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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.


paul cluver I have visited Paul Cluver several times over the years, but always to taste and have some lunch in their pretty gardens in front of the winery. This time however brought a wonderful experience that money could not buy. I jumped into a four-wheel-drive truck with Liesl Cluver-Rust who took me on a bumpy, steep and at times slightly hairy ride through the vineyards and up, up onto the side of the mountain amongst their highest vineyards. Troops of baboons scattered before us, the sugarbushes were in full bloom, and stepping out when we reached a small dam at the very top of the property brought not only the most breathtaking views around the farm, but the unexpected site of a full camping kitchen that had been set up. Winemaker Andries Burger prepared wines for tasting whilst marketing manager, but more importantly, superb cook, Jacqueline Harris (centre) whipped up an absolute storm: a feast of fig salad, barbecued beef and the most delightful dessert.

Riesling and aromatic specialists, Paul Cluver was the first full-scale producer in the Valley, and is now the biggest private producer of Riesling in South Africa with 3,500 cases of 12 bottles from their 12.5 hectares of Riesling vineyards. The entire farm extends to 2,000 ha, with 84ha of vines, 100 ha of apples, and the rest to nature conservation "in perpetuity," as Liesl reminds me, at the insistence of their father. The oldest Riesling vineyard dates from 1987.

An interesting point was made by Andries when we came to taste their Chardonnay, when I asked if it was fermented with wild yeast: "We don't say 'wild yeast'," he said, "we have done three years of trials, and the yeast that has spontaneously fermented the wine is not a vineyard yeast, it is a commercial one from some previous ferment that is still hanging around the winery." With a look that suggests other people might consider doing the same, he added: "We prefer to describe it as 'non inoculated' rather than 'wild'."

The tasting was impressive, not only of those aromatic whites but of Pinot Noir too. As we had just reached the conclusion of the 2013 growing season I asked Andries how it had been on the Cluver farm: "It was a cold and quite wet season," he replied, "where careful sorting of the fruit was essential on Pinot and Riesling - we will be around 40% down on Riesling for example."

The Wines

Paul Cluver wines are imported by Seckford. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Paul Cluver, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
There's also 8% Semillon in the blend here, the wine fermented in very large old barrels. Lovely, passionfruit and tangerine nose, lots of punch and freshness, and hint of elderflower, just hinting at lychee and mango. On the palate, there is a rounding, ripe, juicy stone fruit and more exotic flavour, lots of passionfruit and that nice lime and grapefruit freshness. 89/100.

Paul Cluver, Estate Dry Riesling 2011, South Africa
Only 11% abv and a delightfully mineral nose, gently waxy and smoky, lovely apple and lime skins at the heart of it. The palate has delicious, squirting orange and lime juiciness, with a lightly oily mouthfeel, terrific acidity that is dry in the mouth and gives this lovely freshness into the finish against the 8g/l of residual sugar. 90/100. Will be called 'Dry Encounter' in future vintages.

Paul Cluver, Riesling Ferrecrete 2012, South Africa
And only 10% abv for this cuvée that is sold in M&S. The name refers to the Ferrecrete or Coffeklip shale on which is it grown. Delicate, more sherbetty tones here, with apple and that touch of waxiness coming through, seems very delicate and Kabinett in character. Deliciously light on the palate, 18g/l RS, pure, long, off-dry finish with that tight sherbet lemon character. 90/100.

Paul Cluver, Riesling Close Encounter 2012, South Africa
This Spätelese style wine has a mere 8% abv and 35g/l of residual sugar thought with over 8 g/l acidity. This was named after a previous vineyard manager who's truck was hit by a train on the track that runs through the farm but came out with a broken collar bone only. Lovely pure, mineral-touch gentle lemon and lime nose, a hint of blossom. Quote a rich mouthfeel, with the sweetness like juicy red apples and a touch of lemon zest really freshening it up. 90/100.

Paul Cluver, Gewürztraminer 2012, South Africa
12.5% abv. Gently toasty, gently exotic, but not a flamboyant style, with a lightness, and leanness that is very pleasing, just enough of the blossom and exotic character, but on these soils we have to retain the acidity, so cannot make a fat style of wine. 10g/l residual sugar just to take the edge off of it, but it remains racy and fresh. 88/100.

Paul Cluver, Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
For their Chardonnay and Pinot the Cluvers work with Martin Prieur from Domaine Jacques Prieur. This is 100% barrel fermented with ambient yeast, 30% new, and stays on the gross lees for nine months. Plenty of buttery toast, Brazil nut and richness to the fore, but the cool apple fruit and a bit of zesty lemon aromas comes through. On the palate delicious, with a huge oatmeally rich layer to the ripe, rosy apple and fatter lime. Delicious acidity, the finish long and has delicate nuttiness and a touch of vanilla as well as plenty of juicy citrus acidity. 90-91/100.

Paul Cluver, Estate Pinot Noir 2010, South Africa
Finely wrought cherry and light charry note, with something a little truffly and edged with a pleasing green note - but nicely so, just a little savoury and herbal. The palate has good fruit, red and black berries, with delicious lick of acidity. Not fantastically complex and perhaps could have a little more flesh on the mid-palate. 89/100.

Paul Cluver, Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2010, South Africa
Made from a single block planted in gravelly soil in 1990. This is a barrel selection of the best of that block too and only 250 cases were made. Very nice edges of char and toast, but more about earthiness and touches of vanilla, but there's a little more concentration already on the nose, Firmer on the palate, an edge of liquorice and endive, but the softer, juicy cherry and raspberry is there to balance, with really nice, fresh, juicy cherry skin and lemony acidity. Again, perhaps a touch more fat in the mid palate would benefit. 90-91/100.

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