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.

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