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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.

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SWARTLAND INDEPENDENT

The producers of Swartland are a remarkably united bunch, coming together frequently and always happy to drink, discuss and show each other's wines. There's a real collective mentality here, perhaps through those laid-back, hippy origins of the region or the frontier spirit of being pioneers in establishing Swartland as an area of quality wine production. At a 'speed dating' set of tastings held in the cellars of Mullineux Family Wines in the centre of Riebeek-Kasteel, five of the area's producers came together, each to present three or four of their wines in fairly quick fire one-to-one sessions. Therefore the background notes are relatively brief for each estate.

All of these wineries have signed up to the 'Swartland Independent' initiative. Amongst the interesting set of conditions of membership, wineries must not add yeasts, acids, tannins, enzymes, or fining and filtering agents when they make wine and they must never use more than 25% of new oak to mature a wine.

MULLINEUX FAMILY WINES

Chris and Andrea When I last visited Chris and Andrea Mullineux's little cellar in 2010, the building had literally just been constructed and was empty all but a few barrels. How nice to walk through the door to see every spare inch of floorspace occupied by both their winemaking tools of barrels, tanks and machinery, and a healthy amount of stock packaged up and ready for shipping to eager buyers around the world. The Mullineux's enjoyed overnight success (well almost) when their first release since striking out on their own after years at Tulbagh Mountain, included a 96-point score from Robert Parker.

Their initial core range of a red, white and straw wine is still at the heart of the business, but a clever second label called Kloof Street, made from fruit sourced from across Swartland, is available in larger volumes. Both ranges are made to the Mullineux's same exacting standards,

Mullineux's wines are imported by Berry Bros. & Rudd, Swig, Jeroboams, Vincisive and Handford. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Mullineux Family Wines, White 2012, South Africa
The blend is 76% Chenin Blanc, 17% Clairette Blanc and a touch of Viognier, vines from the three main soils of the region: iron-rich 'Koffieklip', granite and schist. The wine is made in foudres and aged in neutral oak barrels for 11 months. Lovely nose, a real smoky, flinty character here joining the preserved lemon and dry apple. The palate has delicious texture, and I love the pear and very ripe apple/melon fruit, the Viognier adding a little hint of juicy nectarine. Delicious finish, very sharply defined despite the wine going through full malolactic. Powerful but fresh and 91/100.

Mullineux Family Wines, Syrah 2011, South Africa
Just released, seven different vineyards covering the different soil types provide the fruit for this wine. Around 30% is whole bunch, and it is aged in 10% new wood. Delicious white pepper-sprinkled black fruit, really juicy, really supple, with the fruit retaining a cherry and briary, rosemary garrigue edge into a fresh, really long finish with a little spice and terrific freshness. 91-92/100.

Mullineux Family Wines, Schist Syrah 2010, South Africa
One of two special bottlings, this one from purely schist (slate) soils, its partner from purely granite soils completely sold out. The wine is 100% whole bunch, and sees around 50% new wood, but 500 litre barrels. Because of that it is not released under the 'independent' stamp. Lovely briary and stemmy character, abundant fruit, a touch of beetroot, tomato paste. The fruit has lovely texture and juiciness, a real blood and dry, very dry cherry skin acidity, with a lip-smacking juiciness, the touches of chocolate and that beetroot character giving layers of complexity along with the juiciness. 93/100.

DAVID WINES

david and Nadia The David in question is David Sadie, a distant cousin of Eben Sadie, but wishing to avoid any accusation of 'cashing in', David has dropped his surname from the label (pictured right with wife Nadia). Born and bred in the Swartland, David has extensive experience having worked at Waterford and Rustenberg, but also in New Zealand and France where he spent time at Château Quinault and with Yves Cuilleron. Nadia is a qualified viticulturist too, and the couple's first vintage under their own steam was only in 2010 - a mere 713 bottles - though now that has risen to 4,000 bottles in what remains very much a boutique operation.

For now they make wine in rented cellar space (rented from Saronsberg winery in Tulbagh, where David still holds down a day job as winemaker) and they buy their fruit from 13 farmers in Swartland. There are four wines in their range, some still only amounting to a single barrel. David wines are with Vincisive in UK, though the next shipment is not due until the autumn. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

David Wines, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
This is old bush vine Chenin (with 5% Viognier), two barrels only, and only older barrels. Attractive fresh nose, not hugely aromatic, but has a nice apple and citrus freshness. The palate has a delicious crunch, and it has a fresh white apple fruit as well as a little hint of ripe pear succulence, finishing very cool and salty-dry. 88/100.

David Wines, Aristargos 2012, South Africa
The blend for the top white is 49% old vine Chenin, 21% Viognier, 20% Clairette Blanche from old bush vines and 10% Chardonnay. Four barrels are produced. Extra richness here, that touch of honey to the fruit, and a nice hint of lifted, more tropical, nectarine peachiness and juiciness, but this has a lovely texture and finishes completely fresh. 90-91/100.

David Wines, Grenache Noir 2012, South Africa
Twelve months ageing in older barrels for this wine from an organic vineyard, with 10% Shiraz added immediately after fermentation. Around 30-40% is whole bunch. Delightfully dry, nutty Grenache nose, very expressive with dry, dark and dried fruits. The palate has real juiciness, the dry tannins add a nice roughening grip with a good, lively character coming through. Nice and light, very drinkable. 88-89/100.

David Wines, Elpidius 2011, South Africa
A new release, this blends 40% Shiraz, 30% Carignan, 25% Grenache and Cinsault, aged in old barrels again. Fine, rich and elegantly lifted nose, some cherry and kirsch coming through. A more solid polished wood and cassis note too, nice intensity. More mouth-filling, a dry tannin structure again, and dry but more luscious fruit, and a nice long finish. Delicious again, with plenty of fruit. 90/100.

LAMMERSHOEK

Craig and Carla Winemaker Craig Hawkins and his partner Carla Kretzel - daughter of the owning family - led me through a tasting from this important vineyard estate in the Paardeberg which supplies grapes to other wineries as well as for their own production. This is another of the original quality Swartland farms, the first vintage from Lammershoek was 2000, with a switch to farming organically since 2008. There are 96 hectares under vine on the 200 hectare estate.

History shows that the first vineyards were planted on Lammershoek in 1750, original plantings including varieties such as Harslévelü and Tinta Barocca, and you will note that some of that exotic old vine material still crops up in various blends from Swartland producers. Paul and Anna Kretzel purchased the farm in 1995. They continued to sell all of their fruit until setting up the Lammershoek label in 2000. The LAM Range is their more affordable second label.

Lammershoek is imported by Fields, Morris & Verdin. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Lammershoek, Roulette Blanc 2010, South Africa
A blend of Chenin, Viognier, Chardonnay and Clairette aged in old 600l oak and in concrete tanks. Nice nose, a touch of something like clove, and crunchy orchard fruit beneath. The palate has really nice fruit - a blast of orange or tangerine, and the nice dry apple character coming through too. Juicy acidity and finishes fresh. 89/100.

Lammershoek, Chenin Blanc 2010, South Africa
Always a selection of Chenin from the nine different vineyard soil types on the farm, four vineyards constitute this 2010 release, the wine again only aged in older oak for 11 months before finishing in concrete. Really interesting to see the clove note again, just slightly medicinal. The palate has a lovely rounded feel and sweet fruit, the pithy lemon and grapefruit of the finish is good, and there's a saline touch that is lovely and dry. 90/100. This is sold as an own label wine in Fortnum ∓ Mason too.

Lammershoek, Zinfandel 2013, South Africa
Made for FMV as a house wine/own label. Lots of whole bunches and stems in the ferment. Quite reduced on the nose, a little tough to get past that at this stage. The fruit is racy, fresh, very youthful. 85/100.

Lammershoek, Roulette Red 2010, South Africa
Syrah, Carignan and Grenache spend 11 months in 500 litre casks. The 35-year-old Carignan is grown on limestone. A little touch funky or reduced here, that little niggling note of dankness. Nice black and red fruit combine on the palate. Very dry, lots of juice, lots of freshness. 88/100.

Lammershoek, Syrah 2010, South Africa
From the two most expressive Syrah vineyards on the farm according to Craig, one planted as bush vines the other on the highest part of the farm with quartz-rich soils. It spends one year in Foudre, then six months in bottle before release. Nice rounded, chocolaty tones on the nose, with a solid black fruit character. Very smooth and juicy with a real squirt of cherry skin juiciness, and a little touch of herby character. 90-91/100.

Lammershoek, Straw Wine 2012, South Africa
Chenin Blanc from the same two 60-year-old vineyards that go into the white. Crushed into the press and left overnight with 15% of the juice from air-dried grapes, then into older barrels for nine months with no topping up to encourage a touch of natural oxidation. Only 10% abv with 240g/l residual sugar and 10g/l of acidity. Superb marmalade, glycerine and lemon, with a lovely barley sugar richness and those complex tobacco and tea leaf notes. Rich, thick, glycerine and marzipan stuff, but delightfully fresh too. 92-93/100.

MOUNT ABORA

Johan Johan Meyer (right) is the youthful winemaker at Mount Abora. Once a bulk grape producer (indeed, in the 1900s the owning Steyn family founded the enormous Swartland cooperative), it has been all change in the past couple of years. Until then the operation was known as Meerhof, but Johan says "the change of name is part of the casting off of the old bulk wine business." He goes on to tell me that since his appointment the company sold everything they had to sell in the cellar, and started again with empty tanks and a whole new direction.

That work began in the vineyards, where they have started to re-classify the vineyard blocks and make small batches of wine, all within the Swartland Independent rules so using natural yeast, minimal oak, etc. There are 30 hectares of vine that are divided into these small parcels - other blocks are still sold as bulk wine - but these post-2011 parcels are bottled as their own.

Wines available from July via The Wine Treasury. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Mount Abora, Antebellum Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
With only 12% abv this has a natural yeast, gentle earthy, straw-like character with a hint of flintiness. It comes from unirrigated bush vines planted in shale soils, giving very low yields and only 20% was aged in barrels, but all big and old casks. It has very nice fruit on the palate, a lovely hint of light honey or nectarine skin softness, with a core of very taut, fresh lemony character that is long and flavourful. 88-89/100.

Mount Abora, Chenin Blanc 'Koggelbos' 2011, South Africa
100% barrel fermented, but no new barrels, aged for a further 11 months in barrel. It comes from three different blocks, made up of schist, granite and shale and the 25- 60-year-old vineyard is again dry farmed. Lovely touch of apricot and passionfruit at first, grapefruit and definite exotic notes here. Very ripe and plush fruit in the mouth, the oak hardly noticeable, but the richness of the fruit and slightly more textural weight fills the mouth. Lovely spicy but clean and fresh finish. 91/100.

Mount Abora, Antebellum Syrah 2012, South Africa
Quite funky on the nose, 100% whole bunch fermented, foot trodden then very few punch downs for gentle extraction. The 12.5% abv is through early picking and only into older barrels are used to mature the wine for 11 months. It is a little bit reduced, a little bit funky and that combines to slightly masks the fruit. Dry and racy on the palate, cherry skins and fresh dry tannins. Light and more enjoyable on the palate than the nose. 86-87/100.

A very interesting work in progress, and another Swartland estate to watch.

HUGHES FAMILY WINERY / NATIVO

the Hughes family Hughes Family Wines bottles its only two wines - a white and a red - under the Nativo label. Based in Malmesbury, the man behind it is Argentinean-born Billy Hughes along with his wife Penny. Billy's father was an agricultural engineer in Mendoza, and since arriving in South Africa in 1990 he harboured an ambition to grow grapes and make wine. In 2000 he bought a 27 hectare wheat farm, and immediately set about re-planting with vines on the red clay soils of the farm. The first harvest was 2004, and since then Billy has switched to organic farming and will be certified as organic from 2013.

The Hughes family do not have their own cellar for the moment, but they have recently taken on a winemaking assistant from Rioja in Spain. 'Leave the vines in peace,' is the philosophy, and the organic farming of unirrigated vines, use of only natural indigenous yeasts and continuing exploration of the different vineyard plots and nine varieties they have planted all point to another interesting name to watch.

Nativo is distributed by Revolution Wines of Wimbledon. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Nativo, White 2011, South Africa
A blend of 60% Viognier and 40% Chenin Blanc, this has a fine pear and lemon nose with peachy tones coming through. Lovely palate, full and rich with lots of power and structure, masses of acidity but also masses of alcohol and spices, a big powerhouse style, but good. 89/100.

Nativo, White 2012, South Africa
A reversal this year with 40% Viognier and 60% Chenin - there was less Chenin in 2011 only because it would not ferment to dryness. A nice herbal character here, a bit of crunchy apple and nuttiness, but the Viognier still comes through with nice peachy fruit. Lovely and racy with very good acidity now and much fresher - a really nice wine. 90/100.

Nativo, Red 2009, South Africa
A blend of 60% Shiraz, 12% Merlot, 11% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre and 7% Pinotage, each vinified separately and "very few" new barrels are used to age the wine for one year. Deep and plummy fruit, with a rich earthiness, a touch of blue/black intensity coming through. A touch of schisty/coal note. Very nice fruit, plenty of spice and lots of grip and cherry skin fruit, but racy. Perhaps a little hot in the finish. 89/100.

Nativo, Red 2010, South Africa
This vintage is 57% Shiraz, similar proportions of other grapes but a little more Grenache and less Pinotage. Much racier and fresher on the nose, with a touch of peppery quality and a fresh cherry note. The palate has lovely fruit, but it is a very tight wine, fairly closed and firm, but has a nice structure and a juiciness, and I like the balance again, perhaps because of that lower alcohol. 90/100, potentially a little more.

return to South Africa 2013