South Africa 2019 – The Estates

In the first two parts of this report from South Africa 2019 we looked at the roving winemakers of the Cape, most owning neither vineyards nor a winery. In Part III we visit a dozen vineyard estates, ranging from some of the Cape’s longest-established great names, to much more recently developed properties.

These are generally larger concerns with established vineyards and comprehensive facilities for both making wine and receiving visitors, with tasting rooms, restaurants, and all the attractions that make the Cape such an exceptional place for the wine loving tourist. But many have also picked up on the vagabond wisdom of searching out interesting parcels of old vines in regions outside their own estate boundaries, so it is not uncommon for a great estate of Stellenbosch, for example, to feature an Elgin Riesling or Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay in its range.

Indeed, it would be a big mistake to think that the excitement of the New South Africa is not represented in this group, or that the innovations and pace of change have passed them by. There are great winemakers in this group, with great terroir, and a determination to improve quality equal to any other.

Bosman Family Vineyards

Bosman Wines CoreaBosman is a group of estate vineyards, but I visited their beautiful homestead in Wellington, home of the Bosman family for over 300 years. “Our whole ethos,” says winemaker Corlea Fourie, “is to improve not just the wines, but the quality of life for everyone who lives in the estate.” To that end they acheived Fairtrade accreditation in 2009 and every worker is a share-holder. The Fairtrade scheme benefits the local community, supporting a retirement home and the education of 300 young people.

We drove past massive nursery vineyards. Vine propagation is a crucial sector of the business, allowing Bosman to maintain a workforce of 500 throughout the year, when most wine estates are highly seasonal operations. In the cellar there are all the signs of a winemaker who pays attention to detail: heritage is evident in the open cement fermentation tanks, but beyond is a gleaming cellar of stainless steel, concrete eggs and an assortment of barrel sizes.

“We’re building on the farming heritage,” says Corea, “but trying to improve and progress. We have over 60 varieties planted, at least two clones of each.” In fact 2004 was the start of a new era here. Having been making wine for hundreds of years, Phyloxerra devasted the wine business and led to almost total decline, the first releases of the modern era were only in 2007. Bosman sell directly in the UK via bosmanwines.co.uk.

Read tasting notes on 8 wines from Bosman Family Vineyards

(2019) Subtle Whiff of smokiness, not too pungent or green, quite subtle lychee and tropical fruit, just a touch of leafiness. The palate has a lovely fresh green streak, lots of lemon and lime powering this, some fruit ripeness for sure, but plenty of acid punch, a bit of orange to soften the lemony tang.
(2019) Around 20% matured in Burgundian oak (new) for six months. Lovely mealy richness to this aromatically, buttery Brazil  nut and a balance between the pear and butterscotch ripeness and oak, and the freshness of the cooler site. Lovely acid balance into a dry, long, finish.
(2019) From the second oldest Chenin vineyard in South Africa. Natural ferment in Louis Latour Burgundy barrels and matured six months, most in Noblot concrete eggs. Beautiful nose; quite mesmerising, with spices, Sandalwood and exotic fruit, nutty and creamy but with quince and orange and lots of complexity. The palate has a marzipan and marmalade richness, creamy, almonds, but a lovely freshness too, the inherent mango-like sweetness, cut by crisp apple acidity.
(2019) A big blend of 55% Chenin with proportions of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Viognier from Wellington, with Semillon, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Roussanne from Hemel-en-Aarde. Main components matured in French oak. Feels like plenty of nutty, Cox’s pippin English apple fruit, creamy and nutty oak too. After the fireworks of the Optenhorst Chenin it is more muted, or rather, less vivid, but the sweetness of the fruit, married with the  nutty creaminess of the oak is appealing. Quite widely available.
(2019) Bush vine Grenache, planted on decomposed granite, this sees 21 days of skin contact, natural ferment and aged is in old Russian oak barrels, for six months. A light amber/orange colour, beautiful dried fruit and autumn leaves, umami characters, plenty of fat lemony fruit too. On the palate, loads of complex flavours, confit lemon and straw, a touch of marmalade and so savoury, but finishes with great clarity. A lovely wine, a few steps down the ‘natural’ path, and beautifully done.
(2019) This sees 10 months in oak, but only 15% of the blend, and all new French barrels. Beetroot, earthiness and smokiness, with dark fruit characters beneath. Not heavy or jammy, but the fruit in a savoury aspect, smoky and cherryish, but clean and very nicely balanced.
(2019) From bush vines in Wellington, small unirrigated vineyard on the top of the hill. Small part whole-bunch fermented for aromatic lift, naturally yeasts, and aged in second and third fill French barriques. Lots of smoky and tobacco-laced cherry, a gorgeous pure fruitiness to this, not losing the savoury characters, that cherry freshness, but graphite and cedar, tobacco sophistication rounding out that purity. Lovely.
(2019) A blend of 52% Shiraz with Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Grenache, Primitivo, then 2% Viognier and 1% each of Nero d’Avola and Tempranillo. Aged in both American and French oak. Meaty, smoky, spicy, but a really solid fruit profile beneath, plenty of chariness. Has that little burnt note that I don’t really like personally, but I can see the appeal of the coffee-rich oak and fruit density. Stockist at time of review is for the previous vintage.

Close tasting notes

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines

MullineuxChris and Andrea Mullineux are the viticultural and winemaking couple who have featured several times here on wine-pages, and whose rocket-like propulsion to the vanguard of South African wine has been astonishing. In fact wine-pages plays a small part in that, as it was a meeting between Chris Mullineux and investor Keith Prothero on wine-pages’ discussion forum and at subsequent events that kick-started their progression, from a hugely respected, but niche, operation in the Swartland, to one of South Africa’s most prestigious estates.

That came about in 2013 when Analjit Singh acquired Keith’s shares in the business. A major investor in South African wine and hospitality, and the Franschhoek region in particular, the newly formed company of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines now farms in both Swartland and Franschhoek, where Analjit Singh has built a luxurious new cellar and visitor facilities around his vineyards.  I met up – briefly – with Chris and Andrea as they were in the middle of receiving and processing fruit in Franschhoek, as the sun beat down a steady 40°C.

Wines from Swartland still appear under the Mullineux label, a core range and, in top vintages, some exceptional single terroir wines. There is also a pair of less expensive wines branded ‘Kloof Street’. Wines made from Franschhoek and Stellenbosch fruit appear under the Leeu Passant label, including many old vine parcels originally identified by Rosa Kruger. The wines are made by the Mullineuxs in an integrated, but separate operation. Wines of both estates are imported by Fields, Morris & Verdin.

Read tasting notes on 9 wines from Mullineux & Leeu

(2019) Mostly Chenin Blanc, with Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and a touch of Sémillon, made in Foudre. Delightful smokiness and tobacco spice, the ripeness and freshness of the fruit, big sour lemon palate, lots of bright and salty orange acidity, long, spicy and powerful finish.
(2019) From a single vineyard in the Kasteelberg on pure quartz soils. The vines average 36 years old. Lovely note of pure apple, a little baked apple and pastry, a touch of candy cane that is charming and also a touch of leafiness. The palate has lots of fruit, but a sparky, lightly flinty but bright fruit character, very focused, very good fruit-skin acidity, long with a mineral/stony and bright lemon and orange finish.
(2019) Feels slightly broader on the nose, creamier, a touch more smokiness than the Quartz. The fruit bursts with ripe, nectarine and lightly flinty and smoky notes again. The fruit has a terrific sour apple and lemon acid tartness and precision, it has those mouth-watering, bitter notes that scythe through the burgeoning opulence of the fruit. Mouth-filing and delicious, with a hugely long finish. From 20- 30-year-old vine, this spent 11 months in neutral 500-litre French oak.
(2019) One year in 500-litre barrels and foudre for this wine, made from several vineyards in the Swartland. Fine, bloody and delicately meaty nose, exotic fine spices, a touch of rose and bracken character. The palate ripe and sweet fruited. Such lovely tannin structure, a firm and steely backbone and long, pure fruit, tannin and acid balance.
(2019) Fabulous peppery nose, so much floral and wild garrigue character, lots of red plum. The palate has silky sweet fruit at its core, but flooded with basil and bay leaf, meatiness and again that peppery spice. The fruit stays focused and linear at its heart, the taut acid framework and the big, powerful dry tannins give this immense pleasure and a suggestion of great age ability. Aged 12 months in 500-litre French, 25% new, then nine months in foudre.
(2019) From the estate-owned Roundstone vineyard in the Swartland. Lovely perfume again, not as ‘wild’ as the Granite, but a purity of black fruit, a sizzle of bacon fat, and a definite sense of stony minerality. On the palate there is an earthy and meaty ripeness and richness, a twist of liquorice, and good cherry skin acid. Loads of bitter chicory acids and fine but very persistent tannins to give a long, very, very pure finish.
(2019) No Botrytis in this wine, the grapes dried on mats outside the winery.  It spent 11 months in neutral oak, and has 310g/l of residual sugar. Delicious, ripe nectarine, toffee and honey, there is a glycerine richness to this, the fruit so beautifully round and deliciously sweet, with floral highlights and then fabulous acidity cutting through the toast and fat of the fruit, lemon and honey to finish. Superb. Price for a half bottle.
(2019) From the slopes of the Helderberg mountain, only 650 cases were produced. Barrel fermentation lasted 42 days, then the wine was matured for 18 months in French oak barriques, 30% new. Natural yeast and minimal sulphur. Not at all dominated by the wood, a fragrant, lightly nutty character only, the palate very pure, the oak so refined, with a juiciness, a bright lemon jelly freshness, lovely, finesse and creaminess in the mouth. Stockist and price at time of writing are for the 2015 vintage.
(2019) All old vines here, Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch; and two ancient Cinsault vineyards, one that is 116 years old in Wellington, and South Africa's oldest registered red wine vineyard. The wine was made with 50% whole clusters, natural yeast and minimal sulphur, and spent 16 months in 500L French oak, 30% new. Scented and aromatic, with plenty of floral and herby notes, fine and racy, a delightful ashy dryness, orangy acidity and such lively, firm, fresh fruit with just the right amount of steely austerity.

Close tasting notes

Boekenhoutskloof

Marc Kent and GottfriedLast time I met up with Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof we had lunch in Franschhoek with Gottfried Mocke, winemaker at nearby Chamonix Wines. Little did I imagine that on my return visit a few years later, Gottfried would be in charge of winemaking at Boekenhoutskloof, with the visionary Kent overseeing as technical director. Another huge change is the winery, with ultra-smart tasting room and a remarkable and huge new underground cellar, recently opened and connected to the winery by a James Bond-esque 65-metre secret tunnel.

Marc Kent is a restless winemaker, and I guess an original vagabond, sourcing fruit widely and making small batches and releasing one-off labels from interesting fruit, but on the other hand he has built an enormous operation, with huge brands in the shape of The Chocolate Block, Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap ranges. But there is quality at every step here, and investment, and bringing Gottfried Mocke into the picture was a very smart move. Marc Kent’s vineyards in the Swartland provide fruit for some top-end wines, but also for the Porseleinberg Syrah, not a Boekenhoutskloof release, but a separate wine made by Callie Louw, and still one of the stars of the broader Boekenhoutskloof family’s impressive range. Imported by New Generation Wines.

Read tasting notes on 10 wines from Boekenhoutskloof and Porseleinberg

(2019) Always one of my favourite wines in the Boetenhoutskloof portfolio, this is old vines, from three of the four oldest Semillon vineyards in Franschhoek - one dating from 1902 and planted on its own roots, another from 1936 and the third from 1942. A little bit of 1902 Muscat de Frontignan is blended in. Lovely lanolin, butter and lightly toffeed nose, with the wild yeast and oxidative handling giving much more breads and toasty character. Lots of lemon fruit and acidity to sharpen, such a long, savoury and concentrated finish. Gottfried suggests decanting this before serving.
(2019) What a treat to taste this 13-year-old example, with such a beautiful golden colour, with spice having developed, more orange and citrus, lemon balm, nutty with seeds and flint, and that searing lemon zestiness. This wine ages so well.
(2019) Well, I loved this Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay, which along with Pinot Noir, are specialisties of Gottfried Mocke. Planted with consultation from Rosa Kruger it has a lovely oak treatment and very exotic nose of Sandalwood and spice, oatmeal and butter, and the gentle earthiness of the wild yeast. Such a grippy, searing acid structure, the fruit taut and lemony, salty acids powering through. A really profound Chardonnay. Great structure and intensity.
(2019) Always a favourite, always a crowd-pleaser, and now from its own sites in Swartland, that's a big change as it was such a success when mostly made from fruit bought in from across the Wesern Cape. Mark and Gottfried say they realised they had to “become more serious”. Very spicy and sensuous, coffee and chocolate and a deep red berry fruit, tobacco and rustiness, a brighter orange rind and bold red berries on the palate, but then that grip of the tannins, peppery quality and more structure than the old recipe, but still plush and crowd-pleasing. 64% Syrah, 14% Grenache, 11% Cinsault and 10% Cabernet (from new oak) with a touch of Viognier.
(2019) In this blend 80% comes from Porseleinberg, 20% from the Gold Mine farm, both in Swartland. Made partially in foudre, part in concrete eggs, and all vines from schist soils. Quite sumptuous with its deep blue/black fruit concentration, a little rounding, sweet blackcurrant pastille character, soft and yet with a briary grip, plenty of racy, dry, earthy and polished fine tannins, some chalky acids to finish. Young.
(2019) I loved my visit to Porseleinberg a few year ago, so great to taste a new vintage of this intriguing wine with its floral character. 100% whole bunch fermented, two months in concrete eggs and foudre. There is something flinty and slaty about the nose, a wild, earthy character, with the florals continuing, lots of tannin, a bit of rustic grip, but such a lovely mouthfeel, juicy but with an authenticity and touch of roughening edges that finishes spicy and long.
(2019) From the slopes of the Helderberg this is all Cabernet Sauvignon. Fermented with wild yeast, it spent 18 months in barriques, 50% new. Just the faintest touch of herbaceousness, then a silky impression of dense blackcurrant. Creamy, with a little pencil shaving finesse. Lovely palate, sweet and ripe fruit and quite sumptuous again, but a refined tannin and acid structure, not ruffling the creamy smoothness of the fruit.
(2019) Around 10% Cabernet Franc in this blend, with barrel ferment components and aged in 100% new wood. A little more perfume here, still that herbaceous note of leafy herbs, less obviously plush blackcurrant, with a lithe, sinewy character, feels like a lithe, silky and refined wine, a little more austere arguably, but has that finesse to the tannins, that less obvious plushness, and is a hugely satisfying wine.
(2019) A recent addition to Marc Kent's portfolio, not labelled as Boekenhoutskloof, this is a mid-priced wine made from Swartland fruit. This new vintage was very young, with the pear drop note of fermentation and peachy fruit. Very clean and pure, a bright lemon and apple fruit, and good acidity, orange in the finish.
(2019) This is botrytis-affected Semillon, aged in barrel, with 180g/l of residual sugar. It spends 30 months in new French oak and is picked from the vineyard in front of the Franschhoek winery. Lovely toast and marmalade, there is toffee and barley sugar, a hint of mint, the fruit has an exotic fruitiness, with pineapple and bold tangerine juicy acidity, full texture and delicious length. Price for a half bottle.

Close tasting notes

Le Lude

Emma Le LudeThe first of two visits to specialist producers of ‘MCC’, commonly known as ‘Cap Classique’. These are sparkling wines made by the traditional method, and first stop was Le Lude in Franschhoek. In contrast to Graham Beck, Le Lude is a boutique business, owned by a family who fell in love with Champagne, and wanted to start a ‘grower Champagne’ style business. The first harvest was 2012, and first releases in 2016 with 95% of fruit bought-in “to give the diversity of components that we need for MCC,” says winemaker Emma Bruwer.

Graduating from Stellenbosch, Emma worked a vintage at Le Lude, before heading to New Zealand. On return she was immediately offered the job as assistant winemaker, before recently taking over as winemaker from Paul Gerber (who has a new role at nearby Colmant). Emma explains that their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (with just a little Meunier on the home farm) is harvested to give around 10.5% alcohol in the base wines, a little higher and riper than in Champagne. Chardonnay is fermented in barrels for the vintage, with a little for the NV “for mouthfeel and complexity.”

All cuvées spend 13 months on the lees and Emma is starting to build a stock of reserve wines in magnum. Interestingly, the secondary fermentation is Agrafe, aged under cork instead of crown cap, which Le Lude thinks results in a more integrated aroma profile and texture. The wines are with Hard to Find Wines in UK.

Read tasting notes on 3 wines from Le Lude

(2019) Delightful, pale lemon/straw colour. Chardonnay-dominant, refined mousse, light, blossom and gently biscuity nose, with lemon and pear. The palate also shows that little biscuity, creamy richness, such sweet and ripe fruit, lemon and peach, then a very fine, fresh finish with precise acidity to give some backbone. Dosage is 6.5g/l.
(2019) Only 5.5g/l dosage here, and 60% Pinot Noir with a little Meunier too, an assemblage of red and white base wines. Delicate pale salmon pink, again a refined, small bubble mousse. There’s a delicate red berry fruitiness, with quite a pronounced yeastiness too. The palate is dry with a lemon and pink grapefruit tang, a little sherbet, raspberry tartness which, along with the low dosage, gives a savoury finish. Excellent, and again has good structure.
(2019) Only 3%g/l sugar here, so technically Extra Brut. The blend is 80% Chardonnay, mostly barrel-fermented, with 20% Pinot Noir. Deeper colour, much more leesy, deep, meatier character. The disgorgement in June 2018, so over six years on the lees, plus the barrel fermentation, has allowed that lovely development of tertiary aromas and flavours, a little bruised fruit, a hint of orange, and good toast. Again the palate retains all the freshness and the lemon and lime bite of acidity.

Close tasting notes

Graham Beck

Graham Beck cellarmasterIn Robertson, the Graham Beck winery operates at the other end of the sparkling scale. This is the Cape’s third largest producer of MCC (after Krone and Pongracz), with a workforce of 350 in the vineyard at harvest time. Cellarmaster Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira joined the cellar in 1990, and has been with the team from the very first vintage. But it is only recently that Graham Beck has become solely focused on fizz: “we’ve come full circle,” says Pieter, “we wanted to be a world force in sparkling wine, and now that’s possible.” You may have noticed that the Graham Beck still wines have disappeared from your local merchant’s shelves.

Another difference from Le Lude is that 70%-75% fruit comes from their own estate vineyards. The limestone, sunshine and diurnal shift in Robertson is ideal, but they source elsewhere too “little pockets of Chardonnay and Pinot to add to our colour pallet,” says Pieter. A striking new cellar with disgorging and labelling facility is a recent £10 million investment as part of the move back to producing only sparkling wines. Only first press juice, around 65% of the volume, is used. The vintage wines stay on lees for four years, 15 months for the NVs, and 50% of the Blanc de Blancs is barrel-fermented.

Another interesting snippet is that they have recently set-up ‘GB GB’, sourcing fruit in England and making an English sparkling wine, currently ageing in Hambledon’s cellars, but with a view to buy and plant land and build their own cellar eventually. Graham Beck is imported by Bibendum.

Read tasting notes on 7 wines from Graham Beck

(2019) A little herbal and juicy lemon character, there is a nice biscuit and gentle earthy character too. Mouthifilling, rolling mousse and lovely finesse here, with a big lemony, and precise, palate and finish. 9.5g/l dosage.
(2019) Around 50/50 Chardonnay and Pinot for the rosé NV. Quite a deep, bold pink, loads of summery strawberry fruit, creamy and fresh, but all about that pulpy strawberry aroma. The palate becomes much more lemony and apple fruited, good body and a long, crisp finish. 8.5g/l dosage.
(2019) Lovely biscuit character, attractive light gold colour. Sweet and very attractively done, there is 35g/l of sugar here. Mouth-filling weight and full fruit flavour, and of course good acidity to offset the strawberry fruit flavour and sweetness.
(2019) Best Buy For not a huge amount more than the NV, a big step up in quality. This is 96% Pinot, a co-pressing with the Chardonnay and has four years on the lees. Only 5g/l dosage. Paler than the NV rosé, much more yeast and biscuit than the NV, a little bracken and truffle, but racy red fruits. The palate has beautiful limpid creaminess, a delicate fruit character, but has the creamy weight and sharply-focused acidity.
(2019) Fabulous toast, the 12 week barrel proportion adding creaminess and there's a real umami, meaty character here. On the palate it has a slightly broader, nutty apple character, the finesse is there, but weight and texture too. 6g/l dosage.
(2019) Zero dosage. At least four years on the lees, but usually six. Good depth of colour here, almost a light rosé, plenty of small bubbles. Very meaty, loads of umami here, a touch of brioche and leafiness. On the palate mouthfilling and broad, some red fruits, lots of crunchy fresh apple and pear, and lovely acidity, not missing the sweetness of dosage at all.
(2019) All Chardonnay in this vintage. Fabulous nose, lots of meatiness, truffle, toast and brioche, some estery floral and higher notes, a real sense of sweet ripeness to the fruit, plenty of preserved lemon and caramel and toast. Complex, the finish shimmering with clear acid structure.

Close tasting notes

Babylonstoren

Charl CoetzeeMany visitors to the Western Cape will know Babylonstoren, for the wines yes, but even more for their gardens and extensive hospitality facilities – Code Naste named it one of their top 20 travel destinations in the world. One of the oldest farms in South Africa, it was a staging post for traders sailing round the Cape in the 17th century. By 1692 Babylonstoren was already a renowned garden and fruit farm, which was given its name: the tower of Babel.

The current owner bought the farm in 2007 with the idea of recreating the gardens, replanting with not only vineyards, but fruits and vegetables, all of which are used in the estate’s restaurants. With 26 hotel rooms and cottages they bottle their own juices, preserves, jams, water from their own spring, as well as growing tea and rice.

Charl Coetzee (above) is winemaker, looking after 88 hectares of vines and 13 grape varieties, the highest plots of Pinot and Chardonnay at 600-metres altitude on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain. 2011 was the first harvest under the Babylonstoren label, cellars having been constructed in 2010. Imported by Babylonstoren UK.

Read tasting notes on 8 wines from Babylonstoren

(2019) Blanc de Blanc traditional method fizz, from Chardonnay, with zero dosage and four years on the lees. Refined, soft and creamy pear nose, clean and fresh palate, refined mousse and lemony acid.
(2019) Unwooded, fresh style. Lightly spicy but ripe tropical and juicy apple fruit. There's lovely tropical ripeness to the fruit but it's juicy fresh with good balance and a touch of counter-balancing bitterness.
(2019) Lightly wooded, but from old barrels. Big floral and pear fruit nose, moving into estery banana and pineapple. Full and limpid palate, very rich and the alcohol makes it a little heady. A stylistic choice for a more opulent expression of Viognier.
(2019) All French oak, some new barrels. Creamy vanilla and marzipan, quite a full-on ripe, sweet fruit, oak and acid style. Impressive but just a little too obvious for me - could be reined back slightly.
(2019) Pretty, palish colour. A bit of strawberry pulp and raspberry and a touch of slatey mineral. There's plenty of that lightly smoky mineral quality and a long, fresh, tart raspberry finish.
(2019) All five Bordeaux varieties are in this blend, but it is mostly Shiraz and a little Pinotage. 12 months in older French oak. A bloody note to very pure plummy and a peppery, spicy fruit. Lots of concentrated black fruit and balsamic notes, loads of spice in the finish, smooth and svelte tannins and good balance.
(2019) French oak for 18 months, some new barrels. Pure and quite silky blue-black fruit. A touch of aromatic tobacco and loads of spice. The palate has lots of juicy, savoury black fruit, loads of peppery spice and a twist of bitter endive to sharpen it up. Becomes a little rounded with the barrel and spices.
(2019) Huge, heavy bottle. Five Bordeaux varieties, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 months in new French 300-litre barrels. A subtle nose, the hint of game and cedar, a balsamic note to the oak, lots of sweet cassis, the tannins dry and adding a nice roughness, and again a particulalry peppery finish.

Close tasting notes

Nederburg

Qhubeka charityIn terms of historic estates, they don’t come with much more of a story to tell than Nederburg, founded in 1791. Before visiting the winery to meet winemaker Andrea Freeborough, we visited the on-site Qhubeka factory, a project that  provides bicycles to improve the lives of disadvantaged communities. Around 3000 bikes have already been supplied to the local community, in exchange for committments around education and social responsibility.  It’s a sobering thought that half the kids in South Africa still walk more than a mile each way to school.

Andrea Freeborough overseas everything in the Nederburg range. The estate is now part of a larger group called Libertas Vineyards. “There’s been lots of expansion and investment, with eight winemakers, producing 22 million litres of wine annually,” Andrea tells me. Nederburg itself produces 16 million litres, “Though a relatively small percentage is the premium wine we are tasting today,” confesses Andrea.

The tasting focused on the ‘Heritage Heroes’ range, each named in honour of figures who have shaped the destiny of Nederburg over centuries. The wines are imported by Distell.

Read tasting notes on 6 wines from Nederburg

(2019) Fruit is sourced from the cool Elgin, Darling and Cape Agulhas regions and a proportion matured in 500-litre new and used oak for around nine months. The green bean note is apparent, giving a certain oiliness, a background that is quite toasty, then bursts with sweet, ripe fruit on the palate. Full-textured and ripe, with a touch of sherbet, lime freshness, and a certain succulence. Good acid, and a big, I guess rather showy, but excellent expression.
(2019) Part tank, part barrel-fermented in large wooden vats. From 2018, amphorae will replace the large vat component. On the lees with batonnage for nine months, from low yielding bush vines in Darling, Paarl and Wellington. Creamy, a touch figgy, a little bit of Seville orange or marmalade, the sweet fruit on the palate is very juicy, like nectarine and very ripe pear, a touch of oatmeal rounding out the finish. Price and stockist at time of review is for an earlier vintage.
(2019) A blend of Rhône varieties, led by Carignan and Shiraz. Extended skin contact for fermentation, followed by 23 months in French, American and Romanian barrels. Quite Shirazy on the nose, quite plush, with a little peppery and floral lift and a little kirsch note to more solid black fruit. In the mouth the fruit does have a bittersweet plum skin and black fruit depth, but there’s a cherry pit freshness and that sense of a little more floral note, a stripe of roughening tannin.
(2019) All five Bordeaux grapes, led by 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot. 24 months in French oak - with 5% American. Slightly resinous note on the nose, spicy, a touch of lift - peppery - and has a ripeness and juiciness, not just black fruit, but a bit of Summer pudding sweetness and nice plush tannins, finishing on good acids. Stockist and price at time of review is for an earlier vintage.
(2019) Good and expressive Gewürztraminer aromas, with some lychee, old roses and a touch of geranium and Turkish delight. 12.24g/l of residual sugar gives softness and only gentle sweetness, a fresh, ligh-bodied character and plenty of sour lemon kicking in to the finish, gives very nice length and balance.
(2019) This is made from Chenin, Muscat, Sauvignon, Rasa deCotnari (a Romanian variety) and has 220g/l of residual sugar, so a full-on dessert style. Big honey and toast nose, nutty seeds and an intense lime marmalade. So luscious, pineapple and mango, very thick in texture, lots of lime cordial sweetness, richness, and a good acid balance here, just a warming creaminess, but a lovely little wine. Price per half bottle.

Close tasting notes

Kanonkop

Johann KrigeAnother of the great names of historic Cape wine production, family owned and totally focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage – though there is around 10% of Merlot and other Bordeaux varieties for blending. “It’s all based on terroir,” says owner Johann Krige. “All the Sauvignon, Riesling, etc. has been ripped-out over the years to focus on what we do best.” It’s also an estate focused on it’s home base of Stellenbosch: only bush vines are used, all dry farmed, and though fruit is bought-in from Stellnbosch growers for their Kadette bottlings, everything else is estate-grown.

We toured the old cellar during harvest, with its open concrete fermenters where half of punch downs are done manually by teams of workers, the rest by robotic systems – exhausting work for the men involed, with a punch down every two hours, 24 hours a day, for three days for Pinotage and five for Cabernet. It’s a blend of long tradition and modern technology here, where Johann says the 2017 red wines were outstanding in Stellenbosch. Imported by Seckford.

Read tasting notes on 10 wines from Kanonkop

(2019) A pale colour, picked ripe and fresh, with lots of cherry fruit, a bit of spice and the sweet fruit pushes through. Yes, a touch too much alcohol in a rosé for my taste at a little over 14%, but a lovely wine.
(2019) A blend of 37% Pinotage, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon plus Merlot and Cabernet Franc that spends 12 months in older oak. Nice solid black fruit character, a bright cherry edge and a touch of Pinotage perfume. Quite jammy and ripe, a thick fruit character, well balanced.
(2019) Like the Kadette blend, 12 months in older oak. A little meatiness, a little stripe of grippy plum skins, there is a lot of juiciness and spice on the palate, less dense than the blend, juicier, although it doesn’t have quite the oomph of the Cape Bend. A style choice for the drinker between these two.
(2019) From bush vines that are up to 63 years old, this spent 18 months in French oak, 75% of it new. Rich, ripe red berries and smoky, fragrant and cedary oak. A really sumptuous style, coffee deep and the fruit is black and glossy. Silky in terms of texture and te fruit, tannin and acid structure, spicy and ripe into the finish.
(2019) At this point the bush vines were 57 years old. This spent 16 months in French oak, 75% new. Similar recipe as the 2016 tasted alongside. Has more of the estery character associated with Pinotage, but there’s an earthier quality through the ageing, the sweet fruit is there on the palate, a stripe of dry tannin giving extra grip, a fresh finish. More Pinotage personality perhaps, though less slick and modern in feel.
(2019) From 25-year-old estate vines on average, this spent 24 months in Nevers oak, 50% new. This is fragrant, with delightfully pure cassis, edged with graphite and nicely polished pencil-shaving character. Very ripe, intense sweet Cabernet, the tannins dry and tight and racy, the acid tangy like cherry skins, plenty of spice into the finish.
(2019) Vines for this bottling were 32 years old on average, and again it had 24 months in Nevers oak, 50% new.  A very nice and youthful nose here, a little resinous note, but keen black fruit and some gamy tertiary development adds to the complexity. No UK stockists at time of review.
(2019) A Bordeaux blend of 74% Cabernet with Cab Franc and Merlot, given 24 months in new french oak. Very glossy and ripe fruit here, a touch of balsamic/gravy browning character, but copious sweet fruit and cedar. Lovely palate, the rounding character of the blend giving gently roasted and warming fruit depth, but a seam of pure black fruit. It’s a beautiful wine, with great concentration and balance.
(2019) Made to the same recipe as the 2014 with 24 months in new oak, intense and delicate aromatics, graphite and pencil shavings, a lovely gentle touch of olive, the depth of black fruit obvious. The palate super smooth and delicate in fruit profile, but so juicy and long, a really complete wine at a great stage of its debvelopment. Very long. No UK stockists I can find at time of review.
(2019) From 63-year-old bush vines in a single vineyard, and 18 months in new Nevers oak. Big, meaty, aromatic nose, the sense of concentration immediately obvious, then the floral, rose and violet perfume is beautiful. Such sweet fruit, edged with chocolate and fudge, and such extraordinary sweet fruit, but silky tannins and integrated acidity does present a stunning picture of a totally convincing 'fine wine' Pinotage.

Close tasting notes

Rustenberg

Murray BarlowAnother great and historic estate, which can trace its root back to just three years after the Cape was founded. Translating as “Resting on the side of the mountain”, Rustenberg’s vineyards climb to 550 metres altitude, and all irrigating water is run-off from the mountain.

Today, the youthful Murray Barlow is in charge, who says he was “weened on fine Bordeaux and Rhône wines,” by his father, Peter. In the Dutch era at the end of the 17th century wine and spirits were already being made on the farm. The property having been split into two in the 18th century, it was not until the 1930s when Murray’s grandfather managed to buy both, that Rustenberg was pieced back together. As a student at Cambridge university he had fallen in love with claret and in that first phase of modernisation his winemaker was sent to Château Palmer to study.

Murray has a terrific grasp of both the farming, winemaking and marketing sides of the business, and a modern approach having studied winemaking in Adelaide. It’s an extremely impressive set of wines – commercial in the best sense of the word, with quality throughout. Murray is pictured with grapes drying for their straw wine. Rustenberg is imported into the UK by Seckford Wines.

Read tasting notes on 10 wines from Rustenberg

(2019) Made very simply - "crush, press, ferment," says Murray, then aged on lees for three months. Gooseberry and a touch of flint and elderflower, an attractive green-tinged fruit profile. The palate has a light smoke and earthy quality, good texture, lots of crunchy apple and pear, streaking lemon acid is a really nice style.
(2019) Wild fermented in 300-litre French barrel, 20% new wood. Delicate crushed oatmeal nose, dry apple and pear core fruit is nicely understated, the palate delicate and cool, a light- to medium-body, lot of fruit sweetness and admirably fresh, though having been bottled only a couple of weeks before tsting, should develop a little more depth.
(2019) From a single vineyard up against the mountainside, hammered by wind which limits the crop production and gives natural concentration. Again, it’s oatmeal and almond from water and steam-bent barrels, 60% new, so no obvious toast. Creamy apple and a hint of hazelnut. Has more depth, a little more open and nutty character, really sweet and ripe fruit, flowing and free, the acidity is lovely, like lemon and lime juice freshness, and a toasty marmalade touch of pleasing bitterness to the finish.
(2019) Fairly deep colour, from minimum skin contact in the press. Sweetie confectionery character, nice floral rose and estery notes. Lots of fruit, cherry and red berries, a hint of sugar set against the very fresh acidity.
(2019) This spends 15 months in French oak, around 10% new. 50% Shiraz, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Lovely nose, overflowing with fruit a little lifted volatile character, some toasty oak beneath. Silky and smooth on the palate, there is plenty of sweet red and black fruit density, a stripe of tannin and good balancing acids. Good value from independents at around £11-£12, Majestic list it at £13.99 at time of review.
(2019) Murray barlow is very enthusiastic about the future for Malbec in Stellenbosch, planting with newer clones, while admitting they are "riding on the coat-tails of Argentina." Charry oak for the first time, but quite subtle, a touch of green character and florals on the nose and a phalanx of deep, sinewy meaty blue-black fruit on the palate. Very, very juicy, tangy fruit skins and all tensioned by the structure. Exclusive to Watirose in the UK.
(2019) This spends 20 months in French oak, about 40% new. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, Plus the other three Bordeaux varieties, all fermented separately then aged 11 months in barrel, followed by a year in bottle. Quite meaty and cedary, a touch of olive and pepper and light tobacco spice. Very juicy, the savoury plum and blackcurrant fruit backed up with firm, quite authoritative tannins, and bright cherry fruit tangy acidity. Widely available, also in Waitrose, Majestic and independents at time of review. Good value.
(2019) This spends 20 months in oak, French and American. Bright red fruit with a touch of cool-climate rhubarb and pepper, bright red berries. Just a touch of creaminess from understated oak. Fresh, creamy and bright cherry fruit, lovely floating floral top notes, with a juiciness and good length. A lovely Syrah, on the brighter and cooler side, and in a European style. Price and stockist for a previous vintage at time of review.
(2019) Again, 20 months in French oak, loads of graphite and sandalwood, pepper and spices, lovely earth and game touches to the blackcurrant fruit. The palate has sweetness and purity of fruit, it is rounded out by a creamy and delicately toasty oak and the super-smooth polish of the tannins, good cherry acids, great length. Such an elegant and polished wine with the structure for ageing.
(2019) A blend of 82% Chenin Blanc, 18% Viognier. Picked at regular table wine ripeness, then dried on straw racks for two to three weeks. The Chenin vineyard is about 30 years old. Light, glowing gold. Lovely bright glycerine, lemon and honey nose, but immediately speaks of lightness and freshness, bright bursting citrus and loads of rich medium-bodied nectarine, lovely sweetness from 210g/l residual sugar, and a really nice aromatic and estery style. Murray is planting Cruchen Blanc to add to this wine in future. Price for a half bottle. Widely available, but the Wine Society price at time of review is unbeatable.

Close tasting notes

Meerlust

Chris WilliamsNext in a run of historic and important estates comes Meerlust in Stellenbosch, where winemaker Chris Williams has been in charge since 2004 – though this is also home of his own label, The Foundry, which he started in 2001. Meerlust has been owned by the same family since 1756, the oldest property in continuous family hands in the Cape by far, though there have been vineyards on the property even longer, for over 300 years.

All Meerlust wines come from their own esate vineyards, while The Foundry was one of the earliest ‘vagabond’ projects, Chris setting up the project on a ‘shoestring budget’, now with vineyards adjoining Meerlust’s, and fruit from co-owner James Reid’s vineyard in the Voor Paardeberg.

Chris has introduced wooden ‘foudre’ vats to recreate the excellent Meerlust wines he had enjoyed from the early 80s. “It’s great to have a forum where I can spread my wings and experiment,” he says. the relationship between Meerlust and The Foundry seeming to be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. Meerlust is imported by Maison Marques & Domaines, The Foundry via Dreyfus Ashby.

Read tasting notes on 12 wines from Meerlust and The Foundry

(2019) This is 100% barrel fermented, around 50% new. Lovely golden glow and aromatics, juicy yellow apples, smoothed with cream and gentle custard, a bit of spice too. The palate is full and lush, but there’s an immediate rush of fat, ripe but focused lemon, then more pithy lemon and grapefruit fills the mouth, the acidity becomes absolutely focused through the fine creamy, lightly spicy finish.
(2019) Vineyards sit only five kilometres from the sea at False Bay, within the Stellenbosch region, but marginal, and as Pinot needs cooler conditions this is not made every year. Fragrant stuff, a little grilled bacon and definite florals, a little resinous note. There is plenty of red fruit character, seeds and meaty, savoury elements too, in a pleasing, clove-scented Pinot of real character. Chris Williams would typically drink this after another two or three years when tertiary characters develop. It then might well merit a point or two more.
(2019) This has 8% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot in the blend, matured 17 months in Nevers oak, 65% new. Cool on the nose, but coffee and roasted herbs, a meatiness too, not fruit-led, but there is good black fruit in the mix. The palate has a firm, structured palate, savoury and a bit reserved, but that gives energy and a bit of tannic bite and firmness.
(2019) From two vineyards, the wine on which they made their reputation before the Rubicon cuvée came along. Cedar and sandalwood fragrance, a touch of herbal, olive and leafy herb note, but the clean, firm blackcurrant fruit is lovely. Savoury and juicy, there’s a bit of tart plum skins and liquorice. Dark and dramatic, but the fruit does become quite plush before the acid and taut, polished but grippy tannins push through. Drinking really nicely, and has good light and shade.
(2019)
A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, aged for 20 months in Nevers oak, 65% new. Big and luscious from the first sniff, a little bloody and herbal, but loads of black fruit and sweet, graphite finesse. Lovely buoyant cherry-edged fruit, etched with that bloodiness and tart cherry acids, but the sweet creamy depth is lovely.
(2019)
What a treat when Chris Williams pulled out this 30-year-old example to show how well this moderately-priced wine ages. Such a depth of colour, but beautiful sweet fruit, there is truffle and sweet damp earth that is the tell-tale of its age, but it seems so youthful, still so densely fruited and tangy, with lots of cherry brightness. Not available retail, but pops up at auction occasionally.
(2019) Fine mineral salts nose, taut and racy apple core fruit, tiny floral nuances, and a creamy and peachy fruit beneath. What beautiful fruit, peach flesh and juice, flowing and elegant acidity, apricot and lime, into a long shimmering finish of great style.
(2019) Fine pear and baked apple aroma, and there is lovely perfume here, with apricot and peach overflowing onto the palate, the palate is mouth-filling and luscious, but there’s a cool minerality, a touch of leafiness adding a bightness, very juicy and streaking with mineral and salts acidity.
(2019) Beautiful apricot and taut apple and pear, creamy, just a hint of nuttiness. Salts and minerals of acidity cutting through the fruit. The finish is lovely, the acid just hits the spot perfectly, with taut white fruit flavours and real energy.
(2019) Partly fermented as whole bunches. Meaty, earthy, a deeply coloured and hued wine, with gravelly touches to blue-black fruit aromas then that typical Grenache nuttiness, like peanut shell dryness, a touch of perfumed herbs. The palate if firm and very juicy, edged with a chicory bite of bittersweetness. Long and grippy finish, tannins begin to nip and give structure.
(2019) Aged in 10% new Alliers oak, the rest is older oak. Lovely bright fruit character, but also a green, olive and herb-tinged note, definite sense of cool climate/less ripe character. There is some grippy, stony, gravel on the palate, a taut stripe of tannin and bold, pure acidity. A meatiness develops, gives that stalky green nip to the bold black fruit. Very very juicy, and long. Tight, polished tannin finish. One for the future for sure, but 93 provisionally.

Close tasting notes

Vergelegen

Andre van RensburghMy previous visit to the stunningly beautiful Vergelegen Estate to meet winemaker André van Rensburg and taste his wines was almost 20 years ago, at a time when his reputation as a great winemaker was almost eclipsed by his reputation for outrageous opinions and an outspoken approach. Has time mellowed him? Well, perhaps a little, yes: he was full of fun and mischeif on this visit, though still unafraid to speak his mind, and still making outstanding wines. The picture shows Don Tooth, CEO of Vergelegen, demonstrating his management technique on André.

We toured the historic estate then tasted before and through lunch at the excellent Camphors restaurant. I was fascinated by André’s description of his relationship with winemaking guru Michel Rolland, who has been consulting at Vergelegen since 2014. Knowing André a little, I would have summoned up a mental picture of buffalos butting heads, or rutting stags in a face-to-face showdown, but that is far from the case. “I want Vergelegen to make the best wines in the world,” says André, “but felt I’d taken things as far as I could. So I approached the board and asked them to bring Michel on board.” It seems the two hit it off immediately, and André’s face beams as he recounts barbecues where he and Michel sit in shorts and tee-shirts with a cold beer, planning the next vintage.

This tasting included three new site-specific wines to the portfolio, The Mistake Merlot, First Thought Cabernet and Last Word Cabernet, which do not yet appear to have been released in the UK market. Vergelegen is imported by Fells.

Read tasting notes on 10 wines from Vergelegen

(2019) This barrel fermented sparkling MCC uses old Cape brandy as the dosage. 100% Chardonnay, the residual sugar is 7.5g/l. A really creamy richness after 36 months on the Lees. Beautiful mousse, so luxurious, perfect balance and length. A lovely wine, though I can find no UK retail stockists at time of review.
(2019) From 51-year-old vineyards. Fermented in Austrian oval casks and 9 months on the lees. There's A touch of green fig and smokiness, lots of green bean, oily and rich, the palate rounded and pungently flavoursome, great acidity but such lovely punch and vibrancy in a Graves style.
(2019) Ripe, but cut by a lanolin and touch of green that slices through the creaminess. Big powerful wine, immense concentration, such orange and lemon juiciness and layered texture, but the buttery weight and texture is a delight. Price and stockist at time of review is for the previous vintage.
(2019) Officially G.V.B = Grown, Vinified and Bottled, though the gleam in Andre van Rensburg's eye suggests that unofficially he could have had something else in mind. 'Grand Vin de Bordeaux' perhaps? Matured in 500-litre barrels for the Sauvignon, and 225-litre barrels for the 40% Semillon in the blend. Gorgeous nose, the oatmeal and cream, the gentle exotic wood spices with a rounded creamy palate of stone fruits and lemon. The palate has a mineral, flint and taut fruit palate, the acid structure is superb, in a thrilling wine.
(2019) More toasty than the G.V.B for sure, fat lemon fruit, a little orange rind and sesame seed. A powerful palate yet again: immense concentration, the texture, the bold and assertive acidity and the luscious fruit make a heady, delicious concoction.
(2019) Michel Rolland misunderstood Andre, who was looking for 3000 cases, but Michel thought it was 3000 bottles, so they had to suddenly blend 33,000 extra bottles. 17 months in all French oak, 50% new. High, pepper, cedar and bright cassis fruit. Very juicy blackcurrant fruit, slicked with chocolate, deep plum fruit, a little balsamic, but very pure, and lovely polished tannins and svelte fruit.
(2019) This spent 18 months in all new French oak. Black, ripe, dense fruit, great darkness and drama, so concentrated, rich and balsamic. A slick of black fruit, spices and all the time little clove and floral notes floating over the the dense fruit base. Very polished, creamy, tight-grained tannins and lovely balance.
(2019) Like its "First Thought" partner, 18 months in all new French oak for this bottling, from an older vineyard on clay soils. So smoky, creamy and ripe, cassis and lovely finesse, very fragrant and lithe, such a juicy wine, great sense of alacrity.
(2019) The blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot plus Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, which spends 17 months in French oak, 40% new. Much more mineral, schisty than the two stright cabs, and has that green olive tang, balsamic and cedar, a lovely leafy quality. Beautiful precision and definition, savoury, endive bitterness, lovely fruit sweetness and savoury edges. A terrific wine.
(2019) A moderate 95g/l sugar, this saw 15 months in old oak and is all Semillon. So delicate, fine, so elegant and refined, the sweetness beautifully clear with a touch of sherbet sparkiness. Such dazzling acid freshness, a hint of ginger, just gloriously bright in the finish. Price and stockist at time of review is for the previous vintage. Price for a half bottle.

Close tasting notes


Back to Part II: Beyond The Vagabonds. Go to Part IV: Regional Profiles

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