A recent trip to South Africa was part of my own discovery in the world of wine. While I have tasted many of the wines from country, nothing compares to the experience of getting the lay of the land, meeting the people, tasting the food and of course the wine. These experiences help so much in the learning and understanding of a new area, here is a bit of ours…
After a short travel day of roughly 24 hours we arrived in Cape Town. Our group headed to Riebeek Kasteel, a cute, quiet farming community where we would be based for the trip. Our first day began with a visit down the road to Riebeek Valley Wine Company. The wines of RVW give a perfect sense of place. The Chenin Blanc, commonly called “Steen” in South Africa, was a juicy fruit forward expression, all with a lively acidity making you want another sip. Drinking slightly different than its leaner Loire Valley counterparts. Pinotage, probably the most misunderstood wines in the world, it is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. Riebeeks showed bright purple fruits with a fresh acidity and clean mouthfeel, all being firmed up by some fine tannin putting this red in the “Patio Pounder” category. After a full line-up of wines and a tour of the facility we attended a Braai or what we know as a Barbeque. If you don’t know, this is a very common afternoon or evening in South Africa.
Our next day began with a short drive to Stellanbosch, just east of Cape Town. A bumpy dirt road lead up to what may have been the most beautiful piece of ground I have ever stood on. Huge sandstone mountain peaks surround this vineyard adding to the grandeur of the scene. Meeting our friends at Keermont Estate, they took us up into the vineyards, we sampled some local meat and cheese along with some of their own offerings. The Steepside Syrah with its ripe red fruits, hints of pepper and smoke would pair perfectly with any cured meat. The standout to me was the Estate Reserve. This Bordeux blend contains a touch of Syrah adding a little more complexity to the big, bold mouthfeel full or dark red fruits. The firm grip from the tannin could even please the biggest Napa Cab fans.
Later we found ourselves at dinner with a local winemaker, Richard Kershaw. Kershaw works with farmers from Elgin which is a cooler climate close to the coast. His scientific approach with clone selection, rootstock, and fermentation techniques was mind blowing and I found myself picking his brain most of the conversation. Producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir these wines are super limited in the United States and if you happen to see one, drink it! His “Deconstructed” Series has a Chardonnay aptly named CY96 for its clonal type. This Chardonnay could possibly rival some of the great Premier Crus of Burgundy.
Another of winetasting took us to Franschhoek, the “Napa Valley” of South Africa. This vibrant town has streets lined with high-end designer shopping, art galleries, and cafés. Our main visit was at Colmont where the focus is Traditional Method Sparkling wine, or MCC. Again, a geeky level of conversation ensued due to JP’s (the winemaker) passion for the bubbles. From the Brut Rose right through to the Brut Reserve the precision and knowledgeable wine making behind these wines would fool even the best blind tasters. After a bottle sabering we departed for Paardesberg. Of course, no trip would be complete without getting lost. No phone signal or GPS in remote South Africa doesn’t help but we finally arrived at Babylon’s Peak. The Basson Family has been farming this land for 4 generations with a focus on the Rhone varietals of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Viognier. Their blend SMG (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache) took the cake for me with its ripe juiciness and fruit concentration, making this super versatile in food pairing.
The following day we rode down to Durbanville. A small collection of hillside vineyards that tend to be windy and cool. Our visit to Nitida was greeted with the only broken glass of the trip. Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape for this label. The winemakers focus is on delivering a wine that doesn’t taste like Napa, New Zealand, or France giving South African SB its own identity. These wines were delicious again with a mouthwatering acidity, light citrus flavors and a hint of green bell pepper.
Our last day of tasting wines brought us to a few remote places. First was the town of Robertson. Melanie Van der Merwe, the winemaker/owner of Tanzanite trained with some of the best in champagne like Roederer and Moet and her style reflects this. Her bubbles are in perfect balance, delicate, and clean, the terroir truly shine through these wines. While slightly newer to the scene it doesn’t stop her from giving back to the community. She focuses her labor force on mothers who can only work short days and shares some returns with the community. A truly inspiring story.
Getting lost again on our way to Greyton and Lismore Estate Winery, a farm and winery in the middle of nowhere placed in the foothills of mountain backdrop. The winemaker Samantha, originally from LA, focuses on style as opposed to place. Her Estate Reserve Chardonnay and Syrah were so creamy in texture and had finishes that lasted for days. These wines have a pretty strong presence here in the US and if you see any one of them on a list, don’t pass it up.
One big thing I did learn from this trip was size and scope of the wine business in South Africa. Vineyards are everywhere and sometimes go on for as far as the eye can see. The other point I picked up on is the value of the wines. The quality to price ratio is unlike anywhere else in the world. Next time out shopping for a bottle, don’t hesitate, give something new and exciting a try.
If you would like to see some photos from this trip and more please follow me on Instagram @rmagliochetti. Cheers!
– Ron Magliochetti. HashtagWV #116. August 2019.