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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.

ELGIN VALLEY PRODUCERS

The average age of all the wineries in Elgin is just five years. "It just isn't logical to think that we should have found our niche by now," says Paul Cluver. "We're an incredibly young region and to a certain extent, we are still finding our way." There is indeed lots of experimentation, with Syrah the latest 'buzz', though the early examples of Pinot Noir impressed me greatly too. The region enjoys not only a cooler climate, but a variety of slopes, hills and aspects.

Iona Estate is run by Andrew Gunn, an ex-engineer who did a lot of climate measuring on his farm, before realising the surprisingly cool conditions meant Sauvignon Blanc was the obvious variety to claim as his trump card. Paul Cluver's family have farmed here for over 100 years. They focus on five varietals, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. Oak Valley is run by the genial Anthony Rawbone-Vijoen. His only complaint? A big contract to supply the Swedish monopoly has limited his ability to supply his lovely Pinot Noir to other markets. Belfield is one of the newer names, where Mike Kreft planted only red wine grapes on a small, north facing site in 2002. Rigorous canopy management aims to expose his Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz bunches to maximum sun. Highlands Road was established only in 2004 on a former fruit farm by British couple Justin & Mary Hoy. They are following a passion and a dream to make Sauvignon Blanc. The final and newest member of this little tasting group is Almenkerk, owned and run by Joris and Natalie Almenkerk. Joris, a Belgian lawyer, moved to the Cape in 2002 and the estate is the realisation of yet another winemaking dream.

white wines

Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Quite a tropical fruit nose, but delicate and complex, little pea shoot notes. Lovely fruit on the palate, though seems quite sweet, with a slightly disjointed feeling in the finish. I think this would be better a touch drier, but very fine and delicate. 86/100. Not in UK as of May 2010.

Highlands Road Sauvignon Blanc 2008
High pyrozene levels here, and Justin says he is looking for longevity in the wines. Only a couple of thousand cases. Mineral, lemon-balm notes, with a touch of green bean coming through. Much more sour lemony fruit, much more primary at this stage, but lean and citrusy and very focused. 89/100.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Delicately, soft, leafy herb fruit. Gooseberry and a touch of apple, even peach coming through over citrus. Lovely thrust and minerality, terrific vivacity here, but dry, mineral, pithy and citric and tight. 91/100. UK Agent is Enotria. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Oak Valley Chardonnay 2009
Aged in 40% new French oak and barrel fermented. Plenty of oak on the nose, with a figgy green bean richness and a nutty apple fruit, just a little glimpse of mango ripeness. The palate has a luscious ripeness, but staying juicy, with a blast of tangerine fruit and fine acidity. Very nice wine this, of lovely balance. 90/100. UK Agents are Great Western Wines and Thierry's. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2009
Fine Gewurz aromatics, with gentle gooseberry and lychee aromas, And a touch of smoky minerality. Lovely palate too, with a big grapefruity blast of fruit, tangerine orange and plenty of acidity playing against the little sweetness of the finish. Lovely balance. £8.99, Waitrose. With Seckford agencies in UK, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Weisser Riesling 2009
This has 11% alcohol and 198g/l of sugar. Beautifully delicate lemon glycerine nose, all sorts of delicate tea leaf and even orange blossom notes and the gentlest toast. This has shimmering acidity that is also soft and juicy, there's a touch of lemon zest too, but it is that lovely tangerine and lime fruit that runs through the palate. Beautiful and a delightful, light-bodied style. 92/100.

red wines

Highlands Road Pinot Noir 2008
Cold maceration for a week. Highly spiced, incense-like nose, beautifully floral fruit. Lots of kirsch and cherry, with a coffeeish background of oak. A touch dry on the palate perhaps, but with a lovely smoky, sweet earth quality and delightful cherry red fruit. Fine tannins, and though this is a touch chunky and spicy, and might be better with oak and alcohol reigned back a touch, it is a lovely wine. 89-90/100.

Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2008
Planting more Pinot noir at 10,000 vines per hectare. Very authentic Pinot nose, with an earthiness and woodland note, and some nicely autumnal berry fruit. The palate has a lovely rhubarb and beetrooty style, sweet fruited with the earthiness and gentle vegetal quality. Lovely edge to this wine, and a really fresh style, acid and quite tight tannins giving cut and structure. 92/100.

Belfield Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Little touch of tomato, leafiness and cherry red fruit. There's a layer of vanilla, and a certain mineral character too. The palate has lovely fruit sweetness, a bold cherry and red plum juiciness, with a nicely roughening tannin quality. Quite creamy and ripe tannins, but they do add some structure along with sour cherry acidity. 89/100.

Belfield Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Lovely cab nose, a touch of earthy quality, a touch of herbal too, but the black fruit has lovely roundness and a fleshy, supple mid-palate with a fine balance in the finish. Very juicy and tannins and acids nicely integrated. 90/100.

Iona Syrah 2007
Intense purple colour. Beautiful lift to the nose, with a real sense of minerality and tight, glossy, but tightly wound black fruit. Lovely cool climate Syrah. Palate has dry tannins, but I think this is a wine to cellar, as the fruit is composed and tight, with chocolate and dark, plum-skin bittersweetness. Long and stylish this, but quite a serious wine. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

return to South Africa 2010