I was invited to an interesting tasting last week. The first in a while as I may have pissed off most of the South African Wine PR firms by suggesting it is to them that words go to die. But that is a rant for another day.
The tasting was put together by four young winemakers all making wines for themselves while keeping down a ‘9-5’ making wine for other people. David Sadie of Lemburg, Jurgen Gouws at Lammershoek, Johan Meyer at Meerhof and Jasper Wickens at A.A Badenhorst all make very good wines in their own right.
Jurgens had sent me a mail asking if I would like to come and report on their tasting. What made it a little different from others I attend was that it was set deep behind the boerewors curtain, and was to take place entirely in Afrikaans.
According to the mail I received from Jurgen they were “trying to lure away the Afrikaans people from Brandy and Coke” and it could possibly be “the start of a serious wine culture in the Northern suburbs.”
These are big aims. I think even WOSA would shrink from such a challenge. I wondered immediately why they would ask me, someone who puts the sout in soutie, to report on such a tasting. My Afrikaans doesn’t get much further than the ability to order a brandy and hold the coke, but such an honest endeavor by young talented winemakers was not to be missed.
This is what I believe the future of our fine wine in South Africa is all about. Wine makers hell bent on making class wines, not giving an iota of an inch when it comes to quality, and taking their wines to the people. No PR, no expensive dinners, just the winemakers themselves standing up and delivering in their own language their purpose and mission. I was sold.
I spent a week with a tweetalige woordeboek and tried to see if some of my humourous bon mots could emerge un-mangled after being put through Google Translate. They couldn’t. Undeterred I drove up the N1 on a chilly evening, and crossed behind the boerewors curtain.
The wines were great. But what I found even more buoying was the occasion itself. Four guys who simply want to make kak-lekker wines. Quality wines with a sense of place, unhindered by fashion, marketing gobbeldy-gook and artifice.
Jasper who seems to have picked up some of Adi’s “Ja, we just chuck it in and see what happens” approach, David speaking confidently about a natural approach to winemaking, Johan dauntlessly comparing his Chardonnay to Chablis, and Jurgens simply showing those attending the brilliance of naturally made Swartland Chenin and Syrah, and how they can be made to be delicious right from the start.
Looking at all the wines as a whole what stood out for me was their vibrancy and life. None of the wines were boring, but were interesting without being weird. Thief interestingness stems, I believe, from very high quality fruit and careful, respectful winemaking. Each one a complete pleasure to drink. If the future of fine wine in South Africa rests partly on these four, we are in partly good hands.
To the wines.
Jurgen – Intellego Wines
Intellego Chenin 2012 R125
I admire how simply Jurgen seems to handle his Chenin, the result of which is the combination of oxidative notes and pure fruit. This one had aromas and flavours of apples and pears, seemingly both green and a little bruised simultaneously. It had a rich texture, but not oak derived, and the natural fresh acidity balanced the richness expertly. It’s a chenin full of the rich fruit the Swartland provides, but tempered by natural acidity so that it skips along a tightrope, cleverly balanced.
Intellego Syrah 2012, Swartland, R120
If you want to drink bright, young Syrah with the fine Swartland tannin we’ve come to love, then you don’t have to look further. I could sell wine on Verimark. That’s not all . . . While this may not have the size, and seriousness of, say, a Mullineux Syrah, you can drink this today. Right now. It’s brilliantly fun, with loads of bright red peppery fruit, crunchy acidity, and a marked saline finish. It passed the “can I drink a bottle test” with flying colours.
Jasper Wickens – Legit Wines
Chenin 2012, Swartland, R85
I hadn’t tasted Jasper’s Chenin before. He told me that he prefers making red wine as there is more to do. My first thought is that maybe he should carry on doing less as I thought this Chenin was genius. It’s in a sort of mid-point between something like Adi’s Secateurs and the Koggelbos Chenin from Mount Abora. It starts off all broad, rich and nutty, before swooping in on a line of acidity that brings about pears and bruised apples before another lip smacking saline finish. It’s not THE Chenin in the country, perhaps lacking a little complexity but it’s staggering that this is what you can get these days for under a R100 if you know where to look. Hat tip to you, Jasper.
Muskeljaatkat 2011, Swartland, R95
Jasper was obviously not too concerned with an international market being able to pronounce the name of this wine, but that’s the beauty with these guys. No pandering. You have to love their love of Afrikaans. It’s a blend of Cinsault and Grenache and was perhaps the most rustic of the reds on show, but in a good way. Powdery tannins, chunky red fruit, and, I guess an odd sort of rustic elegance. No airs and graces, but the fruit was so pure, light and juicy, that it’s a wine that will fit in everywhere. Also at that price an absolute bloody steal.
Johan Meyer – Johan Meyer Wines
I have heard on more than one occasion people call Johan – Stompie to his mates – a fearless winemaker. I have never been too sure what that has meant, thinking perhaps of perilous punch-downs, or a man who can rack barrels blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back. Although I think it has to do more with not batting an eye at slow ferments or other cellar traumas that make some winemakers quiver in their wellington boots.
To hear him compare his Chardonnay to Chablis I think I better understood the phrase. As he didn’t speak of France with a sort of wistful longing that I have seen other winemakers do. Knowing in their hearts that they would never be as good as the French. When Johan said it – and this may be because my Afrikaans is so bad but I don’t think so – it was as if the comparison was the most normal thing in the world, and that his Chardonnay deserved every bit the comparison and, sod it, it’s South African anyway so who cares.
Chardonnay 2012, Elgin, R120
Both his wines had been very recently bottled – a mere seven days before – and I shook my glass like a professional castanet player to get rid of some of the reductiveness that was present. Beneath the gun smoke emerged as taut and beguiling a South African Chardonnay that I’ve had in a while. To be fair it’s a little early to tell, but the wine hinted at a precise medley of citrus fruits, zipline acidity, and a very mineral/saline finish. There was none of the rich, buttery Chardonnay that is so typical to our market. It was not the wine that showed best on the day, but it was the wine that excited me most.
Pinot Noir 2012, Elgin
Unfortunately this wine didn’t show its best. It was quite reductive with a yeasty/toasty note that I am going to put down to bottle shock. Beneath this there were hints of cherry fruit, and a slight Pinot earthiness. I promise to come back to this wine in a few months and give it another go.
David and Nadia Sadie – David Wines
Aristagos 2012, Swarland, R150
This white blend, who’s makeup changes from vintage to vintage, is now in its third year made from Chenin, Viognier, Clariette Blanche and Chardonnay. The wines were vinified separately, barrel fermented, with frequent batonage in older French oak barrels, before the blend was assembled. For me it was the most serious wine of the tasting. A rich, waxy texture with stone fruit aromas and a slightly nutty/marzipan background note. The acidity – as with all the others –was natural and smoothed over the richness in the wine excellently. The finish was long, lasting and complex. This is a very grown up wine. A wine that deserves, I reckon, at least three or four years before it starts to show itself best.
Elpidios 2011, Swartland, R250
Another serious wine from David. A blend of Shiraz, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault it already has good complexity, and a construction of intent. The tannins asserted themselves like a man in a good dinner jacket that’s just ordered a bottle of Krug, and the ample black fruits played well with the liquorish and spice element. It was a decadent red, one that’s grown up from the boisterous, fresh-fruited hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care syrahs Jurgen is making. This wine needs a few more years to show its best, and as there were only three barrels made, you best go out and try and find some.
If you are trying to get some of these wines, the best place to call is Wine Cellar. Roland has been at the front of South African retailers pushing these new young guns. They are hosting a tasting of these guys and other top young winemakers. His Young Guns Tasting is turning into the place to show your wines if you are an up and comer. Get your tickets here for Joburg, or email Lisa@winecellar.co.za for Cape Town tickets. Cape Town is on the 12th of June and joburg the 4th of July. [fireworks joke].