New Wave South Africa could have been dubbed South Africa: The Next Generation, turning the spotlight predominantly on a new breed of young, exciting winemakers, keen to rip up the rulebook and make wines in very different styles. Chris Wilson was our man at the tasting and there was a lot of wines he was raving about.
New Wave South Africa was a tidal wave of fascinating wines. Somehow Chris managed to whittle these down to just 12 to recommend. Before his tasting notes, here’s why he thought the organisers got it spot on.
Some things that no one said at last week’s New Wave South Africa tasting:
- The music’s too loud
- There’s nowhere to sit down and have a meeting
- Great tasting, but shame it’s not at Lindley Hall
Some things that people did say:
- There’s a Lekker vibe in the room
- This is seat-of-the-pants winemaking at its best
- I’ve got ten year’s stock of this porno bottle wax at the winery
I’ve written about the concept of a ‘good’ wine tasting before; looking beyond the wines and at the nuts-and-bolts of the tasting and the magic, intangible things that glue it all together.
This includes the venue, the tasting book, the layout, the level of formality and the added extras that come together to create a ‘vibe’ – in this case a ‘lekker vibe’ – and it’s safe to say that the organisers of New Wave got it bang on for this second New Wave South Africa event.
The venue was edgy (a former warehouse and sometime nightclub in Shoreditch) that was close to the Tube but still very pointedly in east London, the tasting book was functional and printed on uncoated stock, there was loads of light, a good flow to the room, and to top it all there was the chance to win a signed surfboard in a sideshow blind tasting competition.
Oh, and there was music. Loud music. And it was good; The Clash, Paul Weller, The Small Faces, Billy Bragg, that type of thing… sadly no Johnny Clegg*, but you can’t have everything (*or better still Lucky Dube – ed.)
The point is that this was a tasting with a difference; it had style and swagger and appealed to the type of people that like to drink old vine Semillon from the Swartland, or a blend of six finished Cabernets poured from a magnum as well as those whose cloth is cut in a more classic style and prefer a linear, clean cool-climate Pinot Noir or textbook Cape Chenin.
The canvas was perfect to showcase a seriously impressive selection of wines from some 55 producers young and old, and the punters came in their droves. It was one of the busiest tastings of the season with all the key faces in attendance and an atmosphere that was conducive to chat and exploration, and there was plenty to explore.
Here’s a mixed case of New Wave wonders…
Donovan Rall, Rall White 2016 (Indigo Wine)
A rounded yet punchy white blend comprising Chenin, Verdelho, Viognier and Chardonnay. It’s lush and green on first taste then there’s a kiss of tropical fruit bringing in flavours of nectarine and pineapple. To balance the fruit and add a layer of complexity is a delicious hazelnut lick.
Thorne & Daughters, Paper Kite 2016 (Dreyfus Ashby)
“It used to be the case that around 90% of all Cape grapes were Semillon,” he tells me, “but now less than 1% are, including the new plantings.” Seccombe is a huge fan, and loves being involved in its renaissance. “You no longer need to hide it in a blend,” he says when showing me his two 100% Semillon wines, and he’s right.
Both wines had an impressive purity and restraint, offering just enough fruit to balance the tertiary characters. Paper Kite was the stand-out with bruised apple and spiced pear to cut through the lanolin and savoury notes. Fantastic texture and length too.
Sadie Family Wines, Soldaat 2016 (Fields, Morris & Verdin)
It’s always refreshing when a winemaker tells you what order to taste his/her wines in and it’s not simply white then red. Eden Sadie insists that his reds go first, and he had an enviable selection of both colours on show, all of which are made using the ‘whole bunch’ method – “keep it simple,” he says.
Soldaat (soldier) is a 100% Grenache from Piekenierskloof that’s fermented and aged in concrete tanks and, because of the whole bunch approach, has a wonderful Beaujolais-esque candy floss and cherry appeal. It’s got some savoury and pepper characters too and a divine freshness.
The BLANKbottle Winery, The B.I.G 2015 (SWiG)
You expect to find wacky stuff going on at a tasting like this, but The B.I.G from Pieter Walser takes the biscuit. It’s a blend of six Cabernet Sauvignon wines made from grapes all grown at different altitudes (spanning 100m to 750m) and harvested at different times.
“When we picked the last vineyard, the first one was already in barrel,” Pieter reveals. All wines are made in the same way; un-inoculated, no new oak, time in barrel… then they are blended – not in equal parts – to create The B.I.G, which is sold in Magnum.
Crazy? Yes. Delicious? Yes. It’s structured and tannic but with an appealing smash of ripe red and black fruit and some tobacco and tomato leaf notes too. Notorious.
Waterkloof, Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Boutinot)
This is fast-becoming a flagship Cape Sauvignon Blanc. It’s so cleanly made and has both style and confidence in bucket loads. The 2016 vintage, unlike the 2009 which was also on show, was made using a Champagne press which reigns in the phenolics offering a chance for other characters to shine. There’s still a hint of textbook grassiness but it’s the lush tropical fruit that’s on show alongside a chalky, saline thread and a chewy texture.
David & Nadia Wines, Grenache 2016 (Vincisive)
David Sadie calls this “a poor man’s Pinot”, which is faint praise indeed. This is a poor man’s nothing, it’s a generous, flamboyant Grenache that’s benefitted hugely from the attention to detail in the winery. 50% of the grapes are whole bunch pressed before a long and gentle extraction period where the wine spends five weeks on the skins. The wine then ages and goes through malolactic fermentation in old French oak. The result is a joyous, vibrant wine with confected strawberry fruit and ginger spice.
Solms Delta, Africana 2013 (Dreyfus Ashby)
Something very different; an Amarone-style wine made by snipping the stems of each bunch of ripe grapes but not letting the grapes drop. Left to hang on the vine but starved of water and nutrients they lose 20% weight as they bask in the late summer sun, resulting in fruit that’s concentrated and flavour-packed. The fruit is then destemmed (20% of stems are added back in) and fermented in 15% new oak barrels and 85% old barrels before spending 12-14 months in barrel. It’s an opulent, crunchy wine with dark chocolate, black fruit and black olive.
Savage, Savage White 2016 (SWiG)
If dogs can be like their owners, maybe wines can be like their winemakers? In this case generous, open and enthusiastic. Duncan Savage is the Mr Nice of South African wine and his Savage White reflects this persona completely; it’s accessible, bright and effervescent (without actually being fizzy). There’s a delicious playfulness between the two primary fruit characters of pineapple and guava and a backbone of gum-dripping acidity. A tremendous wine.
Restless River, Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (SWiG)
Named after the two blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon where the grapes for this wine come from, this is a knockout cool climate Cab. The vines are grown at 300m above sea level high up in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, near Hermanus – it’s this altitude that gives the wine a refreshing minty tang and counters the full-on black fruit and dark chocolate.
The Garajeest, Bruce Cabernet Franc 2015 (Red Squirrel)
Unbelievably smooth and polished for a 100% Cab Franc, this wine is the brainchild of Zim-born winemaker Callan Williams. There are not that many varietal Cab Francs coming from SA, much of this grape is swallowed up in Bordeaux-style blends, so it’s refreshing to see it work so well. There’s real depth here with blackcurrant and black cherry fruit alongside green pepper and middle-eastern spice. Named after Bruce Springsteen, this is certainly the boss.
Blackwater Wines, Pleasure Gardens Palomino 2016 (Humble Grape)
This wine featured on the Green Shoots producer tables, a self-pour part of the tasting where 11 ‘bright young things’ had the chance to show their wares. Made from fruit grown in Robertson this Palomino is so fresh, like a smash of sea water right across the palate. Only at the finish, and after grapefruit, spice and gnarly acidity, does the hint of a ‘sherry’ character emerge to round things off nicely. An ethereal wine, very impressive.
Domaine Vincent Carême, Terre Brûlée Chenin Blanc 2015 (Fields, Morris & Verdin)
Vincent Carême makes exceptional wines in Vouvray so it’s no surprise that he can do the same in a different hemisphere. Alongside his wife Tania – a native South African – they produce this rich and creamy Chenin from two blocks of old-vine grapes in Jakkalsfontein, Swartland. It’s honeyed and spicy with citrus, ripe peach fruit and, yes, crème brûlée notes.