Cape Escape

POSTED ON 19/10/2009

Shortly before South Africa announced it was looking for a new coach to help its footballers side make a fist of things as World Cup host nation next summer, a group of singers crooned ‘happy birthday to you’ (South African wine was 350 years old) and offered cup cakes an champagne to the slightly bemused visitors to the mega Wines of South Africa tasting at Earls Court last week. The wines certainly seem to be doing a better job than the footballers. According to WoSA, the Wines of South Africa people, global exports of South African wine were up 14 per cent to June this year on the back of strong growth last year.

A window on the CapeA window on the Cape

The UK is still South Africa’s biggest export market so it was no surprise to see so many South Africa winemaker and producer faces at the show. Generics like these are pretty tough to work your way around with so many exhibitors showing such a plethora of wines. I counted 165 producers and 60 UK agents, each of whom was there with tables of anything up to 66 wines (the number shown by just one of the 60, Richards Walford for instance). The Platter Wine Guide had its own table of 35 wines, each of which had been given 5 stars this year by the Platter team, the highest accolade possible, so it seemed a good place to start.

The white wine of the year was Eben Sadie’s 2008 Palladius, an intensely rich, white Châteauneuf-like dry white with a riot of ripe stonefruit and honey flavours, maintaining an enticing freshness. It was followed by other worthy 5-star awards. The 2008 The Berrio The Weathergirl was a pure, Graves-like, gooseberryish, zesty dry white, while the 2008 Vergelegen White, always a top Cape dry white, was bang on form. There were two superb chenin blanc-based whites, the very concentrated, Vouvray-esque 2008 Beaumont Hope, and the powerful, quite oaky but ultimately rich and satisfying 2008 Rail White. The best of the chardonnays for me was the opulent, yet restrained, cool climate 2008 Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve.

Cape talentCape talent

The red wine of the year, the 2005 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, from former Rustenberg winemaker Etienne Le Riche, was one of the best cabernets I’ve ever tasted from the Cape, elegant cassis fruit with a spicy oak veneer and relatively moderate alcohol and tannins: beautifully made. Which is more than could be said for some of the other 5-star awards, some of which I found disappointing. I was not keen on the rather baked 2006 Morgenster and oaky 2006 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, and I didn’t like the balance of the rather hefty 2006 De Trafford perspective. The Stony Brook Ghost Gum was actively unpleasant and I couldn’t see how it merited 5 stars. I thought syrah / shiraz was promising with two nice efforts, one from the 2008 Dunstone (new name to me) Shiraz, the other the 2007 Rustenberg Stellenbosch (aptly-named) Syrah. But the Saxenburg Shiraz Select limited Release was trying too hard.

A shame really because there was plenty to admire elsewhere in the room. Iona’s new 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was deliciously fresh and restrained à la Pouilly Fumé. A new name to me, Crystallum’s 2009 Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc was one of the best I tried. Herbal and gooseberry-tangy with plenty of finesse, its 2008 Clay Shales Chardonnay another success. The 2009 Fryer’s Cove Sauvignon Blanc showed very well, crisp, tight and zesty, the Quoin Rock 2009 Cape Agulhas Sauvignon Blanc was richly full-flavoured and tight, and the 2009 Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc was also looking herbal, opulent, smart, along with Quando’s passion fruity 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Tokara is beginning to fulfil its promise too, the basic 2008 Zondernaam Sauvignon Blanc good value, the 2008 Elgin Sauvignon Blanc showing real class, fresh capsicum flavours and elegance.

Andrew and Rosie GunnAndrew and Rosie Gunn

Chenin Blanc is supposedly South Africa’s great white hope and there were some very good ones even beyond the Platter 5-star awards, mostly blends but also some single varietals. I liked the 2008 Circumstance Chenin Blnac from Waterkloof, with its delicate toast and leesy qualities and their 2008 Viognier was looking good to. Vondeling’s 2006 Babiana is a blend of 60% chenin blanc with viognier and chardonnay and I thought it tasted very well, with distinctive stonefruit richness balanced by good acid and even some dry minerality. I enjoyed Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards’ leesy 2008 TMV White and the rich, dried fruits and lightly oaked, characterful 2007 Roulette Blanc from Lammershoek, a distinctive blend of chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier and Hungary’s harslevelü. The 2007 Foundry Viognier, with its floral, aromas and intense apricoty fruit, was glorious.

The good news about the reds was that South Africa, at the higher quality levels at least, appears to be conquering its problem of earthy / rubbery tainted reds, even if it doesn’t know how it’s going about it. Despite the poor showing of some of the Platter 5star reds, there were a number of really good reds in the room. Back to Crystallum, whose oddly named Cuvée Cinema 2008 Pinot Noir was delicious, and, talking of pinot noir, I also liked the cherryish 2006 Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir, both suggesting that maybe there is a future after all for pinot noir, which with one or two exceptions, has failed to really show its true colours in the Cape.

Iona: dangerously good for youIona: dangerously good for you

I didn’t taste the Newton Johnson wines or Mullineux, but I had been impressed by both at recent London tastings, New Johnson being very good value, as also was the 2007 Circumstance Merlot from Waterkloof. I preferred the 2007 Haskell Aeon Stellenbosch Syrah to its more vaunted Platter counterpart. I thought Waterford’s 2005 The Jem, a cabernet-based, Bordeaux-style blend was very high quality, and liked also the 2007 Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and, from Meerendal, its concentrated 2006 Old Vine Block Pinotage and powerful 2006 Bin 159 Shiraz. Gottfried Mocke is surely one of the Cape’s more modest winemakers: not only was his chardonnay excellent but Cape Chamonix’ 2006 Troika, a cabernet franc, sauvignon and merlot blend, was really vivid and well-crafted. And if you’re not that keen on pinotage, his 2007 Cape Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage should make you think again. Light on its feet and fragrant, it’s the epitome to me of what Cape pinotage should be about.

Also in the news… News to rank with headlines such as ‘small earthquake, not many dead’ or ‘fewer bankruptcies’.: ANIVIT, the French trade organisation for Vins de Pays and Vins de Table wines, will henceforth be known as ANIVIN the French trade organisation for Vins de France. How many bureaucrats does it take to substitute an n for a t and how much did the process cost? I think we should be told.

….the soaraway Sun has launched a wine in collaboration with Asda. Vin du Soleil (geddit?) is a wine made from Vermentino and Viognier and will sell for £4.98 at Asda. It’s ‘a glass of fun’ (sunshine, surely?) according to its wine correspondent, ex-rugby-player Brian Moore. Apparently the wine features a newspaper label ‘in keeping with its tabloid roots’. So that’s Page 3 then? I don’t think so.

…there’s a new website., offering fine wine investment to celebrities. It’s the brainchild of former Southampton footballer Matthew Oakley and Barry Skarin, a former head sommelier for the Marco Pierre White Group. For its investment page, take a look at Well, there’s one born every day, so why not?

…Dork of the Week: Dork Lagerfeld, who else?
Does my tie look big in this?Does my tie look big in this?

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