One of the most exciting things about a wine region ‘on a roll’ is the sheer explosion of talent. We were just getting used to the wines from winemaker stars at the vanguard of South Africa’s new wave – Mullineux, Sadie, Walser, Savage, O’Keefe etc – when a whole raft of new exciting winemakers comes onto the scene. Always canny at spotting new wines that will work for the on-trade, Chris Wilson clutched his hot ticket to New Wave South Africa, beat the queues (there was a way people!) and turns a spotlight on the fresh blood that is entering the scene. Read on for his Top 10 rising stars.
The Kottabos Rhône-blend from Boschkloof, the winery that top-scored in Tim Atkins’ 2019 South Africa report, was one of the finds of the day at New Wave South Africa
Much has been made about the queues to get into this week’s New Wave South Africa tasting at the ever-popular Phonica Records in Soho, but those in the know went round the back and sneaked in through the tradesman’s (winemaker’s?) entrance.
However you gained access this was the hottest ticket in town, and for good reason. New Wave takes place once every two years and the previous two incarnations have proved to be a hotbed for discovering cutting-edge wines and getting to know winemakers with a desire for diversification and pushing the envelope.
It was simply not to be missed, and yes it was packed to the rafters but that just added to the atmosphere and noise. Among all the chat about the outstanding new 2017 and 2018 wines, the never-seen-before wines and faces in the room, and – yes – the queue, many forgot to discuss what was arguably the best thing about the whole tasting.
In the tasting booklet, accompanying each producer’s wines, was a ‘desert island’ section where winemakers were asked to name their desert island records, books and luxury item. The music section made for fascinating reading, and thankfully someone else noted this too, so it’s with thanks to Berkmann’s Alex Hunt MW that we reproduce this graphic showing the most popular bands among New Wavers (cheers, Alex!).
As you can see there’s a fair bit of musical consensus here among SA’s best young winemakers; Bob Marley tops the bill, closely followed by Nirvana and Queen (never mind Desert Island Discs, this makes a great Fantasy Festival line-up) and, judging by the rest of the admissions, it looks like many of these winemakers haven’t heard any new music in a while choosing instead to listen to an endless playlist of Great (& Average) Bands from the Past™.
Still it’s all grist to the mill and with a nod to this wonderful inclusion in the booklet the wine reviews below acknowledge some of the winemakers’ fave bands. All these reviews are – I think – from producers I haven’t written about in the past, many of them brand new to me, and some to the New Wave tasting.
This goes a little way to showing just how deep the talent and diversity runs in South African wine, with many of the protagonists below young winemakers with little or no baggage and a desire to continue the great work done by the original ‘new wavers’!
Lysa Wines, Verdelho, Stellenbosch, 2019 (Dreyfus Ashby)
After numerous vintages in France, Italy and California, winemaker Guillaume Nell (a Def Leppard fan!) decided to start his own project Lysa Wines and this fresh, sappy Verdelho is his first release. It’s a rare thing indeed, with only a few thousand bottles made and fewer still likely to make their way to these shores. It’s salty and mineral with citrus fruit, candle wax and a brisk, immediate acidity. A great late summer serve.
Jessica Saurwein, Chi Riesling, Elgin, 2019 (SWIG)
Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin is a fitting fave tune for young winemaker Jessica Saurwein who is beaming with joy when I pitch up at her table just 10 minutes before close of business. She’s desperately excited to show off her wines, which include a brace of Pinot Noir and this Riesling. Just 3,000 bottles were made of this bright, floral and aromatic wine. Grapes come from slate soils in Elgin and the ferment lasted 10 weeks before it was halted with 7g/L residual sugar remaining. This sweetness lifts the fruit and adds body and a lush verve.
Scions of Sinai, Granietsteen Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2018 (FMV)
Conventional musical choices (Bob Marley, The Beatles) from a very unconditional outfit. Take this Chenin for example; the granite-grown Stellenbosch fruit is whole-bunch pressed before an un-inoculated fermentation on the skins in old French oak barrels ahead of 10 months on the lees. The result is an alive and fleshy Chenin packed with lime and salt and stone.
JH Meyer Signature Wines, Palmeit Chardonnay, Elgin, 2017 (Indigo)
A young (ish) vine Chardonnay from the cool Elgin region offers a departure in style from winemaker Johan Meyer’s main project Mother Rock. This is a classically made Chard; it’s rich and full with stone fruit, lively acidity and rounded, joyful finish. There’s great poise and precision here, no wonder Meyer’s a Springsteen fan.
Momento, Grenache Gris, Western Cape, 2018 (Armit)
Queen fan Marelise Niemann is Momento and, during a vintage in Priorat in 2010, she fell in love with Grenache in all its guises, and now makes two Grenache Noir wines as well as this Grenache Gris. Fruit comes from SA’s only Grenache Gris vineyard in Voor-Paardeberg (planted on decomposed granite and clay soils), and this sees some skin contact pre-fermentation in old oak barrels. This is weighty and perfumed with white peach, green tea characters and a pithy grapefruit acidity.
Boschkloof, Kottabos Grenache-Syrah, Stellenbosch, 2018 (Enotria&Coe)
Black Keys and Van Morrison fan Reneen Borman was showing a small but delightful selection of wines including his big and beefy red blend Epilogue which top-scored in Tim Atkin’s 2019 SA Report with 99 points. It was the Kottabos Rhône-blend which got me though; this is punchy, smoky and floral with well-rounded fruit, meaty spice and an unassuming swagger. One of the finds of the day.
Silwervis, Cinsault, Swartland, 2017 (Carte Blanche)
Winemakers Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons are always a joy to meet; they are passionate, enthusiastic and above all fun (their music choices include Lana del Ray and Beethoven’s 9th). Their collection of wines under the Smiley, Silwervis and Terracura monikers push boundaries when it comes to experimentation. This Cinsault is bright and complex with a waxy nose, bitter cherry fruit and a lean, long finish.
Beaumont, Mourvedre, Bot River, 2015 (Dreyfus Ashby)
This is the 20th vintage of this wine and winemaker Sebastian Beaumont (Tom Waits, Bob Dylan) speaks fondly of its heritage; telling me that his family was the first in SA to bottle a single variety Mourvedre. The vines are still young in relative terms (planted 23 years ago) which accounts for a stalky, green bite, which is a nice foil for the dusty, black fruit. There’s a delicious savoury note too of wet soil and paper bags.
Miles Mossop, Max, Stellenbosch, 2016 (Dreyfus Ashby)
Former Tokara winemaker (he worked 19 harvests there!) Miles Mossop is fully under his own steam now and Max is his take on the classic Bordeaux blend. Comprising 44% Cab, 33% Merlot and 23% Petit Verdot it’s a silky, fruit-forward wine with a near-hidden depth and complexity that creeps up on you. Tobacco leaf and Christmas spices sneak out from behind the red and black fruit as this long wine takes hold. Miles cites Bob Marley and Mark Knopfler as influences, which is another feather in the cap.
Leeuwenkuil, Heritage Syrah, Swartland, 2017 (New Generation)
Herby, deep and smoky this Syrah from the schist soils of Swartland’s Riebeck Valley is a braai wine if ever there was one. Winemaker Pieter Carstens is into crowd-pleasing anthems (Queen, Neil Diamond and The Bee Gees all feature in his roster of desert island artists) and this is a truly accessible, crowd-pleasing drop; it’s rich, succulent and confident with bold tannins, bright fruit and a pleasing garrigue-y perfume.