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The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is...

CWG Auction Wines 2018 – Reviewed

The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is that as a group of people, they’re just too darned nice. You really have to taste their annual Auction releases as blind as possible so you can judge the wines without thinking ‘oh but he’s such a lovely guy’ or similar and scoring the wine up. Somebody once said of another illustrious winemaker that ‘the wines never taste as good as they do when he tells you about them’ and when you have such a set of engaging, entertaining and erudite winemakers as this lot, it’s easy to be swayed.

Of course, it’s not 100% blind because it’s fairly easy to spot Pieter Ferreira and John Loubser’s bubbles, and you know that Andrea Mullineux is the Semillon Gris girl and that Bartho Eksteen is always going to make Sauvignon Blanc in one form or another. But I stayed away from social media posts, didn’t read the press releases and did the best I could not to know what was going on before I tasted through all 47 wines today.

As a group of wines, I think they’re pretty solid this year. A couple of other tasters bemoaned lack of freshness and yes, there were touches of jam on more than a few of the reds which was disappointing as there was lack of acidity on a couple of the whites. One thing I did like to see is that the winemakers really seem to be flexing their vinous imaginations more and more. When I first started doing this blind tasting, there seemed to be endless flights of Chenins and Chardonnays, Cabs and Shirazes whereas this year 25 grape varieties featured amongst the line-up which is pretty cool.

Having said that, there were a few styles/varieties I was surprised not to see. Many of the reds were from the stellar 2015 vintage so it was surprising not to see any Rhône blends in the line-up and only 1 red Cape Blend. Mind you, there were no white Cape Blends either – to my great sorrow - nor were there any White Bordeaux, and the only Grenache and Cinsault featured were a Grenache Blanc and as 10% of one blend respectively.

‘So what?’ as an esteemed colleague might say - there was plenty of interest in what was available and lots to entice buyers. For bubbly-lovers, there were 2 options in completely different styles, Pieter Ferreira’s wonderfully-rich Cuvée 105 which enjoyed nearly 9 years on lees and needs no dosage to finish it off and then John Loubser’s Big Dog, to my mind one of the most complete MCC’s I’ve tasted, with a real champagne-quality to the wine. The sooner he gets some fizz released in magnums, the better, if you ask me.

Of the whites, the De Morgenzon Roussanne was showy and confident  with good weight and acidity whilst the Hartenberg Riesling – more Eden than Alsace I’d say – has years ahead of it if you can bear to wait. Rijk’s Chenin Blanc has surely strayed only a short way out of Vouvray, showing lovely woolly evolution already beginning with bouncy acidity balanced by just a touch of sugar. Of the Chardonnays, for the umpteenth year running (and I’m rather chuffed at both Andries’s and my own consistency!) the Paul Cluver Wagon Trail was a favourite with the beautifully-balanced Delaire Graff vying with it for first place.

Scooting through to the reds, it was the wonderful combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot which caught and held my attention. There were other Bordeauxs (or mainly Bordeauxs) such as Rust en Vrede, Grangehurst (the 2014) and the Kanonkop Paul Sauer which were delicious but the two stand-outs for me were the Cab Franc/Merlot combos of Miles Mossop’s Maximilian 2011 (not the 2013 version which was Merlot) and Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer. I attended a CWG technical tasting of Right Bank Bordeaux wines hosted by Rianie Strydom last year and I think hers would happily stand alongside some big names with nothing to fear – possibly my favourite wine of the day with length, balance, wonderful perfumed intensity and elegant ripe black fruit.

Boschfkloof and Boekenhoutskloof carried off the Shiraz honours with Boschkloof being straight out of the Northern Rhône (albeit a rather alcoholic version!) with aromas of violets, cloves, pepper and perfume and Boekenhoutskloof being velvety and rich with a wonderful tannic seam and sprightly acidity running through it. Big wines with a big future ahead of them.

The final wine which I loved was the Beaumont Mourvèdre. I attended another CWG technical tasting with Sebastian Beaumont who claimed he was still trying to get to know the grape and that many SA winemakers had walked away from the variety, unable to find the charm. Well, Sebastian has found that charm by the bucket-load in his whole-bunch fermented wine, full of ripe, cooked strawberries, juicy tannins with leather and polish – perhaps not exactly everything you’d associate with the grape but there you go.  It put me in mind of my mother’s strawberry pie – something she made when we’d got a bit carried away at ‘Pick Your Own’ farms – and warm memories of summer days and al fresco eating brought the tasting to a happy end.

If you want to buy some of these wines, all the details of how to register and bid are here www.capewinemakersguild.com

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival...

Exclusive offer for Johannesburg Wine Club Members

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs

In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival we outline your benefits exclusively for wine club members below:

The special offer for the Club members

  • Discounted rate of R165 to your members.  Public pay R200 online and R220 at the door.
  • Bookings should be co-ordinated by the wine clubs and the number of tickets you require with the names sent to events@julietcullinan.co.za by 8 May.
  • The tickets will be available at our Webtickets Festival reception under the Wine Club name.

Extended opening times

Earlier opening times exclusively for wine club members.  16h00 - 21h00 

Tutored classes
The first offer on the tutored free class, before we announce it to the public.

Join the Institute of Cape Wine Master’s for tutored tastings to highlight the diversity and quality of wines giving you a glimpse into flavours, terroir and cellaring.

16th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   The resurgence of Chenin Blanc
19:30 - 20h00  Shiraz or Syrah?

17th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   Cape White Blends.
19:30 - 20h00  Red Blends, Classic vs Modern

For Bookings contact: Derek Ramsden on derek@onewinecellar.co.za

Food on offer:
The Oyster Lady will display her fresh West Coast oysters paired with elegant MCC's.
Gonedsa Award winning Gouda cheeses from cows in the Doornkraal, Cullinan District, made according to a traditional Dutch recipe.
Pierre Jourdan Ice Wine Popsicles 
Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique Brut;  and Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend.

Jem Caterers
Please order your dishes from lorna@jemcatering.co.za

  • beef stir fry with peanut sauce corn, broccoli served on egg noodles R85
  • mix vegetable stir fry with homemade teriyaki sauce and egg noodles R65
  • sweet chili marinated chicken served with egg fried rice R75
  • grilled fillet of beef served on butter roasted potatoes with mature cheddar sauce R110
  • charcuterie plate (Selection of cheese, cold meat and fruits with biscuits) R75

Thank you for bringing your knowledge and experience to the show.  Winemakers engaging with you and you inspire many new wine lovers.
We look forward to enjoying the wines with you.

Best wishes in wine

Juliet

***************************

The latest press release below:

May, autumn harvest of mist, mellow fruitfulness, and the feuillemorte, is also the month of the much-anticipated annual Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival at Summer Place on the 16th and 17th.

South Africa‘s longest running, most elite wine show has enjoyed Standard Bank sponsorship for the past 17 years. Together we have transformed a novel concept ­­ ‒ bringing top talent to the attention of connoisseurs ‒ into a desired annual event.

The key to our success is fourfold ‒ a small vitrine of the finest wines, a limited number of boutique wineries, an intimate showcase of the leading labels, and winemakers discussing with guests the best time to drink their old vintages, among other pressing viticultural questions.

The emphasis is on terroir, fruit-driven wines, world winemaking techniques, and upcoming winemakers. Distinguished guests come to taste ‒  and buy ­‒  bespoke internationally-acclaimed wines at discounted show prices.

New wineries this year are Holden Manz, Kings Kloof, Epicurean, Lovane, and Pasarene. Rascallion, Broad Valley. Also debuting are Môreson, Mont Blois, Uva Mira, Benguela Cove, Paul Wallace, Perdeberg, Doolhof, Benguela Cove, Overhex, Mont Blois and so guests are in for a treat!

You will discover nuances in the MCC - Méthode Cap Classique bubblies from Haute Cabrière, Simonsig or Charles Fox,

Traditional values continue to bolster the festival with Bouchard Finlayson, Bosman Family Vineyards, Creation, Dewetshof, Avondale, KWV, Ormonde, Raka, Thelema, Vrede en Lust, Avondale, Constantia Glen, Charles Fox, De Grendel, Doolhof, Drift Farm, Idiom, Mont du Toit, Journeys End, Alto, Stellenzicht, and Neethlingshof, La Motte, Hillcrest, Zevenwacht, and Vondeling, still party stalwarts.

Guests will have the enjoyment of unveiling the fruits of the vine and nuances of fruit and flavour in the wines by an array of attractively priced gastronomic options for the hungry from Jem Caterers, The Oyster Lady and Cullinan cheeses.

Speaking of tradition, I could not have done this without Standard Bank’s generous sponsorship for the past 17 years, so thank you, as always.

As we handpick our exhibiting wineries, the festival is today more about style preferences than quality as every label shows distinction.

Cheers! See you there ...

Juliet 

 

 

 

© Cape Times Friday 19th August 2016 I can’t think of a more irritating phrase than “If it ain’t broke,...

Transforming the wine industry.

© Cape Times Friday 19th August 2016

I can’t think of a more irritating phrase than “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s complacent, it’s lazy and it and its partner phrase “but we’ve always done it like this” are words which have no place in today’s rapidly-changing society. I was thinking about this when I attended a presentation of a decade of Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé programme a week or so ago. When I first came across the CWG, it was a bit of an Old Boys Club with no female members at all – something guaranteed to raise anyone’s hackles this Women’s Month – but over the years, things have changed, the focus of the Guild has sharpened and it and its members have raised its game. Instead of being a monthly excuse to drink and chat, the Guild is a modern group of most of the best winemakers in SA, leading the wine industry to ever greater heights.

 

One of the newer – and better - initiatives in the CWG has been the development of the CWG Protégé programme in connection with Nedbank. In 2006 it was decided to form a mentorship programme with the aim of assisting with transformation within the wine industry. Winemaking students are selected post-graduation to complete a 3 year mentorship programme which sees them spending each year working alongside one of the Guild members. During this time, they also get the chance to make their own wine, participate in the monthly Guild tastings which exposes them to wines from around the world, judge at competitions and often travel to far-flung vinous destinations to further their studies and experience.

 

But it’s working alongside the SA winemaking legends which is the greatest opportunity all the protégés cited at the event last week. Louis Strydom, CWG member and chairman of the Nedbank CWG Development Trust explains it this way “We have over 940 years’ experience amongst the 47 winemakers in the Guild! It’s our responsibility to share that knowledge with the next generation.” For the protégés to be able to access this knowledge at such an early stage of their careers really gives them an edge. Considering that many of them come from backgrounds outside the wine industry and they can’t call on any connections or old boys’ network, it is this internship which sets them apart and makes them eminently employable.

 

And employable is what they are proving to be. Already the programme has produced 12 graduates now working in the wine industry and there are more coming through all the time. The programme has expanded to include a new viticulture protégé – we couldn’t meet him as he was on a visit to Australia at the time – and in addition a skills development programme for cellar workers is educating 1,500 workers every single year. If you want to taste how the protégés are faring, you can’t do better than try some of the wines made by the current second and third year students which will be sold at a silent auction during the main CWG Auction on 1st October. We tasted a delicately-fruity Pinot Noir made by Chandré Petersen, a savoury and complex Chenin from Heinrich Kulsen, a spicy and aromatic Shiraz from Rose Kruger and a beautifully-balanced Muscat from Thornton Pillay. All proceeds will go back into the Development Trust pot to continue funding even more protégés in the future. And hopefully, before too long, one of these protégés will eventually become a Guild member in their own right, giving back to generations of students to come.

© Cape Times Friday 11th September 2015 Next week sees the start of the biggest event in the South African...

South Africa on the world stage

© Cape Times Friday 11th September 2015

Next week sees the start of the biggest event in the South African wine industry since 2012. Cape Wine 2015 is an open invitation to the world’s wine buyers, critics, tasters, media and more to come and experience the very finest the country can offer. It’s the second such event and it is fair to say that the last one, in 2012, was a game-changer. Prior to this, the wave of enthusiasm for SA wines occasioned by the end of apartheid in the mid to late 90’s had crested quickly and fallen away, leaving many overseas commentators with a less than favourable view of our wines
Cape Wine 2012 totally changed both the perceptions and the playing fields. Wineries showed a wide range of smart, modern, well-made wines to some of the world’s most influential palates, the majority of the wines made with South African character and flair and all at excellent prices. The effects of the show were far-reaching, altering perceptions around the globe, increasing awareness of SA as a country and giving SA wines an identity beyond the cheap and cheerful category in which they had been pigeonholed to date. And now, three years later, comes the follow-up show – can SA wine lift itself even higher and create even more enthusiasm for its wines overseas?

 

South Africa has a wonderful climate which means we are able to produce great wines from all sorts of different grape varieties. Stalwarts such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are flourishing all over the country with new regions such as Elim, the Klein Karoo and Elgin opening up in recent years. But these are grapes which make equally good versions in other countries as well, making them difficult markets in which to distinguish our differences and highlight our advantages. Better varieties to lead with may well be our two most successful ones, both of which have just released the results of annual competitions – Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.

 

Widely-acknowledged to the one of the world’s finest white grapes, Chenin Blanc is far more at home in SA than in its original habitat in the Loire Valley in France.  When you drink a great South African Chenin, you’re drinking liquid history, with many producers using fruit from vines up to and over 100 years old. The Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten is now into its second year with half the winners featuring for a second time. KWV, Spier, Perdeberg, Simonsig and Stellenrust make Chenins across all price points and to suit all palates and I am sure they will be hoping to impress overseas buyers with one or more of their offerings. Hopefully there will also be of the delicious Chenin-based Cape White Blends on offer as well , wines which are truly unique and totally delicious.

 

A little more established, the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Awards are now into their 19th year. Winning this year for an incredible 10th time were two farms – Rijk’s in Tulbagh and Kanonkop – confirming that despite what people may think, Pinotage can achieve both consistency and longevity. If any wine has a point to prove at Cape Wine 2015, it has to be Pinotage which has much work to do to overcome the prejudices of the late 90’s and the early years of this millennium. To my mind, Pinotage has been on an enormous upward curve of quality in the last decade and is now making some truly individual and interesting wines, often in combination with other grapes. To convey this to buyers and establish the idea of a Cape Red blend containing Pinotage as well as a Cape White Blend, both at serious price points, would be a triumph for Cape Wine 2015 and a great success for the industry all round.

© Cape Times Friday 15th May 2015 Firstly – what’s a ‘vertical tasting’? Nope – not one conducted standing...

10 Things you can learn with Vertical Tasting

© Cape Times Friday 15th May 2015

Firstly – what’s a ‘vertical tasting’? Nope – not one conducted standing up (nor is a horizontal tasting one where you end up measuring your length on the floor. Although that happens. From time to time.), it’s where you taste a series of different vintages of the same wine, all lined up alongside each other to look for differences and similarities. I was lucky enough to be at a 10 year vertical tasting of Saronsberg Full Circle red blend the other day and here are 10 things I think you can learn from such an experience.

1. Wines change over time. We tasted from 2013 back to 2004 and when the wine was young, it showed lots of fresh fruit - 2013 and 2012 did that perfectly with juicy black berries and cherries, fresh perfumed spice. Older wines show more secondary and tertiary notes – things like leather, meatiness, savouriness and smoke, all things shown admirably in the 2007 and 2004.

2. Vintages affect wines. Generally speaking, sunny years result in wines which have riper fruit and higher alcohol and these wines aren’t always the ones which keep best. A surprise therefore, was to taste the 2005 which still has loads of fresh black berried fruit and smells amazingly fresh and juicy.

3. Winemakers affect wines. Over the 10 years of wines, we saw winemaker Dewaldt Heyns change proportions, reducing the amount of Shiraz, adding in a new variety, reducing the alcohol somewhat and changing the oaking regime. And the wines are getting better with every year.

4. Different components add different things. Saronsberg Full Circle is a Rhône blend which means it’s made up of varieties which are traditionally-grown in the Rhône Valley in France. When the blend started, the wine was mainly Shiraz (around 80+%) with some Mourvedre and Viognier added in. The biggest change happened in 2008 when Dewaldt added Grenache and since then, the wines have become plushier, juicier, softer and spicier. In addition, all the wines had a common thread running through of toasted gingery notes – probably from the small but important Viognier component, giving it an identity and a consistency over the years.

5. Having a winemaker stay in one place for 10 years is rare and should be cherished. The value of having a winemaker take the time and trouble to get to know his soils, his grapes, his winery and his wines is incalculable. Dewaldt is able to bring first-hand experience to bear on each vintage, allowing him to make careful, small refinements and improvements rather than swingeing changes for change’s sake. The result is a steady improvement and a clear journey through the years.

6. Winemaker predictions are not always true! People are often quick to claim that their wine will last x number of years but, as Dewaldt points out “How many people come back and query this fifteen years down the track?” Take these estimates with a pinch of salt – and see the next point as well.

7. Not every wine can age well and old wines aren’t necessarily the best. Out of the line-up of 10 vintages, I would have preferred to have drunk the 2004 a few years ago. It’s a fact that due to vintage variations and changes in the winemaking style, some wines don’t always possess the ability to go on forever. That’s fine – it’s a case of knowing when is best to drink them and only you can decide that. Best advice – buy a case and open a bottle every year. When you think it can’t get any better – drink the rest of the case.

8. Not everyone likes the same wines. Vertical tastings are great fun if you like an argument because it is rare for everyone to agree on which wines they prefer. This occasion was no exception with my favourites finding little favour amongst some other tasters and solid agreement by others. Trust your own taste – always going to be the best advice!

9. Blends are best. Nearly always. This is true in almost every instance. Blends allow a winemaker to produce a more complex, multi-layered wine. The best blends are where 1 + 1 makes 3 and in the case of the Saronsberg Full Circle, sometimes 4 or 5.

10. A 10 year vertical is an opportunity not to be missed. Very few people are able to keep their wines for any length of time – that takes money and a strong resolve, attributes which are not possessed by everybody. It’s always an honour to be invited to take part in one and I always leave having learnt more than at almost any other tasting. If you ever get an invite – cancel everything else and go. You can thank me later.

Saronsberg Full Circle is available in specialist retailers for around R275 a bottle.

© Cape Times Friday 13th February 2015 What’s on your wine wish list? I’ve just been seeing some Facebook...

Cheers for a good cause

CWA© Cape Times Friday 13th February 2015

What’s on your wine wish list? I’ve just been seeing some Facebook friends winning a single bottle of 1965 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, autographed by the owner, and if that doesn’t mean much to you then perhaps you’ll be more impressed when I tell you it’s worth £9,500 so not your everyday braai-wine! I don’t think I will ever contemplate purchasing such items but thankfully – and I say this without a hint of envy – there are some people who do and they are all congregating in the Cape as we speak.

I’m talking about the AfrAsia Cape Wine Auction, which is taking place tomorrow at Boschendal Wine Estate. The brainchild of Mike Ratcliffe, MD of Warwick Wines, this is an auction of exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list lots with all the proceeds going to a range of worthy causes in the winelands. Beneficiaries include one very close to my heart – the Pebbles Project, which started out assisting children suffering from the consequences of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and which has now broadened its scope to include a range of health and other educational projects. There are only 350 tickets available for the auction and you could register and bid online (I say this in the past tense because tickets have sold out but you could always be ready for the next one if you like) and stand the chance of buying things that money cannot normally buy.

For example – how about a private polo lesson from the RSA national team captain? Comes with a private box at the next match, some nights at a game lodge and all transfers by Bentley where-ere you may want to go. Are you a fan of De Toren’s iconic Fusion V? Then you can get a never-to-be-repeated vertical of 36 bottles including all the individual components of this amazing blend. Private beach villa in the Seychelles? Tick. 12-litre Balthazars from all of SA coolest and hippest winemakers? Tick. Accommodation for you and 41 friends at Le Quartier Francais for an entire weekend? Sure, why not? I read through the list of the lots on offer and it absolutely staggers me to see the generosity from the many partners to this venture who are giving away such important, expensive and often, intensely-personal, gifts in support of great causes.

Last year the Auction raised an incredible R7million for good causes and it is hoped to get into double figures this year. If this isn’t quite your league, then perhaps you can help support worthy causes in other ways. Amorim Cork, who are one of the biggest suppliers of corks to the wine industry (and whose kind hospitality I enjoyed a couple of years ago on a trip to Portugal), are upping their sponsorship of the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild group. They’ve been supporting their protégé programme with free corks for some years, but the decision has now been taken to donate a percentage of all sales to CWG members, also to the protégé programme which supports and mentors winemaking students from previously-disadvantaged backgrounds. Big users of their corks include Graham Beck Wines, Boekenhoutskloof and Kanonkop.

Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish statesman, famously said “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I don’t suppose for a moment that we are all going to bid on the AfrAsia Cape Wine Auction lots this weekend and perhaps we’re not going to buy an awful lot from the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction when it’s held later on this year either. But IF there is a choice and IF we are dithering between two wines, perhaps the knowledge of this generosity, indeed of ALL the many instances of generosity you see displayed by wineries in terms of Fairtrade wines, empowerment projects, education schemes and more, then perhaps that can, and should, tilt us towards choosing those wines and doing our little bit – however little it may be – for something which is right and good.

© Cape Times Friday 16th January 2015 I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit Chardonnay-ed out...

Restless, in need of change

Hartenburg Riesling© Cape Times Friday 16th January 2015
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit Chardonnay-ed out at the moment. Also, a bit over-Chenin-ed and even a teensy bit sick of Sauvvies as well. Not that I don’t want to drink wine – can’t ever see that happening if truth be told – but I’m just feeling a bit restless and in need of a change. According to Jancis Robinson’s mega-tome ‘Wine Grapes’ there are 1,368 varieties used to make wine around the world, yet I (and many of you too, I’m sure) still mostly stick to the same 3 or 4 every single time. It’s quite a mission to get new grapes approved by the authorities and to be honest, when they do, many of us treat them with suspicion, winemakers become discouraged and we all retreat back to boring old Chenin/Chardonnay.

It’s very different in Australia where there are entire shows and competitions devoted to unusual grape varieties and now it seems that something similar will be running in a couple of weeks’ time with the Riesling & Rarities event at Hartenberg Wine Estate which will showcase lots of wines which are genuinely food-friendly (and however much I love Sauvignon, it really doesn’t go well with most food) and which actually work brilliantly in our hot climate. This latter is the main reason for introducing most of the new and more obscure varieties because if we can find white grapes which manage to retain natural acidity even when it’s very warm, it not only saves money (you don’t have to add acid) but it also makes for a much better-integrated wine over all.

It was for these very reasons that the Newton Johnsons decided to plant Albariño (Al-ba-reen-yo) on their Hemel-en-Aarde farm – they wanted something which would retain fresh, natural acidity and this native Spanish grape seemed to fit the bill. They are still engaged in a little hoop-jumping with the Wine & Spirit Board, but the first commercial release should hopefully come later on this year although quantities will still be small. Another grape variety entering its second year on the market is Grüner Veltliner (Groo-ner Velt-linner) as made by Durbanville producer, Diemersdal. This fresh and appetising wine is better-known in Austria but is doing very nicely in the cool Durbanville hills, making clean, zesty wines with a slight peachy/pear finish.

The Rhône Valley in France is home to quite a few interesting grape varieties, at least as far as SA is concerned. We’ve had Roussanne (Roo-sann) for several years now – best examples coming from The Foundry, Ken Forrester Wines and Simonsig – but last year saw its partner Marsanne (Mar-sann) licenced for production in SA as well. So far no-one appears to be ready to release one on its own although Swartland’s Adi Badenhorst has been making a Chenin/Marsanne blend called Papegaai and apparently his neighbours Leeuwenkuil have also been using some too. Expect to see blends of these two, possibly with the addition of Viognier, appearing soon.

Another couple of unusual grape varieties have actually been in the country for a while but only now are they getting attention in their own right. Verdelho (Vur-dell-o) is a Portuguese grape which probably came to SA when we were bringing in other port varieties. It has a great natural acidity and although several people use it in blends (notably port-specialists, Boplaas) if you want to try a full-on Verdelho, look to Feiteras Vineyards in Bot Rivier or Flagstone’s Stumble Vineyards range. Similarly, Southern French grape Clairette Blanche (Clare-ett Blonsh) has been around for many years, generally contributing to dry whites as well as being used to make brandy. This year it is finding a new lease of life as two of SA’s Young Gun winemaking outfits – the Mullineuxs and the Cravens – make a version, both coming from patches of old vines, one in the Swartland and one in the Polkadraai Hills. These are just a few interesting things coming onto the market and if you want to try a few slightly more offbeat wines, get yourself to Hartenberg on the 31st January for the Riesling & Rarities Rock Festival. Tickets are R120 from www.webtickets.co.za

If you were at Taste of Cape Town, you might have caught Lucy Corne, beer supremo, and me having...

Grape vs Grain round 2 – the Cheese is ON!!

If you were at Taste of Cape Town, you might have caught Lucy Corne, beer supremo, and me having a face-off about what beverage goes best with food. Wine and I won that round, although it was a worryingly close encounter (especially with her trump card of Boston Breweries Pumpkin Ale) and now she’s out for revenge this weekend!

The SA Cheese Festival will be the scene of round 2 of Grape vs Grain and I fear there will be no holds barred this time. I don’t know what beers she has up her sleeves (hopefully they will all smell of stinky armpits and then I’ll win easily!) but I’m going with the easy-drinking everyday range from Stellenbosch Vineyards, the Welmoed and Versus wines. There’s no denying that cheese is tricky to pair – you’ve got lots of different considerations ranging from the cloying fattiness to the lively lactic acidity – but I think I’ve got it sorted with my multi-coloured range of wines.

So if you are going to be at the Cheese Festival on Saturday or Monday, then please come along and join us in our quest to find the perfect cheese partner. Obviously I’d love to win again – obviously I EXPECT to win again – but actually, these events are all about fun times and possibly a little learning for you, dear audience. I certainly know more about beers than I did before I started hanging around with this Brew Chick, and although it is clearly only a second-rate beverage compared to wine, there’s no denying that it’s not a bad tipple in its way.

Come and see us in The Cooking Pot Theatre at 3pm on Saturday 26th and Monday 28th April at Sandringham in Stellenbosch. Tickets for our show are FREE – and there’s not much you get for free these days – but they’re limited to only 75 per day so don’t be late. You get to taste lovely wines from Stellenbosch Vineyards (our overall sponsor), delicious cheese from Simonsberg (our sponsor for the weekend) and also some random beers as well (whateverrrr…..). Just kidding – come and have fun and make up your own mind on the day!

Hashtag - #grapevsgrain

Twitter handles - @CathyMarston @LucyCorne @WelmoedWines @SACheeseFest

Win a case of 6 wines PLUS 2 tickets to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival Wine Expo! The Stellenbosch Wine...

Giveaway!


Win a case of 6 wines PLUS 2 tickets to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival Wine Expo!

The Stellenbosch Wine Festival has gone large this year – stretching itself to 10 full-on days of wine-filled activities and events. There are special menus at all the top restaurants (and remember that Stellenbosch is currently claiming the Top Dining Town in the Winelands crown from Franschhoek!), various sporting events in and around the town, farm tours and – of course - lots and lots and lots of wine. All this culminates in a 3-day extravaganza Wine Expo held at De Braak in the heart of town where live bands will be playing, a series of gourmet food stalls will be operating and virtually every farm in the area will be showing off its wares.

I’ve got a pair of tickets for the Wine Expo PLUS a 6 bottle case of wine for one lucky winner (catch is you have to collect it from Wynberg – win first, and we’ll make a plan!). A lovely case including some of Stellenbosch’s finest such as a magnum from Blaauwklippen, and all you have to do to enter is to answer the following:

What’s the venue for the 3-day Wine Expo extravaganza?

Answer in the comments below and I’ll draw the winner by the end of the week.

For all details on the – literally – hundreds of awesome events going on over the festival, go to www.stellenboschwinefestival.co.za See you there!

PS – Stellenbosch Wine Route strongly supports safe & responsible drinking. I’ll be using Goodfellas (www.gfellas.co.za) to get me home as they kindly sponsor me, and I wholeheartedly recommend you make a similar plan!

© Cape Times Friday 2nd November 2012 As if the countdown to Christmas weren’t frantic and fun-packed enough, it...

Summer sips & swills

© Cape Times Friday 2nd November 2012
As if the countdown to Christmas weren’t frantic and fun-packed enough, it is now festival season once more. Not that I mind that much – after all, how bad can it be to spend lovely sunny, summer days out on beautiful wine farms, surrounded by family and friends eating delicious food and sipping fantastic wine? My in-box is positively bulging with ideas of cool places to hang out over the next couple of months, so here are a few suggestions of things to do and wines to drink when you get there.

First up is The Swartland Revolution, which I always think is a bit of a dichotomy – ‘revolution’ makes it sound as if it comes from the people, for the people, when in fact, it is actually one of South Africa’s most exclusive and expensive festivals featuring very limited tickets to taste lots of amazing overseas wines and drink champagne on tap! The main event is sold out but there is a great ‘local’ event, the Swartland Independent Street Party, which is held on the Saturday November 10th. All the members of the Swartland Independent movement will be milling around Short Street Square in Riebeek Kasteel offering unlimited tastings of their wines along with food stalls and other entertainment. My tips to try include the Mullineux wines, especially their Wine Club Cinsault if you can. Tickets cost R100 each and are available via Webtickets.

The following weekend is the Helderberg Festival, celebrating everything that goes on between Stellenbosch and the sea. Starting on Thursday 15th November and running until the Sunday, most of the farms in the area are offering a range of exciting activities, events, winetastings, lunches and live music. Saturday is Doggies’ Day with shows and events taking place at Vergenoegd whilst Sunday is a chill-out vibe with lunches at Dornier, Somerbosch and Blaauwklippen to name but a few. All the details of the events are on the website www.helderbergwinefestival.co.za and tickets can be bought there as well.

Towards the end of the month, everything gets a bit bubbly. Specialist wine fundis, Wine Concepts, are hosting their Finer Things in Life Champagne Festival on Friday 23rd November. With a James Bond theme and doubtless plenty of Bollinger on tap, it’s a great way to taste some memorable bubblies from both famous and lesser-known Champagne houses. Tickets cost R400 and are available in-store and on Webtickets. And if you prefer your bubblies ‘homegrown’, then there is no festival finer than the Franschhoek Magic of Bubbles Festival over the weekend 30th November – 2nd December. There are one of two French champagnes there as well but otherwise it is a ‘who’s who’ of everyone in the MCC world, offered alongside delicious food from Franschhoek’s many fine restaurants. Last year I managed to twist my ankle within the first half hour and had to sit in the shade with my foot elevated whilst people brought me endless glasses of fizz. I’m hoping for a similar accident to befall me this year as well.

My final festival is one in which I am actually participating amidst much secrecy and excitement. Along with nine other novice brewers, I have been asked to brew my own beer and take part in a competition which will be held during the Cape Town Festival of Beer. This will be over the weekend of 23rd-25th November at Hamilton’s Rugby Club in Green Point where over 150 beers will be available for tasting, along with entertainment and great pub grub. Tickets cost R90 from Webtickets and if you’re there on the Saturday, come along and see how my beer does - I’ve been taking advice from Cape Town’s Queen of Home-brewing, Lynnae Endersby of BeerLab (www.beerlab.co.za) so am hoping for the best, and in any event, as long as the axiom “It takes a lot of wine to make a good beer” holds true, then things ought to be just fine! Follow my progress on www.Food24.com

© Cape Times Friday 19th October 2012 How much do you spend on a bottle of wine? Every time...

Summer Chenin Showcase

© Cape Times Friday 19th October 2012
How much do you spend on a bottle of wine? Every time I write about this subject, I get berated by somebody whose budget is clearly very different from my own – either my choices are too expensive or (occasionally) they are too cheap. The thing to realise is that the costs associated with putting a bottle of wine on a shelf are more or less the same whether the wine costs R30 or R300 – bottle, cork or screwcap, label, packaging, transport, taxes – this accounts for a hefty chunk of the price leaving sometimes only a few rand for the actual cost of the wine itself. And those costs are exactly the same for a wine which costs twice as much, so the argument goes that if, say, R20 is for ‘fixed costs’, then that only leaves R10-worth of wine in a R30 bottle. But with the same fixed costs, a R40 bottle offers you double the value of wine at only a 25% increase in price.

I was pondering this value equation whilst at the Chenin Blanc Association’s Summer Chenin Showcase last week. Chenin should really be our national grape – we have more than half the world’s plantings here in SA and some of the oldest vines, producing concentrated, complex and delicious wines. But Chenin also makes some fabulous, easy-drinking gluggers with the cherry on top of the cake being that the variety is deeply-unfashionable when compared with Sauvignon Blanc so you get fantastic value for money. If you’re a Sauvignon drinker and you only have R30 to spend on a bottle of wine this summer, then you absolutely cannot do better than buy either Slanghoek Private Selection Chenin Blanc 2012 (R27) or Windmeul Chenin Blanc 2012 (R30) – both of them packed with grapefruit and gooseberry flavours guaranteed to confuse any dedicated Sauvvy-slave and at a cheaper price to boot.

So that’s fabulous for inexpensive, everyday drinking but where Chenin gets really exciting is when you spend that extra R10. For a ludicrously-cheap R37 a bottle, you can get Kleine Zalze’s Cellar Selection Chenin 2012 and for only R3 more, the incredible Stellenrust 2012. The secret lies in what the winemaker has done to the grape, because left to itself, Chenin tends to produce vast amounts of somewhat anonymous fruit. But if the winemaker takes the time and trouble to enhance that fruit, either by extended skin contact, lees (dead yeast cells which contain lots of interesting flavours) contact or careful use of oak, then the results are amazing, producing wines which are still incredibly fresh and lively, but which linger on the palate, giving flavour sensations long after you’ve finished the mouthful.

Hidden in the guise of ‘Classic White’ is another bargain Chenin Blanc which I’ve really enjoyed recently. The folk at Spar have long made a thing of sourcing fabulous value wines for their own range and they’ve now re-launched them with some rather eye-catching packaging. The Olive Brook Prestige Collection comes with lurid raspberry labels, but the wines themselves pack quite a wallet-friendly punch at R34 for the whites and R35 for the reds. And Chenin isn’t only a good alternative to Sauvignon either – if you’re a Chardonnay-lover, then try Villiera’s 2011 Chenin which has just waltzed off with a Double Gold at Veritas , costs a mere R43 and gives you whiffs of spicy oak and hints of apple Danish. As SA’s Chenin King, Ken Forrester, says “At every single price level, a Chenin offers you more value and taste than any other wine” and if you want to prove his point, you can’t do better than with these wines.

© Cape Times Friday 5th October 2012 As I write this, I am still recovering from one of the...

Raising a glass to Cape wines

© Cape Times Friday 5th October 2012

As I write this, I am still recovering from one of the busiest weeks most South African wine folk have ever experienced. Cape Wine 2012 is probably the biggest wine trade show ever held in South Africa and this show marks a triumphant return after an absence of four years. Listening to buyers, bloggers, educators and journalists from around the world, it seems clear that not only was the show much missed in 2010 (it was decided it was best not to clash with the World Cup), but that in its absence, South African wine has taken significant steps upwards in terms of quality of wines. If you were following events on Twitter, you would have seen the likes of Matthew Jukes, Sarah Ahmed, Jamie Goode, Dr Vino and a host of other international palates tweeting about our amazing wines and what a fabulous time they’ve been having.

And if that weren’t enough, last weekend saw the Nederburg Auction and tomorrow sees the turn of the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction at Spier. The Nederburg Auction delivered its usual mix of glamour and glitz combined with lashings of good fizz and plenty of delicious food. Sales this year were down on last year with fewer international buyers making their presence felt over a fairly chilly and wet weekend. But of course the flipside of this means that there will be some fabulous bargains available on our shelves soon – my advice is to check out Spar, Checkers and Ultra Liquors who were amongst the biggest buyers and who sell the wines on at cost price or very low mark-ups. A perfect way to get to try some of the country’s best wines without breaking the bank. If you want to go along to the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, then proceedings are open to all and it kicks off at 9am tomorrow at Spier with plenty of interesting, exclusive wines for canny bidders.

This is clearly silly season on the wine calendar with invitations coming in thick and fast and many people finding themselves at more than one event each day. This was the case a week or so ago when the Amorim Cap Classique awards lunch preceded the wine launch of the year and everyone’s most coveted ticket, as Steenberg released their new flagship white, the Magna Carta 2010. The launch took place on a chilly evening on the very shores of Hout Bay at Tintswalo Atlantic Lodge. Hidden away at the foot of Chapman’s Peak and only accessible by a scarily steep narrow road, this luxury lodge was a dramatic setting for the first taste of what is becoming one of the Cape’s icon white wines.

A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (which makes it a classic Bordeaux-style blend), 2010 is the first year that winemaker JD Pretorius has been solely responsible for the Magna Carta. Paired with exceptional food from Franck Dangereux from Food Barn (how this man is not in the Eat Out Top Twenty Restaurants is beyond me), the wine was fresh and youthful with notes of lemons, lemongrass, hints of waxiness and a long finish. It costs a slightly eye-watering R460 from the farm, but then again, only 3,000 bottles were made and if you have patience to wait awhile, I promise you it will be worth it. And the reason I know this is because we also drank the 2007 which was the maiden vintage of this wine and it was simply fabulous, proving itself quite as worthy to stand along the rather prestigious French wines which were also on the table. Amazing wine, food, setting – yes, I think this was definitely the Wine Launch of the Year.

© Cape Times Friday 27th July 2012 Anyone who’s involved in any way with the wine trade, knows the...

Come on baby, let’s go to the hops

© Cape Times Friday 27th July 2012
Anyone who’s involved in any way with the wine trade, knows the importance of beer. Winemakers generally drink it by the gallon-load during harvest (“It takes a lot of beer to make a good wine”) and after any tasting event you’ll find the bar full of thirsty wine folk waiting to whet their whistles with a pint of the good stuff. South Africa is seeing a huge upsurge in interest in beer, particularly at the top end of the market with craft beer, as last weekend’s Hop n Vine Festival at Groot Constantia can attest.

According to beer writer, Lucy Corne, the growth of interest in handcrafted beers mirrors a trend seen in America in the 80’s when micro-breweries sprang up all over the country, but mainly – and interestingly enough – in the winemaking regions on the West Coast. Her book, a guide to small artisan breweries in South Africa, will be out next year and will include tasting notes and descriptions on thirty-seven breweries around the country. But the interesting part is that there are a further eighteen in the pipeline, merely waiting for licencing approval and, according to Lucy, this is just the start of an explosion which she expects to take place over the next few years as palates become more educated in the flavours and textures a truly handmade beer can produce.

One winemaker who hasn’t waited for the explosion to happen is JC Steyn who recently left Stellenbosch winery, Dornier, in search of a new challenge. Joining microbrewery, Devil’s Peak (www.devilspeakbrewing.co.za), a mere four months ago, he’s been on a fast-track of learning the differences – and similarities – between making beer and wine. “The production side is actually quite similar and working with yeasts is obviously very familiar for me” he says. He takes his inspiration from one of the partners in Devil’s Peak, Greg who is a brewer from Albuquerque and who taught JC the finer points of the brewer’s art. Because of his influence, at the moment most of the beers in the Devil’s Peak range are American-style, but JC is very excited about his new Saison beer, a Belgian-style brew. It’s aged in barrels and injected with something which is normally anathema for winemakers – brettanomyces or ‘brett’ to give the beer an extra tang. “It’s got flavours like a Chardonnay” he says, drawing off another half pint to drink as he talks “Light in hops, very aromatic and spicy!”

And therein lies one of the attractions of the beer world – its informality and accessibility as opposed to the stuffiness and pretentiousness of wine. As JC says “No-one ever gave me a high five when I was giving a winetasting!” and almost every stand-holder was cheerfully keeping pace, drink for drink, with the interested punters as they went around tasting and chatting. At the moment, the link between beer and wine is holding good with the majority of the craft brewers situated in the Western Cape – in fact, Lucy expects to see a Craft Beer Route opening in Stellenbosch/Somerset West before too long! And beer and food pairing is also taking off with Sofia’s at Morgenster and Majeka House in Stellenbosch (to name but two) regularly matching fine ales and food on their menus. Anything wine can do, beer can do too it seems.

In the meantime, for winelovers wanting to try the next big thing, visit Banana Jam Café in Kenilworth which organised the festival last weekend and which boasts sixteen craft beers on tap. Or try the newly-launched League of Beers (www.leagueofbeers.com) who will deliver mixed cases of craft beer directly to your door. There are plenty of different ones out there for you to try and more are coming on-stream all the time. Treat your craft beer as you would a wine – look at it, sniff it and then swirl it round your mouth to get every nuance of flavour. The only difference to winetasting is that beer-tasters don’t spit (apparently you pick up even more flavours as the beer heads off down your throat) – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

© Cape Times Friday 19th June 2012 The start of this year heralded the start of some new rules...

Breathing new life into old favourite

© Cape Times Friday 19th June 2012

The start of this year heralded the start of some new rules in the SA Port world – oops, there I go, broken them already. Because as of 1st January 2012, according to EU regulations, no fortified port-style wine can be labelled as ‘Port’ unless it comes from the Douro region of Portugal. The EU was meant to pay over lots of money to South Africa to ease this transition – money which may or may not have made it into the coffers (perhaps it got hijacked by Greece – after all, their need is greater than ours) – but either way, the changes have been made and you will start seeing only Cape Ruby, Cape Tawny, Cape Vintage on the shelves instead of Port.

Of course this has now necessitated a change in the interest group representing the ‘previously-Port producers’ – from being known as SAPPA, they are now renamed as CAPPA standing for the Cape Port Producers Association, and they hosted their first Port & Wine Challenge earlier this year. The results were announced a fortnight ago at a lunch at Muratie. We ate a lovely ‘boerekos’ meal in the incredibly scenic cellars overhung by 50 years-worth of cobwebs and surrounded by ancient, rusting, odd pieces of machinery. Round the back of the tasting room, an open door led to a very suspicious-looking ‘wine chapel’ with graffiti, pictures of semi-nude women and artistically-draped bunches of grapes adorning walls which could undoubtedly tell more than a story or two if they could speak. History lurked at every corner and indeed, many of the guests had more than their fair share to contribute as well with Cape legends such as Dave Hughes, Dave Biggs and Colin Frith holding forth on their roles in making the SA wine scene the success it is today.

I must say, I went there with a slightly heavy brow and low expectations. Not that I don’t like port when I remember to taste it – but the problem is, that I don’t often remember to taste it at all, generally sticking to still wines such as crisp, lively Chenin Blancs or elegant, balanced Cabs and Pinots. It has a strong image of an ‘old man’s drink’ and I have had far too many awful examples over the years, served as tiny, thimble-sized glasses of heavily oxidised horrors, to have too much hope for any changes. Which is a shame, because we make extremely good examples – but still, who on earth is drinking them these days?

I’ll tell you who – smart, modern, young women – that’s who. And not only are they drinking them, they’re making them as well. Women winemakers like Margaux Nel from Boplaas, Alecia Boshoff from Riebeek Cellars and Marlize Jacobs from Vergenoegd, all of whom appreciate this drink for its rich warmth, elegant balance and ability to age gracefully and well – attributes many women would be proud to call their own. Top honours of the day were pretty much divided between Margaux and KWV with the latter taking the overall ‘Best of Show’ Trophy for the KWV Classic Cape Tawny N/V and the former barely able to stagger out under the weight of awards for her Vintage Port, Ruby Port, Tawny Port, Museum Class Port and – most interestingly – still wines as well.

Because this may well be where the future lies for port – not just in its smart, savvy, young female winemakers, but also in a whole new category of wines. For the first time, there were awards for still wines which contained port varieties, and the line-up was excellent. I enjoyed Axe Hill’s Machado and Overgaauw’s Touriga/Cabernet Sauvignon in particular and then, from two of the ladies above came the Vergenoegd Runner Duck 2010 (R50) with around 40% Touriga Nacional, and Boplaas’s Woolworth’s Portuguese Connection - fabulous, individual, interesting wines offering a whole range of flavours completely out of the French norm. I think this is definitely the way to go – if we can persuade people that these grape varieties aren’t scary and unfamiliar, but tasty and delicious, then surely tis but a small step to opening up the wonderful world of fortified wines to them as well? I certainly do hope so.

© Cape Times Friday 1st June 2012 One wine question that nearly everyone – fundi or beginner alike –...

Vertical tastings show legs

© Cape Times Friday 1st June 2012
One wine question that nearly everyone – fundi or beginner alike – asks at some point is “How long will this wine last?” It’s actually quite an important question because no-one wants to spend a lot of money on a bottle, keep it for ten years before opening it and then discover it’s a rancid pile of poo which should have been drunk five years ago. One of the best ways of determining how long a wine is likely to last is to try older ones and see how they’ve done over the years – in a vertical tasting. I’ve had three recently from some of the Cape’s most celebrated winemakers so I thought I’d share my thoughts about them with you.

Nowadays Simonsig seem to be mostly known for their sparkling wine, the Kaapse Vonkel. But they also make a whole range of different wines from good-value, everyday gluggers right up to the top stuff. Their flagship red is called Tiara and it’s been made every year since 1990. It’s a Bordeaux blend which started out life just as a simple Cab-Merlot with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc joining within the first decade. The biggest change, and one of the reasons for the vertical tasting, was that the current release (2009, R175 from the cellar) is the first to contain Malbec as Johan Malan continues on his quest for blending perfection. I tasted three of the wines – the 1995, 2000 and 2005 – and it was fascinating to see how the wine becomes more complex and interesting with age. The 2005 was possibly my favourite on the day showing dark berried fruit, whiffs of tobacco and an endless finish.

Moving away from a French-styled wine, my next vertical tasting was Proudly South African with a fascinating trip through three recent years of Beyers Truter’s favourite wine, the Diesel Pinotage. Not, perhaps, the most promising of names, however this wine doesn’t refer to a fuel, but a best friend as Diesel was Beyers’s beloved Boerboel/Great Dane cross who is commemorated on the label. Unlike the Simonsig Tiara, this wine comes from one single block of unirrigated bushvines – they’re actually planted on the most propitious soil for top Bordeaux varieties, but nothing is too good for Beyers’s Pinotage. The tasting covered three years – 07, 08 and 09 – and it was fascinating to see the vintage differences reflected in the wine. It was also great to see the wine getting better and better as the vines mature – 2009 (R450) is rich, warm and spicy with beautifully-integrated fruit, oak, spice and tannins. Anyone who thinks a Pinotage can’t be elegant, needs to try this wine.

The final vertical of the last few weeks came from Luddite, the wine which is the heart and soul of Niels and Penny Verburg. Their solo winemaking efforts began in 2000 with the single aim of making world class Shiraz. In keeping with their name, much of their labelling, bottling and marketing material is done by hand, and mostly by Penny, leaving Niels free to concentrate on the wine. The interesting factors emerging from their tasting of five different vintages from 2005 to 2009 were the influence of the weather on the wine and also the oak used. Niels has experimented with several different combinations of French, American and Hungarian oak and his current release, the 2007 (R290 from the farm) uses mainly French oak barrels with just 5% of Hungarian for extra spice, creating a wine of elegance, depth, concentration and power. And what’s more, it’s so good that he’s selling it to the Kings of Shiraz themselves – the Aussies. How’s that for a Proudly South African moment?!

If you like Shiraz, you can taste the Luddite along with lots of others at Hartenberg’s Shiraz and Charcuterie Festival tomorrow afternoon. Starting at 12 noon, tickets cost R180 and include tastings of SA’s top Shirazes along with artisanal meats, breads, cheeses and olives. Book your tickets at www.webtickets.co.zaand I’ll see you there!

Win Tickets to the Burgundy Lover’s Festival – Cape Town & Johannesburg! Now in its second year, Wine Concepts...

Burgundy Lover’s Festival

Win Tickets to the Burgundy Lover’s Festival – Cape Town & Johannesburg!

Now in its second year, Wine Concepts premier Burgundy Lover’s Festival is set to be bigger and bolder as it celebrates South Africa’s finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

This prestigious event will be held at the Vineyard Hotel and Spa in Newlands, Cape Town on Sunday 27th May 2012 and for the first time in Johannesburg at the trendy Protea Hotel Fire and Ice! Melrose Arch on Thursday 7th June 2012. Guests will be treated to one of the most impressive selections of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs ever seen in the country. 30 of the country’s top producers have been invited to showcase their fine wines complimented by delicious snacks suited to the style of wines. As an added bonus all wines presented at both Festivals will be on offer at a 10% discount for guests wishing to purchase.

The Cape Town Sunday event at The Vineyard Hotel and Spa will be from 14h00 to 17h00 in the graceful Summer Room. Weather permitting the Festival will flow out onto the sprawling lawns to create an even more relaxed atmosphere for guests.
The Thursday event in Johannesburg at The Protea Hotel Fire and Ice! will be held early evening from 17h00 to 20h00. Gauteng wine lovers will be able to relax while tasting and discussing their favorite wines with the representatives of the farms. Melrose Arch offers many restaurants where guests will be able to dine after the Festival.

Entry to the festival will be R150 per person for pre-booked tickets and R170 at the door subject to availability. The ticket price allows guests to taste the wines on offer at the festivals and includes light snacks as well as a chance to win wonderful prizes in a lucky draw. Tickets are available from Wine Concepts Newlands (021 671 9030) corlien@wineconcepts.co.za and Wine Concepts on Kloof (021 426 4401), as well as through www.webtickets.co.za.

Win a pair of tickets to the festival of your choice!

Wine Concepts are giving away one pair of tickets to each festival. Travel and other expenses not included. To enter the draw, simply answer this question as a comment below:

What is the main white grape variety in Burgundy?

And then give us your details below PLUS which festival (Cape Town or Johannesburg) you would like to win tickets for. The draw will be made on Friday at 12 noon and you will be informed by email that afternoon.

© Cape Times Friday 4th May 2012 I think it is fair to say that, by and large, people...

Nothing to be afraid of…

© Cape Times Friday 4th May 2012
I think it is fair to say that, by and large, people don’t understand wine. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘Huh? What’s she on about? I know lots about wine’ then I venture to suggest you’re in the minority, with most people buying a wine for one of three reasons - a) it’s a familiar name, b) it’s cheap or c) the label looks pretty. Not that those are necessarily bad reasons for choosing a wine (I’ve certainly done all three myself in my time), but it does rather limit your choices if those are the only wines you ever try.

So why don’t people try something different? I think it’s a lot to do with this crazy, elitist culture which has grown up around wine and which (I am sorry to say) is constantly being propagated by wine writers and critics – mea culpa. Why do we make such a big deal out of choosing, buying and enjoying a drink? At the end of the day, it’s an agricultural product – something we grow which we turn into something we drink – not much more complicated than bread. But you don’t see people in bakeries nervously agonising over whether a ciabatta or foccacia will make the perfect cheese roll for lunch. The last time I looked, nobody was dithering in the supermarket aisles over wholewheat, wholegrain or rye, before shamefacedly sneaking a small toasting loaf into their basket. And you certainly don’t see people being patronised by waiters for selecting the soft white roll from the bread basket as opposed to a slice of health bread. But when it comes to choosing a wine, deciding if it tastes good or matching it to whatever is planned for supper, it seems as if all confidence vanishes and people become incapable of rational thought.

This lack of confidence stems from the fact that the best time to learn new things is as a small child, not when we are about to start work or university. By the time we are all legally allowed to actually try alcohol, most people have difficulty learning something new from absolute scratch. Rather than confess our ignorance – as we are more prepared to do as small children – we mask it with bluff, bluster, overheard snippets in the queue at the off-licence and continue to drink boring old faithful favourites, without having any clear idea why. Whereas if people only felt confident enough to ask questions and find out more, there is a huge world of exciting and interesting wine-drinking awaiting them.

A great way to get confidence is to sign up for a wine course and actually ask all the questions you’ve always wanted to ask about wine, but never dared to. I’ve been teaching people about wine for nearly ten years now and I still love seeing realisation dawn on the face of someone, previously convinced that wine was only for snobs, when they actually taste the lemons and limes in a Sauvignon Blanc for the very first time. I’m 100% certain that anyone with a tongue can taste wine, it just takes a little thought, a little encouragement and a whole lot of confidence – all of which are dealt out by the bucketload on my courses. And hardly anyone spits. Which always adds to the fun.

If you want to look a bit further afield – especially if you’re considering working in hospitality or wine overseas – then the UK-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust Courses (WSET) may be of more interest. Recognised and taught in more than 55 countries around the world, they concentrate on giving a thorough grounding in international wine styles, with the majority of the wines tasted coming from overseas, so if (in the words of Blur) you want to know ‘your Claret from your Beaujolais’, then these are the courses for you. And finally, the Cape Wine Academy also offers a range of wine courses from a one-day introductory, to a two year Diploma. With winter just round the corner, don’t get stuck indoors every evening, shivering in front of the fire. Pluck up your confidence, pick up your spittoon and get tasting some new wines – you’ll be glad you did!

For more information on the Cape Wine Academy courses, go to www.capewineacademy.co.za

St Cyprian’s School PA ‘Bubbly Tasting’ with Steenberg Vineyards & Graham Beck Thursday 10 May (6pm for 6:30pm) Venue:...

Let’s get fizzical !

St Cyprian’s School PA ‘Bubbly Tasting’ with
Steenberg Vineyards & Graham Beck

Thursday 10 May (6pm for 6:30pm)
Venue: The Voorkamer
St Cyprian’s School
Gorge Road
Oranjezicht
R150pp

Hosted by Cathy Marston (wine educator, Cape Times wine columnist and wine editor of Food24.com),
this is a unique opportunity to taste leading South African Cap Classique Sparkling Wines presented by
John Loubser (the General Manager of Steenberg Vineyards)
& Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira (Graham Beck cellar master)

Bookings: email susan.litten.agent@gmail.com.
Tickets include tasting of 6 sparkling wines plus cheese and biscuits, and great lucky draw prizes.

© Cape Times Friday 9th December 2011 T’was ten days before Christmas, And all throughout the land, Everyone was...

Take the fuss out of feasting

© Cape Times Friday 9th December 2011

T’was ten days before Christmas,
And all throughout the land,
Everyone was panicking,
“What the heck are we going to do for Christmas lunch this year, because I’m so bored with all the usual stuff?”

Hey, c’mon! I wasn’t asked to write this column on the basis that I could rhyme or scan! But, lack of poetic ability aside, there is actually a genuine question going on here. Why do so many Capetonians hark back to an inappropriate and indigestible tradition of an enormously heavy roast lunch with all the trimmings on Christmas Day? It is absolutely beyond me – you do realise it’s going to be 30⁰C, don’t you?!

And it’s not just the excessive orgy of fatty roast meat which makes me feel faint – it’s the endless leftovers which appear and reappear in some form or another twice a day, lingering well into New Year and beyond. So with that in mind, here are a few different options to take the crisis out of Christmas and give us a great time, whilst some friendly wine farms do the work. At the time of writing, the wine farms below all had some availability, but my advice is to hurry because this definitely won’t last!

One of the longest-established winery restaurants is Backsberg on the Klapmuts/Simondium road between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. They were the first carbon neutral winery in SA, and remain leaders in environmental innovation and conservation. All of which, of course, helps you feel better about totally over-indulging on their Christmas offering of a buffet far too extensive and delicious to list in this column. Having personally tried and tested this farm, I can highly recommend it to people with young families and the price includes pressies for the kids, crackers and live music. My tipple of choice here would be the John Martin Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R78 restaurant, R74 cellar door), a barrel-fermented wine which combines snappy green acidity with a limey richness which makes it great with food. Adults – R415, 8-12 year olds – R200 and under 8’s R100. All details from Dalene at www.backsberg.co.za.

A slightly more refined, but no less family-focussed option, is offered at Eat Out’s Boschendal Style Award winner, Makaron at Majeka House in Stellenbosch. I celebrated my wedding anniversary here a few weeks ago and although it isn’t strictly a wine farm, I’m including it here because the wine mark-ups are, incredibly, lower than many winery restaurants. They are doing a very larney 4-course lunch with some little extras, and having tasted Chef Tanja Kruger’s cooking, I think whoever goes there is in for a very good time. Kids are catered for and if you don’t want to go the whole set-menu hog, there is a delightfully relaxing tapas menu which is available under the trees and around the pool. Try the Raats Cabernet Franc at a mindblowingly cheap R277 and don’t miss the homemade jars of sweet treats either! Adults R495, kids R150 and all details on www.makaronrestaurant.co.za.

My final option is an impressively, wallet-friendly affair at Zorgvliet Wines in the beautiful Banghoek Valley. They’re offering a special Christmas picnic of delicious homecooked meats, breads, cheeses, salads and sweet treats and adult baskets come with a bottle of their excellent-value wine for R380 for two people (kiddies baskets are R60 each). The picnic area is a lush, grassy spot which runs along a stream – perfect for kids to cool down in when they’ve tired themselves out on the jungle gym - and my tip for the perfect Christmas tipple is the new MCC which comes in at an impressive R75. It’s a Blanc de Blanc and is bone dry with yeasty, flowery, citrussy flavours. Bookings are via Christine on functions@zorgvliet.com

© Cape Times Friday 11th November 2011 I started this column just over a year ago with the admission...

Swartland’s revolutionaries

© Cape Times Friday 11th November 2011
I started this column just over a year ago with the admission that I wasn’t that keen on Swartland red wines. Since today marks the start of the second, swashbuckling Swartland Revolution, I am still frankly a little surprised that I haven’t been one of the first up against the wall and shot for these views. Which would actually be a pity because, although I’m still a Cabernet girl at heart, there is no doubt that the wines from these mad, bad, Byronic boys of the Swartland are growing on me all the time. And it’s not just me either – according to Chris Mullineux of Mullineux Family Wines, Swartland has fans all over the world, far more than here in South Africa. “Everywhere I go, when people hear our wines are from the Swartland, there’s an immediate interest and understanding. Whereas in South Africa, we’re still struggling against the idea that Swartland doesn’t make high quality wines!”

Well, hopefully for Chris and his American winemaking wife Andrea, all that is about to change. Armed with an astonishing clean sweep of Five Star awards from the new Platter Guide (in the shops later this month, recommended retail price – same as last year - R159.99) for their entire top range, they have frozen all overseas sales in an effort to really make inroads into the South African market and show people what they’ve been missing. It’s a fitting reward for them both after giving up good jobs as winemakers to set up their own wine business nearly five years ago. Andrea is very frank about the difficulties they’ve faced “If we’d waited another year when the recession really started to hit, then we probably wouldn’t have done it! It’s been a really tough time and we’ve had to work incredibly hard.”

Not that they were exactly taking it easy beforehand, with Chris setting up Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now renamed Fable and also Five Star winners this year) and Andrea doing the same for Walker Bay winery Spookfontein before joining Chris in Tulbagh. It was during their time there that they first became aware of the Swartland and the potential it had for a new business - as a somewhat ‘untrendy’ area, the price for grapes was low and there was plenty of good fruit easily available. They now buy from 21 different vineyards, most of them managed to their specifications, and all of them planted on three very specific types of soil – decomposed granite, schist and ‘koffee klip’. According to Andrea, the soils give them a combination of elegant perfume, ‘masculine’ structure and dense mid-palate respectively. Grapes from each vineyard are fermented and aged in separate batches before being blended to create the final wine.

The current Five Star wines – a Syrah, a White Blend (made from mostly Chenin with some Rhône varieties in there too) and a luscious Straw Wine (also from Chenin) – are all blends of these different soils, but Chris and Andrea plan to release two new Syrahs next year made from two single vineyards, one with schist soils and one with decomposed granite. “We’re always looking to express a vineyard’s pure terroir.” explains Chris “We never add anything to our wines anyway – no yeasts, acids or enzymes – and we’re very excited about these new releases. It’s all part of the journey we’re on here in the Swartland. Blending is working really well for us, but ultimately, we want to get the right varieties on the right sites and have them good enough to stand on their own merits as individual wines.”

You can buy the Mullineux Family Wines from leading independent retailers such as Wine Concepts for around R200 for the Syrah and Straw wine and R165 for the White. Or try their excellent-value second label, Kloof Street, at R65 for the white and R75 for the red. If you’ve got your ticket for the sell-out Swartland Revolution this weekend, then enjoy, but if you missed out, you are still welcome to join the party in Riebeek Kasteel on Saturday afternoon when 14 different wineries will be showing off their wares, with some food stalls and live music completing the entertainment. Tickets are R50 and are available on the door.