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Tag: South Africa

Wine of the Week

Not at all ‘Swart’ from Swartland

Here is another “house wine”, when I want a little more power, or “skin”, than a normal white. Swartland, Blackland in the Afrikaans language, because the predominant rhinoceros bush turns dark after the rains. But it’s not only the landscape that is special here; the spirit of the winegrowers is a veritable force.

Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014 by Johan Meyer. I have written about the project before (like here), and I still predict that the producer will rise in fame and his wines accordingly rise. The news are that Johan and his partner Anri moved into their new property Plattenklip (northwestern Swartland) in 2019, and produced their first vintage in 2020 in their own winery. They have now planted new vineyards on exciting sites, so we know that there will be new interesting wines from them.

This wine comes from a single vineyard in Paardeberg planted in 1980, on granite-rich soil. Only chenin blanc, pure chenin. Whole bunches were pressed into steel tanks where the fermention starts naturally. It’s mostly aged in steel, but has seen a small amount of old oak. Unfiltered and without added sulphuur.

Force Celeste 2020 (Mother Rock)

Light yellow. Aromas of citrus, yellow apples, peach, a light touch of peel. Good weight in the mouth, creamy lees-character, but with a very fine acidity that cuts elegantly through, and contributes to a long, salty finish.

Price: Low

Food: Tapas and charcuterie, red fish, fried white fish, light meat…

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Wine of the Week

Good Hope on a Good Friday

The Winery of Good Hope is found in Stellenbosch, in South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. They claim to avoid “the flashy stuff” of industry and make quality wine with a conscience. They are located on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, and make wines using traditional, natural viticultural and winemaking methods. They are alto certificated for environmental, ethical, and social-conscious practices.

For the Full Berry Fermentation Pinotage they work with two vineyards, one in Northern Stellenbosch and the other in southeastern Swartland. The former is sandy with decomposed quartz and granite soils, and contributes to a certain texture. The latter sits on weathered, granite derived soils, that is mostly responsible for the fruitiness.

Some keywords: Handpicked grapes, whole berries in vat, spontaneous fermentation in steel, unfiltered.

Full Berry Fermentation Pinotage 2019 (The Winery of Good Hope)

Dark cherry. Fruity, with blueberry and red berries cherry, plum), herbs, some licorice. Young and juicy, a charming wine at a very good price.

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

Dangerously drinkable South African red-rosé

Jurgen Gouws makes cool, fresh and focused wines in Swartland, South Africa. An earlier assistant winemaker under Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek, he soon established his own label Intellego.

The rented vineyards and the wines are managed with least possible interference. He was one of the first in Swartland to experiment with skin-contact for Chenin Blanc, very lightly in the fabulous (almost) orange wine Elementis.

The vines used for the Pink Moustache were planted in 1988 and 2001. The grapes are syrah 59%, cinsault 33% and mourvedre 8%. Whole clusters are pressed before spontaneous fermentation four days in used barrels. The wine matures 5 months, also in used barrels.

The Pink Moustache 2020 (Intellego)

Light ruby ​​red. Aroma of dark and red berries (raspberries), flowers, herbs and pepper. Luscious, juicy, with a light tannin touch, and just enough acidity. Lovely glou-glou, best lightly chilled.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meats, pizza, pasta, salads and cured meats.

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Wine of the Week

A Testalonga favourite

This has been a favourite since I tasted it first time at a London fair. In spite of that it has not been highlighted since the 2015 vintage. (Reed some background information here.)

We are in Swartland, Coastal South Africa. In this generally warm climate winemaker Craig Hawkins harvests early. A very short version goes like this: The wine is made according to quite strict non-intervention principles, and just a little SO2. Also, whole bunches are pressed, and spontaneous fermentation occurs, and it’s kept in big oak vessels and steel. And now in its 2019 vintage it is as alive and “punching” as ever.

Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2019 (Testalonga)

Light golden. Aromas of citrus, flowers, yellow apples. A flavourfull wine with light tannin structure and nice acidity.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Keep on rockin’

Continueing the rock series (a very thin thread really) from early February, Mother Rock is a producer that I have enjoyed so much over the last few years that I just had to leave you a tip of advice here. They are in a way in the shadow of leading lights and neighbours Testalonga and Intellego of Swartland, South Africa, and as such bargains. But there are many insiders who think you should take the opportunity to buy their wines now, because for natural wines their prices are ridiculously low.

Winemaker is Johan Meyer, a young Brit who who shares the values and techniques of the aforementioned producers. He was educated in Stellenbosch, but his visits to Roussillon and Tom Lubbe of Matassa took him in a whole new direction. Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014. The whole range is fabulous, and even their “entry-level” wines (if this is an adecuate expression here) are superb and have a sense of not only terroir, but a raw natural force, if this sounds meaningful.

Johan and the team have a really good hand on the chenin blanc grape, and I can also strongly recommend their “semi-orange” Force Celeste. This week’s pick is their “basic” White in 2018 version, that is made from chenin blanc 61% and lesser quantities of viognier, grenache blanc, sémillon and hárslevelu. The latter is omitted in the 2019 vintage, also in the market now. Each grape is grown in different types of soil throughout this immensly fascinating region that is Swartland.

Half of the grapes are fermented quite cold in steel, while the other part ferments in old barrels. Some, like hárslevelu, sémillon and grenache, are fermented with whole bunches with a four weeks of skin-contact before pressing. The wine stays on the lees nearly a year before bottling – unfiltered, naturally.

 Mother Rock White 2018 (Mother Rock Wines)

Yellow, cloudy. Aroma dominated by citrus (lemon, lime), yeast, candle wax and a touch of honey. Appley, cidery in the mouth, lightly structured both in terms of tannins and acidity, juicy, a touch of bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Salmon/trout, grilled white fish and shell-fish, some Asian dishes, lighter meat…

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Articles

The Real Wine fair 2019 – II The seminars and Simon’s orange wines

At the Real Wine fair there were several seminars and guided tastings given by both winemakers and writers. Among the scheduled speakers were Heidi Nam Knudsen and Jon Passmore, who practise an alternative wine education focusing on vineyard practices and winemaking techniques. The topic at the fair was “Retasting Wine: How we can become more informed drinkers.”

Alex Thorp conducted a “German Growers’ Masterclass”. Derek Morrison and Mike Hopkins of the Bring Your Own podcast interviewed a bunch of growers, among them Portuguese artisan Pedro Marques. Speaking of Portugal, Jamie Goode did just that together with Ines Salpico in the program “An Exploration of Portugal’s Wine Revolution.”

While I talked to some of these people on their way in and out of the seminar room, the only seminar I had booked beforehand was Simon J. Woolf’s presentation of his book Amber Revolution through a tasting of five wines from the so-called New World.

His seminar was informative, and there was a two-way communication. Simon answered questions from the audience with great virtuosity, and his short comments about each wine demonstrated how well-chosen the wines were.

Simon’s definition of an orange wine is a wine made with skin-contact that exceeds the “normal” 3-4 hours. In other words, it’s about the technique, more than the colour itself. He compares it to a white wine: -What colour is a white wine? White – as this paper?

Light examples from the tasting were Staring at the Sun 2018 (Momento Mori) and Elementis 2018 (Intellego). The first one, a citrussy, lightly spicy wine from Victoria, Australia, was quite light yellow, though it had been 6 weeks on skins. This because winemaker Dane Johns holds back on extraction. Elementis from Swartland, South Africa I know from several vintages; always fresh, appealing, this time very lemony, with green apple. Jurgen Gouws shares his colleague’s philosophy of minimal extraction.

Other than this there was the Pinot Gris 2016 (A & D. Beckham), a pink, red-tinged wine from the grape that we know is not white at all. It’s also known from Radikon, one of the natural and orange wine pioneers. This Oregon pinot gris was fresh, but warmer notes appeared after a while, and it was surprisingly smooth, the colour taken into account (also not usual for the variety). Vinu Jancu 2017 (La Garagista), an amber, beeswax, onion and plum smelling wine from the unlikely state of Vermont and the rare grape called la crescent and Chilion 2016 (Ruth Lewandowski), a lighter cortese with grapes from Santa Barbara, California, but made in Utah, finished the US American trio. It should be said that it’s Evan Lewandowski that is behind this project, but he named the winery after the Book of Ruth.

Regarding a question about what wines work with extended skin-contact, he points out that thick-skinned varieties go well. Aromatic varieties too, can perfom very well, such as moscato and gewürztraminer.

Simon J. Woolf has every reason to be happy with the book release

Amber Revolution

I have written a more extensive review of Simon’s book in the Norwegian language for the Vinforum magazine. You can read it on my magazine page.  Here is a summary:

Simon J. Woolf has written what is referred to as the world’s first book on orange wine. Woolf started his writing career in 2011 with the blog The Morning Claret for which he is still editor. He is also a regular contributor to journals such as Decanter. He is no well-known author though, and this is his first book. So there were no publishers who wanted to go for the project. That’s why he started a crowdfunding through his website, and nearly 400 people contributed to the “Kickstarter” campaign.

Woolf currently lives in Amsterdam. And it can almost seem ironic that it took someone in close contact with the Netherlands, with the historical “Oranje” dynasty, to get the idea to write about orange wines.

The book is partly an introduction to the orange wine world, partly a cultural and history lesson. Woolf writes well and demonstrates early on that he is both the passion and the insight needed. It is fascinating to take part in this journey, from his first, emotional contact with the drink in Sandi Skerks cellar in Friuli. But then he takes us further back in time and goes chronologically from the ancient Georgia, that we know as the orange wine’s cradle, via pioneers in today’s Friuli and Slovenia (with Joško Gravner as the main character) and beyond.

There is also a section on recommended producers from many different countries. Finally, the financial contributors are listed. Among them there are some wineries, although I find no reason to assume that it has affected the journalistic selection. The fact columns contain information about food for orange wine, grapes that respond well to the technique, misconceptions about orange wine, how qvevri are made, etc. Taking these columns out the main story also helps to make the text flow better .

Ryan Opaz, who lives in Porto, is one of the founders of the Catavino site, where Woolf also contributes. Opaz has provided images that depict both landscapes and people in an exemplary manner. The book itself is also made of paper with a certain texture, which responds to the wines the book is about.

Woolf says he could use different names for the same phenomenon, such as skin-macerated wines and amber wines. After a discussion with himself, he has ended up calling it orange wines. His definition is based on the technique, not the colour. An orange wine does not therefore need to be orange, but it has had extended skin contact. It can be yellow, dark mahogany, or even reddish or pink in cases where the grape has a lot of pigment, such as pinot grigio.

Here we have arrived at a point that I assume he has thought about himself, the title of the book. After choosing orange wine as the preferred term, he ends up using amber in the title. The Portuguese carnation revolution emerges in my consciousness when reading the title, and compared with this the term “orange wine” could perhaps have added another dimension. And even though the events of the 1990s and up to the present seem like a revolution, in the long term it will probably be more correct to call what we now experience a “revival,” or maybe a revitalization of a tradition. But none of this “troubles” me; Amber Revolution is a saleable title. And the subtitle, “how the world learned to love orange wines”, puts it all in place.

I will not reveal too much of the content. But I think the sections about Friuli and Slovenia, the multicultural and multilingual area at the intersection of East, West and South – and the political backdrop that is hoisted – is a particularly good section of the book. Here the story of the world wars becomes a necessary part. The families of the leading producers were finding themselves on a veritable battlefield with changing actors, not least Italy, Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia.

There are many who will enjoy this book. It is a niche book, but it at the same time exceeds the niche, and I would think that the vast majority of people interested in wine will find it fascinating, entertaining and enriching.

Amber Revolution – how the world learned to love orange wine

By Simon J. Woolf, foreword by Doug Wregg (director of import company Les Caves de Pyrène,), photo: Ryan Opaz

MCP Morning Claret Production, Amsterdam / Interlink Books, Northampton, Massachusetts

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Wine of the Week

Subtle Swartland orange wine

This wine I tasted recently in London. Simon Woolf has a new book about orange wines in the market, and he presented it at a seminar during the Real Wine fair. (More about the book later.)

The wine in the glass while Simon talks in the background

Jurgen Gouws has both learned from and been a colleague of Craig Hawkins of Testalonga in South-Africa’s Swartland (read about last week’s wine here). He “owns neither vineyards nor winery, but has built a cult following for his delicate, subtle cuvées”, one can read in Woolf’s book. All are dry-farmed (in a country with serious draught problems).

The chenin blanc grapes for this wine were grown on granite and macerated for two weeks on the skins. But it’s only contact to add some texture. The skin-contact makes it an orange wine, according to Woolf’s definition, although the colour is yellow.

Elementis 2018 (Intellego)

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Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

Stay Brave at Elliot’s

Finally I got the chance to visit Elliot’s wine bar in Borough Market, on the south side of the Thames. The occasion was not only that I was in London for the Real Wine fair, but also that I visited the new big sax shop at nearby Blackfriars. In the wine bar I had three wines, among them Testalonga‘s Stay Brave.

Elliot’s opened in 2011 and has from the beginning offered a simple menu based on good ingredients in season. They deal directly with fishermen and farmers, all of them with a focus on sustainability. They cook over a wood fired grill, and the wine list is exclusively comprised of natural wines from small artisan growers.

I had two small plates, first courgette, broad bean & herb salad, then beef tartare with green peppercorn, parsley and smoked Wensleydale (Yorkshire cow’s milk cheese). And several of the waiters have the knowledge to guide you through the wines.

I started with a Catalan white, Nar i Tornar 2017 (Vinya Ferrer), mainly garnacha blanca and some macabeu, a tasty and slightly cloudy non SO2 wine. It showed a slight mouse taint, but was nevertheless good. It was followed by a Côtes du Rhône 2017 (Dom. Aphillantes), an un-oaked grenache-carignan-mourvèdre blend; young, dark fruit, spice (but not the sweet oak style), and luscious, drinkable at the same time that it also has some light fine-grained tannin.

From the “last pour” section (not on the list and changes according to what has been opened) I had a wonderful wine from Testalonga. This is Craig Hawkins’ project in Swartland, South-Africa, and one of my favourites right now (I have two opened chenins of his in my fridge at the time of writing).

Stay Brave 2018 is pure chenin blanc. The names in the producer’s Baby Bandito series come from the encouragements you give a child, and the colourful labels are inspired by street artist. It’s made in steel, with 11 days of skin-contact and bottled un-filtered. It’s a low alcohol (10,5) and high acidity (6,5-7g) wine.

Stay Brave 2018 (Testalonga Wines)

Yellow. Smells of fresh green apples, citrus (lemon), white flowers and ginger. Very fresh, fruity, quite concentrated, mineral and super elegant.

Price: Medium

Food: Worked well with my herbaceous, green plate. Can go with white  fish, grilled fish, light meat, Asian and a variety of cheeses

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Wine of the Week

A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

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Wine bars and restaurants

Nights at “The Office”

I think it’s common not to visit sights and attractions close to your home, because you can always go – some other time. This may also be the case with bars and restaurants. Stavanger, Norway (in my own backyard, so to speak) has got its first decent wine bar, and then it should take three months before I managed to get there, and then quite by chance, while I was waiting for a party to start some other place in downtown Stavanger.

Once inside, I meet an old wine-mate Emil Heimdal behind the bar, and then I know we are talking “serious business” here. I know him from several restaurants over the years, and this is a man with passion for wine and real dedication. Emil took over the wine section of this bar, now called Vinkontoret (The Wine Office), together with Christoffer Ingebretsen. They have no purchase agreement that binds them, so they buy exactly the wines that they want and now collaborate with about 30 importers. They use the Coravin system, which allows them to serve anything by the glass. Here you can buy smaller units than a whole glass and pay less, so you can taste more wines during an evening.

 

Emil serves smaller units of better wines

They can literally offer hundreds of wines. They have a list that is heavy on traditional wine regions such as Burgundy, Rhône, Alsace, Mosel, Rhine, Piemonte, Tuscany and … say west-of-Vienna Austria.

But these people are just as crazy wine freaks to throw in almost anything you can think of.

As for grapes, of course they offer cabernet, merlot, syrah and such, without being “ashamed” of it at all (as if that would be something to regret). If you look carefully at the list you will see some “oddities” like a manzoni from Trentino, a kékfrankos from (why not) Austria, and you can get the “Pornfelder” if you like, Lukas Krauß’ German blend of portugieser and dornfelder. But most of all it’s a focus on the classic grapes here, even from not-so-classic countries.

There was a time when Stavanger was more in the avant-garde of the Norwegian culinary movement, when the oil industry was booming, and the most important gastronomic educational institutions were located there. Today there is no doubt that the hegemony is in Oslo, and that every initiative like this deserves a warm welcome.

Emil and Christoffer also have a small selection of handcrafted beers, like lambic and geuze. (Bear in mind that one of the country’s best beer selections is just across the same narrow street, at Cardinal bar. So this is obviously not their biggest priority.) The wine selection must be best in town. I am not sure if the wine list is the longest, but there are several hundred references, and mainly wines to drink, no show-off crazy over-priced stuff.

Here are just a few picks from my first brief visits.

  

Here is a riesling spätlese trocken from the Ökonomierat Rebholz of Pfalz, the Rebholz 2008. It proved to be a rich and honeyed wine with a thick texture and great acidity. To the right is a Gevrey-Chambartin, the Rossignol-Trapet Clos Prieur 1er Cru 2008 from Domaine Rossignol. It shows a clear ruby, somewhat developed colour, and smells quite aerial og cherry and plums. The tannins are still evident, and the acidity is well integrated. The actual vintages of these wines on sale are 2012 and 2013, respectively. So come here to get the wines closer to their peak.

  

Here is a wonderful pinot noir called Nature 2015 from Alsace producer Rieffel, now with Lucas and André in charge. Today the estate covers 10 hectares, all organic certified. The 30 year old vines are planted in soil of clay and alluvial sandstones. The fermentation is spontaneous and goes on for seven months in 228L barrels. It’s really fresh, juicy and quite full, with just enough structure to match a wide variety of food. After this I wanted a red with darker fruit, and I suggested syrah. On the counter was a Stellenbosch syrah, that was already opened, so I went for that one. The Liberator The Francophile 2015 (Dreyfus Ashby) was ok; a somewhat warm blackberry fruit, earthy with some spice, mouthfilling with rounded tannins.

 

The door is permanently closed at The Office (Kontoret). The Wine Office has opened.

 

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