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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.

REYNEKE

Rudiger Gretschel When Johan Reyneke took over the family farm from his father in the 90s, the process of converting to organic farming and then biodynamic farming (certified six years ago) must have seemed outlandish and alien to the winemakers of Stellenbosch. To this day it remains the only certified biodynamic estate in South Africa.

Winemaker Rudiger Gretschel (right) walked me around their 25 hectares of vineyard. "The secret of being Biodynamic is," he began, "to be more about the 'dynamic' than the 'bio' - being active in the vineyard is what really counts." Whatever the secret, Reyneke are doing something right as their wines have gained a loyal following and have caused many in the region to re-examine their attitudes towards organic farming practices. The wonderful old Chenin vineyard pictured dates from the 1960s, originally bush vines that Rudiger has converted to a single wire, to give very low and healthy yields.

He sows cover crops in autumn, "lupins are other nitrogen fixers," which are removed in spring. He is building up humus in the soils, and says "Organic material in our soils was 0.9% by volume when we started, now it's over 4.5% and building all the time. I asked if he was seeing the difference in the wines. "We have better acidity and more balanced juice. The soil pH has increased with more oxygen pockets in the soil."

As we pass a field of old vines I notice they are affected by leaf-roll virus. "That's old Pinotage," says Rudiger, "and the virus isn't all bad. It depends on strain of virus: I'd rather not have it, but some great old Cape wines have come from heavily virused vines; old Rustenberg cabs and Boekenhoutskloof Syrahs."

Perhaps it is just loyalty to his origins, but in the winery we look at recently acquired casks that have come from a small cooper in the Alto Adige working exclusively with German oak - "It's very expensive to buy and import, but I believe you get the best, tight wood from German oak - many producers in the Pfalz are increasingly working with German oak too."

the wines

Reyneke is imported into the UK by New Generation Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Reyneke, Chenin Blanc 2011, South Africa
Only 12.5% abv. From the old vineyard we saw and photographed. Whole bunch pressing, natural ferment in 300 and 500l used casks. 2013 some 2500l foudre. 60% malo and stayed in barrel for 12 months. Lovely wild yeast, lightly earthy nose, with a straw and lime touch and dry apple background. The fruit on the palate is dry and savoury, with lots of pithy lemon and dry apple core austerity. But beneath there is a lovely natural concentration, with a long, linear appeal, plenty of mineral acidity and tangy lime and lemon zest. 91

Reyneke, Reserve White 2011, South Africa
Sauvignon Blanc, would like to have Semillon and may pull out the old virused Pinotage for it some day. Whole bunch, fermented in new 300l French casks from Bordeaux (Burgundians toast too heavily in Rudiger's opinion). 13 months in oak, a few casks a little longer. Delightful nose, the mealy, oatmeal and almond note over the pristine lemony fruit. Very Graves like, the fruit focused on a touch of citrus, but there is a honeyed richness and touch of tropicality in the background too. Beautiful fruit, with lots of energy and orangy tang on the palate, that interplay of richness and crunchy acidity is just delicious as this really powers through. 92

Reyneke, Organic Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, South Africa
95% Shiraz. 20% of wine in used casks. Coastal region. Swartland, Stellenbosch and Paarl. Nice full red wine with a chunky, spice and chocolaty black fruit. A nice touch of cedary, gently toasty character. On the palate good fruit, quite solid and chunky again, but it has nice balance and a dry finish - not hugely complex or long, but a very nice drink. 87-88.

Reyneke, Syrah 2011, South Africa
Some whole clusters (35%) foot crushed, then 16 months in French foudres and half in older barriques. Delightfully slatey, schisty character with peppery spice and a touch of austere, green component, cedary too. The palate has lots of juiciness, lots of dry tannin extract, but somehow stays lighter and with a bit of precision, some herb and olive flavours adding lots of savoury, linear character, and a bright, juicy finish with taut acidity and those dry tannins. 91

Reyneke, Cornerstone 2011, South Africa
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 19% Cabernet Franc. 16 months in barriques, 20% new. Named after Johan's project with four farm workers, who were built houses and their children funded to go to university. Illiterate dad cellar assistant who started at 14, and daughter Lizanne now studying marketing in Cape Town. Really bold black fruit, lovely cassis creaminess and ripeness. Very bold and fruit-driven, with cocoa and chocolate, and a touch of cedar. On the palate it is juicy and liquoricy, with tart fruit skin acidity and tight, firm tannins, the black fruit juiciness is maintained throughout and the finish is pert and dry. 90.

Reyneke, Reserve Red 2009, South Africa
90% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Working more with lower pH 3.69, almost 7g/l of total acidity, less new oak, trying to make it fresh to begin with, manage the tannins so that the wine will age and improve for a decade, something that earlier vintages and not all Cape wines achieve. Lovely nose, more fruit forward than the Shiraz, a more substantial, supple seeming core of riper fruit, but still with the cedar and the hint of schist and pepper. The delicious fruit on the palate is creamier and a little more coffeeish, with lots of juice again and a firm, central spine of tannin and that signature juicy acidity that suggests this will age. Lovely, balanced stuff. 92-93/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.

return to South Africa 2013