With my trip to Stellenbosch only weeks away and my list of wines to try and bring home growing by the day, I've been craving South African juice lately in a big way. I enjoyed two awesome reds this weekend that only fueled my excitement. Only 17 days till I'll be soaking up vineyard magic at De Toren!
The first was a bottle I've been saving over a year, since I visited Haskell/Dombeya and had the pleasure of spending time with celebrated winemaker Rianie Strydom and her celebrated winemaker husband Louis Strydom. The sample bottle of 2008 Haskell Pillars Syrah, at the time not yet released, that she gave me has been waiting for the right moment ever since that day, and opening it was truly a special occasion all in itself.
Over an hour's decanting helped this young and powerful wine open up to its full glory. With incredibly ripe fruit yet no trace of overripeness or stewy notes, a delicate mineral quality, and lush tannins, it's a simply beautifully made wine. Notes of peppery spices and red-clay earth on the nose took me back to South Africa in an instant, and the perfectly balanced full-but-restrained midpalate was clear evidence of Rianie's trademark elegant winemaking style. If I could sum up that style I might have an easier time describing what it's not: showy, overextracted, overripe. The wines have incredible flavor profile and seamless structure, but it's all whispered rather than shouted, and for that reason they fit perfectly into any environment. This 2008 Pillars is certainly a killer syrah and as good an argument as any for Syrah as a flagship of the South African wine industry.
Another treat was De Trafford's 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. We're now sold out of it at the store but I was thrilled to open a bottle and experience the first wine I've had from this dynamite estate in almost a year.
Straight Cabernet Sauvignon generally bores me to death but South African cabs are an exception – and this wine is anything but ordinary. A sexy dusty, chalky quality to the nose carries through to lusty tannins and a long finish. This is a powerhouse of brambly, smoky black fruit, chalky earth, tar, muscular structure, and a lift of menthol which adds a fascinating refreshing quality to what's otherwise a seriously intense wine. This is as good as it gets, South African red-wise, and I'll be looking for it at the winery when I'm in Stellenbosch in a couple of weeks. I'm finishing the last few sips now and savoring every nuance. If you see this at your local wine shop, grab it – we were selling it for $25 on sale.