Tag Archives: South Africa

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg and the South African Wines Renaissance

Name a New World wine country. Australia most likely springs immediately to mind, as does Chile. You’ve probably said New Zealand too, and maybe Argentina. Did South African Wines figure on your list?

If you’re a casual wine drinker it’s likely it didn’t, or maybe it came as an after-thought. Here in Ireland we have an unusual blind spot for South African wines – indeed sales of wines from the country have dropped 35% since 2008.

Which is a pity, since The Cape is one of the oldest “New World” wine countries with a rich history of winemaking going back as far as the mid 17th century (another example of the fallacy of the Old World / New World categorisation).

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

South African wine’s fortunes within in the international wine world have been somewhat undesirable in the last century or two. Originally its Constantia sweet wines were the toast of the European monarchy in the 18th and 19th centuries, rivalled only by Hungarian Tokaji.

Since then, though, various market forces, debilitating  vine infections (which largely still exist today), international boycotting due to apartheid and old-school “quantity over quality” winemaking philosophy have largely hampered the country’s entrance to the quality wine arena.

However the newer generation of people making South African wines, now welcomed worldwide in the wake of the democratic awakening of their country, are spending time working in vineyards abroad and returning home with big ideas.

The outcome is fresh and new thinking brought to old vines in historic areas, with the result that South Africa has recently been named by Decanter magazine as the most dynamic winemaking region in the Southern Hemisphere; considering that includes Australia, Chile, New Zealand and most of their New World counterparts, then you realise that’s a big call.

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African Renaissance

The New Old New World

I had the chance to taste the wines from Rustenberg of the historic Stellenbosch district for the first time at the annual JN Wines tasting in The Merrion late last year. Standing behind the table was one of the most stereotypical Springboks you could encounter: tall, blond, broad, beefy, square-jawed and unfailingly polite.

I would later discover this was Murray Barlow, the third generation of winemakers to farm the Rustenberg estate that can trace its history back to 1682. Murray’s grandfather, Peter Barlow – after which one of their flagship wines is named – is responsible for revitalising the estate after purchasing and restoring it in 1941. The Barlow family have now been overseeing the historic property for 75 years, the longest time it has been in continuous family hands.

Murray was affably adroit at providing salient snippets of info without burdening me with technical detail. He summarised how they have in recent years concentrated more about prioritising working in the vineyard to ensure the best-quality grapes possible versus their traditional method of judicious sorting of the berries at the winery.

This approach goes hand-in-hand with some renewed ground-up thinking – if you’ll excuse the pun! – that has also expressed itself in experimenting with varieties alien to South Africa such as Rousanne and Grenache, a sweet vin de paille, and Syrah vines trained vertically on stakes in the Northern Rhone style.

Cape Crusaders

Of course Rustenberg aren’t alone in this South African resurgence. See also the wines of Mullineux, Keermont, Richard Kershaw, De Morgenzon, Glen Carlou, Kanonkop, Doran, Paul Cluver and a host of others making properly excellent, exciting wines. In fact, another article delving further into these great producers would be needed I think – watch this space…

South Africa is on the up – it’s time we opened our minds, and our palates, to the treasures offered by this historic region and started supporting their winemakers once again. Despite us Irish buying almost a third less South African wines since 2008, we’re actually 14% up on 2012, so we’re heading in the right direction. Let’s do this proud nation – and our own palates – a huge favour and continue this positive trend.

murray-barlow-550x550

THREE TO TRY

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon
€15.99 from JNwine.com

I really enjoyed the texture of this wine, which shows typical Cab flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant.

Though not hugely complex, it is nevertheless supple, textural and long, and great value at this price.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay
€18.99 from JNwine.com

This was really the ‘wow’ wine for me at the Rustenberg table. Yes, their €36 single vineyard Chardonnay – the Five Soldiers – has that extra je ne sais quoi, but at a mere €19 this is incredible value for the effort that goes in, and the quality that comes out. Barrel-fermented with wild yeast, this shows judicious use of oak giving an excellent supple texture and layers of complexity.

 

The Greatest Cape: Rustenberg & The South African RenaissanceRustenberg John X Merriman
€19.99 from JNwine.com

This is their Bordeaux blend and named in honour of a former owner of Rustenberg, John Xavier Merriman, who bought the farm in 1892 in sympathy with farmers suffering from the phylloxera crisis.

This has excellent texture and though a little taut is still very approachable and fine. Again excellent value at just under €20.

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Some Valentine’s Day Sparkling Rosés

This post originally appeared on TheTaste.ie


I think many people are unduly harsh about Valentine’s Day; where others see a day where they’re ‘forced’ to jump through hoops, I simply see another excuse to enjoy myself. Think about it: what are the clichéd components on Valentine’s Day? Posh chocolates, flowers, a nice meal and some good wine, all shared with your loved one … if you find cause to dislike any of the above then I think you’re missing out on one of life’s pleasures.

And yes, it’s been over-commercialised, but what hasn’t been nowadays? As Alfred Wainwright famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So change your mind-set about Valentine’s Day: grab someone you love (whether romantically or platonically), pick up one of the delicious bottles of wine below, put together some gorgeous food, and enjoy the fact that you’ve been given another excuse to experience some of the finer things in life.

 

Jacob's Creek Sparkling RoseJacob’s Creek Sparkling Rosé

RSP €18.49, but currently on offer in O’Brien’s Wines for €17

I’ll readily admit that, in my early years in the wine trade, I ensured that I volubly turned my nose up at Jacob’s Creek in order to reassert the fact that I was now a wine professional.

However, when I actually tasted the stuff I was surprised – then delighted – to find that it’s actually quite tasty stuff. Not complex, not life-changing, but very tasty and quite enjoyable indeed. It has simple strawberry and cranberry flavours, nice lively bubbles and a touch of sweetness to help it all slide down easily.

If you’re just looking for enjoyable pink fizz, then you can’t go wrong with this old reliable.

 

Graham Beck Vintage Brut RoseGraham Beck Vintage Sparkling Rosé
RSP €29.99 from The Corkscrew, Dublin; WineOnline.ie; and other good independent off-licences nationwide.
Currently on offer for €24.95 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin

South African winery Graham Beck is famous for their sparkling wines, with the company’s efforts often being held up as the very definition of the Methode Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method.

Their regular Graham Beck Sparkling Brut has been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, Prince Harry, and Bono, amongst many others and here they apply the same care and attention to a single-vintage rosé which has been lauded by critics worldwide.

This is basically rosé Champagne in everything but name: made with two of the traditional Champagne grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – it’s produced via the traditional Champagne method and has the typically light yeasty aromas and creamy complexity with strawberry pastry all the way to the long finish. A very fine example of the style.

 

Devaux RoseDevaux Cuvée Rosé

RSP €59.99 from Fallon & Byrne; Clontarf Wines; Thomas’s of Foxrock; Terroirs, Donnybrook; WineOnLine.ie; and Miller and Cook, Mullingar

If you’d like to impress your loved one with a slightly more obscure Champagne, this rosé offering from a lesser-known Champagne House is a must, especially when it over-delivers on flavour given the price.

Expect strawberries and raspberries of course but I got lots of hazelnuts and white pepper from this very delicate wine too, a richness that belies Devaux’s location at the region’s sunnier southern location. A really fine treat and a rare find.

 

Bollinger Rose╠üBollinger Rosé

RSP €85 from O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Fresh Supermarkets, Dublin: Joyce’s of Galway; Ardkeen Superstores, Waterford; and other good independents nationwide.
Currently on offer from Mitchell & Sons for €65.95.

When all the stops are being pulled out, then really you need look no further than Bollinger Rosé. Like Devaux above, Bollinger are proud of and famous for their Pinot Noir, using a substantial proportion of it in all of their Champagnes which gives them that distinctive Bollinger body and character.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Bollinger decided to create the Rosé to let their Pinot shine more brightly, and it’s a wonder why they waited so long. It has a distinctive, deep strawberries-and-cream flavour topped with cinnamon and spice. Really, this can’t but be enjoyed with the most decadent, fine foods, like oyster, scallops and even red meats delicately done, such as beef carpaccio.

Last-Minute Christmas Wine Help!

So it’s Christmas eve-eve, and you haven’t picked up wine for the coming days yet.

No worries, there’s still time, and to help I’ve picked out some favourites from a few importer/retailers around the country, so that hopefully some of my suggestions below shouldn’t be too far from where you live.

Please not though that for the sake of brevity I’ve picked out only a tiny selection of wines I’ve sampled recently from importers that have invited me to their tastings, so obviously this is by no means a definitive or exhaustive list.

As such the best default course of action – as I’ve always strongly recommended – is to go into your local independent off-licence (not supermarket) and tell someone there what you’re looking for; you’ll almost always end up with something exactly what you’re looking for and usually something better than expected, as well as supporting local businesses. Win win.

There are a couple of whites and a couple of reds from each supplier that I think will be pretty fail-safe for the coming days, covering both party wines and special bottles.

Good luck and merry Christmas!


NATIONWIDE: O’Brien’s

Wth outlets now in Cork, Limerick, Galway and lots of other places, you’re not too far from an O’Brien’s and their great range of wines.
Open Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th: until 8pm or 9pm (click here to check your local store)
Brocard Chablis – now €18.99
I covered this recently in my post about the recent O’Brien’s Fine Wine Sale, and I’ve no problem recommending it again: simultaneously steely, mineral and generous, this is textbook Chablis at a great price.

Château Fuisse Saint Veran – now €19.99
Though I would normally choose the more expensive wines of the Château Fuisse range – such as the Pouilly Fuissé ‘Tête de Cru’ I reviewed in the O’Brine’s Fine Wine Sale post, for €20 this is a great introduction to the brand and a fantastic white Burgundy in general. Zingy and refreshing but with some of that creamy oak influence underneath, this is perfect for those recovering from the oak overload of old.

Bellow’s Rock Shiraz – now €9.99
A consistently very good wine that’s always excellent value, this has all you’d want from Shiraz but without the usual blowsy, over-cooked characters: weight, balance and drinkability. An above-par party wine.

Monte Real Rioja Reserva – now €13.99
I continue to be perplexed as to how O’Brien’s continue to source this wine at this price. Rioja Reservas usually start around the €20 mark, but Monte Real often appears well below €15, which shouldn’t be possible given the quality. Still, take advantage while you can and buy a case or two then this comes on sale: it has all the trademark Rioja characteristics of dark fruit with vanilla and leather over a silky supple palate. A real Christmas winner.

 

KILKENNY: Le Caveau
An award-winning Burgundy specialist, it would be remiss of me not to feature some of my (slightly) more affordable favourites from the iconic region
Open Wednesday 23rd until 10pm, and Thursday 24th from 10.30am – 4.30pm

Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Blanc – €20.40
And excellent basic Bourgogne from an iconic producer, this ticks all the boxes and comes in at barely a shade over €20. Really highly recommended.

Vincent Girardin, Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Vermots Dessus’ – The 2011 I tasted is €28.70, but the last bottles of 2006 are currently on sale for the silly price of €15 Complex and creamy with excellent length, this is a really excellent, characterful Burgundy.

Louis Boillot, Bourgogne Rouge – €26.50
Beautifully fragrant and smoky, with sweet red fruit and a herbal tinge. Soft and generous and surprisingly complex for a basic Bourgogne.

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages – €28.90
My tasting notes say that this tastes of Christmas, so no better time to grab a bottle then! Clove and baking spices are overlaid by brambly red fruits and a lush expressiveness.

 

GALWAY: Cases Wine Warehouse
A great outlet run with passion, yet not lacking in some great-value finds
Open Wednesday 23rd until 7pm and Thursday 24th from10am to 3pm

Autoritas Reserva Viognier – now €9.95
I had this marked as “Very Good Value for Money” when it was €11.95, so now it’s Excellent Value for Money at the discounted price for Christmas. A surprising treat for the cost, it’s full and rich with peach and honey, though beware the 14% alcohol!

Lady Sauvignon – €11.95
Another bargain from Chile. Though it’s typically expressive and flavoursome in the New World style, I found the acidity to be a little less aggressive than we come to expect from the style. Everything else is in place, such as the grassy pea characteristics. One to buy in bulk.

Mister Shiraz – €13.95
Yes, you guessed it, Mister Shiraz is the partner to Lady Sauvignon above. But I’m not featuring it just to complete the pair: I found this to be much lighter than expected, which is a pleasant surprise as New World Shiraz at this price tends to be over-blown. Still, it’s deep and satisfying with blueberry and blackberry flavours.

Bagante Mencia – €13.95
One of my favourites from the Cases tasting a few months back, and again great value for money (a running theme from Cases it seems). I wrote about this for TheTaste.ie before, and I’d recommend it again: juicy, fresh, lively and all pleasure, it’s fun and sun in a glass.

 

BORDER COUNTIES: JN Wine
The famous JN Wine company has its wholesale business both north and south of the border and offer a mail-order service to match, but as it’s too late to avail of the latter then you’ll have to hop over to their store in Crossgar, Co. Down, to grab some of the bottles below.
(For more you can read a recent profile on James Nicholson – the JN of the company name – in the Irish Times here)

Sartarelli Verdicchio Classico – €14.99
I found this to be very good value for money: fresh and easy with approachable tropical fruit, but the palate still has some weight and seriousness to it. I’d say this would be a very versatile choice at the Christmas table.

Weingut Salwey, “Salwey RS” Weissburgunder – €21.99
Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc, and this is a fine, rich example of the variety: it straddles the line between freshness and creaminess, giving sprightly citrus fruits over a lightly waxy palate. I’d recommend reading this post by Frankie Cook, where he gives a more detailed post on the background of this wine.

Bodegas Paco Garcia, Rioja Crianza – €18.99
Ah yes, where would Christmas be without Rioja? This is a younger Crianza style though, and as such is fresher and livelier than the Reservas we’re usually used to drinking. I thought the texture of this wine was excellent to, giving an all-round, crowd-pleasing quality drop.

Domaine Fournier, Bourgogne Rouge – €24.50
Yes, another Bourgogne Rouge, but when done well it really is excellent and the ideal Christmas wine in my opinion. Fournier produce another excellent example, with the texture of this wine the first thing to catch my attention, followed by some clove and Christmas spices. A really delicious wine.

Happy 1st Birthday to TheTaste.ie

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since TheTaste.ie opened its virtual doors to the Irish public. The Irish public, for its part, has wholeheartedly embraced Ireland’s new online food & drink destination, with a mind-boggling 1.7m unique users visiting the site per month and literally tens of thousands of people following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For comparison, the IrishTimes.com has 6.1m users per month, but then they have the advantage of 156 years in print and 21 years online (they were the first Irish paper on the web in 1994). So for TheTaste.ie to garner 28% of the IrishTimes.com readership in 4% of the time is impressive by any standard.

Such has been the success of the site that owners Keith and Julie Mahon have since assembled a small but passionate team of full-timers to help handle the exponential expansion of the TheTaste.ie, as well as a solid portfolio of contributors (yours truly included, if you don’t mind me saying so).

The popularity of TheTaste.ie looks far from being a flash in the pan and we can expect to see this indigenous success story continue for many years to come. But what next? TheTaste.ie line of food items? A TheTaste.ie restaurant? Given the energy of these guys I wouldn’t discount anything!

Anyway, below is my most recent article for them where I make a clichéd attempt to match wines with countries participating in the Rugby World Cup. But given that today, Monday 19th October, is the day after we lost out to Argentina in the RWC quarter final, then the below may be too soon after the fact for some…!


This is an article from the October issue of TheTaste.ie

You may not have noticed it, but there’s a Rugby World Cup going on right now. It’s just too irresistible to avoid matching wines to the countries participating in the tournament. Grab some of these wines the next time their respective teams are playing and have your own head-to-head at home.

 

England

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2011 – from €49.99  available from Mitchell & Son and McHugh’s Off-Licences

Anybody with any interest in sparkling wine cannot have missed the rising star that is English sparkling wine, which many in the wine trade now beginning to agree are seriously rivalling Champagne in terms of quality. The same need not be said of their rugby team though, who have always been world class (thought the Welsh might beg to differ!)

This Hattingly Valley blend (or “cuvee”) has been one of my favourites so far, a blend of 71% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir & 9% Pinot Meunier, it’s very fresh but still has a luxurious richness thanks to some barrel fermentation. Saline, toasty, electric and, importantly, delicious.

 

France

Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’Jean Claude Mas, Piquepoul de Pinet ‘Frisant’ – from €15.95  available from Deveney’s Dundrum, Clontarf Wines, Jus de Vine Portmarnock, Martin’s Fairview and 64wine Glasthule

Ah, the French. If they’re not stubbornly going against the grain, they’re being louche and languid and shrugging with Gallic nonchalance. Much like their rugby team in fact, who can sometimes either fight to the death or not bother at all, though unfortunately for their rivals they tend to bring their A Game to world tournaments.

Piquepoul (or Picpoul) is perhaps best known for the light and zippy Picpoul de Pinet, I was surprised then to see it as a sparkling version. When tasting this I was told that a certain Monsieur Jean Claude Mas wanted this wine to be a “Prosecco Killer”, and after tasting this the famous Italian bubbly is now extinct in my book. Honeyed, creamy, but still dry, this is deliciously elegant and great value.

 

Italy

Michele Biancardi, Uno più UnoMichele Biancardi, Uno più Uno€14.75 available from JNwine.com

The Italians, though relatively new to top-flight rugby, are known to play with plenty of heart and determination, despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past. Thankfully though they’ve been improving in recent years, much like their wines. Of course, Italy has always had fine wine, but the bulk of it has tended to be simplistic ‘table wine’ until a few decades ago. Now most winemakers in almost every region have turned their attention to quality over quantity.

This is a wine from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, which has traditionally provided gutsy, rustic table wines. This wine, however, from Michele Biancardi is a perfect example of increased quality now available from the region. Made with two grape varieties native to the area, the famous Primitivo and less well-known Nero di Troia, this is smooth, rich, fragrant, absolutely delicious and a steal for just under €15.

 

South Africa

Doran Vineyards Chenin BlancDoran Vineyards Chenin Blanc – from €17.99 available from Kinnegar.com and Mitchell & Son

South Africa, Japanese slip-ups aside, are known for being a big, bruising, world class team. Luckily their wines, though also world-class, are rarely as brawny as their rugby players, given the Springbok wine producers’ emphasis on balance and elegance in recent decades.

Chenin Blanc might surprise many as being South Africa’s foremost ‘adopted’ white grape, though they do have a considerable track record with the variety. This is a good example of South African Chenin done well and for not too much money. The palate is weighty but fresh with fragrant honeysuckle, grilled nuts and a twist of lemon.

 

New Zealand

Saint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot NoirSaint Clair Premium Marlborough Pinot Noir – from €19.99 available from Mitchell & Son and Baggot Street Wines

Ah, the famous, and feared, the All Blacks. Even those who don’t follow rugby are fully aware of New Zealand’s dominance of the game; and the same can now be said of the traditionally French Pinot Noir too, for the grape is now almost completely synonymous with the Kiwi nation.

Here is a Kiwi Pinot that not only tastes good, but helpfully is in a very apt all black outfit too, the Saint Clair Marlborough Premium Pinot Noir. Silky and concentrated with blackcurrant and violets, this is a classy drop and a great representation of New Zealand’s take on one of France’s most precious grapes.

A Surprising South African

Glen Carlou Grand Classique

I’ll admit that I know very little about South African wines beyond their renowned (if overlooked) Pinotage and Chenin Blanc offerings, and even then I’m normally at a loss. It seems I’m not the only one though: the people of Ireland have largely turned their backs on the country and its wines, and it’s by far the worst-performing wine producer here with a drop of -27% over the last twelve months in the off-trade. I fear that this may be a vicious cycle in action: the worse a country performs the less likely a retailer will stock or promote it, and thus it’s relegated to the bottom shelf where it’s even less likely to be sold, and so on and so on…

So fair play to O’Brien’s for pushing the Glen Carlou Grand Classique 2005 during their Fine Wine Sale last November (I’m eagerly anticipating the next!), but even then it took a price drop and a favourable review by the estimable Tomás Clancy to get me to buy it, with the added sweetener being that it had some bottle age. So I bought a couple of bottles and felt adventurous for buying wine from a country that has been producing the stuff since 1659. Strange that.

So what was it like? Absolutely delicious in fact. It reminded me of a Coonawarra Cab: full, rich, eucalypt and blackberry goodness, very strong on the fruit and really quite deep, so old-school dusty Bordeaux fans may want to give this a miss. I’m guessing that it may have peaked already though, so though it won’t dis-improve any time soon I just won’t hang on too long to drink the other bottle.

Glen Carlou Grand Classique 2005
€18.99 from O’Brien’s
Wine of Origin – Paarl
41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc
www.glencarlou.co.za