South Africa is ‘too old for the New World and too young for the Old World’ and, as such, can make up its rules as it goes along. This verve in the winemaking is still alive and well and evident in a selection of Off Beat Whites and Red Blends sampled at the Intrepid Wines of South Africa tasting. The second part of a special South African wine focus.
WOSA’s Intrepid tasting showed why there is still such a buzz about winemaking in South Africa
Last week’s Wines of South Africa (WOSA) tasting at Tobacco Dock, bravely titled Intrepid, worked well on a number of levels – the venue was inclusive and off the beaten track, the quality of wines on show was very high and there was real energy in the room.
Speaking to the winemakers it was clear to see that the buzz that’s been building around South African wine for the past 18 months is still alive and well.
One Swartland producer explained that he attributes the success of South Africa’s recent renaissance to the fact that as a wine-producing nation they are ‘too young for the Old World and too old for the New World’. “We’re stuck in the middle and can make our own rules” he raved, “and it’s a great place to be, just look around.”
This confidence and verve was evident throughout the tasting, none more so than at the Tasting Trail tables dotted around the room, where attendees were encouraged to self-pour their way through a cleverly curated series of wines covering nine different themes.
I had the pleasure of tackling the Off Beat Whites and Red Blends trails and encountered a raft of interesting, off-the-wall and sublime wines along the way.
Off Beat Whites were best as single varietals
This was a popular and eye-catching trail, lots of respected producers here, alongside some interesting lesser-known wines and a handful of good-looking labels.
The overall impression was that while many of the wines were genuinely off beat, in some instances ‘off beat’ seemed to mean ‘lots of grapes’ where the kitchen sink had been thrown in the blend (along with up to six different varietals).
Elsewhere – and where it really worked – was when it was kept simple with one, maybe two, varieties many of which are not traditionally associated with South Africa.
Like many a great rock album this trail was front-loaded with a trio of belters.
Straight out of the traps was a fleshy and tart Grüner Veltliner from Diemersdal – this young 2016 was zippy and lychee-packed with great length. Hot on its heels was the Spioenkop Riesling 2013 a clean, textbook new world Riesling with a limey, salty kick. Then came the Eagles Nest Viognier 2015, a full and opulent white with the classic Viognier notes of white peach and honeysuckle made more interesting by a smash of green fruit (unripe pear, apple) on the finish.
Another Viognier to catch the eye was The Age of Grace 2015 by Lismore. Those familiar with winemaker Samantha O’Keefe’s estate-labelled Viognier should try this new alternative, which is aromatic and intense but never overblown or too floral. A classy wine.
Sticking in the Cape South Coast region, the Blanc de Mer 2015 from Bouchard Finlayson demonstrated exactly how blending numerous varieties can work; this was balanced and saline with an almost petillant finish. The Riesling offers a sturdy backbone for the other varieties – notably Chardonnay and Sauvignon – to hang off.
If the Riesling in the Blanc de Mer worked as a vehicle for other flavours, in Jordan’s The Real McCoy Riesling 2015 you found a perfect example of a modern 100% Riesling shining all by itself. Great initial sweetness was soon smothered in a waxy, limey blanket of acidity that was fresh and almost self-cleansing. This is the type of wine that any seafood restaurant worth its salt should be listing.
Two great-looking wines from BLANKbottle featured, both with the kind of labels that you’d instantly reach for on a crowded indie or supermarket shelf. The Limbic 2015 was tropical with a confected edge, while the Orbitofrontal Crotex 2015 included Clairette Blanche, Fernao Perez and Verdelho in its mix and while by no means a kitchen sink job, was pretty difficult to pin down. Should come alive with food.
Other notable wines on the trail included Bosman Family Vineyards Fides 2015, a skin-on orange wine which was remarkably fresh with almond notes, Sijnn White 2014 a barrel-fermented blend of Chenin, Viognier and Roussanne which was smooth and tropical with great weight in the mouth, and Yardstick Marvelous Yellow 2015 a linear, mineral wine with a wet-stone edge and an apple tang on the finish.
Red Blends still following the Bordeaux and Southern Rhône blueprint
After this complex and varied selection of whites – some 14 different varietals in total – it was on to the Red Blends table, where the tag ‘Driven by Terroir’ certainly summed it up.
Here were some of South Africa’s top blends and true examples of ‘wines of place’. Many followed the traditional blending blueprint as laid out in Bordeaux and Southern Rhône, and it was interesting to note that 80 per cent of the wines featured Cabernet Sauvignon, predominantly in a starring role.
Kicking off with a classic Bordeaux blend from Stellenbosch – the kind of wine which gave Stellenbosch its reputation for great reds – the Eikendal Classique 2014 was bold and spicy with black pepper and blackcurrant in abundance. It’s not shy on the alcohol either, weighing in at almost 15%, but that was another theme of this trail, and given that many of the wines are from inland rather than coastal regions it’s hardly surprising.
One wine noted for its freshness and lightness of touch and tannin was La Vierge’s Nymphomane 2014. This winery is located in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley just outside Hermanus, where elevation and the coastal influence of Walker Bay help the fruit retain freshness as it ripens. This was a joy, young and spritely. So versatile, but easily the kind of wine you could drink (and drink) on its own.
From one side of the Cape to the other, and a wine from Swartland’s unforgiving bush terrain. Spice Route Chakalaka 2013 is a blend of six grapes, including Syrah (50%), Mourvèdre and Tannat. Lip-smacking fruit with flavours of plum and blackberry and held together by grippy tannins to produce a balanced and long wine that begs for a braai.
Both wineries have nothing to prove but it’s always a delight to taste their wines, especially alongside a broad selection of other Cape wines. Badenhorst’s Family Red 2013 is smoky and dusty with a paler colour than most of the reds here, but packed a brambly punch. The 2012 Rubicon from Meerlust is complex and rounded with layered black olive and tomato leaf characters, very savoury and a match to many famous Bordeaux.
The final red tasted was one of those wines that stays with you long after it leaves the palate. The Vuurberg Red 2013 is a blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Merlot and offered a minty, medicinal profile that was angular and delicious. It was difficult to shake in the most pleasant way, and one of the stand-outs of the day.
Chris’s feature is the second part of The Buyer’s special look at the Intrepid tasting. For part one read here.