With my pipedream of making it to South Africa and the surrounding wine country for World Cup 2010 a distant memory you can imagine how happy I must have been when I found out about the Celebrate South Africa 2010! tasting event. Given that the ability to taste the wine of 50+ producers in one afternoon was almost as good as getting on the plane. Well not really, but you know that lemon/lemonade story. Now being on the west coast South African wines aren’t quite as readily available as I think they might be back east. So while the temptation to try and taste each and every one of these wines loomed large I showed some restraint making the decision to focus (and not wear out my palate) early on. With that in mind I still managed to taste nearly 40 wines. That said rather than bore you all and detail my thoughts on each of these there were six highlights I wanted to share:
- Being Introduced to Worthwhile Wine: From the slogan “Great Wines. Better Lives” this seems to be an importer who shares many of the same values I do. One of my resolutions for the year was to lower my carbon footprint so every time I grab a bottle from overseas that crosses my mind. So when Tom Lynch, the founder, told me that he purchases carbon offsets for all of his imports I surely paid attention. But the commitment goes well beyond that as every wine they import is sustainably made. And by sustainable they mean protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom they interact. The latest addition to their portfolio, Partnership Vineyards is a shining example. Oh by the way, I wouldn’t even be telling you this if the wines weren’t good. Check out their portfolio to learn more or visit their store locator to track down a bottle for yourself!
- Terrific White Value Wines: Speaking of the Partnership Vineyards their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a great place to start, nice and crisp with grapefruit flavors and a snappy lemon tartness. Sure to please on a summer day! My other two favorites were both Chenin Blancs. The 2009 Man Vintners (available at wine.com for $9.99) was crisp and tangy with a mineral backbone and nice nectarine like flavors. The 2009 Painted Wolf “The Den” was crisp with green apple and melon fruit with a little sour lime on the finish. All wines I’m relatively sure you can grab for less than ten bones and each one that I would be quite happy to spend a whole afternoon with.
- Getting to Know Pinotage: I quickly got the sense that Pinotage is not as big of a part of the South African wine identity as I had imagined. While they were on display, the numbers were no more so than that of Shiraz or the other red varietals that were being poured. That said, I did get a chance to become more acquainted with this grape. Over the course of the day I tasted six different bottles and while none knocked my socks off it was interesting to see the different styles. I am used to what I’ll call the smoky, green, earthy flavor profile but had a few here that were much more fruit driven. To top it off the most memorable of the day was a 2009 Delheim Pinotage Rose.
- Tasting more of the Boekenhoutskloof Portfolio: For those with a keen memory you may recall that “B” stood for Boekenhoutskloof in my 2009 Year in Review post. There I was enamored by their ’06 Syrah and lamented that I couldn’t try it again three years down the road. As I worked my way towards the table I crossed my fingers that the ’06 might be getting poured today. Alas, it was not but the ’07 was just as memorable showing the same magnificent depth and balance. I also had a chance to taste their Semillon and Chocolate Block, a syrah based kitchen sink kind of blend, which were both compelling (and a bit more affordable) as well.
- South African Inspired Red Blends: I had a number of very interesting red blends that like the whites were not only very good but delivered a nice quality to value ratio. Let’s start by sticking with Boekenhoutskloff’s (which I can now spell without looking) second label the 2009 Wolftrap Red (available on wine.com for $9.99), a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Viognier, which had nice bright red fruits and spices. It struck me as a perfect grilling wine. As I already grabbed a few bottles of this one I can let you know if it turns out to be true. Next up would be the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot, a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Tannat, which was described as a playful side project for the winemaker and playful it is delivering loads of juicy berry fruit on a spicy, pepper laden backbone. This one is worth seeking out, I’ll let you know if I track it down. Finally, the 2007 Black Pearl Oro, a blend of 56% Shiraz and 44% Cabernet, hailing from the slopes of Paarl Mountain which had a fantastic nose full of dark, brambly berries that merged with earthy, spicy flavors on the palate to deliver a balanced wine with a smooth, lingering finish.
- Meeting the Mullineux’s: Before leaving I was lucky enough to meet the husband (Chris) and wife (Andrea) winemaking team of Mullineux Family Wines who happened to be in the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to try their Syrah some time back as part of a Hospice Du Rhone tasting event and welcomed the opportunity to try a broader range of their offerings. They were pouring three wines a Syrah, a white blend and a late harvested Chenin Blanc called the “Strawman” and the whole lot of them were outstanding. The white blend, old vine Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche, really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t decide if it was rich or light/sweet or tart. It seemed almost chameleon like as it was ever changing and I couldn’t put my thumb on it. I’d like to spend an evening with this one to try and figure it out. Fortunately it looks like I’ll have the chance soon as it appears they are close to lining up an importer. Let me know when you do!
Thanks to the folks at Cape Ardor for putting on the event and having me! And likewise thank you to all your readers who actually managed to make it this far. A question for those of you that have, have you had South African wine? Do you have any favorites to share? I’d love to hear as this is a country I would like to explore further.