• Roger Jones on what makes South African Brandy a world-beater

    Most people luxuriating in the balmy climes of South Africa might take to the beach or safari. At the very worst they might head to a winery to partake in some chilled Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay. Not our Roger Jones who heads for a mammoth tasting of spirits from many of the world’s top Brandy producers – trying to find out why South African Brandy has dominated international award ceremonies in recent years. And then he heads off for a tasting at a distillery. Oh, and there’s one bit where Roger has to turn off his phone and leave it outside the room. Don’t worry Rog your secret is safe with us!

    Most people luxuriating in the balmy climes of South Africa might take to the beach or safari. At the very worst they might head to a winery to partake in some chilled Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay. Not our Roger Jones who heads for a mammoth tasting of spirits from many of the world’s top Brandy producers – trying to find out why South African Brandy has dominated international award ceremonies in recent years. And then he heads off for a tasting at a distillery. Oh, and there’s one bit where Roger has to turn off his phone and leave it outside the room. Don’t worry Rog your secret is safe with us!

    mm By January 3, 2017
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    The many wonders of South African Brandies from a variety of producers including KWV and Van Ryn’s. Detailed tasting notes and a masterclass in the art of Brandy-tasting.

    South Africa has recently dominated other countries at the leading international Brandy and spirit awards.

    Brandy

    KWV‘s 12-Year-Old won the Trophy for best Brandy in the World at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and Van Ryn‘s 15-Year-Old Fine Cask won the equivalent at the International Spirits Challenge awards.

    Brandy is big business in South Africa, with the two biggest players being KWV and Van Ryn’s. Under international regulations they can use the Brandy term but not Cognac. Although KWV does produce a Cognac, which it makes in Cognac and sells in South Africa successfully under the Cognac brand.

    Pieter de Bod, Master Distiller at KWV says “South African brandy standards and processes are on par, if not better, than the equivalent Cognac standards with the only difference being the location from where the grapes that produce the base wine for the distillation are sourced.”

    Chenin and Colombard grapes dominate the base wine and, just as in France, they age the Brandy for various amount of years with 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 being the norm. The alcohol level runs at about 38% to 40%.

    There are 40 Brandy producers in South Africa, making over 1,000 labels.

    Brandy

    Whilst tasting some 30 Brandies under the tuition of Dr Winnie Bowman, the leading scribe and judge on South African Brandy, she advised that a single ice cube dropped into the sample glass for a second before discarding the ice helps soften the fumes and gives a much better tasting experience, it is also essential not to swirl the Brandy around the palate as in wine-tasting as this will only escalate the alcohol consumption.

    Here are some highlights, I have left the Van Ryn’s out of this section as there is a fuller description from the tasting at the distillery later in the feature.

    Incidentally, prices start from below £20 for the 10-year-olds going up past the £1,000 mark for the 30-year-olds. These are not cheap but then quality never is and their stature on the World scene highlights not only this quality but the importance of showcasing South Africa as a leading Brandy maker.

    Imoya KWV

    This is a blend from a selection based from 3 to 40-year-olds, offering a fabulous value Brandy at around £16 a bottle. This tasting gave me more Bourbon than Brandy, but in a good way – Creme Caramel, texture like ice cream, easy drinking especially on ice or mixed with tonic.

    Boschendale XO 10 Year Old

    Orange peel, spiced, light and fragrant, just-baked apple pie, nutmeg.

    Oude Meester 18 Year Old Sovererin

    Ginger, mocha coffee, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, soft delicate well rounded, fabulous flavours

    KWV 15 Year Old

    Seamless, Creme brûlée, delicate nuances of chocolate, caramel and nuts, stunning quality.

    Boplass 12 Year Old Cape Winemakers Guild

    Beautiful, stunning, hints of wild strawberries on the nose, silky smooth leaving a juicy palate, fynberries, and dried luscious peaches. This really is something special, reflected perhaps by how it reached over 1,000 Rand a bottle at the Cape Auction. Search this one out, it is a marvel.

    KWV Cognac

    Classic French Cognac style, beautiful balance, toffee, fruit and spice.

    Nexus KWV 30 Year Old

    Intense, then a lovely bright softness on the palate, evolves beautifully in the mouth – old rich flavours, velvety, milk chocolate, juicy chunky white raisins, delicate cereals. This is a ‘big boy’ that comes in its own heavyweight glass and wooden structure presentation. Has a price tag of 23,000 rand.

    Brandy

    Masterclass at Van Ryn’s distillery

    On a beautiful sunny December afternoon we were directed into the inner chambers of the Van Ryn’s distillery into the tasting room that was built inside their old concrete vats.

    Here we had to leave all mobiles, prior to entering the cellars, where security is so tight due to the alcohol fumes evaporating into the air where a dropped phone could ignite a spark causing havoc.

    Brandy
    Van Ryn’s has its own cooperage

    Or was the reason that they did not want pictures taken of the treasures we saw in the cellar being circulated to their competitors?

    Rest assured it was a spectacular sight and certainly no shortage of stock lined up in barrels as far as the eye could see.

    Van Ryn’s 10 Year Old {not potstill}

    Sweet and savoury, masculine, cigar-like… a fabulous example and great value. Vanilla and cedar wood evolve out of this easy drinking Brandy, which has not been double distilled. Similar to Armagnac.

    Van Ryn’s Distillers Reserve 12 Year Old

    Smoky Bacon crisps, then delicate caramel. This is chunky and flavoursome and just softens on the palate with hints of Bourbon. It has a cool and luscious aftertaste of fruity gooseberries, vanilla, cherries then oak, coffee and nutty florentine.

    Van Ryn’s 15 Year Old Fine Cask Reserve

    Caramel, clean, full Bourbon-style orange zest, floral, dark chocolate, honey and citrus zesty, creamy marzipan. One of my favourites of the tasting, in fact it was so good that we demanded more.

    Van Ryn’s Collectors Reserve 20 Year Old

    Christmas cake, rich and buttery with great elegance, dark fruits, spices and succulent dark berries, silky rich… a style that is quite specific and not as approachable as the others.

    Van Ryn’s AuRa 30 Year Old

    Very fruity with more apparent oak. Exciting, smooth and seductive, this is among South Africa’s longest-matured, rare and priciest brandies. Minimum 30 years old, this is a wonderful, amazing Brandy that ticks all the boxes – and more! – a rare privilege to try something so magical. Retails in South Africa at 25,000 Rand – that’s £1,500 a bottle at today’s rate.

    So, after all that, what are my conclusions? 

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    In general, the style of South African Brandy is much smoother than Cognac, more in line with Spanish Brandies.

    They are much more approachable at the younger end giving a more balanced, feminine, softer edge.

    As you go through the decades the quality is quite outstanding and certainly a great learning curve for me since I first got into them a couple of years ago.

    Equally important is the way the younger ones are used in cocktails and how the finest ones such as Van Ryn’s 30 Year Old would be a perfect match to foie gras.

    Brandy

    Thanks to Dr Winnie Bowman for introducing me to the fabulous range of South African Brandies, Van Ryn’s for the masterclass and to Sean Fitzpatrick my tasting partner at Van Ryn’s.

     

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