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Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

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.

South Africa’s Top 10 Méthode Cap Classique Wines

October 19, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to bring to your attention a guest post by Brittany Hawkins – for more information about Brittany, please see the bottom of this post.

Source: Wikipedia

Most of us know that real Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.

Some of us also understand that there is a significant difference in the processes used to make Champagne versus many other sparkling wines. But there are other bubbly wines that are made in the tradition of Champagne, which is known as méthode classique.

If you didn’t know this, we will fill you in on the details in a moment, but do know that this little fact is at least one part of the secret behind why South Africa’s MCC (Méthode Cap Classique) wines are so highly sought after?

What Makes MCC So Special?

When you drink a South African MCC, there are at least two key differences between it and the majority of other sparkling wines.

First, as alluded to above, MCCs are made in the traditional Champagne way. This means that the wine is fermented a second time in the bottle (not a tank, like some sparkling wines) using a solution of yeast and sugar. The bottle is left anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 years during the second fermentation. This process is what carbonates the wine.

So, when you open up a bottle of MCC, you are about to enjoy the closest thing on earth to Champagne other than Champagne itself. In fact, South African MCCs are truly rivaling French champagnes due to the quality of their grapes and wine makers.

However, while South African MCC is made méthode classique, it has some unique South African markers. Particularly, as a result of the warmer climate and consistent temperatures of the South African wine country, MCCs tend to be fruitier in character than Champagne and many other sparkling wines, creating unique tasting profile.

Now, let’s give you a run-down of the top 10 MCCs South Africa has to offer.

  1. Simonsig Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blancs 2012

Simonsig Wines in Stellenbosch is home to the very first South Africa Méthode Cap Classique.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we name Simonsig at the top of our list. In the 2017 Cap Classique Challenge, they had two double gold medal winners, as well as other medalists.

We have to agree with the judges of the annual competition in saying that Simonsig’s Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blanc from 2012 is number 1 on the list.

  1. Simonsig Woolworth’s Pinot Noir Rosé 2015

Produced by Simonsig only for Woolworth’s, this MCC Pinot Noir Rosé offers that fruity quality mentioned above, with a crispness sure to deliver a pleasing and refreshing experience.

  1. Domaine des Dieux Claudia Brut 2011

 Tucked away in the foothills of the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge mountains, Domaine des Dieux is a boutique wine farm with very impressive, award-winning wines. Also a gold medalist in the 2017 Cap Classique, Domaine des Dieux’s Claudia Brut MCC will not disappoint.

Made from a predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir base grown in a cooler climate than average South African wine, this MCC will deliver a bit fuller, more austere flavor.

  1. Boschendal’s Brut Rosé NV

 Boschendal farm, in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine country, is one of the oldest wine farms in the country, founded in 1685. Today, it is committed to biodiversity and sustainability.

Boschendal’s award-winning MCC, the Brute Rosé brings together Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinotage to create a unique, versatile blend that is as tasty to the tongue as it is pleasing to the eye. All the grapes and wine used to produce it come directly from their farm.

  1. Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2012

 The Graham Beck Robertson estate is situated in the cool Breede River Valley. They specialize in Cap Classique wines and have a cellar devoted purely to its making and are known for producing some of the best Méthode Classique in the world.

They have numerous award-winning MCCs, but their Brute Rosé recently won gold for best of 2017.

  1. J.C. Le Roux Scintilla 2011

J.C. Le Roux is considered to be one of the leading producers of MCC in all of South Africa. Located in the Devon Valley of Stellenbosch, they are considered a house of bubbly, producing top brands of Cap Classique – Scintilla and Desiderius Pongracz. While most of their MCCs are exquisite, we highly recommend you try their Scintilla 2011. 

  1. Babylonstoren Sprankel 2012

Babylonstoren is another wine farm committed to biodiversity, sustainability with many ways for guests to interact with their farm and winery.

Their award winning MCC, their 2012 Sprankel, is composed of Chardonnay grapes which are carefully chosen from various different vineyards with ideal altitudes. They bring these grapes together to create an MCC with a vibrant and crisp fruity flavor with hints of citrus and passion fruit. 

  1. Laborie Brut 2011

Established in the 1700’s, Laborie has been operating as a world class wine farm for some decades now.

Their award-winning Laborie Brut was made with tender loving care, allowed to mature on its lees for 24 solid months before it was disgorged and bottled. 

  1. Stellenbosch Infiniti Brut

A name well established as one of the greats of the South African wine estates, it should come as no surprise that Stellenbosch produces a superb MCC. Their Infiniti Brut will give you a unique MCC experience, with warm nutty flavors with a hint of citrus.    

  1. Bon Courage Jacques Buére de Blancs 2010

Located in the cooler region of Robertson valley, Bon Courage Estate is home to both locally and internationally recognized and acclaimed wines.

Their line of MCC’s, the Jacques Bruér line, all undergo at least 36-48 months of yeast contact before disgorgement. The Blanc de Blanc is especially exquisite.

For more information on South African Wine farm tours and how to visit them when in South Africa Explore Sideways has all the information you will ever need.

 

Brittany head shotAbout Brittany Hawkins:

Brittany’s passion for food and wine began in her hometown, Napa Valley, California, where she grew up immersed in the wine industry. After receiving a degree from DePauw University, she began her career in Silicon Valley in the advertising and marketing industries. Brittany moved to Cape Town 3 years ago where she launched Explore Sideways and has since been able to marry her interests in food, wine, travel and tech to create transformative experiences around the world.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #MWWC7 Theme, Booze Map of the World, Wine Obsessions

January 29, 2014 3 comments

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #90, grape trivia – Pinotage. In this quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about South Africa’s signature grape, Pinotage. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Explain the origin of the name Pinotage

A1: While Pinotage was born as the result of the cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, Cinsault, one of the Rhone varietals, was known in South Africa as Hermitage (which is actually the name of the region in Northern Rhone), hence the name Pinotage.

Q2: While Pinotage primarily grows in South Africa, California also has some plantings of the grapes. Can you estimate the approximate size of Pinotage plantings in California?

a. 50 acres, b. 250 acres, c. 500 acres, d. more than 1000 acres

A2: The amount of Pinotage growing in California is miniscule, but it is trending up. The correct answer is 50.

Q3: Here is the list of of nasty aromas often associated with the smell of Pinotage wines, except one. Do you know which one doesn’t belong?

a. Burnt rubber, b. Rusty nails, c. Paint solvent, d. Sauerkraut

A3: Sauerkraut flavor is not generally associated with Pinotage.

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

A4: True. 93 is the highest rating allotted by Wine Spectator to Kanonkop Pinotage.

Q5: Pinotage was created in 1925, but for the long time it was used only as blending grape. Do you know when single-grape Pinotage bottling was first released in South Africa?

a. 1946, b. 1961, c. 1976, d. 1989

A5: b, 1961. While the first released vintage was 1959, the wine was commercially available in 1961.

I’m glad to report that we had a good number of participants in the quiz, who also expressed a lot of admiration for Pinotage wines. We have 3 winners this time around – barring spelling mistakes, the drunken cyclist, the winegetter and Wine Everyday answered 5 questions correctly, so they all get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights. I would like to also acknowledge Caspernick who correctly answered 4 questions out of 5. Well done!

And now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web.

The new #MWWC7 Theme had been announced, and it is … Devotion! With all the love and devotion in the air (February 14th – Valentine’s Day – is rapidly approaching), the theme sounds very appropriate. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sharpen your pencil (okay, flex your fingers) and start writing! The submission deadline is February 17th. For the detailed rules and regulations, please take a look at the announcement post by SAHMMelier, the winner of #MWWC6.

Want to know what is the most popular drink in the United States? Italy? China? Now you can! Few days ago, Yahoo! published Booze Map of the World (if you want to skip the article, here is direct link to the map). So it seems that Vodka is a drink of choice in most of the places (USA included), but then Rum in Italy? Really? Was Grappa even on the list? Anyway, have fun analyzing the map.

Last but not least – are you wine obsessed? Do you search for the most unusual wine on the restaurant wine list? Do you remember what is the next “almost extinct” grape you always wanted to encounter in the bottle? Matt Kramer, one of my all time favorite wine writers and Wine Spectator columnist, wrote a very interesting article regarding the wine obsessions – I suggest you will read it for yourself here,  it definitely worth your time.

That’s all I have for you for today. The glass is empty – but the refill is on the way! Cheers!