A snapshot from South Africa

The Western Cape of South Africa is one of my favourite destinations. I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed many professional visits but have holidayed there multiple times over the past 20-odd years. Early in 2023 we had another fabulous holiday, much of it centred around the amazing food and wine scene. Though I strictly limit professional winery visits while on holiday, I did manage to sneak in three estates on this trip, from three different wine regions.

Gedeelte Wines

Being a small and relatively new producer the name may be unfamiliar, but Gedeelte are making some fascinating wines in an unusual place. John Bouwer is owner and winemaker here, based in St Helena Bay, way up in the northernmost part of Swartland where few other wineries exist (indeed his is the only one within the St Helena Bay appellation). Vineyards are planted in almost pure sand just four kilometres from the coast. They consist of old vine Palomino, the rare Barbarossa, and more recently planted Sauvignon Blanc.

John has been supplying other top winemakers like Adi Badenhorst with fruit for many years, but around 2017 he decided to also make and bottle his own wines. The model for his whites is Jura in Eastern France, where wines are traditionally matured under ‘voile’. This is similar to the ‘flor’ of Sherry, a layer of yeast that forms on top of the wine as it matures in barrel. The voile (which John translates as ‘Veil’ on his labels) adds unexpected aroma, flavours and texture, adding complexity to the wine.

If anything, I think the influence of the veil could be stronger in these wines, but I really enjoyed them and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. Jura fans will find them well-priced, and they sit nicely somewhere between the ‘natural’ and more conventional spectrum.

(2023) Barrels of flor-affected wine are used as a starter culture, then blended into larger quantities of Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely glowing yellow/lime. Soft and creamy, with with a vibrant lemon and orange tang, with a very keen edge and touches of spangle brightness. Broad in texture with such bright fruit, this was arguably my favourite wine of the tasting.
(2021) Only 960 bottles of this Palomino were produced, from a vineyard planted in 1978 on sandy soils close to the town of Paternoster on the coast north of Swartland. The wine was aged in French oak barrels but, making much more impact on the wine, it was matured under flor, which is fitting given Palomino is the main grape of Sherry. It is not fortified though, with just 10.5% abv. Dry, immediately salty and lightly sherried, the nose has straw, lemon and apple, the super-dry palate gently nutty, a faint chamomile hint, and loads of streaking, pithy citrus. Unusual, complex, it is subtle but excellent. Watch the video for more information.
(2023) The name is of course a pun on Vin Jaune, for this is a wine styled after the famous voile-affected wines of the Jura, even coming in a similar little squat bottle. Matured under veil for four years, it is 100% Sauvignon Blanc (rather than Savignin) from limestone soils under sand. Gorgeous, walnutty, orange and marmalade notes, bready and again the brightness of lemon comes through. This has great freshness, with a touch of curry-leaf adding intrigue. Perhaps the veil effect could be felt even more strongly, but a fun and very good wine. No retail stockists listed in the UK at time of review.
(2023) This is a 1978 planting of the rare Barbarossa, of which only a few hectares exist in the world. With eight months maturation, it's a blend of partially dried and fresh grapes, in an Amarone style. Intriguing nose, chestnut and gentle beetroots earthiness, creamy fruit, but brambles and subtle juiciness. There is great juiciness on the palate, ripe black berries and sweetness really pushes through. Good balancing acidity again.

Ken Forrester

From a new name, to one of the most renowned in the Cape. I’ve visited Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch many times before, so it truly is just visiting an old friend – but one who happens to produce some sublime wines.

Though synonymous with Chenin Blanc, there is in fact a broad range of wines produced here, white, red, rosé, sweet and sparkling. And while the viticulture and winemaking are fastidious, Ken is not afraid to experiment, including his terrific ‘Dirty Little Secret’, a ‘hands-off’ cuvée which takes much of the best of the natural wine philosophy but ensures meticulous winemaking and attention to detail.

(2023) This MCC spends 24 months on lees, then nine months post disgorgement before release. Very bright, zingy green apple with plenty of fruit. Searing acid is tempered by the sweet, luscious mid palate.
(2023) Twenty percent new oak for this, the rest older. It's also a wine that's part of the Old Vine project and comes from a year when the measure of diurnal shift (difference between day and night temperatures) was the highest in 20 years. There is a light minty Buttery finesse to the pin sharp fruit here, real clarity and yet a certain honeyed weight and lusciousness.
(2023) There's always a library vintage available to taste when you visit Ken, this one 10 years older than the 2022 also tasted. What a lovely golden colour, toasty, sweet, unctuous with tropical fruit, and fabulous length as it shimmers with acidity. No UK retail stockist listed at time of review.
(2023) Though home is undoubtedly still Stellenbosch, Ken now has a few wine emanating from Swartland. Aged in all old barrels after spontaneous ferment, this is deep, apricot, creamy and waxy, honeyed stuff. Beautiful, unctuous with lemon jelly fruitiness and a long, shimmering finish.
(2023) There's a tiny production of this wine, of which I have loved every release so far. It's Ken's nod towards natural wine, a blend of five vintages from an ungrafted vineyard planted in 1959 at 600 metres in Piekenierskloof and aged in barrel. Wonderfully creamy, keen, fresh citrus and apple acidity. Yes, it has the earthy character I associate with wild ferment and leesy natural wines, but is pin-sharp and oh so delicious.
(2023) A preview of this wine, not released in the UK at time of review. So layered and silky lots of cream. Such an unctuous texture, thick and almost oily, with a saline character then the apricot fruit comes through. Delicious and, though youthful, already has such fabulous, layered depth.
(2023) The iconic FMC was one of the Cape's truly great Chenins of the modern era, and this is another gorgeous release. Viticulture is painstaking, Ken explaining that a complex process of filming vines in infra-red to determing they are picking the ripest fruit may be completed eight or nine times depending on the season. Whole bunch pressed and fermented spontaneously in barrels, this is so refined, touches of hessian, almost viognier-like perfume, but then terrific zest and fruit on the concentrated but elegant palate.
(2023) Once again a library vintage to taste, though this one is available at time of review for £55.00 per bottle. Golden yellow, with nutty, apricot, and all sorts of exotic seed and waxy herb nuances. Stunning fruit quality, so much golden nuttiness yet brilliance. Arguably wine of the tasting.
(2023) According to Ken, his French Canadian market has gone crazy for this, especially in Quebec. Very apricotty, very pure Roussanne romatics and flavours with only 13% alcohol. Retains an edge. Lovely creamy texture. Price is for previous vintage at time of review.
(2023) "This is Grenache where it touches Pinot Noir," says Ken and he has a point. Certainly the fruit is firmly in the red spectrum, with nutty fragrant oak, the palate so delightfully sweet and yet savoury with an orange bite of acidity. No UK stockist for this wine at time of review.
(2023) Very old barrels are used for this Syrah and Grenache blend, beginning with spontaneous ferment in open barrels. More dense than the 2020 Grenache, has the sizzling bacon fat character, olive and more red fruit and garrigue.
(2023) In magnum only, this cellar door special is 100% Mourvèdre made by Ken and head winemaker, Shawn. American oak barrels, but steamed rather than toasted so "The Mourvèdre punches above the barrel," says Ken. Bloody and ripe, so much powerful sweetness to the fruit and creamy in the finish with fine tannins.
(2023) Another from Ken's experimental 'Misfits' range this is 2015 vintage Pinto Noir. It spent 12 months in second-fill French oak 300-litre barrels. So fragrant, sweet, and minty, what a glorious, ripe, and chocolaty wine, so much weight and suppleness, not leathery, but smooth and dense, but never lacking fragrance. Superb, but not available in the UK at time of review.
(2023) Yes, a 22-year-old wine that Ken generously opened. Such a sweet mid palate, with acid still just beautifully pitched, pure spicy tannins and has that meaty, almost gamy edge. Touches of tobacco and wonderfully tangy orange acidity. Very good and in perfect drinking condition. Not available retail in the UK at time of review.
(2023) A very careful selection of the best Grenache and Syrah is aged 12 months in barrel. At that point a second selection is made based on barrel samples, and the best goes forward for 12 more months in oak to be bottled as The Gypsy. It has a wonderful garrigue nose, strewn with herbs, wild flowers and crunchy red and black fruit notes. On the palate there is a meatiness and dark spiciness, a depth of fruit and chocolaty tannin, the balance lovely into a long finish that also suggests cellaring potential.
(2023) Botrytis-affected Chenin Blanc, this is luscious and fully sweet with 200g/l of residual sugar. After being fermented and aged in all new 400-litre French oak barrels the nose does show some toast and creamy, nutty warmth, but its mostly about honeyed apricot and butterscotch. Gorgeous palate, thick and luxurious, fruit moving into a tropical spectrum, but the key here is the limey intensity of the acidity to balance. Price for a half bottle.

Seven Springs

Another wine estate where owners Tim and Vaughan Pearson are personal friends, so it would have been rude not to visit while staying in nearby Hermanus.

I first told the Pearson’s story back in 2012, not long after the English couple had taken the plunge into buying their vineyard. This was the first time I’d visited their relatively new set up of winery and cellar door operation on the Hemel-en-Aarde road. It’s a beautiful spot, unspoiled and surrounded by pastureland and vineyards. Tim and Vaughan split their time between the UK, Italy and here in the Overberg, where they are resident through harvest and vinification.

(2023) A real sense of ripeness and sweet fleshiness to the fruit, lots of weight and texture. Full and sweetly rich fruit on the palate too, and plenty of acid and lemony, waxy texture in the finish.
(2023) A dry, savoury Sauvignon from a year of slow ripening so full flavour developed in the Sauvignon Blanc. Flinty and smoky, lots of citrus rather than tropical, and a fine, bone-dry acidity. Racing with pithy, zesty acid into a gently flinty, salty finish.
(2023) Matured in 3rd and 4th fill, French-oak barrels, there's a nicely nutty overlay to the citrus character. Lovely purity to the fruit on the palate, again there is that ripeness and sweetness with a rich mouth-filling texture. Really nice weight, and yet clarity into the finish.
(2023) Quite a deep pink colour here, and a fruity rather than mineral style. Nice berry fruits, the palate showing a redcurrant firmess with touches of rhubarb. Dry and racy finish. Price quoted is for the 2022 vintage at time of review.
(2023) Seven Springs age their Pinot for around nine months in older, French oak barrels. This vintage displays a lovely creaminess and harmony, with a background of nutty and smoky oak. Earthy, mushroom and truffle lead into sweet and solid fruit. Spicy and rich, but lovely harmony and length here. Note that price and stockist given is for the 2017 vintage at time of review.
(2023) The 2017 opens with a smooth, minty creaminess. It then moves into mushroom and truffle, but the palate maintains a racy edge with chestnut character as well as good fruit, length and balance.
(2023) Big smoky bonfire character on the nose, becomes quite European with a sizzle of bacon-fat, a bit of iodine, and firm red fruit. The palate freshens, giving some vegetal, rhubarb character as well as plum, the tannin and acid of the finish give a bitter cherry bite and savouriness.

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