Cape Vintners Classification

Possibly the Cape Vintners Classification requirement that would be the easiest for the consumer to understand is that relating to the wines’ consistency. To qualify for the CVC seal, five vintages of a wine have to reflect uniformity of variety or style, if a blend, terroir and quality as assessed by a panel, including independent judges.

Twenty two of these accredited wines (11 pairs of a young and older wine), from 11 producer members were presented to guests including media, retailers and WOSA, at Kanonkop last week.

To a certain extent, all fulfilled that goal, some with more conviction than others. Anthonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2017 and 2019 provided a positive start, showing natural freshness, vitality, a bit of grip and subtle yet concentrated flavours, as reflected in many Skurfberg chenins.

Lourensford Viognier was less successful, possibly because of some differing vinification methods. I didn’t have a chance to try the Cap Classique served as a welcome drink.

Of the chardonnays, the pair that gave me most pleasure were the De Wetshof Bateleur 2018 and 2009, which clearly reflect the same site – showing bright lemon and chalky textured – they also benefit from vine age, the vineyard,  planted in 1987, was one of the earliest. A less heavy hand with oak, especially in the younger wine, enhances their distinction. If I didn’t care so much for the Almenkerk, nor DeMorgenzon, both presented 2014 and 2018, the wines maintained the seal’s objective.

Tasting is subjective and I know Diemersdal pinotage wasn’t popular with everyone, yet the 2017 and 2019 were of a family, one in riper, juicier mode with fragrant raspberry flavours and telling yet well-formed tannins.

It was difficult to say whether Groot Constantia Gouveneurs Reserve Red 2006 and 2017 follow the required pattern, as the former had the typical tomato-leaf notes of stressed, virused vines. By 2017, new cleaner vine material was producing the purer, riper fruit one might expect..

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995 and 2017; need more be said. Well, yes, the ’95 does. I’ve had two bottles recently, one corked and the replacement, not entirely clean. This third was, thankfully, perfect, as was 2017, my first taste of this vintage. It’s a glorious wine, beautifully balanced, precise, fragrant fruit, seamlessly enjoyable now but with a great future.

Morgenster Estate 2003 has also matured excellently with lead pencils bouquet, cabernet-led structure, well-fleshed tannins and properly dry. The younger 2018, which includes petit verdot with dab, merlot and cab franc, seems fleshier, less austere and bigger but also the framework for ageing.

Vergelegen GVB 2001, this bottle at least, has reached the end of its life, noticeably drying out; 2015 more than makes up for it with gorgeous cedary scents, fresh and silky blackberry flesh and polished tannin support.

The final pairing was the most interesting, simply because of the odd bed-fellows. Waterford The Jem mixes Bordeaux varieties (mainly cabernet) with Rhône (Shiraz, mourvèdre) with Italy (sangiovese, barbera). Percentages don’t differ that much in 2005 and 2015; but the former seems more cabernet-oriented, 2015 with more spice, suppleness and Rhône-like. Most attractive and intriguing.

Back to the meeting and its main purpose: an update from CVC Chairman, Johann Krige on recent developments in this body, which has slumbered for some eight years since its premature launch.

So what is meant by ‘member’, ‘regulations’ and ‘seal’?

CVC seal which may be applied to accredited wines

There are currently 15 members; In addition the above farms, Delaire Graff, Lanzerac, Simonsig and Wildekrans are also part of the group. Criteria for becoming a member include grapes have to come from a vineyard owned by the producer or under a long-term agreement (it used to require the property to be registered to produce Estate wine but that was dropped.) The origin is important in order for the wine to reflect a sense of terroir, the distinction and consistency required to qualify for the seal, which confirms success in the five-year tasting.

I asked Johann Krige how many wines have failed this tasting; without having exact figures, he reckons about 40%, which does suggest a credible level of rigour.

Farming in an environmental sustainable way, and ethical treatment of all involved, whether on the home farm or outside vineyard are required; so IPW and WIETA accreditation are necessary.

Harking back to the old Estate system, parts of which the CVC has carried over, the farm has to have a cellar and a tasting room whose ‘facilities exceed global expectations’, however those are defined.

If the goal of raising South Africa’s image for wines of distinction and priced accordingly, that is admirable and as it should be, but if the concept remains complicated to those who attended the briefing, then it must mean little to nothing to the average consumer. One only has to think of the Old Vine Project and Chenin Blanc Association, how both have been understood and enthusiastically taken up by consumers, to realise that the ‘keep it straight and simple’ message regularly conveyed meets with success.

This is what the CVC is going to need to do to make any impact; they now have a new, younger group of Board members, including Joris Almenkerk, Thys Louw and Johann de Wet. They need to bring dynamism and clarity to marketing the CVC if it’s not to slumber on. For now, I retain some doubts.

Ten-year-old tasting

Innovative, intriguing and in vogue. South Africa has grown an enviable reputation for white blends. On one side are the innovative, Chenin-based with a kaleidoscope of other varieties; on the other, the classic Bordeaux style of sauvignon blanc and semillon.

A bit of history before coming to last week’s tasting of a small selection of highly-regarded 2011s from South Africa and Bordeaux.

Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends, a strong category in Bordeaux and South Africa

Charles Back was ahead of his time when he produced the first of these classic blends in 1987 under the Charles Gerard label. It was short-lived, partly because the semillon vineyard was uprooted, making way for new semillon material.

All fell quiet on the category until 2001. That year, Steenberg made a prototype blend, before hibernating the idea until 2007 and the maiden Magna Carta. There was no hibernating after André van Rensburg’s maiden Vergelegen White 2001, a 78/22 sauvignon blanc/semillon blend; he subsequently raised semillon to lead partner. The blend in our 2011 was 50/50 with the sauvignon specified as from Schaapenberg.

The first Cape Point Vineyards wine labelled Isliedh was a 2004 barrel-fermented, straight sauvignon blanc; the blend followed in 2005 (85 sauvignon/15 semillon) and received immediate recognition with a 5* Platter rating and White Blend Trophy on Trophy Wine Show.

Tokara White, as it was first known, also launched in 2004 with a straight barrelled sauvignon, adding 21% semillon in 2006.

Under Gottfried Mocke, Chamonix joined the party a little later, in 2011 with the maiden Reserve White, 60/40 sauvignon/semillon. Recognition was immediate with a Platter 5* rating.

There is good history and track record in these five blends, which, I’d argue, established the category’s reputation for both quality and ageability. Pitching them against top Bordeaux blancs, Domaine de Chevalier and Chateau de Fieuzal was a good test of how they shape up against quality international counterparts.

James Pietersen CEO of Wine Cellar and Winemag’s editor, Christian Eedes joined me for this blind assessment. Double blind in the case of Tokara and Isliedh, which I decanted into other bottles, due to the former’s screw cap and the latter’s distinctive bottle shape. We all agreed the South African wines showed very well, except for Magna Carta which was oxidised, though Christian found features he liked.

Is there any sense of place? De Fieuzal stood out as being French but the local wines were harder to pinpoint, apart from Tokara, which, like the rest of the range, has an intense purity. It was by far the fruitiest wine with clear blackcurrant leaf, naartjie definition and freshness.

In the early days, the blends were much fruitier; as the category and the serious wines have developed, texture has become a defining feature, something helped by the blend percentages becoming more settled. Generally, either 70/30 or 60/40 with sauvignon leading. This combination can give the wines great longevity; although all in the line up showed interesting evolution, with semillon’s waxy richness braced by sauvignon, most have good life ahead. They make versatile and great food partners, especially with age.

If white blends are generally strong, the sauvignon-semillon category at this level is excellent and the wines may be bought and aged with confidence. Sadly, they are under-appreciated and under-bought. Ideally, they are restaurant wines, where a sommelier can recommend complementary dishes.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable tasting of quality wines; a pity about the Steenberg, which may have been a single bottle rather than general fail.

I left James and Christian to score but we all ranked the wines. The results as follows:

  1. De Fieuzal
  2. Cape Point Isliedh
  3. Vergelegen GVB
  4. Domaine de Chevalier
  5. Cape Chamonix Reserve
  6. Tokara Director’s Reserve
  7. Steenberg Magna Carta

Tokara

Tokara. For some, that name may mean little to nothing; those who enjoy wine may recognise it as a wine farm, while the serious wine enthusiasts should be able to place it on a map, reel off some of the top wines, the name of the winemaker and when they last visited the farm.

A visit for most is contained to the tasting room, restaurant or separate deli/bistro. It’s a confident and brave producer who invites one member of the media to spend several hours touring the farm, tasting from barrel and some of the new and current vintages. I hope there was more confidence than bravery in the Tokara’s team invitation to me to experience this behind-the-scenes tour. I certainly went believing my opinions to date would suffer little negative change, but it’s always as well to keep an open mind.

Tokara’s first bottling was in 2001, released under the Zondernaam (No name) label, the first Tokara wines appearing in 2005, a much-anticipated event and not one to be hurried; planning is central to progress. The team’s belief has always been ‘get things right before they come under the public gaze’, rather than correct them afterwards.

The vineyards, originally planted across the late 1990s, have enjoyed the practised, professional care of Aiden Morton since 2000. Importance is usually attached to a long-term winemaker but a long-term viticulturist is even more important; any winemaker worth his or her salt, will be able to make smart wine out of quality fruit. Tokara was one of the early producers to make use of infrared aerial imagery to monitor vigour in the various blocks, a useful tool in precision viticulture.

Wine quality was set from the start; balance and structure are properly observed, even with alcohol levels on the high side. If the fruit was a little too pure in a New Worldly sort of way in the early days, there is now greater depth and character. Cementing their reputation is an enviable ability to age well.

Angus Taylor’s Dionysus with me to give perspective

Being offered a glass of bubbly is no bad way to start the day; Tokara might not specialise in MCC, but the Brut 2013, from Elgin chardonnay and seven years on lees is no ‘have to have side hustle’, rather has great finesse. The 20-hectare Elgin farm, Highlands, produces eye-wateringly good sauvignon too, viz the flinty, well-fleshed 2019.

Winemaker, Stuart Botha was already excited about 2021 whites when the grapes were still hanging, ‘fantastic analysis’ he enthused as we and GM, Karl Lambour, taste sauvignon and semillon destined from the consistent Director’s Reserve White, from barrel. Block selection, fruit profile, yeast strain isolated for texture – the plan is assembled from experience and with an end result in mind.

Tasting Telos 2020 with Stuart Botha & Marketing Manager, Suzanne van Dyk

Never is that more clear than when we squeeze down a row of stacked Taransaud barrels. ‘Telos 2020’, Stuart informs me of the handsome, lustrous liquid he releases from a thief into my glass. When launched three years ago, the maiden Telos 2015 caused much excitement among the chattering classes for its R4000 price tag. I was sceptical, as I am of all these high-priced newcomers; I did have to taste it at least twice before I appreciated what a serious, ageworthy wine it is. But what is one vintage of a limited quantity? Hardly something to make a lasting statement. Telos, I now learn, is being made every year. From an 18-year-old vineyard, it’s ‘Just four of the best barrels of cabernet in the cellar: 1186 bottles, 1000 for sale, 100 for the vinoteque and 86 for promotions,’ Karl Lambour gives the precise breakdown of a wine I believe will genuinely achieve icon status.

Can’t afford, don’t want to pay R4000 for a bottle of cabernet? The pleasure of proper cabernet (fine grape tannins and all) can be had for R125 in the Premium Cabernet 2017, a wine of quality, 120 000 bottles quantity and incredible value.

In between lies the Reserve Cabernet, introduced in 2013 and the prototype for Telos; current 2018 is richer, layered and with a potential that warrants R350.

Now to explore the lay of the land, except the famous views over Stellenbosch and False Bay to the Peninsula from the Simonsberg were not forthcoming thanks to thick smoke blown over from a large fire above Franschhoek. I have to take Karl’s word there are 64 ha of vineyard and 20 ha of olive trees somewhere around us. The drive down the berg led to a most curious project.

Smoke from the Franschhoek fire obscuring the Simonsberg & the sun

GT and Anne-Marie Ferreira, owners of Tokara, live on the farm; what I had now been brought to see is nursery where mosses are being nurtured for Anne-Marie’s Japanese garden, inspired when she and GT visited that country in 2019. The old tennis court is being transformed into the garden, as detailed in its planning as only a Japanese garden can be. It is scheduled to be finished by September, which says much for the work ethic put into it.

GT and Anna-Marie Ferreira’s ex-tennis court under transformation into a Japanese garden

There are fabulous plants and trees all around, the Ferreira’s are planting many more of the indigenous kind on the farm; there are amazing works of art too. Most striking is the Angus Taylor Dionysus a 4.2m high, 6.2m wide sculpture in granite. The scariest, to me, Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s clay oxen, more for where they are placed than in themselves.

A first visit to the Deli for lunch concluded a day of discovery regarding the scope and diversity of the farm and reconfirmation that pro-active viticulture, a sensitive winemaker and an overall plan will lead to an enviable reputation.

Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s clay oxen

Partnerships

Marriage is a partnership of give and take; in a successful marriage, the give and take are shared, compatible harmony achieved by neither party taking nor giving all.  The same applies in white and red blends.

If any partnership illustrates a perfect give and take scenario, it’s sauvignon blanc and semillon. A tasting across multiple vintages demonstrates the partnership in action, as just such a line-up of Constantia Glen Two proved.

First made in 2011, the wine has been more-or-less a 70%/30% sauvignon/semillon split, apart from that first one where semillon made up 40%.  To date, the semillon – clone GD1 for the geeks – has come from one block; three years ago, another was planted but has yet to be incorporated in the blend.

Constantia Glen Two 2011 – 2019

Where changes have been made is in fermentation vessels, which as we know today have an important effect on texture. In 2017 clay amphora was used for 5% of the blend. As at many other wineries, new oak has been toned down; it now hovers between 20% and 25%, French Acacia and Austrian oak the wood of choice. I’m happy to say it does make a very happy ménage à trois with the wine.

How does the give and take work in practice?

We tasted from oldest to youngest, often the easiest way for the palate to adjust, the older wines better settled and harmonised, the youngsters – especially with sauvignon – usually edgy and provocative.

Semillon fans, 2011 is right in your court. It is certainly on the take end of the spectrum, providing waves of heavy silk breadth before sauvignon gives a brightness to the tail, as it should. For Hunter Valley Semillon fans, the toasty, leesy notes reminded me of these Aussie wonders rather than what one might expect from 40% new oak.

If the older wines have an anticipated maturity, the colours have remained brilliant and youthful, as I hope the two photos illustrate. This is cool climate Constantia, where analyses for this style of wine are the stuff of which dreams are made (low pH levels, 3.1-3.3, intensifying acids hovering around 6.3-6.9 g/l) without any sense of imbalance, even taking into account a totally dry finish and later harvest than most other areas, which causes many chewed nails. Constantia Glen winemaker, Justin van Wyk will be starting his 2021 harvest in earnest only this coming Monday, 1st March. Across the winelands, harvest seems to be 10 days to two weeks later than usual.

Constantia Glen Two 2011 – 2014 (l – r)

One might expect Semillon to remain on the take for close to half of the 11 wines, as that is how the pair work; sauvignon leading in youth and providing freshness as semillon blossoms with age. Then comes 2012, lighter and fresher than its older sibling, sauvignon still holding sway with its tropical, peach and herb tang but not completely blunting its partner which adds valuable base notes. Ah well, there are always exceptions.

A happy partnership doesn’t rule out vintage difference, thank goodness; 2013 is a marriage of like minds totally in synch; harmony, richness and tension all in an elegant wrapping. A great example for anyone wondering what the style is all about. The younger 2016 isn’t far off; it’s full of life, expressive of both varieties with a lick of spicy oak egging on sauvignon’s herby tang.

2014, a lesser vintage which seems flat, best drink up, and 2015, which suffered from premature oxidation led to the youngest four and sauvignon’s turn to flaunt its youthful strength.

Sauvignon remains the punters’ favourite; 2018 and the newly-released 2019, as young as they are should appeal to them. As a semillon fan, I’d have patience, as I can find it in the depths of the older wine; both promise happy maturity.

Constantia Glen Two 2015 – 2019 (l – r)

This leaves 2017, my favourite: focus on texture – silky waves coating the mouth yet never heavy – the flavours savoury with an earthy note from semillon’s natural ferment, delivered with restraint. This is a love-affair worthy of Anthony and Cleopatra, with a happy ending many years down the line. The vintage plays an important role, as it does with so many others from this classic year.

For the quality and consistency – despite a few quibbles and the pre-mox problem with 2015 – these are all well-made. The R290 price tag is not unreasonable. Such an enjoyable, informative few hours of a wine which is the farm’s slowest seller. A sad story of such a happy marriage.

A happier ending. View of Constantiaberg across Constantia Glen’s vineyards

Saxenburg revisited

It’s a sad truth that the sheer proliferation of wineries today means one rarely gets to visit those that were regulars in years gone by.

When Vincent Buhrer, who with his sister, Fiona, now run Saxenburg, asked on my visit last week, when I was last on the farm, I could only answer ‘eons ago’. It was certainly long before these siblings took over around 2018 and when their parents, Adrian and Birgit Buhrer, still lived there – they still own the farm.

One thing I had never done on any of those long-ago visits was drive around the farm; Vincent’s offer was eagerly accepted. A brief orientation of the vineyards on a 2-dimensional map and we’re bumping along the multi-dimensional pot-holed tracks in his basic 4-wheel vehicle. Heading up the hill, we pass vineyards, blocks soon to be re-planted and, significantly, generous patches of fynbos. Diversity, sustainability and regenerative farming are an important focus for the young Buhrers. Vincent confidently reels off soils and the vineyard lay-out with changes to be made. He also hastens to assure that changes are incremental, ‘Fiona and I respect what our parents have done; we’re not a second generation coming in to do everything differently.’

Vincent Burher with Helderberg in background, Jordan vines other side of the fence
View over Cape Flats with False Bay to left

He comes to the farm wearing this confidence after starting and running a constructions company and, with a partner, setting up the successful Port2Port.

Pause at the top of the hill to appreciate the many vistas: Table Mountain and Table Bay to the west, the less-attractive spread of the populated Cape Flats passes by in front with False Bay shimmering in the south-east. Heading round the hill, the familiar memorable view of Stellenbosch Kloof, with Jordan the other side of the fence, and DeMorgenzon, lies before us.

Sailing down the hill by a less roller-coaster route, we head to the cellar and a tasting of Dirk van Zyl’s first vintage. Dirk, I knew from his time at DeMorgenzon, but now learned of his informative stage at Kleine Zalze; two valuable, quality learning experiences.

Vincent had told me that after long-time winemaker, Nico van der Merwe left, his assistant since 2005, Edwin Grace took over. His amicable departure in 2019 drew a raft of applications to take his place; a usual scenario in this ‘buyer’s’ market. It took only one short meeting with Dirk for Vincent to know he’d found the right person to take Saxenburg forward.

With 2020 his maiden vintage, there were only a few wines ready to taste. Of all the white wines I remember from earlier Saxenburg vintages, a joyous tropical-fruited, zesty sauvignon blanc stands out. Those features remain at the core but with added interest, compelling the drinker to look deeper than just for fruit. Some skin contact introduces a pleasing tactile sensation, as does time on lees. We can expect to see further skin contact on whites, ‘something I experienced a lot at Kleine Zalze,’ Dirk remarks. For a wine of such quality and interest, R120 is excellent value.

Socially-distanced Dirk van Zyl (l) and Vincent Buhrer

Sauvignon blanc often gets a raw deal, but the tide is now turning more rapidly thanks to winemakers’ rejuvenated interest in innovative techniques and a wider variety of vinification vessels.

There is also the traditional sauvignon/semillon blend under the Saxenburg Private Collection label. This pair are like ying and yang; sauvignon’s natural vivacity contrasted by its partner’s silky swirl, ageing in older oak here fuses the two. Cool-climate lemon grass and tangerine fragrance, some fresh honey flavours finishing crisp and clean, there’s much to enjoy now, with future potential recognised in this partnership. R185 ex-cellar is another offering super value.

There are only 526 bottles of Dirk’s third white, Winemaker’s Blend; it combines all four varieties grown on the farm, led by chenin blanc, for which Dirk has notable affection, especially since his stint at DeMorgenzon. Tanks, older oak and natural fermentation were in the vinification mix.

These three wines show a new face of Saxenburg: a face that’s lighter, brighter with greater dimension in both flavour and structure.

Dirk blended though didn’t vinify the Private Collection Chardonnay 2019; here too the idea is to lighten, brighten but also increase complexity. Less new oak (just 15%), larger format and light toasting of the staves and, as in other above wines, lees enrichment create a chardonnay with ripe nectarine, creamy richness energised by a riveting acid backbone.

Reds currently selling range from 2019 back to 2015 but I had a sneak peak at a new 2020 project. The variety probably most associated with Saxenburg is shiraz, or syrah as it is now to be known with more of a nod to Rhône than Australia; ‘not something that’ll be popular with all our long-time customers,’ Vincent Buhrer admits.  Already American oak on the Flagship SSS Syrah 2015 has given way to French oak only. Syrah might be Saxenburg for many but, strangely, the farm’s cabernet has enjoyed many important awards.

The team took great delight in showing me syrah from one vineyard with grapes from upper sandy and lower clay and cooler sections, both vinified in exactly the same way with two completely different results. To make a point, a further batch from the lower part was vinified in another way; the result, yet again different from either of the others. As Vincent had explained that new syrah vineyards are to be established on cooler, lower sites, which will provide yet another profile, the variety has an exciting future in store.

The work-in-progress project also features syrah.  But that is a story for later this year.

I can guarantee my next visit to Saxenburg will not involve eons!

Black voices

Many voices have been raised over the alcohol bans imposed since lockdown March 2020; some favour the total ban on sales, to free up space in hospitals for Covid patients, space that would otherwise be filled by trauma cases caused by alcohol abuse. Others, fearing an ongoing loss of jobs in all sectors of the tourism industry, believe a partial ban would better serve both all the carers and the economy.

These issues, as well as that of more vineyards being uprooted and replaced with more profitable crops, have been well canvassed. One that has received less attention is how the ban affects transformation, a vital component for a sustainable wine industry. I have heard few black voices being asked for their opinions. So many have battled the odds to get where they are today, what does the future hold for them?

Three highly-qualified and successful people in the wine industry kindly offered their thoughts.

Ntsiki Biyela

Ntsiki Biyela, a graduate of Stellenbosch University, founded her own wine company, Aslina Wines in 2017, is on the Board of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, an organisation training young people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds; she has also been nominated as Winemaker of the Year by the US Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Mandla Patson Mathonsi

Mandla Patson Mathonsi, currently Gauteng Regional Sales Manager for Spier Wine Farm, was Eat Out and Mercedes Benz Sommelier of the Year in 2014, Wine Director at DW11-13 Restaurant in Johannesburg and Sales Representative for Reciprocal Wine Company. He has completed Cape Wine Academy Certificate in wine, WSET 1 and 2, Michael Fridjhon’s Wine Judging Academy 2016 and, after three years as an Associate Judge, since 2019 has been a Judge on the Trophy wine Show.

Tongai Joseph Dhafana

Tongai Joseph Dhafana is the long-serving Sommelier at top Cape restaurant, La Colombe, where he is responsible for beverage listing, sales, food and wine pairing. He is a winemaker with his own label Mosi wines, judge and he captained the Zimbabwe team at the World Blind Tasting Championships in 2017. All this after fleeing Zimbabwe with his wife in 2009, long before discovering wine.

All three have suffered to some degree with the ban.  Ntsiki tells me 85% of her production is exported but she is now intent on growing the local market. This is now a longer-term goal, due to the ban.

Working for a large wine farm such as Spier, Mandla reels off multiple drawbacks of the ban: 30% of the business depends on wine tasting, on and off consumption are disrupted and new projects planned long before the ban are on hold. Worse are salary reductions, budget cuts, job losses, while ‘we still have to pay tax, school fees, rent and groceries.’

What of those who have a family to look after? Jo Dhafana admits ‘I have bills to pay, people to look after but if I’m not working, then no salary for me, as I was put on ‘no work no pay’ basis; that was the case between April and September last year and now again. This affects my family back home (Zimbabwe); my son, mom, siblings and my in-laws as I am the bread winner. I survived on my savings and the kindness of my understanding landlord.’

It’s a Catch-22 situation; all three understand why space was needed for Covid patients but believe there could have been a more nuanced approach. ‘Look,’ says Mandla, ‘people still have access to alcohol via the black market, then some are drinking harmful, homebrewed concoctions, which may affect their health.’ Jo argues that not all people who drink abuse alcohol and, anyway, there are regulations in place to curb such irresponsibility. Indeed, if only they were properly policed, I’d add! Ntsiki considers the total ban was justified during the festive season, especially New Year’s Eve, ‘But now people are back at work, I think the full ban is not required.’ Her suggestion is for alcohol to be sold on some days and within specific hours but to keep the curfew in place.

Jo, naturally, wishes for restaurants to be allowed to sell alcohol with all the Covid protocols. The current curfew, which means closing at 8 or 8.30, hardly makes it worthwhile for restaurants to open in the evening, with non-alcoholic drinks only on top of that. ‘The curfew should start at 11pm’, his idea would at least see people like him able to work.

I support Mandla who requests on-line buying and delivery be allowed (this was also mooted by Tesselaarsdal’s Berene Sauls who spoke to my colleague, Bubbles Hyland last week), but Mandla adds the amount of alcohol purchased should be limited. His last, and what should be everyone’s most important point, is to educate about responsible drinking and get rid of the cheap, rot-gut alcohol.

Ntsiki, Jo and Mandla have, through their own determination and hard work, raised themselves from completely non-wine backgrounds to be successful in their own fields. They and others like them are looked up to by other black newcomers to the industry; ‘If they can do so well, so can we,’. Probably more than anything else, these three lead by example in promoting transformation, but will the alcohol ban kill all that? Is there any incentive to enter an industry with an uncertain future?

The trio have different viewpoints here.

‘What is learned from the ban will positively help transformation as, once lifted, we will make sure there’s education about responsible drinking.’

‘So much good is being done for transformation and helping the communities by many wine farms; the ban is having a significant negative impact on this.’

The ban is affecting every business negatively, the wine industry and those industries that depend on it for operating.  Small businesses don’t have a buffer or cushion to fall on when the business is not doing well, so they will suffer even more or die. I can’t see this as a positive for transformation.’

Transformation in the wine industry is vital if the sector is not only to thrive but survive; the ban is having a detrimental effect financially across the board; it would be a gloomy picture if others, inspired to follow in the successful footsteps of Ntsiki, Jo and Mandla, were now to see no future in wine.  

Confidently pinot

Confidence is a quality that shouldn’t be underestimated, although confidence alone can seem boastful or arrogant. For its true worth to be recognised, confidence needs to be accompanied by knowledge and understanding.

There will be few, if any, who would disagree that the Newton Johnson family’s confidence in their pinot noir is justified. A confidence that admits there’s always more to learn, wine being a journey not a destination.

Pinot noir has become synonymous with the Newton Johnson name, thanks to a remarkable history since the first vintage in 2008 of the (then) Domaine and subsequently re-named Family Vineyards Pinot Noir. Of the 11 vintages released to date, only two have failed to achieve Platter’s top Five Star rating, the first in 2016, a blip after a run of eight consecutive Five Star vintages.

The first single vineyard labels appeared in 2012 and they too have gone on to emulate the senior member of the range.

Recognition isn’t just local; internationally, these pinots have featured in, among other publications, Decanter as among the best in the New World.

It all started with Bevan and Gordon’s father, Dave, who wrote his Cape Wine Master’s Dissertation on pinot. In 1995, Dave, Felicity and the two boys moved to Hemel en Aarde valley, planted vines and built a cellar. Some five years later, they purchased 40 hectares further up the valley, planting pinot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and Rhône varieties; a cellar followed, the first vintage vinified in 2007. With the property lower down the valley sold, the family decamped to their new home with an even better view in what is now Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley Ward. Today, the range as a whole, not only the pinots, is admired for both quality and character.

Giving context of the above: between planting the vineyards on their current property and the Five Star 2008 Domaine pinot, the Newton Johnsons, including winemakers Gordon and Nadia, spent much time getting to know and understand these vineyards, making experimental wines. They would have drunk bottles of international pinots, shared knowledge and wines with fellow pinot producers in the valley, a not unimportant point in the variety’s general good performance there.

This should help to explain the early and continued success of Newton Johnson’s pinot noirs.

I have bought every vintage of the Family Vineyards version since 2008, all vintages older than 2014 now drunk. Before opening the last bottle of 2014, I thought it would be informative to taste that and the four younger vintages (2019 is yet to arrive). Colleagues, Cathy Marston and Tim James joined me for this socially-distanced tasting.

It proved a good object lesson in continuity, a thread each of us found in these five wines. There was no fudging vintage difference in attaining that continuity; 2014 was a lighter year and, at the end of the road, there’s just a shimmer of strawberries and undergrowth. Best enjoy before they totally disappear.

One feature of these – and some other pinots – is their browner rather than purple colour, even in the darker, still youthful 2015. A bigger, more structured wine with more noticeable tannins, though still maintaining overall elegance. Fruit here is dark rather than red, there’s some spice too. A vintage that needs at least another two years to resolve.

So, I’d suggest pull out a bottle (but not all) of 2016 while waiting for 2015. I seemed to like it a little better than either Tim or Cathy. It’s a generous wine, with a silky, wraparound texture highlighting the ready aromatic display of raspberries, spice and sniff of undergrowth. Further ageing is possible thanks to a fine supportive layer of tannin.

If there’s any vintage you should be tucking away, it’s 2017, a great year for pinot too.  A satisfyingly precise, harmonious wine with a cool, fresh feel and the promise of future complexity in its spice and red fruits.

Another vintage, another expression of pinot; 2018 has yet to fully settle and integrate. It has a sweeter, red fruit profile, some oak stands to one side as does the structure from the fruit. Worth giving it a further two years but I don’t feel it’ll reach the heights of 2017.

The obvious family likeness contrasted by the individuality of each vintage; what better illustration of confidence.

A tale of two chardonnays

Two chardonnays, both ten years old; one from Franschhoek, one from Elgin; one with a recognised track record, the other multi-awarded as a youngster.

An intriguing taste-off between Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2011 and KWV The Mentors Chardonnay 2011, a theme that heralds a new year and, shortly, a new vintage.

But what is ten years beyond those two words? Who remembers what happened in 2011, either personally, in South Africa or globally that can give this time span some perspective?

In South Africa, there was a national Census in October and the Dalai Lama was refused a visa to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations (which raises the question, what will happen this year on his 90th).

On the sporting front, Charl Schwartzel won the Masters in Augusta and the IRB recognised Cecil Afrika as World Sevens Player of the Year. The Springboks and Proteas were less successful, both losing in the quarter-finals of their respective World Cups; the Proteas did then stage an amazing come-back in a thrilling test against the Aussies.

Internationally, the devastating Christchurch earthquake occurred in February; a month later, Japan was also hit by a strong earthquake, which set off a tsunami; Osama bin Laden was killed and, for fans, Game of Thrones premiered.

Hopefully at least some of these have stirred your own memories, but now to wine and vintage 2011. This is a summary of my vintage report for Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine guide.  ‘Good spring growth and flowering promised a larger crop than 2010. Summer was typically hot, dry and windy, requiring canopy management and irrigation to prevent sunburn and dehydration. Reds achieved ripe tannins at lower than usual sugar levels, resulting in lower alcohols; some excellent quality reds are promised. White varieties in cooler areas show intensity, elegance and great potential.

Sounds promising for this pair of chardonnays. Both wines have retained brilliant, fresh colours, the Chamonix slightly darker, The Mentors, lemony shot with green, but closures are important; The Mentors with a screwcap, Chamonix, a cork.

No surprise the Elgin wine under screwcap has lots of fresh, citrus vitality complemented by ripples of creamy lees and hints of toasty oak. While light of touch, there’s good intensity of flavour energised by bright acidity and a balanced 13% alcohol. The wine’s characteristics easily place it in Elgin, if lacking the complexity of some of the best. It’s attractive and would be justifiably popular; yet I still have the reservation I noted when I first tasted it in 2012; there’s a lingering sweetness (the residual sugar is just under 4 g/l, so technically dry) and grainy feel – despite that natural acidity. Maybe too much battonage? Regular stirring took place over the 80 days the wine remained on the lees. Whatever the cause, it is a detraction from the whole.

As one might expect, the cork-closed Chamonix shows more development without being over-developed. Breadth of ripe citrus, lees and toasty oak are harmonious, and create interesting tertiary flavours. Always well-structured, this vintage is no exception; a confident firmness supports the rich, weighty but never heavy texture, which itself is lifted by a well-integrated, enlivening acidity. It is easy to think of this Chamonix as a white wine made like a red wine but without the extra grip (or even the grip of some skin-macerated whites). The wine ends on a precise, classic dry note, the flavours happily lingering.

I can’t see either wine improving with further age, though properly stored, each should be good for another year or two – but why?

Both are good, the winemaker respecting the fruit and origin in each, which provides two very different wines. Each will have its fans, but, for me Chamonix is the more complex and ultimately better wine.

These and the other 2011 whites I’ve opened recently live up to my vintage report. Reds I’m not so sure about; I’ve seen very little written about them, but my feeling is they haven’t achieved that early optimism. I’d be glad to hear of any success stories but there won’t be any ten-year red wine tales from me.

Changing perceptions

What’s the first wine that comes to mind from Klein Constantia? Surely Vin de Constance, the one South African wine recognised worldwide. Winemaker, Matt Day wouldn’t be surprised, he admits this celebrated dessert wine has been the focus of attention until recently.

Yet, the first wine to make this Constantia farm’s modern-day name was the 1986 Sauvignon Blanc; the maiden commercialized vintage* from three-year-old vines that audaciously capped its peers by winning the Trophy for White Wine of the Year at that year’s Young Wine Show.  Precocious it might have been but it also proved a remarkable stayer. I noted ‘will age’ at the first media showing; when last tried around nine years ago, it was still very much alive, no botox needed!

(*Although it was the first sauvignon sold, there was a 1985 was made and a 1983 Rhine Riesling, both of which we tasted at that media event.)

Nearing the top of Klein Constantia's vineyards.
Nearing the top of Klein Constantia’s vineyards

It took until 2004 for then winemaker, Adam Mason to increase the sauvignon blanc range: Perdeblokke (named for the Percherons which were used in the vineyards), a specific site higher up the slope, was the first, then another break until 2012, when Matt Day, Adam’s assistant since 2009, took over the reins from him. That year, the wonderful Block 382 was introduced, followed in 2013 by Métis, the Pascal Jolivet joint venture and Block 381 in 2014.

As I chart the arrival of these new sauvignons, it strikes me how under the radar they are. Block 382 blew me away at Tim Atkin’s presentation of his South Africa 2019 Report 95+ wines. This is a sauvignon distancing itself by a long way from commercial offerings of full-force fruit & easy sweetness.

It took until last week to visit the farm and learn from Matt more about this and the other amazing sauvignons. So much has changed at Klein Constantia, including Matt who has positively grown in confidence and focus; now Hans Astrom lives in Switzerland, he is happy to have taken on extra responsibilities.

Altitude and aspects abound on Klein Constantia

A climb, even in a landrover, up to the top of these Constantiaberg slopes, is always a breathtaking – and breath-holding – experience. But an experience that brings home altitude is but one measurement; so many aspects, dips and curves. ‘See the chardonnay vineyard in the hollow below, it’s much cooler than this exposed sauvignon block next to us.’ Counter-intuitive, but thanks to his 11 years on the farm, Matt has an enviable memory-bank of the vines’ performance.

The view of and from Block 382 is as exhilarating as the wine, but Matt first pours the Estate’s Cap Classique from chardonnay, a palate primer if ever there was for the 2019 sauvignon from this wall of granite. Layers of texture, a granite-like firmness is the first impression with flavour, rather than fruit, following. Fynbos, fragrant but of dried herbs rather than floral, permeate the aromas and provide that sauvage character. As linear and bone-dry as it is, the underlying lees-giving weight brings balance and the goosebumps I’d experienced at Tim’s tasting a year back – except this was in the actual vineyard. More intense goosebumps!

Matt Day, Block 382 and the wine

Back in the cellar, it’s time to explore the other sauvignons, starting with the Rolls Royce Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, a wine of absolute integrity, uncompromising and great value at R150. Integrity means it ages well too: a recent bottle of 2015 maintained the classic fig, flinty notes, mouthwatering fruity acids and totally dry. It is now also vegan friendly, protein-stabilised with potato proteins.

Métis 2017 (R280), the current release, after vinification, spends two years in bottle before release. Skin contact provides a bit of tannin on the tail which contrasts with the quite silky texture. Spice, flint and savoury flavours are distinguishing features.

Perdeblokke 2018 is a youngster brimming with cheeky energy. Its linearity chases vigorously mouthwatering riot of tropical, fumé, blackcurrant and wild herb flavours across the palate. So moreish.

Clara 2019 is a newcomer to the range. Named for one of the stylish owners of Klein Constantia, Clara Hussey, it’s a blend of some or each of Blocks 382, 381, 372, 361 and Perdeblokke. All components are spontaneously fermented separately in barrel and aged for nine months, whereafter a decision is taken on the blend. Clara lives up to the sauvage in sauvignon with wild herb, dried fynbos and just a whisper of tropical fruit delivered in a clean, crisp manner and some subtlety.

These are fabulous, individual wines, the trouble is as soon as people see Sauvignon Blanc on a label, prejudices come into play. For those who don’t like the variety, they won’t bother trying them and for those who do, it’s likely the wines do not fit the normal sauvignon parameters. How to change perceptions?

Why don’t you remove Sauvignon Blanc from the label, I suggest to Matt. At least of the single block wines. It’s an idea he’s not averse to.

It’s also an idea that could get consumers to change perceptions about any number of varieties on which they hold fixed ideas. I remember Pieter Walser telling me one of his first customers said she didn’t like shiraz; he then poured her a red wine from an unlabeled bottle, sure enough she liked the wine – a shiraz! With winemakers’ attention focused on reflecting site rather than variety, this could be a bold but effective way to go.

Driving down from Block 382, Matt points out a newly planted vineyard of furmint, ‘For Vin de Constance,’ he confirms. ‘We’ve also planted petit manseng with the same purpose in mind but Muscat de frontignan will always be there.’ If, for many Vin de Constance is Klein Constantia, without the need of a varietal label, even she will evolve, rather like the new label adorning 2017.

Vin de Constance 2017 with its new label

Changing perceptions takes time but eventually leads to rewards all round.

Platter 2021

For this evening, I’m listing the five-star wines and Winery of the Year. Other results will be posted as they are announced along with a comment piece.

Many congratulations to Kleine Zalze, Owner Kobus Basson, Cellarmaster Alistair Rimmer & Winemaker RJ Botha for their seven 5* wines. Their large range covers wines at all levels and price, much at unbeatable value for quality. They are not satisfied to rest on these laurels but join the New Wave gang with exciting experiments Project Z, these to be released shortly.

WINERY OF THE YEAR

Kleine Zalze Wines

FIVE STAR WINES BY PRODUCER

AA Badenhorst Family

Kelder Steen 2019           

Red 2018             

Raaigras Grenache 2019               

Alheit Vineyards

Cartology 2019 

Magnetic North 2019

Hemelrand Vine Garden 2019

Lost & Found 2019

Nautical Dawn 2019

Anthonij Rupert Wyne         

Cabernet Franc 2014

Laing Groendruif Semillon 2017 

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Anwilka Anwilka 2017  

Aristea Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

ArtiSons         

The Mothership Chenin Blanc 2019

JJ Handmade Eight Pillars 2017  

B Vintners Vine Exploration Co Harlem to Hope 2019

Bartho Eksteen

Vloekskoot 2019

Houtskool 2019

Beaumont Family Wines       

Hope Marguerite 2019  

Vitruvian 2017  

Bellevue

1953 Single Vineyard Pinotage 2018

Pinotage Reserve 2017  

Beyerskloof   

Diesel Pinotage 2018

Faith 2016

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Noble Late Harvest 2017

Bon Courage Estate Jacques Bruére Brut Reserve 2012

Boplaas Family VineyardsCape Vintage Reserve 2018

Boschkloof Epilogue 2018

Botanica Three Barrels Pinot Noir 2019

Bouchard Finlayson Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir 2019

Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2019

Capensis Fijnbosch Chardonnay 2015

Carinus Family Vineyards

Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2018   

Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2019

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2019

Cederberg Private Cellar Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2019 

Charles Fox Cap Classique

Prestige Cuvée Cipher 2015

Prestige Cuvée Blanc de Blancs   2016

City on a Hill Wine Company White 2019

Crystallum

Cuvée Cinéma 2019

Mabalel 2019

David & Nadia

Elpidios 2018

Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2019

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2019

Plat’bos Chenin Blanc 2019

De Grendel    

Op Die Berg Chardonnay 2019

Elim Shiraz 2018

Sir David Graaff First Baronet 2016

Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2019

De Kleine Wijn Koöp 

Debutant White 2019

Road to Santiago 2019

De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2018

Delaire Graff Estate Laurence Graff Reserve 2017

Delheim         

Grand Reserve 2017

Vera Cruz Pinotage 2017

Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest 2019

DeMorgenzon

Chenin Blanc Reserve 2019

De Trafford Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Syrah 393 2018 

Merlot 2016

Straw Wine 2017

Chenin Blanc Reserve 2018

Elevation 393 2014

Dewaldt Heyns Family Shiraz 2017

Diemersdal

Pinotage The Journal 2018

Pinotage Reserve 2019  

Sauvignon Blanc The Journal 2019

Dorrance Syrah Cuvée Ameena 2019    

Ellerman House Hotel & Villas The Ellerman 2018

Fairview

Cyril Back 2016 

La Beryl Blanc 2019

Glenelly Lady May 2015

GlenWood Noblesse 2017

Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz 2016

illimis Chenin Blanc 2019

JC Wickens Swartland Red Blend 2019  

Jordan Wine Estate

Nine Yards Chardonnay 2019

Cabernet Franc 2018

Methode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2015

Journey’s End Cape Doctor 2015

JP Bredell Cape Vintage Reserve 2017

Kanonkop Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Paul Sauer 2017                

Keet First Verse 2017

Ken Forrester Wines   Roussanne 2018

Klein Constantia Estate Vin de Constance 2016

Kleine Zalze Wines

Chenin Blanc (Vineyard Selection) 2019 

Chenin Blanc Amphora 2018

Chenin Blanc (Family Reserve) 2019

Whole Bunch Shiraz 2017

Cabernet Sauvignon (Family Reserve) 2017

Sauvignon Blanc (Family Reserve) 2019

Grenache Amphora 2017

Kumusha The Flame Lily 2019

KWV

The Mentors Canvas 2017

The Mentors Perold 2017

The Mentors Grenache Blanc 2018

Cape Tawny NV

La Bri Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Le Riche Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017

Leeu Passant

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Radicales Libres 2015

Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Longridge Wine Organic Clos du Ciel 2017

Lourens Family Wines

Blouklip Steen   2019

Lua Ilse 2019

Marianne Wine Estate Floreal 2017

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017

Metzer & Holfeld Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Michaella Chenin Blanc 2019

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018

Minimalist Stars In The Dark 2019

Mischa Estate Grenache 2018 

Morgenster Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Mullineux

Granite Chenin Blanc 2019

Granite Syrah 2018

Schist Syrah 2018

Olerasay Straw Wine NV              

Muratie Wine Estate Ansela van de Caab 2017

Naudé Wines Oupa Willem 2018

Nederburg Two Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Neil Ellis Wines

Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Whitehall Chardonnay 2019

Newstead Lund Family Vineyards Méthode Cap Classique Brut 2015 

Newton Johnson Vineyards

Pinot Noir 2019

Windansea Pinot Noir 2019

Chardonnay 2019

Oak Valley Estate

South Ridge CY548 Chardonnay 2017

Chardonnay Groenlandberg 2019

South Ridge CY95 Chardonnay 2017

Opstal Estate Carl Everson Cape Blend 2018

Paserene Marathon 2018

Patatsfontein Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2019

Paulus Wine Co Bosberaad 2019

Pieter Ferreira Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2013

Porseleinberg Porseleinberg 2018

Raats Family Wines

Cabernet Franc 2018

Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin 2019

The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin 2019

Rall Wines

Ava Chenin Blanc 2019

White 2019

Grenache Blanc 2019

Ava Syrah 2019 

Restless River

Main Road & Dignity 2017

Ava Marie 2018

Reyneke Wines White 2018

Rickety Bridge Winery The Pilgrimage 2018

Ridgeback Viognier 2019

Rustenberg Wines John X Merriman 2017

Rust en Vrede Wine Estate

 1694 Classification 2017

Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Single Vineyard Syrah 2017

Rust en Vrede Estate Wine 2017               

Sadie Family Wines

Mev. Kirsten 2019

Skerpioen 2019

Kokerboom 2019

Skurfberg 2019 

Pofadder 2019  

Soldaat 2019

Saronsberg Cellar Full Circle 2018

Savage Wines

 Red 2018

Girl Next Door 2019

White 2019

Follow The Line 2019

Schultz Family Wines Dungeons Cabernet Sauvignon  2017

Scions of Sinai Swanesang 2019

Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2017                

Sijnn Sijnn Red 2017

Silverthorn Wines The Green Man 2017

Simonsig Wine Estate

Cabernet Sauvignon The Garland 2015   

Mediterraneo 2015

Spier  

Chenin Blanc 21 Gables 2019

Frans K. Smit Red 2015  

Frans K. Smit CWG Auction Selection 2017

Stark-Condé Oude Nektar High Altitude 2017

Stellenrust

Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2019               

55 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2019

Storm Wines  

Vrede Pinot Noir 2019

Ignis Pinot Noir 2019

Strandveld Wines Pofadderbos Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Super Single Vineyards Verlatenkloof Merlot 2017

Terracura Trinity Syrah 2017

The Fledge & Co Vagabond 2018

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2019

The High Road Director’s Reserve 2017

Thelema Mountain Vineyards

 Merlot Reserve 2018

Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Rabelais 2017

Reserve Petit Verdot Sutherland 2017

Thistle & Weed Duwweltjie 2019

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2019

Tokara

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017

Director’s Reserve Red 2017

Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Noble Late Harvest 2019

Van Loggerenberg

Kameradarie 2019

Graft 2019

Vergelegen Vergelegen GVB Red 2015 

Villiera Wines

Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018                

The Clan 2017

Vondeling Babiana 2019

Wade Bales Wine Co 

Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018  

Breedekloof Chenin Blanc 2019 

Warwick Wine Estate

The Blue Lady 2017

Cabernet Franc 2017

The White Lady                 2017

Waterford Estate The Jem 2015

Wildekrans Wine Estate Cape Blend 2017

Woolworths Ferricrete Riesling 2018