In the first of a number of posts about South African wine and WOSA’s Intrepid tasting, we look at the innovation surrounding the event and highlight white blends and off beat red wines as examples of South African winemakers not afraid to try something completely different.
WOSA’s Intrepid tasting shows off beat reds and white blends to highlight a nation of winemakers pushing the Innovation envelope
OK, you’re a sommelier or wine buyer and by now you’re thinking “Have I missed something? Why on earth is everything I’m reading right now got to do with South Africa? Is this something to do with Brexit?” And what is Intrepid?
The reason is (if you’ve been half asleep last week) that Wines of South Africa (WOSA) held a wine tasting called Intrepid on September 8 to which 138 different South African wineries attended and showed their wares. On the back of that there have been a full slate of events and tastings to get maximum value out of the trip. Hence the blitz of coverage.
Some welcome changes at Intrepid
Trying to get around that many exhibitors and 1000+ wines is always a challenging feat but WOSA’s organisers took the welcome and innovative step of introducing Wine Trails this year – nine tables of 18 wines each.
The Wine Trails were set out to focus on the key areas that are making South Africa such an interesting country to experience exciting winemaking from a new generation of winemakers, genuinely breaking boundaries and seemingly challenging each other to up the quality and innovation with every new harvest.
South African winemaking right now seems to be like a sports team that is playing together with passion, energy and innovation, and is more than a sum of its parts. Many are starting with a blank slate so are able to build into their business model, ethics, sustainability and empowerment.
They’re also making some bloody good wine.
The Tasting Trails were split between varietals (Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay), blends (red and white) and perspective (Transformation, Off Beat Reds and Off Beat Whites). Some were served blind and all had a winemaker come and speak at key times of the day about the theme of each trail.
What was also incredibly open-minded and instructive was for wines of different countries to be placed strategically amongst the 18 wines as a reference point. From a wine tasting point of view this was helpful but, philosophically, it showed that South Africa is now open to the world, and happy to put their wines alongside some of the greats.
White wine blending with gay abandon
The White Blends table was sub-titled Driven by Precision.
Blending is obviously a very fine art and what I was struck with at this tasting table (representing 20 or so varietals) was the diverse array of wines and also just how different they all were. The mixer’s art is like a production desk in a studio (or a graphic equaliser at home for those of a similar age!) where pushing up one component just a fraction totally changes the overall mix.
The Bordeaux blends of Nitida Coronata 2014, Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2015, Gabrielskloof Magdalena 2015 and Springfield Miss Lucy 2015 (the latter adding 19% Pinot Gris to the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc) all had grassy notes, body, length and funkiness in varying degrees and, like red Bordeaux blends were both unmistakably Bordeaux blend and unmistakably South African.
A carefully placed bottle of Caymus’s Conundrum from California (it would be simpler to put what varietals are not used in the wine on the bottle!) prefaced four fascinating blends, three of which were standout on the table. Vondeling Babiana 2015’s mix of Chenin Blanc (60%), Grenache Blanc (18%), Viognier (16%) and Chardonnay (6%) which was like fresh honey on the nose, TOKARA Directors Reserve White 2014 which had great nose, mouth-feel and overall balance and Nederburg’s Ingenuity 2013 which had, wait for it, Sauvignon Blanc (33%), Chardonnay (19%), Semillon (18%), Chenin Blanc (10%) Roussanne (6%), Viognier (6%), Verdelho (6%) and Gewurtztraminer (2%). Show offs.
What could have just been an overtly self-conscious curiosity was no such thing and tasted great, especially after the Conundrum that tasted flat by comparison. What both wines share, however, is versatility on the wine list, especially with fusion and molecular cuisine.
After an Italian blend, Keermont’s Terrasse 2014 tasted big on the mineral, texture and saline a bit like volcanic wines from high altitude vineyards in the Mediterranean or Santorini, for example. Good lean acidity, citrus, lovely balance in the mouth. Yum. DeMorgenzon’s Maestro White 2014 using Rhone varietals was also excellent as was David & Nadia‘s Aristargos 2014 that was full, flavoursome and well structured.
And now for something completely different
The Off Beat Reds table, as the name suggests, had a fair share of curate’s eggs on it. This wasn’t off beat in the sense of natural winemaking but more about unusual varietals, regions or blends with interesting tales to tell.
This table kicked off with two 100% Cinsault that were both Gamay-purple, light and hiding a lean, mean acidity and punch. The Tormentoso Old Vine Cinsault 2015 was the better of the two and had mocha, tar and terrific length on the front palate.
Also on the table were 100% Grenache, Grenache blands, Rhone blends, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.
Ones that stood out and worth recommending would be Spice Route‘s Terra de Bron Carignan 2014 that was 100% Carignan – spicy, fresh and nicely textured. Olifantsberg‘s Silhouette, 2013 was their maiden vintage of predominantly Syrah with bit parts of Grenache Noir, Carignan, and Mourvedre and, even though not as standout as their whites, it was still a well structured food wine (tannins need a while to settle down I’d say).
Touriga Nacional has such an inviting nose and this was the case with Sijnn Touriga Nacional 2014 that hid its almost 15% ABV well. It was big-boned and very tannic but had a weight of fruit and richness that counter-pointed this. Mellasat Tempranillo 2013 was interesting as was AA Badenhort‘s Family Wines Brak-Kuil Barbarossa 2015, both of which tasted true of their type but I’m not sure I’d go for an entire bottle. Lastly, Oldenburg Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc 2013 was classy in the extreme.