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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


JC One of the power players of the South African wine industry is the DGB Group, owners of the Boschendal, Bellingham and Douglas Green labels, and producers of around 2.5 million cases of wine annually. I met up at the historic Bellingham estate, founded in 1685 but part of DGB since 2005, with group winemaker JC Becker.

JC talked me through some of the numbers in the DGB Group operation: Each year they crush 7,200 tons, which is only 20% of the total annual needs of DGB, the rest is a négociant business buying already made wines from various cooperative cellars. "We don't buy off the shelf," says JC, "we specify what we want and that is made for us by each supplier". Around 65% of production is exported, and the Boschendal label itself (around 15% of DGB's total production) is the top selling premium South African wine in the UK according to the latest Nielsen statistics.

Despite the scale and style of the operation, JC says "Each of our brands keeps its own identity." With almost 400 vineyards supplying grapes from across the Western Cape, not only from Stellenbosch but from Robertson, Worcester, Darling and new cooler areas including Elgin, JC says "each is giving different properties: you don't need to own to control." To that end, they have full time viticulturists working with their growers, "And we are taking everything from one ton of Tannat upwards," says JC, which he insists gives the flexibility to source the best fruit for their needs.

DGB operates three winemaking facilities at Boschendal, Franschhoek Cellars (for the Bellingham label) and in Wellington "Which is basically the négociant side of the business, with blending and bottling plant," says JC.

Boschendal Wines

Boschendal's wines are imported by DGB Europe. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Boschendal, Le Grande Pavilion Brut Rosé, South Africa
This sparkling wine is made by the traditional method, a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinotage and 20% Chardonnay that spends 12 months on lees. Nice fruity wine, with lots of strawberry and raspberry, very easy drinking but dry, and has good balance, nice lemony tang to the finish. 86/100.

Boschendal, Grande Cuvée Brut 2008, South Africa
A Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend, this has a crisp, juicy apple and lemon nose, a touch of nice nettle and hint of yeast, just a hint of guava. Quite a biscuity richness on the palate, with a little grip of preserved lemon and good freshness. A nice bit of phenolic grip here to add a touch of seriousness. 88/100.

Boschendal, Jean Along Cuvée Prestige Blanc de Blancs 2007, South Africa
70% Chardonnay from the farm, the rest from Elgin. On lees for 5 years this is extra dry with only 1.3g/l residual sugar. Toasty and yeasty, good caramel and honey, nice apple beneath. Delicious, dry palate, with lots of lemon and apple juiciness, nice dry finish, perhaps would like a touch more length. 89-90/100.

Boschendal, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
"One third from Paardeberg for apricot fullness, one third from Bottelary for structure and lime, one third from Somerset West for citrus," according to JC. That lime and straw/wheat character is there, really ripe pear and Ogen melon, but deliciously vibrant, a little touch of almond or honey enriching the finish, but lovely balance with crisp white fruit acids and a 5.8g/l touch of rounding sugar. In Majestic at around £8.99. 87/100.

Boschendal, 1685 Sauvignon Blanc 2013, South Africa
Tank sample, lots of real vivacious tang, lots of punch, lots of vivacious fruit with a streak of gooseberry but lots and lots of more guava and mango fruit, with freshness, a touch of rounding, leesy weight and good citrus acidity. A very stylish wine at the price. Will be £8.99 Tesco and Co-op. 87-88/100.

Boschendal, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
A selection of cooler climate vineyards including Elgin. Some honey and nuttiness, a touch of oatmeal, but a bit of green bean and herb beneath. The palate has a lot of juice, a lot of supple, weighty texture, and plenty of lime skins in the finish. Delicious stuff with great style. 90/100. In SAwinesonline

Boschendal, 1685 Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
Tank sample, 200,000 litre production, 70% aged in oak, only 10% new but all on the lees for nine months. 40% of fruit from Elgin. Delightful nutty and orange richness, but the creaminess is there too. Powerful palate, lots of fruit, but the supporting oak adds spice and toasty layers beneath. Very stylish. 88-89/100. £8.99 in Waitrose.

Boschendal, Shiraz Cabernet 2011, South Africa
60/40 blend. Savoury in style, not overtly luscious. A bit of cedar, a bit of sweetness and cabernet greenness just adding and extra savoury element. 87-88/100. In Waitrose and Booths.

Boschendal, Reserve Shiraz 2011, South Africa
Quite a cool black fruit nose, sprinkled with a little white pepper, and a meaty, savoury almost quite gamy touch to the aromas. Fantastically pure fruit on the palate, with lots of juicy and liquorice bite. Delightful, really tight, lots of spice and pepper and a tangy, gamy, lots of crunch and fruit skin tang. 92/100. Around £21.00 in UK.

Boschendal, Cecil John Reserve Shiraz 2010, South Africa
From a single vineyard. More classical, with cedar and a touch of wreathing woodsmoke, that little gamy, meaty character ,like the straight Shiraz. A touch dry, but has lovely fruit quality and there's a really nice balance, but it lacks the supple, long finish perhaps, finishing just a little spicy rather than fruity. 90/100. Around £30 in UK.

Boschendal, Elgin Pinot Noir 2012, South Africa
Delicious, proper Pinot nose with some plush and tobacco and mellow truffle character, nice dusting of cocoa and spices, the oak (15% new) adding subtle toast but all nicely behind the fruit. Lovely rip[e fruit here, a real supple and fleshy mid-palate, a lovely stripe of fresh acidity and tight, creamy tannins just adding enough structure against the sweet fruit and cocoa-rich, oaky weight on the finish. 89/100.

Bellingham Wines

Bellingham's wines are imported by DGB Europe. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Bellingham, Ancient Earth Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
Really crunchy ripe, apples here, rosy red apples and a background touch of herbs or elderflower. On the palate, plenty of sweet, ripe, very mouth-filling fruit, juicy and sweet and fleshy, but finishes with enough cleansing white fruit acidity. 87/100.

Bellingham, Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
50/50 new and second use oak, youngest vines are 42 years old, all bush vines. A touch of hazelnut and definite apple fruit, the palate filled with really nice, honeyed and elegant fruit, a twist of toast and sesame seed, but the clean, lime peel zest in the finish. 90/100. £11.99 Majestic.

Bellingham, Ancient Earth Pinotage 2011, South Africa
A nice earthiness, minimal oak means the black fruit comes through, lots of violet and fresh cherry and kirsch, a bit more chocolaty richness on the palate makes this very easy to drink, smooth but with a bit of tannic bite. 85/100.

Bellingham, Bernard Series Pinotage 2010, South Africa
Single vineyard bush vines from Darling. Delightful nose, scented and floral with a rich undertow of coffee and cassis. Quite racy, the blue black fruit hinting at cocoa and blueberry, but there's a freshness too, spice and a nice finish with lovely freshness and a twist of liquorice. Lovely. 89/100.

Bellingham, Bernard Series Pinotage 2011, South Africa
More red fruit character, with lovely chocolate and spice, and a lifted nose showing a bit of that cherry and a little earthy hint too. Really thick, rich and juicy on the palate, much more robust in some ways - less polished perhaps - but there's still that soft, mellow finish. 89/100

Bellingham, Bernard Series MMM 2010, South Africa
Barrel fermented, Merlot, Mourvèdre and Malbec. Nice touch of violet, with a smooth, creamy impression, there is a smooth burnished leather, a touch of dark mint chocolate, and on the palate there's a lovely smooth fruit, not heavy, has the juiciness still, a lovely dry tannic background, the finish plummy but with a strawberry pulp suggestion of softness, savoury and deliciously easy to drink yet with that core of structure. 91/100. Tesco £14.99

Bellingham, Bernard Series SMV 2009, South Africa
A blend of 86% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 4% Viognier fermented together. Lovely, big chocolate and deep spice nose, with lots of round, supple juiciness, again that real depth and succulence. Delicious dark and meaty fruit concentration, but delicious and very rich like Dundee cake. 90/100.

Bellingham, Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2011, South Africa
From Paardeberg and Bottelary and 15- to 20-year-old vineyards cooled by sea breezes. Fermented in open 300 and 500 litre barrels, 30% new, then aged in same barrels for 15 months. Co-fermented with 3% Viognier skins. Very nice nose, lots of supple, chocolate, with the plush suppleness of spice and delicious fruit richness and such sweet fruit playing against the tang and life of the acidity and fine tannins. Lovely. 90/100. £11.99, Tesco and Sainsbury.

Douglas Green Wines

Douglas Green's wines are imported by DGB Europe. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Douglas Green Sauvignon Blanc 2013, South Africa
A touch of pear drop tanky character, but fruit is nice and tangy with lots of apple and lemon crunch, a teasing sweet edge, and nice touch of vivacious, grassy quality in the finish. 85/100.

Douglas Green The Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2013, South Africa
15% Semillon added. 7%r/s. Also tanky and young, but has a little more restrained character from the Semillon, though a nice, richness on the palate a little more nectarine juice richness. 86/100.

Douglas Green Chenin Blanc 2011, South Africa
Wellington fruit from older vineyards, bush vines that they pay a little more for. Nice hint of nutty, lightly honeyed richness, oatmeal and a touch of exotic papaya. A nice savoury, dry apple and citrus pith palate is very drinkable. 6g/l residual sugar. 86/100.

Douglas Green Rib Shack Red 2012, South Africa
Pinotage Shiraz blend. Sainsbury's stock a little of it. Quite a bit of coffee, smoky, chocolate in the coffee style, with a juicy and full fruited palate, with plenty of fruit sweetness, 7g/l residual sugar. 85/100.

return to South Africa 2013