It’s summer, it’s hot but never mind, we’ll still drink red wines with our meals. I suspect, whatever the weather, the default colour for most wine lovers’ evening meal at least, is red. Being the meat-eating nation we are, I can understand why, but it also shows a lack of adventure and experimentation.
I’ve spent the year so far being both adventurous and experimenting by drinking white wines only; I assure you there is success and much enjoyment to be found beyond red wines, even with meat on the menu.
South African white wines are regularly singled out as being innovative and singular, not only for their varietal make up but increasingly for their structure and ability to benefit from age. As I’ve already mentioned, the many different vessels used for fermentation and ageing are influential but there’s also the possibility of making white wine in the same way as reds, with skin contact.
It’s nothing new, Georgia, Slovenia and Friuli are well-known for their Orange wines, those made with skin maceration. The story is recorded in Simon Woolf’s book Amber Revolution, which has also given energy to growing international enthusiasm for skin-macerated white wines.
Locally, it was around 2008-2010 when a few winemakers started experimenting; by 2018 there were more than enough to hold a tasting dedicated to a wide range. Our opinions and results are available here.
I’ve found that success depends to a large extent on the winemaker’s experience; those who have a regular source of fruit and several vintages under their belt, are making excellent wines.
Jurgen Gouws is one of them. He started his Intellego label in 2009, though I first came across him when he worked at Lammershoek with Craig Hawkins in 2011. Craig was already trialing skin-maceration on white wines and Jurgen caught the bug.
He’s now based on the Paardeberg in the old Observatory Cellars and takes in fruit from organic vineyards across the Swartland.
His labels are a delight, each has a story to tell, all suggest the wines are something different. They are indeed. The latest vintage, 2019 apart from the 2018 and 2017 syrahs, were introduced to a group of media and sommeliers by Jurgen this week.
Wine is celebration of the vineyards it comes from, runs Jurgen’s philosophy; in the cellar, the wine’s journey is unhurried and not forced into any predetermined style. It says much for Jurgen’s now assured hand that the results are invariably excellent.
There are a pair of chenins; the one labelled Chenin Blanc didn’t receive skin maceration, was naturally fermented in old oak (used as a container rather than flavourant) with 11 months lees enrichment. The colour is as one might expect from such vinification: bright, pale lemony straw. Think flavour – spice, ginger – rather than fruit– but overall more weight and texture.
For any cautious about white wines with tannins (they’re accepted on reds, so why not whites?), Elementis Skin Contact is a perfect introduction. Colourwise, it’s darker buttery lemon rather than amber or orange, even after 13 days on the skins, a flexible period depending on vintage. There is tannic firmness but in no way intimidating and never outpaces the fragrance, freshness and concentrated flavour. Like all Jurgen’s wines, it is totally dry, adding a note of firmness. Of course, everything is in place for ageing. I recently drank, with great pleasure, a 2016.
A greater sense of adventure is required for The Sleeping Co-pilot, a viognier, again 13 days on skins, here producing a dark gold hue and much more austere wine with an earthiness dimming the rather vague dried peach aromas. Not endearing in a tasting format, but probably more amenable with food, maybe even red meat. The name recalls a scary time when an intern from Switzerland was driving Jurgen to collect grapes; Jurgen himself was aroused from drowzing to find his Co-pilot asleep at the wheel! All was well that ended well.
Whole bunch plays a role in the reds as well as whites, helping to give Pink Moustache, a 70% syrah no skin contact, 30 cinsaut three days on skins as whole bunches, freshness and energy in its wild berry and spice flavours. Classed as Alternative Red, there’s no need to be alternative to enjoy it.
Halagasha takes a refreshing new look at pinotage, a variety Jurgen also worked on with Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek. The only reason this would require a sense of adventure is if there’s disbelief that pinotage can be anything other than big, thick and jammy. Bursting with energy, ripe cranberry fruit and freshness that has much to do with the fine tannins, it does pinotage great service which deserves to receive wide recognition.
If reds are mandatory on the menu, Halagasha as well as the Rhône style blend, Kedungu, lighter, fragrant and flavoursome Syrah 2018 and Kolbroek (Syrah) 2017 are perfect on a warm summer’s evening.
Jurgen deservedly has a following, ; both Pink Moustache and Halagasha are already sold out but the strength of these wines, the whites in particular, is when partnered with food. Restaurateurs, sommeliers and wine stewards can do much to encourage more timid wine lovers to enjoy these wines. There’s a good tip in Richard Siddle’s article in The Buyer,
‘A humble suggestion here is that more experimentation, more risk taking and being more open to change is the way forward.’ As applicable here as it is to buyers in the UK.
Go forth; be bold and aventurous!