I’m serious. You have to try these two wines. Don’t nod and smile and say “Sure Harry I’ll give them ago at some point.” Google these two wines, find out where you can get them, buy them, drink them, and then say, “Thanks Harry, you were right, you have changed my life a little.”
The first wine is Craig Hawkins’ Testalonga El Bandito. There are two wines in the Testalonga range: the El Bandito and the Cortez.
What sets these wines apart (other than being kick-ass) is that they are white wines made like red wines. Which means leaving the juice in contact with the skins for extended periods of time. Normally white wines only have very limited skin contact. The El Bandito 2009 – made from 50 year old bush vine Chenin sourced from Lammershoek - undergoes whole-bunch carbonic maceration (the berries are not crushed and individually ferment in a carbon-dioxide rich environment) for four weeks and then the wine is left on the lees for almost 2 years.
The leaving of white wine on the skins for extended periods is becoming a wine nerd thing. A vinous hipster vibe, if you will. The Italians are doing a bit of it and produce what are being called ‘orange wines’ , because, quite imaginatively, this is the colour the wines come out as.
So, the El Bandito 2009. Well it is more the colour of one’s pee when you are a bit dehydrated than orange. The nose is delightfully complex: spice, orange peel, dried apricot, a wet spice-drawer (that’s a bit silly, I guess there is a nutmeg/cinnamon side to it but also with wet earth), complex, and tough to describe. The palate: nutty marzipan oxidative bits with orange zest again, and more spice. There is a razor sharp acidity, with a little tannic grip that gives the wine a structure that is different to all South African white wines. The reason I love this wine is because it gives you the middle finger when you try to describe it.
It pulls, it pushes, it caresses, it pinches, it taunts and it teases. It is confusing and satisfying, it interests, but doesn’t give itself away. Old and wizened, but fresh and snappy. Unfolding, it strips off layers of flavour slowly but seemingly always offering more.
Balanced. Fresh. Complex. Long. Interesting. Probably the most fun you can have with wine in South Africa. Ama-fucking-zing people, ama-fucking-zing.
OK. So that’s the one. Get some here
The other wine which I tried for the first time today is the Keermont 2009 Syrah. Neal Martin gave it 94 points. I am not sure if that helps you. It doesn’t really help me. It will help Keermont’s sales, but helps me not one jot apart from telling me that Mr. Martin thought the wine bloody good.
I cannot argue with the man.
Grown in the Blauklippen Valley, down the road from Stellenzict, Waterford and Dornier, the Keermont Syrah 2009 is elegant, refined and almost under the radar, but it still maintains that Helderberg richness.
The nose offers some dark chocolate (this fades a bit with time) and bright red and black fruits. There is white pepper and bacon. The nose, despite this burst still seems restrained. It develops in the glass to offer that smell old burnt logs and black sweet cherry. Tasting it there is an initial sweet cherry start giving way to a rich deep feel with more cherry, blackberry, earth, a gameyness and at the very end (which is a long long way from the start) a faint hint of olives.
In terms of structure the tannins are quite soft, but the fresh acidity zips and zaps its way through the palate elongating the fruity earthy goodness. I can’t wait to come back to this wine in a couple of years. There are only 1500 odd bottles produced, so make quick and get some. If you are going to drink either of these wines now, I would recommend a few hours in the decanter. Oh, and an invitation for me to join you. I’ll bring the pork-belly.