South African Review

Stellenbosch winery

It’s time we revisited some of our wine regions, so during the month of September, I’ll pick a different country or area each week and Feature the wines of that region.
We’ll start with one that has been in the news recently - a report by Human Rights Watch (“Ripe with Abuse”) of bad conditions among South Africans who work in the vineyards that make the world-famous South African wines. It is frustrating that, because of fear of losing their jobs, the workers were interviewed with anonymity and no wineries were named in the report. The report did note that “Some farmers give workers land to grow their own crops, pay the full cost of medical visits, provide free food to workers in the winter, or have set up trusts that benefit farmworkers. Farmers who provided these benefits to farmworkers noted that these efforts can be profitable.” That’s the kind of progress I’d like to support with my wine-buying dollars. And I’d like to boycott the bad guys. But we don’t know which is which. I’ll keep researching this, but in the meantime, I’m going to put my trust in my distributors...and the taste of my customers. So if you haven’t tried these tasty treats from the far south of “the dark continent,” now is the time.
Lammershoek Roulette Rouge 2003 (Swartland, South Africa) Was $33.20/ Closeout Price $28.00
We introduced this one in June 2008 and there are only a few bottles left of the 2003 vintage. In 2008, I wrote:
The Lammershoek Winery (named for the "lamb's corner" where the ewes protected their babies from the fierce "Lammerfanger" Black Eagle) has been making wine in South Africa's Cape region since 1750...The "Roulette Rouge" blend is not a lighthearted riff on the great Rhone blends of France (such as Chateauneuf du Pape) but a serious attempt to replicate them. The blend is mostly Syrah (60%), with notes of Carignan (13%), Grenache (18%), and Viognier (4%) – classic Rhone.
This is a big wine, with 14.5% alcohol, so I had every reason to believe that it has held well, and even improved, with its age. But I needed to make sure, so I brought a bottle home and Chef Yvonne and I had it with dinner Monday night. It was outstanding! It has mellowed with age, the flavors well-integrated, with a rich, long finish. We won’t be offering samples from the remaining bottles, but I’m giving you a great price if you want to take one home for a special occasion.
Kanonkop Kadette 2009 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Regular $18.25/ Feature $15.51
The 2008 vintage of this wine was one of Wine Enthusiast's “Top 100 Wines” of 2010. That list hasn’t come out yet for 2011, but the 2009 has already received 88 Pts and this review:
“Also known as a Cape Blend, this mix of 46% Pinotage, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc is an easydrinking, youthful wine with fresh but rich fruit flavors of red plum and cherry backed by rose hip and hibiscus floral accents. Structured tannins remain through the close, with a subtle smokiness unfolding on the end.”
I say it’s just “darn good” and an excellent introduction to South Africa’s signature red grape, Pinotage. Give it a try and see if you don’t think this wine compares favorably with the structured reds of Bordeaux.
The Wolftrap 2009 (Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa) Regular $14.50/ $12.33
The Wolftrap is described in my March 2010 blog on “New from Spain and South Africa.” This smooth, easy-drinking blend of Syrah 65%, Mourvedre 32%, and Viognier 3% is a good indication of how much sophistication you can get at a very reasonable price from the winemakers of South Africa.
Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2005/2007 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Regular $26.55/ Feature $22.57
This supple Bordeaux blend was created by the legendary Mike Dobrovic as a tribute to Boes ("Bushy" in Afrikaans), the loyal dog who kept watch over Mulderbosch farm for nearly three years after his owner's death, waiting beneath an oak tree for the return of his beloved master. Like the Faithful Hound of the title, this wine has stayed around the store, lying quietly on the shelf, waiting to give a friendly wag to anyone who comes along and gives it some notice. This is one of those “sleepers” on our list...wines that, because their price puts them out of the range of “everyday” drinkers, get left behind, even when a special meal or event is in the offing. Maybe the Feature Price, and the chance to give it a taste, will bring you to heel.
     We’ve got the 2005 vintage in Belhaven: Cabernet Sauvignon 43%, Merlot 32%, Petit Verdot 12%, Malbec 7%, Cabernet Franc 6% - Wine Spectator 90 Points. And the 2007 vintage in Washington: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc - also 90 Points. The newer one is a little more reliant on ripe Cab Sauvignon, with the next three grapes being of equal weight. A tribute to the blender’s art.
Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2010 (Coastal Region, South Africa) Regular $15.75/ Feature $13.39
Mulderbosch also makes this lighter weight rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon that has become a customer favorite. It is bone dry and has a moderate 12.5% alcohol that makes it just right for late summer drinking. And the bottle label says “delicious with crab cakes.” Take advantage of this great Feature while those blue-shelled critters are still swimming in our estuary.
I introduced the wines of the Newton Johnson winery just this past April, after we discovered them at a trade show in Raleigh. They have remained best sellers, and I’m pleased to re-Feature them before the summer winds down and we bring in the new wines for Fall.
Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $19.50/Feature $16.58
We've had some stunning Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa before, but this one is right there at the top of the list.  It's very different from the New Zealand Sauv Blancs we've become used to.  The wine gets some of its rich lusciousness from the fact that the grapes grow in sandstone and clay soils.  Sandstone provides the mineral and citrus fruit characteristics, while the clay gives texture, depth and passionfruit flavors.  They've also added 7% Semillon and fermented the wine in oak barrels.  Rich and complex, the wine has a bright, clean finish.  This is truly a great wine!
Newton Johnson Felicité No Oak Chardonnay (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $14.50/ Feature $12.33
Neal Martin wrote an extensive review of the state of the South African wine industry in the August 31, 2011 issue of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Pour Without Prejudice: South Africa). He might have been talking about this Felicité Chard when he said:
A blind tasting of nearly 100 South African Chardonnay proved that this is South Africa’s most consistent white grape variety and like Chenin Blanc, its greatest exponents produce world-class wines, I would suggest more Burgundy in style than Napa Valley. The biggest change here is patently less reliance upon new oak. The big, buttery, creamy styles of a decade ago are being replaced by crisp, terroir-driven, mineral-rich Chardonnays that are both more intellectual and delicious. Bring it on!
That’s exactly what we’re doing, Neal, bringing it on. Don’t miss it.
Newton Johnson Felicité Pinot Noir (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $16.45/ Feature $13.99
Part of my note on this wine last Spring was:
The wine is 100% matured in 3- to 4-year-old oak barriques (large barrels) for 6 months. It is light in body, almost like a full-bodied rosé, with that note of acidity that makes a good Pinot Noir a great companion for all kinds of food. Cool it slightly for a great summer refresher on the deck. I’m always being asked for a good “reasonably priced” Pinot Noir. This one more than fits the bill. My note at the Trade Show read simply, “Very tasty!” What more do you need to know? If you haven’t tried this wine, don’t delay!