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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.


Bellingham estate was established 1693, whilst Boschendal can trace its historic farm and homestead back even further to 1685, though today both are part of the same group - Douglas Green Bellingham (DGB). I met up with Group Winemaker JC Bekker first at Boschendal for a tour and tasting, then later for dinner at the Boschendal estate's beautiful Manor House.

JC is at pains to point out that innovation is part of the Bellingham philosophy: they were the first to plant Roussanne and Marsanne in the Cape for example, and for their Bernard Series have created a 'winery within a winery' featuring sorting tables and open fermentation tanks.

JC also says his goal with both estates is to achieve suppleness.

His aim is "Eliminating the green and avoiding aggressive tannins," and achieving this, he says, is mostly down to terroir: "Especially with Pinotage we need to find the right sites to avoid the unpleasant notes that people don't like. For us that's the Simonsberg foothills - the best Pinotage comes from there I have absolutely no doubt, and it all about the site."

This, he says, as a perfect example of the changes the Cape has seen in recent years: "Five years ago everyone was talking about the winemaking being the secret to Pinotage, nobody talked about the vineyards and sites."

Boschendal has recently purchased Brampton brand from Rustenburg: "it was getting too big for them," says JC. They have bought the brand and vineyard contracts.

Bellingham wines

DGB has its own UK offices, but see all Bellingham stockists on wine-searcher. Whites all £8.99, reds £9.99

The Bernard Series Whole Bunch Grenache Blanc Viognier 2009
60/40 blend of the two grapes, 10% aged in older barrels. JC says this is the oldest Viognier in South Africa at 11 years old. Talcumy, slightly sherbetty nose, with some herbal aromatics. Very attractive sweet fruit on the palate, the texture is creamy without being too full, and the lime acidity streaks through the finish beautifully. 89/100. Sainsbury's looking at this, but not currently in stock.

The Bernard Series Whole Bunch Roussanne 2009
Around 30% aged in older barrels, again from the oldest Roussanne in South Africa. Slightly more open, more oxidative nose, but there's a minerality and sour lemon quality. The weight on the palate is good: it has a fat lemony, lemon zest quality, with big sour acidity and quite a tangy, long finish. 88/100. £8.99, Sainsbury's

The Bernard Series Hand-picked Viognier 2008
Fermented in barrel, natural yeasts. Eleven year old vineyard. Hugely aromatic Viognier expression, with lots of sweet, unctuous nectarine and pear, with a smattering of vanilla and honey. Very sweet fruit, with lots of unctuous character, but not heavy or cloying. Lovely style and expression. 89/100. £8.99, Waitrose.

The Bernard Series Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2008
40-year-old, dry-farmed bush vines that yield very low. Twelve months in barrel, 50% new. Fairly subdued apple nose, seems a little bit dumb at first, but then some honey richness and toast coming through as well as peachy fruit. Obvious concentration on the palate, with a broad acidity and a great core of orange and toast building. The palate has a natural concentration that is quite decisive, with that fat, tangy, lemon zest and green apple acidity playing against a hint of sweetness. 90/100. Waitrose.

The Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage 2007
From three selected parcels of old bush vine Pinotage in Stellenbosch, 12 months in barrel, new and second fill. Pinotage signature, just hinting at the burnt/rubbery quality, but leathery, moving into blue/black fruit. The palate has a massive black fruit presence. There's huge, almost floral character here. The palate too is filled with lots of silky, sweet black fruit. Quite fine and racy too, with a long, dry finish revealing fine, but grippy tannin. 89/100. Not yet listed in the UK.

The Bernard Series Small Barrel SMV 2006
Eighteen months in oak. Only 3% Viognier, but all varieties picked and fermented together. Big, very perfumed nose, with lots of high, kirsch-like fruit, violet and a cedary, smoky background. The palate has an inky density, the creamy blue/black fruit powering through sweetly. Very juicy, a big, full mouthful that's silky and full, with the oak tannins and toast quite powerfully grippy. The final impression is spice and liquorice, which I think could be pulled back slightly, but a huge mouthful of wine at the price. 88/100. £9.99

The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2006
Concentrated, juicy black pastille fruit nose. Some earthy, gamy edges and a little bit of floral lift. The palate is very dry, with a savoury, lip-smacking grip and for me a slightly lack of mid-palate fat, the dry tannins and oak just making the finish a little less charming than it could be. 87/100. £9.99

The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah 2007
Tank sample. A little more herbal, earthy character. The fruit is sweet, and the palate as a racier edge to it. There's a juicer, more quenching quality to it. There's a chocolate and mocha richness. 88/100.

Boschendal wines

UK agent is Matthew Clark. See all stockists on wine-searcher. All All 1685 label wines are priced £7.99.

2009 Boschendal 1685 Sauvignon Blanc
Herbaceous, gooseberry and nettle character, with a background of powerful tropical fruit coming through. The palate has a big tropical burst, hints at a smokiness, but the big, sweet, tropical fruit palate. Good acidity, and an impressive commercial style. 86/100. Sainsbury's, Tesco.

2008 Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay
70% barrel ferment. Quite a big, oaky nose. Quite buttery and vanillin, with a nicely buttery, fat but clean and citrussy. Tangy and long, with a touch of sweetness and vanilla in the finish. 86/100.

2008 Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay Pinot Noir
A very pale rose. Whole bunch pressed. Delicately fragranced, but quite muted nose. A little lemon sherbet and a touch of something strawberryish. The palate is fresh and tangy, with a savoury minerality and decent length. 87/100.

2008 Boschendal 1685 Shiraz
85% in barrels. Very chocolaty and spicy, with a bold, very peppery notes. Very violetty and lifted. The palate has a fine intensity, particularly rich, opulent and chocolaty with masses of sweet fruit. A lovely wine at the price. 88/100.

2008 Boschendal 1685 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon
Adds an earthier, more Sandalwood and cedar fragrance, but still the bold, black fruitiness. The palate has sweet fruit and a rusticity and spiciness that offers a big, generous mouthful. 86/100

2004 Boschendal Reserve Shiraz
100% barrel aged for 18 months, from a single vineyard. Huge, bold, beetroot and Italian tomato nose of ripeness. Plenty of black fruit. The sweetness of the fruit comes through nicely, with a silky maturity to the tannins and quite a chocolaty depth, with a spicy plum roughening edge. 89/100. £9.99.

Boschendal Grande Reserve 2005
60% Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot given 24 months in oak. Nicely lifted, clove and smoky, fragrant sandalwood notes and lovely sweet cassis and glossy black plum fruit. Terrific fruit on the palate, real sweetness and plush, silky tannins. Very soft finish, with smoothness and lovely balance. 91/100.

Boschendal Reserve Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Bold, lightly gamy nose. Fine aromas, a little bit of that tomato leaf character and lots of ripeness. Plenty of charry and spicy notes. The palate is quite lean and savoury. The tannins are liquoricy and tight, the plum skin bite adds a tightness. The finish has a nice freshness, with good acidity, spice and a warming but maintains its edge. 88/100.

return to South Africa 2010