Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa riding high

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South Africa riding high

I spent yesterday afternoon tasting my way through a frankly impressive line-up of wines at the New Wave South Africa tasting, organised by a group of UK importers. The tasting aimed to convey some of the vibrancy and excitement that has been building in the country for some time now. It brought memories of my trip down there earlier this year. South Africa has only really been on my map for the recent few years; I have to admit that the ‘classic’ South African style of wines had never really appealed to me and to some extend I still don’t much care for Stellies Bordeaux blends or banana-chocolate Pinotage.

This new wave of producers, mostly from the cool (temperature-wise very hot in fact!) Swartland region, is really reinvigorating the industry with their take on what is fast becoming the ‘new’ South African style: think texture, acidity, whole bunch, lower alcohols, old vines and atypical varieties. Drinkable wines as well as wines that challenge.

There are so many ‘young guns’ doing interesting things, it’s impossible to talk about them all. Aside from the great wines they’re producing, it is their camaraderie and unpretentious demeanours that really draw you in and make you want to be part of the revolution.

I think overall the white wines have the most potential as they are wonderfully textured and full of life whilst the two red varieties showing the best potential are undoubtedly Syrah and Cinsault.

Here’s my pick of the bunch:

Craven, Stellenbosch

Aussie dude Mick and South African belle Jeanine are causing a bit of a stir different in good old Stellenbosch. Their skin contact Clairette Blanche is honeyed and fragrant, the 10.7% Pinot Noir is fresh and vibrant but their best wine is a vivid, peppery Syrah from the Faure vineyard, oh so drinkable and red fruited.

Kershaw, Elgin

Chardonnay and Syrah made by English Master of Wine Richard Kershaw in cool Elgin. The Chardonnay is in a different league and I’m confident in saying it is one of the best currently made in South Africa.

Eben Sadie, Swartland

Eben needs no introduction. The man who put the Swartland on the map is not sleeping on his laurels though. His wines are constantly improving, the 2013 Palladius is quite possibly his best to date. I can’t wait to taste his Mencia at some point in the future and see how the Assyrtiko, Fiano and Greco he’s planted turn out!

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Porseleinberg, Swartland

Callie Louw makes just one wine from the schist soils of the Porseleinberg, a 100% whole bunch Syrah. In 2013 it’s fermented in a mix of concrete egg and foudre and is all structure, finely balanced sandy tannins, fresh acidity and concentrated black fruit scented with wild herbs.

Mullineux, Swartland

The single terroir wines are truly special, the 2013 Schist Syrah was, for me, the best wine at yesterday’s tasting. Such varietal purity and structure is not often seen outside of the Northern Rhone. Real class. Very hard to get, alas.

Crystallum, Hemel-en-Aarde

Sublime classy Chardonnays, ‘The Agnes’ draws comparison with the modern Aussie styles, showing a subtle struck match and grapefruit pith character. The ‘Clay Shales’ is supercharged with terroir and soil expression. The ‘Peter Max’ Pinot Noir shows soft, elegant hedgerow fruit and lovely balance, too.

Alheit Vineyards, Western Cape

Alheit’s white blend, Cartology, is considered one of the finest whites currently made in South Africa and it’s easy to see why. This wine is all about finesse and texture. It has richness and spice but also balance and floral elements.


And i am also very much looking forward to seeing Ryan Mostert’s Silwervis wines in the UK! Only tried the whites so far but have been very impressed. The NV Smiley is already on pour in Kensington Wine Rooms.


Chardonnay – the winemakers grape

Is a wine made in the winery or in the vineyard?

That wasn’t a question on one of my MW exams, but it could well have been. The argument about whether a wine is made in the vineyard or in the winery is long-lived and, in truth, there is no single answer to the question. Like every exam question an MW student has to answer it requires considering multiple differing, even polar opposite, opinions and illuminating them with real-life examples from vineyards and wineries worldwide.

This particular subject was brought into sharp focus at a tasting I attended recently where four cool-climate producers from different countries each discussed their philosophies when making Chardonnay. Winemakers or representatives from Domaine de Malandes in Chablis, Casas del Bosque in Casablanca, Chile, Philip Shaw from Orange in Australia and Jordan from Stellenbosch in South Africa all gathered in London to show two Chardonnays each.

From L-R: Philip Goodband MW, moderator, representative from Domaine des Malandes, Gary Jordan from Jordan,  Damien Shaw from Philip Shaw, Grant Phelps from Casas del Bosque

From L-R: Philip Goodband MW, moderator; representative from Domaine des Malandes; Gary Jordan from Jordan; Damien Shaw from Philip Shaw; Grant Phelps from Casas del Bosque

On the surface we had one old world producer and three new world, but all from cool-climate regions and all presenting Chardonnay – so how different could their winemaking techniques be? Quite, it turns out. Whilst there were indeed some similarities, these were eclipsed by the differences.

First up was discussion on what made these producers cool-climate. For Domaine de Malandes it was the northerly latitude of Chablis, whereas for Philip Shaw it was the altitude of vineyards at 900m above sea level. Casas del Bosque benefits from their proximity to the Southern Ocean with its cold Humboldt Current – resulting in fog and cold winds to temper the daytime temperatures. And Jordan has a combination both of altitude up to 400m and cooling influence from the Southern Ocean. All cool-climate, but all for different reasons.

Onto the winemaking. Grant Phelps, winemaker at Casa del Bosque, started his discussion by talking about his love for skin contact, with 100% of their Chardonnay undergoing skin contact for 5 days before pressing. He believes this extracts texture and flavour into the wine. In contrast, Gary Jordan doesn’t use any skin contact in his Chardonnay as he worries it could result in too high pH in the wine – meaning the wine could taste flabby and not age well. In his words “a few months on skins in the vineyard is long enough”.

Whether to use inoculated yeast or wild yeast was the next subject to be debated. Although Casas del Bosque have experimented with starting fermentation with wild yeast, they do inoculate in order to make sure the wine ferments to dryness – to avoid a so-called ‘stuck’ fermentation. In contrast, Philip Shaw use 100% wild yeast as they believe it gives more complexity and texture to the wine. And although Jordan do inoculate, Gary did point out that using wild yeast shouldn’t necessarily give a stuck ferment.

Malolactic fermentation – whether to convert the harsher, green malic acid into softer, creamier lactic acid – was another topic where opinions differed. For Domaine des Malandes 100% MLF is necessary due to the cool climate without the high sunshine hours found in the new world. Softening the high levels of malic acid is important in order to create a palatable wine. In contrast, Philip Shaw only does 20-30% MLF and Casas del Bosque don’t do any at all.

Onto the oak regime, and surprise surprise here were yet more differences in opinion. For their basic Chablis, Domaine des Malandes don’t use any oak – the wine is aged 100% in stainless steel tank. Even for their premier cru Montmains, they only use 20% oak and a mix of new, 2nd and 3rd year. Contrast this to Casas del Bosque where their Gran Reserva is aged for 11 months in 100% oak, 35% of which is new. Jordan’s Nine Yards Chardonnay sees even more new oak – it is all aged in oak for 13 months – 93% of which is new oak. In fact probably the only similarity here was that the oak was French for all the wines.

During barrel ageing winemakers can increase the texture of the wine and add rich complexity by stirring the lees (essentially the dead yeast cells leftover from fermentation) in the bottom of the barrels. Even here opinions differed. Casas del Bosque use the perhaps more traditional method of battonage – literally stirring the lees with a rod, whereas Jordan use barrel rolling so that they don’t have to remove the barrel bungs: meaning less oxygen contact with the wine.

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, all of these differing winemaking decisions resulted in completely different wines. Styles ranged from the steely, intensely mineral Chablis of Domaine des Malandes to the full bodied, fruity and smoky style of Casas del Bosque with Philip Shaw giving textural, delicate wines and Jordan ably walking the tightrope between ripe fruit and bright acidity. Each winery had its own unique signature, a result of considered winemaking decisions alongside each winery’s particular climate and terroir.

It was an enlightening tasting and I just wish I had been able to be a fly on the wall post-tasting as I’m sure the discussions and debate between the winemakers continued after the room had cleared. As with many topics in the world of wine, there is no right or wrong or black or white – winemakers simply have to make the right decision for them based on their grapes, climate, resources and a multitude of other factors. It makes for a fascinating discussion.


South Africa vs Australia: the Wine Challenge

Australia 1: South Africa 5.

No, that’s not the score from an alternative Ashes series (with an extra test thrown in for good measure). That was the score at a dinner held at the Vineyard Restaurant in Cape Town in January where South African wines were pitted blind against Australian wines and guests were asked to choose their favourite match. A bit of a wipeout for the Aussies and perhaps a result of the locals innately preferring the styles of wines they were more familiar with. So, a rematch was conceived on neutral ground.

The original dinner was the brainchild of Aussie-wine loving Roger Jones, owner and chef at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn (a rather lovely Michelin starred restaurant in Wiltshire) and so where better to hold the rematch than at his restaurant. And so a couple of weeks ago a group of 60 or so attendees converged on the Harrow with taste buds at the ready, primed to sip, sniff and slurp to discern the best wine matches for each course. Who would win the second series? At this stage there was all to play for.

Roger and Sue Jones getting the evening started

Roger and Sue Jones getting the evening started

After a crisp, refreshing glass of Welsh rosé from Ancre Hill as an aperitif it was down to the serious business of dinner and the blind tasting. Six courses lay ahead, each served with a pair of wines: one Aussie,one South African. A numbered tag on each glass meant we couldn’t lose track of the wines and for each pair we simply had to hand in the tag of the wine we preferred. Simple, right? Well, that was the idea.

First up were two sparkling wines served with a pot of Torbay crab and pea mousse. The first sparkler was a rosé, pale pink in colour with delicate berry fruits. In comparison, glass number 2 was a deep gold colour with intense toasty, spicy notes – a complete contrast. This was a tough decision as wine 2 clearly had more complexity, but sadly was just too intense for the food – it overpowered the delicate, summery flavours of crab and pea. In contrast, wine number 1 whilst perhaps less impressive to taste was a perfect match for the dish. So, the first course went to wine 1 for me and also for the room. Round 1 to South Africa by 37 to 29 votes (L’Ormarins Brut Rosé 2012, Franschhoek vs Brown Brothers Patricia Sparkling 2008, King Valley).

Sparkling wine with Torbay crab and pea

Sparkling wine with Torbay crab and pea

Citrus cured salmon with hummus, a quail egg and caviar salt was up next – an intense, deeply flavoured dish that at first taste suggested it might be a tough one to find a match for. We had two Rieslings to match this course, and again two completely different styles. And this is where I began to fear a little bit for the Aussies, for on tasting wine 1 I knew just what it was: an aged Aussie Riesling. A fabulous wine, completely dry with a smoky, mineral complexity to it – quite different to wine 2 which was floral and fruity and just slightly off dry. Personally I thought the Aussie wine was a much better match: the savoury notes complementing the earthiness of the dish – but I also worried that the style might be too left-field for some whereas the SA wine was perhaps easier to drink. So no surprises when the results were announced, round 2 comfortably to South Africa by 41 to 24 (Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2010, Barossa vs Hartenberg Occasional Riesling 2012, Stellenbosch).

Riesling with Citrus cured Salmon

Riesling with Citrus cured Salmon

The Chardonnay course followed, to match Lobster Dumpling served with a carrot and ginger purée and chilli jam. Again, a flavoursome dish. This was probably the toughest pair to decide between – really I could have chosen either. Wine 1 showed a bit more oak influence with a buttery, nutty flavours. The extra body in the wine from the oak meant that it matched the texture of the dumpling really well. In contrast, wine 2 still had some oak influence, but was fresher with brighter acidity and more minerality – something that really helped it to cut through the rich food. As I said, a tough decision. After much deliberation I finally settled on wine 2, preferring the fresher style. When the scores came in it seemed that it must have been an easier choice for many: another decisive win for South Africa 43 to 23 (Waterford Estate Chardonnay 2013, Stellenbosch vs Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2013, Adelaide Hills).

Chardonnay and lobster dumpling

Chardonnay and lobster dumpling

Onto the Pinot Noirs and surely it was time for an Aussie superstar? The dish was monkfish tail with chorizo, tomatoes and spinach – a great combination that should be a good match for a Pinot. Wine 1 proved to be a simple, fruity style full of red fruit flavours and a hint of star anise spice and some smoky, baked earth notes. Wine 2 was quite different – a more serious wine with real intensity and concentration. Along with red and black fruit flavours there was a lovely savoury herby flavour and bright acidity. It was a great match for the spicy chorizo. Probably the easiest choice of the night for me and the room agreed. Finally, Australia was on the board winning 40 to 26 (Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2014, Hemel en Aarde vs Dalrymple Single Site Pinot Noir 2012, Tasmania).

Pinot Noir with Monkfish,Chorizo, Tomatoes and Spinach

Pinot Noir with Monkfish,Chorizo, Tomatoes and Spinach

The final savoury course of braised pork cheeks with truffles, morels and mash was served with a pair of Shiraz. Wine 1 was a bit of a monster, full of sweet dark fruit, chocolate, spice and smoky notes. Dense and voluptuous – but balanced by bright acidity. In contrast wine 2 was more medium bodied with red fruit and a fresher style. However, it also had an overpowering charred flavour to it that for me dominated the wine. A shame as otherwise it would have been a clear winner. But, clearly the rest of the room disagreed and once again South Africa took the round – 40 to 25 (Penfolds Bin 150 Shiraz 2010, Barossa vs Eagles Nest Shiraz 2012, Constantia).

Shiraz with braised pork cheek

Shiraz with braised pork cheek

Finally, it was the turn of the pudding wines. Could Australia take back another point? The dessert was a combination of strawberry in different guises – pannacotta, gateau, parfait, macaron – all completely delicious, but all far too delicate for the sticky sweeties. A glass of moscato would have been perfect – as it was I chose the wine then pudding option: all the better to savour the wines. And actually there wasn’t a huge amount in it: both were seriously impressive. Wine 1 was full of dried fruit, candied peel and honey along with a lifted floral note to balance. Wine 2 was perhaps a touch more savoury in flavour – dominating on the caramel, marmalade and toffee notes – but overall sweeter in style. After some serious consideration (well, both were delicious so it seemed only fair to keep tasting them) I eventually plumped for wine 1. And when the results came in it was the closest score so far: 36 to 30 with South Africa taking the final round (Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 vs De Bortoli Noble One 2009).

So, there you have it – once again South Africa won 5 to 1. Pretty impressive, and I have to admit a bit of a surprise. Personally I think both countries fielded some truly excellent wines and the score could have gone either way. Perhaps some of the South African wines were a touch more easy-drinking and perhaps the large table of (very vocal) South Africans swayed the score. But, that would be taking too much away from the individual wines. The scores don’t show just how much analysis, conversation and interest these pairs created among the attendees. For once the wines were the stars of the night and it was fascinating to listen to what everyone thought, how they argued for their favourites and eventually decided their choices. It wasn’t an easy task and the food definitely took the back seat while everyone discussed the wines. At the end of the day South Africa won hands down – but Australia needn’t hang its head in shame.

And there’s always the next series where they will take on New Zealand…..


The magic of old vines – one for the geeks

I was lucky enough to attend an Old Vine Seminar put on by the Institute of Masters of Wine last week. It was interesting on many levels, the speakers were engaging and the 13 wines spoke volumes about the sort of complexity and intensity that one can expect from old vines. The moderator, Nancy Gilchrist MW, set criteria for inclusion as being wines made from vines 80 years of age or older.  The speakers were from South Africa, Spain, California and Australia and so (with the exception of a Greek Assyrtiko) were the wines.

So, what is it about old vines that makes them produce such high quality wine? According to Rosa Kruger, viticulturist from South Africa, it is their structure rather than their root system (the thick stems and wood provide apt reserves to keep them going) and the fact that the vines produce only the amount of grapes the climate allows them to. Old vines are generally better at preserving acidity and don’t rely on irrigation much, therefore are able to thrive in dry climates such as we can see in the Barossa in Australia. Their leaves don’t wilt as easily, which is better for photosynthesis and the vines stay fresher and greener and also build more disease resistance. Although how disease resistant a vine is depends very much on the variety, also. Australian winemaker Dean Hewitson has a great example of this – his 160 year old Mourvedre is thriving in his Old Garden vineyard whilst neighbouring Shiraz vines of a similar age suffer from eutypa dieback and botrytis.

There is no doubt that old vines are capable of producing serious, dense, mineral wines but, to be honest, the budding MW in me was looking for a counterargument. It never came. The seminar was an ode to old vines. And whilst this is completely on my wavelength and I definitely worship at the altar of old vines, I can’t help but mention some examples of where ‘quality equals old vines’ does not compute. There aren’t many, but some high profile producers have differing opinions. Vega Sicilia, Spain’s most famous winery, famously rip out and replant vines once they’ve reached 60 years. This is because these older vines become more susceptible to disease and produce bad fruit. Equally, the average age of vines that comprise Chateau Lafite is 45 years. Considered a baby by Barossa standards. Much like Vega, Lafite replant vines once they’ve reached 80 years, for similar reasons.  Some of the greatest and most famous wines ever produced were made from young vines. Take the example of the famous 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet which won the Judgement of Paris tasting 1976 and put Californian wine on the map. It was made from 3 year old vines. And, from what I am told, it is still going strong.  I haven’t tried it though we do have the ‘74 in our cellar, which I look forward to trying soon!

Here are some interesting notes and observations I made, some you may know and some you may not:

          The oldest vineyard in the world is in Maribor, Slovenia and the vines are 400 years old

          The oldest vine still living in South Africa was planted in 1781 and produces 20 litres of wine

          Old vines don’t necessarily mean low yields – there are 80 year old Sultana vines in South Africa that yield 40 000 tonnes/hectare

          Old vines don’t respond well to shoot thinning and green harvest so this is often not necessary

          Spain, which has the highest amount of old vine Garnacha in the world, has gone from

189 000 ha in 2000 to 69 000 ha now, thanks to the EU vineyard grub up schemes.

In 1912 there were 44 varieties grown in Rioja, now there are only 7.

The wines shown at the seminar were:

1.       Assyrtiko de Mylos, Domaine Hatzidakis, Santorini 2011 (here the vines are woven into a basket to protect them from the fierce winds). I prefer the 2012 vintage of this wine, sampled recently at Vinoteca with my fellow monkeys, but I do love its saline, nutty, volcanic goodness and chalky texture.

2.       Soldaat Grenache, Eben Sadie, South Africa 2012 (100% whole bunch, completely unoaked and made without additions aside from a small amount of SO2). Very elegant and restrained wine with lovely red fruit expression.

3.       T’Voetpad Field Blend white, Eben Sadie, South Africa 2012 (Semillon, Semillon Gris, Palomino and Chenin, 108 year vineyard). This blew my mind with its aromatic, mineral and chalkboard nose and beautiful juicy mouthfeel with a touch of maltiness and a cantaloupe melon and waxy finish.

4.       Boekenhoutskloof, Marc Kent Semillon, South Africa 2004 This was quite evolved already with butterscotch and nuts, though still had the waxy lemon and lanolin texture. Probably my least favourite wine though.

5.       El Puno Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain 2009 Made by the flying Scotsman and one of the speakers, Norrel Robertson MW, I liked its sweet spice and strawberry scented fruit, fresh acidity and granular tannins and the anise finish.

6.       Pena El Gato Garnacha, Rioja Alta, Spain 2011 (14 m in large oak) This was cedary and savoury in the mount with a bitter chocolate tone and some fennel on the finish. Food wine for sure.

7.       Flor de Silos, Cillar de Silos, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2005 I am biased as I did vintage here in 2011 but this is made by lovely people and it’s ridiculously complex and young still. There is very little evolution here showing this has miles ahead of it with its finely grained tannins and fresh ,plummy fruit.

8.       Numanthia, Toro, Spain 2009 (recently bought by LVMH) This wasn’t my bag, big with with a dried fruit character, liquorice and a lot of oak evident. Concentrated though very ripe with a fig and date character and high alcohol.

9.       Old Hill Zinfandel, Ravenswood, California 2008 Pleasure in a bottle. Not ashamed of itself and we all loved it for it. Quintessentially American flavours with cherry cola notes , sweet liquorice but this beautiful raspberry chocolate note that carried through to the finish and gave it freshness.

      To Kalon I Block Napa Fume Blanc, Robert Mondavi, California 2010 For someone, who doesn’t like Sauvignon Blanc unless it’s oaked, this was a delight with its lemon butter and passion fruit cream flavours  with a little vanilla and subtle grassy overtones.

11.   Elderton Command Shiraz, Barossa, Australia 2009 Made by the lovely people from the Ashmead family from vines planted in 1894. This has vibrant acidity and a spicy, peppery profile with blackberry juice flavours and the sweetness of American oak.

12.   Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre, Barossa, Australia 2010 Best vintage of Old Garden I have tasted to date and it’s the vintage we have this to thank for. This is normally very  intense and black-fruited but the 2010 has beautiful, seductive perfume and a red fruit profile with a touch of Chinese five spice.  Gotta put some away!

 Lenka (Evil Monkey)

I left my heart in the mountains

This year’s holiday destination is slightly out of the ordinary.  The itinerary comprises surviving on 5 hours sleep a night, working from sunrise to well after sunset and being on your feet all day; regulated working hours and weekends off?  Forget it. I had chosen to work a harvest, but I had chosen the winery with care.  The remote and breathtakingly beautiful Cederberg Mountain conservation area is a vast and largely deserted place of stark red rock formations, 5000 year old San Bushman paintings and at 1100m high, South Africa’s highest altitude winery; Cederberg Private Wine Cellar.  This is my home, my job and my heart for three weeks.

My little cottage is nestled into the mountains which pulse red at sunrise and sunset, next to it runs a perfectly clear river, my neighbours are a troop of baboons and my house mate is a large spider that I have named Bert.  Up here, far from civilisation I feel free and able to breathe, it is an exhilarating and liberating feeling, especially with no mobile reception or internet access. I have a short drive to the cellar each morning through the vineyards just as the sun begins to rise bathing the vines in liquid gold.  By 6am I am hard at work.

Despite my lumbering ineptitude and continuous stream of questions the team at Cederberg have taken me under their wing and shown me the ropes, always pausing to explain a technical detail for the umpteenth time.  The camaraderie, the intelligence, the dedication and the unadulterated passion with which they work makes this close knit team a rarity to behold and a pleasure to be a part of, all be it briefly.  I would love to go into detail about the research and experimentation they do with clones, rootstocks, aspect, soils, extraction techniques, yeasts, blending and barrels but it would never do justice to the combination of science and art that makes these wines so special.  Rather you will see a snapshot of harvest through the eyes of a rather clumsy, completely unqualified English girl who, for three magical weeks is part of that dream team.

 The alarm is unpardonably early each morning; I leave barely time to dress and have a swift coffee before I am high-tailing it to the cellar to make it there by 6am. The usual gloom of an early morning is swept away by the awesome vista and the excitement for the day ahead.  As each variety, sub plot and clone is vinified and fermented separately each day is a case of juggling 60 balls at a time, keeping track of which tank or barrel needs what attention. There is crushing, destemming, chemical analysis, settling, pressing, racking, yeast rehydration, inoculation, fermentation, pump overs and punch downs, more racking, barrel aging, malolactic fermentation and blendings to contend with.  This is happening continuously and simultaneously over a 3 month period as the different grapes are harvested at different times.  Wine I have swiftly discovered, is like having small, temperamental children; they need constant monitoring, they need their temperatures and sugars taken regularly, they need to be fed and for the reds, they need exercising to get a good breath of fresh air in the form pump overs every 4-6 hours day and night.  2am and you know where you can find the winemaker, in the cellar talking softly to the wines as he takes their vitals.  I know many less attentive parents.

My nails have never been long nor manicured (to the disappointment of my mother), however I have swiftly seen the futility of having anything but clipped nails.  Lacking a clipper of any sort I have had to resort to biting my nails off one by one.  Each day I have a new fear to face.  Cleaning out the pneumatic press is the first I was challenged with.  This involves climbing into a large, cylindrical metal coffin, your access point is a small hole hovering over a rotating blade (hopefully inactivated at this point) within which you must scoop out the grape skins before hosing it out.  Claustrophobia was the least of my worries – being pressed alive was a far more pressing concern (excuse the pun).  However I have now discovered that the inside of the press has  wonderful acoustics and I keep my mind occupied by blasting out a self-composed compilation of dodgy 80’s anthems.   Apparently the press is not sound proof.  When I emerge 20 mins later I am soaking wet with grape skins clinging to my hair, eyelashes and clothes but you can eat your dinner off the inside of the press.

Shovelling the skins out of the tank for pressing is another fear factor moment.  This requires shimmying up the tanks (which are not at ground level) and manoeuvring yourself through a tiny hole in the side of the tank (an even harder endeavour on the return journey when you are slippery with juice) and lowering yourself into yet another metal coffin slick with skins often reaching waist height.  These have to be shovelled out of a small hole at the base of the tank into the press.  This is hard physical graft, a great substitution for the gym I have decided.   Topping the barrels (to prevent oxidation and make up for the ‘angels share’ lost to evaporation) is another job requiring acrobatic skills.  The barrels are stacked 5 high and I again find myself clinging precariously to the side of a sheer wall of barrels as the stack keens alarmingly to one side, hauling myself up until I am to reach the elusive top layer.

At the heart of the gruelling hours, the physical frenzy, the need for absolute accuracy and scientific understanding, not to mention being able to anticipate what each individual wine needs before it knows itself are the dream team:  David, Tammy, Luzaan and Alex (despite much confusion this is boy Alex rather than ‘Tannie Groot Lay Gat’, my affectionate – I hope – nickname).  A group of incredibly talented yet humble people who fill the winery with laughter, banter, energy and song (ok the latter is mostly my contribution) even when the heat is on.  This has cemented my belief that in order to make good wine one must first have great grapes (something the Cederberg has in spades due to the complete lack of virus or downy mildew) but in order to make a great wine you must have great people working with those great grapes, again something Cederberg has in spades.  Taste the soon to be released Wild Ferment Barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir and you will see exactly what I mean.

I am bruised, I am cut, my feet are swollen and I am exhausted yet I have never been so happy or so inspired.


Shoot, Shag, Marry

Tastings that I host are rarely the intellectual, note taking, dickie-bow wearing sessions for which the wine industry became dubiously famous.   Despite my most earnest attempts to bore people with tales of clonal selection I always find myself ending up in some animated characterization of the wine – an unconscious reaction to the glazing over of people’s eyes.  Monday night was no different.

Taking a back seat at this particular tasting, the host made the somewhat erroneous decision to ask me what the wines reminded me of.  The three reds in question were a South African line up I know intimately; the Cederberg Merlot/Shiraz 09, Cederberg Shiraz 09 and the Cederberg V Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 08.  The wines are so different in style and character that I couldn’t help but liken them to women.  The merlot/shiraz with its delicately perfumed red plum fruit, soft tannins and juicy acidity is friendly and easy to enjoy the company of, a friend you can sit round in your PJ’s exchanging idle gossip with.  The Shiraz is a wonderfully structured powerhouse of complex spice, meaty richness and muscled beauty.  She had to be Jolie’s portrayal of the all action heroine Lara Croft. The V Generations is achingly elegant; the silken tannins and beguiling perfume that lingers long after the wine has gone recalls the effortless and understated beauty of Audrey Hepburn.

The gentleman to my left immediately got into the spirit of things and proceeded to play  ‘shoot, shag, marry’ with the wines.  Merlot/Shiraz was lovely but the simplest of the 3 and though he could enjoy her company for a night wasn’t sure he’d want a conversation the next morning over the breakfast table = shoot.  The Shiraz, well he was definitely up for a memorable night of fun with her, but possibly too strong willed for a long term relationship = shag.  The V Generations?  Well who wouldn’t want to marry Audrey.