South Africa is rightly proud of its Chenin Blanc
There have been so many very good to outstanding examples of Chenin to taste. It would be difficult to beat the Mullineux, Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2017 13% as an everyday wine (£10 a bottle in bond from Berry Bros), while their Mullineux Old Vines, a Chenin Blend, is a magnificent wine. It is invidious to pick out one producer. Even in a week with many other things to taste, there have been 20 top examples: depth of tropical fruit, stoniness and brilliant acidity is a great combination.
Poverty and wealth
For affluent tourists and those, like me, lucky enough to be treated with warmth and outstanding hospitality by the producers hosting this visit it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge South Africa’s current and historic struggles. In the preceding photoblog, you can see the statue commemorating Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom. But more than two decades later, many of his fellow countrymen and women are still living in townships which are unimaginable to the more fortunate of us. The picture below is a tiny and rather attractive example.
Experimentation and renewal
The Swartland revolution in wine is well documented: brilliant, textured, Chenins and Rhone varieties from innovative growers. But that is not the whole story by any means. Over the mountain in Breedekloof, Elizma Visser is making remarkable wines from close-planted single pole-trained Rhone varieties at Olifantsberg, definitely, one to watch. We have had enough of the debate about minerality and wine. The real question is how you can get this much personality, enthusiasm and commitment into your wines.
In plush Constantia, Steenberg Farm, the oldest recorded farm in the Cape, founded 1662 ten years after the Dutch took control of the Cape, is bottling Nebbiolo. Lammerschoek has a dry wine made from the old wine-student favourite, the minor blender in Tokaj, Hárslevelu. The Cape is not just about Chenin, Bordeaux varietals, the now fashionable Rhône invasion and …
It’s official: Pinotage has been tamed! There is a good range of top wines being made, some in a dense, ageable style (Kanonkop), some in a lighter style from almost Beaujolais in a great year (Riebeek – clever use of temperature control and alternative oak) to medium reds. Also, needless to say in trendy Swartland, Huis de Chevalliere are making an easy-drinking sparkling wine from a hectare of virus-affected Pinotage (if you are going to pick early the virus is irrelevant). Cheeky name too: Circa Rosecco NV. If I want to taste an older-style Coffee Pinotage (copious amount of oak) I will have to go to the supermarket to buy my own!
As you pass (slowly) through Cape Town airport you cannot fail to see the huge posters alerting you to the worst drought in living memory. Rainfall varies dramatically here due to the presence of mountains (200-1000mm) but everyone is down from their normal figures this year. But the real issue is that this is the third consecutive year of drought and poor winter rains. The farmers are down to the 50% of their normal water allocation. It was reported that in the volume area of Olifants River vines are literally dying as farmers have to chose which rows to irrigate. Reservoirs are at the 20-35% level. The worst-case scenario is that Cape Town will be the world’s first major developed city to run out of water in the next two months or so. Pray for rain. Even the vine-growers approaching harvest this year are saying that they would take rain now.
One of the highlights of this trip undoubtedly was the fantastic tasting put together by Pieter Ferreira, long time (just starting on his 28th vintage) chief winemaker at Graham Beck, sparkling wine specialists. We were at Graham Beck so the normal thing to do would be to show his own wines. Instead, he assembled 35 wines across all the categories from many wineries – NV, Blanc de Blanc, vintage, prestige cuvée, Chenin, rosés, alternative varieties. Time being as always short we did taste 13 wines. Pieter is a trenchant critic of Chenin sparklers – for him, they just don’t have the elegance of Chardonnay. But the wines which did shine were Delaire Graff Sunrise NV (Chenin with a healthy slug of Chardonnay, which may prove the point), the outlier umami-and-orange rind ultra-brut Sprankel, Babylonstoren NV and La Lude’s fine Reserve Rosé. Two great prestige cuvées accompanied food: Cuvée Clive 2009 from Graham Beck and Lourensford Cuvee 89 MCC Brut Zero 2007, the name celebrating the 89 months it spends on the lees. There is a world to explore in top-end South African sparkling wine.
And there is another week to go …
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