Quality in South Africa

The Overton based blind-tasting group has long repeated the mantra ‘Can anything this good come out of South Africa?’ This rather patronising remark can now officially be retired after a splendid tasting which had only one rule – not too much Pinotage please.  (Even that does not do justice to the best offerings from Kanonkop and others.)  By blind tasting standards this evening was not too difficult (which means that we got some of the grape varieties right, including all three whites and even some – well known – estates) and so it is time to concentrate on the excellent qualities of the wines. 

The Oval cricket ground under snow To mark the weather, here is a picture of the Oval cricket ground earlier in the day. Sadly the snow meant that Rob, last month’s guest blogger, could not come to the tasting which also meant that we missed out on his Semillon to add to the whites. 

The Real McCoy, Jordan, Riesling, Stellenbosch, 2011 immediately showed that South Africa has long left wine stereotypes behind. This was very good indeed: growing mineral note in the glass, rich apple and lemon palate combining crispness and ripe, attractive fruit, with a finishing touch of sweetness.  Definite potential to age if delicious now. 

 If one is not really expecting high-quality Riesling from the Cape, the poise and excellence of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2009 is no surprise.  Pale gold in colour, this led with soft apple and a hint of quality oak on the nose, followed by a sophisticated palate where the ripe fruit is tempered by its stay in French barriques. Superb.

The FMC Our whites concluded with a Chenin, both the Cape’s bulk wine grape and its signature quality white.  Again this example was marked by its power and subtlety.  The FMC, Ken Forrester, Chenin Blanc 2009: rich and concentrated, this fine oaked Chenin doesn’t just do classic ‘apple and honey’ notes, it does them melded and integrated with fine oak.  The only question is whether the wine has enough acidity to avoid a cloying touch on the off-dry finish. 

The reds started with a pale ruby Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2008. This wine may have suffered from being just too cold. Due to our complicated travel arrangements, it had spent 36 hours in the boot of a car at a few degrees above zero. The light red fruit was the predominant feature but it seemed to lack concentration and was rather underwhelming. 

The theme of high quality continued with all the other reds. There was some debate over whether this was Franc or Sauvignon but none over its class. Oldenburg, Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, 2009 had the classic dustiness of Cape reds, black fruit and bell pepper notes and fine tannins which were a touch green.  Still needs some time. 

More dust in this fine Rhone-style blend – dust, white pepper and great red and black fruit. Most got the Syrah correctly, but were not really expecting the Mourvedre to be accompanied by Viognier; certainly Rhone again, but this time white, which can give perfume and lift to blends: Stony Brook Vineyards, Shiraz, Mourvedre, Viognier, Franschoek, 2005. 

Inky black in appearance (even allowing for the pub’s poor lighting), this announced itself with concentrated blackcurrant fruit, lively acidity and fine ripe tannins.  it could really only be Cabernet Sauvignon and indeed was, predominantly:  Anwilka, Stellenbosch, 2005: 63% Cabernet, 37% Syrah, matured in French barriques: a wine with attitude!

The penultimate red was another established Cape classic: with its pronounced Bordeaux blend aromas, still youthful grippy tannins and class. A good accompaniment as many of these reds were for the venison we were served:  Walker Trilogy, Stellenbosch, 2008; the two Cabernets and Merlot. 

Theta Syrah The final wine, appropriately enough, showed the ageing potential of these wines.  Not perhaps for the very long term but this nearly 10-year old shone with its smooth tannins and overall poise.  Full-bodied, spicy, some found the aroma of bacon fat … for me the fruit was mostly blackcurrant, in any case, very ripe. in fact, it was Syrah:  Theta, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, 2003.  There are two very informative and positive reviews, with pictures of Tulbagh, by Jamie Goode here

We made our way home in the snow … and enjoyed the after-effects of a much warmer climate with its now high-quality winemaking. 

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