February 2005 – Brampton, Boekenhoutskloof, Flagstone

These might be wines that have been reviewed during the month on wine-pages, or have appeared in my newspaper column, or they may be wines from a recent tasting that hasn’t yet been written-up in a full-length report. There is a growing archive of these four of the best choices each month.

I spent 16 of February’s 28 days in South Africa, on an intensive fact-finding tour of the best established and up-and-coming estates, as well as eating and drinking at some fabulous restaurants. No apologies therefore for the Cape-focused nature of February’s Four of the Best.

under six pounds
Brampton (South Africa) Sauvignon Blanc 2004
This cracking Sauvignon Blanc from Rustenburg has been a real hit in the UK, so much so that new vintages have been selling out long before the next is released. You may now have to pay nearer £7 for it. A former “wine of the week” in its 2001 vintage, the fresh as a daisy 2004 bursts from the glass with masses of crunchy, vibrant, ripe melon and mango fruit and just hints of a greener, and more passion fruit character. There is so much verve and life on the palate, with a flood of lime fruit, more of that exotic lychee and tropical fruit, and a great scything cut of citrus acidity. Delightful stuff. Many merchants still show the 2003 vintage, but try Great Grog, Andrew Chapman.

under a tenner
Porcupine Ridge Syrah (South Africa) 2003
The first of a double hander from Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof. Porcupine Ridge is Boekenhoutskloof’s supermarket brand, with around 25,000 cases of this cuvee produced. It is made from bought-in fruit not in the estate winery, but in one half of the Franschoek cooperative’s cellars. Marc rents this space from the co-op in order to produce the volume he requires, but has totally re-equipped his half of the cellars and has installed his own cellar team. Two-thirds of this wine is aged in French oak barrels, giving it a very elegant, cedary, aspect on the nose, a certain schisty quality, and a lovely core of black fruit. There’s a little violet note in an aromatic profile that is unusually complex in a £7 Syrah. On the palate there is copious black fruit that is bittersweet and svelte, with touches of black chocolate and a fine tannin and acid balance. Over-performing at the price, and excellent. £6.99 Somerfield, Waitrose, Handford, Swig, The Wine Society..

under twenty
Boekenhoutskloof (South Africa) Semillon 2003
When I tasted this wine with winemaker Marc Kent I commented immediately that I thought it more reminiscent of a white Pessac-Leognan than a Hunter Valley Semillon (if we can put these two most famous Semillon-based wines at either end of some theoretical scale). This seemed to please him, as he leaped from his seat to retrieve one of his last dozen bottles of the 1999 vintage to let me see how the wine ages (very well is the answer). The 2003 comes from 30-year-old vines, and spends 13 months in new French oak barrels. There is 5% of Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. It is picked early to retain acidity, but still has a full, creamy, butter and lemon-scented ripe nose with tons of developing waxy character. On the palate there is a fine, lime-fruited core to this wine, supported by toasty oak that adds breadth and warmth, before a lemon and mineral acidity into the finish. The complex waxy flavours and touches of buttery herbs persist, in a very serious Semillon of great style. Excellent. £16 – £19, Waitrose Canary Wharf, Handford, Swig..

sky’s the limit
Flagstone Winery (South Africa) Mary Le Bow 2003
I had dinner one night with Chris Williams and Bruce Jack, two of the Cape’s best young winemakers. In an evening of great wines, a couple of brilliant reds stood out. Chris’s “The Foundry” Syrah 2002 is an absolutely gorgeous wine, co-fermented with a little Viognier, that is imbued with all sorts of herb and garrigue notes amongst copious black fruit. As it costs “only” £15 – £17 per bottle, I have given the “Sky’s The Limit” trophy to another fabulous wine, Bruce Jack’s first release of Mary Le Bow, a blend of 62% Cabernet, 25% Shiraz 25% and 13% Merlot from a single vineyard high in a remote mountain Kloof. Bruce did explain the connection with Christopher Wren’s Mary Le Bow church in London that gives this wine its name, but that’s for another time. It has a beautifully creamy, pure, black-fruited nose, suffused with coffee and spice and a fine, dark, plummy core. The palate is juicy and fine, with a lovely purity of blackcurrant fruit, creamy vanilla, and then and edgy push of crisp, supple tannin and deliciously lip-smacking acidity. Savoury and perfectly-balanced, this is a great standard bearer for modern South African Bordeaux-style wine. £28.50, The Wine Society