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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.


Morne Vrey When jeweller Laurence Graff, Chairman of Graff Diamonds International, bought the Delaire estate in 2003 I suspect not many people could have guessed at the transformation that would take place to turn Delaire-Graff into a fabulous, hedonistic destination. Graff is on record as having "vowed to transform it into South Africa's most desirable art, hospitality and wine destination." He has certainly carried through on the promise, the estate now featuring not only the winery, but a world-class collection of African art, Relais & Chateaux hotel, two restaurants and a luxurious spa. For some Delaire-Graff might verge on the OTT given the conspicuous luxury that surrounds the visitor, but it is now a very important Stellenbosch estate and, more to the point, the wines are good.

Delaire-Graff is a Bordeaux varieties and Chardonnay specialist, overseen in winemaking terms by Morne Vrey (right). Morne has been on the team here since 2007, and has been senior winemaker since 2009. There are two full-time viticulturists too, and a state of the art winery that gleams with modernity.

Morne is a quiet and understated character, but an experienced one. Work in France, Germany and New Zealand preceded his return to South Africa an position at Delaire-Graff, and he exploits the technically dazzling winery, opened in 2008, to very good effect with beautifully made wines that perhaps play a little too safe, but I suspect that is exactly what the doctor ordered in this meticulously-planned operation.

the wines

Delaire-Graff is imported into the UK by Justerini & Brooks. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Delaire-Graff, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
65% from Oliphant's River way up on the west coast one kilometre from the sea and 350 kilometres north of Cape Town. Sandy soils, a layer of salt. Restrained, clear lemon and crunchy, cool fruit, a touch of ripe Asian pear. That cool, salty character really comes through on the palate, a real saline note keeping it savoury, and finishing bone dry with a tang. 87/100.

Delaire-Graff, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
All Swartland fruit, vineyards 30 to 70 year old bush vines. Fermented in 400 litre barrels, 25% new. Very crisp, very fresh, no battonage or malo to retain acid freshness. There is a hint of nectarine juiciness too and again that hint of saline. The palate has a big, pithy orange peel and pith acidity, and wonderfully racy finish. 89-90/100.

Delaire-Graff, Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
Predominantly fruit from the home farm and the rest from around other Stellenbosch growers. Barrel ferment in 225s, no battonage and minimal malo as required. The oak is a little more, prominent, but there's a citrus skin tang too. The palate has lovely, taut style, very lean and pure - a mountain stream freshness and clarity, very restrained and intelligently made style. 90/100.

Delaire-Graff, Cabernet Franc Rosé 2012, South Africa
From cooler sites, giving a bit of pyrozene, from vineyard dedicated to rose, fermented with . Lovely pale, Provence colour, a bit of herbs and grass, then a touch of toffeed ripeness shows through. Plenty of nice fruit, and a clean red fruit, redcurranty dryness, finishing with lovely lemony acids. 87/100.

Delaire-Graff, Botmanskop 2010, South Africa
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec. "We don't do too much work," says Morne, "just a few punch downs to make sure we don't extract too much." 15 months in barrel, 50 new. Bright, quite buoyant style, loaded with cassis and juicy, ripe black cherry. Very svelte, very silky, with lots of plush black fruit, but there's a biting precision about this: it doesn't move into mocha and coffee, but has a twist of chicory and liquorice grip, a hint of char, but focused on that bittersweet fruit. 91/100.

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