A barrel of South African reds – WBW#6 round-up, Part II

Right, after that small break, let’s dive right back into the wines.  Ready?

The first popping cork in Part II was Beau’s contribution from Basic Juice.  He left Franschoek behind and headed for the Paarl region where he decided to try the 2003 Vansha Dry Red, the second label produced by Ridgeback Wines.  The wine is a blend of 70% Cinsault, 25% Cabernet and 5% Shiraz – just up his street as he likes the “funky flavours” of Cinsault!  The nose was promising, but on the palate the wine needed some time to breathe to open up its flavours – hence the charming title of the post.  Yet another illustration of the fact that most red wines will benefit from being decanted or at least being allowed some time to stand and open up.  Thanks Beau!

Next up is Marta from Marta’s Postcards from the Trail who put on her walking shoes and hiked back over to Stellenbosch (well, probably just to the local wine merchant!) for a bottle of 2003 Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage. I’m so glad somebody tasted a Warwick wine as they are one of the few Cape estates with a woman in charge of winemaking (the award-winning Norma Ratcliffe), and I’m equally glad that Marta chose on old bush vine Pinotage as older vines definitely make for better Pinotages IMHO…  Marta found the wine to be very enjoyable with smoky, black fruit flavours and served it with rosemary & garlic lamb chops, roast fresh asaparagus & carrots (it stood up well to the asaparagus, nemesis of lesser wines) and a nice aged cheddar to finish with.  Mmm, sounds fabulous.  I’d be more than happy to help out with tips on SA, as long as you invite me to dinner!! 😉

Following in Jens’s footsteps, all the way to the door of the cellar, was John of John Loose who also went for a Brampton wine, although this time it was a 2002 Brampton Shiraz.  Ah, but look more closely at the label – it’s a blend, and it’s blended with… 7% Viognier.  Yes, you read right – the white Viognier grape, which is crushed together with the Shiraz to make this wine!  According to John, this is not unknown in Australia, and Chianti rules also permit the addition of some white grapes, but I would still classify this as a pretty unusual find.  And does it work?  Oh yes!  John liked the big ripe fruit aromas, and found that the wine went really well with marinated chickens on the grill with preserved lemon and rosemary.  He rated it as great value and will be buying it again.

Kate from the Accidental Hedonist clearly did her homework before posting and can tell you who the genetic parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon vine were!  After checking out its pedigree she got herself a bottle of 2001 KWV Cabernet Sauvignon hoping for a wine with a finish as long as its history – but alas, after a promising finish it “just stops”!   Even so, there were tastes of blackcurrant and vanilla while it lasted…  Kate found the wine to be uncomplicated and light (probably not ideal characteristics in a Cabernet!!) but concluded that its lack of finish would make it the ideal companion to rich desserts.  And I suspect it may give you less of a headache than some of the stickies…

It seemed that tasting multiple wines was quite the done thing this WBW – from Vivi’s Wine Journal, in a joint effort with WineTalk, we get a double tasting of South African reds.  Let’s get the bad news out of the way first – Serge tried yet another Guardian Peak wine (their marketing team have been busy little bees…) – the 2001 Guardian Peak SMG, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache, hence the name.  Oh dear – not a good move.  Here’s what he had to say:

“My ONLY hope is all the minerals allegedly contained in South African wine will come out as a diamond next time I pass a kidney stone. Hopefully it will be a 2 karat industrial strength diamond I can sell to the oil drilling company.”

Umm, I take it Sir won’t be ordering another bottle then?  Maybe just one “to share with your undertaker”??  However, Susanne had much better luck with her choice, a 2003 Attacqua Pinotage (which, as far as I can tell, is a new export label for the renowned Hamilton Russel vineyards in the Overberg/Walker Bay region).  After a very informative write-up on the series of fortuitous coincidences that led to the establishment of the Pinotage varietal, Susanne goes on to praise its smoothness and smoky, meaty minerally flavour typical of a good Pinotage – she partcularly recommends it with BBQs.  Her verdict?  “Better buy more before the store runs out!”

Fellow-Londoner Christina from The Thorn Grove Table was another intrepid taster who tried two wines – but all her tasting notes went south when a rogue glass of Australian Shiraz flung itself into the workings of her laptop!  Undeterred, she brings us her rewritten tasting notes, starting with a 2003 Crow’s Fountain Merlot/Pinotage Shiraz blend.  I can’t seem to find any information on this wine whatsoever, except for the fact that Sainsbury’s and M&S sells it, and I’ve never heard of it which leads me to believe it’s a made-for-export label.  Christina – maybe the back label shed some more light on this??  The wine, paradoxically, was heavy and yet lacked body. The verdict was that it was innocuous but that there are better value SA blends out there.  Luckily, things improved markedly with the 2002 Alleé Bleue Shiraz.   The Alleé Bleue estate in Franschoek is not one I’m familiar with but seems to be well worth a visit as they grow not only wines but also lavender!  They also have the benefit of the feminine touch in the form of Gerda Willers, their winemaker, who believes in interfering with the natural taste of the grapes as little as possible, hence their wines are unfiltered.  Christina loved this wine and paired it with Stilton-stuffed chicken breasts and Jerusalem artichoke fritters – a match made in heaven!

After all that success, there had to be a come-down :-( Kieca from This Heaven found something else that gave her a migraine…  finding a wine for WBW#6!!  Read her saga of not one, not two but THREE bottles of KWV Cab where the corks had gone bad and oxidised the wine! [all those in favour of screw-tops say “cheers!” – ed.] So what was a girl to do but go back to the wine store again and try to find a bottle among the rapidly diminishing stock.  This turned out to be the 2002 De Toren Diversity Gamma from the De Toren estate in the Polkadraai hills (have to love that – naming hills after a dance!) near Stellenbosch.  De Toren are a pretty recent arrival on the scene, having only been producing wines since 1999 when they made a huge splash with their very successful Fusion V red blend.  However, careful selection of grapes for Fusion V inevitably leaves them with some leftover grapes – and these end up in their Diversity range.  Read Kieca’s post on the dangers of making a wine from leftovers, as well as her interesting notes on terroir and how it is reflected in an area’s wines.  We look forward to more study on this!

Another multiple wine tasting, but this one with a difference, was done by Cam (sorry – I don’t know your name – I’m guessing from your e-mail address!!) from Apellation Australia.  The self-imposed limits on the Apellation Australia blog is that all posts must refer to Australian wine – which left Cam in somewhat of a dilemma with my topic for WBW#6!!  No worries – why not do a blind tasting of two comparable South African and an Australian reds?  The reds in question were the 2002 Jamiesons Run Coonwara Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2002 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon.  No runaway success stories, but no abject failures either.  The post will tell you all about the procedure used to ensure absolute impartiality – and about the interesting results!  Thanks for an original interpretation of the theme!

Allan from Ma’ona was the only person one of only two people to try a wine from the Robertson wine region – and I’m so glad he did! This is one of my favourite areas to visit while driving from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town – the people are friendly, the wines offer great value for money and there are rose bushes growing at the end of most rows of vines – not for nothing do they call this the valley of wine and roses!  They also do a roadshow once a year where about 20 producers travel around the country doing winetastings – I have many happy memories of attending those, schmoozing the winemakers and leaving in a happy state of inebriation with a few bottles tucked under my arm…  Alan tried the 2003 Robertson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon and found himself pleasantly surprised by its smokiness and lack of hard edges – and reasonable price.  He had the wine accompanied by some sliced apple, crackers and some Cabernet-soaked cheddar – now that’s what I call a cheese and wine party!

Derek, who does not (yet!) have a blog of his own, e-mailed me his contribution for posting on my blog.  He settled in for a night of reading and wine with a Dan Brown novel and a bottle of 2002 Zonnebloem Pinotage – sounds like the perfect way to spend an evening!  Although he wasn’t fond of the harsh tannins up front, he discovered the wine’s hidden talents in its smooth, balanced and tremendously long finish.  I think he’s made a date to meet a similar bottle in about 2010 😉

The only duplicate tasting in the whole of WBW#6 was Alder from Vinography who clearly shops at the same store as Derrick from An Obsession With Food – they both ended up tasting the 2001 Mooiplaas Shiraz!  An aside about the name – While Derrick has it translated as “beautiful place”, Alder has it translated as “beautiful farm”.  Both could be correct – in Dutch “plaats” means a place while in Afrikaans “plaas” means a farm.  It is likely that the farm may have started out as Mooiplaats which was later corrupted to Mooiplaas.  But enough about the niceties of translation – what about the wine?  After a nice potted history of the SA wine industry, Alder informs us that the wine has berry aromas and cherries on the palate, although it’s not as full-bodied as he would have expected.  But it still makes a respectable 8/10, and he suggests grilled leg of lamb with rosemary salt as a food pairing.

Another contributor who does not (yet) have a blog is Ian, a self-titled “passionate amateur” taster.  He came across a 1998 Asara Cabernet Sauvignon and decided to give it a whirl.  As it turns out, this was the oldest wine tasted by any of the WBW#6 participants and I had high hopes for it.  Ian provides a link to the Asara estate in Stellenbosch, but what people may not see is that this estate used to be called Verdun – one can only assumed it was named in honour of the famous WWI battle.  I discovered this one day when we were trying to visit Verdun Estate armed with a wine guide a year out of date – and came instead upon Asara!  The new owners have put a lot of money and care not only into new plantings and wines but also into renovating the old buildings.  The tasting venue now opens out onto a huge wooden deck overlooking their lake and it is one my my favourite estates to visit.  But what of the wine?  Ian really enjoyed it – he found notes of “leather, mullberries, raisins, red delicious apples (think skins!), tobacco, cedar, and black currants” on the nose and palate and liked the wine’s solid structure.  It comes as no surprise then to find that this wine won a gold medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2004.  Ian paired the wine with marinated beef filet on the grill, polenta with sweet minced shrimps and chiles, and baby broccoli with ginger peanut sauce.  He found that it paired really well with the robust steak and crispy polenta.  With menus like this up your sleeve, Ian, how can you delay getting your own blog??

Skidding in a little late but always welcome, is Viv from Seattle Bon Vivant – another of the two-wines-are-better-than-one school of thought.  I like the way they think!!  Her first wine, a 2001 Fleur de Cap Merlot had been languishing inthe cellar since WBW#1 when it was bought as an example of New World Merlots.  Fleur du Cap is one of SA’s best known wineries but I personally feel they do a better job on whites than reds – and it would appear that Viv agrees.  It had some chocolate and cherry flavours and was “semi-quaffable”, but in the end Viv decided that it’s best use was in a slow cooked Boeuf à la Bourguignonne with Kumquats and Persimmon.  Probably not what winemakers aspire to!!  The second wine was purchased after a searching the shelves for bottles without pictures of animals on them (my strict instruction to all WBW participants ;-)) and turned out to be a 2003 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon. Excelsior is also in the Robertson region (see my comments about Alan’s wine above) and has won anumber of accolades for their wine – most notably a Veritas double gold for their 2003 Shiraz, but sadly, the 2003 Cabernet remains award-less.  Nevertheless, Viv found it to be a most pleasant wine – lots of fruit, silkier and fuller in the mouth than the Fleur du Cap, with a rounded palate and a subtle but pleasant finish – not at all bad for under $10!

And last but not least, here at Cooksister! I toyed with the idea of opening something from our small stock of special occasion wines carried back from SA in various suitcases and backpacks, but in the end I knew that the food that I would have time to make would not do it justice. So we popped out to Tesco and found a 2001 Beyerskloof Synergy which proved to be surprisingly rounded and delicious – a definite find! I’ll be back this week to buy a couple more bottles. It also turned out to be the first (and possibly only) wine to be labelled as a Cape Blend – check out the post for the controversy surrounding this new designation.

**STOP PRESS**  This just in – Aussie blogger confuses blind tasting with blind buying – buys white instead of red!! Trust Anthony of Spiceblog to be different.  Like Sam, he misread/ignored/misunderstood/disregarded the “red” part of the theme and came home from the wineshop with a bottle of South African white!  But I guess as co-founder of EoMEoTE we have to cut him some slack – how can we say we are non-exclusive if we start excluding each other?? 😛  Anyway, what Anthony found at the wineshop was a 2001 Morgenhof Chenin BlancMorgenhof is one of the older Cape wine farms and is a very well-respected producer in the Simonsberg area of Stellenbosch.  Even so, I was a bit worried when I saw the age of the wine – a four year old Chenin may or may not be such a hot idea!!  But I needn’t have worried – according to the estate’s website it is a wooded Chenin and can take a bit of bottle-ageing (they recomment up to 3 years for the current 2003 vintage).  So what did Mr Spiceblog think of it?  Well, it sounds like he’s in love.  Apparently he fell for its roch gold colour and the way the wine transported its flavour across his tongue “in a sherbety fashion”. [I am not making this up – ed.] The wine was paired with pan-fried dhufish fillets, pommes veronique and roasted asparagus with sorrel-less Bearnaise sauce – sounds like a perfect match for a full-bodied white.  So we forgive you for your rouge/blanc faux pas.  Just this once.

And that just about wraps it up.  Phew!  We have been up and down the South African wine-growing regions, finding some real gems along the way (and surprising quite a few people along the way, I think!) and not too many disasters.  I was really pleased with the response and thoroughly enjoyed reading how much effort so many people put into finding wines, choosing food and making tasting notes.  Thank you Lenn for coming up with the WBW concept and thanks to everyone who took the time to participate.


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  1. says

    WBW #6: South African Reds: 2003 Excelsior Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Who better to host a WBW#6: South African Reds than our very own Jeanne of Cook Sister! WBW#6: South African Reds a South African herself. Although I’ve drank plenty of Pinotage in the past I could not locate my

  2. says

    Regarding Syrah and Viognier — this is actually the classic Cote-Rotie blend. Viognier is used to soften and round out the Syrah. It also contributes strongly to the bouquet. It’s actually somewhat unusual
    for the *New* World wines because of their strong varietal-oriented marketing, but it’s been practiced in France for many years. Check out:

  3. says

    South African *reds*
    Ha! I messed up and got a South African white (very nice though). Some introspection on my silliness and then a review before the day is out.

  4. Vivi's Wine Journal says

    WBW#6 – South African Reds

    This week Vivi’s Wine Journal and WineTalk.com have put in a joint effort for WBW. Serge and Susanne of WineTalk.com submitted entries for two interesting South African Reds – Guardian Peak, Syrah Mourverde Grenache, 2001 and a 2003 Attacqua

  5. says

    Already got some comments about my post that, Viognier/Shiraz (Syrah) blends originate from Cote Rotie, and they use the Viognier to soften the tannins and develop more complex aromas. Next stop, Premier Cru to get some good Cote Rotie! My friends and I just returned from the Rhone, and we did have one doozy –a ’92 Guigal La Landonne. Didn’t notice the viognier in there, but it was lovely…

  6. says

    Hi Orion
    Thanks for the Cote Rotie info – my lack of knowledge of Old World wines is showing again! I did rememeber that whites go into some French blend but was too lazy to trawl through all my wine notes looking for a needle in a haystack… Google has spoilt me far too much!! And thanks for the lovely compliment on the write-up!
    Hi Brenda
    Glad you enjoyed it – and hope you find some inspiration in the diverse winelist that was contributed!
    Hi Derrick
    I suspected as much (pretty much any native Afrikaans-speaker will tell you this!) – just thought I’d add it into the round-up lest people were confused by the 2 translations in your 2 posts. And besides, it’s hard coming up with material after 20 something summaries!! 😉
    Hi John
    I must say, I’m pretty tempted to head off to the first high-end wine shop I see to get me some Cote Rotie!! I’m very fond of Rhone wines (very envious of your trip!) but we hardly ever have Cote Rotie in particular. For a New Worlder like me, it does seem a bit foreign to blend red with white, but I guess that’s just your context and what you’re used to – in terms of the two grapes complementing each other it makes perfect sense.
    Anthony, Anthony, Anthony…
    Attention to detail!!! Next you’ll be making Vegemite on toast creations at the end of each month instead of egg on toast and where will we be then?? Wine did sound great though and red would have spoiled the food… We defer to the needs of the giant dhufish!

  7. says

    Thanks so much for hosting Jeanne! GREAT round up…and thanks for getting us to head to SA for some wines. I rarely drink them and it was a great exercise…
    REmember…if anyone else has great ideas for themes, shoot me an email!

  8. says

    The Round Up — Wine Blogging Wednesday #6

    First…let’s all thank Jeanne of CookSister for forcing us on a trip down to her homeland, South Africa, to enjoy a slurry of delicious red wines. Because she just loves to write so much (and is quite good at it),

  9. says

    Lenn – it was an absolute pleasure & I hoped I broadened a couple of people’s wine horizons. Can’t wait for next month!
    Jens – really glad you liked the round-up – it took a bit of work but it was the least I could do after the work each individual contributor put in!
    Anthony – Magnanimous Blogger in London says no worries, mate 😉