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South African Wines

 
KANONKOP ESTATE
The Krige family has owned this property for many years.  The place was founded by their grandfather, Paul Sauer. 

The name of the place comes from the Dutch word "kopje" which refers to the top of the hill...and way back in the 17th century, on this hill, a canon was fired to alert local farmers that a Dutch East India trading ship had docked and they ought to go barter their produce for goods brought by boat from who-knows-where. 

Kanonkop is one of the real gems from South Africa.  Their winemaking history goes back to 1973 from a commercial perspective.  

I had a chance to taste through a range of wines and vintages in early 2014...impressive was how well the Pinotage ages, for example. Their Pinotage tasted great as a young wine, but a more than 10 year old vintage was really elegant and remarkably complex.

It is a label which I've found to be reliable...the quality is good and their two higher-priced wines are gems and of world class quality.

Today they farm about 100 hectares, just about all of it being planted with red grapes.  This Stellenbosch estate is regarded by many as a reference point for Pinotage.  Their proprietary red wine called "Paul Sauer" is one of South Africa's most sought-after wines.  

It's typically aged in new Nevers oak barrels, so the wine tends to show a fair bit of woodsy, cedary oak notes on the palate and bouquet.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the base, with a bit of Cab Franc and Merlot.  The vines are 30-something years old, so they're mature and producing something like 2 tons per acres.  We have the delightful and youthful 2004 in stock.

"Kadette" is a secondary level wine and intended for immediate drinking, rather than cellaring.  The 2010 is a blend of 46% Pinotage, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc.  It's a berryish, soft, dry red with fairly low acidity...it's more fruit-driven though it does get some time in small wood cooperage.

Pinotage is seriously good here...they have really old vines of this variety and make a deep, dark, woodsy wine. It's a well-made red wine and a good deal more complex than most Pinotage.  Further, it avoids that "burnt rubber" sort of character which we find from time to time in South African red wines. 
The 2010 has lots of dark berries (blackberry and maybe cranberry) and the brushy, woodsy notes are interesting and complex.   They use a high percentage of new oak barrels for this wine and yet there's enough Pinotage here to stand up to the wood.
 
Currently available:  2004 Kanonkop "Paul Sauer" $39.99
2010  "Kadette"  $13.99
2010 Pinotage $38.99





MULDERBOSCH
mulderbosch.gif (6083 bytes)Sauvignon Blanc from this property seems to be on every wine geek's list of "gotta-have" South African wines.   The first vintages we tried, several years ago, were not as impressive as its press clippings led us to believe.  More recently, though, we've found impressive wines.  There are some bottles of 2009 in the shop. This shows the aromatics of some New Zealand Sauvignons, being citrusy and fragrant, but with a minerally streak down the center.   It is perfect for oysters or other delectables from the sea.

Formerly owned by Larry Jacobs, the property was purchased by Fred Wypkema of "Hydro Holdings," some big corporate concern.  Some were afraid this would adversely affect the wines at Mulderbosch.  However, they've retained the services of Mike Dobrovic who has been the winemaker since 1991.   
Current production is about 18,000 cases annually and there's a line at the door to buy their wines.  A red wine called "Faithful Hound" is a Bordeaux-styled blend and seems to be aptly named as we've not tasted one which was particularly interesting to us.

They also make reasonably interesting Chardonnay....we can probably special order that for you.  A dry rosé is perfectly pleasant, though I don't find it as snappy or zesty as our other pink wines...
Currently available:
2009 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc $19.99
Mulderbosch Chardonnay $24.99 (give me a few days notice to order this for you, please)

 






HAMILTON RUSSELL

We've seen this winery's name mentioned from time to time as one of the prime Burgundian estates in South Africa.

Finally we've had a chance to taste their wines and these guys certainly have the right idea about Chardonnay!  

They're in a cool climate region called Walker Bay.  The growing season features breezes blowing in off the Atlantic which moderates the temperatures.  

The Hamilton Russell team crops its Chardonnay at a rather modest level, around 2 tons per acre.  This, of course, can account for greater intensity of character in the grapes.

Their soils are stony which may account for the lovely minerality of this wine.  But it's got amazing depth and intensity, featuring a wonderful toasty character and a hint of smoke.  Exceptionally complete.  This will be an eye-opener to folks who are as skeptical about South African wines as I was...The 2013 continues their tradition of excellence.

The 2010 Pinot Noir is quite good.  It's really come along nice the past several vintages.  The wine is remarkably complex, showing dark cherry and some beet root tones.  Medium-bodied and very fine.

Currently in stock:  2013 Chardonnay  $32.99 (limited)
2010 Pinot Noir $47.99





 

BOUCHARD FINLAYSON

You may recognize the Bouchard name as it's that of a prominent family in France's Burgundy region.

Finlayson is a name you may not be familiar with, but Peter Finlayson spent more than a decade in the cellars at Hamilton Russell, a world-class winery (noted above).

In 1989 Finlayson and Paul Bouchard built a winery in the same neighborhood as Hamilton Russell, the Walker Bay region.  They're in a valley called Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven & Earth) and the winery specializes in Pinot Noir.  
Finlayson is, apparently, a fan of Italian wines and makes a 'minestrone' blend featuring Sangiovese (he calls the wine Hannibal!), Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, along with Shiraz, Mourvedre and Barbera!

But Finlayson makes really nice Chardonnay.  It's, for my taste, not quite as complex as the Hamilton Russell wine, but it is a rather good bottle of wine.  This comes from a site called the Kaaimansgaat Vineyard from the Overberg appellation which is about an hour's drive east of the winery. It's at a higher altitude than the vineyards near the cellar.  
We have the 2011 in stock and this is a wine made along the lines of a White Burgundy...barrel fermented and left on the spent yeast sediment.  
It's still young and they seem to have the idea of making a wine that's going to grow and blossom with time in the bottle.

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc carries the Walker Bay appellation and it's a really nice and distinctive style.  You might get the first impression that this is a somewhat mild New Zealand Sauvignon and that would be a good guess.  But Finlayson typically blends in a touch of Semillon, too, to make a more complex wine.
We enjoyed a bottle recently with Fish & Chips and it was a good match...

Currently in stock:  2011 BOUCHARD FINLAYSON CHARDONNAY "Kaaimansgaat Vineyard" $26.99
2011 BOUCHARD FINLAYSON Walker Bay SAUVIGNON BLANC  $20.99

 

 

 



KLEIN CONSTANTIA

This historical property traces wine growing back to the 1600s and it was the source of a world-famous sweet wine in the 1800s.

The property changed hands numerous times and was in serious disrepair when the current owners purchased it in 1980.  It took them until 1986 before they had their first vintage in this modern era of Klein Constantia.

It's known that there were several types of Muscat cultivated in South Africa hundreds of years ago and the current owners, the Jooste family, did extensive research to try to produce a wine similar to the much-celebrated Vin de Constance of the 18th and 19th centuries.  They think they're cultivating a clone of Muscat (de Frontignan) which came from vine-stock with roots going back to the original plantings.  

The wine is remarkable and it's a treat to taste and savor.  The grapes are left on the vine until the shrivel up and dehydrate.  They are not affected by botrytis and the picking tends to take place quite late in the season, well after the rest of the harvest has been completed.  

The juice is macerated with the skins for several days and it's fermented in two lots:  one in stainless steel and one in 500 liter oak casks.  It's slightly more than 12% alcohol, much like a Sauternes and it has, typically, about 150 grams of sugar per liter.  What's especially amazing is its high level of acidity!  This is golden in color and nicely fragrant, showing aromas reminiscent of lemon/lime and caramel.  For having such residual sugar, you're a bit surprised on the finish as it's not syrupy at all.  Though made of Muscat, it is not a wine which is "obviously Muscat."  This is a far more subtle wine than typical Muscat.

I've long seen this in the catalogue of the local distributor...and I've ordered a bottle numerous times in hopes of tasting this historic nectar.  After someone unblocked it at the distributorship, we were finally able to buy a bottle and evaluate the wine...We tasted it and it was delicious...so we have a few bottles available for sale.

Currently in stock:  KLEIN CONSTANTIA "Vin de Constance"  (list $80)  SALE  $69.99 (500 ml)

 

 

ANTHONIJ RUPERT

If you have a quick look at the label for this Rupert wine and the label reminds you a bit of the one gracing bottles of Lafite Rothschild, well, here's why:

Two insanely wealthy families, South Africa's Rupert clan and one of France's Rothschild's set up a wine company.   

There's still a Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, run by the "kids" of the late founding fathers.
And while there are wines made under the collaborative brand name, this enterprise is solely that of the Rupert family.

The late old man Rupert dropped out of college and ran a dry cleaning store before starting up a little cigarette-making enterprise in a garage.  Rothman's was a brand with which he was affiliated as well as a company of Swiss luxury goods which had brands such as Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Baume & Mercier and few other items under the corporate umbrella
I believe I did say "insanely wealthy," didn't I?

The Anthonij Rupert wine comes out of an historic farm called L'Ormarins which the Rupert family bought in 1969.  Anthonij Rupert died in a car crash in 2001 and old man Rupert passed away in 2006, so these days the eldest son of Anton Rupert, Johann,  is at the helm of this business and a bunch of other concerns.
To honor his late brother, he created the Anthonij Rupert label.

We have the 2009 vintage of a Bordeaux-styled blend called Optima.  It's comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.   The three varieties are vinified separately and matured for about a year and a half in small French oak.  Then they assemble a blend of the three and the blend goes back into wood for another 6 months.  Another nice feature is they don't rush the wine to market...they give it two years in bottle before sending it out of the winery.

The wine displays lots of dark fruit notes...blackcurrant and maybe dark berry fruit with notes of cedar and mild vanillin.  It's quite drinkable now and rather showy, too.  
 

Currently in stock:  ANTHONIJ RUPERT 2009 "OPTIMA"  Sale $39.99

 

 

PAUL CLUVER

The Cluver family has been farming in the Elgin area of South Africa, some 40 miles southeast of Capetown, since the late 1800s.

In the mid-1980s they began planting some vineyards, finding the region might be well-suited to certain grape varieties.
 
 
The vineyards are located within a UNESCO World Heritage site, something called the Kogelberg Biosphere.  The Cluver estate comprises something like 2000 hectares and at least half is set aside for conservation purposes.

We tasted a solid 2009 vintage Chardonnay.  The wine is fermented using indigenous yeasts and nearly half the wine was in brand new French oak, the rest in second, third and fourth use cooperage.  They left the wine on the spent yeast for nine months and a small percentage underwent malolactic fermentation, so it's faintly creamy along with the woodsy, apple/pear fruit and mild stony notes.
Currently in stock:  2009 CLUVER Chardonnay  Sold Out

 

 

MEERLUST
Located some 15 kilometers from Stellenbosch and just five kilometers inland from False Bay, Meerlust has been run by the Myburgh family for 8 generations.   The current owner studied at Germany's famed Geisenheim wine school and is said to have spent some time at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux.  

However, the winemaker, Giorgio Dalla Cia is of Italian heritage (like you couldn't tell by the name!).   Meerlust has 200 hectares, primarily red grapes.  

They are most famed for their Bordeaux-styled blend called "Rubicon", not to be confused with the wine made in the Napa Valley by Niebaum-Coppola.  The 2007, quite a good bottle of wine, is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc.  French oak barrels, mostly new.  They use a few different types of wood, adding to the complexity.   


Dalla Cia is also passionate about his Merlot, a mainstay in his homeland of Friuli.  This is fortified with a bit of Cabernet Franc and is a good example of this variety.
The 2007 is a nicely-oaked red with a bit of spice from the 14% Cabernet Franc in the blend.  There's a plummy element on the nose and palate.
Currently available:  Meerlust 2007 "Rubicon"  $27.99 
Meerlust 2007 Merlot $27.99
 

 

 
 
 
 

ENGELBRECHT ELS
Engelbrecht is a fellow whose family owns Rust-en-Vrede winery and Els would be famous golfer Ernie Els.   

Ernie Els own wine costs so much, you have to earn as much money as, say, Tiger Woods to be able to buy the wine regularly.

The collaboration between Els and Engelbrecht is a tad less pricey.  The press releases all tout Mr. Els' taste for Bordeaux and Mr. Engelbrecht's liking of Shiraz.  The resulting blend is now made at their own winery, with the Bordeaux varieties dominating.  

We found the 2004 to be quite good.  It shows nice dark fruit elements, with the Cabernet dominating.  There's a nice bit of wood here, too, as we find notes of cedar in the mix.  It's medium-full on the palate and quite drinkable now, though it probably has a number of years of cellaring potential.    Stylish and worthy of comparison to a good Napa red...

Currently in stock:  2004 ENGELBRECHT ELS Sold Out






DIEMERSFONTEIN

The Sonnenberg family has owned this estate since the 1940s.  It's in Wellington, about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town.

They have a hotel, restaurant and conference center, so the property is set up for hospitality.  And they also make wine.

They had hired a winemaker who had come up with some innovations in vinifying various wines and this brand has been identified with producing a Pinotage displaying a coffee/mocha sort of character.  The winemaker has since departed and his "recipe" is now being used by other wineries, as it's proven quite popular.

Apparently the production technique centers on fermenting the fruit with rather heavily toasted wood barrel staves which are placed in the stainless steel fermentation tank.  It does make for a rather showy wine and one which avoids the burnt rubber tire aspects of so many South African Pinotage wines.

The first vines on the property were planted in 1970 and in 2000 they built a winery.  The first vintage was 2001 and the first vintage of Pinotage won the Paul Sauer Trophy for best wooded Pinotage.  And wooded it is, though it's not a wine which displays lumber-yard fragrances.  Instead, it has the aromatics of our neighbor's coffee shop, Il Piccolo Cafe.  

The wine is rather smooth, too.  You might try one just to see how a wine tastes that's got the winemaker's fingerprints all over it.

Currently in stock:  DIEMERSFONTEIN 2011 Pinotage $21.99

 





RUST en VREDE
rust_en_vrede.gif (17254 bytes)The Engelbrecht family runs this historic property, a place in the Stellenbosch.  The winery specializes in red wines and Jannie Engelbrecht, a former rugby player, clings to the idea of maturing the wines for four years before releasing them.

Their "Estate" red wine is the top bottling, a blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot.  It is matured for a bit less than two years in all new French oak barrels.   

The Cabernet is a bit earthy and has a smoky quality which Rust en Vrede fans really like.  The Syrah is much in the same style, showing a woodsy note which I find sort of "burnt."   Famous wines, however.
Currently in stock: 
2010 Rust en Vrede Estate $44.99

2011 Rust en Vrede Merlot $18.99
 

 


 



DIE KRANS
Located in the Klein Karoo region is the town of Calitzdorp (I'm not making up these names...that's what these places are called!), a region famous for its Port-styled wines.  

One of the most well-known producers is Die Krans, a winery owned by the Nel family.  They've been in this region of South Africa since about 1890.  Since 1985 they've cultivated a range of grapes more commonly found in Portugal's Douro Valley.  

Apparently the Nel brothers have done some industrial espionage, visiting Porto and the Douro Valley to learn some of the secrets of Port.  Their wines are highly regarded in South Africa as some of best dessert wines available.

We've had their basic Port-styled wines in the shop and they're rather nice, certainly competing against the same level of wines from the top Port houses.  
Currently available:  DIE KRANS RUBY PORT  $12.50





 

RUSTENBERG
The Rustenberg estate has history going back to the late 1600s.  Wine has been made there since the 1780s and they've been bottling their own since 1892.  Whatever the history, they've been at it a long time.

In the 1940s, the Barlow family bought Rustenberg and a neighboring estate which was originally part of Rustenberg (the old Schoongezicht estate...I'm glad they kept the name Rustenberg!).  

Simon Barlow runs the property and they make quite a range of wines.  

Most outstanding is their "Peter Barlow" bottling, a special bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon that's deep, dark and rich.  It's been given the "royal treatment" with respect to oak...something like 70% of the barrels were brand new.  This is showy now and ought to continue to develop (and soften) over the next ten years.

 

 

The 2010 John Merriman is a Bordeaux-styled blend that goes head-to-head against Napa's top wines.  It's predominantly Cabernet and Merlot with a few drops of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  It sees a fair bit of new French oak and we like the woodsy style of this wine.  It's quite drinkable now and the modest price makes it a wine worth considering when a steak dinner is on the horizon.

Currently in stock:  2004 "Peter Barlow" (Cabernet) $49.99
2010 "John Merriman"  (Bordeaux blend)  $29.99
 

 






VILLIERA


I believe this is a bottle-fermented bubbly based on Chardonnay, with Pinot Noir, Pinotage and Pinot Meunier...It's a perfectly pleasant, fairly dry, mildly zesty bubbly.



Currently in  stock:  VILLIERA BRUT $17.99
 
 
 
 
 
 



BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF
A Boekenhout is some sort of tree found in South Africa and its wood is often used to make furniture, hence the various wooden chairs in the logo of the Boekenhoutskloof's label.
 

The farm has been in the Franschhoek valley for hundreds of years, but this little winemaking enterprise only got started in the 1990s.  The winemaker (and part-owner) is Marc Kent.  The first vintage amounted to a few thousand bottles...now they're making well over a million, mostly under the Porcupine Ridge label.

We've found their Syrahs to be noteworthy.  The vineyard is in the Wellington area and the soil is decomposed granite and produces a really intense Syrah...they pick at various stages of ripeness to help make a more complete wine.  The earlier-picked fruit probably accounts for the spicy notes and the riper portion is likely the more berryish and bigger wine...
We currently have the 2006...nicely peppery and dark berries..

There's a wine called "The Chocolate Block" and it's a Syrah-based blend.  It's 72% Syrah (not from the same site as their heavy-hitter Syrah bottling, though), 13% Cabernet, 7% Grenache. 6% Cinsault and 2% Viognier.
It's a big, dark, fruit bomb of a wine...

The Semillon is a nicely complex wine.  First, it's made from seriously old vines.  One block was planted in 1902 and the other in 1942!  The wine starts its fermentation in tank and is quickly transferred to French oak.  It undergoes a malolactic fermentation in barrel, as well and it stays in a very cold cellar in wood for about a year.  
It's got streaks of citrusy tones along with some peachy qualities...nice and dry with a bit of the 'waxy' character typical of Semillon.  
It's quite a rarity!

 

Currently in stock:  2006 Syrah Sale $51.99
2010 Chocolate Block  Sale $31.99
2013 Semillon $37.99
 

 






LE BONHEUR
This is a modest-sized estate in the Stellenbosch region.  We've had their wines in the shop for many years, finding them consistently "old world" in style.  

They seem to focus on their vineyards more than marketing or making wines for various wine critics.  I read that they did extensive studies on the soil types on the estate and then augmented various blocks with mineral additions to more closely replicate conditions in top French vineyards.

Cabernet from Le Bonheur has been reliably good.  We currently have their 2005...there's a whiff of wood in the background, with nice dark fruit notes on the nose.  Medium-bodied and mildly tannic, this is a nice partner for roasted or grilled meats.  
 
Currently in stock:  2005 LE BONHEUR Cabernet Sauvignon $23.99
 




 


 

 


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