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Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 8 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, New Life at Mayacamas, Few Reminders and more

August 7, 2013 19 comments
Field Recordings Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard

Field Recordings Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #68, grape trivia – Chenin Blanc. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Chenin Blanc grape.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: True or false: South Africa grows (area-wise) twice as much Chenin Blanc as France

A1: True. Chenin Blanc plantings in South Africa take a bit less than 25% of all grape plantings in the country, and it exceeds plantings in France by at least two times.

Q2: Do you know how Chenin Blanc is typically called in South Africa?

A2: Steen. Chenin Blanc is South Africa was traditionally called Steen, but as many wineries are improving quality of their Chenin Blanc wines, they also use the traditional “Chenin Blanc” name on the labels more and more.

Q3: Based on DNA research, Chenin Blanc might be a parent of:

a. Pinot Blanc, b. Sauvignon Blanc, c. Marsanne, d. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)

A3: Sauvignon Blanc.

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Chenin Blanc wines with Classic rating.

A4: False. While there are only 14 Classic Chenin Blanc wines to the date (all from Vouvray region in France), Domaine Huët Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1997 scored even perfect 100 points.

Q5: One of my all time favorite Chenin Blanc wines is made by the company called Field Recordings in California. It is a single-vineyard wine, coming from the vineyard which has the same name as one of the blockbuster movies of the 90s. Do you know how this vineyard is called?

A5: Jurassic Park! I’m really curious what would give such a name to the vineyard, but hey, this is how it is called. And Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc I had was spectacular.

I’m glad to report that we have lots of winners this time! Emil, SheWinesSometimes, VinoinLove and TheDrunkenCyclist answered all 5 questions correctly, and they get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights!

Now, to the interesting stuff around vine and web!

I have a few interesting things for you to read. First, an article by New York Times‘ Eric Asimov, talking about new life of Mayacamas Vineyards in Napa. Mayacamas is one of the historical vineyards in the region, originally built in 1889, and owned by Bob Travers and his wife since 1968. I experienced Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon only once, and it was a spectacular wine, done in very restrained and elegant style. Now the winery is acquired by Charles Banks, who owned Screaming Eagle in the past, and he brought in Andy Erickson, a past Screaming Eagle’s winemaker, to make wine at the Mayacamas. How Mayacamas will change is a big question for all of its fans,  so you should read the article to learn more.

Here is an interesting read for you from W. Blake Gray, on the subject of [yeah, here we go again] wine tasting notes. Before you read the article, test yourself – do you know what gunflint is? You do? Great, do you know how does it taste like? My personal answer is “no” for both questions, but you go read the article to learn something new and get entertained.

The last article for today on the subject of Georgian wines, talking about new and interesting wines coming from the “cradle of winemaking”, as Georgia often is referred to. Go find the bottle of Georgian wine to enjoy while you will be reading the article.

We are getting closer to the few important dates (deadlines, rather) so here are your reminders:

August 14th – Wine Blogging Wednesday event, #WBW80 – Dry Rosé. All you need to do is to write a blog post pertinent to the subject, and submit it to the host. For all the details please click here. Let’s make it a success!

August 16th – deadline for submission for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #2, with the theme called Trouble. You can find all the rules here. I finally made my submission, so I sleep much better now. There is still time, get your trouble under control and write! Side note – if you are using twitter, I recommend using #MWWC hash tag for all submissions and discussions.

August 29th – Annual Cabernet Day 2013. Grab the bottle of your favorite Cab and join the festivities – here is the link to the invitation I received for this Cabernet Day, in case you want to state your participation officially.

That is all I have for you, folks. The glass is empty -but the refill is coming. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #68: Grape Trivia – Chenin Blanc

August 3, 2013 20 comments
Chenin Blanc grapes, as pictured in Wikipedia

Chenin Blanc grapes, as pictured in Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Today we are continuing our grape trivia with the next white grape – Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is one of the oldest known grapes in the world, with the first mentions tracing back to 9th century in Loire in France. In about 17th century it made it to South Africa, where it became one of the most popular grapes, and it continued spreading around the world. In France, it is mostly growing in the Loire valley, with probably the best wines coming from Anjou and Vouvray regions.

According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, Chenin Blanc is probably one of the most versatile white grapes in the world. It has very high level of natural acidity, and also capable of accumulating very high level of sugars, making it equally suitable for production Sparkling wines and luscious dessert wines. At the time, Chenin Blanc requires a lot of attention in the vineyard, as it has a tendency to overgrow. If harvested too early, its high level of acidity makes the resulting wines simply insipid, and if it overgrows, the resulting wine tends to lose it character making dull and uninteresting wines.

Traditionally, the best Chenin Blanc wines were made in France, with off-dry Vouvray being probably some of the very best examples (if you ever experienced a “wow” Vouvray wine, raise you hand – I personally have, and at about $15/bottle, it doesn’t require you to break the bank). Overall, as winemaking techniques improve all over the world, there are more and more interesting Chenin Blanc wines coming from South Africa, California, Washington, Texas and many other places.

And now, to the quiz!

Q1: True or false: South Africa grows (area -wise) twice as much Chenin Blanc as France

Q2: Do you know how Chenin Blanc is typically called in South Africa?

Q3: Based on DNA research, Chenin Blanc might be a parent of:

a. Pinot Blanc

b. Sauvignon Blanc

c. Marsanne

d. Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)

Q4: Wine Spectator calls wines rated in 95-100 range Classic (the highest and the most prestigious category). True or False: there are no Chenin Blanc wines with Classic rating.

Q5: One of my all time favorite Chenin Blanc wines is made by the company called Field Recordings in California. It is a single-vineyard wine, coming from the vineyard which has the same name as one of the blockbuster movies of the 90s. Do you know how this vineyard is called?

Side note: Google is your friend. It is impossible to know everything, and when you research, you learn…

Good luck, have fun and cheers!

Sometimes One “Wow” Is Not Enough

June 24, 2013 15 comments

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you perfectly know by now that I have a tendency to get overly excited in my reviews (and if you are not a regular reader and just came across accidentally, you know it now). It is entirely possible that you also noticed that I have a soft spot towards Field Recordings wines. Based on this preamble, you probably figured out that I plan to talk about a wine from Field Recordings.

The wine which had me completely blown away a few days ago was 2011 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (13.1% ABV). Opened the bottle, poured in the glass, sucked the air – and was blown away. Complex, multi-layered aromatics, which each smell showing slightly differently, and my emotional response (or rather, vocal), rotating between “wow” and “omg” with each and every breath. White stone fruit, apricots, fresh flowers, endless meadows – all coming separately, but together. Andrew Jones, the winemaker at Fields Recordings, is clearly the master of aromatics with his wines. Pretty much any of his wines I tried, have mind-boggling,  intense aromatics – here is my post about red wine call Fiction by Field Recordings, read it for yourself.

The palate didn’t disappoint as well. Bright, open, succulent white fruit, more continuing that an apricot theme, with the touch of vanilla and apple, no sweetness whatsoever. Definitely a Chardonnay-like experience, except it is not chardonnay at all! Firm structure, refreshing acidity – each sip of the wine is begging not to stop – just one more sip, pleeease? Drinkability: 8+

The words don’t do this wine enough justice. Your best bet is to find this wine and to taste it. And yes, it is okay to repetitively “wow” all the way through. Cheers!