Beyond celebration

I know I’ve written at some length about bubblies recently but a subsequent and unusual (for South Africa) tasting of sparkling wines made in the same way as Champagne and, in most cases from chardonnay and/or pinot noir, deserves attention.

packagingThe event elaborated on one held last year, where local MCCs were tasted blind against English and Welsh bubblies. This year, the range was extended to include highly-respected wines from Australia, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, France and the UK: a total of 37 wines, all tasted blind by a mix of South African and English palates.

This considerable effort was put together by Roger and Sue Jones, owners of Michelin-star restaurant, The Harrow in the UK. In the four years they’ve been visiting South Africa, they’ve become great ambassadors for our wines, also buying significant quantities, including MCCs, to offer on The Harrow’s excellent wine list.

If the tasting itself wasn’t held under the strict competitive conditions that, say, the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show or Decanter Awards are, it was still a good test of the several experienced local tasters, including Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira, Le Lude’s Paul Gerber, MW Cathy van Zyl (UK-based Lynne Sherriff, MW was also there), Allan Mullins, as well as others (myself included) who have judged both locally and internationally.

Lynne Sherriff MW & Allan Mullins CWM discussing 'how good is that?'
Lynne Sherriff MW & Allan Mullins CWM discussing ‘how good is that?’

The styles were separated, with Rosés coming first, then blends and Blanc de Blanks.
Just a few of the main points that struck me. Read the results as you will, South African MCC can mix positively with top wines from the rest of the world. I don’t have prices for all the local wines, just Cuvée Clive 2011, five years on lees, which sells for R620, Le Lude Brut NV (but these first releases based on 2012 and three and a half years on lees) R195 and Rosé R199. It is more difficult for the consumer to gauge value when an MCC is Non Vintage and many might query why five years’ on lees is beneficial to a wine such as Cuvée Clive, but this is all part of the marketing MCCs deserve. They are, as I’ve written before, the most technical of wines to produce. That Pieter Ferreira and Paul Gerber are focused on MCC alone shows in the quality of their wines: both Le Ludes scored were among my highest ratings, while the Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012 – always a favourite which develops so well in that style – proved a favourite yet again.

The rosés revealed
The rosés revealed

I was much more impressed with the English sparkling wines than last year; they were better balanced and more interesting, though clearly older vines and wines will increase this. They were also clearly from a cool climate, with green apple aromas, flavours and marked acid. Denbies, a large property in Surrey and one of the earliest to produce sparkling wine, was particularly impressive, as was Dermot Sugrue’s Sugrue Pierre South Downs 2010. The word ‘delicacy’ often crops up in my notes both for the English sparkling and the Australian quintet, all from Tasmania, fast establishing itself as this country’s premium area for sparkling wine. They differed from the English examples in greater breadth of flavour.

Roger Jones (L) owner & Michellin-star chef of The Harrow, celebrating Graham Beck's Cuvée Clive 2011 win with Cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira
Roger Jones (L) owner & Michellin-star chef of The Harrow, celebrating Graham Beck’s Cuvée Clive 2011 win with Cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira

For those doubtful about the potential of rosé beyond looking pretty, Arras 2006 (current release!) is utterly convincing. Strangely, I was very much less enamoured by the Arras Late Disgorged 2003 but was well out of line with the other tasters. As I was with the New Zealand Nautilus NV, which I’ve enjoyed on previous occasions. I was obviously wrong on those two but it’s a good stage to remember that every bottle of bubbly made in the same method as Champagne has the potential to taste different.

The German wine from riesling and made by Bollinger’s former winemaker as well as the Spanish Cava selection including the traditional Cava varieties kept our taste buds alert. Apart from the Juve y Camps Reservation de la Familia, the rest of the Spanish contingent didn’t excite.

Something that can’t be said of the tasting as a whole, a fantastic experience for those of us who don’t get such an opportunity to taste such range of international bubblies and compare with our own. Just to re-iterate, our best can and do mix with top wines from other countries; what more incentive to better promote MCC as a serious rather than just celebratory style.

Pieter Ferreira, Paul Gerber (Le Lude Cellarmaster) presenting Roger Jones of The Harrow with a SA rugby tie.
Pieter Ferreira, Paul Gerber (Le Lude Cellarmaster) presenting Roger Jones of The Harrow with a SA rugby tie.

Below is the list of wines tasted with the ranking of the top 11 (the last two sharing the same rating).

MCC – South Africa
Pongracz Brut NV
Pongracz Rose NV
Desiderius 2009
Plaisir De Merle Brut
Durbanville Hills Sparkling (3)
Durbanville Hills Blanc de Blancs
Avondale Armilla Blanc de Blanc 2009 (9)
Klein Constantia Brut
Kleine Zalze Chardonnay/Pinot Noir MCC 2011
Simonsig Cuvée Royale
Delaire Graff Sunrise
Ken Forrester Sparklehorse (10)
Klein Constanta Brut
Stellenrust Clement de Lure NV
Graham Beck Brut Rose NV
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2012
Graham Beck Vintage Rose 2011
Graham Beck Brut Zero 2010
Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2011 (1)
Le Lude Brut NV (7)
Le Lude Rosé NV

France

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (2)

Australia
Arras Rosé 2006
Arras Late Disgorged 2003 (5)
Josef Chromy Tasmania NV
Pipers Brook 2009 Chardonnay/Pinot (8)
Jansz Premium Cuvée (6)

New Zealand
Nautilus NV Brut

Spain CAVA
Juve y Camps Reservation de la Familia
Gran Juve y Camps
Juve y Camps Rose

UK
Britagne Coates & Seely Brut Reserve NV
Wiston Rose 2011
Sugrue Pierre South Downs 2010 (10)
Denbies Sparkling NV

2017 – we’re off!

It’s always encouraging to start a new year on a positive note; my 2017 has got off to a rollicking start thanks to some really pleasurable new wines from two producers. There’s a link between them, though it might not seem immediately obvious. Aside from that, both hover somewhat further under the radar that either deserves.

Jurgen Gouws, owner and winemaker of Intellego wines, worked with Craig Hawkins during his Lammershoek days, before going solo in 2014. He, like many others, is a Swartland devotee, drawing fruit from both Abbotsdale, south of Malmesbury and the better-known Paardeberg.

Jurgen Gouws's colourful Intellego range
Jurgen Gouws’s colourful Intellego range

Falling under the attentive umbrella of Ex Animo’s David Clarke, I was one of those fortunate enough to taste some of Gouws’s latest releases, all from the important 2015 vintage. It is a year where the intelligent winemaker, even those who do very little to start with, will have known not to fiddle with the fruit, but rather let its perfect state of health and ripeness express those benefits.

Gouws makes two chenins. Intellego Chenin Blanc 2015 is delightful now; the experience of a few years’ age will add greater interest. There’s all the lightly honeyed florality of young chenin fermented on its own yeasts and, dexterously weighted by 11 months on lees in old oak barrels. Texture, freshness and energy complete this elegant 13% alcohol, dry wine.

What more could Gouws want to do? ‘Get the vineyards in good condition.’ Watch out for future, even better vintages, if that’s possible. Retailing for around R150, the meagre 2500 bottles should soon be snapped up.

Gouws’ Elementis Skin Contact chenin 2015 deserves lifting off the shelf for the label alone (designed by a friend, he told me) but the wine too is an individual. Bright, golden orange in colour from three weeks on the skins, it has tension and grip, all achieved without losing old-vine chenin’s fragrance and flavour. Just 1000 bottles produced sell for around R225.

I love Kolbroek, Gouws’ take on Swartland shiraz, not least because it follows the recent trend to lower alcohol, 12% (there will be some who’ll remember that as the norm). The red fruit, spice and clean leather flavours are pure, intense and backed by vibrant freshness and appropriate tannins. I really hope more winelovers appreciate this digestible, flavour-rich style. Excellent value around R175.

Aslina's label depicts a calabash, traditional Zululand drinking vessel, filled with bunch of grapes.
Aslina’s label depicts a calabash, traditional Zululand drinking vessel, filled with bunch of grapes.

Ntiski Biyela’s Aslina range, already available on international markets, will soon be available locally. Biyela made her own quiet mark not only as Stellekaya winemaker from 2004 until this year but also as an invitee by Chateau D’Arsac in Bordeaux to make her own wine under the Winemakers’ Collection, a prestigious undertaking she shares with Zelma Long, among others. Read more on Biyela’s story on my http://www.wosa.co.za article due for posting next week (18th January).

Red wines and those from Bordeaux in particular are her first love, so no surprise cabernet and Bordeaux-style blends are her focus. There’s also a 2015 sauvignon blanc; an eminently drinkable, gently tropical toned wine with an easy plumpness and lively, dry finish. Biyela is eyeing chenin rather than sauvignon in future. To date cabernet comes from Stellenbosch, though she’s excited about Tulbagh cabernet she’s getting in this year.

Her modestly oaked 2014 is a savoury varietal wine; nicely styled but the star of the range (at least of the three she kindly gave me to try), is the 2015 cabernet-based, cab franc and petit verdot blend. It’s beautifully, carefully assembled, oaking an enhancement and alcohol 13.5%; it’ll give pleasure over several years. She has certainly benefited from her Bordeaux experience. Expect Aslina prices to range between R95 and R140.

What is so heartening about Gouws and Biyela is that there’s no fudging of focus, no stylistic jumping around, following trends. They are honest to their fruit and goals; I know Biyela has only just started her own label, but her experience fuels my confidence. Let’s hope more winemakers follow their example.

Just how good is good?

I guess all who enjoy a glass of wine like to think they’re drinking something good. But how to qualify such a quality? ‘Good’ has many stages.

I was initially thinking about this issue after tasting the new van Loggerenberg wines, which have received glowing plaudits as a debut range, but last week Tim James and I had our final tasting of the year of a group of wines generally characterised as new releases, though some were less new than others. The line-up of 21 wines from nine producers was, we agreed, one of the better ones we’ve had in quite a while and took us on a journey through several shades of good.

There’s no reason why, even at a basic level, a wine shouldn’t be good. It should give pleasure without being challenging and slip down without detracting attention from anything else you might be doing – having a conversation with a friend, reading a complicated recipe or listening to absorbing music. Two wines which perfectly fit the bill are One Formation Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier 2016 and its red counterpart, One Formation Pinotage, Shiraz, Grenache 2015. Both offer value at R55 and R75 ex cellar, the cellar being Boland, the winemaker Johan Joubert (remember the awards he piled up when winemaker at Kleine Zalze?). They have been competently assembled, each variety playing a role in flavour and structure. The red seems roundly firm and nicely dry, which enhances the fruit. I know many like a bit of tannin-easing sweetness, but it’s that very sweetness which diminishes flavour, making the wine seem heavy and lacking freshness.

Interestingly different flavour shines in the new De Krans duo. The interest factor is as important to good wine as anything else. On seeing Tritonia Malvasia Rei – Verdelho 2015 you might be excited at the thought of trying a new variety in the malvasia; in fact it’s a synonym for palomino, the Sherry grape, or perhaps some know it better as fransdruif. Except, I doubt few have experienced the dried fruit – peach, mango, currants that also resembles the brandy-infused mincemeat in mince pies – plus a splash of liquorice and spice I find in this wine. Maybe the 69 year old malvasia vineyard makes an important contribution, as do the enrichment factors of ageing on the lees and subtle oak-fermentation/ageing. The Twist of Fate red is named for the two varieties – tinta barocca and tinta amarella – which were planted in the belief they were shiraz and tinta roriz. Co-fermented, with a year in older French oak, the result is a generously spicy, floral wine in a glenelly-estate-reserve-2011well-managed, rustic style. Difficult to beat at R65. With Louis van der Riet in the cellar (Tim and I were also enthusiastic about his own chenin blanc) the future looks promising; at this stage improvement in quality with consistency is a vital combination to lift these and the Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend from good/interesting to the next level.

 

 
As these form just part of a range, so do Gabrielskloof The Blend 2015 (great value for R85) – a Bordeaux blend, proving Peter-Allan Finlayson is more than just handy at chardonnay and pinot noir – and Glenelly Estate Red 2011 (around R140), a masterful shiraz, cabernet, merlot and petit verdot mix. Again, these are dry, have gentle tannins and combine real quality with drinkability and are well-priced too. More would be welcome indeed.

Just how good can the wine be is something to ponder when planting in a virgin-vine area. sijnn-redDavid Trafford and his partners in Sijnn vineyards, near the beautiful if isolated mouth of the Breede River, have been more than vindicated in their choice. Although production stands just over 5000 cases, those who do know the wines appreciate the level of excellence already reached, elegance a common thread throughout the range. Logistics must be a good deal easier now the wines are vinified in the on-site cellar, sensitively designed to meld with the surroundings. The 2015 chenin-based White (the first vintage made in the new cellar) and 2012 shiraz-based Red (vinified at De Trafford in Stellenbosch), which blossomed over the five days I sipped on it, offer such value and distinction at R180 and R200. Quantities will never be huge, but the varietal spread in the ground is being expanded by petit manseng, a white variety from South West France and the Greek white, assyrtiko. Sijnn is destined to become one of the Cape’s top-league wineries.

So will Lukas van Loggerenberg’s eponymous range do likewise? I can’t remember a debut range receiving such positive reviews in many a year; possibly the Alheits were the last. Lukas’s four wines astound with their intensity and purity; there is no chance of concentrating on a book or conversation, they demand one’s full attention. If I have any regret, it’s that they have been released so young. But money needs to be made to look after the vines. Stand-outs for me are Kamaraderie 2016 from 56 year old chenin bush vines: it manages to be bone dry yet unharsh, resonatingly rich yet unheavy with lengthy savouriness. As convincing as any top Cape chenin I’ve had this year. Then there’s the Breton, with all the freshness and vigour of Loire cabernet francs but none of the greenness found in some examples; just graphite, red fruit and a lift of spice. It’s captivating.

(l - r) Breton (cab franc), Geronimo (cinsaut), Kameraderie (chenin blanc),  Break a Leg (cinsaut blanc de noir)
(l – r) Breton (cab franc), Geronimo (cinsaut), Kameraderie (chenin blanc), Break a Leg (cinsaut blanc de noir)

I can’t help but agree with many of my international colleagues who confirm South Africa continues to be one of the most exciting wine producing countries.

May the goodness in all continue to spread in 2017.

The bubbles of Cap Classique & Champagne

Were I to ask which category of South African wine is most in need of some smart marketing, how many would suggest Méthode Cap Classique? Many would express a sense of disbelief: ‘Bubbly? Everyone loves bubbly, surely there’s no image difficulty there?

But that MCC does need some effective generic marketing was the concern Joaquim Sá, MD of Amorim Cork in South Africa, confided to me prior to a tasting of the top MCCs at the Amorim-sponsored Méthode Cap Classique Challenge. Of course, this traditionally-made fizz is popular, but oddly, that’s part of the problem. It’s a category that grows exponentially; my guess is there are currently around 200 producers of MCC, some making more than one style, some every conceivable style. So, every year, the number of MCC producers increases as does the spectrum of their bubbly range, simply because of supply and demand. A few are specialists, more make MCC an add-on to their range.

For anyone who’s been lucky enough to attend an MCC tasting where specialists such as Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck, Jeff Grier of Villiera, Johan Malan of Simonsig or Paul Gerber of newcomer, Le Lude, among others, have presented, it’s clear there’s much more to MCC than getting a few thousand bubbles into the bottle. Technical expertise is – I was about to say ‘all’ but that usual edge of unbridled enthusiasm is equally important. Technically, MCC is one of the most demanding styles, the search for the perfect bubble always the ultimate goal.

Some of the Méthode Cap Classique Wines Villiera make for Woolworths
Some of the Méthode Cap Classique Wines Villiera make for Woolworths

Villiera and Simonsig are notable exceptions to a list of MCC specialists and a quality range of still wines. Villiera is particularly notable as bubbly supplier to Woolworths from the start and, with this retailer, have moved with the times: catering for the calorie and sugar-conscious, there’s a new MCC Light (under 10% alcohol), Brut Nature (no dosage added, so bone dry) and, daringly, a new NV Demi-Sec with 33 grams of residual sugar. Don’t think of Demi-Sec as cheap and cheerful; in Woolies’ case, it’s rich rather than sweet, with enough acid to lend good verve and a quality wine like the other MCCs. Another plus is that it is the perfect style to partner with food; Asian or spicy dishes or fresh fruit.

In a recent article on the UK website, http://www.drinksbusiness.com, Anne Malassagne, co-owner of Champagne producer, AR Leonble, affirms; ‘In order to make an interesting demi-sec the sugars need to be well integrate into the wine – if you don’t give it enough time after disgorgement then the sugar stands out. Our 1996 was rested for a further four years after disgorgement before release.’

Apart from broadening the style spectrum to meet the change in consumer tastes, Woolies and Villiera, as well as the other long-time top specialist producers have remained remarkably consistent. Not so all of the other 200-odd producers and neither are many members of the MCC Association, founded in 1992, which is a pity as members get together annually to taste and discuss their base wines before they undergo their second fermentation in bottle. This is a valuable exercise focusing on one of the most important parts of making a quality MCC, where balance and finesse are so necessary. Finesse means a lack of phenolics or bitterness/tannins, one source of which can be too hard a pressing of the grapes. As our grapes will be riper than those harvested in Champagne (the MCCs taste that much fruitier too), a gentle pressing is even more necessary.

Moët et Chandon 2006, the vintage imitating the board in the cellar indicating the identity of the unlabelled wines stacked there.
Moët et Chandon 2006, the vintage imitating the board in the cellar indicating the identity of the unlabelled wines stacked there.

No wonder I was puzzled when I discerned a distinct bitterness on the aftertaste of the latest Moët et Chandon vintage, 2006 during a recent (and informative) presentation by Chef de Cave, Benoit Gouez. He cheerfully admitted this unusual element was deliberate, using the comparison of ice skating figures, those for vintage being freestyle and non vintage, compulsory. An appealing analogy, the ‘freestyle’ of the vintage extending to the entirely non-classic label, the design based on painted boards recording the place of each vintage in the cellar.

Non vintage, which Gouez likens to the ‘compulsory’ figures in ice skating, establishes the overall house style and quality, for MCC too. Consider that Moët NV accounts 90% of production – no actual figures divulged – with the company’s own 1200 ha of vineyards supplying a quarter of their needs – admiration for quality and consistency is matched by quantity.

It’s a good starting point for all local MCC producers, also I’d suggest is becoming part of the Producers’ Association. Maybe such a united body would also raise the image and appreciation of the style generally.

Many shades of colour

For someone writing a tasting exam, colour is the first port of call. But generally, how many of us bother to really study the colour of a wine, bar noting whether it’s white, rosé or red? We head straight for the aroma and taste; these primarily determine what we think of the wine.

That’s a pity since colour, of both white and red wines, are changing so much, they deserve more consideration.

Three  shades of cinsaut ;  SFW 1974 right
Three shades of cinsaut ; SFW 1974 right

We’ve got so used to red wines being like Homer’s ‘wine dark sea’; impenetrable, black ruby from centre to the edge of the rim; no layers, just solid colour. With that impenetrability often comes over-ripeness and extraction, possibly too much new oak as well, lavished on the wine that’s intended to show ambition. Not all dark wines are heavy and dull; the best ones have a degree of freshness, gently extracted tannins and no new wood.

But once grenache and cinsaut began their run of popularity, the colour spectrum changed. It became possible to actually see the range of colours of and within each variety, as the cinsauts pictured show. More translucence does not rule out vivid brilliance. Craig Hawkins’ new Testalonga vintages have plenty of that with their eye-catching purple stain hue; the photo is of the new El Bandito Monkey Gone to Heaven 2016, a mourvèdre, while the carignan, named Follow Your Dreams’ brilliance is more ruby.

Testalonga Follow Your Dreams Carignan 2016
Testalonga Follow Your Dreams Carignan 2016

History shows that red wines, as they age, get paler, their ruby hue taking on garnet light.
Colour and its change with age in white wines is of far more interest to me, something I re-discovered at the recent bi-annual De Wetshof Celebration of Chardonnay.

This is a celebration I always look forward to as each one has its own new touch, though essentially it features a tasting of different chardonnays, an international speaker (Jay McInerney this year), and The Golden Vine Award, made to a chef who has made an exceptional contribution to fine culinary art; South African and incredibly young Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, owner/chef of the Nice restaurant Jan, and the first South African to be awarded a Michelin star, received the Golden Vine Award from Johan de Wet.

De Wetshof Finesse 1993, Thelema Chardonnay 1997, Neil Ellis Chardonnay 2005
De Wetshof Finesse 1993, Thelema Chardonnay 1997, Neil Ellis Chardonnay 2005

But back to the wines. The new feature this year was a flight of older wines: De Wetshof Finesse 1993, Thelema 1997, Neil Ellis 2005 and Hamilton Russell 2005. I don’t know why I missed a photo including the HRV but it did have the richness of colour similar to Thelema’s, though not quite as dark.

This was a quartet which really made one think about colour, what it suggests the wine will taste like and which has the most appeal. I enthused about the De Wetshof at the pre-Nederburg Auction tasting, writing: ‘Brilliant and youthful in colour, Robertson’s typical limey character remains clear and well-sustained. The area’s limestone soils really do help to preserve good acidity and low pH levels.’ For the technically minded, the wine’s pH level is 3.17 and acidity 6.8 g/l. This time, I did note some bottle age but the flavours remain fresh.

Thelema’s deep gold colour is reflected in its rich, slightly honeyed nose; the flavours though are fresher with balanced leesy weight. Of the four, Neil Ellis’s Elgin wine had the most eye appeal with its green halo lighting up the deepening yellow hue. From sandstone and shale soils, the analysis again proved beneficial to such ageing: 3.2 pH and a TA of 5.8 g/l. My notes: ‘Brilliant hellow. So fresh, creamy, elegant and dry’ were a most positive record. Despite the Hamilton Russell’s deep yellow gold, though less so than Thelema’s, it remains very tight, focused and with savoury length.

To be completely honest, a little more colour development in the De Wetshof and less in Thelema and Hamilton Russell to correspond with the state of development in the flavours and texture wouldn’t be a bad thing. But this is perhaps nit-picking; all four are interesting and enjoyable in their own right, especially as alcohol levels top out at 13.5%.

cape-point-vineyards-isleidh-2009This tasting of older chardonnays, one I hope the De Wets will repeat at the next Chardonnay Celebration, inspired me a few days’ later to open not an older chardonnay but Cape Point Vineyards Isleidh 2009, probably the most celebrated vintage after 2015. At seven years of age, this wine struck the perfect balance between colour, nose and taste. The deepening yellow is still shot with brilliant green, secondary notes are evident with semillon taking a lead role, backed by sauvignon’s freshness. A heart-stopping wine! The colour playing no small role in my appreciation.

Colour is under-appreciated; I know we all want a quick sniff before the main pleasure of tasting the wine, but colour can give great pleasure too.

Platter 2017

It’s the chenin and chardonnay show! This pair has outshone all other varieties and blends in the five stars awarded in Platter’s 2017 South African Wine Guide, launched this evening at the Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town. Each achieved 17 five star wines, with a chenin awarded the ultimate prize – White Wine of the Year: take a bow, Tertius Boshoff and Stellenrust 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015! Chenin also starred in the Dessert Wine of the Year, the Mullineux Straw Wine 2015. A newcomer to Wine of the Year is The Winery of Good Hope, whose shiraz-based Black Rock 2014, was voted Red Wine of the Year. Full results follow below.

alheitTo go back a step or so; 94 wines emerged with the guide’s highest and much-valued five star rating after two exhausting days of rigorous blind tasting over the +- 700 wines which their individual taster deemed worthy of 4.5 stars and so went forward to the five star tasting. These 700 were shared between eight teams of three tasters; large categories, such as chenin, chardonnay and shiraz were divided over both days but interspersed by red or fortified wines, so palates didn’t become saturated with acid, tannin or alcohol.

 

 

It was my good fortune to chair the chenin panel, a task that was more fun than anything else, though we were rigorous and demanding of the +- 70 chenins in the line-up, especially as they were of such a high standard.

Our subsequent discussions revealed we were impressed by the divergence of style, each equally well interpreted, and the many wines with long potential. All the chenins meeting our scrupulous five star demands were re-tasted on day two; a couple reverted to 4.5*. At the same time, a select few were singled out to go forward to the Wine of the Year tasting.
Between the chenins we tasted pinotage, red blends with pinotage and Port styles. I did say it was an exhausting two days, didn’t I? The system is as fair to each wine as is possible, a view I’m pretty sure most of us are in agreement about.

seccombeThe only award that’s not the responsibility of the tasters is the nomination of Winery of the Year; that’s a decision left to the editor, Philip van Zyl. But the format has always been the winery with the most number of five star wines, luckily there’s never been a tie. This year, Nederburg, for the second time, led the pack with a quartet of five stars.

But the time has come to change this format. If I were the Newton-Johnsons, I’d be wondering what I have to do to claim Winery of the Year title. They might not have achieved the most five star wines – each of the past two years they’ve had three – but they have their own, unique record: Platter five stars for eight consecutive vintages, since the maiden one, of their Family Vineyards Pinot Noir – 2008 to 2015. No other wine has achieved that.

As well as their other five stars, the rest of the range has consistent high ratings . these are the sort of considerations the editor should take into account when selecting Winery of the Year.

To return to Nederburg; it’s an interesting body. What sort of an image does it have? Does it have an image? Does it have too many and are they too diverse? At one end it’s seen as providing sound but uninspiring commercial wines; at the other, there’s exciting experimentation, as well as wines that aspire to be considered among South Africas best. Between those two ends, and if my reckoning skills are correct, there are 55 wines under the Nederburg label (or were in the 2016 guide); it’s no wonder for many, Nederburg is neither one thing nor another.

hrvPerhaps a more major problem lies in ownership; it’s a division of a corporate body, Distell, rather than autonomous; nothing illustrates this better than a press release sent out after this year’s Veritas awards. It was headed ‘Distell triumphs at Veritas Awards’, continuing; ‘Distell stole the show at the 2016 Veritas Awards …’ What a piece of knavery! I wonder who okayed that? The only acknowledgement that the success belonged to Nederburg – and Fleur du Cap, was when listing the actual medals.

Talking of Fleur du Cap, it’s good to see their Noble Late Harvest getting five stars again. But for a couple of vintages when it missed out, it would have topped the Newton Johnsons for the most consecutive five stars for the same wine.

It’s easy to forget that South African wines currently garnering such loud plaudits internationally are but a tiny drop in the ocean of what is made locally. What we need is more of the same quality in larger quantities. Producers like Nederburg and Fleur du Cap surely have the resources to enable them to make even better wines and fill the quality/quantity gap, but could Distell ever be ambitious enough in its wine portfolio to see these two entities become the Penfolds of South Africa?

Time to let both have wings, more autonomy and fly high, Distell. You would be doing South African wine great service.

In the meantime, congratulations to all concerned at Nederburg, Fleur du Cap and all the other five star winners; your success is much deserved.

WINERY OF THE YEAR
Nederburg Wines

RED WINE OF THE YEAR
The Winery of Good Hope Black Rock 2014

WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR
Stellenrust 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015

DESSERT WINE OF THE YEAR
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Straw Wine 2015

FIVE STAR WINES

AA Badenhorst Dassiekop Steen 2015

Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015
Alheit Vineyards Radio Lazarus 2015

Artisanal Boutique Winery JJ Handmade Eight Pillars 2013

Bartinney Private Cellar Chardonnay 2015

Beaumont Family Wines New Baby 2015
Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2015

Beeslaar Wines Pinotage 2013

Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015

Bloemendal Estate Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Bosman Family Vineyards Twyfeling 2015

Botanica Wines Chenin Blanc 2015
Botanica Wines Semillon 2015

Cape Chamonix Wine Farm Chardonnay 2015
Cape Chamonix Wine Farm Chardonnay Reserve 2015
Cape Chamonix Wine Farm Troika 2014

David & Nadia Chenin Blanc 2015
David & Nadia Sadie Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2015
David & Nadia Sadie Aristargos 2015

Delaire Graff Estate Chardonnay Banghoek Reserve 2015
Delaire Graff Estate Laurence Graff Reserve 2013

Delheim Wines Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest 2015

DeMorgenzon Chardonnay Reserve 2015

Diemersdal Estate MM Louw Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Diemersdal Estate 8 Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Donkiesbaai Hooiwijn 2015

Edgebaston David Finlayson Chenin Blanc 2015

Fable Mountain Vineyards Syrah 2014

Flagstone Winery Time Manner Place Pinotage 2014

Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Unfiltered 2015
Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2015

Fram Wines Chenin Blanc 2015

GlenWood Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Groot Constantia Estate Chardonnay 2015
Groot Constantia Estate Gouverneurs Reserve Red 2013

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2015
Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015

Haskell Vineyards Anvil Chardonnay 2015

Hermanuspietersfontein Nr 5 Kat met die Houtbeen 2014

Iona Vineyards Chardonnay 2015
Iona Vineyards Solace Syrah 2014

Jordan Wine Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2015
Jordan Wine Estate CWG Auction Reserve Chardonnay 2015

Kaapzicht Wine Estate Skuinsberg Cinsaut 2015

Keermont Vineyards Topside Syrah 2014

Klein Constantia Estate Vin de Constance 2012

Kleine Zalze Wines Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Kleine Zalze Wines Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015
Kleine Zalze Wines Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

La Motte Syrah-Viognier 2014

La Vierge Private Cellar Apogée Chardonnay 2015

Laibach Vineyards Claypot Merlot 2014

Meerlust Estate Chardonnay 2015

Moreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay 2014

Mount Abora Vineyards Koggelbos 2014

Mulderbosch Vineyards 1000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Straw Wine 2015

Mvemve Raats MR de Compostella 2014

Nederburg Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin R163 2013
Nederburg Wines The Brew Master 2014
Nederburg Wines Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin D234 2015
Nederburg Wines Noble Late Harvest 2015

Newton Johnson Vineyards Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2015
Newton Johnson Vineyards Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015
Newton Johnson Vineyards CWG Auction Reserve Seadragon Pinot Noir 2015

Olifantsberg Family Vineyards Silhouette 2014

Opstal Estate Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2015
Opstal Estate The Barber Semillon 2015

Perdeberg Winery Natural Sweet Chenin Blanc 2014

Porseleinberg Porseleinberg 2014

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2014

Reyneke Wines Reserve Red 2014

Richard Kershaw Lake District Bokkeveld Shales CY95 Chardonnay 2015
Richard Kershaw Wines Elgin Syrah 2014

Ronnie B Wines Patatsfontein Steen 2015
Ronnie B Wines Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2015

Sadie Family Wines Skurfberg 2015
Sadie Family Wines Kokerboom 2015
Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2014

Shannon Vineyards Semillon 2015
Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2013

Skaap Wines Sauvignon Blanc 44 2015

Spice Route Winery Grenache 2014

Spioenkop Wines Chenin Blanc 1900 2015

Stellar Winery Natural Sweet NV

Stellenbosch Vineyards Grenache 2015

Stellenrust 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015

The Winery of Good Hope Black Rock 2014

Thorne & Daughters Wines Rocking Horse 2015

Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2015
Tokara Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Trizanne Signature Wines Reserve Syrah 2015

Vondeling Babiana 2015

Warwick Estate Cabernet Franc 2013

The label – truth or fiction?

A small group of us, all involved in wine in one way or another, recently got to chatting about wine labels, their accuracy of information and where they should fit into a list, be it a wine list or a general list of wines by variety/style.

Just to get the legalities out of the way, a wine that is labelled varietally, eg chenin blanc or shiraz, indicates that at least 85% of the wine in the bottle is of that variety; this is true on both the local and international markets. It’s unlikely in the normal course of things that the other 15% or whatever amount up to that, will be specified.

And, of course, unless the wine is declared to come from a single vineyard, it might come from different Wines of Origin (this has to be reflected in the WO on the label; locally each one may be listed, but internationally only one is acceptable, so rather than mess about with the cost of different labels for the local and international markets, the one which satisfies the international market is used) or even different vineyards within a single Wine of Origin, whether it’s 100% of the variety on the label or contains up to 15% of something else.

sadie-columellaThe point of going into this detail is that the wine label should reflect the winemaker’s intention for what’s in the bottle. Take, for instance, the Mullineux’s Syrah WO Swartland. The term ‘syrah’ rather than ‘shiraz’ indicates a more traditional, European style rather than that associated generally with Australia. WO Swartland has connotations of warmth of flavour though not necessarily high alcohol. So far so good, but one has to go to the website to discover the Mullineux’s further goals with this wine: ‘Our aim with our Syrah is to give true and complete expression to the Shale & Schist and Granite terroirs in which the vines grow.’ Information given on the website; a pity it isn’t reflected on the label.

Still, their label, which should obviously be listed under Syrah/Shiraz (or vice versa), reveals is a more than Eben Sadie’s Palladius and Columella, where their Swartland origin remains the sole information given. To delve further as to which variety/ies goes/go into these wines requires asking the wine merchant who stocks the wine – ‘stocks’ perhaps not quite the right word, as much is on allocation so flies out even before coming in – or dropping the Sadies themselves a line. But with this pair it is more the style that matters than the make-up. Still, both fit most comfortably under White or Red Blends (or Shiraz-based Blends) respectively. There is vintage variation – how boring and incurious a winemaker would be not to reflect the vintage in his/her wine – but there’s also ongoing evolution in each. For those who don’t know, chenin plays an important role in Palladius and syrah in Columella.

At the other side of the label information story is a wine such as La Motte Syrah-Viognier 2014 (R230 ex-cellar), that’s 95% syrah with just 5% viognier, but as the label would suggest that 5% is a very important component towards the style. It may be modelled on the wines of the Côte Rôtie in the Northern Rhône (where many producers are actually discontinuing with the use of viognier) but the different origins are influential in the final wine. Just over half the syrah comes from cool climate Elim, with Walker Bay and a little Franschhoek fruit making up the balance. All the viognier comes from home WO, Franschhoek and some of these grapes are included with each picking of the syrah from whichever vineyard.

The label is no affectation (as I sometimes find the SMVs, SMGs or GSMs, which look good on the label and that’s about all!), the viognier really does lift the expressive aromatics, fresh spice, herbs with a suggestion of blossom. Full of flavour, the structure with its tiny, fresh tannins, does indicate the wine will benefit from ageing. We did all agree this would fit in to Red blends or Shiraz-blends on a list.

la-motte-pierneef-syrah-viognier-2014At the same time as Tim James and I tasted this wine, we also tried La Motte’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (which includes a not immediately obvious 11% cabernet franc – I must try it again! – and costs a good value R115 ex-cellar). Very much in the classic mode, more vinous than fruity, I subsequently drank it over six or seven evenings; it was still going strong as the last drop was drained from my glass. A wine that very much belongs under Cabernet Sauvignon and not just because of the label.

The next big thing

If there’s anything that irritates me about South African wine, it’s when people, whether local or foreigners, announce; ‘….. is going to be the next big thing’ (You fill the gap, there’s plenty of choice). It sounds good, it sounds exciting but it’s used rather too frequently and hastily. The only word I can think of which couldn’t fill that gap sufficiently often is ‘Quality’ but that’s another matter.

Nowadays, cinsaut often crops up in this sort of conversation. As Tim James reminds in his Wines of the New South Africa, cinsaut is a variety with a long association at the Cape, being ‘grown here since the middle of the nineteenth century’ and, at one time was ‘South Africa’s most planted variety, occupying nearly a third of the vineyard and used for everything from brandy, through rosé, to sweet, dry, and fortified red wines.’

Three shades of cinsaut
Three shades of cinsaut

As the 1980s progressed so cinsaut began to be uprooted in favour of the growing popularity of the classic varieties. Today there are 1863 ha or just under 2% of the area under vine, with nearly 179 ha in the highly-valued ‘old’ or over 35 years old category.
But the wheel is turning as the curiosity of the new generation leads them to explore the old, neglected varieties, including cinsaut, grenache, clairette blanche, bourboulenc and palomino, as well as those more recently introduced to our vineyards, such as touriga nacional, roussanne, marsanne and albarino. Take note of the word ‘explore’, perhaps the best way of describing what many winemakers are doing currently.

As Tim James wrote on http://www.winemag.co.za about palomino as a varietal wine: ‘I do hope Sout van die Aarde isn’t going to be one of Adi’s (Badenhorst) once offs – it’s too attractive and interesting to abandon.’ Before going on to admit ‘It’s not a great grape …’
But it’s not just a question of the variety’s status in the hierarchy but the winemaker’s own involvement, which takes me back to cinsaut.

During the recent WOSA Sommelier Cup, Wine Cellar’s Roland Peens organised a #TalkingCinsaut event with a panel made up of local cinsaut producers, Eben Sadie (Ouwingerds Pofadder) and Ryan Mostert (Silwervis), the three international judges for the Somm Cup (Ronan Sayburn MS, James Tidwell MS and Will Predhomme, winner of the cup in 2013) and David Clarke representing Sommeliers Association of South Africa. An invited audience was encouraged to participate and ask questions; nine cinsauts were tasted, including a 1974 from what was then Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and Le Riche cabernet/cinsaut blend.

Three more shades of cinsaut - SFW 1974 far right
Three more shades of cinsaut – SFW 1974 far right

They were, to coin a phrase, nine shades of cinsaut, each offering a different attribute of the grape but all reflecting in one way or another the small, if growing trend for lighter, fresher wines (one, which Tidwell confirms is also happening in the US). But more than that, most reflected the winemaker’s enthusiasm to accurately reflect and make the best wine possible from the vineyard he/she takes the fruit. Ryan Mostert stirringly declared he wants to ‘make cinsaut for the rest of my life’; this desire certainly rubs off on his wine.

For others, the talk around cinsaut merely offers an opportunity to follow a trend; maybe their fruit would do better justice to a blend – think of Duncan Savage’s Follow the Line, where cinsaut enhances the delicacy of its grenache and syrah partners.

The understanding but even more the enthusiasm of the winemaker has so much to do with the wine’s quality and success – whether it’s a single variety, blend or even a style. Tidwell backs me up in that view.

Someone who has shown the way as far as dedication, knowledge and enthusiasm are concerned is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira, whose journey in search of the perfect bubble continues after 26 years. Now, it’s his only focus given the Beck stable has sold off all their still wine labels and valuable vineyards around Firgrove.

Graham Beck Cuvée Clive in flute (l) and Lehmann Jamesse glass
Graham Beck Cuvée Clive in flute (l) and Lehmann Jamesse glass

Actually, that’s not absolutely correct; it’s not only how to create the perfect bubble but how to show it, and the array of flavours within it, off at its best. Enter the world of glassware. I’ve long been aware the difference a glass can make to a wine but from the recent experience of tasting the Graham Beck Brut NV, Blanc de Blancs 2012 and Cuvée Clive 2009 first from the traditional flute, then, respectively from Riedel Ouverture Champagne Glass, Riedel Veritas Champagne glass and Lehmann Jamesse Prestige Grand Champagne glass, made it abundantly clear the flute is a non-starter. Each of the Riedel and the Jamesse glasses turned its wine into a fresher, more complex swan.

For any who want proof, tasting from these glasses is possible at the Beck cellar door in Robertson. If your pocket runs deep, they’re also available for sale. The wines are certainly worth the best, but if you do baulk at the prices, a decent white wine glass will do.
So what matters more is the winemaker’s long-term dedication and enthusiasm, rather than the possibly more short-term, ‘….. is going to be the next big thing’.

I’m a big Roald Dahl fan; this quote seems an appropriate conclusion: ‘I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead, embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.’

What is a sommelier?

I guess for many South Africans, sommelier is a word they’d have difficulty pronouncing let alone pinning down to a specific meaning.

Indeed, in one sense what it means depends on where you look. Chambers Dictionary sommelier-cup-banneroffers ‘a butler’ or ‘wine waiter’, while The Court of Master Sommeliers (www.courtofmastersommeliers.org) gives a wealth of detail, variously: a Master Sommelier (the highest qualification) is a professional beverage manager able to control an efficient, profitable beverage service. When choosing wines and other drinks, customers know they can follow your advice with confidence. A Master Sommelier is also a wine expert, a qualified taster who can pass on knowledge to colleagues. He or she is committed to the very highest standards of service and quality customer care and to help others achieve the same levels of excellence. Importantly, too a Master Sommelier is a salesman; under his or her guidance, wine service improves and helps to raise standards of food service throughout the hospitality industry. And so on.

An MS might be the pinnacle of qualifications, but the steps there – Introductory Sommelier Certificate, Certified Sommelier, Advanced Sommelier – also embrace such objectives.

As a very young, evolving body, the Sommeliers Association of South Africa (www.sommeliers.org.za), founded in 2010, identified education as a key priority from the start. Two sommelier training courses of an eventual three have been developed and run with the third due to be held in 2017. In conjunction with these courses, SASA applied for and was accepted for observation membership with the International Sommelier Association, meaning their courses will be internationally accredited and the standards set recognised. A small step but an encouraging one in the right direction.

But what I particularly like about SASA is their vision as declared on their website: ‘The Sommeliers Association of South Africa is dedicated to the discipline, art and love of Wine and Spirits. The aim of the association is to ensure that South Africa has it’s (sic) own professional board who shares the joy and energy of wines and spirits.’

‘Love’, ‘joy’; ah, at last, how encouraging to read those two words. After watching the three finalists going through their paces at the Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup last week, I wouldn’t have automatically associated ‘love’ and ‘joy’ with their performance, though to be fair they were under intense pressure and, to be fair again, the image of the sommelier has changed for the better over the past 10 to 15 years. In various parts of the world, I’ve come across some very supercilious sommeliers, rather keener to show off their skills and knowledge than interact with me as a wine loving customer. Today, all the way up the scale and even at Michelin star restaurants, there’s a more relaxed approach and helpful interaction between sommeliers and customers. Today, one gets the feeling they actually want one to enjoy the wine (and the evening, or lunch).

Eight finalists in WOSA Sommelier Cup 2016
Eight finalists in WOSA Sommelier Cup 2016

If I have one, perhaps carping comment of Germany’s Marc Almert, the individual winner of the Sommelier Cup, it is that he could have been a little less intense. He’s frighteningly confident, efficient and knowledgeable, still only 25 with the Certified Sommelier Certificate already under his belt and a bright future ahead. He’s currently employed by Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and responsible for the wine programme of a dozen outlets including the two star Michelin restaurant Haerlin. His accomplishments are undeniably worthy of such positions.

Very few local restaurants, even when they compile their own wine list or it’s done for them by an independent (rather than one of the big companies, who throw in the all the extras), have the space or finances to create a library of vintages. Good service, let alone sufficient knowledge of wine and pairing it with food has long way to go, despite the ongoing efforts of SASA.

We don’t need Master Sommeliers, at least not as the immediate goal; we’ve got excellent self-taught sommeliers (however one wants to interpret the term), at many of South Africa’s top restaurants: Tinashe Nyamudoka at The Test Kitchen, one of the San Pellegrino’s World Top 50 Restaurants; Tongai Joseph Dhafana from La Colombe, regularly top restaurant in South Africa and Gregory Mutambe at The 12 Apostles another in the top ranks. It so happens all these gentlemen are from Zimbabwe, but ladies and locals are also finding a home in the hospitality industry and joining SASA.

The point was made at the Sommelier Cup that Marc Almert might be the individual winner but that but South African wine is the overall winner; there was a total of 280 entries from the eight countries or regions where the event was held; in other words South African wine now has a further 280 ambassadors working in the hospitality industry.
By including just one of the sommeliers from the top local restaurants mentioned above, it could have had a similar ripple effect as those 280 new ambassadors for South African wine. Something to think about for next time.

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L to R: Joe Yang (Macau), Ronan Sayburn MS (j), Jokaim Hansi Blackadder SASA (j), Higgo Jacobs SASA (j), Neil Grant SASA (MC), David Clarke SASA (j), Will Predhomme (Canada) (j), James Tidwell MS (USA) (j), Nathan Morrell (Canada), Marc Almert (Germany)
L to R: Joe Yang (Macau), Ronan Sayburn MS (j), Jokaim Hansi Blackadder SASA (j), Higgo Jacobs SASA (j), Neil Grant SASA (MC), David Clarke SASA (j), Will Predhomme (Canada) (j), James Tidwell MS (USA) (j), Nathan Morrell (Canada), Marc Almert (Germany)

The WOSA Sommelier Cup is held every three years, with the marketing body focusing on specific areas or countries from which sommeliers are invited to enter. This year, Kenya, where Geoffrey Kariuki was the first ever semi-finalist from Africa; Netherlands (Marijn Smit); Sweden (Erik Grödahl); Erik Simonics (UK); Cheron Cowan (USA), the first lady semi-finalist, as well as the three finalists: Joe Yang (Macau); Nathan Morrell (Canada) and Marc Almert (Germany).
Three international judges – Ronan Sayburn MS (UK), James Tidwell MS (USA) and Will Predhomme (Canada, the winner of the previous Sommelier Cup) – were joined by local SASA members Higgo Jacobs, SASA chair; David Clarke and Joakim Hansi Blackadder.

Where to from here?

It would be difficult, for even the most inattentive member of social media, to miss the tremendous enthusiasm for the latest South African assault on the UK wine trade.

intrepid-tastingIt started with the Intrepid show organised by Wines of South Africa; the event, attended by 138 producers, drew many positive comments along lines similar to those written by Peter Dean, Drinks Editor of The Buyer, who commented: ‘South African winemaking right now seems to be like a sports team that is playing together with passion, energy and innovation, and is more than a sum of its parts.’ (NB Springboks!) ‘They’re also making some bloody good wine.

Chris Wilson, Dean’s colleague at The Buyer echoed such views: ‘.. the quality of wines on show was very high and there was real energy in the room.’ Wilson particularly singled out ‘off beat’ white varieties not usually associated with South Africa, but which he described as belters: Diemersdal Grüner Veltliner 2016, Spioenkop Riesling 2013, Eagles’ Nest Viognier 2015 and the new Age of Grace Viognier 2015 from Lismore.

Lesson one: we need to realise we can do, and very well, varieties other than the more commonly found sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and chardonnay. As Tim Atkin MW, who probably knows more about South African wines than many locals, mentioned in his Keynote Speech at this year’s Nederburg Auction: ‘The small number of widely distributed grapes is a reflection of history, but it’s also an indictment of the conservatism of the wine industry.’

We’ve moved on from random plantings; thoughts are today focused on a drier, warmer climate, what does or will grow best in my patch of soil or that of the wine grower I have an arrangement with and, probably most important, along with the above, what variety excites me. These are all pointers not only to diversification but more wines of distinction that will command better prices. Of course, there’s also a level which includes, what the market wants but that would be likely to focus more on the commercial end.

It might be pleasing to know we’re considered a country offering value for money in our wines but we should be receiving higher prices and our wines should still be considered as offering value.

Here’s how Will Lyons, wine correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, views the value issue: ‘I was recently asked which wine region offers the best bang for your buck. My questioner wasn’t talking about branded, commoditized wine …. But the fine-wine sector. I didn’t hesitate: the one country that consistently offers outstanding value is South Africa.’

Prices, especially in the restaurant trade, have been rising, somewhere about 9% if memory serves correctly, but somehow even that doesn’t correlate with the amount of enthusiasm shown for our wines and winemakers whenever a group hits, especially the UK. It wasn’t confined to the Intrepid show. A few days’ later, Roger and Sue Jones, who’ve become such good friends of and ambassadors for South Africa, hosted an equally enthusiastically-received event at their Michelin-star restaurant, The Harrow. Thereafter, many winemakers took to travelling the country with their importers; the up-beat mood continued.

In summary, we have quality, interesting wines offering sometimes ridiculous value and a group of wine producers making sure South Africa is getting embedded in journalists’ and wine buyers’ brains.

The problem is that this group represents but a tiny proportion of the number of producers out there; according to SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Statistics) around 566, comprising the former co-ops, producing wholesalers and private wine cellars. Among them you’ll find wines of similar quality and excitement that have enthralled the Brits and other Europeans recently.

So why isn’t this greater spread of our fine wines better appreciated. I go back to Tim Atkin’s observation about the conservatism of the wine industry. Are we too restrained, corporate in our approach, over-obsessed with awards and medals for instance, branding the wines but forgetting to include the people behind them.

It’s not just the quality, individuality of the wines that are the reasons for our growing success, these are backed by the enthusiasm and individuality of the winemakers, owners and all involved with each producer.

More  could see our success expand much further.