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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.


Christian Waterkloof is based in Somerset West, a thriving area just south of Stellenbosch, where the growth of the respective towns and vineyards has almost fused into one larger region. Waterkloof is the striking new winery built by Paul Boutinot, the Stockport-born businessman of French decent who built one of the UK's biggest and most important wine distribution companies, which he has recently sold to concentrate on Waterkloof.

I met up with vineyard manager Christian Loots (right), who has been with the operation since the start having joined from neighbouring Vergelegen. This is an organic farm, which Christian says enjoys temperatures 4ºC lower than Stellenbosch on average because they are so much closer to the sea, and almost constant breezes from Gordon's Bay. The vineyards are farmed organically with many biodynamic practices, and are in middle of certification. "But it is not about certification," he tells me. "It's about finding balance in very fertile soils. We are 80% self-sustainable too, with almost all work done by horses and all effluent from the farm passing through reed beds to filter it." That means all water leaving the farm is clean, where traditionally it might have run down and polluted local rivers and townships.

horses The whole farm in an amphitheatre where Christian can choose the slopes and aspects to suit each variety. On a conventional farm yields of 8 and 5 tons/ha would be expected for red and white wines, but here the natural balance gives around 5 and 3 tons/ha. The vineyards are worked by a team of seven percheron horses, who each do seven hectares of ploughing. That breaks up dead soils, then grass, weeds and other growth can come back. Nematodes control weevils amongst a range of biological controls.

Since Paul Boutinot sold his UK business outright the two companies are entirely separate, although Boutinot in the UK distributes Waterkloof's wines. One difference since the sell-off is that all bottling is now done in South Africa, whereas previously a portion had been bottled in France. The Peacock Ridge label is a bigger volume brand that is made partly at Waterkloof but mostly at other facilities, so the estate farm and facilities are now entirely dedicated to the Waterkloof wines including Circle of Life.

the wines

Waterkloof is imported into the UK by Boutinot. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Peacock Ridge, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
From old vineyards, some from Wellington/Swartland. Nine months ferment, lovely apple and stone fruit flavours, racy and dry a bit of orange too, and lovely mouthfeel. 87/100.

Peacock Ridge, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
Only 12.5% abv. Delightfully bright and perky nose, breezy apple, fresh and tasty, a light style with not so much tropical fruit as dry crunchy apple and lemon zest. 85-86/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
All grapes from the farm, cool climate, 2 weeks after Stellenbosch, A hint more elderflower here, a nice salty tang, and the stone fruit aromas come through with just a hint of grassiness, Lovely mid-palate concentration and real precision, the dry fruit skin tang of the finish is lovely 89-90/100.

Waterkloof, Sauvignon Blanc 2012 barrel sample, South Africa
All older barrels, with 1985 vineyard, herby and earthy, with lots of complex but not oaky notes, just a richness and subtlety of flavour and texture, a really promising wine this. 90-91/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Chenin Blanc 2011, South Africa
Old bush vine Chenin from mule-farmed vineyard. 600l barrels with new Rhone oak. Plenty of brioche and toasty buttered oak aromas, lots of toast really and a sesame seed quality, the nutty apple fruit beneath. Fresh and biting palate, lots of flavour and lots of spice, an apple dry quality, but perhaps a bit less oak influence would be better. 88-89/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Chardonnay 2010, South Africa
Only 12.5% abv. Rain in the vintage forced a slightly earlier picking, lovely fragrant oak character here, with some incense and smoky notes, and a very crisp fruit character, a touch of leafiness is lovely. Really nice freshness, all lemon and orange brightness and tangy fruit skin acidity. 90/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Viognier 2011, South Africa
In the 600l barrels, but only older barrels. Quite subtle, not a huge Viognier aromatic, perhaps the natural yeast suppressing what we expect. Some fresh par and apple. The sweet and peachy element of Viognier does come through a little, but much leaner and fresh and really crisp and nicely fruity. 88/100.

Waterkloof, Circle of Life 2011, South Africa
Predominantly Chenin Blanc with 38% Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon co-fermented. Delightful fresh nose, the oak adding just a creamy layer over the fresh orchard fruit and hint of something leafy. Nice and fresh and juicy, with lots of mineral precision, the dry acidity and hint of tannin grip and texture. 91-92/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, South Africa
Picked early, whole bunch pressed, extremely pale colour, very soft pressing. Beautifully elegant and delicate nose, with dry red fruits, but very soft. A delicate earthy quality and the fruit gently dry and redcurranty. Nice texture, with juicy lemony acidity and dryness, plenty of acidity. 87-88/100.

Peacock Ridge Merlot 2011, South Africa
Made in wooden fermenters at Waterkloof. Big stewed tomato character at first, plummy, adding a nice earthiness and edge to dark, earthy dark berries, with plenty of dramatic darkness and depth. Plenty of acidity and bite here, I like the subtle power. 86/100.

Peacock Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, South Africa
Some foot treading of grapes, more minty and brighter in character than the Merlot, with some freshness than the Merlot, with a lovely juiciness to the palate adding lots more cut, a big dry finish that has fine dry fruit extract. 87/100.

Peacock Ridge, Shiraz 2011, South Africa
Whole bunch in wooden fermenters, picked a little late to avoid green in stems. Part into barrel. Tasted every day in Vineyard. Lovely nose, showing bright and elegant red and black berry fruits, a nice spice and pepper and altogether quite buoyant and not weighed down by extraction or oak. The palate has rounded creamy and sweet berries, long finish with a little spice and chocolate. 88/100.

Waterkloof, Circle of Life 2009, South Africa
Syrah and Merlot, but 8 varieties in total, fruit from estate, carefully sorted on tables, wooden fermenter. After 30 days including post maceration, basket pressed, and malo in barrel. Classic nose, touches of cedar and smokiness, a firm edge of light game and dark chocolate, but firm cassis-like fruit, delicate incense like oak, very gentle and perfumed and cherryish. The palate has lovely presence, the elegant. Creamy black fruit and integrated tannin delightfully fine and long, with very good balance and that touch of cocoa. 93/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Syrah 2009, South Africa
Whole bunches only in wooden fermenters, pigeage, long maceration after ferment. 600l barrels. From block below winery, windy slope with some warmer climate fruit from elsewhere. Delightfully plummy and with a touch of tinned Italian tomato, that little leafiness. The palate has lovely creaminess to texture and that dry, nicely grippy character with fine tannin and a bit of fruit skin, plum skin grip and texture. Lovely lip-smacking finish on this, and lovely in the end. 90/100.

Waterkloof, Circumstance Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, South Africa
Pure Cabernet Sauvignon, from below winery on granite, destemmed and in wooden fermenters. 225l barrels for 17. Again has that little tomato leaf edge of green which they think is from the clone, but firm cassis beneath and the palate really racy. There is a solid, sweet core of very ripe cassis that is lovely and mouth-filling, and the smokiness and toast of the oak adds a supporting layer beneath. Long and spicy, a bigger style, but very well done. 90-91/100.

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