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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.


fable wines I did something of a double take when Paul Nichols and his wife Rebecca Tanner walked through the door to meet me in the tasting room of Mulderbosch. When I last met up with them it was as the winemaking and viticultural team behind Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (TMV). Knowing that today I would be meeting representatives of Fable Wines, a new name from Tulbagh under the same ownership as Mulderbosch, what I had not realised was that Fable wasn't a new start operation, but more a re-branding of the highly respected TMV.

In fact, TMV was the first South African property acquired by Charles Banks, a label that had a considerable reputation already both domestically and in Europe, but which was far less well-known in Banks' native USA. The change of name is part of the re-branding to attack export markets, not only the US but the UK too where Fable are currently not represented.

I got the sense from talking with Paul and Rebecca during the tasting of their wines that this young couple who have lived and breathed the sensitively and organically-farmed Tulbagh vineyards for many years now, are still coming to terms with a change in direction, perhaps to a more 'plush' style that the new owners might demand. Though they did not comment on that, it is clear that they remain as passionate and dedicated as ever to their remote and beautiful estate, where 15 hectares of vines at an elevation of 500 to 600 metres are just one part of a rugged 180 hectare farm that is also home to cattle, sheep and horses.

They remain focused on organic and biodynamic farming too, with some Tulbagh Chenin Blanc going to Reyneke and other estates. The Fable web site suggests the couple have braved "fires, baboons, leopards, poisonous snakes, and isolation," in pursuit of the perfect wines, and indeed I personally witnessed the first two of those on my visit in 2010. It seems this couple have grit and determination to spare, and the progress and perhaps changing style of wines they make under the Fable Wines label will be one to watch.

the wines

See international stockists of Fable Wines on wine-searcher.

Fable, Jackal Bird 2011, South Africa
A blend of 55% Chenin Blanc, 16% Grenache, 16% Chardonnay, 9% Viognier and 4% Roussanne, all natural ferment, each proportion vinified separately in barrels, steel and concrete eggs, about 33% goes through malolactic. From old Swartland fruit mostly and Paardeberg. 175 Rand retail. Lovely touch of honeyed richness to this, that lovely fat apple fruit that is appley but very ripe, those hints of tropical pineapple touches and still that lovely freshness with a little herbal nuance. 90/100.

Fable, Jackal Bird 2012 sample, South Africa
Delightful nose, very pure and fresh, and a little more floral, and that lovely ripe orchard fruit, pear and a touch of melon and Asian pear. Just a nutty background. Delicious on the palate again, the nutty orchard fruit is the driving force, a really like the thread of acidity that is running through this, juicy and tangy. There is still a bit more barrel component to go into the blend apparently, but I love the freshness and fragrance of this. 90-92/100.

Fable, Lion's Whisker 2010, South Africa
80% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre. All estate fruit, 10 years old. Delightful nose, the ripeness and creamy, rich chocolate touched fat of the wine is very appealing, there's an appealing touch of violet and lifted kirsch, and also an underpinning earthiness. Delicious juiciness and ripe, fresh black berries that are balanced by some dry, slightly ashy tannins and acidity, that add a lovely cut of freshness. 175 Rand locally. 89-90/100.

Fable, Bobbejaan 2010, South Africa
100% Syrah. More closed than the Lion's at this stage, lots of cedar, lots of classic, really well defined lightly earthy quality. The palate has a racy twist of liquorice and endive adding dramatic dark bite. Lots of juicy dark cherry fruit, fine acid balance again and the tannins adding enough roughening presence whilst being ripe and really quite fine. A tight baby at this stage that needs a few years, but lovely concentration and balance. 310 Rand locally. 91/100.

Fable, Lion's Whisker 2011, South Africa
Some Grenache added in this vintage - a GSM blend. An overlay of oak at this stage, giving a little more vanilla, but lovely purity of red and black berries beneath. Big, plush palate, lots of espresso and plum, but juicy, the fresh points of cherry and liquorice really sharpening the finish. Juicy in the finish, the weight and concentration of the palate is lovely in a generous wine of great. 88-90/100.

Fable, Bobbejaan 2011, South Africa
A touch of Viognier in this, blended back from the subsequent vintage. A nice touch of the peachy quality of Viognier, but not dominating at all, not floral or peachy. Fine cedary background, the solidity and rasping freshness of the black fruit - lovely tart elements as well as sweetness - is really good. A twist of liquorice and endive again here, also a little charry oak quality adding depth, and this has length, spice and concentration. Arguably a little more Barossa than Rhone, but it does not lack elegance or freshness in the finish. 91-93/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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