Monthly Archives: June 2010

DeMorgenzon 2008 Chenin Blanc

I was recently sent a gorgeous package of samples from top SA wine importer Cape Classics, and on the opening day of the World Cup last week, the first bottle to be cracked was this chenin blanc. Though this is the first wine I have tried from this Stellenbosch chenin blanc producer, I'll make sure it won't be the last.

I've written several times about the lusty, rich character of many SA whites, notably the chenin blancs I tried while in the country; there's a certain combination of balanced oak, creamy lees-y characteristics, and ripe fruit (without sacrificing acidity) that these whites posses which is hard to describe without being too sexual. However, in my experience there is no such thing as "too sexual" when it comes to good wine, so I'll go ahead and put it out there: this is a sexy, sexy wine.

Luscious mango, lemon and pineapple on the nose are supported by a haunting dusty, chalky quality; I love minerality in whites and that delicate whisper of powdery chalk and limestone in this otherwise luxurious wine is a knockout combination. The hand of rock-star winemaker Teddy Hall is evident in its poise and grace. Though I successfully paired this wine with smoked trout, food is absolutely not necessary to its enjoyment.

Interestingly, DeMorgenzon's website notes that they play baroque music (notably Bach) into the vineyards 24/7, believing that music enhances the life of the plants and benefits the ripening process. Having participated in many a science fair as a youngster, I'm aware that there's empirical evidence for music affecting plant growth, and I can personally attest to the soulfully uplifting power of Bach. In any case, it seems whatever DeMorgenzon is doing is working. 
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DeMorgenzon 2008 Chenin Blanc

Wine of Origin: Stellenbosch

Importer: Cape Classics

Price: $28.99* 

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Best of the Braai: South Africa Invades Toronto

I’ve been missing South Africa even more than usual lately
while watching the World Cup preparations and opening (even despite the
vuvuzelas). My two co-workers and fellow wine geeks were thus subject to a
blasting of South African pop music during the two-hour drive to Toronto last
week for Best of the Braai, a South African wine tasting and dinner event. They
were eager to taste some of the food and wine that I enjoyed while abroad, and
I was eager to roll into a South African event blasting Kurt Darren tunes out
of my car windows.

 

A small but delicious spread greeted us as we arrived; I was
happily surprised to find tasty lamb kabobs and boerewors that closely mirrored
the braai meat I had grown to love. Mealies and roasted sweet potato completed
the actual South African portion of the food, while various side salads rounded
out the meal. But food obviously wasn’t meant to be the showcase of the
evening, and we quickly moved on to the wine tasting area.

 

I was pleased to find several excellent producers at the
event; Stellenbosch was well represented with big names such as Tokara and Ken
Forrester, while several Paarl and Darling producers were also present. I was
most interested in how my partners in crime would react to the selection: one
is a certified sommelier with an affinity for French classics; the other is a
wine writer (check out his blog, Water into Wino, as he’s reviewed some good
South African wines in recent months!). Both had a bit of a prejudicial
attitude about South African wine initially but have been expanding their
horizons lately.

 
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They were impressed at the “restraint” of many of the wines;
since South African wine in the U.S. has a reputation for being “new world” in
style, with big oak, fruit, tannins, brett, etc. they were surprised to find
whites that showed deliberate limitation of oak (typically a minimal use of new
oak, perhaps 5-10%) but retained a sex appeal that is uniquely South African.
They were also impressed with some of the blends, which showed lovely tar,
leather and cassis flavors that I’m pretty sure convinced my sommelier friend
that not all SA wines “smell like band-aids.”

 

A fine example of a wine that overcame prejudice was the
Beyerskloof 2008 Pinotage. Reserved oak and clean fruit on the nose, a fleshy
palate and very little brett made this pinotage a phenomenal example of what
South Africa’s controversial grape can produce in the right hands. I was so
happy to see Beyerskloof at this event – if anyone is going to reshape
pinotage’s reputation, it is Beyerskloof, Kanonkop, Warwick, and other such
producers putting effort into dignified, elegant pinotage wines.

 
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Boschendal was a true highlight with a gorgeous Grand Cuvee
Brut 2006, a lovely Methode Cap Classique
(Champagne-style sparkling wine), and
Grande Reserve 2005 which caught my fellow cab franc lover’s eye as a blend of
72% cab franc, 24% cab sauv, and 4% shiraz. It showed notes of graphite and tar
and grainy tannins which won over the sommelier, too. All three of us were in
love at first sight, which means I’ll have to get my hands on a bottle for us
to share sometime!

 

I loved Delheim when I was in Stellenbosch and was pleased
to see them at Best of the Braai with an earthy, buttery Sur Lie Chardonnay
2009. Other highlights included Kumkani’s green-but-clean 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
and thick, tannic Crade Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, and The Winery of Good
Hope’s delicately oaked Radford Dale Chardonnay 2008.

 
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But it was at the Ken Forrester table, where Ken Forrester
himself was pouring wine and answering questions, that the evening really got
interesting. Ken is a fascinating winemaker with strong opinions (“Oak is not
the answer! What part of terroir is oak? Tell me that!”) and a candid demeanor,
and he stood up well to a barrage of questions from my increasingly
wine-emboldened colleagues. He was pouring both the Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc
2009, an affordable $16 wine, and his FMC Chenin Blanc 2008 which retails at
$59. My friends were aghast at the idea of an American consumer spending $60 on
a South African white wine, but Ken explained that this is a single-vineyard
offering from low-yielding bush vines and repetitive harvesting (the botrytis
from the final harvest is what gives this wine its slight sweetness). It’s
absolutely delicious, complex, and ageworthy, but I don’t think my
wine-blogging friend was convinced that its price point was justified. And
maybe it’s not – but do people ask why Mollydooker can charge $90 for its
Carnival of Love Shiraz when there’s perfectly good $10 Aussie shiraz on the market?
I don’t think its fair to accuse South Africa of exporting mediocre products
and then protest when the higher-end wines don’t fit into the “budget new world
wines” mold; it’s a vicious cycle.

 

Altogether I think the event was an outstanding education for
North Americans new to South African wines. With a few exceptions the wines on
offer were classy, elegant and complex, and I believe many guests including my
friends were happily surprised. Events like this, with top-end producers in
attendance and South African winemakers there to answer questions, are exactly
what South African wine needs overseas.

 

Finally, all in attendance received a beautiful cookbook of
South African braai cuisine with wine farm profiles and wonderful pictures.
I’ll definitely be using those recipes next week for my South African-themed
birthday party, so stay tuned!

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Beneath Expectations: a Tasting, a Shop, and a Manifesto

Last night I found out about a “Free South Africa Wine
Class” at the Gates Circle wine shop in Elmwood Village. Never one to pass up a
combination of the words “free” and “wine,” I put down my beer (it was 5
o’clock and the event was at 7) and hightailed it to Gates. Now that I’m back
in the States, the only antidote to my South Africa homesickness is exploring
the array of SA wines available in the U.S. and looking for characteristics
that set them apart from the wines I drank and loved while in Stellenbosch.

 

This particular event was intended to introduce customers to
South African wines for the first time. The presenter was from a well-known
importer which represents some of South Africa’s biggest-name brands, and to my
disappointment, he brought wines that are not only widely available in the U.S.
but which hardly represent the best of South Africa. You know what I’m
referring to: the super-bretty, new-oaky pinotages, the stewy-fruit, overripe
merlots, and the “zesty” sauvignon blancs that actually taste like pure tartaric
acid. I’ve felt for some time now that such wines are not helping the South
African wine industry at all, and I found myself regretful that these were
being used to introduce new customers to what’s “standard” in South Africa. The
folks tasting, all new to South African wine, were pleased with the selections,
but knowing how many better wines South Africa has to offer produced in me a
frustration that only marginally quelled when the representative found out I
was in the industry and poured me a full glass of Porcupine Ridge 2008 Shiraz.

 

“Free South Africa Wine Class” aside, Gates does have a few
interesting South African selections. Determined not to leave empty-handed I
picked up a Buitenverwachting wine that was apparently made for export as it’s
not listed in their regular lineup on the website: 2008 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc.
(Buitenverwachting means “beyond expectations.”) The label is a departure from
this acclaimed Constantia producer’s typical brand, with bold green brushstroke
letters that seem to announce a wine intended to stand out in the New World
section of an American wine shop.

 

A delicate nose of lime, kiwi and peach, with a just a touch
of sulphur, announced this sauvignon blanc to be much more exemplary of
mainstream South African sauvignon blanc than the extraordinarily flinty
Buitenverwachting wines I tasted in Constantia. The wine seemed to have a
slight oxidative quality, perhaps intentionally, and had a fullness on the
palate that revealed its 12.5% ABV. The requisite buzzing acidity cut the
fatness but without the elegance that I’ve experienced from this producer in
the past.

 

It was surely refreshing, but I’ve had much better South
African sauv blanc under $14. I’m afraid this outstanding producer phoned this
one in – a common theme among the wines I tried that night. I understand South
African producers want to keep the best wines within the country, but creating
a for-export line of lobotomized versions of respectable wines is just plain
sad for both the producer and the consumer.

 

My mission has been revealed to me: to find the best South
African wines available in the U.S., and to write about them here. Starting
now.

   
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Buitenverwachting Beyond Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Wine of Origin: Coastal Region

Importer: Cape Classics

Price: $13.99

   

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