21 April 2008

Delheim's latest Pinotage is a Cracker!

It’s a tradition that on our last day in the Cape we have lunch at Delheim. We ordered a bottle of their MCC sparkler in consolation of the forthcoming journey home and I chose the scrumptious Cape Malay Chicken Curry wrapped in a filo pastry parcel. Delheim change the menu in their garden restaurant every month and if I miss the lamb curry served in its individual potjies I always find another favourite.

By chance Nora Sperling-Thiel (owner/marketing/exports) was dining with some guests and she asked Brenda van Niekerk (pictured left) to spare a few moments from winemaking duties to show me her 2008 Pinotage Rosé.

I’d tasted a still fermenting sample previously, but now that wine was complete and had been bottled a few days previously. Brenda told she’d blended in 6% Muscat to give a little sweet lift; there’s 5.5gL residual sugar and the alcohol is a lunch friendly 12.5%.

Delheim Pinotage Rosé 2008
The colour was bluish red with a rose petal bouquet. At first it tastes another easy going pink wine with delicate rose petal flavours and a refreshing pear-drop acidity on the finish. But I returned to it and realised there was more complexity than at first appeared and it’s a rewarding summer’s day drink.

Brenda also brought a sample of the 2007 red Pinotage. This had spent 10 months in 60/40% new/ 2nd fill oak barrels and was now undergoing bottle aging before release later this year. Brenda said she ‘likes the fruit and the big structure.”

Delheim Pinotage 2007
I’ve thought Delheim’s recent Pinotages have been a bit dull, but this one was right back on track. It is lively and interesting with dark plummy fruits to the fore and wood tannins developing on the finish. It shows all the signs of an excellent wine, good for drinking young but with plenty of potential for aging. I'll be looking out for this when its released.

Sad as I was to leave Delheim and to be heading home to a cold England, I was thrilled to see that my book Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape was on sale in Delheim's gift shop at the entrance. The books contains one of my favourite winelabels, which is Spatzendreck, Delheims sweet wine that has such an amusing story behind it.

18 April 2008

Do you Recognise this Man?

He is 'making some of South Africa's finest reds' and is one of five of the wine worlds 'movers & shakers' selected to have their picture on the front cover of The Wine Society new wine list.

The others are Thibault Despagne of Chateau Bel Air, Susana Balbo in Argentina, Etienne Hugel in Alsace, Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar in Lebanon and Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi Estate in Chianti.

But in pride of place in the centre is this image of Warwick Estate's Mike Ratcliffe.

Warwick' wines currently listed by the Wine Society are their Trilogy bordeaux blend and a specially crafted Cape Blend. Winemaker Louis Nel told me that that for the Wine Society he experimented by adding some Shiraz to the Three Cape Ladies blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinotage. The Wine Society blend was so succesful that Shiraz then became part of the ever popular Three Cape Ladies.

The Wine Society's Exhibition Cape Blend 2004 (£8.95) is aged in oak for 24 months and is a serious richly textured and fruity wine and very enjoyable now, but I'm keeping some back for aging.

The Wine Society, whose full name is The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society is the world's oldest wine society, founded in 1874 after the international exhibition in London that year was left with some barrels of wine. The Society is owned by its members . Membership is forlife and can be passed on to your descendents. The Society maintains a wide range of own label wines in two tiers. The Exhibition range is the premium one.

Pictured: the Society's 144 page wine list featuring Mike Ratcliffe on the cover

14 April 2008

A Historic Evening with Beyers Truter

Being invited to plunder Beyers Truter’s private cellar was dream come true. There is capacity for 30,000 bottles; many of the wines were made by Beyers and alongside Kanonkop and Beyerskloof are own label wines from UK supermarkets he’s made wine for. And there’s also an eclectic collection of many different South African wines and a good number of wines from other countries.

Beyers had invited me to his seaside house to join him and Francois Naude,(previously winemaker at L'Avenir Estate, now independent consultant) and Corius Visser (winemaker with Beyers at Croydon Vineyard Estate), for an evening tasting from his collection. It was a chance for the three winemakers to get a night away from the stress of vintage time. (pictured right from top: Corius, Beyers and Francois hunting elusive bottles)

Francois, Corius and I went hunting for interesting wines; Beyers had suggested we choose eight bottles but he soon joined in pulling out wines and we quickly had 11 wines. My picks were a 1982 Zonnebloem, 1996 CWG L’Avenir and a 1999 Kanonkop.

Upstairs the wines were opened. Beyers explained the format of these evenings “We pour a glass of each in turn and drink and discuss them.” There was no spittoon, we would take time to relish the wines.

The wines were

1978 Groot Contantia Superior (Constantia)
1982 Zonnebloem (Coastal)
1985 Cederberg (Cederberg)
1987 Oude Necktar
1989 Clos Malverne
1989 Simonsig CWG Reserve
1996 Paradyskloof
1996 L’Avenir CWG
1999 Kanonkop
1999 Kumkani
2006 Binyamina Teva (Israel)
2006 Muddy Water (New Zealand)

Wine of Origin Stellenbosch except where indicated

1978 Groot Constantia Superior (Constantia)
“They were one of the first Estates to make Pinotage”, Beyers remarked.
PM – “The cork is crumbly and ullage was low. Deep red colour, brown on rim, beautiful colour for a 30 year old wine. Aged sweet bouquet but no oxidation, a sweet toffee light body with touch of acid on finish”
FN = “If I tasted this blind I’d think it was an old sweet white wine, not a red. Fairly high acid which helps it to keep.”
BT – “Very typical of the area, pine needle and honey with high acid.”

1982 Zonnebloem (Coastal)
BT - “The fruit for this came from Kanonkop and Bellevue”
PM – “Dark clear colour, nose of forest floor, lively bright exciting red berry flavours, sweet, lots of life. A beautiful elegant lady of a wine”
BT – “Like water running over a burnt forest floor.”

1985 Cederberg (Cederberg)
PM – “Deep red colour, smells sweet, old and oxidised with a hint of pine toilet cleaner. Sherry taste, sweet like a dessert wine, acids developing in glass.”
BT –“ Not completely gone, over extracted, like syrup.”
FN – “Heavy wine from a light vintage, quite black, too concentrated. I wouldn’t expect this wine from this vintage and area.”
There was some discussion about concentrating this wine to use as a marinade or for drizzling over Christmas cake.

1987 Oude Necktar
BT – “The fruit came from the same block used by Neil Ellis for ‘Swan Song’”
PM –“Sweet and short, light boded and short finish.”
CV –“Fynbos-like nose.”
FN: Blue gum, mint, herbaceousness. Spicy nose offers more than taste does.”
BT –“Acids are too high for the fruit”
FN – “ I think the grapes were picked unripe which explains the high acids.”

1989 Clos Malverne
PM –“Pale light red, luminous, not much nose. Ripe sweet fig flavours, light bodied”
FN – “Beautiful nose, just too acidic”
BT – “ Too high acid. All this wines plus points can’t overcome the acids”
CV – “Too high acid”

1989 Simonsig CWG Reserve
BT – “Very good colour. This is the first one showing more oak and blackberry. Very well balanced, classic blackberry and oak. Was made for CWG, had more oak and will
last 30-40 years.”
FN – “Excellent colour, herby herbaceous flavours, fruity acid, nice tannins makes it nice and firm.”
PM –“Delightful; sweet blackberry and spices.”

1996 Paradyskloof
PM – “Smells old, light bodied, thin red currant short finish”
BT – “ Bit of burnt coal and smoke”
FN – “Lesser vintage, little green. The wine is still too young and the tannins still green. Give it some age and let tannins soften. This is a 2nd label wine; not bad but too young.”

1996 L’Avenir CWG
BT – “Excellent colour, farmyard nose, wood and mushroom. Interesting: it tastes the same. Very complex”
PM – “Isn’t ‘farmyard’ an indication of brett?”
BT –“Lots of people say farmyard equals brett, but that is just Simonsberg. It’s a Simonsberg characteristic.”
FN – “Very forest floor nose. Always had a farm-yardy characteristic – which is what I like and often find in Bordeaux. Nice and full.”
PM – “Beautiful: complex and ripe. Lots going on.

1999 Kanonkop
PM – “Incredible rich black red colour – superb balance. Concentrated dense fruit, great complexity and it is just so drinkable.” I selected this wine because I’d been so impressed with it when I tasted it last year at a tasting at Kanonkop; I wanted to taste it again and I wasn’t disappointed.
FN – “Bit of farmyard, black cherry, tobacco, red cherry.”
BT – “Blackberry – cherry flavoured cigar.”

1999 Kumkani
FN – “Lacks complexity of previous; after nose it under delivers on the palate.”
BT – “Bit of farmyard but not enough depth to carry it.”
PM – “Light bright, not very interesting.

2006 Binyamina Teva (Israel)
I was surprised to see this in Beyer’s cellar but I’d introduced him to the MD of winery last year at the London trade fair and Beyers is keen to visit them in Israel.
BT – “Yes – raspberry and tea. There’s not enough oak in this. Medicinal flavour will be removed with oak. With a bit of oak it would make a fantastic wine.
FN – Dense raspberry. There’s a bit of oak on this; it tastes like crushed raspberries. Ideal to do malo in barrel (or use staves) to tone it down. Very nice acidity.

2006 Muddy Water (New Zealand)
This was the twelfth wine which I had brought from New Zealand. It was winner of our blind tasting of NZ Pinotages and I was keen to hear what the South Africans thought of it.
FN: - Quite a light colour, good nose, good varietal character. Nice fruit; I like this
BT: - Very Pinot Noir, I’d love to taste this older.
FN: I’d never have guessed the alcohol level was 15%, colour is very light, concentration of wine should be more to handle wood, but it matches. If I was consulting there I’d work the wine harder in fermentation to get more extraction. It’s a bit light; needs more density in flavour profile and more colour. Very nice fruit, I’d just like more intensity”

By now it was quite late; Beyers got braai going and cooked meats which we ate with more glasses of the opened wines, and so to bed. The amount left in the bottles next morning indicated our favourite three were Kanonkop, Simonsig and L'Avenir.

That morning was magical. Sitting on the balcony with a coffee in the sun we watched two groups of whales to our left while a huge rainbow over the ocean on our right indicated a storm on the other side of the Hottentot Holland Mountains. Then the car was packed, the winemakers switched on their mobile phones and we headed back to Stellenbosch.

Many thanks to Beyers Truter

04 April 2008

In the Blogs

Here's a round up of Pinotage reviews on the web in the past month

The team at Another Food Blog celebrated their second anniversary at The Fat Duck in Bray. The restaurant has been named best in the world and chef/owner Heston Blumenthal's creations, such as snail porridge and bacon and egg icecream, have gained much publicity. With the £125 tasting menu was served a selection of wines, about which Paul Woods writes:

"The wine was really beautifully balanced, starting with a bottle of Tattinger champagne, moving on to a flowery Marlboro ‘Isabel’ 13 percent ‘06 sauvignon blanc (from New Zealand, of course!) and finishing with a South African Jonathan’s Ridge ‘05 pinotage from the Springfontein Estate in Walker Bay (14.5 percent). The pinotage was notably tasty, with various levels at each stage - the nose was not only flowery but also a little chocolatey, the body being very heavily characterised by blackcurrants and the finish with a very appropriate bitter edge. "

Simon Woods at Drinking Outside the Box is spending a few weeks drinking only wines selected from the top 10 UK off-trade brands, and he is not enjoying it. He recalls a visit to South Africa in the 1990s where he was invited to a braai in Worcester with TC Botha, an ex-member of the Springbok tug'o'war team. TC passed him a glass of wine:

" 'Try this,' growled TC. 'This' was spectacularly good, lithe and leathery, brimming with meaty fruit, mature yet still full of life, like a smokier version of old-style Châteauneuf du Pape. It was a 1973 KWV Pinotage, and even though I visited some of the best addresses in the Cape over the next few days, it was a rare cellar that had anything that topped it. "

Marc Ricca on Robert Parkers forum enjoyed

Ashbourne Pinotage 2004 Walker Bay SA
Color: Clear, bright, medium ruby
Nose: Smoke, menthol, floral, and
candied fruit aromas with some fresh mint notes also
Palate: Bright red fruit, cherry and strawberry flavors with electric high acid notes, some smokiness to the mid-palate and a long bright finish. Tannins were fine and well integrated. Medium to full bodied.
Overall perception: This is not your Mama's Pinotage. This is a wine of much lighter weight, yet much greater elegance than I've seen this variety display previously. The levels of fruit intensity, acid, and freshness of color suggest that it will evolve well and pick up a little weight while defining its complexity further. No burnt rubber here.

Michael Pinkus writes about wines available in Ontario's state operated monopoly:

"I remember a time when Pinotage was a scary grape variety to make wine out of, many a wine was considered “rustic” and that was putting it nicely. Lammershoek 2005 Pinotage ($18.95 - #954594) is as far removed from those original Pinotage wines as you can get. The nose is spicy with black fruit, bramble and a touch of floral; while the flavours are explosive in the mouth: black currant, blackberry, spicy and tannin, there is a little bit of the typical South Africa flavours on the finish, but it’s so “way back there” that it’s practically standing in the corner un-noticed."

Douglas Blyde at The Daily Wine attended the London tasting of 'Platter' top rated wines that I was unable to get to. Among the 'exemplary' wines he tasted was:

Ashbourne '04 Pinotage (Hamilton Russell) Walker Bay: startlingly fresh, with a charming carafe rusticity. Not remotely reminiscent of what I consider to be Pinotage's traditional signature (sun-baked road kill mingled with tarmac, rubber and thirsty dog’s breath).

Richard Stoneham at A Passionate Foodie visited the Boston Wine Expo where he tasted:

2003 Slaley Pinotage ($30-35). This is a 100% Pinotage from the Stellenbosch region. The vines are about 48 years old. It has an alcohol content of 14.5% and spent about 13 months in wood (90% new oak), 40% American oak. This is a wine that is meant to be cellared for about eight years. It is not really intended to be drank now.The wine is fairly dark red in color and is very tight on the palate. It is obviously a big wine with elements of cocoa, plum, vanilla, dark berries, and spice. It also has a very long finish. I liked this wine and it definitely has much potential. I would be very interested taste this in several years to see how it developed. If you like Pinotage, it would be worth buying this wine to cellar it for a time.

2006 Spice Route Pinotage (about $22-23). The wine is made from grapes in the Rheeboksfontein vineyards in the Swartland. The vines are grown on deep red oakleaf soils. The vineyard is trellised and is dryland farmed. The wine was matured in American oak barrels for 10 months. It has an alcohol content of 13.94%. This wine was dark red in color with a spicy nose that followed through on the palate. This was a very spicy wine with dark berry accents and a tinge of vanilla. The tannins were well balanced and it was a very smooth drinking wine that lingered long in my mouth. I very much enjoyed this wine. It lacked any earthy components and was more about fruit and spice. For the price, this is a very good buy. It is complex, with excellent flavors and and a satisfying finish. A wine I definitely recommend