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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.

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.

Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of South Africa

January 24, 2013 12 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Hamilton_Russell_Pinot_Noir_2008Continuing the subject of “secrets” of the wine world (you might remember our past conversations about Rioja, Second Labels, Georgian Wines and more), let’s talk about wines of South Africa. If you are asking why South African wines should be considered a “hidden secrets”, please read below.

As one would rightfully expect, history of South African wines is tightly intertwined with history of South Africa as a country. Winemaking in South Africa started in 17th century, and for the long time, South Africa was making dessert wines, some of them still famous, like Constantia. Most of the wines were exported into United Kingdom. Similar to the most of the winemaking world, South Africa experienced Phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, and lots of vines had to be replanted. The 20th century was marked by the political issues – as apartheid was a bad problem for the South Africa, the institute of wine regulations by KWV also became a limitation for the wine industry. Combination of the KWV restrictions with boycott of the South African goods, including wines, as a means to fight apartheid regime, lead to South African wines staying largely non-existent for the wine lovers around the world. With collapse of apartheid the situation changed, and then KWV monopoly was also broken, which lead to the great advances in the South African wine making. If you want to read more about the history of

A number of different grapes are used in winemaking in South Africa. First we need to mention Chenin Blanc, which is still one the major white grapes used in wine production (it is also known locally under the name of Steen). Similar to the Loire valley, where Chenin Blanc is shining, it makes whole range of wines in South Africa, starting from very dry and acidic, and going all the way up to the dessert wines. Next we need to mentioned Pinotage, which is unique grape, produced and cultivated only in South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes, and has a number of strange characteristics, such as being reminiscent of liquefied rusty nails in the glass. Then whole bunch of international varietals are also planted (amount of those plantings is increasing), and it includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and many others.

Thelema_Chardonnay_2007So why are we placing South African wines into the “secrets” category? Once you will try [good] wines from South Africa, chances are you will be blown away. It is important to note that South African wines are new world wines masquerading as an old world – which makes blind tasting with South African wines very challenging.

As our tradition goes, let’s open a bottle or two, and let’s talk about the wines. First, 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. This wine is simply amazing – very restrained and polished, with beautiful restrained fruit, lots of smokiness and earthiness on the palate. This wine shows off as a classic Burgundy, and only when you look at the label you experience almost a shock – this wine is from South Africa, last place one would expect to produce classy Burgundy (you can read about our blind tasting experience here).

Then comes 2007 Thelema Chardonnay, again, very reminiscent of beloved White Burgundy – restrained, with balanced fruit, hint of butter and vanilla on the palate and good tannins – very elegant.

Cirrus_Syrah_2003Last I would like to mention 2003 Cirrus wine – a predominantly Shiraz ( 96%) with addition of small amount of Viognier (4%). On the palate, this wine mostly represents liquid smoke, but it really comes alive in a glass, with excellent tannins, toned down fruit and perfect acidity, well balanced.

I don’t know if I manage to convince you in the “secrets” status of South African wines. But if you will think about it, either way you have to find a bottle of South African wine – to either agree or disagree with me. Look for the one we talked about here – and judge it for yourself. Cheers!