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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

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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 22nd July 2016 Okay, come on – ‘fess up. When was the last time you drank...

Making a case for versatile Chenin

© Cape Times Friday 22nd July 2016

Okay, come on – ‘fess up. When was the last time you drank a Chenin Blanc?? Chances are that you’re either going to say “last night” (you hipster trendsetter you) or, more likely, “fifteen years ago at ‘varsity when I couldn’t afford anything else”.  Despite so many people’s best efforts, it seems our best asset is still lagging behind the bucketloads of yawn-making Sauvignon Blanc when it comes to choosing our daily tipple. Should we just give up and resign ourselves to a lifetime of teeth-searing acidic Sauvvies? Hell no. Should I join the ranks of those putting the case for Chenin and explaining why we should drink more of it? Hell yeah, why not?

“You see, the problem with Chenin Blanc is its diversity” as all we wine experts will agree, nodding sagely into our beards - which is the biggest load of rubbish to start with, and yes, I am as guilty of saying this as the next person. Sure, Chenin is a versatile grape, capable of making lots of different styles of wines to suits lots of different tastes - but since when has the ability to offer customers exactly what they want been a problem?? Henry Ford made his millions offering his new car in only one shade of paint (“The customer can have any colour he likes, as long as its black”) – imagine what he could have done if he’d had a rainbow palette to choose from?

Because that is what Chenin is – a rainbow palette of flavour for the palates of this Rainbow Nation and beyond. At the recent Chenin Showcase, a regular event which brings the diversity of the grape to the attention of lucky journalists and retailers, I tasted a fabulous range of different wines and I promise you – there really is something to suit everyone here. If you can’t bear to abandon your Sauvignon Blancs – there are Chenins which taste almost identical in terms of lip-smacking freshness and vibrancy (try Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2016 R50). If you like a wooded Chardonnay – there are Chenins which taste very similar with oodles of yellow stone fruit balanced by creamy, spicy oak (give the delicious De Morgenzon 2015 a whirl for R225 or the more affordable Delheim 2014 for R110).

If you like sparkling wines, then there are Chenins which do that too (Ken Forrester’s engagingly-named Sparklehorse for R200) and if you prefer off-dry or semi-sweet, there are plenty of Chenin options, balancing sweetness with lively fresh acidity to make a more complete wine. If you like it sweet and sticky, luscious or unctuous, there are noble late harvest Chenins of real richness, depth and complexity, coating your mouth with haunting flavours, tantalising your tastebuds with a cat’s tail whisk of acidity and freshness. And finally, Chenin is the King of Blending and my find of the day at the Chenin Showcase was the Riebeek Cellars Short Street CGV 2014. At a ridiculously-cheap R50 a bottle, this should be everyone’s fridge stalwart this summer.

So I don’t think there’s anything lacking in terms of the actual Chenin wines themselves. In fact, I think the problem lies not with the grape, but with us instead. We don’t drink more Chenin because we’re lazy and it’s easier to stick to our same-old, same-old wines with all their faults rather than find something new which may possibly suit us better.  We allow ourselves to be confused by diversity and have our confidence dinted by differences in style, price, packaging and labelling terms, when in fact we should start every glass with the belief that it’s going to be amazing and simply take it from there. When it comes to Chenin Blanc, that’s almost certainly going to be a worthwhile journey to make.

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016 For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled...

Wine opens doors for students

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016

For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled as we cajole, encourage, berate and coerce our children to revise for exams. It’s been a first time for us and I have to say, we’ve felt the strain, somewhat eased by a good few swear words and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. How much more fun it is to teach and learn about wine, when drinking a glass is counted as revision itself!

Which leads me nicely to some students who want to do just that and who are trying to raise money to allow them to do so. Elsenburg Agricultural College, along with great rivals Stellenbosch University, is the training ground for almost all winemakers working in the South African wine industry today. Chief winemaker and head lecturer, Lorraine Geldenhuys and I have worked together over the last couple of years and I know her to be a passionate and inspiring lecturer. Her biggest aim for her students is that they are work-ready when they leave the college. This means lots of practical experience and Elsenburg has made wine and brandy for the past few years under Lorraine’s guidance, with plans afoot for gin to be added to the repertoire as well.

The biggest problem the Elsenburg students have – in fact, the biggest problem most students of wine have in South Africa – is learning how wine is made in other countries, particularly in Europe which has a tradition of winemaking stretching back thousands of years as opposed to our measly 350. European wine laws are generally much stricter than South African, with regulations surrounding grape variety, planting density, pruning, yields, winemaking practices, minimum alcohol and a whole host of other rules all designed to improve quality. The challenge for South African winemakers is to understand the thinking behind these rules and to learn which ones could be usefully applied to South Africa and which are best ignored. And in order to do that best, first-hand knowledge is required.

Lorraine and her nine final year students have planned a trip in November which will take them, and her assistant winemaker Solomon Monyamane, on a technical tour of some of the major winemaking regions of Portugal and France. They are being supported on this trip by various means, including a donation from the Cape Winemakers Guild, but the majority of money should come from two charity auctions, one to be held at Beyerskloof wine farm on July 26 and the other in Johannesburg at a later date. The UK-based International Wine Challenge has donated lots of exciting international wines which have been carefully matched to equivalent, leading South African examples to create really interesting lots. In addition, there will be a series of once-in-a-lifetime lots such as skydiving, wine farm stayovers and other winery insider experiences. The auction is open to all and for more information, contact Lorraine on Lorraineg@elsenburg.com 

And on the subject of students learning about wine, congratulations to the 2016 class of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy who graduated a couple of weeks ago. This is an amazing programme taking young people though an eye-opening practical journey into the wine industry aimed at giving them skills and confidence and ultimately, jobs. On top of their industry-endorsed qualification, two-thirds of the group now also possess an internationally-recognised wine qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, funded by the Cape Wine Auction. Let’s hope the Elsenburg auction achieves equally successful results for their students as well.

© Cape Times Friday 15th January 2016 When is a cork not a cork? When it’s agrafe.  This sounds...

Uncorking the story behind agrafe.

© Cape Times Friday 15th January 2016

When is a cork not a cork? When it’s agrafe.  This sounds like some kind of wine geek joke doesn’t it? But actually, it’s not a joke at all but an old/new way of making sparkling wine.  So, as this weekend is set to be full of romantic bubblies getting popped, I thought it would be nice to talk about a new bubbly which actually gets popped twice over.

A bit of background in case you don’t know how bubbles get into a bottle in the first place. Méthode Cap Classique or MCC is made using two fermentations. The first one turns sugary grape juice into dry still wine and then some more sugar and yeast is added to cause a second fermentation. Fermentation produces alcohol and carbon dioxide and because this second fermentation takes place inside a sealed bottle, the CO2 can’t go anywhere so gets trapped inside the wine making it bubbly. Nowadays most bottles used for this second fermentation are sealed with a crown cap – exactly like those used to close beer bottles – but traditionally, bottles were closed with a special cork and a large staple known as an agrafe.

Le Lude is a new cellar in Franschhoek at the foot of the mountains which is making only MCC. Set up five years ago by Nic and Ferda Barrow, the aim was to make premium quality bubbles from classic Champagne varieties. As part of their quest for the best, they hired one of the most passionate winemakers around, Paul Gerber, to oversee the vineyards and make the wine. Paul is an ex-maths teacher and retains an academic and analytical approach to winemaking. As part of his ongoing search for even better bubblies, he decided to carry out experiments with agrafe closures to see if it made any difference to the wines.

And surprise surprise, it does make a difference – and it’s one that is easy to taste and distinguish. After Paul persuaded cork manufacturers Amorim to bring in some special corks and staples, he started to bottle some bottles and magnums of wine each year using these corks. Initial attempts were not always successful and it took several explosions to get it right, but now it is possible to try wines sealed with the two different methods side by side and actually taste the difference. Paul believes that the three years spent undergoing the second fermentation on cork leads to much more mouthfeel and texture, giving savoury flavours which most bubbles only acquire with age as they lose freshness. The agrafe seal allows the le Lude MCCs to have both freshness and complexity from the get-go and frankly, tastes just completely delicious.

Currently available are the Brut and Brut Rose NV, both costing around the R195 mark and made in the normal way, whilst the top wines which use the agrafe seal will be released later this year and early next year. So there you go – a bubbly with a difference and one which would certainly make my Valentine’s Day a happy one this year.

This weekend is about more than Valentine’s Day, bubblies, hearts and flowers however. Sharing centre stage with the romance is the AfriAsia Cape Wine Auction which takes place tomorrow at Klein Constantia and aims to be the biggest charity event of the year, auctioning off experiences and packages that money almost literally cannot buy.  Incredible meals, exclusive getaways, unique wines, unheard of luxuries – all these are going to go under the hammer this weekend with all profits going to some great charities around the Cape. I will be using some of last year’s funds to teach the Pinotage Youth Development Academy students about international wines, something which we believe will improve their skill set and make them even more employable than they already are. If you hurry, you can still register to bid at the Auction (online registration is open until 12 noon today) but if it’s a little out of your league, still keep an eye open for the many good works which will hopefully be able to take place as a result of this year’s lots.

© Cape Times Friday 30th October 2015 I’ve had a very bubbly last few weeks.The Amorim MCC Challenge results came out...

Celebrating bubbles

© Cape Times Friday 30th October 2015

I’ve had a very bubbly last few weeks.The Amorim MCC Challenge results came out (congrats to all winners), the Nederburg Auction served one of my favourite fizzes, Scintilla, non-stop to very thirsty guests, Avondale’s Armilla won a major international award and two icons of the SA world of bubbles celebrated Silver Jubilees with two great events. For me – any excuse to celebrate with bubbly is a good excuse, but there’s no denying that these two events were slightly better than most.

First up was the celebration of Pieter Ferreira’s 25th vintage at Graham Beck Wines.  It’s hard to imagine the world of Cap Classique without thinking of Pieter and his passion for his wines, his cheeky sense of humour, his super-cool footwear and his genuine joie de vivre. When he first started out at Graham Beck Wines in 1990, Robertson was neither well-known for Chardonnay, nor MCC and there can be little doubt that Pieter’s efforts and achievements have helped put both on the map. MCC is such an important and growing category in SA and this is a lot to do with his enthusiastic chairmanship of the MCC association, which all makers of MCC are well-advised to join, offering guidance, advice and continually-driving standards upwards.

Graham Beck Wines is littered with accolades and testimonials of the great and the good around the world with the brand being chosen by royalty, presidents, film stars and more. They do three different tiers of wines, very much like most of the top Champagne houses in France, but at the recent celebration lunch they opened something which makes me think they should create a fourth tier of wine as well. My favourite wine from their stable has always been the Blanc de Blanc and for their celebrations, Pieter opened a 1992 which he had recently-disgorged. It reminded me of some of the finest P2 Dom Perignons which I was lucky enough to try earlier on this year – rich, savoury, salty, creamy – a wine to dream of over and over again. Graham Beck RD anyone? I’m right there.

Also celebrating 25 years in the business this year is an equally well-loved name – Pongrácz. Pongrácz winemaker, Elunda Basson, has a while to go to equal Pieter’s record but she is nevertheless one of the longest-serving winemakers for the brand. Created 25 years ago in honour of Desiderius Pongrácz, a Hungarian viticulturist responsible for many of the vineyard practices still used today. ‘Pongie’ as he was known, was a larger-than life character and the celebratory party was all about being bold, over-the-top and exciting, matching the three wines in the Pongrácz range to different tapas nibbles. The prestige Desiderius with its very distinctive bottle was launched in 2002 (the 2003 won Museum Class in this year’s MCC Challenge) and in 2009 the rosé Pongrácz was born.  The wine is now sold in 49 countries around the world with Africa being the fastest-growing region, making for a proudly South African story all round.

With new MCC’s being launched almost on a weekly basis, it can be easy to forget such stalwarts as Pongrácz and Graham Beck, but I think the importance of having a brand and a winemaker solely-dedicated to crafting fine MCC cannot be overstated. People tend to think that if they can make wine, they can make bubbles, but this really isn’t the case – sure you can have the odd flash in the pan, but to consistently top the awards lists around the world takes serious knowledge, concentration and effort. Staying put and getting really good seems to be the recipe for success in the world of MCC so happy anniversary Pieter and Pongie – may you continue to rock and rule the roost for many more years to come.

Veronica Nomphelo Plaatjies, who will also be representing Team SA in France next month is the winner of the three year...

Restaurant Mosaic announces the winner of its Sommelier Protege Bursary Programme

Veronica Nomphelo Plaatjies,

who will also be representing Team SA in France next month

is the winner of the three year Restaurant Mosaic Sommelier Protégé Bursary and was selected from a search held nationwide in conjunction with the South African Wine Tasting Championships (SAWTC).

The Restaurant Mosaic Sommelier Protégé Program annually offers a young emerging professional a three year fully paid learnership bursary at the award winning Restaurant Mosaic, working alongside Chef of the Year, Chantel Dartnall, and well-known French sommelier, Germain Lehodey.

She will now receive the necessary formal education required and achieve the best professional experience, under the guidance of the Restaurant Mosaic Cellar Team whilst gaining valuable exposure to the industry. She has also been accepted into the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA).
Plaatjies, who is currently studying for her National Certificate in Food and Beverage Services, has extensive restaurant experience and has worked at African Pride's 15 on Orange Hotel in Cape Town and Sun International’s Maslow Hotel.

Her future plans include owning and running a wine club to give wine educational programmes for formerly disadvantaged students hoping to work in the hospitality industry as well as for corporate clients and business people who have not had extensive exposure to wine in the past.

Fifteen of the country’s best tasters, chosen at provincial competitions held in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, met at the SAWTC finals to face the challenge of identifying wines from around the world and to decide who deserved to form part of the 2015 South African Champion Team. Plaatjies attended both the Johannesburg and Cape Town events, and performed outstandingly, qualifying in both events making her the undisputed winner of this year's Mosaic bursary.

This means that Miss Plaatjies will be part of Team South Africa  2015 that comprises captain Ralph Reynolds , Joseph T. Dhafana, Anita Streicher Nel, and will fly the national colours in France at the World Blind Challenge on October 17.

The competitors have two hours during the blind tasting to identify 12 wines from eight different countries. They have to guess the country, the cultivar, the vintage, the appellation and the producer of the wines served to them.

Says Plaatjies: “I am delighted to be part of the 2015 SAWTC Team representing not only South Africa, but also Restaurant Mosaic where I will be getting valuable work experience at one of the country’s top restaurants. I know I am going to learn so much from both Chantel and Germain – it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could change my life forever.”

Says Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic: “We are thrilled that Veronica will be joining Restaurant Mosaic on our Protégé Programme. Sommeliers play a very big role in the restaurant and are as much part of the dining experience as the chefs who create the magic in the kitchen. We hope that this bursary will help her reach new heights and are delighted that we have been able to afford her the opportunity to fulfil her dreams.”

Says manager of Team South Africa and owner of the SAWTC, Jean-Vincent Ridon: “Experience is the key to become a good sommelier. Theoretical knowledge will never replace the human touch, as the sommelier is here to turn good service and a good meal into a perfect experience. Apprenticeship is always the best way to train a good sommelier, and the Mosaic Protégé Programme will change the way the industry looks at training professionals. We are sure that Veronica is going to achieve great things in the future.”

© 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 26th June 2015 According to all the stats, the majority of wines are drunk within...

Wines worth the wait.

© Cape Times Friday 26th June 2015

According to all the stats, the majority of wines are drunk within a few hours of purchase, most people barely having time to chill them down before knocking them back. It’s all a part of our ‘instant gratification’ generation – ain’t nobody got time for laying down wines for 20 years, we want to drink them now! Winemakers have responded by softening acidity, toning down tannins and making easier-drinking wines which are far more approachable when young. But for some types of wine, there are still benefits in waiting and the best way is to get someone else to do the waiting for you if you can.

I’ve just returned from an outrageous trip to Bordeaux and Champagne in France courtesy of the nice folk at Emirates airlines. I say ‘outrageous’ because we visited places, met people and drank wines which I could only dream of and would never have expected to try and this amazing hospitality was down to the Emirates wine programme. Ten years ago, Emirates chairman, Sir Tim Clark, decided that the customer experience on board his planes should be the finest in the world and that part of that experience included offering the tastiest food and the very best wines. The problem with the very best wines is that for the most part, they are extremely long-lived and need time to reach their peak, generally around ten or fifteen years after being made. Aged wines rarely appear on the market, particularly not in the quantities required by an airline, so for the past decade, Emirates has been buying the wines when they’re first released and ageing them themselves.

Right now, their storage cellars in Burgundy and Dubai contain over 2 million bottles of fine wine from all over the world, slated to appear on the wine lists of First and Business Class between now and 2020 – and in the case of current En Primeurs, beyond. 2004 Château Pavie, a class ‘A’ first growth from St Emilion and a 2008 Mazoyeres-Chambertin Grand Cru from Domaine Taupenot-Merme are just two of the wines being enjoyed in the skies right now, with stocks of all the famous names – Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, Yquem and more – biding their time before they make their way onto flights over the coming years. It’s a considerable investment for the airline and to the best of their knowledge, they are the only ones sourcing wines this way – most airlines ask what’s available and then buy it, as opposed to making sure of their first choices direct from the cellars.

There’s no doubt that flying First Class on Emirates is a bit of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience for most of us (they have showers on board for heaven’s sake!). But if you are in this market and you care about wine, then I think you’d struggle to get this level of quality on any other airline. For those of us without a cellar, it’s an opportunity to try perfectly-aged wines in a near-perfect environment (Emirates have been able to reduce the effects of altitude in their cabins so your drinking experience is now akin to sipping wines at a mere 1,500m above sea level – not unlike drinking in the Cederberg mountains), and of course, if you’re travelling in in First or Business class, the bottles seldom run dry.

If, like me you’re hampered by exchange rates from buying overseas wines to cellar for decades, there are some excellent options closer to hand. A new release from Simonsig is The Garland 2008 (yes, they’ve kept it 7 years for you already), a Cabernet Sauvignon from a single block on a farm belonging to the extended Malan family. It’s a big, dark, brooding monster of wine which carries its hefty whack of alcohol with a light touch and is already showing more elegance and finesse than I expected. But if you can squirrel it away for another 5-8 years, I think you will be well-rewarded – I wonder if we can persuade Emirates to help with that?

© 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 17th April 2015 Recently, I’ve been musing on Malbec, one of the ‘also-ran’ grapes in...

Malbec Musings

© Cape Times Friday 17th April 2015

Recently, I’ve been musing on Malbec, one of the ‘also-ran’ grapes in a red Bordeaux blend. Yes, I said red Bordeaux and I bet a few of you thought that that stopped at Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot didn’t you? Actually, there are six black grape varieties permitted in Bordeaux with Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc being the next best-known, whilst the recent success of Carmenère in Chile is leading to new plantings back in the old country of France as well. Chile is now regarded as the ‘home’ of Carmenère and South Africa has been consistently building up a reputation for world-class Cabernet Franc for many years, but in my view, the grape which has travelled with the most success to date is undoubtedly Malbec.

At some time in the mid nineteenth century, some bright spark decided to take cuttings of Malbec from its home in Bordeaux and South-west France to Argentina. Planted there at high altitude, on poor, sandy soils, Malbec makes arguably the finest expressions of the grape in the world. Not long after the cuttings were taken, a little louse called phylloxera started to attack the vineyards in France causing the vines to die, and when they were eventually replanted, it is thought that a different clone of Malbec was used. It’s certainly true that the bunches of Malbec grapes look different in the two countries and the flavours also differ massively, with the wines made in France being rather chunky and rustic as opposed to the sleek, velvety, plushy and sweetly-fruited versions from the Southern Hemisphere.

Malbec is being planted here in SA as well and for the most part, it’s used in Bordeaux blends, most notably the Vilafonte ‘M’ which is mostly Malbec with Merlot and a tweak of Cabernet Sauvignon. But increasingly, people are making it as a single variety wine, offering something a little bit different from the norm. I find the best Malbecs always have a lovely violet or perfumed note to them along with a rich palate and a lovely inky-purple colour. All of which was deliciously in evidence at a lunch last week with Plaisir de Merle. In accordance with their name, they had given us the pleasure of lunching at The Test Kitchen to show off their recent vintages, all of which are well-made, well-priced, very pleasant drinking wines. Except for the Malbec.

As soon as I sniffed that wine, I knew I’d found my story. Winemaker Niel Bester has been at Plaisir de Merle since the cellar was built in 1993 and freely confesses to a strong love of Bordeaux varieties. He doesn’t like to overwhelm them with too much new oak, preferring to let the sweet, ripe fruit and the soft tannins shine “What I taste in the grape is what I want to taste in the wine” he says. The 2012 Malbec (R260 cellar door) is only an occasional wine with most of it going into the flagship blends. But, as Niel says with a wry smile, when you are working for a big company (Plaisir de Merle is part of Distell’s boutique portfolio, Cape Legends), it’s a lot of trouble to launch a new wine, so he tries to take every opportunity he can to keep the existing wines in the portfolio.

He’s onto a winner with this Malbec – perfumed and aromatic black berries giving way to succulent, juicy ripe plums with layers of liquorice spice and an earthy texture. It was a conversation-stopper, but for all the right reasons as most of us around the table took a sip and gave an appreciative and collective ‘ooooh.’ It’s probably only going to be available from the farm and release is scheduled in about a month’s time, but I’d advise you to take a trip out and find it as soon as you can. Is it the best Malbec in SA? I can’t say without trying some others, but with a surname like Niel’s, and a wine like this, I wouldn’t be surprised.

© Cape Times Friday 20th March 2015 As our retail shelves become busier and busier with more choices of...

Attention grabbers

© Cape Times Friday 20th March 2015

As our retail shelves become busier and busier with more choices of wines, labels, closures and brands cropping up every day, you really need a USP or Unique Selling Point to stand out. Sometimes it’s consistency and quality over a number of years, sometimes it’s a name calculated to make you stop and look (I tasted some Fat Bastard wines the other day – certainly good for a giggle) and sometimes it’s a grape variety that you are so tied up and involved with that it is hard to ever mention without including your winery name. De Wetshof has this, with its strong link with Chardonnay, Ken Forrester has it with Chenin Blanc and when it comes to Zinfandel, there is only one contender in the Cape and that’s Blaauwklippen.

Quite why the estate decided to plant Zinfandel is a bit of a mystery. This is a grape which is more closely-linked to a country as opposed to any single farm, and DNA-tracking of the grape’s ancestry firstly to Italy and now Croatia, hasn’t stopped the Americans from claiming it as their own invention. According to Rolf Zeitvogel, cellarmaster of Blaauwklippen, it’s a grape which needs a firm hand, because left to its own devices it will produce too many leaves, too many berries and far too much sugar in those berries as well – something I’ve witnessed on American and Australian versions which can reach 16 or 17% abv and still have residual sugar in them.

Most American Zins are made in one of two styles – either a semi-sweet ‘white’ version which is actually pink, or a big, bold, robust version with a full body and lots of oomph. Blaauwklippen takes this a couple of steps further and at an event last week, they launched the first MCC from Zinfandel in the country. Rolf believes that there are only two others in the world so this is a fairly unusual product and I have to say that it works nicely – crisp and fresh with a hint of yeastiness to it. Called ‘Diva’ and with the 2013 retailing at R135, the packaging looks as if it should be a rosé (which I believe was the original intention) but the wine remains resolutely white – I suppose if the Yanks can call their pink Zin ‘white’, there’s definitely a precedent for putting our white Zins in pinkly-packaged bottles! If you prefer red, I can highly recommend their 2011 (R92) which is one of their best vintages to date.

It’s not exactly a grape variety but there’s no denying that when you mention Boplaas, you immediately think of ‘port’. Of course, we can’t call it port anymore, but this Calitzdorp farm makes some of the best fortified wines in the country whatever the labels say. What you may not know about them is that they also make still wines from these port grape varieties and their Cape Portuguese Collection boasts such unusual names as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca and Verdelho. Often these are blended with more familiar grapes such as Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay, but the results are always refreshing and interesting. I’m a big fan of the Cape Portuguese White 2014 (R40) which not only comes at a ridiculously good price point but offers something genuinely different but not so weird and wacky as to scare you off. A blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Verdelho, it’s peachy, lemony and lively – the perfect partner for the last braais of summer.

© 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

© Cape Times Wednesday 24th December 2014 There is such a variation of different bubblies available on the shelves...

Best of the bubblies

Vondeling© Cape Times Wednesday 24th December 2014

There is such a variation of different bubblies available on the shelves at the moment. Different styles, prices, grapes used, amount of time spent on lees, no time on lees whatsoever, sugar levels etc etc – so many options that it is getting very confusing for consumers to work out the differences. So where do you start when it comes to choosing something to celebrate Christmas and pop open at your New Year’s party? Well, here’s a few of my suggestions as to what you should try - hopefully they will make this festive minefield a bit easier to negotiate this year.
Classically, Champagne is made from a combination of two black grape varieties and one white so it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many fizzes are pink. It can be quite tricky to get the colour right, hence the normally slightly-elevated prices of rosé MCC. However, L’Ormarins have managed to keep the prices the same for both the 2012 Rosé and the white NV (R185) which means that it’s the pink you should go for this year – made mainly from Pinot Noir with delicious berries and cherries. Another wine which bucks the ‘pricier-pink’ trend is the Allée Bleue Brut Rosé 2012 (R110) which is made in a fresher, fruitier style than the more serious and savoury Brut 2011 (R130).

If you prefer your bubbles white, then try a Blanc de Blancs – literally, a white wine made from white grapes. Mostly that means Chardonnay, although in SA, we can often add in some Chenin Blanc as well. Môreson make several sparklers including their entry-level Miss Molly, but it is the Solitaire NV (R110) made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for 2 years which is floating my boat this year. Lipsmackingly-savoury yet still refreshing and lively, this is a great drink with oysters. Equally good value this year is the Laborie Blanc de Blancs 2010 (R100) which has swept all the awards this year, including top prize at the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, beating many fizzes twice the price and more.

But if you’re a bit blasé about Blanc de Blanc, how about trying something really unusual? Vondeling launched their maiden ‘Methode Ancestrale’ this year, meaning a single fermentation took place, mainly in the tank but also a crucial part in bottle, giving it the signature yeastiness of an MCC and, of course, the bubbles. The Vondeling Rurale 2013 (R220) is the first wine made in this method in SA and is well worth seeking out, not just for novelty but also because it’s darned tasty as well – a lovely balance between the zesty, lemony fruit and the tangy richness of the yeast. And whilst we’re on the weird – do you know what a Crémant is? No? Well, it’s a French wine made in the Champagne method but outside the Champagne region, using whichever grape varieties are licenced for that particular area. So Delaire Graff has created its own version of a Crémant de Loire from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Christened ‘Sunrise’ and costing R275 from the estate, it’s equally good when the sun goes down as well.

Finally, non-drinkers don’t need to feel left out when it comes to celebrations this year. Great value, non-alcoholic bubblies are widely available these days from producers such as JC le Roux or Robertson Winery, all of them in smart, modern packaging as befits today’s sophisticated drinker, although the snazziest and smartest packaging this year comes from a Robertson Winery wine which does have alcohol, albeit not a huge amount. The new Lightly Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (R50) is exactly that – lightly-sparkling, lowish alcohol (12%) with all the crisp tropical Sauvvie flavours you’d expect. A fun fizz for a festive summer.

The Boney M is blaring out in malls, the holly and the ivy are festooned in every shop window...

Family Christmas with Nederburg

The Boney M is blaring out in malls, the holly and the ivy are festooned in every shop window and all I can think about is Christmas. For most people, Christmas is a time for families and I’m certainly no exception, even though most of my family is approximately 11,000km away in the chilly UK. If they were here, they would no doubt be gathered around a braai, all talking their heads off at the same time, all eating far too much of my mom’s delicious food and all with a glass of their favourite wine in hand – a different one for each person. Wine makes a fabulous gift for anyone, the key is to make sure you match the right bottle to the right person so here’s what would work for my family – perhaps it will work for yours as well!!

Holding the family together, as always, is my mother. Normally her Christmas Day begins early – she’s up with the larks to get the turkey in the oven, do the veggies, prep the puddings and all before 9am so she can go to church. By the time that’s done, she’s definitely earned her glass of fizz before she heads back into the kitchen for last minute cooking and Nederburg Premiere Cuvee Brut would fit the bill to perfection with its frothy bubbles, and clean lemony freshness – a celebratory glass for the most important person to celebrate with on Christmas Day.

My uncle has worn the same Christmas jumper with a reindeer knitted on the front for as long as I can remember. He’s also told the same terrible Christmas joke for so long, that the entire family now choruses the punchline with him and every year, he looks amazed that we knew the answer (How did Darth Vader know what Luke Skywalker got for Christmas? He felt his presents). But what would Christmas be without these traditions? A sadder occasion that’s for sure, so I would reward my uncle with a glass of everyone’s traditional favourite red – the Nederburg Baronne. Soft, juicy, ripe and fruity – it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser, even if you can’t say the same about the jokes!

Of course, not everyone always wants to stick around family at Christmas and that certainly includes my cousin! His aim in life is to travel as fast and far as he possibly can so we don’t always manage to pin him down to a family affair but when we do, I’d serve him the Nederburg Heritage Heroes Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc. This is a racy, spritzy, lively little number with plenty of get-up and go and it has a tiny tweak of oak which makes it a little unusual and far more interesting than your everyday Sauvvie – just like my cousin in fact!

My sister also yearns for something more exotic than a family braai at Christmas but in her case, she’s all about the bright lights, big cities and her dream is to spend the festive season in New York or London. If we can persuade her to go the family route, her reward would be a glass of the elegant, sophisticated Nederburg Ingenuity White. I love this wine with its layers and layers of flavour, complex and subtle, mysterious and alluring - it’s like a Chanel dress in a glass, and if anything could tempt my sister to forgo the bright lights, this would be the wine.

What would Christmas be without a few generations of your family joining you round the table? It’s always a special day when my Grandma comes round – even if she is prone to falling asleep after dinner then waking up to vehemently deny that she even closed her eyes! I’d give her a glass of the delicious Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve Noble Late Harvest to sip on whilst she puts the family to rights because it’s so like her - a combination of sweet, perfumed, soft ripe fruit balanced by a feisty acidity which keeps it fresh and young. Happy Christmas Grandma and may you be around for many more Christmases to come!

** Please note this article has been commissioned by Nederburg Wines **

© Cape Times Friday 17th October 2014 Is food and wine matching a real art or a load of...

It’s a match

© Cape Times Friday 17th October 2014

Is food and wine matching a real art or a load of rubbish? It’s a fair question with every hotel and restaurant offering wine-matching dinners and events, every recipe site suggesting the best tipple to suit the food and every back label on every bottle giving droolicious ideas of exotic-sounding dishes which will complement the wine. In my opinion, the best wine with food is generally the one you enjoy, but where do you start when you want to make a great food-match? Do you decide what food you want to cook and then try and think which wine might work? Or do you start with a special bottle and match the food flavours accordingly? I’ve been to a couple of events recently, which have tried both these ways, so here is what the chefs and sommeliers have to say.

Makaron at Majeka House is an Eat Out Top Ten contender this year, offering delicious and unusual food concocted by Tanja Kruger. A member of the Culinary Olympics team, Tanja has been lucky enough to complete several stages at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and the fruits of her experience can be seen at an exclusive Kitchen Table for only 2 guests at any one time. Seating is limited because this is an actual table in the kitchen where you get served a range of dishes chosen and served by the chefs themselves.

In Tanja’s opinion, the food should always be the shining star of the meal and so faced with the tough job of matching these dishes is WSET-trained sommelier Esmé Groenwald. According to Tanja, “I don’t always make it easy for her (Esmé) but I don’t think any dish is unpairable!” My husband does some work for Majeka House so we were lucky enough to experience the Kitchen Table for ourselves, and probably the best pairing of the night was the little-known Vendome ‘Sans Barrique’ white blend which had both the depth and the delicacy to match the visual knock-out Ancient Grains with Cauliflower Velouté – a dish so beautiful, we didn’t know whether to eat it or frame it on the wall. Esmé says she chose this pairing because “it’s funky, as is the dish!” with the Semillon enhancing the nuttiness of the grains and the Sauvignon balancing out the creaminess of the cauliflower.

Starting the other way round is the task facing chef Carl van Rooyen, executive chef, and restaurant manager David Wibberley from The Square at The Vineyard Hotel. They run a series of wine-matching dinners with top wineries and I joined them for the Thelema dinner a few weeks ago. Carl says he often gets asked how they match the food to the wine and at The Vineyard “it’s a democratic (well, mostly) process with a partnership between chefs and managers, food and wine!” And indeed, the process does seem to be a source of much debate all round. Each winemaker provides wines which he or she would like to show so here, the wine is the starting point. The chefs line up an array of seasonal dishes, then they, plus a few lucky others, get to try as many combinations as possible in search of the perfect match.
Carl says “The first rule of the pairing process is that there are no rules. We leave all of our preconceived notions at the door - in fact we have a naughty corner for those who dare to break this rule!” and when you see some of the interesting matches they came up with, you’ll realise that they stick to this. The first course of ‘Bangers ‘n’ Mash’ featuring a rooibos, honey, fennel and smoked pork belly sausage is as far away from a likely pairing with Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc as I can imagine, yet the dish carried it off with aplomb. Two different ways of matching food and wine but both deliver the same end result – an enjoyable evening of eating and drinking. Surely that’s the goal however you go about it?

© Cape Times Friday 19th September 2014 It seems to be competition season again and my inbox is reeling...

Awards do matter

© Cape Times Friday 19th September 2014

It seems to be competition season again and my inbox is reeling under the weight of yet another announcement of yet another gold medal/top trophy/five star rating from yet another competition of some kind or other around the world. Excuse me if I seem a bit cynical but with so many awards stickers on bottles these days, I often wonder if people actually care? Well, all the evidence suggests that consumers actually DO care about awards and a bottle bearing a shiny sticker is more likely to be picked up and bought than a plain one apparently. But not all competitions are equally rigorous and the biggest question is, which ones should you pay attention to and which are like going to a children’s party where everyone picks up a party pack as they leave?

A lot of people prefer to enter overseas competitions which they believe gives them wider coverage and therefore better bang for their competition-entry-fee-buck, but two home-grown ones which have taken place recently give scope to varieties which are proudly South African – Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. The problem – or maybe it’s their biggest plus-point – with both varieties is that they are incredibly versatile, making simple, everyday drinking versions, richer and riper wines, sparkling ones and in Chenin’s case, sweet wine and in Pinotage’s case, rosé.

Sadly, this variety of styles doesn’t appear to have been acknowledged in the Top Tens of each variety (perhaps a rule change and some different categories might be in order?). Instead, the judges of each competition have gone for quality über alles. One particularly interesting result was the fact that Simonsig, Bellingham, Spier and Rijk’s featured in the Top Ten of both competitions – something well worth celebrating at those particular wineries. Both competitions are sponsored by banks – Standard Bank for Chenin and Absa for Pinotage and I must say that I find it particularly praiseworthy that all the prize money awarded to the Chenin winners must be spent on upliftment and enrichment projects for the workers at the wineries concerned.

Almost as interesting as these larger competitions are two others which took place recently, both of them celebrating that oft-overlooked style – the blend. Wine judge Christian Eedes convenes a series of interesting tastings throughout the year and generally unearths some exciting wines. Announced last week at a super-smart event were the RisCura White Hot Wine Award winners for white Bordeaux blends. This category, which covers wines made from Sauvignon Blanc blended with Sémillon, always offers tiptop quality and this year was no exception with Nitida Coronata Integration, Highlands Road Sine Cera and Morgenster making up the top three. All three wines offered lively yet complex flavours with beautifully-integrated oak and are well-worth seeking out for superior summer sipping this year.

The other blend competition announced last week was the Perold Absa Cape Blend top five which featured newcomers Blake’s Wines as well as Cape blend stalwarts, Clos Malverne and Kaapzicht. What was interesting about the five winners were the varieties used to blend with the compulsory Pinotage component of between 30 and 70%. Kaapzicht chose to go with Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) whilst Painted Wolf and Rhebokskloof went with Rhône grapes in their blend (Shiraz, Mourvedre, Grenache) and Blake’s and Clos Malverne combined both regions to great effect. All these winners will be on the shelves shortly, if not already, so keep a look-out for these stickers and make up your own mind as to whether they’re justified or not.

© Cape Times Friday 29th August 2014 Several years ago, I was a judge on a competition for South...

Why praise women?

© Cape Times Friday 29th August 2014

Several years ago, I was a judge on a competition for South African women winemakers which, even at the time, I found a little confusing because I can’t really see that a wine made by a woman is going to be any better or worse than one made by a man. The theory behind the competition was that the wine industry lacked female role models and the award was given, not just for the wine, but also for contributions to the wine world. I’m not going to get into arguments about whether positive discrimination is a good or a bad thing, but just as a segway, I will say that I still find it a little surprising that the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild has only two winemaking women members out of 45. Having said that, what I don’t find surprising, in any way at all, is that this list of arguably the best 45 winemakers in SA includes both Rianie Strydom and Andrea Mullineux.

I first met Rianie many years ago when she was winemaker at Morgenhof, turning out excellent Merlot and Chenin as well as a great value Cab Franc blend. From there, she moved to Haskell Vineyards when they first began making wine on the slopes of the Helderberg and, although not as hands-on there as previously, she has still been involved in each of the ten vintages made so far. There are two ranges made on the farm – the excellent and over-delivering Dombeya range which is made in a forthright and fruity style, and the more elegant ‘keeping’ range of Haskell itself.

At a recent tasting, Rianie and viticulturist Wikus Pretorius took lucky tasters through the last three vintages of their Anvil Chardonnay, as well as new releases of their Bordeaux-style blend the IV, the Pillars Shiraz and a terrific Cab/Shiraz blend, the II. They are trying to keep the alcohols in check on the chardonnay and reduce the amount of malolactic fermentation which takes place, both with a view to making a fresher wine but one which will still age well. The stars of the day however were the two red blends, the II 2010 (R160) and the IV 2009 (R290) which show elegant tannins and concentrated powerful fruit. If you can keep these for another decade, I think you’ll be a very happy drinker when the time comes.

Andrea Mullineux practices her art in the slightly warmer climes of the Swartland where she and viticulturist husband Chris concentrate on a range of syrahs (shirazes) from soil-specific sites. When I first tasted them, I didn’t like the individual Schist and Granite wines, thinking them over-the-top, far too perfumed for enjoyment and much preferring the Family Wines Syrah, a blend of the different soils, which I thought was harmonious and just utterly delicious. So it was with a wry smile that I tasted them again recently and realised that either time or vintage had altered my opinion completely and the full-bodied yet elegant Schist Syrah 2012 (R685) is the star of the show for me now. If you can get your hands on some (although it’s rarer than hens’ teeth), you’ve got a treat in store.

Both women have had wines selected for this year’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction which will take place in October. This is the 30th Auction so it’s a chance to reflect on the last 30 years and celebrate the new wave of younger winemakers taking the industry to even greater heights. Both Rianie and Andrea have something a little out of the box to offer – Rianie will be continuing her love affair with Burgundian varieties and offering her first ever Pinot Noir whilst Andrea has possibly the most interesting wine on the auction, a very rare and unusual bottling of Semillon Gris. Coming from 55 year old vines which need 30 years to develop the ‘gris’ characteristics, this is going to be a special treat indeed.

© Cape Times Friday 13th June 2014 2014 is definitely the Year of Anniversaries. Of course the most important...

Celebrating a landmark

© Cape Times Friday 13th June 2014

2014 is definitely the Year of Anniversaries. Of course the most important one is the celebrations of Twenty Years of Freedom, remembering the 1994 elections which signalled a new era of hope and excitement for many. So it’s probably no coincidence that a lot of businesses date their inception back to the same date and are thus celebrating special occasions of their own this year as well.

One such is Ken Forrester Wines, officially begun the year before when Ken and wife Teresa moved their family down from Johannesburg, but since the first wines were made in 1994, this is a coming of age story whichever year you choose. Ken and Teresa wanted to raise their daughters in a country environment and settled on a dilapidated seventeenth century farm and buildings in the Helderberg. Over the following two decades, they revamped the historic manor house, replanted the vineyards and rejuvenated some of the last remaining Chenin Blanc bushvines in Stellenbosch.

Now known as the King of Chenin, it’s kind of ironic that the first wine made by Ken (with friends and neighbours Mike Dobrovic and Larry Jacobs) was actually a Sauvignon Blanc, but in his second year of production, he made a Chenin and he’s been making it ever since. In fact, the vines used for his premium Chenin, the FMC, are actually celebrating an anniversary of their own, planted as they were 40 years ago in 1974. Ken is a tireless advocate for his favourite grape, and it’s thanks to the persistence of players such as him, Bruwer Raats, Irina von Holdt and others, that Chenin is finally getting the recognition it deserves after twenty years of increasingly great wines.

Twenty years - it is almost hard to believe that so much change has taken place in such a short time. For example – can you imagine a restaurant wine list without Haute Cabrière Chardonnay/Pinot Noir? But in 1994, the von Arnim’s were still awaiting bank approval to buy their mountain cellar home and the pressure was on when the annual harvest of grapes for their burgeoning MCC brand seemed disastrous. “The crop was very small” recalls Achim von Arnim “and the base wine was 12% alcohol by volume, making it unsuitable for the MCC, but we had to market our crop somehow in order to repay our bank loan.” Their solution was to make a still wine from the grapes and it proved so popular, they’ve been making it ever since to the delight of their millions of adoring fans.

It’s quite a feat to create such an enduring brand, particularly when it seemed that financial ruin was staring them in the face, and it took an unusual amount of determination and faith on the part of the von Arnims to make the best of a difficult situation. Similar determination and focus fuelled the creation of another brand, also celebrating an anniversary this year (albeit slightly more than 20 years), – the legendary Spatzendreck from Delheim.

It is more than 50 years since this Late Harvest wine with its cheeky label of a sparrow pooping in the barrel was launched, and yet it could easily have been the end of winemaking at Delheim if owner/winemaker Spatz Sperling had taken a comment the wrong way. When his wine was likened to the less-than-complimentary German word ‘dreck’, rather than be downcast, Spatz decided that failures are the base of eventual success. More than 50 years later, South Africa and the rest of the world have taken this wine to their hearts (although not everyone has taken to the label, twice-awarded ‘Worst Wine Label in the World’!) and the newly re-launched 2013 version is an utterly delicious mouthful of fresh litchis and flowers. A splendid way to celebrate any anniversary!

© Cape Times Friday 16th May 2014 South Africa has one of the most regulated wine industries in the...

When is a dry wine not a dry wine?

© Cape Times Friday 16th May 2014

South Africa has one of the most regulated wine industries in the world – which is great for consumers because it means that we can enjoy the wines we drink, safe in the knowledge that they contain only what the label says they contain and that their provenance is minutely-recorded at every stage. If you want to know more about any wine, check out the little ‘bus ticket’ which adorns the neck of every bottle, enter the number you see on the ticket on The Wine & Spirit Board website (www.swsa.co.za) and you can find out chapter and verse about that wine, easily and freely available to all.

That’s the plus side of The Wine & Spirit Board. If you talk to winemakers, particularly those who are who are pushing the boundaries of winemaking, you may hear another story altogether. For a wine to be certified, it needs to pass a tasting panel which will decide (amongst other things) whether the wine is typical of the particular style category. Woebetide anyone wanting to do something kooky or interesting with their wine, because tales of top wines being rejected because they don’t conform to the recognised norms are legion. What’s on the label has to be what’s in the bottle, down to the last drop and to date, there has been little flexibility for any innovative winemaker, no matter how good his or her wine.

Or so I thought. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited out to lunch at Paul Cluver Wines high in the hills of Elgin. They have converted an old lodge on the historic wagon trail running through the farm into a function room and launched the venue with a tasting of their Rieslings at a stellar lunch by Bertus Basson of Overture-fame. Paul Cluver Wines is the biggest producer of Riesling in SA with nearly 25% of the country’s plantings going into their different ranges. That’s still a rather meagre 15 hectares, but all of it comes from the lovely cool climate of Elgin, something so important at maintaining acidity and freshness in the wines. Most people think that Riesling is sweet, so it was good to see the Cluvers tackling this perception head-on with their ‘Dry Encounter’ Riesling. And then I looked at the technical details and realised that the ‘Dry’ wine actually contained 8.7g of residual sugar – almost 75% more than the legal limit for a wine to be labelled ‘dry’! How was this possible? Could the Cluvers have found a sneaky way round the mighty, unbending Wine & Spirit Board at last?!

“The key to being able to label the wine as ‘dry’ lies in the acidity” explains Andries Burger, winemaker at Paul Cluver Wines. Because the wine is so high in acidity, it actually needs a little sugar to help round and soften the flavours and if Andries had stuck to the legal limit of under 5g, the wine may have seemed tart and harsh. So they approached the Wine & Spirit Board and explained their dilemma, requesting that they be allowed to label their wine according to European standards, not South African ones. In certain areas of Europe, wines are judged not on their sugar levels, but on the ratio of sugar to acidity, allowing for wines with particularly high acids to have additional sweetness. After some deliberation, the board granted provisional approval to use the word ‘dry’ on this wine’s label and the final decision will be made by the Minister of Agriculture soon. Should it be approved, Andries believes there are some fantastic opportunities for other producers and not just for Rieslings – many top Chenin producers would be able to take advantage of this ruling as well.

It’s a great victory for common sense, enabling the Cluvers to label their wine in a way which is helpful to the consumer, because the wine certainly didn’t taste sweet, just full of fresh, crunchy green apples with a hint of flowers. At the moment, we are awaiting the release of the 2014 Dry Encounter but if you want to try a Riesling in the meantime, check out the Cluver’s Close Encounter Riesling – a wine which is officially off-dry but I bet you many people would neither notice or mind. Retailing at R80 a bottle from the tasting room, and full of lemongrass and lime cordial with an orange blossom finish, it’s one of the best food wines you’ll buy this year.