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Between The Worlds

June 26, 2019 7 comments

What lies on the intersection of the Old World and the New World?

Yep. Starting with the question. As many of you have come to expect. Let me repeat – what lies on the intersection of the old world and the new world? Of course it is the wine we are talking about.

I can spin this question differently if you want. What is the name of the major winemaking region (a country, rather) which is most often overlooked at dinner tables, wine stores, and restaurant wine lists? Yes, give it a thought. I’m sure you know the answer. But it is too obvious, which makes it difficult.

Let’s continue?

If you said “South Africa”, pat yourself on the back. You got it. Yes, it is South Africa. The wines of South Africa are often described as “old world wines masquerading as the new world”, and when you taste the wines from the region, you can easily see why such description makes a lot of sense.

I wrote about wines of South Africa many times in the past, also including them into the “best hidden secrets” series. Winemaking history of South Africa goes back more than 400 years, to the mid-1600s. From there on, South African wine had good times, bad times, phylloxera, political issues, boycott, and lots, lots more. Many times in history the wine production was focused on quantity and not quality, which obviously had consequences and not a good ones.

I had been tasting South African wines for quite a while, and I have to say that I perceive a definite upswing in quality. As I mentioned at the beginning, South African wines are still rare and underrepresented in the modern wine scene, for sure in the USA – nevertheless, every time I get a chance to taste South African wines, they make me say “wow” more often than not.

Case in point – recent tasting of the South African wines in New York. It was not a large tasting, by all means, maybe 60–70 wines, but out of those 60–70, I probably was wowed by at least a half of them, which is very unusual for the trade tasting, maybe with the exception of Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri. Below are my brief notes – as I had a bit more time than at the typical trade tasting, but absolutely not enough to do a full assessment, I’m using words instead of plus signs. Plus, I share here some of my general impressions.

Let’s go:

I love Graham Beck wines – their sparkling wines represent great value. These wines are similar to Champagne, as they undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, so any time you are looking for the bubbles but want to spend the half of what you will spend on the Champagne, see if your wine store carries Graham Beck wines.

NV Graham Beck Brut Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – love it! Fresh, generous

NV Graham Beck Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful, elegant

2012 Graham Beck Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – a touch of strawberries, toasted notes, excellent

2013 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – wow! Elegant, clean, polished

2012 Graham Beck Brut Zero Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – good

NV Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful! Touch of sweetness, good acidity, elegant

I had some past (and delicious!) experience with Glenelly Chardonnay, so I was definitely looking forward to tasting their line of wines:

2018 Glenelly Unoaked Chardonnay Stellenbosch – excellent

2016 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch – excellent, a touch of vanilla, burgundy style

2015 Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – excellent, cassis forward

2012 Glenelly Estate Reserve Stellenbosch (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot) – restrained, clean, herbaceous, salinity. The wine is built for the long haul.

2012 Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc) – Bordeaux style, needs time

This was an unknown producer for me:

2018 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Chenin Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch – unusual, might be a touch sweet

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – simple

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – earthy, nice pepper note

2013 Beau Joubert The Ambassador Stellenbosch – needs time

2014 Beau Joubert Fat Pig Stellenbosch – port style, very good balance, tasty

Yes, there was food too:

Let’s get back to wines.

The next set of wines surprised me in a lot of ways – packaging (labels), creative wine names, unusual grape varieties for South Africa (Barbera? Touriga Nacional?!) and most importantly, tasty wines. When I commented to the lady who was presenting the wines how unique and tasty the wines were, she said very unpretentiously “ah, it is my brother, he is always running around with new ideas, experimenting with the wines”. Little did I know that Bruce Jack is a star winemaker who was making wines for more than 25 years and who has almost a cult following. I can tell you, as the proof is in the pudding, this line of Drift Estate wines offered plenty of proof.

2018 Bruce Jack Year of the Rooster Rosé Western Cape – nice and restrained, excellent Rosé rendition. You would never guess the grape this wine is made out of – Touriga National. Yep. As I did a bit of research, I found out that 2017 was made out of Pinotage, and 2016 out of … Touriga Franca. Yep, talk about South African wines.

2014 Bruce Jack Moveable Feast Red Blend Western Cape – excellent. Dark fruit, spices, just excellent.

2017 Bruce Jack Gift Horse Single Vineyard Barbara Western Cape – another hit. Dark fruit, tar, pencil shavings, tobacco, just wow. Yep, a South African Barbera.

2016 Bruce Jack There Are Still Mysteries Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Western Cape – beautiful, elegant, restrained, truly a mix of the new world and an old world. If you didn’t discover yet South African Pinot Noir, go on, try to find this wine.

And a few more wines:

2018 Boschendal Rose Garden Rosé South Africa – excellent, restrained, Provençal style. Merlot + Pinot Noir blend

NV Boschendal Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique South Africa – excellent

2016 Boschendal Elgin Chardonnay South Africa – Burgundy! Wow, spectacular wine – might be the best 9fnthe tasting.

2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Coastal Region – (3 Chenin Blanc vineyards, vines are 35 to 47 years old) – petrol on the nose, beautiful, clean, delicious.

2014 Bellingham The Bernard Series SMV Coastal Paarl Region (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Viognier) – Elegant! Excellent

2014 Brampton Roxton Stellenbosch (41% Syrah, 33% Petit Verdot, 26% Malbec) – outstanding. Lots of power. This wine is named after a bull.

That competes my report. What do you think of wines of south Africa? Any favorites? Cheers!

Champagne Blind Tasting – Don’t Try That At Home?

March 6, 2011 10 comments

The idea was born – blind champagne tasting. It’s going to be fun! Well, blind sparkling wine tasting, to be more precise. The date was set, menu decided upon. Everybody have to bring a bottle of sparkling wine, which is expected to be of reasonable quality. No, it doesn’t have to be from Champagne only, anywhere in the world is good – with some notable exceptions. For instance, sparkling Shiraz was not welcomed.

All precautions had being taken to ensure that tasting will be blind. All bottles placed into the paper bags, and taped on top. We ended up with 9 different sparkling wines (mistake number 1 – too many). The simplest challenge was to have enough glasses as we adamantly resisted the idea of plastic, so we had to split tasting into two groups, 5 and 4 wines – mistake number 2 stemming from mistake number 1 – all wines should have equal time to breathe, even sparkling.

There we went with the tasting. Wine #1, #2, #3… Break after #5 to move glasses, open 4 more bottles, pour and continue. I think the biggest challenge was the fact that differences between sparkling wines (in general) are often very subtle, and it requires highly trained and sophisticated palate to pick them up. For most of us, we would probably stand at least some chance if we would take extended time to assess the quality of the sparkling wine. Typically white or red wine is “in your face” from the moment you smell the wine. Sparkling wine usually is not. Therefore, you need to reflect on each sip of sparkling wine a lot longer to assess its qualities. If you are moving too quickly, those sparkling wines are becoming almost “all the same”.

Anyway, here is the list of sparkling wines we had at the tasting, in the exact order as we tried them:

  1. 2006 Bodegas Carrau Sust Brut Nature Vintage, Uruguay
  2. Franciacorta Bellavista Cuvee Brut, Italy
  3. 2006 Jacques Germanier Blanc de Blancs Brut Millesime Grande Reserve, Switzerland
  4. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence, France
  5. Champagne Thierry Triolet Brut, France
  6. 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee Brut Vintage, Georgia
  7. 2007 Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cuvee, South Africa
  8. J Cuvee 20 Brut, California
  9. 1998 Champagne Gosset Celebris Brut

Can you guess the winning wine? I would be surprised if you do (no, it was not the one from Uruguay if you went with the most odd choice). Actually, at the first vote we had a tie with 3 wines getting the same number of points, so we had to re-taste that group and then vote again to come up with the winning wine.  And the winner was…wine #6, 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee Brut Vintage from Georgia (yes, we were also very surprised).

This wine was the most interesting of the pack with unusual zesty citrus notes, good acidity and good balance. J Cuvee 20 and 2007 Graham Beck (California and South Africa!) were close runner-ups (they were in the group we had to re-taste), and it is interesting to note that all three were more fruit forward than the other wines in the tasting.

Now, from the prospective of “mistakes” I mentioned before, here are few of my personal disappointments:

Wine #5, Champagne Thierry Triolet Brut, is  a Growers Champagne. I had a pleasure of tasting that wine on the second day, and it opened up a lot more, showing fruit and creaminess. It probably wouldn’t be the winner of the tasting, but I’m sure it would fare better given enough consideration.

Wine #9, 1998 Champagne Gosset Celebris Brut was the only Vintage Champagne in the tasting. It definitely didn’t get enough time to show off all its beauty. By the end of the evening it opened up enough to show off typical yeasty flavors of the vintage champagne, and it became a lot more appealing, at least to my taste.

Oh well, it was definitely a fun exercise! Should you do the champagne blind tasting? May be not. Should you enjoy a glass of champagne instead? Absolutely. Don’t wait for a special occasion, simply celebrate life as it happens. Any day is a good day for a glass of champagne. Cheers!

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