The New Wave South Africa tasting was held on Tuesday this week, at The Vinyl Factory, the basement under Phonica Records in Poland Street. As always, there was a buzz going around long before this event, as there always is these days when the South Africans come to London. However, I don’t think the organisers were quite expecting not far short of a thousand trade registrations. It meant those of us arriving around mid-day had to queue, but that did mean that the venue’s fire capacity was adhered to, the consequence being that there was at least room to breath down below ground.
Despite the initial crowds and the rather high level of background noise, the tasting certainly lived up to the hype. Fifty-plus producers had turned out, some being established superstars and some being people I hadn’t even heard of before, let alone tasted their wines. In some extreme’s producers showed well over a dozen wines (Pieter Walser had lined up closer to twenty), whilst at the other end of the scale Sam Lambson (Minimalist Wines) lived up to his label’s name by bringing just one (but what a wine, see below).
I reckon I tasted a little over a quarter of the producers. If I missed your favourite, I’m sorry. Whilst at one or two tables I didn’t try every wine, once you get into a conversation it’s hard not to go with the flow. I think that if I mention every wine I tasted the article would just become a boring list. I hope that what tasting notes there are will generate a flavour of it all. What I really hope to convey is the excitement inherent in the wines.
Each producer was asked by the organisers which three records, one book and one single luxury item they would take to a desert island. Quite a nice window into their tastes. I’m going to share at least one record/band for every producer, so you can see how cool these guys and ladies are.
This is a family setup located in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, south of Caledon and north of Hermanus, on the Southern Cape Coast (near Walker Bay). It’s effectively a cool climate terroir and winemaking here is described as being “as natural as possible”. A beautiful range of wines is made, and their reputation precedes them these days, but I do think that they make truly outstanding Pinot Noir.
Resonance 2016 is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, under the Walker Bay appellation. It’s a good place to begin, a blend we used to see a lot from Australia but one which works so well in cool climate South Africa. The Semillon sees some wood so it adds depth to the freshness of the Sauvignon’s grassy citrus acidity.
Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2017 is a very good example of what you can get for under £30 from this producer. Off decomposed granite and clay comes elegance, a blend of lemon and lime acidity and nutty nascent complexity. Rich but not fat, the steely acid structure lifts it nicely, and grounds it at the same time.
There are a range of Pinots. The equivalent Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 is deliciously fruity but equally has good grip. It’s a very nice bottle, but the two single vineyard Pinot Noir I’ll come to next are quite sensationally good.
Seadragon Pinot Noir 2018 is noticeably bright and has a remarkable balance between fruit and acidity. 2018 is only the second vintage for this pair. It is a nice contrast with the Windansea Pinot Noir 2018. Both come from hillside locations in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, but this latter wine is Newton Johnson’s highest vineyard, at around 350 metres above sea level. The soils here are darker clays, and the wine has the vivacity and freshness of a cooler site with added structure. It has more bass notes.
Bevan and Gordon, Dave Johnson’s two sons, were on hand to pour. They chose records by The Pixies, The Black Keys and Linton Kwesi Johnson, so that’s three points, plus a bonus point for LKJ, taking them right to the top of the coolness chart.
UK Importer – Dreyfus Ashby
Bevan Newton with his rather classy lineup of wines
Chris Williams was on hand to show The Foundry wines, and this is another beautiful range. I began with the Viognier 2018 from Stellenbosch (all the wines are from Stellenbosch, with the exception of the next wine, which comes from Voor Paardeberg). The thing I like about the Foundry Viognier is its acids. Although it hits 13.5% abv, it retains genuine freshness. It both smells and tastes fresh and avoids the blowsy weight of a lot of Viognier found outside the Northern Rhône. Maybe not quite as elegant as a Clonakilla but a lot cheaper.
The whites here are worth exploring. Chris wasn’t showing Chenin, but there was a Grenache Blanc 2018 and a Roussanne 2017. The former, fermented in older oak, was paler than expected but had some depth to it. I liked the bitter twist on the finish. The Roussanne was quite waxy with rounded fruit showing through, again good acids, and just enough weight.
The reds are all a little more expensive than the whites, and they possibly lack those wines’ freshness, but they do all have the kind of acids and tannins which will help them to age. Even the Grenache Noir 2017 was still tannic. Fermented half in older oak and half in concrete, it is quite a big wine (14.5% abv) but it does show nice high-toned fruit.
Tasting two vintages of The Foundry Syrah was instructive. 2016 was aged in oak, around 10% new oak. Compared to the Grenache, it has less weight and is still pretty youthful. 2012, bottled in September 2013, had developed a lot more fragrance, but it is still tannic and needs several more years unless you like your Syrah quite grippy. I felt this 2012 benefited from half a degree less alcohol here (14%), but that might just be my own sensitivity and reading of balance.
Chris went for Talking Heads, Pink Floyd and Bach (cello suites), a solid set of options. His luxury item was a telescope, which hopefully is suggestive of his vision being wide.
The UK importer/agent is, once more, Dreyfus Ashby.
The Liberator is a label put together by Richard Kelley MW, who is the man behind Dreyfus Ashby. So far these past twelve months I’ve managed to drink a couple of these wines, both very enjoyable. They tend to be small but interesting batches Rick picks up or hears about when he’s out on tour around The Cape. They all have the added bonus of really well thought out labels, some of them being hilariously funny, at least to me…I’m not sure Johnson and Gove would fully appreciate the humour of “Episode 23” (see below).
I’m going to skip through all nine of the wines on show because, well, they are all worth a plug. Most retail around the £20 mark, with a couple of exceptions, and all provide a talking point at the table. Episode 16 (“Perfectly Flawed) was not shown, but if you spot one of the few thousand bottles of this Tulbagh Chenin aged under flor, grab one swiftly.
Excuse me giving you a label photo for every wine…I just love the labels as well.
Episode 11 – Homage to Catalonia 2016 is Viura from Franschhoek, the first crop of fruit from Solms Delta. It’s waxy with simple pear and quince, but long and tasty. Just 672 bottles made. It may possibly be the first varietal Viura (aka Macabeu) out of The Cape.
Episode 19 – Teeth of the Dog 2017 This Chardonnay from Paarl-Simonsberg almost tastes like it is blended with 50% Chenin. This is very good but also a little different. 300 cases came from Glen Carlou, originally destined for their Cellar Club until a change of ownership. The name is, of course, a nod to a certain vineyard on the Côte de Beaune, though the wine’s richness is more Meursault than Chassagne, as Rick is happy to acknowledge.
Episode 23 – The Odd Couple 2012 This is your Gove/Johnson label, the name channelling the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau classic of 1968 (nice choice, Rick) . The blend is Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, not completely unknown but still rare. The bouquet is more Chardonnay for me, and it’s another waxy wine with acidity just on the right side of thrilling. The blend is 60:40 in Chardonnay’s favour and Nederburg is the source, in the Western Cape. I want a couple of these, at least in part for the label, but there are a mere 672 bottles, or at least there were when bottled.
Episode 18 – PS I Love You 2016 Petite Syrah (aka Durif) from De Morgenzon in Stellenbosch. 650 cases here. The label painting is by the American Impressionist artist, Julian Alden Weir. The wine is deep and bright, very fresh on the nose and palate, with nice fruit and the added complexity of a savoury finish. Only 13.5% abv, ie restrained for the variety.
Episode 20(/20) – Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics 2016 This Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, the most expensive of the “Episodes” I’ve found, is an elegant and classy cuvée of just 300 bottles made at Vergelegen (so no wonder it’s not cheap). It is in fact a classic savoury Cabernet (with 10% Merlot). It has 14.5% alcohol on the label but in this case it honestly doesn’t really show. What does show is the skill and contacts that have enabled Richard Kelley to get hold of this very posh wine for his own label. The name does not relate to brexit skulduggery, in case you wondered after Episode 23, but rather to “score inflation”, a subject close to both Rick’s, and my, heart.
Look, Rick gave it 110 points, LOL!
Episode 21 – MSG 2017 550 cases of Swartland Mourvedre (80%), Syrah (10%) and Grenache (10%) from Lammershoek. Quite pale, rounded smooth fruit dominates here. The cuvée was assembled in 2018 and bottled in June this year, and it has a lovely freshness right now. Rick says it goes well with Chinese food. I think that is a joke!
Ooooops, blurry, sorry…
Episode 22 – Blood and Chocolate 2003 This is the label that worries me most, largely because of my career before wine writing. The blend is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% Syrah, made again by Nederburg in the Western Cape. 372 cases nod towards one of Rick’s musical heroes, Elvis Costello, but you can’t deny that it does taste pretty much of chocolate (of a rich and dark nature, perhaps a little creamy). For some reason this cuvée was destined for a Nederburg Auction Lot, but never made it. It now has a new life with a classic red and gold label.
Episode 12 – Napoleon Bona Part 2 2018 Muscat de Frontignan is the grape variety, 1,300 half bottles which came from Nederburg, another batch destined for the Auction before it passed into industry hands. It’s an intensely sweet wine, low in alcohol (9%) but rich in barley sugar and honey…it’s also nice and long. The Napoleon connection? The wine was made in the classic Constantia style by Nederburg winemaker, Günter Brözel, a master of these wines. Of course we all know that during his exile on the island of Saint-Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte drank a bottle of Constantia every day (allegedly). I think it was the wallpaper which poisoned him, not the wine. There is also a “Part 1”.
Episode 9 – The Bishop of Norwich 2016 This is a Cape Vintage wine made in the Port style from a large blend of “Portuguese” grape varieties. Its creators are Carel and Margaux Nel of Boplaas. Based in Calitzdorp, they are true specialists in the genre. This has a deep smoky bouquet, is sweet but also concentrated, and it will age. “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” is a euphemism for bl**dy well hurry up and pass the port, will you! Those tiny glasses used to get drained swiftly…I know.
No pic of the bishop, damn, how did that happen?
I’m hoping that the long section above does give some idea of the fun behind these wines, but don’t ignore the fact that they are also very good indeed. Richard Kelley MW knows how to sniff out good wine.
Rick imports his own wines. He chose The Beatles, Tom Waits and Joe Jackson, an atlas (book) and a record player (luxury…bet his wife will be mad after reading this!). Kudos for the music and book, though.
Rick and Sarah (who I’m sure he’d take, really)
THORNE & DAUGHTERS
John and Tasha Seccombe set up their label in the Western Cape in 2012, and are possibly best known in the UK for their Rocking Horse Cape Blend, named after their daughters’ toy rocking horse they made for them. I drank a glorious 2014 vintage of that wine back in June, and it ages magnificently. The daughters are now eight and ten, and the wines have moved on too. The following three are highly recommended.
Tin Soldier 2018 is a Swartland skin contact Semillon Gris, as lovely as the variety is obscure and rare. The vines were planted in 1964. A week on skins, the wine is savoury and textured, and also very dry. To pick out two flavour descriptors, I’d go with waxy lemon peel and marzipan, but there’s more. If I saw it on a shelf it would be a definite purchase. Paper Kite 2018 is the more common Semillon Blanc variety, from Swartland (like the Semillon Gris). It’s an old vine cuvée, made from heritage vines well over fifty years old. Again, it is savoury, fresh and smooth, with the faintest hint of oily gras. There’s a biscuity and nutty element, with a bit of pain d’épice too.
Wanderer’s Heart 2018 is a Cape Red Blend, here 34% Grenache, 26% Cinsaut, 17% Grenache Gris, 13% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. The savoury nature of the whites carries through in this red and you get plums for fruit, with fig and classic fresh wood aromas. It’s labelled Western Cape, the grapes coming from a variety of plots from Voor Pardeberg, Bottelary, Bot’s River and Wellington, off varied soils including granite, shale, limestone, and a clay/gravel mix. It’s my first taste of a Thorne & Daughters Red and I like it.
John’s main coolness points come from his choice of something by The War on Drugs, and selecting coffee as the luxury item.
Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.
The real Thorne (John Seccombe) with the red. There were a hell of a lot of Thorne & Daughters t-shirts being worn by exhibitors for some reason.
Minimalist Wines, minimalist entry, because Sam Lambson currently only makes one wine, called Stars in the Dark (expansion is planned, fear not). It’s 100% Syrah made simply via whole bunch fermentation in large format old oak. Both fermentation and malo are spontaneous, and the only addition is a touch of sulphur in winter.
The wine is rich, savoury, fine, and fundamentally stonkingly good! Only 800 bottles were made in 2018, although I was told that 600 are for the UK. We are looking at perhaps 1,500 bottles for 2019. Sam wants to focus on cool site Shiraz and to this Elim cuvée will be added fruit from Elgin and Stellenbosch.
Every time I see Colin Thorne at a tasting (he’s a buyer at Vagabond Wines) he seems to tip me a wink towards a real star. He did that again here. Thank you Colin, both for your great palate and your generosity, much appreciated.
Imported by Dreyfus Ashby, records selected are by Chilli Peppers, Bob Marley and John Mayer, very sound.
No, never heard of her. Why? Jessica comes from a family with a great winemaking heritage in Austria, but her career took off in sales and marketing. She began making wine part time in 2015, and then went full time only in 2017. There are just three wines here. One is a lovely Riesling, the other two are sensational single vineyard Pinot Noirs.
Chi Riesling 2019 is from Elgin fruit, sourced close to the ocean off rocky loam. It’s fashioned in a fruity and crisp style, avoiding petrol notes deliberately. The nose and palate have a citrus core. The bouquet has a hint of geranium and ginger spice and the palate is quite lemony. Just 12% abv.
The first Pinot Noir I tasted was Om 2018, a wine named for universal peace (something most people in wine hope for). The vines are at 700 metres ASL on granite, with clay. They are relatively young, planted in 2006, mostly on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The bouquet is red fruited with rose and cherry, but the palate has darker fruits, beetroot and a bit of tannin.
The similarly named Nom Pinot Noir 2018 is from Kaaimansgat Vineyard, Elandskloof Valley, Villiersdorp, and is mostly shale, but at a similar altitude. This is very concentrated and aromatic (orange citrus, coffee, cherry), is darker fruited and has clear umami elements. “Nombulelo” means gratitude in Xhosa. Nomkhubulwane is a forgotten African goddess of Agriculture.
I was pretty blown away at this table. The importer is Swig Wine. Jessica’s musical tastes don’t exactly accord with mine, but never mind, the wines emphatically do.
Another recently established label, Metzer Family Wines began in 2006 in Somerset West. Wade Metzer makes half-a-dozen wines, including a petnat from old vine Chenin which disappointingly wasn’t on taste. There were three glorious wines which all look good value for money despite hardly being cheap as chips..
Maritime Chenin Blanc 2017 is from a vineyard of old bush vines planted less than 5km from the ocean at False Bay. It has a salty bite, whether auto-suggestive or not. The soils are sandy and they yield an aromatic Chenin.
Montane Chenin Blanc 2017 is from vines planted higher, at 250m ASL. The vines were planted in 1964 so they have a nice age to them. The bouquet is apple and ginger but the palate has a mineral spine. It kind of combines a floral element with some stone fruit as well. It gains texture from eight months lees ageing in barrel (10% new).
Shiraz 2017 is sourced from a Helderberg parcel of old vines on a windy site with complex soils which led to a picking of four tries over two weeks. It’s an oak aged wine (11 months, 10% new oak) which tastes good now, although it does have potential to age if you let it. Wade called it a “feminine Shiraz”, which to an extent I suppose it is, if that sort of analogy is your thing. But it is both supple and subtle.
Metzer Family is imported by Indigo Wine. Here we have yet another Beatles fan with a penchant for The Rolling Stones and QOTSA!
MULLINEUX & LEEU
I’ve known the wines of Chris and Andrea Mullineux for a long time. I still have a single bottle left from what I believe was their first vintage (though for the life of me I can’t find it), and only last year drank my last 2006s from Chris’ previous stint at TMV (Tulbagh Mountain Vintners). Since those early days they have moved on. To the original wines have been added “Kloof Street”, the limited production “Granite” and “Schist”, and the “Leeu Passant” pair.
Schist Syrah 2017 is from that famous Swartland fruit which has seen Chris become one of the finest winemakers in South Africa. The wine off the schist has real bite, with a graphite mineral core. It is reassuringly very expensive though. Granite Syrah 2017 seems to me to have more amplitude. It’s a very powerful wine (14% abv, but that’s not what I meant) yet loaded with bags of fruit and mineral freshness. Both are magnificent wines, but they are too expensive for me to buy and age, now.
At a little over £50/bottle the next pair are perhaps a little more affordable. Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2017 is still remarkably classy. It has weight yet it is approachable. However, it should be given the chance to age to get the most out of your money. It was barrel fermented, 20% new, which will integrate with time as it is on its way to doing now. Only 700 cases were made, though.
Leeu Passant Dry Red 2017 is deeply coloured Cabernet Sauvignon with the addition of some Cinsaut (a more generous 1,100 cases here). It’s a smoky wine, quite big and needing time, but it has classic structure. The Leeu Passant wines are made at Chris and Andrea’s winery in Franschhoek (the original winery is still at Riebeek Kasteel in Swartland) and are a collaboration with Analjit Singh. They are multi-regional blends (hence Western Cape designation) which nod towards the classic, ageworthy, South African wines of particularly the 1960s and 70s.
I couldn’t pass by on a sip or two of Mullineux Straw Wine 2017. I’ve consumed quite a few of these half bottles in the past, some young and some old. My conclusion is that they are possibly better young, when they are full of vibrancy. It’s basically sweet Chenin, very rich and with around 240g of residual sugar. The key to this wine is that it always has good acidity, and the grapes are dried outside but in the shade, so the process is slower. You get peach, apricot and marmalade. Classic, very concentrated and long.
Importer is Fields, Morris and Verdin. Chris likes Bob Marley, a South African favourite among a certain generation, I feel.
Chris and his wines, a man I’ve not seen for many years and at the top of his game
It is often difficult to get close to the AAB table at any tasting, and this was no exception. Anyway, I know the wines pretty well. The Secateurs wines are some of the most remarkable value bottles from SA and I’m not averse to grabbing a few. However, my tasting intentions were quite specific.
First of all I wanted a taste of Sout van die Aarde Palomino 2018. In some ways Palomino seems one of the grapes of the moment. Whether by this name, or as Listán Blanco, we are starting to see some stunning examples. This one is delicious, quite fruity (more so than most), with plenty of fruit acids.
My other desire was to try a particular pair of Cinsauts (the usual SA spelling loses the “l” of the French). Ringmuur 2018 is fragrant, pale, yet plush. The fruit is dry but you think it’s sweet at first, know what I mean? Then the finish, an unexpected bitter twist. Ramnasgras 2017 (2018 in the tasting book but 2017 on the bottle) has a bit more spice, but these are basically one gorgeous pair.
I’m drinking more and more SA Cinsaut. Most, like my precious 2014 Pofadder (which I’d love someone top tell me when to open?) is resting. This former workhorse grape (cliché) is now coming into its own and I wanted to see what a master does with it in Swartland. Well, plenty, but you probably knew that. I’d say that for around forty quid, these are still good value, as I think is every wine made here.
Swig Wines import AA Badenhorst. We get Paul Simon, and a little more from the left field, Edith Piaf as the music choices.
Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery is a frequent visitor to the pages of wideworldofwine. If you want to read a longer piece about him, assuming you haven’t already, then follow this link here to a recent article from June this year. Okay, blowing my own trumpet, but it’s worth it. Pieter is one of wine’s great story tellers. I told him he ought to write a book and I truly mean it. Each wine has a tale to tell.
You can find out all you need to know in that article. Pieter had fifteen wines listed, and more under the table. How he makes them all so different I genuinely have no idea. All I shall say here is that I tried the delicious B-Bos II 2018 Semillon (the creepiest spider story ever) which is beautifully textured and savoury and a deceptive 14% abv. I tried the very different Semillon, Epileptic Inspiration 2018 which has always been one of my favourite Blank Bottle wines from the beginning. Then I tasted Nothing to Declare 2018, which hints at Pieter’s relationship with authority. It’s a Western Cape blend of the Rhône classics, Marsanne and Roussane.
Im Hinterhofkabuff 2012 is, you will note, a well aged Riesling, weighty (again, 14%) and dry, tasting as if it’s blended with Chenin (it isn’t), pale but almost tannic with texture. Stern Magazine wrote a piece about Pieter living in an old shack (not exactly true), that’s where the name comes from. Last up, Searching for Le Strange, a new wine to me (unlisted, and I didn’t get the vintage). It’s another example of stupendously good SA Palomino, in this instance made on skins in a beeswax-lined clay pot.Ever the innovator, this wine is a must-buy for me. But I do love all of the Blank Bottle output, despite my general fear of wines that make my legs give way after a bottle.
Swig Wines is the importer once more. Pieter chose Leonard Cohen and Nirvana, plus his wife as a luxury item (well said, sir, but who has the kids?)…but if his wife wasn’t allowed, then his surfboard.
If you are flagging, well only five more producers to go. I did consider splitting this, but then September is a busy month.
LUKAS VAN LOGGERENBERG
Lukas has only been making wine since 2015, but he’s beginning to get noticed and is seen by many as one of the rising stars in south Africa. I tasted four out of five wines listed (not sure how I missed the fifth, but never mind) and they tended to prove that he is indeed very talented.
Kameraderie 2018 is the current vintage of the first wine he ever made, named for the great help given to get his label up and running by his friends. It’s a single vineyard Chenin Blanc, from fruit planted way back in the 1960s. It sees some oak and it has great freshness, but the old vines do give it bags of depth.
Break a Leg Blanc de Noir 2019 is a savoury rosé made from slightly younger Cinsaut, planted 1992. It’s not all fruit, having some of that ethereal tea-like quality which a few more savoury pink wines around the world can exhibit (aged Rosé des Riceys, for example).
Geronimo 2018 is also Cinsaut, bright red in colour and in a fresh style, not really showing it had nine months in oak (so presumably old wood). It’s a nice wine, very nice indeed and well priced for the quality (c £25). Much as I am loving SA Cinsaut, there’s an even better wine to come.
Lukas is a big fan of Loire Reds, and he made a trip there in 2014 which in part inspired him to make wine. Breton 2018 is Cabernet Franc which saw eleven months in wood. It definitely reminds you of Loire, not Bordeaux. It’s a lighter style, quite fragrant, fruit driven but with crunchy tannins. A wine with a strand of crispness running through it. “Breton” is, of course, a Loire synonym for Cab Franc.
Lukas likes War on Drugs (never knew this band were big in SA but well done), Nirvana and Muddy Waters. Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.
The first wine I came across from Chris and Suzaan Alheit was Cartology, and it’s fair to say that it has become a South African wine more and more people know. Its fame is deserved, but after starting out in 2011, Chris has built an even more impressive portfolio. Part of his success has been helped by using South Africa’s great grape detective, Rosa Kruger, whose knowledge of the topography of The Cape vineyards is probably unequalled. But you have to allow those grapes to express their place in the winery, and that’s what this couple do so well.
Cartology 2018 is mainly Western Cape Chenin Blanc (with Semillon) with brightness and zip, one of the most “alive” wines in the room. Huikrans 2018 is effectively a single vineyard expression, from grapes grown at 450 metres ASL on the Citrusdal Mountain. It has much more depth. As Jamie Goode said once in an article, the points givers need to be careful what they give Cartology or they’ll soon run out of points for the rest (or something like that).
Magnetic North 2018 is made from ungrafted vines at 550 metres, above the previous plot. It simply oozes presence and concentration. But if you think the Alheits are all with the Chenin, don’t forget the Semillon. La Colline 2018 is made from old vine fruit, planted in 1936. It’s just simply the epitome of a complex white wine yet tasting modern at the same time.
Winemaking here is identical for all wines. No enzymes, no sulphur during winemaking, whole bunches, neutral vessels (whether eggs, clay pots or old oak), and everything gets bottled after 12-to-14 months with no fining, nor filtration. There may be a tiny bit of sulphur at bottling but only if they deem it absolutely necessary. So you just get the terroir and the fruit of these old vines in a bottle. It’s like magic.
Dreyfus Ashby is again the lucky importer. Chris chose an interesting and thoughtful selection of music: Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Bruce Springsteen. He’s another winemaker who would take his wife as a luxury item.
As you can see, the photos go downhill a little. The light wasn’t good in this part of the small studio annex.
Donovan Rall is a giant, not just physically (though he is), but a winemaking giant too. A relative newcomer, he began making wine in Swartland in 2008, a location so many young winemakers have gravitated towards, on account of some lovely old but under-appreciated (and therefore relatively cheap) vine stock. The Swartland Revolution, as it came to be called, was not however built on cheap vineyards. Rather, it was built on young winemakers paying over the odds for this great fruit, as a way of ensuring the old timer farmers didn’t rip up all those wonderful bush vines.
Donovan Rall is always described, in almost everything you read about him, as being “well-travelled”. That may be, but in the old vines of Swartland, it is South Africa’s viticultural heritage which interests him.
All of the Rall wines are exceptional, but I will pick out four here. Cinsault Blanc 2018 (French spelling here) is fragrant, with grassiness, herbs, waxy citrus and white flowers. Not a mere oddity, cépage-wise. Ava Chenin Blanc 2018 is a cuvée of 1,340 bottles showing real presence and amazing purity.
Red 2017 is a Syrah/Grenache/Cinsault/Carignan blend off mostly shale and sand. It has a cherry red colour, 14% abv, and a real purity. I don’t know a lot about the winemaking for this, but I’m guessing that despite the alcohol, the fruit was picked early, or perhaps stems were included. You get a very appealing freshness with this wine.
Ava Syrah 2018 is off straight schist and is aged in oak (second fill, I think). Just 1,273 bottles were filled. The nose is quite stunning, big but all pure fruit. It tastes big too, but the alcohol is a nicely balanced 13.5%. It’s quite majestic, though it will set you back over £50 (so, as with all the more expensive wines here, it was a privilege to taste it).
Chris’s musical tastes are loud(ish): Nirvana, Offspring and Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Colie… is certainly the best Pumpkins album, Donovan). Another coffee lover too.
Indigo Wine imports Rall.
MOTHER ROCK/JH MEYER
The Mother Rock label now has many, many, fans in the UK, and along with Craven it’s also one of the South African labels I find most natural wine lovers seem familiar with. Johan Meyer makes the Mother Rock wines as a collaboration with Indigo Wine founder, Ben Henshaw. Five of these were shown, along with three wines under the JH Meyer Signature label.
The Mother Rock fruit is sourced in Swartland, and Johan is another winemaker who values his very good relationships with his growers. There are three Mother Rock wines labelled “Force Majeure” which exemplify the value of these relationships, “value” very much crossing over into price. We get a Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Cinsault, all 2018 and all worth trying. The delicious Chenin is only 12% abv, the Semillon is clean and tasty and the Cinsault is really refreshing with good acidity (some might even say high acidity, but just try drinking this a little chilled).
There’s also a single vineyard Chenin Kweperfontein 2017 and a Mother Rock Grenache Noir 2017. The latter has nice juicy fruit but a bit of grip too.
In the Signature Range we get Palmeit Chardonnay 2017 which was one of the cleanest and brightest Chardonnays of the day; South Coast Pinot Noir 2017, which like the Chardonnay, is made from Elgin fruit and is a bright cherry-flavoured wine with a good backbone, classy; and the slightly more up-market Elands River Pinot Noir 2016 – this last wine is from a mountain behind Franschhoek, off sandstone. It’s quite pale, 100% whole bunches, a few weeks on skins then into 2,000-litre foudres and bottled with no added sulphur.
In fact, no wines have had any added sulphur since 2017 here. For relatively inexpensive wines they show bags of personality and charm. A beautiful range at all levels.
Imported by Indigo Wine.
Johan’s musical tastes are largely beyond my knowledge, aside from Springsteen. Imagine Dragons and Vem Daysel, anyone? He does seem to have a thing for thick lamb cutlets, though (his luxury item).
We end this long article with one more producer. Yes, I know there are some glaring omissions, from the great value wines of Mick Craven to the delights of Crystallum, personal favourite Boekenhoutskloof (no, not left out because it’s a b*gg*r to spell), Porseleinberg and Reyneke (to mention a few). But time and the crowds worked against me.
DAVID AND NADIA SADIE
David Sadie is a Swartland native. He met his wife Nadia at Stellenbosch University, where he was studying Viticulture and Oenology and she was studying Viticulture and Soil Science, a nice combination. They take half of their fruit from their Paardebosch farm, and buy the rest from close contacts in the region. They made their initial wines in 2010, but it became a full-time project for David in 2013. Nadia, who he married in 2009, joined her husband full time in 2016.
Aristargos 2018 is a Cape Blend based around Chenin Blanc (just over 50%) with Clairette, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne making up the rest. Much of the vine material here is on either granite or clay, but it includes the oldest Chenin vineyard they work with, planted in 1962 on schist underlying a gravelly and sandy river bed. It’s smooth, svelte and surprisingly complex for a wine that’s not very expensive compared to many tasted on Tuesday. Aristargos means something like “the best leader” in Greek.
Chenin Blanc 2018 is waxy with quince flavours and shows a different side of the variety. This comes from a mere seven vineyards (the previous blend is, I think, fifteen) and just ten different pickings. Again, we get a range of soil types (granite, shale/schist, clay and iron-rich soils) but they are all old bush vines (1962-1982). It sees eleven months in neutral oak, which keeps its freshness and fruit driven qualities.
Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2018 is a glorious single vineyard expression with vines planted on an outcrop, or “hill of shale”, surrounded by granite on the home farm. The vines were planted in 1985, and David and Nadia have been farming them since 2013. This is just such an exciting wine, full of presence, tension and depth and breadth of fruit. Amazing.
The first red was the varietal Grenache 2018
off granite and clay. Palish, it has a nice soft strawberry flavour. It sees four weeks on skins before and during fermentation, with 60% whole bunches, then into neutral 500-litre oak for a year.
Elpidios 2017 is a blend of five varieties – Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsaut and Pinotage. Grenache is described as the lead variety, though in this 2018 we get almost as much Syrah (31% versus 30%). It does get a little more age (18 months), but otherwise it’s made pretty much the same as the straight Grenache. Its differentiation comes through the subtle influence of the other varieties, which do add nice complexity, but it’s also another delicious, soft-fruited, red.
Topography Pinotage 2018 is made from a variety I almost never buy, but if I do have prejudices I think they should have been jettisoned long ago. This wine scores for its fragrant bouquet which leaps from the glass. It has a nice cherry palate too, and it finishes well. The bush vines were planted both at the beginning and the end of the 1990s, on pure granite higher up the mountain and on decomposed granite further down. Fermentation (with 20% whole bunches) was split between a vertical wooden foudre (4,000 litre capacity) and concrete tanks. Another similar foudre was used for ageing, and 5,695 bottles were produced.
The importer for David and Nadia Sadie is Justerini & Brooks. David plumped for Bruce, Eagles and Cat Stevens (I Can’t Keep It In – a real blast from the past on which to finish).
~ Well, that was a great tasting, perhaps as tiring to do as it has been to write about. I hope you didn’t find the article too long
. After typing it over eight hours I didn’t really see the point of splitting it. After all, I’m off to taste some Germans tomorrow, and I know some people appreciate me getting these things out as swiftly as I can. The tasting has certainly increased even further my appreciation of these wines, and whetted my appetite to drink more. But I came away with something else…what an amazing, kind, friendly and supremely talented bunch of people are making wine in south Africa today. It’s proof that a nation can, at least in part, turn itself around. Perhaps there might be hope for us here, one day.