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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.


alex Along with de Trafford and Tamberskloof, Keermont's vineyards lie in the natural amphitheatre of the Blaauwklippen Valley formed between the Helderberg and Stellenbosch mountain ranges. In common with so many estates here in Stellenbosch, they do like to remind us that farming here goes back to the 17th century, but the reality is that it was not until 2005 that Keermont became dedicated to wine. Until then vines were mostly grown as rootstock for other farms, and agriculture was mixed with fruit orchards and flowers amongst its crops.

In 2003 the farm was purchased by Mark and Monica Wraith and several years of planting followed to reach the current 27 hectares under vine. In 2010 they converted a disused spring water bottling plant on the property into a winery. The amphitheatre shape, cooled by breezes from False Bay only 12 kilometres away, allows plantings at different orientations from sunny north to cooler south, and at different elevations up to 400 metres above sea level.

I met up with winemaker Alex Starey, on board since the project began, as we visited a high and hugely windswept vantage point in his highest vineyard. Alex came back from overseas, originally to work for neighbouring de Trafford, and has been instrumental in the new plantings that supplement a few hectares of 40-year-old Chenin and other varieties on the property. "Today the planting is much more site specific," he tells me. "We are planting on red clay/loam with lots of quartz in some areas and some patches of river stones too." We walk around some of the vineyards as he explains the research that went into choosing just the right rootstocks and clones, and trials to find the best planting and training systems too, like the single post-supported bush vines à la Hermitage used for Syrah. As well as Syrah all five Bordeaux varieties are planted, and "We never acidify, inoculate or filter. It's as natural as possible," says Alex. In 2012 Keermont plans to release some single block Syrah too.

the wines

Keermont wines are imported by Swig. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Keermont, Terrase 2011, South Africa
This 14.5% abv wine blends 59% Chenin, 22% Chardonnay, 14% SB and 5% Viognier from a mix of older blocks and newer plantings. It has bright, zesty and gently herby aromas, and vinification in older barrels with natural yeasts also gives a lovely nutty, Cox's Pippin character as the Chenin comes through to dominate. The palate has textural richness with that fine, savoury dryness and the natural yeast earthiness. 90/100

Keermont, Terrase 2012, South Africa
The blend here is 30% Chenin, 30% Chardonnay, 30% SB and 9% Viognier - Alex explains that rot problems affected the Chenin this year. Fresher, more direct, perhaps a little pear drop tanky character, but then the citrus and freshness comes through a touch more Sauvignon Blanc vivacity. Lots of juiciness, lots of juicy peach brightness from the Viognier, but Alex thinks will subdue. 89-90/100. Not yet released, but finished and bottled.

Keermont, Syrah 2011, South Africa
One of the hotter, drier vintages with a big crop, this has a meaty 15.5% abv and comes from elevated parcels of vines planted in 2006 on red clay and rocky soils. Partly whole bunch-pressed, and vinified in a mix of concrete, steel and barrel to aid complexity. It is a natural ferment and the wine spent 28 days on skins before ageing in 500l barrels, 5% new. Delicious mineral smokiness, a touch of background leafiness, and light, pure black fruit. Palate has lovely gravelly character over very pure black fruits. Lots of juiciness again here, lots of tangy, plum skin grip to the tannins, that fine tart skin character giving grip and freshness. Well balanced despite a little residual heat from the alcohol. 90/100.

Keermont, Red 2011, South Africa
partly from the estate's most elevated Merlot, Alex says: "I had just come back from Priorat and this vineyard reminded me of it." 15.5% abv again, and a cuvée first released in 2007. This year the blend is 49% Merlot, 33% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Franc and 6% Syrah. More sorting and de-stemming here than in the Syrah, vinified in smaller vessels, parcel per parcel. The wine was aged in 225l barrels, 20% new. Lovely, refined nose with a perfumed, lifted note that has a cherry and floral note and more aromatic lightness given that the alcohol is as high as the Syrah. Juicy and savoury and delicious, with a tight, liquorice note and a grippiness to the tannins. 91-92/100.

Keermont, Fleurfontein 2010, South Africa
From vine-dried fruit, the cordons of the Sauvignon Blanc (85%) and Chenin are cut then harvested after three or four weeks. It is fermented old barrels, and though the ferment is natural, Alex says "it can be very temperamental, stopping and starting." Delightful golden colour, lots of straw and orange, a bit of barley sugar, with a lovely palate of fresh, vivacious fruit, a dry nuttiness and lots of freshening acidity. 126g/l residual sugar. 90/100.

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