South Africa - Part II - Stellenbosh & Elgin

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After a great stay in Hermanus with Peter-Allan Finlayson of Crystallum we headed off to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Kanonkop was first on the list for their highly regarded Pinotage which they ferment in largar-type open concrete fermenters with manual punch downs. We tasted the 2013 and the 2006 Estate Pinotage clearly demonstrating the ability of this wine to age. 2013 was full of dark black berry and cherry fruit with high degree of toasty French oak (80% new) and grainy tannins. The oak I thought was a bit abrupt and needs time to mellow and integrate more fully. Which was why it was nice to compare with 2006 which was more savoury in style, more smokey with much smoother, rounder tannins thus more pleasant to drink as a result. My other pick of the tasting was the Paul Sauer 2012, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Lots of black berry fruit here, plums, cherries, cassis with firm tannin, spicy oak and crisp acidity which will allow this to age over next 15-20 years without difficulty. Avialable in Hong Kong via Wine’N’Things

Richard Kershaw in Elgin was next up. A completely different sort of landscape compared to Stellenbosch. Much greener and noticeably cooler with apple orchards intermingled between the vineyards. Richard’s wines were some of the most elegant and nuanced wines we tasted all week, so delicious that we managed to persuade him to sell us some of his last bottles to take back to HK. The 2014 Chardonnay is still young and a touch tight but has all the makings of top quality Chardonnay. Tropical fruit touches, white peach, quince, highly integrated spicy oak, ginger, stony minerality, white flower blossom…incredibly complex. He uses a Corton-Charlemagne clone, 548, for 10-15% of the blend which may explain why. Grapes are hand harvested, whole bunch pressed with “dirty” juice going to barrel for natural fermentation. Zero acid, yeast, enzymes, no malo and zero racking. A highly reductive style. The ‘James Bond Technique’ is used for the lees – shaken, not stirred. Low SO2 used at bottling to preserve fruit integrity.

His Elgin Clonal Selection Syrah 2012 was very pale ruby in colour, more like a Pinot, with cool climate red fruit notes (cherries, cranberries) and black pepper spice to the fore. Great freshness, brightness and vivacity. Tannins are firm yet very fine. A great N. Rhone alternative. The 2013 was more rounded, elegant yet with concentration and power, peppery on the palate, more black fruit and grainy tannins. I scored this slightly higher than the 12 for its more nuanced fruit complexity and greater concentration. Available in Hong Kong via Vincisive.

The next day we headed back to Stellenbosch for visits to Winery of Good Hope/Radford Dale, Mulderbosh, Anwilka and Morgenster. Highlights included Alex Dale’s tasting at Winery of Good hope where bottle after bottle of all sorts of new and exciting things kept being opened. The Thirst Cinsault 2015, for example, made by carbonic maceration, bright purple in colour with vibrant raspberry fruit, light bodied, low in alcohol, perfect for easy drinking by the glass slightly chilled…ideal for HK summer junks. The Radford Dale Nudity Syrah 2015 is zero SO2 and zero additives and showed spicy black cherry, blackberry notes, wild herbs (known locally as fynbos), fine yet chalky tannins and amazing freshness. Still very young so to be revisited in a couple of years if the bottle we bought can be kept that long! Available in Hong Kong via Watsons Wine Cellar.

 

On to lunch at Mulderbosch where we met with winemaker Adam Mason and tasted through the majority of the range. Established in 1989 this is one of the most highly regarded wineries in the Cape and the wines did not disappoint. Adam took over winemaking in 2012 having spent nearly a decade at Klein Constantia. Part of the deal when he came on board was that alongside the core Mulderbosch range, he also be able to experiment and make a number of his own wines. Marvelous is a fun, fresh, easy going range of 3 wines, designed to be drunk either on their own or ideally with food thus perfect for wine bars and casual dining restaurants wanting by the glass or bottle options. Marvelous Red is a Rhone blend, Marvelous Blue a Bordeaux blend and Marvelous Yellow a Cape white blend. Of the reds I had a slight preference for the Blue which showed bright cassis and attractive herbaceous notes with firm yet ripe tannins and crisp acidity perfect for enjoying with the various homemade, wood-fired pizzas we had at lunch. The Marvelous Yellow 2015, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat, Semillon and Clairette was hugely lively and refreshing with vibrant citrus and stone fruit and good length.

Yardstick comprises a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir and is a quest for purity of fruit expression. These wines are all about specially selected, cool climate, vineyard sites that deliver extraordinary quality. The Chardonnay 2013 was my favourite of the two showing tropical pineapple fruit on the palate with lemon citrus, savoury complexity and a touch of spice. Great freshness despite the rich texture and highly concentrated fruit.

Of the Mulderbosch range itself the overall quality was without question. Consistently fresh, vibrant wines with great fruit concentration and purity. The standouts for me were the Faithful Hound 2014 red and white pair.  The white is a blend of old vine Semillon (62%) and Sauvignon Blanc (38%), restrained, savoury, mineral with touches of fynbos, stone fruit and honeysuckle. Crisp acidity makes for a taut linear structure yet creamy texture from lees aging makes this at the same time round and supple. A touch of well integrated oak spice from barrel fermentation of some of the Semillon fruit adds further complexity. The red, a blend of all 5 Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc (32%), Cabernet Sauvignon (26%), Merlot (19%), Malbec (16%), Petit Verdot (7%), was equally delicious with lovely herbaceous perfumes, cassis fruit, plums, cherries, spice, and long length.

But the real showstoppers here for me were the 2014 Single Vineyard Chenin Blancs. In their quest to create wines of a distinctive and exceptional nature, the team at Mulderbosch have discovered several vineyards possessing unique qualities worth capturing as singular expressions of their site. Fruit from each block, A, S2 and W, was vinified identically to allow these special vineyard sites to fully reveal their identity. Hand harvested grapes, whole bunch pressing, neutral barriques - very low intervention winemaking is the key here. Block A demonstrates the true fruity character of Chenin Blanc - pineapple, quince, dried apricots with honeysuckle and touches of citrus fruit. More generous and tropical than the other two blocks yet with tangy acidity making it still precise and impeccably balanced. Block S2 is on shale soils and seemed more restrained and savoury despite its rich citrus fruit. Highly linear in structure with a stony mineral tension and wonderful freshness, vivacity and nerve. Block W, my favourite, is on decomposed granite soils and heavy clay which makes this the most powerful, structured expression. More smokey, flinty minerality with distinctive fynbos, ripe yellow peaches and knife-edge acidity making for an incredibly penetrating finish. Available in Hong Kong via Altaya.

Dinner that night was an impromptu invitation from Roland and Jessica whom we’d met with Peter-Allan. As we didn’t have time in our already fully booked schedule to visit Kleinood, Jessica suggested we go to theirs for dinner one evening instead. Living just up the road from the winery itself, this proved the perfect ambiance for tasting the wines not least of all because Roland cooked up an expert braii to go with it. Sitting outside under the stars, with Rodriguez playing on vinyl in the background it couldn’t have been a more quintessentially South African evening if we’d tried. We were quite blown away by the whole experience as well as a number of the wines my top picks being the Kleinood Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 which was all floral and apricot notes but with a nice salinity and flintiness to it. Not usually a Viognier girl I found this quite delicious, perhaps due to the 15% Roussanne adding more freshness than one might ordinarily find in straight Viognier. Aged in old French oak with gentle lees contact adding a creamy texture this is a perfect food wine pairing particularly well with goats cheese. Their Syrah 2012 was full of juicy blackberry fruit and subtle herbal notes, fine tannins and very rounded, smooth texture. Mineral, inky, smoky layers added to its complexity. Perfect BBQ wine as we discovered. Available in Hong Kong via Vincisive.

Up bright and early the following day we were stood in one of Morgenster’s vineyards overlooking False Bay by around 10.30am. Cooling sea breezes and altitude are all important in Stellenbosch’s generally warm, sunny climate, keeping good levels of acidity in the grapes and allowing for gradual flavour development. The focus for Morgenster are the Bordeaux varieties but the owner, being Italian, also has a penchant for Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. The Tosca 2011, a blend of 76% Sangiovese, 12% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon is a very drinkable wine showing savoury black plum character with underbrush, herbal touches and Sangiovese’s signature dusty tannins. The Nabucco 2011 I didn’t find quite as appealing, more restrained red fruit character with crisp acidity and high levels of very grippy tannins, still a bit young perhaps. We tasted a number of vintages of the Lourens River Valley (2005, 2004, 2003), their second wine, as well as a couple of the Morgenster (2003, 2001). I preferred the 2004 Lourens River Valley which was a cooler vintage than 05, but not as cool as 03 and showed the right balance between ripe cassis fruit and herbaceous touches, slightly firmer tannins with most elegance and finesse. The 2001 Morgenster was drinking very well with a nice mix of leather, spice, cassis and cedar notes, firm yet rounded tannins, good depth of fruit and long length. The 2003, a cooler vintage, was more elegant perhaps with more herbaceous character and grippier tannin structure. Available in Hong Kong via Victoria Wines.

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