SA dream team

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Ian Hampsted, Mar 11, 2018.

  1. TWS’s Q1 fine wine brochure piqued my interest, describing 2015 as ‘the decade’s dream vintage’ for South African wines, and they were offering out a six pack for £120. I am mainly interested in whites because I am constantly on the look out for substitutes for Bourgogne Blanc. So I secured a similar package of five whites and one red. I had previously only had occasional good experiences with SA wines, with many seemingly marred by the dreaded leaf roll virus, or something similarly off-putting. So given all the hype they seem to be getting it was time, metaphorically, to revisit the region.

    Wine #1. Chamonix Reserve White, Franschhoek, 2014, £16.50, 13.5%.

    This is a 2014 and was not on the original list. This is a classic white Bordeaux blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, fermented and matured in barrel. The varietal character of the two grapes immediately jumps out of the glass of this vibrant wine. The oakiness initially reminds me of an expensive white Bordeaux like DDC Blanc. The first glass of this fruit forward wine is indeed impressive. By the second glass, however, I am beginning to struggle a bit as the wine become cloying and plodding. It is not light on its feet or elegant, and there is too much oak. There is also something lurking initially in the background, which becomes more noticeable. Something like overcooked cabbage. (Remember how you used to dread going to your grandma’s for Sunday lunch?) By the third glass this has become an ordeal and I put it in the fridge, and switch to a generic Bourgogne Blanc, which has been sitting there for a few days and is two thirds empty. Lighter, more elegant, so much more agreeable is the burg. It took me five days to finish off the Chamonix and it did not improve. It might be better with a rich seafood dish, but for the same price you can do much better in Graves/Pessac. So I would not recommend this and I certainly won’t buy anymore.


    Wine #2. Crystallum 'The Agnes' Chardonnay, Western Cape 2015, £21.50, 13.5%.

    Clearly a lot of effort and TLC has gone into making this, especially in the selection. You can taste the high quality of the Chardonnay fruit, and the use of new oak is commendably parsimonious. This has an elegance and class I have never encountered before in an SA Chardonnay. My guests even commented on how much they liked it. I can happily sip on this all night, and the second glass is as good as the first. So is the third. Well, almost. What this wine ultimately lacks is excitement, however. In its attempt to be oh so correct it misses a trick and tastes a little, well anodyne, a problem which afflicts so many new wave Aussie Chardonnays. Still this is a commendably good effort, and there was nothing unsavoury lurking ominously in the background either. Would I pay £21.50 for it....hmmm....dunno, probably not when I can buy TWS Exhibition NZ Chardonnay (Kumeu River) for £14.95, but the Agnes may be the more elegant of the two. Would be interesting to compare. I am not going to rush out and buy more of this but at the same time I would not counsel against giving it a shot and drawing your own conclusions.


    Four more to come...
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  2. Remember similar posts of yours like this, just as interesting - thanks Ian!
  3. I'm on the same quest as you Ian and also look to South Africa for inspiration (same quest also for PN). I decided a slightly different procurement route and started with the following to test out different forms of chardonnay as bed fellows for better than average french white wine;

    2016 Eikendal Vineyards Chardonnay - Not too bad to begin with, but then just a little dull after glass two. Not a buyer again.

    2017 Creation Wines Chardonnay - Touch too much oak for me - maybe I should have left it 12 months to iron the edges off? Won't risk buying again.
    2015 Crystallum the Agnes - I can see this is "nice" wine, and I appreciate the wine maker's effort, but it isn't getting me excited. I'm not willing to pay the £19.50 I bought it for unless it evolves a distinctive 'character' (whatever that may be).

    The rest of my line-up to try is;

    2016 Bartinney Chardonnay
    2015 Haskell the Anvil (known to this parish)
    2016 Jordan Chardonnay
    2016 Lismore Chardonnay Reserve
    2016 Neil Ellis Whitehall
    2016 Rustenberg

    I'm not looking to "ape" good burgundy but to have whites which remind me of what 'good' white can be all about. I try various price points, platter scores and recommendations. Happy to throw more on the list if I can get hold of them.
    Stefan Bogdanski likes this.
  4. Interesting notes Ian . No idea what the WS call their dream team but certainly the two wines you have tasted so far would not be on my team but then of course the WS are just promoting wines they sell .
    Professional critics who spend a lot of time in South Africa and have thus a deep knowledge of SA wines , will tell you that the best whites from the country tend to be chenin based blends , although there are some lovely semillon blends and a few chardonnays.
    I know Tom B did not like the Kershaw he tasted but if you look at tasting notes from people such as Neal Martin, Tim Atkin, Jancis and Jamie Goode you will see they love the wines rating at 95 plus .
    Don’t think you should look for something to replace Bourgogne Blanc ( not that I ever drink any !!!) but just wine that offer good value .
    FWIW the wines I drink regularly over here are
    Sadie Palladius
    Mullineux white
    Ian Naude Old Vines chenin
    Alheit Cartology, Radio Lazarus and Magnetic North Moutain Makstok
    Thorne Rocking Horse and Paper Kite semillon
    Opstal Carl Everson chenin
    Kershaw clonal selection Chardonnay
    Lismore Chardonnay reserve and viognier
    David and Nadia Sadie Hoe Steen chenin, Aristargos and Semillon

    So many fine wines made here but of course you need to come out and spend time with the top winemakers to get an appreciation of what the country can offer .
  5. I didn't enjoy it, Keith, but I have three more and will certainly remain open minded, I'm always conscious that the consumer can often be at fault rather than the wine. I retain an impression of harsh extraction and the low yields which are not necessarily chardonnay's best friend but I have often got it wrong in the past. Do you know if Mr. Kershaw intends his wine for ageing?
  6. .... and I, personally, now have an enlarged 'search' list!

    It reminds me: For the less experienced (like me!) I'd suggest allocating at least a few hours at a good wine shop just to see what's on offer, rather than go there for buying stuff. There's a shed load of wines I hadn't even heard of before going there and too much to make your mind up about to learn about and buy in one visit.

    My personal quest also involves finding out if there are places in South Africa where wine makers grow chardonnay grapes to successfully produce lean, focused and mineral styles. In other words qualities of certain Chablis which we know and love, excepting I know there is good variety even within this area of France. Maybe conditions better suit getting the best from chenin, or we're a bit early in chardonnay's SA exploration?
  7. I
    ndeed he does Tom. He is an MW and a very experienced winemaker . Suggest you try a bottle a year as it will certainly improve.
  8. Wine made from grapes grown in the cooler climate Elgin do have a more Chablis style. Two examples are Carsten Migliarina and Paul Cluver Seven Flags
    Mark Dey likes this.
  9. I was most impressed by wine #3, Radford Dale The Renaissance of Chenin Blanc 2015, which I opened last night, and will revisit this evening.
    Keith Prothero likes this.
  10. Disappointed the £8 2015 Grenache Blanc from The Foundry isn’t on your Dream Team Ian. I went fairly long on my first SA purchase, as recommended by our Station Chief.
  11. Well as it has not been released yet it would be hard to get on :)
    Jim Agar likes this.
  12. The other three members of the dream team are yet to be revealed Jim, so you never know.

    Edited following Keith’s post. The Foundry Roussanne 2016 is on the list.
    Jim Agar likes this.
  13. A very extended élévage? I’m hoping for at least 200% new oak now.
    Keith Prothero likes this.
  14. Just enjoyed Spier 21 Gables CB.
  15. Has been released in South Africa but not yet here :) The Roussanne is also very good although very much new world style . Plenty of pineapple , peach and tropical fruits but it has good acidity and length
  16. The Foundry15 Grenache Blanc is around though not at £8 - it is quite delicious if you can find it
  17. Jim and I are referring to the special offer from a merchant here . It was stipulated in the offer that the wine had not yet arrived in the U.K.but is expected soon
  18. At that price certainly a special offer! Shall have to speak to the importer to nab some
  19. I was quoting the IB price for maximum effect! About £12 delivered from Lay & Wheeler. I remember Keith saying they’d sold about 80 cases straight after his post so not sure if they have any left.
    Keith Prothero likes this.
  20. Lay and Wheeler have just told me the wine will arrive near the end of May
    Jim Agar likes this.
  21. Wine #3: Radford Dale The Renaissance of Chenin Blanc, 2015, £17.50, 12.5%

    Herby of hints of honeysuckle, subtle oak, this is crisp on the palate with a fresh salinity - you can almost smell the sea breeze and feel the ocean spray. Nice line and tension it has crisp acidity, a bracing tension and zingy-ness, which gives this wine so much lift, vibrancy and interest. This is an impressive rendition of the Chenin grape. While extrovert and expressive the fine line of acidity, lowish alcohol and restrained oak prevents it from becoming cloying or tiring. This is not an everyday quaffer but I would say it is worth having a few of these in the locker when you want a refreshing change from the daily routine. I would prefer it if this was sub-£15, so at £17.50 it may not be a screaming bargain but you won’t find it cheaper anywhere else in the UK. And this wine is a winner. I would therefore highly recommend it.

    Mahmoud Ali and Keith Prothero like this.
  22. I think that on the whole Chenin blanc is a vastly more flexible and interesting grape than Chardonnay, though I suppose that is a fairly low bar.
  23. I know what you mean. In many ways I think Chardonnay is a blank canvas for the terroir or winemaker to impose. If presented with a white, blind, that doesn’t remind me of anything in particular I’m often tempted to think it likely to be Chardonnay.
  24. Which is probably why great chardonnay is the holy grail, Simon!
  25. Wine#4: Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015, £19.50, 14.5%

    The ‘Cartology’ had already sold out so I settled for this blend of predominantly Roussanne with some Chenin, Chardonnay and Verdelho from vines less than a decade old. This is vibrant, full-bodied from the off with lush stone fruits, gooseberries and other fruits jostling for attention. It is concentrated and intense, but not oaky, which makes it easier to live with. Floral, creamy and intense, with a slightly bitter note on the finish. I still had a bit of Wine#3 - the Radford Chenin left off - so it was instructive to compare them. Wine #3had more crispness and freshness, reflecting its lower alcohol, and I prefer it, but Wine#4is a very good and interesting wine. I can’t drink more than two glasses at a time, but it will keep in the fridge for days. It won’t be in everyone’s cup of tea but is fun to drink. I am not going to walk over broken glass to secure more of this but would recommend it to try. Middling value for money.

    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
    Mahmoud Ali likes this.

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