Thursday the 12th of October welcomed some very special wine people in Dublin – Some of the “new wave” wine producers of South Africa. London of course had its tasting held the day before but how cool is it to have some of the most talked about winemakers of the Western Cape coming to visit Ireland to talk about their wines and to be able to sample them.
I remember the first time I tasted a wine from South Africa. It was in Cameron House Hotel, in Balloch, Scotland, in 2007 and it was a Chenin Blanc from De Trafford winery. I was totally seduced and I think it must have been the best seller in the restaurant for the next few weeks! This wine opened my curiosity about South African wines and my desire to visit this country as soon as possible.
Three years later, in 2010, I finally realised that dream. At the time I didn’t really know much about the wines – not that I pretend to know that much more today as the geographical designation system is quite challenging. I was very positively surprised by the level of quality of the wines and more importantly by how developed the oeno-tourism industry was compared to what I was familiar with in the old continent. I spend a few days visiting as many vineyards and wineries as possible and some of my best memories were made during tastings at De Trafford’s and Raatz’s. I even got to taste the very first vintage of the Chenin Blanc from Botanica as by pure coincidence I was staying at the Sugar Bird Manor which is a guesthouse run by the same people. Paul, my husband, and I sat with Ginny Powel, the owner and winemaker, and we got to hear all the story of her new venture, the protea farm, the families living on the estate etc. It was such a fabulous night.
When I was working in Guildbaud’s, in 2010-2011, Eilis Cryan, founder of Kinnegar Wines Ltd., visited me to introduce me to some of her wonderful South African wines. Eilis talked about them with great passion and it did not take her long to convince me to work with some of them. She even imported some wines especially for us.
Eilis really believes in the potential of South African wines. From day one, she gave me the impression of being very determined to seduce Ireland with South African wines. Her first shipment into Ireland happened in 1998 and I would imagine that back then, many people would have thought that this would never work, that South Africa did not have the potential to produce high quality, terroir driven wines. I think at this point, it is fair to say that Eilis was ahead of her time.
The changes that South Africa went through in the last decade are incredible. Today it is considered by many as one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world. When it was hard in the past to find a South African wine on a restaurant list, it has become very unusual nowadays to not be able to order one, be it a Syrah from Swartland, a Chardonnay from Elgin or even an old vine Cinsault from Stellenbosch. More and more emphasis on terroir and on minimum intervention seems to be the right direction for South Africa. Drinkability, depth, purity, clarity and brightness of fruit are some of the words that come to mind when thinking about South Africa wines.
The wines below were my favourite of the tasting which took place in the Merrion Hotel.
Chenin blanc Testalonga, Cortez, Swartland, 2016 (86/100) – Retail Price €30+ (Importer : http://www.findlaterws.ie/)
This wine has a appealing nose of acacia flowers, red apple skins and some herbal characters. The palate is dry, alive, pure with plenty of tension and savoury characters. The finish has a very mild tannic sensation with a superb saline dimension. To be enjoyed between now and 2025.
All the wines below are imported in Ireland by Eilis Cryan http://kinnegar.com/contact
Chenin Blanc, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2016 (92/100) – Retail price €30+
Very pure, crystal clear nose of blossom, orange, tarragon and a hint of smokiness coming from oak ageing. The palate is dry, medium (+) bodied. Superb texture and structure : smooth with plenty of mineral depth bringing verticality to the wine. The flavour profile is similar to the nose with an emphasis on the subtle smokiness coming from the oak and plenty of savoury characters. The finish is very mineral and lingers on lime and blossom notes.
Elpidios, David, Swartland, 2013 (90/100) – Retail €30+
Blend of 44% Shiraz + Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir and Pinotage. Long time spent on the skin. 16-17 months maturation in used French oak. Very gentle handling for low extraction. Very attractive and delicate nose of pot pourri, red fruits, fur and clove. The palate is dry, very elegant with plenty of sweet fruit flavours and delicate sweet spices such as liquorice. The texture is pulpous and silky. The integrated alcohol brings a little “make you feel good” warming touch on the finish. Mild and fine-grains tannins.
Pinotage, Siebreetskloof, David & Nadia, 2015 (89/100) – Retail €30+
Grapes sourced from two single dry farmed mountain vineyards. The nose is perfumed, vey floral (peony roses and iris) herbal tomato leaf nuances. The palate is dry, medium (+) bodied with a very affirmed and refreshing acidity. Great purity of fruit. Pulpous texture, saline mineral core, extra fine tannins and lingering spicy and herbal finish. This has to be the best Pinotage I have ever tasted.
Mullineux, Old Vines white wines, Swartland, 2013 (85/100) – Retail €30+
Blend of Chenin blanc (dominance) + Clairette Blanche and Viognier. The nose is clean, of medium intensity, revealing some floral aromas of acacia, citrus notes, sweet spices, honey and marzipan. The palate is dry, medium bodied, very silky balanced by a great acidity and integrated alcohol.. Very similar to the nose in term of flavours with an emphasis on green anise. The finish is long, savoury, lingering on a beautiful saline mineral notes.
Grenache Blanc, Rall Wines,Piekenierskloof , 2016 (87/100) – retail €30+
Made from grapes coming from an ungrafted vineyard, the wine is aged for 6 months in a combination of concrete eggs and used oak. The nose is discrete, pure, with some aromas of rose petals, kumquat and a chalky type of minerality. The palate is dry, medium (+) bodied, with an incredibly refreshing acidity interlaced with chalky minerals. The mid-palate is savoury with some white stone fruit flavours. Beautiful bitter tension on the finish lingering on a very herbal character.
Rocky Horse, white blend, Western Cape, 2015 (90/100) – Retail €23.99-€29.99
Blend of Chenin blanc, Roussane, Semillon, Chardonnay and Clairette Blanche. The nose is appealing and complex, revealing some aromas of fresh pear, quince, honey, acacia flowers, marzipan and a touch slightly woolly. The palate is dry with plenty of sweet fruit characters. The mid-palate is round, generous, smooth, balanced by a superb acidity and minerality. It really shows a great depth and purity. The finish has a slight tannic sensation and feels a slightly bit warming.
Divergent, Red Blend, Hogan Wines, 2016 (86/100) – Retail €30+
Jocelyn Hogan fell in love with Carignan after a wine tasting hosted by Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar. The wine is a blend of Carignan, Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon and spend 11 months in French oak barrels. The nose express some beautifully ripe and pure herbal and red fruit characters (pomegranate) nuanced by red flowers hints. The palate is dry, with a great sense of clarity, juicy with lots of sweet fruit characters and herbal flavours and very refreshing. The tannins are fine-grained. The finish lingers on savoury finish.
Chenin Blanc, Botanica, Citrusdal Mountain, 2015 (95/100) – Retail €30
I am currently serving the 2010 in the restaurant and I though that it was very good. Well, the 2015 is simply delicious ! The nose is pure and multi-layered : acacia flowers, stone fruits, marzipan, fresh vanilla pods coming from oak ageing, mandarin, lemongrass, herbal, mineral. The more you aerate it in the glass, the more complexity is being revealed. The palate is dry, full, ripe and creamy with an incredible purity. The flavour profile is much more savoury than the nose. A high, energising acidity drives the wine while a superb saline minerality brings a fantastic vertical dimension to it. This is wine combines power with precision and is incredibly complete. Superb!
Sijnn, Low Profile Chenin Blanc, Malgas 2013 (87/100) – Retail €23.99 – €29.99
The nose is clean, expressive with plenty of citrus notes (lemon), fresh almonds, toast and white flowers aromas. The palate is dry, very pure, creamy yet with a crystal clear profile to it. The oak is a little in relief but brings a certain gourmandise to the wine. Clean, savoury finish.
Sijnn White, Malgas, 2012 (90/100) – Retail €30+
Blend of Chenin blanc and Viognier fermented separately. Beautiful nose of kiwi fruit, rose petal, Jasmin, red apple and pebbly minerality. The palate is dry, smooth, balanced by a super acidity and a pronounced saline and textural minerality. Very long finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon, De Trafford Wines, Stellenbosch 2010 (87/100) – Retail €30+
The nose reminds me a lot of wines from the Medoc in a warm vintage such as 2003. The palate is dry, full bodied, very smooth with plenty of sweet cassis, blond tobacco and refined oak flavours of cinnamon, vanilla and clove. Good, balancing acidity. High quality fine-grained tannins. Long, warm and savoury finish. A wine that has aged very well and still has a few years ahead of it.
Savage white wine, Western Cape, 2015 (86/100) – Retail €30+
Blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Clairette Blanche and Chenin Blanc all planted in bush vines on a south facing slope. Aged tens month in French oak barrels. The nose is precise and refined, dominated by Sauvignon blanc aromas of mango and elderflowers. The palate is dry, textural with a great balance between fruit and oak flavours. The finish is very savoury with an herbal twist.
Savage, Red Wine, Western Cape, 2014 (87/100) – Retail €30+
Blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Touriga Nacional and Cinsault. This wine is superbly balanced between dark fruit flavours, a core dark minerality, tension, purity, savouriness and some chewy tannins bringing an extra dimension to the savoury and herbal finish. Overall a beautiful balance and energy.
Chardonnay Reserve, Lismore Wine, Cape South Coast, 2016 (89/100) – Retail €30+
The nose is delicate, perfume and multi-layered : apricot, herbal (rosemary), kiwi fruit, vine peach, violet. The palate is dry, medium (+) bodied balanced by a superb acidity driving the wine. The aromatic expression is superb, very similar to the nose with an emphasis on vine peach and rosemary. Integrated alcohol. The mid-palate shows both grace and restraint. The finish is spicy and herbal with a yummy character.
Viognier, Age Of Grace, Lismore Wine, Greyton, 2016 (91/100) – €23.99-€29.99
The nose is perfumed yet restrained, revealing some aromas of apricot, kiwi, vine peach, rosemary and violet. On the palate, this wine is dry, medium (+) bodied balanced by a high level of refreshing acidity interlaced with minerality. The mid-palate is full of grace both in term of flavour profile and texture. The finish is long, savoury with an herbal twist. This is a delicious and beautiful expression of Viognier to be enjoyed now and within the next 4-5 years.
Thank you once again Eilis for introducing me to the potential of South Africa. I am delighted to say that restaurants and wine shops now have a wonderful choice from a host of different suppliers.
Thank you for reading and let’s keep on tasting, discovering and sharing !