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

2008 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Red

2008 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap RedPrice: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Vineyard Brands

What They Said:

Per Wine Enthusiast (via K&L) 89 points and a Best Buy: “A nose of red fruit, spice and violet is followed by fresh but lush aromas of cherries, blackberries and a touch of smoke and dark chocolate. Smooth and integrated, with a pretty, aromatic character.” (11/09)

What I Think:

And my South African wine adventure continues. I had a chance to taste the ’09 version of this one, a blend of 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre, 2% Viognier, at the tasting event I recently attended and had this to say; “Nice bright red fruits and spices. It struck me as a perfect grilling wine.” How did the ’08 pan out?

Smoky and spicy upfront on the nose this one is lively on the palate showing sour cherry and red berry flavors with a tannic acidity taking over before an earthy, black pepper finish leaves your mouth lingering with dry, herbal, chocolate notes. The above makes it sound as if I liked the wine more than I did. I actually found it slightly disjointed which runs counter to the Wine Enthusiast review which called this one “well integrated”. Looks like many of the folks over at CellarTracker agree with me as it has a community rating of 85.4 (vs. WE 89). For me, I didn’t do it side by side but, I remember liking the ’09 more. That said I prefer this to the Porcupine Ridge Syrah but neither compare to the Kanonkop Kadette which is easily still my favorite new discovery.

That’s it for the reds I grabbed the first time around. Perhaps I’ll pickup some more soon. If you have any recommendations let me know. Anyone had the Goats du Roam lately? Remember that one being nice vintages ago…

Rating: Pricey

2008 Kanonkop Kadette

Price: $10.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Cape Classics

What They Said:

2008 Kanonkop KadettePer K&L Wines “91 points and a Best Buy from the Wine Enthusiast: “This blend of Pinotage, Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc is full-bodied and complex, with layered aromas of cherry, banana and warming spices, and smooth, elegant flavors of cedar, cherry, tobacco smoke and red berries. Velvety, soft tannins and a clean finish give it a classy touch. The wine can age, but drink now and you won’t be disappointed.” (12/09)”

What I Think:

Those that have been following along are aware that after attending a recent tasting of South African wines my interest was piqued to learn more. The first wine I tried was the Porcupine Ridge Syrah which is made by Boekenhoutskloof (see “B” in my 2009 Year in Review post). It was a nice wine in its own right but will now be most remembered for the comment left by reader MenloSteve recommending this one…

The Kadette, a second bottling for Kanonkop, is a blend of 45% Pinotage, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. Unsurprisingly this one starts Pinotage-ish on the nose greeting you with loads of smokiness while allowing some plums aromas to sneak through. A nice, juicy cherry palate lasts well into the finish before an earthy component loaded with warm barrel spices takes over and drives this one home. Great mouthfeel, balanced fruit with enough acidity to keep it honest.

This wine may not be overly complex but it is extremely enjoyable to drink nonetheless. To put this in context I will present two facts. The first is that I always taste a wine over two days (minimum) to see if there are any changes for the better or the worse. This usually isn’t a problem but I so enjoyed this wine it was hard to resist pouring it all in one sitting (I did). Second and perhaps even more impressive was the feedback from my wife (average rating a sip and push the glass in my direction) who gave this a triple pour! I’d recommend this to anyone open to exploring the wines of South Africa. It is certainly now my favorite value wine from the region. I already placed an order for 3 more bottles. If you decide to give it a try be sure to let me know what you think!

Rating: Wow!

2008 Porcupine Ridge Syrah

Price: $9.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Vineyard Brands

What They Said:

2008 Porcupine Ridge SyrahPer K&L Wines: 89 points Wine Enthusiast: “This Syrah has a rustic but elegant nature: aromas of raspberry, black pepper, smoked sausage and cloves prevail, while full-bodied but integrated flavors of anise, pepper and berry follow. The wine is robust but has a velvety character and a spicy finish.” (11/09) And, according to Wine Spectator: “Fresh, with an iron note running through the black tea, braised fig and dark cherry fruit notes. There’s a nice plush edge to the open-knit finish. Drink now.” (12/09)

What I Think:

Fresh off the heels of my South African tasting adventures I headed over to K&L Wines to pick up some Wolftrap & Man Vinters Chenin Blanc. Alas they were out of both. Fortunately they had this one which was recommended courtesy of @winewithjameson (who shared some excellent pictures from the winery to boot!). So what did we have here…

A bit green with hot stewed plums on the nose. The oak is apparent on the palate with unripe brambly, berry fruits up front that fall apart as the acidity becomes a bit overbearing on the mid palate. This wine is juicy and spicy throughout with a sharp finish showing black pepper while oscillating between hot and dry. The bottle already showed a healthy bit of sediment on the finish leading me to believe this one was unfiltered. A quality offering, with characteristics you can’t find in something like the 12 Apostles, but still not quite worthy of a repeat for me. That said my thirst for tasting more of the wines from South Africa remains. Stay tuned for more as the World Cup is less than three weeks away!

Rating: Pricey

2009 Zarafa Sauvignon Blanc

2009 Zarafa Sauvignon BlancPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Bordeaux Etc.

What They Said:

I was able to track down Mountain River Wines, who is responsible for making this one, on the intrawebs but their site still highlights the ’08 bottling. They have yet to post any notes on the latest vintage. From previous versions it appear the grapes for this one are sourced from the West Cape. Given we have nothing concrete here is what the bottle has to say: “Mountain River Wines proudly presents the 2009 vintage Sauvignon Blanc. This fresh, crisp white wine has a beautiful nose of figs and melon.”

What I Think:

I’ve had mixed success with the Pinotage from the same maker but had been hearing good things about this one so I decided to give it a go. As I took my first sip I realized that this was likely my first wine from the ’09 vintage. Guess it is true, time does fly when you are having fun. So what was on offer?

The nose was crisp showing lemon notes. The palate started slight tart but not to the point of puckering (which for the record I like). After the initial impression cantaloupe and lemon flavors emerged to dominate the mid palate. Perhaps there were some gooseberry notes as well? I always think so but I just added buying some to mentally record their smell to my list of wine resolutions for 2010 (post coming shortly…) so I’ll be sure next time. The finish shows a balanced acidity with lemon flavors leading to a stony/flinty ending that lasts for some time.

For $3.99 this is a nice, value priced quaffer suitable for any occasion. That said, I think it could really excel when paired with cold shellfish. I know I’ll be buying more. If you decide to grab a bottle, or have previously, please let me know what you think in the comments below…

Rating: Buy It

2008 Zarafa Pinotage

2008 Zarafa PinotagePrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Mt. Global LLC

What They Said:

hmmm, not much of an authorative description to be found. I emailed the importer and will update it I hear back… For now let me reference what Wikipedia has to say about Pinotage which is the following: “Pinotage is a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety. It was bred there in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut. It typically produces deep red varietal wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavors, sometimes with notes of bananas and tropical fruit, but has been criticized for sometimes smelling of acetone.”

What I Think:

On the nose you initially get light tannin followed by sour notes before everything goes dark. A bit of Jekyll and Hyde. On the palate I find dark fruit, tobacco, but most of all smoky. The smokiness remains with me throughout this entire wine experience; literally from beginning to end. A nice dry finish is also part of the equation.

When drinking Pinotage it is difficult to articulate what you are experiencing.  This would typically reflect the fact that you are drinking a unique offering.  The majority of the time this alone would be enought for me to recommend for all to give it a try. Here I see a trap. It would be better for me to recommend something that truly reflects this varietal than something that may turn you off to it forever. That said; let me explain my approach to new varietals at TJ’s. I give them a whirl, if I remotely like them I try to find a bottle between the $10-$20 price point that I can use as a baseline and move from there. That allows me two things. 1) I get a better idea of what the varietal is really about (as much as you can via two bottles) and 2) can compare quality versus cost on that spectrum.

With that in mind, if you grab this one make sure you grab a more expensive sidekick as well; perhpas this Warwick Estate. As for the Zarafa it should be a piece of the overall equation. Which Pinotage would you pair up with it?

Rating: 12th Bottle

btw, just noticed this is my first 2008!

2003 Mountain River Pinotage Shiraz

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Mount Global Wines

What They Said:

Per my3loves “In the glass: Dark and completely opaque. Ruby-lit highlights when you hold the glass up to the light

Scent: This wine smells strongly of fermentation and slightly musty–like walking through forest with a thick ground covering right before it rains. There is a definite perfume of dark berries (blackberry, cherry, and maybe currant?). The scent is powerful and forceful–even with my glass sitting next to my computer about a foot away from my nose, I can still catch a whiff of berry and pleasant mold.

Taste: Heavy and rich, almost “thick” tasting. More of that mustiness in the taste as well–I think immediately of rich cheeses like blue cheese, gorgonzola, and roquefort. It’s not an unpleasant taste, but not always one I’d want in a sipping wine. The individual berry flavors aren’t as prevalent in the taste as in the smell, but the effect is still fruity. Very smooth, not a lot of tannins (that puckery flavor present in a lot of younger wines). The overall taste is quite bold. It really coats the entire tongue uniformally. There’s no spiciness–it really “sits” on the tongue and lingers a long time after you swallow a mouthful.”

What I Think:

This is 50% Pinot/50% Shiraz and apparently from the same makers as Zarafa which I remember from TJ’s some time ago. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. This blend “combines the fruit characteristics of Pinot Noir with the hardiness of Cinsault”. I have had a number of Pinotages that I have quite enjoyed so am always on the lookout for these. I would have thought it strange to blend a Pinot derivative with Shiraz had I not come across some interesting efforts in this area while in Asutralia. So curious I was when popping the cork. What I found was a nose full of must, on the palate it was full and there was some forward dark fruit with that mustiness, almost smokey, as a backbone. The taste lingered in the mouth, not sure if it was pleasant or not but it sure was there. This is worth a try from someone, if it finds the right palate it could be quite a deal for that person. Alas for me, the hunt for value continues…

Rating: Skip It