South Africa

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Geoff and I went to a Wine Society tasting of South African wines on Monday. Held in a large room at the Burlington Hotel in Brum, you walk round and taste as you choose from about 30 wines. Unusually there were lots of producers presenting their wines – a big SA trade fair in London had brought them over. These tastings (we’ve been to four, I think) always follow the same format. We taste – Geoff white then red, me – expensive then cheaper. After about half an hour a WS employee does an ‘introduction’ with many statements of the ‘bleedin’ obvious’, like ‘there is water in the centre of the room’. Then the buyer says a few words which in this instance consisted of several variations on the theme of ‘thank you for coming’. When that’s over we stop shuffling our feet and get back to the tasting – except that, there wasn’t much to taste. I’d hoped to try a good pinotage (aka, by me, as the ‘red gewurtz’), a grape the taste of which I’ve never liked. There were only three available and I went for the 2009 – not for me. The producer (from Kanonkop) was candid enough to admit that pinotage needs age but the WS don’t stock any old vintages. One curious feature of the WS South African list is that there are no mature wines of any description on sale. A few 2008’s is all. Another is that The Chocolate Block was available to taste but is not on the list either. As well as the pinotage I also tried a decent Burgundian-style chardonnay and a similar pinot. Some Rhone look-a-likes only not as good.  A pleasant dessert wine. But that’s it. Nothing I remotely felt like buying. I’m not totally convinced by the ’terroir’ argument but I’d didn’t get any sense of place – as you would with, say, Rhone or Languedocian wines.

All this is a prelude to tonight’s wine. No Geoff this Friday evening but I thought I’d try one of my vast stock (was 3, now 2) of South African wines. So, I opened a 2004 Vergelegen (14.5%) which members on Cellartracker suggested was either ready to drink or completely past it, depending on the reviewer. From MWW, about £25. I think it is 80% CS, 16% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc but Vergelegen do so many ranges with differing logos over the years, it is hard to be sure. Certainly a cassis nose, rather rustic – some pinotage in there? Deep red colour, strong persistent taste, obviously CS dominated. Actually not bad, certainly ready to drink with a few years left. But I think I’d rather have a £25 Bordeaux. All this has got me wondering – why don’t I buy South African wines? Is it a residual dislike from the apartheid era, which I’m old enough to remember? All the producers present on Monday were white, needless to say. Or is it that the wines are just, for the most part, ordinary. Bit of both probably.

Geoff here. Enjoyed reading my tasting mate’s blog, mostly echoing what we thought and discussed on the evening. As a general comment, the whites I tried – Semillon, Chenin, the blends, Sauvignon – had finesse and subtlety but possibly lacked intensity of flavour. I theorised (always doing that, sorry) whether the grapes are not allowed to hang too long – because of the heat – and don’t develop to full potential. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than me will shoot me down for this comment. Please do. The Ham. Russell Pinot was lovely, firm but still attractively forward. Tasting was slightly underwhelming for me and the attendance was lighter than previous events.

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3 Comments

Filed under posted by Richard

3 responses to “South Africa

  1. Nick Templeton

    Interesting post. I’m not sure how many South African pinot noirs you have tasted but I have been very impressed by some of the SA examples, particularly those from Paul Cluver, which do seem to have some ageing potential.

    I note that the WS is currently offering Hamilton Russell and Chamonix examples. Were any of these available at the tasting and if so, what were your thoughts? I had the basic Chamonix a while ago and thought that it was excellent for the price, fresh and tangy, not particularly complex but a nice balance.

    What did you make of the Chenin Blancs that you tasted, as again SA seems to be building a solid reputation with this grape?

  2. Thanks for the comment. I have little experience of SA wines. I thought the Hamilton Russell chardonnay and pinot were the two best wines at the tasting – but I would have guessed them to be French, tasted blind. Geoff is a Chenin Blanc fan so I’ll leave him to comment.

    • Nick Templeton

      Thanks for the response. Pleased to hear that the Hamilton Russell Pinot (presumably the 2012) was one of the best wines, as I have a couple of bottles of the 2009 and 2012 in my cellar.

      I really do recommend that you try the Paul Cluver Elgin Pinot Noir, which is one of the best value Pinots on the market, imho. The premium ‘Seven Flags’ pinot is also excellent but has plenty of decent competition in its price range.