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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


Marc Kent (right) is one of the most restless and adventurous winemakers in the Cape. His operation spans everything from the hugely successful Porcupine Ridge range of superior supermarket wines made from bought-in fruit, to his estate-grown Semillon, an esoteric white-Bordeaux lookalike that is one of South Africa's best and most expensive white wines.

He recently surprised with his bottling of a very cool-climate Syrah from coastal vineyards in Walker Bay, and on this visit enthused about an organically accredited vineyard he had just acquired in Reibeek, Swartland, that supplied the Syrah fruit for the first few vintages of Columella. His hugely successful Chocolate Block - a rich and spicy melange of Syrah and a fistful of other varieties - is as cleverly marketed as it is simply brilliant to drink.

This tasting included a little vertical of his Semillon, a wine I have loved since first visiting Marc at his cellars in 2005. He says he is now keeping the wine back for an extra year before release, because "the wine looks more interesting after time." The wine is a labour of love and expensive to produce. "I'd love to keep it back for 10 years," he says, but for now care is lavished on the wine which is made in its own dedicated facility with a very cold environment that holds the acidity. He also adds about 7% Sauvignon Blanc from the subsequent vintage "to sharpen it up."

Boekenhoutskloof has managed that rarest of tricks, by satisfying everyday enthusiasts through the Porcupine Ridge range whilst retaining the interest of wine enthusiasts with their top portfolio. "I don't worry about any other South African producers," he tells me. "If you are making good wine, there's enough room for all of us. What I worry about is Argentina, Chile and the South of France."

the wines

UK Agent is New Generation Wines, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2007
Current release. Beautiful seed cake nose, touches of lanolin and a definite waxiness. Sweet edged palate, terrific acidity, tight lemony flavours, but needs time. 91 points now, but try in a few years.

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2006
Beautiful honey and orangey nose, I think of carrot cake with a creamy topping, some herby qualities and that waxy note. On the palate the lemon rind quality of fruit dominates, with more of that orange and grapefruit pith. 92/100

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2004
Fantastic development, honey and fantastic seed cake complexity, the palate mellowed into a slightly broader, fleshier feel and the lemony core of acidity sweeping through. 93/100

Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008
Lovely weight and spice, a robust earthy black fruit and, yes, chocolate and plum. fleshy and yet has deep, sweet pinpoint fruit and tannins. 91/100

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Big, deep, quite animal nose, with lots of gamy quality and the spiciness of a little percentage of Cabernet Franc. Nicely rich and expressive, with a fantastic sour cherry acidity and polished tannins. Lovely wine this. 92/100

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2007
All natural ferment, 27 months in older barriques. The nose is very finely tuned: ripe, glossy black berries, but layered with pepper and spice and mellow, smoky vanilla oak. The palate has great fruit, with a silky tannin structure and lovely spice and cherry acidity. Beautifully pure, with fantastic focus and length. 93/100

Boekenhoutskloof Noble Late Harvest 2007
Two barrel production, spending two years in new wood. "Complete take on Semillon," says Marc, with 165g/l of residual sugar. Wonderfully opulent nose, with huge honey and sesame seed notes. Beautiful balance, with subtle honey and leaf tea notes, a touch of Earl Grey. Fabulous clarity in the finish, with lovely balance, the clear, glycerine and lemon confit fruit extending through the finish. 93/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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