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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.

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!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Vines and Music, and not much else…

October 3, 2012 5 comments

Meritage time!

I don’t have much news for you for today – but let me at least give you the answers for the Wine Quiz #31 – A Guessing Game, Ultimate Challenge. In that quiz, you were supposed to match 5 white wine grapes with the 5 reviews. I have to admit – I was not very inventive, and most of the wines I referred to were from France. But it also seems that I got it over the top, as there was only one answer to that quiz – come on, people – this is only a game, there are absolutely no bad consequences, whether you answer it right or wrong! I sure hope to see more answers for the second part of the Ultimate Challenge, which will be about red wines. So the right answers are: A2, B3, C1, D5, E4. Here are the wines and reviews for you:

Chardonnay:

“An enticing, lemony white that is both aromatic and rich on the palate. Apple and mineral notes combine with the lemon flavors that glide to a lingering finish” – Domaine Michel & Fils Mâcon-Villages à Clessé 2011, WS90

Chenin Blanc:

“This has weight and depth but remains stylish, with ginger and glazed pear notes in reserve while persimmon, green almond and piecrust notes lead the way. Lovely cut on the finish keeps the ginger edge echoing. Should develop nicely in the cellar” – Guy Saget Vouvray Marie de Beauregard 2010, WS92

Sauvignon Blanc:

“Gently kissed with toast, giving the core of white peach, lemon and chamomile a broader frame of lightly toasted brioche and paraffin. A suave echo of flint chimes through the finish in this lovely rendering of the toasty style” – Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Étienne Henri 2009, WS93

Savagnin:

“Intensely minerally and smoky, with a blanket of acidity behind the apple, sea salt and anise flavors. The long finish is bracing and powerful” – Andre & Mireille Tissot Arbois Vin Jaune 2000, WS90

Viognier:

“Extremely rich and generous, with ripe, opulent peach, nectarine, apricot and tangerine flavors that are woven together on a full, lush body with smoke, spice, cedar and mineral details and a juicy acidity.” – DuMol Viognier Russian River Valley Lia 2007, WS93

As you can see, first four wines were from France, and the last one was from California. I will try to offer a higher geographic variety with the red wines quiz.

Going for the interesting news, I found one article from Dr. Vino which I wanted to share with you – it is about use of the music in the vineyard – what do you think, can the music affect the vines and lead to better (or worse) wines?

In a kind of “local news” update, I’m in Texas this week, where I will attend the GUSTO Tastings event, called “Texas versus the World”. GUSTO Tastings (which is effectively a meetup group) runs a lot of very interesting wine events here in Austin (lucky for you, people of Austin), and every first Wednesday of the month they conduct a special event where they compare Texas wines with the wines from other regions and countries. Today’s event will be all about Viognier, and I’m definitely looking forward attending it (and meeting  fellow wine blogger @SAHMMelier, who told me about this event) – for all of you who will not be able to attend it, I promise the blog post with all of the details.

That’s all for today’s Meritage – enjoy your Wednesday, folks, and make sure there will be wine in your glass (definitely will be in mine). Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Weekly Wine Quiz #31 – A Guessing Game: Ultimate Challenge, Part 1

September 29, 2012 11 comments

To finish off the wine reviews quiz series, today we are following the steps of the previous two wine quizzes (#29 and #30), only now going to the next level: you will need to match 5 reviews and 5 wines. Actually, that “finishing off” will separate into two separate quizzes – one for white wines and one for reds.

Here are your grape choices:

A. Chardonnay

B. Chenin Blanc

C. Sauvignon Blanc

D. Savagnin

E. Viognier

Here are the reviews. Just to make it a bit easier, note that all the reviews are for single-grape wines.

1. “Gently kissed with toast, giving the core of white peach, lemon and chamomile a broader frame of lightly toasted brioche and paraffin. A suave echo of flint chimes through the finish in this lovely rendering of the toasty style.”

2. “An enticing, lemony white that is both aromatic and rich on the palate. Apple and mineral notes combine with the lemon flavors that glide to a lingering finish”

3. “This has weight and depth but remains stylish, with ginger and glazed pear notes in reserve while persimmon, green almond and piecrust notes lead the way. Lovely cut on the finish keeps the ginger edge echoing. Should develop nicely in the cellar”

4. “Extremely rich and generous, with ripe, opulent peach, nectarine, apricot and tangerine flavors that are woven together on a full, lush body with smoke, spice, cedar and mineral details and a juicy acidity.”

5. “Intensely minerally and smoky, with a blanket of acidity behind the apple, sea salt and anise flavors. The long finish is bracing and powerful.”

Please provide the answers in the form of A1, B2 etc. Bonus question – provide country of origin for each grape/review combination. Double bonus – in addition to country, provide more precise appellation, like Finger Lakes, Oregon, etc (doesn’t have be exact, but it should be more narrow that the whole country).

Have fun, good luck and have a great weekend! Cheers!