As I may have mentioned before, I am currently in business with a South African JV partner. Whilst I have no great love for Johannesburg, I love heading up to Stollenbosch if I am stuck in the country over a week. Fortunately my SA biz partner is also mad about wine and takes great pleasure in sharing some of the best the country has to offer. During one recent trip to Stollenbosh, one of the posters on the Australian wine forum put me on to the winemaker at a vineyard he said he had an interest in called Haskell. Upon visting the vineyard, it turned out he was the CEO. As for the vineyard Rianie, the winemaker is passionate about her wines and will happy spend an hour or so talking you through her superbly made wines. So first up if you get to Stollenbosh, head to Annadalee road with Haskell at the top of the road on the right hand fork. http://www.haskellvineyards.com/index.jsp
They make a superb Boulder Rd Shiraz. The 05 pick up double gold which I am told in SA is a very good thing with two golds being better than one. Very much in a cooler climate style, soft tannins and red cherry flavours supported by white pepper notes. Excellent drop and just sad I had to give my bottle to the lovely lady at Customs in SA because I forgot you can no longer take bottles on board planes.
Also tried two very different chardonnay. The 05 having gone through malo treatment whilst the 06 had none. Of the two, I preferred the 05 with its butterscotch palate and suspect in future they may do a 50/50 mix. The 06 being more in the linear citrus new world style.
Further down the mountain, we also stopped in Ernie Els winery. No sign of the Man but a very impressive set up with stunning views from the tables set out the front on the patio.
Tried all the wines but the one to go for is their flagship drop names after Ernie: Ernie Els. Excellent bordeaux style this wine is no shrinking violet. big French oak, long cassis palate, cigar box and even some pencil shaving for those that seek pencils. The one bottle I did get back through those diligent men and women at Australian Customs will go to the back of the cellar for the next 15 years. The other main wines being the Proprietors blend of cab/shiraz was ok but not up to similar Aus styles of this blend. Whilst sitting at one of the table, I enquired of the person serving the wine what the square piece of grass was for. With a smile they told me it is set up so that Ernie can tee off balls into the vineyard when he is bored. If you look carefully you can see the waiting golf ball.
Also next door so to speak was the wellknow and justly so Rust en Verde. Lovely cab sav style and worth a bottle or two with one of the BIG steak the boks spend all their time eating.
At the bottom of the hill was the historic Weberburg Wines with its white washed Cape Town buildings dating back to 1796. Fantastic lodging for those seeking some where to stay. The straight Cab Sav was a good wine without being exceptional. Slightly two dimensional and lacking in fruit and comlexity, it is still nevertheless worth a visit.
With a business partner who is passionate about his wines and a cellar to match, the 10 days produced a great intro into South African wines. Firstt up Chardonays. My pick of the tour was a superb drop by Ataraxia. Apparently the wine of the moment in SA and with good reason, it is in built in the Leewin Estate style, great length, with stunning citrus flavours and excellent length structure. I would happy put this up against any modern Aus style Chard.
Next and a completely different style was the Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne. As John Platter describes it, "extreme winemaking taken to the extreme limit... "inspired by ancient Burgundy" and a native yeast ferment. This wine caused huge debate at the table. The host hated, I loved it and the others were just confused. Any forumites out in SA have to give it a crack if only once.
Other excellent Chardonnays, the Jordan Nine Yards Reserve, one of the granddaddys of the SA wine biz. Big new world style, excellent grape selection with great comlexity and length and fuller overall style. Of worth tracking down Bouchard Finlayson Croc Liar Chard and Hamilton Russell Chardonnay. The latter having undergone malo but retained elegance.
In terms of riesling, these are very much out of fashion although I did try a very good 98 rielsing from Klein Constania with German like residual sweetness.
The other big grape category is the Pinotage. This was really interesting. Top of the list for me was the Diemersfontein with its amazing chocolate covered coffee bean style although one winemaker was kind enough to inform me this wine was developed for the masses and undermined the intregity of the grape ( sounded like sour grapes to me). Also tried some older Pinotage care of friends. The Kanonkop 92 Pinotage shows that this wine if well made can easily last 20 years. At this age, the tannins have softened and the wine takes on a subtle complexity built around its choc/coffee flavours.
The one observation from an evening at the WineX is that Brett remains a major problem for many wineries. A number of the wines at the show had that whiffy barnyard nose that is thankfully missing from Aus wines. I have never really understood this condition when raised by the Brettanazis on this site but I really understood it after an hour of random tasting in SA. I asked a couple of winemakers and most were prepared to admit in the older wineries this problem is more common than most would be prepared to admit.