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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


23rd November 2009 is a date that will be etched in the minds of the Cape's winemakers. 130mph winds howled through the winelands, destroying 50% of the crop for some producers, even 100% for some unlucky sites. Then a steady, promising late growing season was suddenly turned on its head when a searing heat wave struck in mid February 2010, leading to 30C+, sometimes even 40C+ temperatures right through the harvest period.    sa-somerset (73K)

Maybe the stoic, resolute mentality of South African winemakers was formed by history: the great trek, a constant moving-on, determined to stand on your own two feet. But when I discussed this most difficult vintage over dinner with three young winemakers there was a collective shrug of the shoulders and sense of steely determination that they will learn from the experience and move on.

Matthew Van Herbden is winemaker and viticulturist at Uva Mira. "South Africans have big egos, but we need to promote brand South Africa and not just our own wines," he says candidly. He stresses that his are 'terroir wines', both single vineyard wines and blends, but always trying to express vineyard sites - including one of the Cape's highest at 650 metres. Also joining me was Gunter Schultz, viticulturist, winemaker, and olive grower for Kleinood Estate (who produce the Tamberskloof label) which is specialising in Viognier, Syrah and Mourvèdre. "It's a cliché, but it's all about the vineyard and the vintage," he says, and to that end he is farming organically, though not certified as such. Finally, Kobie Lochner from Rust en Vrede, where Shiraz is the focus. A word also for the absolutely superb restaurant at Rust en Vrede under Chef David Higgs, which is arguably the best in the Cape.

Also included here, a couple of wines from the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon-focused Le Riche estate, tasted over a lunch with Yvonne Le Riche.

the wines

Tamberskloof Viognier 2009
A little ageing in older French oak, natural yeasts, three pickings, the first very early to keep alcohol low and stop Viognier's cloying tendency. Quite a discrete, lightly waxy and lemony nose, with some clean, under-ripe pear fruit. Lovely freshness, with really good acidity and though it has texture, it is not oily or heavy. 90/100. UK Agent is Artisan Wines, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Uva Mira Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2008
11 months in older barrels, from an elevated site. Matthew says this gives minerality. Very clean, mineral nose with just a trace of honey. The palate has a beautiful pitch, the fruit crystal clear and the acidity a point. Beautifully pitched wine. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Tamberskloof Syrah 2006
Co-ferment of Syrah and Viognier grapes that are picked together. Big, meaty, peppery nose, with a certain density and just a little kirsch-like lift. The palate has a bloody and gamey edge to very ripe, but not heavy fruit. It keeps fine acidity and very fine tannins. 91/100.

Rust en Vrede Shiraz 2006
Big, immediately ripe and rich, chocolaty nose, with lots of blueberry and fat, sweet plum. there is some pepper and spice too. The sweet, full ripeness has huge depth, with black fruit, sweetness, depth and still a nice edge of structure. 91/100. Rust en Vrede's UK agent is Seckford Agencies. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Another big, sweet nose with masses of blackberry and sweet, very fine fruit, the fruit is rich and ripe, just beautiful. 92/100.

Uva Mira 2006
Fruit from all the specific single vineyard blocks. Big and meaty, with smoky and cedary nuances and a bloody, gamey depth. Fantastic depth of fruit. There's a silky finesse to the tannins, with very fine balance. Superb length and clarity again in a very fine wine. 93/100.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2006
Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend with Syrah and Merlot. Big, cedary, brackeny and earthy nose that is highly aromatic. A touch of charcoally schist but fine cassis fruit. The palate has an opulence and suede-like, very silky tannins. Lovely silkiness and glycerine richness, but despite that and the alcohol (15.5ABV) it does have balance and elegance. 92/100.

Rust en Vrede 1694
Named after the year the estate was founded. 54% Shiraz with Cabernet, 3600 bottles produced. A big, dusty, smoky black fruit nose. Some meatiness, but still about the fruit. The oak is prominent on nose and palate, a heavy sheen of vanilla and coffee but the fruit is lovely. Huge, but delicious. 92/100.

Rust en Vrede Syrah 2007
Beautiful, lifted perfume with basil and sage and some gamy perfume. Lovely purity on the palate, with racy red fruit. Plenty of chocolate and depth, but great length. 92/100.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
French oak, 30% new, for 18 months. Slightly baked, maybe slightly reduced quality here. A certain meatiness. On the palate a lot more sweetness and voluptuous roundness comes through. The palate has a lovely fruit purity, the tannins are very plush, the spiciness really grips but a chocolaty, dark fruit coats the palate, the acidity stays pert and this has a big impact on the finish with mouthfilling weight but clarity too. 91/100. £13 - £16, UK Agent for Le Riche is Boutinot. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006
Comes from older vines giving smaller berries, much of it bush vine. Open fermenters with punch down. Then capped and macerates at low temperature for two weeks. French oak, 70% new, for 24 months. Slightly more light and shade about this on the nose, less of the baked plummy note. More cedary finesse and a touch of lovely cab leafiness. The palate has lovely juicy freshness and really nice fruit, it has a great blackcurrant tartness to the fruit that keeps it nimble on the mid-palate, and the spice and chocolate of the regular wine pushes in, giving this lovely plushness too. 92/100. £16 - £20.

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