Wines of South Africa

by artfuldiner on June 21, 2018

in Breaking News, Wine

According to an article by James Molesworth in the June 15, 2018, issue of the Wine Spectator, it’s something of a mystery as to why South African wines have yet to capture the attention of American wine lovers. This is rather puzzling as the Cape continues to produce distinctive and exciting wines from a diverse range of grape varieties at modest prices. And, interestingly enough, while the United States is the leading wine-consuming nation in the world, it is only the fourth largest export market for South African wines.

Hopefully, this is about to change, as the South African wines I’ve sampled over the years, have been benchmark efforts just waiting to be discovered. Listed below are just a few of the SA producers whose wines are well worth trying…

Hamilton Russell VineyardsHamilton Russell Vineyards: Located in the cool maritime Walker Bay wine appellation in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Valley behind the old fishing village of Hermnus, the winery specializes in producing terroir-driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These “Wines from South African soil with a Burgundian soul” are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the world. Hamilton Russell produces approximately 15,000 cases of Pinot Noir and 20,000 cases of Chardonnay each year. Small yields and intense worldwide demand keep these elegant, highly individual estate grown wines in very short supply – but they are well worth seeking out.

I have two bottles each of the 2014 and 2015 Chardonnay remaining in my cellar and they are both fabulous. These are like fine white Burgundies… but at a fraction of the price. Mr. Molesworth recently reviewed both the 2016 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ($39.00) and the 2016 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ($53.00), bestowing 93 points (100-point scale) upon each.

Forrester, Ken, WinemakerKen Forrester Vineyards: In 1977, Ken Forrester, who is affectionately known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” began a career in the hotel industry after a three-year course in Hotel Management at the Johannesburg Hotel School. Then, in 1993, with a young family, he and his wife, Teresa, purchased an historic vineyard in Stellenbosch, a university town located 31 miles east of Cape Town. This beautiful farm, complete with a circa 1694 Cape Dutch homestead, had stood vacant and derelict when the couple acquired it at auction.

After extensive renovations, most of the vineyard was planted to Chenin Blanc. This grape’s spiritual home is the Loire Valley, France. Today, however, 50% of the Chenin Blanc produced in the world is from South Africa. It is a versatile varietal and produces everything from fresh and fruity wines and sparkling tipples to seriously rich and luscious desert wines with several decades of aging potential.

Mr. Forrester’s most accessible wine would undoubtedly be his Chenin Blanc Western Cape Petit, which retails for a paltry $12.00. The 2017 vintage recently received 89 points from the Wine Spectator; but the 2016 is equally enjoyable. In the red wine department, I recently sampled his 2012 Merlot Reserve. This was an interesting wine, weighing in at 14% alcohol, exhibiting hints of cherry and subtle smoky undertones. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months and then blended with a small amount (6%) of Cabernet Franc prior to bottling. This is a softly rounded accessible wine that is nicely balanced for early drinking. Available at $14.39 through Pennsylvania State Stores.

DeMorgenzon Winery - OwnersDeMorgenzon Winery: DeMorgenzon is a beautifully situated wine estate in Stellenbosch, with vineyards ranging from 200-400 meters on the slopes of the Ribbokkop Mountain. DeMorgenzon, which means “the morning sun,” takes its name from the first Afrikaans settlers, who aptly named this part of the Stellenbosch because it basks in the first rays of sunshine over the valley.

Vines were planted here in the early 18th century. Yet, despite the historic lineage of vine growing in this section of Stellenbosch, DeMorgenzon is very much the new kid on the block, having been purchased by Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum in 2003. Equipment has been replaced and upgraded, vines have been replanted, and an incredible amount of time and resources have been invested into propelling DeMorgenzon into one of the world’s premier wine estates.

DeMorgenzon Winery - Winemaker Carl van der MerweToday, the winery is not only celebrated for its majestic beauty, but also, because of winemaker Carl van der Merwe’s skill, for crafting some of South Africa’s most exciting and original wines. By the way, this is the winery that pipes Baroque music through the vineyard 24 hours a day, claiming that it aids the ripening process. Be that as it may, it is the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc that has captured the attention of wine lovers and wine critics alike. The 2016 vintage, which was released in the summer of 2017, received a whopping 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and is available online in the $39.00 range.

The 2016 DeMorgenzon Reserve Chardonnay is also very highly rated – 94 points from the Wine Advocate – and retails around the $31.00 mark. My favorite, however, would undoubtedly be the intriguing 2014 DeMorgenzon “Maestro,” a blend of 26% Roussanne, 25% Chardonnay, 19% Grenache Blanc, 17% Chenin Blanc, and 13% Viognier. This was originally purchased through the Pennsylvania State Stores for $24.99 and also goes for about the same price online. I mentioned this wine in a previous review; but it is still available and definitely worth seeking out.

If red wine is more to your liking, be sure to try the 2015 DeMorgenzon DMZ Syrah, which received 89 points from the Wine Enthusiast and retails in the $18.00 range.



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