Category Archives: South Africa

Winemaker Ken Forrester from Stellenbosch, South Africa

KEN

Yesterday marked the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Ken Forrester of his eponymous label Ken Forrester Wines, takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why Chenin Blanc is the most misunderstood (but not for long) grape.

A brief background on Ken Forrester Wines:

Situated on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, in the heart of South Africa’s most famous wine region Stellenbosch, our vineyards are commonly referred to as the Home of Chenin Blanc and other premium award-winning wines. Over the years our range of top quality wines has received massive national and international acclaim with literally hundreds of awards and accolades over the last 20 years and are broadly available in reputable restaurants and exported around the globe. Ken Forrester’s philosophy has always been to create a range of handcrafted, individually made wines that suitably complement a wide variety of food styles and provide excellent value.

Signature Wines:

  • Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc ($11.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc ($14.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester The FMC ($64.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest ($54.99 SRP)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Chingola, Zambia, miles from any vineyards or wineries! I am now living in the shadow of the Helderberg Mountain in the region of Stellenbosch right on the Atlantic ocean – the most beautiful place in the world.

 How did you get into the wine business?

Sheer luck–not sure if it was good luck! Passion, passion, passion, careful what you wish for!

The world witnessed the passing and subsequent burial of Nelson Mandela last week. What was the mood of the country and how do you think he influenced South Africa’s wine industry?

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the very extensive world interest and wonderful coverage, it is an amazing time to almost re-live the Magic of Madiba. There have been so many poignant reminders of his canny way, his amazing statesmanship, his ability to grasp a moment and define it for all time. Again, we as South Africans and pretty much all of the world, are reminded about our transition from Apartheid, minority government to the democratic government of today, and the many pitfalls and crevasses on the way, it is truly a modern miracle that we made it happen. And it in no small part rests with the incredible leadership of Mandela, a man often content to allow the younger more nimble members of the flock to lead the way while he, like the good shepherd brought all the flock with him; he was always a shining example of humility and thoughtfulness. Here passes a great man…

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

Yes, too often we are seen as cheap and cheerful “critter” wines – 2 cats, 3 dogs, spotted frog, etc. This is because we are seemingly naïve enough to provide buyers with their request “for the cheapest possible juice”  but this is not what SA is all about; our best wines can stand their ground with the very best in the world and this “cheap wine” perception is unfortunate and inaccurate.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Chenin Blanc, but its time is coming; more and more quality producers are making great wines from Chenin Blanc.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Better quality every year and we’ve got a great new wave of young winemakers!

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc or Renegade (a GSM blend).

What types of food do you enjoy eating?

Fresh, wholesome pasta; grilled/barbeque meat; risotto;  and fresh, garden grown salads.

What music do you listen to?

Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll

Winery dogs?

Yep! Max, Bella and puppies Phantom & Whiskey.  

Puppies

1 Comment

Filed under Ken Forrester, South Africa

Carl van der Merwe, Winemaker for De Morgenzon Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

De Morgenzon Carl2

Today marks the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a tainted wine from a faulty cork is the worst part about being a winemaker.

A brief background on DeMorgezon Wines

“Our slopes rise from about 200m to nearly 400m above sea level and our vistas embrace Cape Town, Table Mountain…with the ocean as a backdrop. While we could call ourselves ‘mountain vineyards’ we prefer to be known as ‘garden vineyards’. In Spring specially, chosen wildflowers flourish between our vines. We have no doubt that a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive environment produces infinitely better grapes and the beauty of our gardens is captured in every bottle of our wine.  We pipe Baroque music through our vineyards 24 x 7 and believe that the power of music positively influences the ripening process. At DeMorgenzon, we are totally committed to excellence and focus on crafting wines which express our unique terroir and fruit within a classic structure – we believe that the finest South African wines combine New World-style fruit with Old World-style elegance.”

Signature Wines:

  • DMZ Rosé ($11.99 SRP),
  • DMZ Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
  • DMZ Chardonnay ($17.99), DMZ Syrah ($17.99)
  • De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc ($34.99)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Cape Town and have stayed near the mountains and the sea ever since. I am currently living in the greatest wine producing region in Africa, namely Stellenbosch!

How did you get into the wine business?

Before deciding on a career, I did an in-depth analysis of what I wanted and needed in a job to best express my values and interests. I narrowed it down to natural sciences in an agricultural field and being a lover of the outdoors, figured that working in the winelands, which tend to occupy some of the most beautiful spots on earth, was the best option. I planned my course of study and have spent a lot of time travelling around the world to various wine regions in search of inspiration and perspective.

The world witnessed Nelson Mandela’s passing and burial this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?

Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and subsequent formation of a transitional government, aided the dropping of sanctions that strangled not only South Africa’s ability to trade internationally, but also South African wine producer’s desire and ability to be exposed to an international wine market. Since 1993, a greater percentage of winemakers have traveled abroad and returned with a keen sense of South Africa’s unique selling points, and the importance to produce wines that compete on an international level. Winemakers, although proudly South African, benchmark their wines and abilities against the best in the world and have brought a new sense of focus to the industry. Winery owners desire to make “world class” wines has assisted in raising the quality bar with the necessary investment in facilities and vineyards.

What is the mood around the country right now?

South Africans are a resilient, hopeful and strong people. We have weathered the storms of migratory, political, social and environmental change. At times we have been on a tipping point but hope, forgiveness and a genuine desire to “make it work” is evident amongst the vast majority of us. We are all saddened at the loss of Mandela, but his legacy surpasses his physical presence.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?

Most rewarding are probably the people who all share a common interest in good food and good company–not to mention good wine! Least rewarding and bottom of the list are great bottles of wine tainted by faulty corks.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

The Cape can get very hot and windy in summer and this can result in stressed vineyards and rushed picking dates. To achieve a balance of freshness and ripeness one needs to be very in tune with your vineyards and able to make rapid picking decisions.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Freedom. We are not bound by rigorous industry control and there is so much opportunity to innovate and be recognized.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

A glass of cold South African Chenin Blanc is always a treat, otherwise, I have a small cellar of international wine and I really enjoy drinking great wines from around the world.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

In Piedmont, Italy during truffle season!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Nebbiolo from Barolo or Barbaresco.

What types of food do you enjoy?

I love cooking with fresh ingredients, especially fresh sea food. Fresh mussels cooked in white wine cream and herbs with fresh crusty bread is one of my favorites. Fresh Cape Crayfish, lightly boiled and finished on the barbecue is also a great treat.

What music do you listen to?

I often have to listen to my children’s CD’s for as long as I can handle; otherwise, my personal choice is varied and suited to my mood. Anything from classical to jazz and hard rock.

Winery dog?

Yes–Dottie and Jane, Jack Russell terriers.

DMZ Stell mountain w house DSC_1312

Leave a comment

Filed under DeMorgenzon Wine

Abrie Beeslaar, Winemaker for Kanonkop, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Winemaker

Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers this week, Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a judgment of Paris with South African wines is long overdue.

A brief background on Kanonkop:

Founded in 1910,  the fourth generation family farm, presently run by brothers Johann and Paul Krige, has been owned and operated by the Sauer-Krige family since the early 1930s. The name Kanonkop is derived from a “kopje” (small hill) on the property, from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century to announce the arrival of the Dutch East India Company’s trading ships at Table Bay.  Situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop encompasses just over 247 acres of vineyards at altitudes of 195–395 feet above sea level.  Kanonkop boasts some of the Cape’s first commercially planted Pinotage vines, with an average age of over 50 years. These are maintained as traditional bush vines, while the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are trellised. The estate’s legendary Pinotage serves as a benchmark for this unique and exotic South African grape.

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Worcester and now reside on the Kanonkop farm which is located on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch.

How did you get into the wine business?

I wanted to study Medicine, but did not qualify to get in. They recommended that I study agriculture for a year, and then reapply. I never reapplied.

We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry? What is the mood of the country right now? 

Mr. Mandela made a huge difference, both directly and indirectly. For instance, he improved land security and helped make South Africa more visible to the world. To talk about his legacy is a humbling feeling, and I think 99% of South Africans are morning the country’s loss, and are refocusing on what Mr. Mandela fought and stood for,

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

The biggest challenge is the wind, and trying to figure out the intrinsics of each vintage.

Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?

I don’t think the South African wine consumer has changed differently than the rest of the world. The consumers are buying from the shelf to drink immediately; they are also buying wines they can understand, for instance a wine that has coffee aromatics.

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

I think we still have a chance to establish ourselves as a quality driven country. Unfortunately, people are not prepared to take a risk on a wine at a higher price point. I see too many cheap wines in the market with labels I do not recognize. We must also do a Judgment of Paris with S.A. wines included!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? I think Pinotage is not fully understood by most, but it is still respected.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? I like properly aged wines, especially from Burgundy and Italy.

What types of food do you like to eat? Like any South African, we are born with Braai tongs in our hands. So all kinds of meat, and my wife’s homemade sausage.

If you could be traveling right now, where would you be? Germany, in the Mosel!

Kanonkop Cannon at Sunset

2 Comments

Filed under Kanonkop

Winemaker Albie Koch of De Toren, Stellenbosch, South Africa

De Toren Albie Koch with Milo

In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing and the publication of my article on his vinous legacy, I decided to offer South African winemakers a channel through which to share their stories. I interviewed a handful of winemakers and winery owners regarding their thoughts on Mandela’s influence on the industry and the mood of the country as it mourns this week. We also dig into the challenges of their respective regions, the foods they like, and everyone’s favorite, winery dogs.

A brief background on De Toren Private Cellar:

Emil and Sonette den Dulk left the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg in 1991 to seek the beauty and serenity of the Cape winelands. They stumbled upon what Emil refers to as “a little piece of heaven” in the Polkadraai Hills, with the magnificent Stellenbosch Mountains as backdrop. It was here that they established De Toren Private Cellar. With the help of specialists from the University of Stellenbosch, Emil set out to carve a niche for his boutique estate by creating South Africa’s first five-varietal Bordeaux blend, the now legendary Fusion V. The current winemaker is Albie Koch.

Albie, where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Vryburg (Kalahari), South Africa, and I now live at De Toren in Stellenbosch.

How did you get into the wine business?

Out of curiosity. How does one grow grapes and make something so enjoyable!

We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?  What is the mood around the country right now?

Nelson Mandela lead us out of the apartheid era and into the opening of international markets. This lead to an explosion of our wines being exported to all over the world. Yes, he most definitely contributed to the wine industry. Currently the country is in deep mourning and in a somber state. The world needs more leaders like Nelson Mandela.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

Stellenbosch is blessed with all aspects: weather, diversity, and sunshine! Our biggest challenge each season is also the most appreciated thing in a season–wind. Wind ( southerly wind here has a nickname: The Cape Doctor)  at the wrong time (flower stage) can have detrimental effect on your crop, but then wind during the season (southern winds are cool) is the air-conditioning in our vineyards, which gives us the cool climate.

Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?

South Africans are becoming true wine consumers and are now opting to explore the higher-end of wines, not just the bottom.

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

In the past, the overseas markets were flooded with low-quality wine from South Africa, thus S.A. was not recognized as a high-end producer. If you look at the ratings and weigh them against some French and California bottles, however, one will see that we are a wine producing country that can punch in the same weight class as these highly-rated wines. We should be taken seriously!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

I do not know about understood or respected , but underestimated is definitely Malbec. The Malbec we can grow in South Africa is awesome! Just ask the few that have tasted our Malbec.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? 

I tend to drink more of our fellow winemakers wines from South Africa, and on the odd occasion, will have French or US wines. My every day drinking wine: Chenin Blanc from South Africa. We have some wonderful examples of stunning stuff.

What types of food do you enjoy?

Because our weather is so great we tend to prepare our food outside on a braai (barbeque), whether it is steak or fish. Anyone that has had a braai with a glass of wine, overlooking False Bay on a clear summer evening, will tell you there are probably very few things that can beat that feeling.

If you could be traveling right now, where would you be?

Kalahari/Botswana. The tranquility of the bush can be found nowhere else. Believe me, nowhere else.

DeToren CellarExterior02

Leave a comment

Filed under De Toren Private Cellar

Interview with Peter de Wet of Excelsior Wine Estate, Robertson, South Africa

Peter de Wet

In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing and the publication of my article on his vinous legacy, I decided to offer South African winemakers a channel through which to share their stories. I interviewed a handful of winemakers and winery owners regarding their thoughts on Mandela’s influence on the industry and the mood of the country as it mourns this week. We also dig into the challenges of their respective regions, the food and music they prefer, and everyone’s favorite, winery dogs.

Peter de Wet, Winemaker for Excelsior Wine Estate in Robertson, South Africa

Signature Wines:

Excelsior Chardonnay, Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon, Excelsior Syrah and Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc. All listed at $9.99.

Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in the pretty town of Montagu, about 10 miles from my current home on Excelsior.  

How did you get into the wine business?
I was born into it. We have been farming and making wine on Excelsior for 150 years –I am the 5th generation. Some of my earliest memories were of sitting in front of my father on the motorbike staring at vines.

The whole world witnessed the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?                            

Mandela made a massive contribution. SA was at a precipice in 1992, and civil strife was a very real possibility. We only have to look at the many examples in Africa to see that this creates long, lasting problems. Mandela saw the big picture and lead form the front. He got all races to pull together and in the right direction. Our business has grown exponentially in the following 20 years and SA is a better place. There is still a lot more to do, but at least we know that we can do it. All South Africans should be grateful to this great man.

What is the mood around the country right now?

Strange and not how I expected. There is sadness, but more a reflection of what he stood for and what we can learn from that. There is also a celebratory vibe, we celebrate his life. Take a look at our blog for an interesting story that my cousin Anton told about an interaction he had with Mandela.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?

I find it very rewarding following a vineyard’s path from planting to the production of quality grapes, and finally seeing customers enjoy it! Wine is possibly the most fascinating agricultural product. The most depressing part of my work is unfortunately the weather–having rain during harvest can destroy a whole season’s hard work.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

Robertson is well-adapted for wine growing. There aren’t too many challenges; we are blessed with a dry climate, which means we rarely need to  spray, and wonderful limestone soils. We are not well known as a wine region which is a challenge, but Roberson is growing its reputation as an area for producing quality wine.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

South African wine manages more complexity in its wines than most New World regions. We are still new in the sense that the modern phase of the wine industry only really started in the early 1990’s. There is huge potential for growth.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

Wine! I love crisper, mineral-y styles of Chardonnay, whilst in winter, Cabernets really hit the spot. I also have a soft spot for Rhone-style reds.

What kinds of food do you enjoy eating?

There is nothing better than a South African braai (barbeque). Lighting a fire with real wood (never charcoal) waiting for the coals to be the right temperature, whilst enjoying a glass of wine, and then cooking whatever is available. Recently, I have been braaing quite a bit of game fillets. The trick is to have a hot base of coals, and then just sear the meat for about 3 minutes per side. The meat is incredibly tender and flavoursome. We often post recipes on our blog The Horse’s Mouth.

What music do you listen to?

Anything that gets my two year old son Matthew dancing. Super cute!

Is there a winery dog?

Of course! My dog is a German Shepherd called Nyanga.

Excelsior Vineyard12

1 Comment

Filed under Excelsior Wine Estate

Nelson Mandela and His Vinous Legacy in South Africa

SouthAfricanvineyards.jpg

If you missed my article in yesterday, here’s a second chance to read it. Interviews with South African winemakers to follow throughout the next few days, including comments on the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and his role in expanding and improving the wine industry.

Throughout the week, South Africans will gather to grieve en masse the loss of Nelson Mandela. A courageous statesman, Mandela began his political life as a young Soweto lawyer steering the resistance against apartheid, only to be imprisoned for twenty-seven years for his labors, later emerging to become president. Undoubtedly, his post-release navigation of the country away from the shores of a civil war into a peaceful, thriving, multiracial democracy will be regarded as his greatest achievement, and one for which he won the Nobel Prize.

However, Mandela’s leadership had other positive ripple effects — for example, it helped expose the local wine industry to the outside world, forcing improvements in viticulture and winemaking practices. Thus, this week we pay tribute to his extraordinary legacy through a missive exploring South Africa’s wine country.

The Cape wine industry is considered New World despite the arrival of vines via the Dutch in 1655. The industry’s three and a half centuries of production were as fractured as the country’s politics, and in several key instances, mirrored the nation’s political movements. Setbacks included the devastating wrath of phylloxera, a rash of overproduction, restrictive quotas, and a significant knock-back in the form of international trade sanctions in the ’80s as protest against apartheid. However, many credit Mandela as having influenced, both directly and indirectly, the Cape Winelands’ transformation into a modern New World industry. Authors and South African wine authorities Elmari Swart and Izak Smit expound upon Mandela’s impact:

This rather unsophisticated local market, when compared to international markets, did nothing but limit the winemaker’s scope for creativity. It was only after Nelson Mandela’s release from political imprisonment and the subsequent elections in 1994, that serious international focus fell on the South African wine industry. Mandela’s support for South African wines formed a necessary political stepping stone for the true emergence of Cape wine. Mandela toasted his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Cape wine. –The Essential Guide to South African Wines

I journeyed to South Africa two years ago and fell in love at first sight — it was easy to see for what Mandela was struggling to keep free but intact. The unrivaled drama and grand cinematic beauty of the Cape Winelands — rumpled terrain, mist-shrouded peaks, and endless green velds — coupled with the gravity of her complicated history, a country that’s collectively endured the peaks and troughs of joy and sorrow electrified my senses and left an indelible stamp on my spiritual passport.

DeMorgenzon.jpg

In addition to the scenery, the wineries themselves impressed. The charming architecture often reflected the classic Cape Dutch look, but several were über-modern, full of glass and steel; all capitalized on the dramatic views, gardens, and countryside greenery available to them. Perhaps my deep captivation hinged on the fact that the gap between my expectations and the actual degree of sophistication was so wide. After all, the country’s modern wine industry was still nascent, begun not long after dismantling the apparatus of apartheid.

Overall, the wines were of reasonable price for good to very good quality (although only occasionally sublime). South Africa is associated with Chenin Blanc — also called Steen, but the name’s use is dwindling — and Pinotage, but the Rhone and Bordeaux blends stood out, and varietal bottlings of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay deserve consideration.

Unfortunately, frequenting South African wine country is made difficult by a very long flight — 17-hours direct from JFK to Jo’burg, then another two-hour flight to Cape Town — so most of us may ever only taste her vinous fruits on our shores. To that end, a few months ago, I gathered nearly 40 bottles from our local market to suss out the best of what’s available here at home. Many bottles were samples, some I purchased and a few I pulled from my personal collection (those are still available in our region).

I gathered a panel of 20 friends and colleagues. We made boerewors sausage, peri peri shrimp, bobotie, lamb sosatie, and chakalaka, attempting to marry the spirit of South African foods with the wine.

Skewers.jpg

We tasted poorly made wines, a number of classic styles (e.g., oak-aged Chardonnay), and several killer bottles. However, a large percentage of the wine we sampled sat firmly on the right side of safe, offering broad mainstream appeal to international tastes while lacking maverick spirit. As the industry is still young, it is likely on track to have a second wave of winemakers with a renegade approach that’ll bring more cutting-edge wines to market. Perhaps the movement is underway now — it’s hard to know without being on the ground, and the interesting, small production stuff isn’t often exported (a major selling point for traveling!).

My resulting list of 10 picks, with input from all tasters, is Chenin Blanc- and Stellenbosch-heavy, in part because those wines showed the best, but also because we had more of them in the sample pool. These 10 wines are by no means meant to suggest the top in our market (we didn’t taste everything), and they shouldn’t discount the fact that wonderful wines are made in other regions like Constantia, Swartland, Franschhoek, Elgin, etc. But they are good and provide a range of price points to suit your wallet.

It’s also worth noting that the Mandela family has entered the wine business, producing a line under the name House of Mandela. Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela and Tukwini Mandela, respectively daughter and granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, came to New York in October to show their Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc. I haven’t tasted the wine, so I cannot comment, but it appears Mandela’s wine legacy will continue, at least for a few more generations.

whitebottles.jpg

Kanonkop Pinotage 2010, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, $35 
The finest Pinotage I’ve ever tasted. Smoke, red and black berries, an edge of minerality, and a full-body with decadent, silky mouthfeel. Will convert Pinotage detractors.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, $15
Made by a Chenin specialist, this bright, citrus-scented, tropical fruit-filled wine, with obvious but carefully integrated oak, shows a hint of nut and spice on the finish.

Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2011, Coastal Region, $14 
A great value for under $15 — I’ve found it for close to $10! The wine is refreshing and lively with pineapple, crisp apple, and floral notes. Thanks for keeping this one out of oak.

Cape Grace Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, NA,
Loaded with tasty white fruits like apples, peaches, and pears plus a kick of honey and guava, too. Bright, cheerful wine.

Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Stellenbosch, $29 
The winery sits nestled high on the slopes of Helshoogte Pass, the altitude providing concentrated flavor and fresh acidity to this dark berry-, plum-, cocoa-, and fig-saturated wine.

Wineup.jpg

Thelema The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Stellenbosch, $39 
The panel favorite, I found this bottle hidden in a cabinet — another taster tried to save a final glass for herself. Notes of mint lace the classic Cabernet flavors in this balanced wine, but just enough to provide interest without overwhelming.

Rudi Shultz Syrah 2010, Stellenbosch, $30
A rather big, meaty wine with smoked-bacon, mocha, anise, blackberry, and pepper, made by a next generation winemaker who is also winemaking for Thelema.

Excelsior Chardonnay 2012, Robertson, $9 
Super value, enjoyable white plumped up with 3 percent Viognier, showing peach, apricot, and pineapple — a perfect aperitif wine.

De Toren Fusion V 2008, Stellenbosch, $50
I drank this post-panel, but it probably would’ve been a contender for the top prize — after all, it is the winery’s premium bottling. A concentrated, elegant, well-made wine, like drinking crushed velvet, showing hints of leather and tobacco interspersed with dark chocolate and blackberry. A wine for angels, the producer writes. I agree.

De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch, $35
A “high-achiever” if you follow scores, this solid wine spent almost a year snuggled in new and older oak, but the mouthwatering acid and citrus, acacia honey, and stone fruit notes remain intact. SRP is $35, but I have seen for $25.

PeriPeriShrimp.jpg

Where to Eat in NYC:
Madiba, 195 Dekalb Ave, Fort Greene, 718-855-9190. On Sunday, December 15, at 6 p.m., the restaurant will be screening the funeral from Qunu, South Africa, with a prayer and live performance by the South African Allstars.

Where to Buy in NYC: 
Chelsea Wine Vault, 75 Ninth Avenue, 212-462-4244
Union Square Wines, 140 Fourth Avenue, 212-675-8100
Astor Wine and Spirits, 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

 

5 Comments

Filed under South Africa

South African Birthday Braai in Brooklyn with 36 Wines

Colorful coastal beach cottages. I have no pictures of wine country for this article because my husband accidentally deleted all of them. Yes, we are still married.

Today is my birthday and I turn 19, again. I am celebrating by throwing a Braai-style BBQ in Brooklyn to accompany a large, multi-regional tasting of wines procured from South Africa.  If I can’t spend my B-Day in Stellenbosch, then I will bring the spirit of the Cape Winelands to a Brooklyn Heights apartment with a bonafide patio and grill (unfortunately not mine, but a generous friend’s).

I spent weeks obtaining 36 wines from 18 vineyards. Most are samples, but a precious few are direct from my wine fridge, carefully cared for since bringing them back from South Africa 2 years, 3 months and 17 days ago.  And holy shit, I didn’t even look at the calendar before spitting out that number, and I just verified it was on the dot. Eerie!

Why a birthday party around South Africa? Skeptics say I can’t fall in love with a place I only knew seven days. Maybe I wasn’t there long enough to outgrow the honeymoon and commence day-to-day life with my sweetheart, flaws slowly unfurling, first charming, and eventually grating. Was I romanced by the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the adorable village of Franschhoek and long wine producing history of Constantia like a contestant on the Bachelor–all helicopters rides, fantasy suites and chiseled abs? Actually, that wasn’t my experience at all.

Most of the world is aware of South Africa’s history and problems, her citizens quite painfully. But with dramatic lows come equally dramatic highs, particularly with regard to her physical beauty; the scenery is flat-out stunning, probably made more so because I wasn’t expecting it. How often do close friends, even acquaintances, rave about her wines or the beauty of South African wine country? Most haven’t been, probably from fear of the 17-hour flight or misperceived cost of travel so far from home. Those who do visit, often consider South Africa synonymous with Kruger National Park or Table Mountain and Cape Town; and for the adventurous, maybe a cage-dip in Shark Alley to see the Great Whites.

But the flight is manageable (particularly with Valium, Ambien and free cocktails). South African Airways flies direct to Jo’burg from JFK, a United partner and accepting of FF miles. And without miles, airfare this summer (winter there) is on sale for $1000. That is cheaper than flying to Europe. Once arriving in Jo’Burg, you have an easy connection to Cape Town. Rent a car and off you go another 1.5 hours up to Stellenbosch. Yes, I know it sounds painful, but your reward is great. That first view of vineyards tucked into the mountains, laid-out one after another between the Wineland towns is heart-stopping.

Steenberg Winery patio. I only have this single photo to show.

The wineries are as sophisticated as Napa without pretension, and the lodging extraordinary in quality and variety offering relative reasonableness of price.  We spent several lovely nights in the Hawksmoor House, a beautiful B&B set in an old Cape Dutch country home filled thoughtfully with antiques and modern touches—a retreat to which you could imagine retiring one day. Each morning’s homemade breakfast was served on the patio with views over the rectangular garden pool that stretched to the mist-shrouded mountains beyond. Evenings at Hawksmoor offered complimentary dessert wines from the honor bar; we would slip into the house after dinner each night, choose our wine, and relax in whichever stately parlor room we fancied to pretend was ours for a few hours.

The restaurants are numerous, varied in cuisine and price; if your wine country vacation isn’t complete without fine multi-course dining, however, there are tasting menus to rival Yountville at half the price. We adored our anniversary dinner at Rust En Vrede, a 350-year old Country Dutch property that offers exceptional estate wines paired with their exemplary cuisine. Try a cocktail (or wine) on the balcony of the beautiful Delaire Graff Estate, watching the sun dip down, forever gone for that day, then pop over to Tokara restaurant across the road for dinner in a chic setting that belies the prices on the menu.

The wineries, however, impressed the most. I was struck over and over by the level of sophistication, attention to detail, aesthetics and use of technology. Part of what makes wine travel so fun is to see how each vintner and winery owner applies their personal-touch to the final wine and design of the buildings. Much of the architecture shows-off the charming Cape Dutch-look, but several were über-modern; all capitalized on the dramatic views, gardens and countryside greenery available to them. Overall, the wines were of reasonable price for very good quality (although only occasionally transcendental). South Africa is often associated with Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but their Rhone and Bordeaux blends stand-out, and varietal bottlings of Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay deserve attention.

As is the case with most non-traditional European wine-producing regions, finding the same diversity of wines you sampled while visiting, back home in the States, is impossible. So the point of my tasting tonight is to explore the depths of what is available from South Africa in our market so as to inform friends and readers of this extraordinary place.  Greater demand for South African wines will bring more variety of selection. I plan to compile the tasting notes from this evening in my Unscrewed column in the Village Voice sometime in May or early June. Hopefully my words will encourage readers to spend more time considering South Africa on their store shelves and in their imaginations.

And for our Braai tonight? Yes, I know that we aren’t using real wood and a massive fire, so we are technically not doing it right. We are making do with what’s available in an urban environment, however, and working off cookbooks, the internet, an iPhone text and facebook messages, to put together a semi-authentic collection of dishes to pair with the wines. Below is our menu, and further down, our vinous line-up!

MENU

Peri Peri Shrimp and Chicken Drumsticks
Lamb Sosatie (kebabs)
Homemade Boerewors Sausage
Bobotie
Gestoofde Boontjies (fancy name for beans)
Hot Rice Salad
Chakalaka and Pap

Ash and Shawn Shooting Sausage for Boerewors

Pretty Boerewors Pinwheel!

Marinating Lamb Soastie

WINES

1 Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
2 Bayten Sauvignon Blanc 2012
3 Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc/Pinotage 2012
4 Beyerskloof Synergy Blend 2010
5 Beyerskloof Pinotage 2012
6 Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2009
7 Bradgate Sauv Blanc/Chenin Blanc 2011
8 Bradgate Cab Sauv/Merlot/Shiraz 2009
9 Bradgate Syrah 2010
10 Bruwer Raats Chenin Blanc 2011
11 Bruwer Raats Bordeaux Blend 2010
12 Cape Grace Chenin Blanc 2011
13 Cape Grace Pinotage 2011
14 Cape Grace Shiraz 2012
15 De Morgenzon Chardonnay 2012
16 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2011
17 De Morgenzon Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
18 De Toren Fusion V 2008
19 Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2010
20 Elgin Vintners Chardonnay 2010
21 Excelsior Chardonnay/Viognier 2012
22 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2011
23 Glenelly Red Blend: Syrah, Cab, PV, M 2008
24 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012
25 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010
26 Indaba Chenin Blanc 2012
27 Juno Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
28 Juno Shiraz 2010
29 Kanonkop Pinotage 2010
30 Kanonkop Pinotage Blend: Kadette 2009
31 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2011
32 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2012
33 Music by D’Aria Shiraz, Cab, Merlot 2009
34 Rudi Schultz Syrah 2010
35 Thelema The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
36 Thelema Mountain Red 2010

7 Comments

Filed under Birthday Braai and Tasting in Brooklyn, South Africa