In my last post, I erroneously listed the Solms-Delta Amalie 2005 as a white that I found hard to drink, when it in fact is their Koloni 2006. The Amalie is quite drinkable. Solms-Delta seem to have an incredible marketing ability and it even seems to rub off on columnist errors (they get two mentions!).

Last night a good merlot: Diemersdal Merlot 2004. Elegant and medium-bodied with pure fruit that strikes a good balance with the wood. Since there are so few drinkable merlots around, most extracted to hell and gone as if they were cabs, well worth the find.


The feeling of reality settling like an uncertain new piece of clothing- after the festive season, the year begins. Amazing how important this new year marker is, even though the end point in a year is of course relatively arbitrary.

Some exhaustion after a pretty social time is par for the course. Only two bottles out of dozens was corked, so that’s a pretty good average, and I’d say that a third of the bottles were screw caps. Most drunk would have to the sauvignon blanc and bubbly, with chenin blanc also popular. Favourites? Bruce Jack’s Freerun Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and Welgegund’s Rosé 2006. Misses: Solms-Delta with a red blend called Hiervandaan 2004 that’s really got green flavours and a white blend called Koloni 2006 that is a hardship to drink, so unctuous and rich but not refreshing.

Blind vs Sighted

A little while ago there was some discussion on the site about blind vs sighted tastings, here and here. Then the other day I was greeted with: “have you heard the latest gossip?” from a wine writer from Johannesburg.

He had been approached by a rather miffed Alan Pick of the well-known Butcher’s Grill in Sandton whose Pick’s Pick Merlot had been awarded two and a half stars in the latest John Platter Guide – while the same wine, in its full livery as Jordan’s Merlot, had received four stars. The allegation is that it is one and the same wine, in which case the sighted nature of the tasting had a very deliterious effect on Pick’s wine.

In the Platter guide, they do announce that this merlot comes from Jordan, so one would have thought they’d cross reference or establish that this was perhaps a separate batch, and not as high in quality… I wonder where the truth lies: if it is the same wine, then this gap in star ratings is alarming.

Meanwhile, I have just written up the “chef’s chootout” for Wine Magazine’s Chenin Blanc Challenge, the results due in late January edition. We tasted the winning wine and both fellow judge Pete Goffe-Wood and myself were quite mystified as to its winning status – at least on current form. It showed as a very short and rather flat wine. But I will likely have to eat my words…

Thirsty Thursday

Unexpectedly called to tasting duties on the family farm yesterday: all morning on chenin blancs and all afternoon on shiraz.

Chenin is, in my opinion, South Africa’s great white hope – if we manage its image successfully. It is versatile and delicious with its array of delicious fruit flavours, the only problem with its perception is that it is unknown for many, while others think it makes only cheap wine. On top of this, it comes in various guises, from sweet to dry and the punter is not always sure what he or she will get.

Aside from small plantings in the Loire, we have the world’s monopoly on the grape, and at this year’s big chenin tasting in France (Le Rendez-vous de Fontevraud) we really cleaned up in most categories, especially the dry and off-dry styles.

Of the 15 local and international wines we tasted yesterday, there were few duds. When wine-makers manage to curb the over-ripe melon flavours and keep the freshness of the variety’s natural acids, the results are also age-worthy as a 2001 Beaumont Chenin proved. It had only become richer and more complex, still with a zing. Other lovelies included De Trafford 2006, Chateau de Fesles “La Chapelle” 2002, and Jean Daneel Signature 2005.

On to the afternoon’s shiraz tasting. What can I say? Again, I am seriously underwhelmed by SA shiraz. Over-ripe, simple fruit and walls of oak. This is not the saviour it was hyped to be. Maybe once we have older vines and once makers blend with a few other grapes like mourvedre we will begin to see some elegance and length, not just power and ham-fistedness. We tasted 12 locals, and only a minority of these were wines as opposed to show-ponies. Columella, Luddite, Beaumont (with my declared interests) are on the right track.

The most expensive rosé?

It’s made from mourvedre grapes and comes rather handsomely packaged in a flint bottle. Goes by the romantic name of Circumstance (which probably explains how it got to be made). The producer is Waterkloof, pretty unknown to me and closed to the public. I tried it after Faisal mentioned it was the most expensive rosé he had come across… attractive nose, but short and rather hard. I still think rosés should have some element of seduction: either a fruit charm or tangy layers of earth and spice.

Dewetshof Chardonnay D’Honneur 1993

Caveau have some of this wine by the glass this week, and if you can get down there, have a taste. It is still in fine shape with alluring tertiary notes and a lively palate. One suspects that acid was added (this was, and still is, common practise) because there is a hint of naked freshness – but in this case it all hangs together wonderfully. Once more, a white wine that really impresses, perhaps because there is not so much pressure to perform, as on the reds? Or do we make better white wines?

On the subject of added acid, Mocke, the winemaker at Chamonix who has just been hansomely awarded for his chardonnays, believes that natural acids are key to ensuring longevity in the bottle. This is of course a great viticultural challenge in our climate, where the heat strips acids out to replace with rampant sugars.

Also tasted this weekend: Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 1997, and a delicious creamy mouthful that was, mousse still vibrant.

Inner and Outer Rhinofields

In what could be one of the most obstruse exercises in sauvignon blanc exploration (or is it marketing?), Durbanville Hills have released two Rhinofields Sauvignon Blanc 2006s – Inner Valley and Outer Valley. Rhinofields is a premium label.

Inner Valley is, according to the notes, “selected from a single vineyard which is trellised to protect the fruit from direct sunlight. The soft, radiated heat allowed for the gradual ripening of the fruit, which meant flavour components could be developed to the full.” Furthermore, the wine is described as “robust” – even though it carries an alcohol of 11.9%. This is alarmingly low for a Cape wine, even for tasters like me who dislike over-alcoholic wines. Can this wine have all its flavours fully developed?

The Outer Valley 2006 which is in its turn described as “full-bodied” sits at an even slighter 11.09% alcohol. Both wines’ acidities are around 6.7, and with these figures they certainly are refreshing – but not robust, full-bodied or, in fact, particularly complex. They are both light and lean, with fleeting palate weight.

These wines do have something of a reputation for developing in the bottle, so I would be interested to track their development, but I have to wonder if these grapes had reached fruit ripeness. And then there is the price, R55 from the farm, which unfortunately does not let then slip down as fast as they probably should.

The Bright Orange Book

Also launched this week is the new edition of the John Platter South African Wine Guide. As ever, it has grown, and I’ll write a fuller report of some interesting points regarding our “wine bible” later. The team has also identified their wine of the year – the honours go to Vergelegen’s White 2005. This is a sauvignon blanc-semillon blend that spent 10 months in wood, half new. It’s a wine that is gathering a great track record and playing a large part in the growing “awareness” of white blends in South Africa, though of course we have always had these, especially in the cheap and cheerful categories.

I for one like this direction (of blended whites) since I find many sauvignons rather dull in their straight-forward freshness. At the same time, our producers are upping their game with chardonnay, being more judicious with wood and making very elegant wines. I think it’s well time for us to love chardies again (though many kept on loving them anyway).

The goldens: Delheim

While the new always gets the lion’s share of publicity (which thrives on the new(s)), it’s great to be reminded of the oldies but goodies.

Delheim, for example. Their first wine-making tanks were built by Italian prisoners of war in 1944, the cement tanks spoiling the first harvest because the winemakers didn’t seal the cement properly. The first labelled bottle went out in 1958, a sweet wine. For a New World winery, this is a good bit of history.

They have recently done major renovations to their cellar, for it was built piecemeal as the needs of the business grew, and all that wood and later foamalite is no longer a safe medium for a winery. So it’s all been stripped out and replaced.

Their cellar restaurant has also seen a few changes, with a more modern kitchen in place, but the style is still hearty country fare, and highly recommended for a lazy lunch while trying some fine wines, the reds my favourites.

White Blends

A little premature for the weather, but my wine tasting has of late been dominated by white wines. This is more or less the time that most sauvignon blancs are released, and so it should also be a good time to reassess last year’s vintages, should there be any truth to the idea that sauvignon can age. Continue reading “White Blends”

A reminder

I am not alone in frequent comments on the alarming increase in alcoholic and over-extracted fruit bombs that masquerade as fine wines – much of these comments directed at South African examples since this is the turf. However, I recently tasted two foreign wines that made me realise that we are not alone, in fact we may still be relatively moderate in our output of these “extravins”.

First a Shafer Merlot 2002 from the Napa. What a nasty wine. Pretty much only about baked fruit and alcohol, the wine bursts into the mouth, does a flourish and disappears. Yet I gather it’s pretty well regarded? Can anyone shed some light?

Then a Rosemount GSM 2001 from the Barossa. I know this is seal-clubbing to some extent, but with extract like reduced fruit jam and the cloying effect of 18 months of American oak, you have to recognise that there is little room for the imagination here.

Perhaps there is comment to be made along the lines of palate acclimatisation, but I would love these wines to be defended as being optimally ripe and of desirable balance.

Standing around

The evidence is there in the paucity of posts on eating with the hungry man that either he or I are too busy to do much eating together at this time. However, I did share a lunch with him yesterday in a manner of speaking. In a manner because it was at a wine seminar on marketing and this was the bolt-it-down lunch break, but more in a manner because the bolting and gabbing happened standing up. Yes, eating at standing height tables. It must be a conference thing, and I don’t have too much experience with these. However, after sitting for a few hours… The Hungry Man muttered to me that “it’s apparently faster” in passing.

PS The subject of e-marketing was given a whole speaker and an hour, but very poorly interpreted, maybe more later. It was both not a good intro to blogs, flicker, etc; nor in depth analysis. Pity. Most people were simply confused.