Sampling South African wines from Cape Classics

tasting South African wines of Cape ClassicsLast year I had the chance to attend the Celebrate South Africa tasting and like many of these events do it whetted my appetite to explore these wines further. And that I did. My favorite of the lot was the Kanonkop Kadette and it just so happened that my post captured the attention of their importer; Cape Classics. They reached out to see if I might be interested in sampling some more wines for their portfolio and were kind enough to send a case of South African wines my way.

While you will find detailed notes for each below I’ll share some highlights before we dive in. These wines, an even mix of reds and whites, ranged from $10 to $22. Keep in mind that these are suggested retail prices and can likely be found at least a few bucks cheaper at your favorite wine store. Overall I preferred the whites to the reds and tasting this lineup reconfirmed my belief that South Africa is a great place to look for value. Specifically Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc where these wines consistently deliver a nice QPR. The Beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Kanu Chenin Blanc were my favorite from this lineup. Nonetheless of the 20 South African wines I tasted last year the Kanonkop Kadette remains my favorite. Before we jump in if you have any favorite South African wines of your own to share please drop me a comment below. I’d love to give them a try. Now onto the details. Happy Reading!

a flight of South African whites...

  • 2010 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($12) – (12.5%) – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon – This one is overly red instead of pink lowering my expectations straight off the bat which is too bad as I really want to like this wine. Word to the wise; don’t drink this one too cold. If the nose is muted give this one a nice hand warm until it starts to express itself. It will be a much more interesting wine that way. The nose shows nice floral and citrus fruit notes. The palate starts full and juicy showing strawberry flavors. From there acidity emerges that turns this one bone dry. The finish combines mineral (almost talc like) and white pepper components that ends on a crisp, slightly bitter note that makes it slightly less refreshing than it otherwise would have been.
  • 2009 Kanu Chenin Blanc ($10) – (12.5%) – 92% Chenin Blanc, 7% Viognier, 1% Sauvignon Blanc – Nice melon/citrus aromas on the nose. The palate is surprisingly smooth with floral notes upfront. Not the cutting acidity you sometimes see but instead a nice mineral, stony backbone that merges with cantaloupe and peach fruit flavors to deliver a crisp, refreshing finish (with hints of nuttiness). An easy drinker that at $10 is well worth the price of entry. Pair it with a flaky, white fish or a sunny fall day on the patio and I’m guessing you’ll be glad you did. An interesting side note on this one is that it comes from 32 year old vines. Rare you see that kind of age at this kind of price point.
  • 2010 Excelsior Chardonnay ($10) – (14%) If I had a kind of Chardonnay this might be it. Slightly candied on the nose the palate starts with tart lemon and loads of green apples. Nice acidity emerges to keep this one crisp and refreshing. The finish begins with a mineral component with just a hint of barrel creaminess and ends with a nice lemon custard flavor. Out of curiosity I checked and this was fermented in 75% stainless steel and 25% on French oak (aged I’m guessing). A nice, easy drinker here, don’t hesitate to grab one if this sounds like your kind of wine.

a flight of South African reds...

  • 2008 De Morgenzon Shiraz DMZ ($15) – (14.5%) 100% Syrah – The first vintage of this label shows warm cherry and spice on the nose. From there it starts rich on the palate where lively pepper notes intermingle with plum fruit flavors. A heavy barrel component; oak and vanilla, emerges towards the end of the mid-palate leading to a dry, dusty, tannic finish that lingers on pleasantly.
  • 2009 Indaba Merlot ($10) – (14.5%) – 96% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot – Barnyard, dark fruits and heat on the nose. The palate starts dry showing plum and dusty chocolate aromas before a heavy acidity emerges on the mid-palate. From there it turns dry and smoky with brambly fruit flavors mixing with a white pepper component on a slightly harsh finish. This one goes better with food than on its own. Given the prevalent acidity pairing it with a tomato based sauce may suit it well.
  • 2008 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) – (14.5%) – 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot – Dry, brambly blackberry on the nose with loads of barnyard notes lurking beneath. The palate delivers bright cherries on top of a nice acidity with grippy tannins. The finish is tart with a dusty, earthy component that lingers on. While eminently drinkable at 14.5% this one runs hot and is certainly rough around the edges. That said I have heard wonderful things about this label and am likely to try it again sometime in the future.

more from South Africa...

    2009 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc ($12) – (13%) Nice, pure straw color in the glass with loads of gooseberry on the nose. This one starts clean and pure on the palate with a nice racy acidity and vibrant, bright lime fruit flavors. From there a firm, stony structure emerges and leads to a tangy minerality on a crisp, refreshing finish that lingers with tinges of white pepper while not being overpowering. This is a very well made wine that seems to garner accolades vintage after vintage (Tanzer was a fan of the ’09). On par with many of my favorites (Veramonte, Dashwood) and will be a wine I seek out in the future. At $10 you are likely to find this for it represents a very nice value.

  • 2009 Jam Jar Shiraz ($12) – This wine and I were not made to get along. If the words “Sweet Shiraz” raises your guard as much as they did mine be sure to steer clear of this one…
  • 2006 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound ($22) – (13.5%) 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot, 4% Malbec – An earthy nose that shows some fruit along with a barn yard funk (this is not a bad thing) that never cleared off. This one has lot going on under the hood; green pepper, blackberry fruit, black licorice and spice. The mid-palate shows a mineral, graphite component that evens this one out before a load of creamy oak (42% new oak, 58% second fill) arrives. These merge with dry coffee, tobacco and black pepper flavors on an earthy finish that lingers with lightly puckering tannins. This one received 90 points from the Wine Spectator and is a good all around effort that is sure to keep your attention while in the glass. While a bit pricey at $22 it is an enjoyable offering that consistently garners high scores from vintage to vintage.

a flight of South African whites to close...

  • 2009 Raats Chenin Blanc ($13) – (13.5%) 100% Chenin Blanc – Orange blossoms with nice tropical and stone fruit notes on the nose. Starts light & crisp on the palate with glimpses of white fruit before bright lemon rock flavors take over. A steely (this one sees no oak) minerality emerges which lasts (with the lemon) all the way through the finish where it lingers nicely. This one lacked the crispness I’ve come to expect of South African Chenin Blanc on the finish which makes this one much more food friendly though it is quite quaffable on its own as well. Feel free to pair it with fish, salad or a sunny day.
  • 2009 Indaba Chardonnay ($10) – (13%) nice orange blossoms and floral notes on the nose. The same plays through to the palate as well. Nice weight, crisp and acidic throughout. The finish has a pleasant citrus twang but still shows more oak than I like. Or am I imaging that? Overall this is a pleasing wine and at $8 it delivers more than fairly from a quality to price ratio perspective.
  • 2009 Rustenberg Chardonnay ($20) – (13.5%) 100% Chardonnay – Straight California Chardonnay on the nose (12 months in 40% new oak and 60% 2nd use). Lots of oak on the palate as well with baked apples and marzipan. On the mid-palate bright citrus flavors begin to poke through on the edges. From there a juicy acidity emerges and leads to a slightly toasty but short finish. I’m not a fan of Chardonnay’s made of this style but I know many are and they include the Wine Spectator who have scored the last four vintages of this offering at 90 points plus.

*as mentioned above these wines were received as press samples

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One thought on “Sampling South African wines from Cape Classics

  1. After years of having been sequestered in an almost forced solitary confinement, South African wines are finally beginning to emerge from the shadows of apartheid. And I agree; while whites(especially Chenin Blanc) have traditionally been the strong suits, increased plantings of international varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, as well as Cape Town’s own variety, Pinotage, are beginning to demand recognition.

    One of my recent favorite labels was the Chenin Blanc, 2008. Ondine (melon and citrus in the nose, a fruit basket of peach, pineapple, melon, pear and lime on the palate, with a clean, crisp and citrusy finish, and just a little hint of characteristic South African smokiness).

    Great reviews.

    Paul Kalemkiarian
    President, Wine of the Month Club

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