Celebrate South Africa Tasting

The Box, San Francisco, California
Tasted Thursday, May 6, 2010 by rjonwine@gmail.com with 1,124 views

Introduction

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This tasting was organized by the African Wine & Culture Society, and held a few days following a similar tasting in Los Angeles that also included winemakers and distributors of South African wine. I tasted most of what was on hand, with the exception of some reds I'd already recently tasted, so the tasting notes below cover 113 wines from 43 producers.

I am generally a fan of South African whites, Syrahs, Bordeaux blends and sweet wines. The wines at this tasting reinforced my view of South Africa as a source of well made, value priced whites, especially Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, Chenin blends and some Chardonnays. It seems, from the wines at this tasting, that you almost can't go wrong in selecting value priced whites from South Africa, although certain producers--like de Trafford, Ken Forrester, Iona and Zorgvilet--are particularly reliable. And the prices on most of the whites ranged from under $10 to $20 a bottle.

I also think South Africa is a good source for value priced Syrahs (which they typically call "Shiraz") and Bordeaux blends, although one needs to be a lot more selective here than with the whites, as there are also a lot of dull and boring reds. The most reliable red producers at this event were de Trafford, Iona, Morgenster, Mullineux and Muratie. The prices on most of those were in the mid-$30s, a range where there's a lot more competition. Then there was the Pinotage.

I tasted virtually all the Pinotages on hand at this event, a total of a dozen (plus one wretched Pinotage blend), and they reinforced my view that South African Pinotages currently fall into one of two camps: (1) heavily oaked and spoofalated, so that oak flavors and techniques used to tone down the tannins drown out Pinotage's varietal characteristics in favor of mocha and coffee flavors, or (2) extracted and intense, resulting in biting, varietally correct, but nonetheless not particularly drinkable Pinotage. In other words, regardless of the winemaking style, I am not a fan.

I wrote about producers Neil Ellis and Hamilton Russell in a report on a WSET South Africa tasting a week ago. I'll give additional info below regarding a few other producers whose wines stood out at this tasting. My wines of the tasting, which I rated 91 points or more, were:

White
'08 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (92+ pts.)
'09 Iona Chardonnay Elgin
'09 Zorgvliet Sauvignon Blanc Silver Myn
'09 Zorgvliet Sauvignon Blanc

Red
'06 de Trafford Cabernet Sauvignon
'06 Iona The Gunnar
'03 Morgenster Lourens River Valley
'08 Mulineux Syrah (93 pts.)
'06 Muratie Shiraz Bonnie Melck (92+ pts.)

Sweet
'09 Mullineux Chenin Blanc Straw Wine (93+ pts.)
'10 Ridgeback Viognier Natural Sweet

Flight 1 - Ataraxia (1 Note)

  • 2008 Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 90 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Walker Bay, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

    Rich lemon grass, mineral, herbal nose; tasty, tart green fruit, mineral palate with depth; medium finish 90+ pts.

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Flight 2 - Black Pearl (1 Note)

  • 2007 Black Pearl Oro 89 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl

    Spicy, deep black fruit, tar nose; spicy, deep black fruit, tar, anise palate; medium-plus finish (56% Shiraz, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon)

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Flight 3 - Boland Cellar (4 Notes)

Flight 4 - Bouchard Finlayson (2 Notes)

Flight 5 - Cederberg (1 Note)

Flight 6 - Darling Cellars (1 Note)

Flight 7 - De Krans (2 Notes)

Flight 8 - Delheim (5 Notes)

Flight 9 - de Trafford (2 Notes)

De Trafford is situated on Mont Fleur, at the top of a dramatic valley above Stellenbosch, between the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountains. The mountain farm was purchased by the Trafford family as inaccesible grazing land in 1976. Some of the high altitude slopes were found suitable for red grape varieties, but legal restrictions postponed planting until the lifting of grape quota restrictions in 1991. A new vineyard was planted in '94 and '95, with specially selected varieties, clones, rootstocks, vine densities and trellis systems. In addition to grapes grown on Mont Fleur, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chenin Blanc grapes have been sourced from 3 vineyards in the Helderberg and Stellenbosch Mountain area.

Flight 10 - Diemersfontein (6 Notes)

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Flight 11 - Doolhof (2 Notes)

Flight 12 - Dornier (4 Notes)

Flight 13 - Eventide (1 Note)

Flight 14 - Fairtrade (4 Notes)

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Flight 15 - Fairvalley (2 Notes)

Flight 16 - Fairview (1 Note)

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Flight 17 - Graham Beck (8 Notes)

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Flight 18 - Groenland (7 Notes)

Flight 19 - Hamilton Russell (1 Note)

Flight 20 - Iona (3 Notes)

Iona claims to be South Africa's coolest vineyard, with harvesting times up to 8 weeks later than other Cape wine producing areas. The Sauvignon blanc is harvested in March and the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in April. The vineyards were planted starting in 1998 on a mountain plateau 450 meters above sea level overlooking the Atlantic Ocean 60 kilometers east of Cape Town in the Elgin Ward. The climate is more comparable to Bordeaux than most of South Africa, with the advantage over Bordeaux of 50% less rain in the harvesting months and a slightly warmer April (equal to October in Bordeaux). The owners, the Gunns, trace their ancestry to the Vikings that landed in Scotland in the 900s, so they named their farm and label after an island off the west coast of Scotland, and use a Viking long boat emblem on their labels.

Owner Andrew Gunn pictured on right
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  • 2009 Iona Sauvignon Blanc Elgin 89 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Elgin

    Mineral, lemon grass nose; tasty, lemon grass, grapefruit palate; medium-plus finish

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  • 2009 Iona Chardonnay Elgin 91 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Elgin

    Bright lemon, yellow apple nose; fresh lemon palate with good acidity; medium finish (50% fermented in French oak, 20% of which is new; no malolactic)

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  • 2006 Iona The Gunnar 91 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Elgin

    Nice Bordeaux-like, herbal, tobacco, black fruit nose; Bordeaux-like, gravel, but ripe fruited palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot)

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Flight 21 - Jardin (2 Notes)

Flight 22 - Ken Forrester (2 Notes)

Flight 23 - La Petite Ferme (1 Note)

Flight 24 - Lynx (2 Notes)

  • 2006 Lynx Xanache 88 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley

    Tart black fruit, oak nose with lift; tart black fruit, plum, easy drinking palate; medium finish (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc)

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  • 2008 Lynx Cabernet Sauvignon 83 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley

    Unusual, smoky, herbaceous, black fruit nose; berry, herbal, black fruit palate; medium finish

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Flight 25 - Major's Hill (1 Note)

Flight 26 - MAN (1 Note)

Flight 27 - Morgenster (1 Note)

The wine I tasted is Morgenster's second label, the Lourens River Valley. Their top wine is called the Morgenster. Morgenster Estate is in the Western Cape, and specializes in three Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. More recently, they have also planted small quantities of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Bordeaux-based director and wine consultant Pierre Lurton works with resident winemaker Henry Kotzé. The owner is Giulio Bertrand, who bought the property in 1992.

Flight 28 - Mullineux (3 Notes)

Mullineux Family Wines is a small family winery run by Chris and Andrea Mullineux and based in Riebeek-Kasteel, Swartland, South Africa. Chris worked at Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards for five years before marrying Chris and starting his own wine project in 2007. He previously worked stints at de Trafford and Rustenberg. He met Chris, who studied oenology and viticulture at U.C. Davis, at a wine festival in Champagne. The two source fruit from various vineyards in the Swartland, and also currently serve as winemakers for Reyneke.

  • 2008 Mullineux Old Vines White 87 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland

    Ripe apple, floral nose; tasty, tart apple, sweet lemon, white fruit palate; medium finish (blend of old vine Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche)

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  • 2008 Mullineux Syrah 93 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland

    Lavender, tart berry, black fruit nose; tasty, lavender, tart berry, black fruit, herbal palate; medium-plus finish (20% whole cluster)

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  • 2009 Mullineux Chenin Blanc Straw Wine 93 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland

    From 375 ml - medium golden yellow color; big, baked apricot, floral nose; very tasty, luscious, apricot, floral palate with good acidity; long finish 93+ pts. (100% Chenin Blanc)

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Flight 29 - Muratie (2 Notes)

Flight 30 - Neethlingshof (1 Note)

Flight 31 - Neil Ellis (2 Notes)

Flight 32 - Painted Wolf (3 Notes)

Flight 33 - Paul Cluver (2 Notes)

Flight 34 - Raka (2 Notes)

  • 2005 Raka Quinary 86 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Overberg, Klein River

    Herbaceous, black fruit nose; herbaceous, black fruit, herbal palate; medium finish 86+ pts. (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot)

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  • 2007 Raka Shiraz Biography 88 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Overberg, Klein River

    Lavender, oak, green peppercorn nose; green peppercorn, tart black fruit, herbal palate; medium finish 88+ pts.

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Flight 35 - Ridgeback (8 Notes)

Flight 36 - Slanghoek (3 Notes)

Flight 37 - South Hill (1 Note)

Flight 38 - Stellekaya (2 Notes)

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Flight 39 - The Winery of Good Hope (2 Notes)

Flight 40 - Val de Vie (2 Notes)

  • 2007 Val de Vie GVC 86 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley

    Spicy tart green fruit, oak nose; creamy textured, oak, green fruit palate; medium finish 86+ pts. (blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Clairette Blanc)

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  • 2007 Val de Vie Shiraz 83 Points

    South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley

    Oak, black fruit, toast nose; oak, black fruit, toast palate; medium finish

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Flight 41 - Villiera (6 Notes)

Flight 42 - Wildekrans (1 Note)

  • 2008 Wildekrans Estate Pinotage 87 Points

    South Africa, Cape South Coast, Walker Bay, Bot River

    Black fruit, licorice nose; tart black fruit, licorice, balanced palate; medium finish (12 mos. in 80% French oak, 20% heavy toast American oak)

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Flight 43 - Zorgvliet (5 Notes)

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