Find wines and prices




Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


Mark Solms The Solms-Delta farm in Franschhoek is a unique place, part wine farm, part cultural centre, part social experiment focus. Co-owner Mark Solms (right) says he left South Africa "in the bad old days," returning only after the fall of apartheid to the farm that he says is "home, in every sense."

Mark describes his mission with Solms-Delta as being "to fix this little piece of South Africa." That includes the museum, which tells the frank story of its history: the indigenous people who were dispossessed of the land on which the farm stands, and the slave labour that built it. He explains that in South Africa today owning a farm like this is "semi-feudal," with the owners having responsibility for the people who live on it - some the direct descendants of those early slave workers. A black-dominated trust owns one-third of the farm and there are fee-paid education programmes, after-school centres, a traditional music club and a restaurant which fuses flavours of the region's European, Asian and African traditions, all supplied from the farm's culinary garden.

Winemaker Hagen Viljoen joined me for a tasting over a delicious lunch. Hagen worked on Bordeaux's right bank and at Vergelegen estate, and has been on board here for less than a year. "With Solms-Delta I want to refine the concentration and focus of the wines," he tells me. "Traditionally the wines here had a slightly oxidative style. I want to sharpen that up a little".

The farm's 32 hectares of vineyard supply about 50% of its needs. In truth, Hagen has inherited a really mixed bag of products spanning ciders and sweet commercial wines to quite serious bottlings. It is a confused portfolio and one senses that part of his mission over time will be to refine both the products and, possibly, the range. He seems bright, experienced and capable, and the appointment of ace viticulturist Rosa Kruger as vineyard consultant all point to an estate that is well worth visiting, but also wines that are worth watching.

the wines

Solms-Delta is imported into the UK by Richard Hoggart. See stockists on wine-searcher.

Solms-Delta, Amalie 2012, South Africa
The blend is 55% Viognier with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. From 2012, Hagen has sourced some new Grenache Blanc grown on decomposed granite that is of such high quality that will probably become the dominant grape. Sweet attack, the Viognier having been in French oak adds a little richness, very forward and rich, but precise and fruity, a touch of nectarine and orange brightness, and then a lemon zesty core with lovely brightness. 89/100.

Solms-Delta, Lekkerwijn Rosé 2012, South Africa
Mourvèdre, Grenache and a small proportion of oaked Viognier. Very attractive, dry, cranberry and redcurrant fruit, dry and earthy, with a touch or raspberry, and a really nice full. Quite red-wine like and very nice finishing acid balance. 86/100.

Solms-Delta, Dik Delta Perry, South Africa
Made from Packhams pears grown on the farm, this 6% abv Perry has light, fresh pear and apple aromas. A dry finish here, matched beautifully with the basil and vanilla creaminess of a soup we ate with it. 86/100.

Solms-Delta, Hiervandaan 2011, South Africa
40% Shiraz and Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache with Cinsault and fermented on the skins of Viognier. Big, rich, ripe black berry nose, but then there's the crisp, bright focus to the acidity and the fruit on the palate. 88/100.

Solms-Delta, Africana 2011, South Africa
Desiccated Shiraz. Hagen pinches the stems to let bunches dry on the vine. Rich and deep, not so raisined as an Amarone perhaps, but a lovely blue/black fruitiness. Very smooth, and 14% abv gives a rich texture and a blue/black focus to the finish that keeps it pure and really quite fresh in the finish. Tannins fully ripe and acidity pretty good too. 89-90/100.

Solms-Delta, Cape Jazz Shiraz, South Africa
With 9.5% abv this is a strange concoction: it is carbonated and sweet with quite a clean and creamy with an effervescence, a nice juiciness from good ripe fruit, finishing sweet with 40g/l of residual sugar. 85/100.

Solms-Delta, Gemoedsrus Port, South Africa
Desiccated Shiraz is fortified by grappa. Little high floral notes, very grappa, deliciously rich chocolaty wine with good length and the spirit nicely handled. 88/100.

See stockists on wine-searcher.

return to South Africa 2013