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15 Dec 2011 00:00
A is for anticipation, B is for bottoms up—and T is for tanked. Tim James guides you through the best of the season.
Look out for the word “brut” if you want the local stuff to be dry or dryish, whereas “methode cap classique” or MCC will appear on the better bottlings, indicating that the wine was made according to the traditional Champagne method, with the bubbles coming from a secondary fermentation in the bottle.
One of many worth trying at just less than R100 is Sterhuis Blanc de Blanc 2008, which is made from chardonnay grapes and is genuinely dry with forward apple and citrus flavours made more complex by a little yeasty development.
Steenberg 1682 is a favourite of wine and food blogger Clare Mack and comes as either gleaming-white Chardonnay or rosé Pinot Noir, the former tending to be rich, the latter rather more austere.
At the prestige end of the sparklers—much more complex because they have spent five years or so maturing in bottle on the sediment of those enlivening yeasts—are Simonsig Cuvée Royale, from the producer of the local pioneer and still good-enough Kaapse Vonkel Brut, and Graham Beck Cuvée Clive. Both are made mostly from chardonnay, both have 2005 as the vintage and both are rather profound.
And at the frivolous but not contemptible end of the business—and more spritzy than full-on bubbly—is Solms-Astor Cape Jazz Shiraz: off-dry, cheap, red, unpretentious. It is a joke, but a good one.
Grappa is a crude peasant drink that has now become a sophisticated digestivo. Full of spirit, grape and flavour, the Joseph Barry is superbly packaged (R190 for 500ml). Shiraz husk spirit also finds its perceptible way, in place of neutral spirits or brandy, into Solms-Delta Gemoedsrus 2010 (R220), an inventive, richly fruity and well-balanced twist on traditional port-style wine.
No less drinkable (R10 less) is the full-flavoured, richly textured Chenin Blanc 2009, coming partly from the older bushvines that are the real treasure house of the Swartland.
Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc 2010 is from two wonderful vineyards situated on the slopes of the Skurfberg in the Olifants River area near Citrusdal. It has good peachy, earthy notes. Though not really a refined wine, it has masterly structure and lingering flavours. Even lovelier (and about R30 more expensive at R125 a bottle) is the Cape of Good Hope Laing Semillon 2010, from another very old Skurfberg vineyard. It is a little lighter-footed than the chenin, with finely balanced lemony grace. Great to sip or with food.
The Ouwingerdreeks-Old Vine Series from the famous Sadie Family includes wines from these vineyards as well as others. The second vintage (2010) has just been released. It will be hard to find, but it is fascinating and worth the premium price if you manage to do so.
From the Simonsberg vineyards comes a mature white—ignored by many who wrongly think that these wines do not benefit hugely from time in bottle—the Quoin Rock Oculus 2007 (R160). From sauvignon blanc, oaked, with a nervy acidity, it has some viognier grapes admixed for textural richness and some winning hints of peach.
One eminently sensible option is to choose any special wine to match the mood rather than this dry bird. Another would be to go with either of the great Burgundian grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, preferably the former. Good local pinot noirs are less rare than they used to be, but tend to be pricey. An unprecedented three of them got five stars in Platter’s South African Wines 2011 guide (Newton Johnson Family Vineyards 2010, Oak Valley 2009, Chamonix 2010), eclipsing cabernet sauvignon for a change.
Another impressive example is Radford Dale Freedom Pinot Noir 2010, probably its best vintage yet. Raspberry fragrance and something softly dark lead you on to pure-fruited but deliciously just-funky flavours (which will be even better in a few Christmasses’ time, but still), all supported by a subtly firm structure with invisible oaking. It costs about R240, but for well less than half of that you can get a less distinguished but pretty decent version from the same producer: Winery of Good Hope Pinot Noir 2010. And if you are pining for pinot but are poor or just plain mean, there is one from big brand Two Oceans for about R40. It is a pleasant dry red that offers distant echoes of the true character of this noble variety.
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