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© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016 As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can...

Exploring Cape Blends

© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016

As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can think of no more fitting wine style to talk about than a Cape Blend. The world is still processing the implications of a Trump and Republican victory which has divided the US and polarised the rest of us. So it is with something of relief that I turn to wine, the beverage which unites and cheers, to Cape Blends which truly reflect the melting pot of society which is South Africa and to white Cape Blends in particular which are, like many other African ideas, leading the world in innovation, excitement and potential for the future.

So what is a white Cape Blend I hear you ask? We’ve all kind of got used to the idea of a red Cape Blend which involves a generous helping of our local grape, Pinotage, but the backbone of a white Cape Blend isn’t an indigenous African grape (I tried a new one from Stellenbosch Vineyards the other day called Therona – unusual and not bad at all so go and try it!), instead it’s Chenin Blanc. At the moment, there is no legislation as to what constitutes a Cape Blend of either colour but a goodly dollop of Chenin Blanc seems to be the way to go when it comes to these exciting white wines. Add in Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Roussanne, Marsanne and more and you have something very special indeed.

I think by now most people have got over the idea that a blend is a way to hide inferior wines or unpopular grape varieties and are fairly cognisant of the fact that most top wines of the world are combinations of different grape varieties – as I say to my wine courses, the essence of a good blend is that 1 + 1 = 3 so the result is greater than the sum of its parts. And what makes white Cape Blends so exciting is that South Africa is able to combine grape varieties which no-one else can. Unhampered by restrictive European appellation laws, we can blend the grape varieties of the Loire Valley, the Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and more into truly individual wines which are given even more distinction by containing our heritage grape of Chenin Blanc. Often using old, dry-farmed vines, giving incredibly low yields of ultra-concentrated and utterly-delicious fruit, a white Cape Blend is a celebration of the very best South Africa can make.

Well I think so anyway and I am pleased to see that I am not alone. Winemag.co.za is the only specialised South African wine magazine and editor Christian Eedes has been running a series of report-style competitions for the past few years. Generally focussing on single grape varieties – as do most competitions in SA – the reports now include a red blend one, a white Bordeaux blend one and finally, what I think will become the flagship category, the Cape White Blend report which was announced earlier this week. This is the first year of the competition and I would dearly love to see this grow and overtake all the others – by the way, they are looking for a sponsor for the next one so if your company wants to be associated with all that is innovative, exciting and proudly South African, you should drop Christian a line.

In the meantime, try the winning wines. The Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve White 2015 was overall winner with an excellent 95 points, closely followed by two personal favourites, the DeMorgenzon Maestro White 2014 and the Muratie Laurens Campher Blended White 2015, both on 94. Other favourites in the top winners include Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2015, The Fledge & Co. Vagabond 2015 and Springfontein Limestone Rocks Dark Side of The Moon 2014, but overall, the standard of wines was incredibly high and there was nothing I wouldn’t have happily drunk a bottle (or more) of on any given occasion. As this is my last column for the Cape Times, I don’t think I could end up on a much higher note if I tried.

© Cape Times Friday 25th March 2011 How much do you spend on a bottle of wine? Under R50?...

Of fynbos, butter and nougat

© Cape Times Friday 25th March 2011
How much do you spend on a bottle of wine? Under R50? Under R100? Are you lucky enough to have a budget of R200 a bottle for everyday drinking – and if so, are you single and free next Saturday night? In my opinion, nothing is as important to know about a wine as the price. Sure, hot on the heels of that information may come the farm name, the grape variety, the region and a host of other information, but if the price isn’t right, then most people simply stop paying attention and move onto another wine which fits into their budget. It’s great to hear about expensive wines, but I definitely feel a little hardening of the heart when I realise that even if I think this wine is nectar from the Gods, there is no way I can afford to buy it.

I felt this last week when I was invited out to Bilton Wines by owner Mark Bilton to see all the new things they have in store. Winemaker Rudi de Wet and consultant Giorgio Dalla Cia are revelling in the freedom to experiment which Mark allows them and are creating some truly interesting and unusual wines – as Giorgio said “It’s the first time in all my winemaking career that I’ve had a chance to play!” We started with their Viognier which has been aged in 25% acacia wood, something which is common when making Grappa as it adds tannin and structure to a wine without affecting the colour. Rudi showed us barrels with alternating staves of acacia and oak – something I’ve never seen before – and the effect on the wine is to give it an incredibly herbal quality with fynbos giving way to butter and nougat. An elegant and fascinating wine which Giorgio recommends with foie gras – if you do that kind of thing.

At R350 a bottle, the Viognier isn’t an everyday wine for most of us, but it’s well worth stretching your budget for a special occasion. The next wine we tasted, however, was so far out of my normal price range that the good Lord himself wouldn’t find it with a telescope. The Bilton 2006 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is now officially (I believe) South Africa’s most expensive wine at R3,000 a bottle. Yes, that’s right, R500 a glass or R100 a 25ml tot – perhaps unsurprisingly, it isn’t available for the general public to taste, so you’re going to have to take my word for it that it was very, very good.

One of the things I liked is that there is at least a partial explanation for the price tag, as this wine has been in ‘500% new oak’. Translated from marketing speak, this means that it was fermented in a new barrel, then removed and put into another new barrel 6 months later. This process was then repeated annually for the next three years resulting in a gritty, charry and tarry wine with incredible concentrated flavours of chocolate and raisined black berries. Rudi and Giorgio liken it to a top Amarone and I think it certainly has massive potential over the next 8 years and more.

But is it worth R3,000? Well, to someone with my budget, no it isn’t. However, to somebody with more disposable income and no hungry, growing child to pay school fees for, then perhaps this is an extravagance they can afford to indulge in. But I don’t really think that that is the point, which is that it is good that this wine is made at all. The artist, James Whistler, was once asked if he really charged some astronomical amount for a painting which took him only fifteen minutes to execute. “No” he replied “I charged that for the knowledge of a lifetime.” To the best of my knowledge, this wine is unique, the product of Giorgio’s lifetime of winemaking, Rudi’s youthful inquisitiveness and – more than anything – Mark’s belief, vision and deep pockets to allow such an envelope-pushing wine to be made at all. Even if not all of us can afford to drink it, this is a wine we all ought to be proud of.

One of the advantages of navigating the Orange River with a winery owner is that your coolbox is never...

Paddling & Proteas

One of the advantages of navigating the Orange River with a winery owner is that your coolbox is never short on booze.  So claims Lorna Hughes, fresh from four days energetic paddling with a few friends and now bright and breezy behind her bottles early one morning in the Cape Quarter’s Cru Café. Following up on the story about her pooch, Bristle, after whom two of her wines are named, she informed me that Bristle is actually a she, not a he as I had written. Well, the last time I saw a set of whiskers like those, I was chatting with Father Christmas, so I think my mistake was understandable, but in any case, Lorna tells me that Bristle is very forgiving, so I got away with it – this time!

All this combined to make me want to like the wines very much – and rather luckily, I did. Lorna’s winemaker, Mark Carmichael-Green, is making some seriously lovely, eminently drinkable wines for a couple of different wineries right now. His signature wine appears to be a dense, deeply-coloured rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Lorna still has a few bottles of the 2007 left and, even though I had expected the worst, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the fresh strawberry nose and herbal flavours. If pink is going to taste this good two years down the track, then I say shove it in the cellar right now! Excellent food companion.

The reds were extremely pleasant – I particularly liked the Bristle red blend of Cabernet and Shiraz, which is one of my favourite combos at the moment – but top praise goes to the new Bristle White. Made from Viognier by Tokara’s Miles Mossop (in a contra-deal in exchange for grapes), this was a Viognier to convert Viognier-dislikers, of which, I am sorry to say, I am one. I am particularly unenthusiastic about thick, alcoholic, stodgy Viogniers, but this was so supple, so elegant, so discreetly spicy, apricot-y and peachy that I loved it, and happily bore the rest of the bottle off to enjoy with a friend over lunch.

Lorna tells me that she is having a lot of success in Durban right now and can’t wait to launch her new white there as well. Perhaps the South African cricket team can drink a few bottles of her wine whilst they wait to start the next test – anything to slow down their bowling arms and numb their catching fingers on Boxing Day sounds good to me!