2014 a year of exciting wines

With 2014 about to depart into history, there’s just time to record some of the wines that excited me most during the past 364 days . This is definitely not a ‘best of’ list, though some are.

The box in which Alheit Magnetic North was delivered. They pay as much attention to packaging as to the wine.
The box in which Alheit Magnetic North was delivered. They pay as much attention to packaging as to the wine.

I’ve tasted the Alheit’s Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2013 only once but that was enough to make a lasting memory. A ‘take no prisoners’ wine, it induces a large gulp on first sip, such is its intensity, doubtless from the old, ungrafted, dryland chenin vines.

The Mullineux’s maiden Quartz Chenin, a tight, grainy youngster but one that shows poise and flow too, should also raise the excitement level for chenin. This 2013, the latest in the couple’s single soil wines, is from a single, +-25 year old vineyard; it’s gratifying how the range so well informs about the difference a soil makes.

2014 has shone the spotlight on semillon gris, a variety that’s not even on the list of permitted varieties for wine! With semillon blanc it’s been part of Eben Sadie’s Old Vine Series Kokerboom since the first vintage, but Andrea Mullineux’s CWG 2013 varietal offering, called The Gris, drew attention to this red mutation of semillon blanc, even if it’s more greeny straw than pinky beige. Earthy notes from natural ferment, spice, dried herbs, pithy grip and savoury length are all in the mix of this most interesting individual.

On the other hand, the Seccombe’s Thorne and Daughters Tin Soldier Semillon 2013, a 50/50 blend of semillons blanc and gris, is coppery pink (from 4 weeks on skins); other than that it carries white semillon’s distinguishing silky swish, especially from old Franschhoek vines. Semillon’s profile is set to be raised further under this new and instantly successful label.

Meantime, the Wine & Spirit Board can confer official status for wine to semillon gris.

Landau du Val 2012Okay, one last semillon (I do so enjoy this variety), again from Franschhoek. Basil and Jane Landau’s vineyard will celebrate its 109th birthday in 2015. The wine’s had a parade of winemakers over the years, so hopefully the incumbent since 2012, Wynand Grobler of Rickety Bridge, will remain and continue to do justice to these great old vines. Grobler says 2013 is even better than 2012; watch out for its release in early 2015.

Clairette blanche, another variety that’s been around in Cape vineyards for many years, is also enjoying some renewed attention. Mick Craven (winemaker with Adam Mason at Mulderbosch) and his wife, Jeanine (winemaker at Dornier) launched their own Craven Wines label this year (they were previously known as Antipodean); it’s a label to watch. The latest release is Craven Clairette 2013; the fruit from a farm in Polkadraai was vinified half on skins, half in tank via natural ferment, some old oak also employed. The pair are showing not only Swartland has movers and shakers.

Chardonnay and Elgin = a perfect marriage.
Chardonnay and Elgin = a perfect marriage.

One last white, a bit more mainstream – Iona Chardonnay 2013, one of my best wines of the year, a Platter five star and the epitome of chardonnay from this cool climate. I believe Elgin has the potential to become chardonnay capital of South Africa.

What I like about all these whites is their focus on structure and texture rather than obvious fruit; something which makes them both more interesting and food friendly.

Pinot noir, Pofadder and Porseleinberg are three reds high on my excitement chart. The pinot is Bruce Jack’s maiden The Drift 2012 from their remote farm on the Akkedisberg halfway between Bredasdorp and Caledon. Despite the familiarity of the three clones – 115, 777 and 665 – the wine, although true to pinot, is an individual, reflecting its fynbos environment and mix of ancient soils in which it grows. Its evocative name ‘There are still Mysteries’ reminds of pinot sites yet to be uncovered.

Pofadder 2013, for those lucky enough to have laid hands on some, is the loveliest incarnation of Eben Sadie’s Old Vines cinsaut yet. Cinsaut and grenache are the antithesis of big, beefy reds; both will be on my shopping list in 2015.

View from Porseleinberg towards Wellington
View from Porseleinberg towards Wellington

Porseleinberg is set to shake up syrah, taking it into a new, wilder and wider direction. The amazing fact about Callie Louw’s Platter five star 2012 is that it’s not seen a splinter of wood, which adds to its defining edginess. It’s a truly thrilling wine. The fruit also plays an important 50% role in Marc Kent’s CWG Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2102.

From P to S for Sijnn Touriga Nacional 2012 and Swerwer red 2013.The de Trafford’s vineyard and cellar near the mouth of the Breede River is proving yet another remote gem, rewarding in handfuls their search for excellence outside the more traditional winelands. This touriga is particularly beguiling in fruit and form but I anticipate some exceptional blends incorporating the variety in future.

Swerwer red 2013 backAnd talking of blends, many red blends look interesting on paper, but deliver a smudgy nothingness in the bottle. Jasper Wickens Swerwer 2013 is different; each variety plays an identifiable role but the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Happy New Year to you all. May harvest 2015 deliver many more gems like the above and others omitted.

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