Neil Ellis White Hall 2021

Shannon Oscar Browne Chardonnay 2021

Iona Highlands 2021

Oak Valley Groenlandberg 2021

Thelema Sutherland 2020

Almenkerk 2019

Kershaw Clonal Selection 2019

Tokara Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2014

While there were and subsequently have been lofty and enlightened appraisals of each wine, my joy in the Colloquium lay in being reminded of the unbridled deliciousness good Chardonnay offers, and how tasty the wines from Elgin are.

Almenkerk 2019 and Highlands Road 2020 are short-skirted seductresses, fleshy curves and sculpted muscles allowing flavours to reach the parts where other wines don’t, thanks to their proactively personable engagement. I have always been a huge fan of Joris’s wines for this very feature, finding a honey-suckle and floral nectar to the Chardonnay that is truly delightful.

I would single-out Highlands Road as the most audacious wine of the day. Deeper in its golden hue than the other local Chardonnays, the flavours of golden apple, warm hay and lime sherbet – all drifting lazily on a dark and threatening thundercloud of spice and fynbos – was truly exciting.

Tasted blind, one wine had me writing the simple descriptor of “This is Chardonnay”, which turned out to be Paul Clüver’s Estate 2020. For here all the varietal descriptors were ticked with a double-weight fountain pen dipped in Burgundian free-run juice. There was citrus-peel, of the thick Cape lemon variety that offers an engaging pleasant bitter grip to the finish. Flame-charred almonds lurked, broodily, while flutters of white peach, Packham pear and white flowers made the wine sing. But the greatness lay in the texture, a corralled focus with ripples of alert energy throughout.

Burgundian expert Remington Norman complemented proceedings with his presence.

Known for the graceful power of its Merlot and Pinot Noir, Shannon had me surprised with a Shannon Oscar Browne Chardonnay 2021 so delicate it was on the edge of being coy. Cool and long on the palate, there was shyness and restraint in the fruit, which was wrapped in a fragile floral coating, perked by an acidic sparkle that grew on the finish.

And Kershaw, of course, was as meticulously assembled as one could expect from Sir Richard. Clonal Selection 2019 was the wine, a pretty loud and powerful number thundering along through a cold field dappled with various sensorial offerings. A crunchy pear was off-set by rows of butter-cup, and just as the salt-green tang of a Granny Smith apple makes an appearance, a scented meadow-breeze calms the senses, finishing a primal gravelly grip reminiscent of wilderness and big skies broken by wind and ocean spray.

Whoever, thus, takes command of South African wine, welcome to Elgin Chardonnay country. It is going to be a great journey, this is for sure.

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Bright Whites, Big Celebration

You are not the kind of guy who normally finds himself drinking four glasses of Chardonnay at 10.30 on a week-day morning. But here you are, seated in a crowd of people who, like you, have made the journey to De Wetshof in Robertson to partake in a collection of the Burgundian Jesus Juice.

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A Fig too Wild to be Plucked Alive

The Wild Fig was, once, a Cape Town eatery of note. But then again, up until recently you could trust the cute Arab guy wearing the padded vest sitting next to you on the Paris Metro.

Nestled in a bit of sparse, desolate no-man’s land next to Observatory’s Black River and adjacent to the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital, the Wild Fig Restaurant’s mysterious location lends the restaurant an air of “best kept secret”, “tucked away” and “off the beaten track”. Having dined there a few times over the past few months for reasons unknown to me, the restaurant’s situation is far too accessible and exposed. The Sinai Desert, Kathmandu or Devil’s Island would be a better place for the fig to hang.

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