20 March 2008

Visiting Simonsig

Peter May pours 1995 Simonsig Pinotage
You can find Simonsig wines in more than forty countries, including Russia and even France, as well as many US states. It takes more than just consistently making good wines for a family owned winery to get their products in world markets. Simonsig’s secret weapon is Pieter Malan, one of three brothers ,along with winemaker Johan and Managing Director and viticulturist Francois, who own and operate Simonsig Estate. Pieter is a gregarious man who is never short of an amusing tale or sample of wine to pour at the endless wine shows he travels the world to attend.

I met Pieter at Simonsig’s re-modelled tasting room. There are major works going on for a new deli-restaurant to be opened soon and I was pleased to see the new building was sympathetic to and fitted well with the existing architecture.

We started with a glass of Brut Rosé. Simonsig were the first in South Africa to make a methode champenoise sparkling wine which they called Kaapse Vonkel, meaning Cape Sparkle. “We didn’t trademark the name,” Pieter told me, “We thought it would become the generic name for a South African sparkling wine; after all, we couldn’t use the word Champagne since the crayfish agreement of 1935.” And he then tells me how South Africa signed a treaty where France would import Cape crayfish in return for South Africa agreeing not to use Champagne and other French terms and geographical names on Cape wines. “So that is why you’ll never hear us referring to it as Champagne,” Pieter exclaimed.

“But Pieter,” I replied, “When I arrived here and asked for you in your tasting room, the young woman behind the counter asked me if I’d like a glass of Champagne while I was waiting.” Pieter paused a moment, then, roaring with laugher exclaimed “then I’ll have to smack her bottom!” But no other wineries adopted the Kaapse Vonkel name, eventually Simonsig trademarked it, and Methode Cap Classique (MCC) was chosen as the legal definition.

Pieter Malan

Brut Rosé 2006
This is a vintage Methode Cap Classique made from 95% Pinotage and 5% Pinot Noir. It is very pale, the colour coming from skin contact,it’s is a really good looking enjoyable sparkler with the flavour of a bowl of wild strawberries, its pleasantly dry but not sharp. 12%abv

“For the 2007 vintage we’re changing the blend to the Three Pins,” said Pieter. “We’ll have 18% Pinot Meunier, 5% Pinot Noir and 77% Pinotage.”

Simonsig make two still red Pinotages, one completely unwooded, and the Redhill which is a wooded wine made from grapes grown on a hill of red soil behind the winery. “It is a greater challenge to make good red wine without using a barrel, than with,”says Pieter

2004 Pinotage
Very soft red berries on the front palate, stewed plums and some firm grape tannins, I think it’s a little unbalanced. “It is tuned to drink with food,” says Pieter, “the ’04 needs a little more bottle maturation to come to the fore.” 14%abv

2006 Redhill Pinotage
Purple rim, really soft and smooth, lots of fruit underpinned by gentle tannins and there is a really attractive spiciness to it. Malolactic fermentation was in barrel, and it spent 16 months maturation in new French and American oak barrels. 14.5% abv. Pieter told me that he’d completely sold out of the ’05 Redhill and when he needed some he’d had to buy them back from a customer.

2007 Redhill Pinotage (barrel sample)
This was a sample from a barrel but was drinking very well and showing great promise, being soft with ripe rich black berry fruits.

“Pinotage was the first red wine made by my father Frans at Simonsig in 1970,” Pieter told me. “Pinotage is an excellent wine for matching with grilled food, but we mustn’t assume the rest of the world braais as much as we do.”

The founder of Simonsig Estate is honoured with the Frans Malan Reserve, a Cape Blend of Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cape Blends are the rocket that fires South African red wine,” stated Pieter firmly.

Frans Malan 2004
A Cape Blend consisting of Pinotage (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (31%) and Merlot (4%). A claret nose leading into more sweet fruits on the front palate than you’d get from Bordeaux. A rich experience in a wine that manages to seem restrained as the same time as offering grainy wood tannins and, blackberry fruits with an intriguing linearity and balance.

We then went for lunch at the nearby Olivello Restaurant with Pieter bringing two aged wines from Simonsig’s cellar.

Simonsig Pinotage 1992
This is a 16 year old unwooded Pinotage; it looks pale orange in the glass with a clear rim. It has a very delicate flavour, there is some fruit but it is fading; it reminds me of an old Burgundy. A wine to sip and appreciate.

Simonsig Pinotage 1995
Much deeper red colour and a matching more intense fruit, there’s lots of life left init, and it matches will with Olivellos Moroccan lamb tagine. It is pretty amazing for a 13 year old inexpensive unoaked wine.

Pieter checks the wines

As we drive back up Simonsig’s drive I notice a Union Flag flying outside the winery. “That is in your honour,” says Pieter with a smile. Pieter takes up the hill to see the Redhill vineyard, and with Johan we also admire Simonsig’s vine labyrinth and small exhibition vineyard showing many different grape varieties.

As usual there are a number of tour groups in the tasting room. Simonsig attracts overlanders who, after travelling across Africa in expedition lorries, celebrate the completion of their journey at Simonsig, watching in awe as their leader brings a sabre out from the tasting room and slices off the tops of bottles of Kaapse Vonkel to fill their glasses with foaming wine.

Johan Malan & Peter May at the labryrinth

Simonsig's Redhill Pinotage Vineyard

Thanks to Pieter and Johan and the Simonsig team. No bottoms were harmed during the makingof this article, or afterwards

1 comment:

  1. That's a great photo of you Peter - and what fantastic surroundings these great wines live in! Am enjoying your travels!