Tasting Notes: ‘South Africa: New World, new quality’; 8 February 2017, presented by Keith Grainger AWE

A really interesting tour of wine-making, historical and current aspects of life in South Africa from a wine-maker who has lived there, illustrated with some high quality wines characteristic of the country……..

2016 Six Hats Sauvignon Blanc – Tulbagh, Western Cape (M&S £8.00)  A very subtle style of New World Sauvignon Blanc, no in-your-face gooseberries and nettles, with just a hint of forest floor and, although not oaked, very soft on the palate. Totally unlike the strident New Zealand way with this grape, closer to the Loire but no mineral or steel  as with a Sancerre. Grown on a high site and, interestingly, away from the coast; a very good and pleasant wine, well liked.

2013 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay – Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Wine Society £21.00) I know this wine quite well from older vintages.  Aimed at being a Burgundian-style wine, a lovely oaked take on this most traditional of grapes. The oak was not to everyone’s taste but this is no Aussie buttery number; bigger than your Montrachets and Pouilly-Fuissés but complex and elegant on the nose and long on the palate; a winery to visit, welcomed with a roaring log fire!

2015 Tania and Vincent Carême “Terre Bruleé” – Swartland (Wine Society £10.95) First of two Chenin Blanc wines, from this versatile grape that is somewhat looked down on across much of France but which has thrived in South Africa. Vincent Carême hails from Vouvray in the Loire and this showed in their wine, with its gentle nose of pear, quince and maybe a touch of honey;  although dry, there was a definite hint of sweetness on the palate, smooth but maybe just lacking a touch of balancing acidity.

2014 Ken Forrester “The FMC” – Stellenbosch (Great Western Wines £25.00) A personal favourite of mine and very popular on the night, this is very definitely not a subtle style of Chenin Blanc!  With a small proportion of botrytised grapes, the residual sugar gives this wine its hint of honey and honeysuckle alongside a whole bowl of exotic fruits (pineapple, guava?) on nose and palate, just about held in check by delicious acidity Apparently a little dryer than previous vintages that I have tasted, still a real fun and high-quality wine, worth the big price tag in my humble opinion.

2013 “Iwayini” Shiraz-Mourvedre – made at the Alheit Winery, Hemel-en-Aarde (n/a on the market!)  This was the wine that yours truly and friends chose the grapes for, had vinified and blended, then shipped to the UK. Not in the same league as what followed and, as Keith said, Shiraz is not easy to get right, but notwithstanding, a very pleasant and easy-drinking quaffable food wine that was liked by several of us – still have some left!

2014 Charles Back “Stonedance” Shiraz – Darling (M&S  £10.00) Quite a young Shiraz from one of the legendary SA wine makers, not a complex wine, characteristic dark fruit and black pepper notes on the nose and clear smoky flavours, maybe even very slightly “rubbery” hints, on the palate, which is so very typical of SA reds and quite easy to spot. Whether this is considered to be a good thing or a small fault is debatable, opinions are split on the matter.  A pleasant but, for me, unremarkable wine, smooth and not very tannic considering its youth, which made it popular with those who like the lighter style of shiraz.

2013 Tormentoso Mourvedre – Paarl (Great Western Wines £10.95) A bit of a marmite wine on the night, my favourite red of the tasting but not to the majority taste.  Dark savoury berry-fruit nose with touch of barnyard, the oak very subtle. On the palate, firm but not aggressive tannins as expected, with spicy and herbal notes, and the typical dry and savoury finish; no smokiness in evidence, a beautifully balanced wine – who says Mourvedre is just a blending grape!

2011 Kanonkop Pinotage – Simonsberg, Stellenbosch (Wine Society £21.00) From the classic South African red grape (and another marmite one at that!), Kanonkop are reckoned to make the best Pinotage. It was very dark and aromatic; I detected green pepper notes and a slight kerosene hint on the nose, and a very rich palate with sous bois (“undergrowth”) shades and some “green-ness” on the palate, but very little sign of the smokiness often found with lesser Pinotages; at 14.5% there was a touch of alcohol burn as well, suggesting a lack of balance. Probably a wine from old vines, hence the depth and long finish – overall a classy wine.

2003 Morgenster, Lourens River Valley, Stellenbosch (Great Western Wines £22.00) A Right Bank Bordeaux style, with 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc and a year in French oak, pretty much a classic St. Emilion blend. Does it work? I think so, the nose has a touch of cedar and cigar-box, and on the palate plenty of red berry fruit and herbal  undertones, no sign of the jammy flavours that hot-weather Merlot can suffer from. Overall a medium-weight wine of genuine class – personally not my favourite Bordeaux style but this IS South African and very good if offering very little regional character – fairly good value as well.

John Harris