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.

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