Sipping South Africa

by artfuldiner on February 11, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine, Wining and Dining

IMG_0846My travel companion and I just returned from a glorious two weeks in South Africa. We spent five days of wine tastings in the estates in the Western Cape Province before embarking on a 10-day Azamara cruise of ports on the east coast of South Africa. Noted below are a number of the wines we sampled, the great majority of which are readily available from various sources to be enjoyed in the United States. Pictured above: Conroy Gabriel, our guide, driver, and friend for five wonderful days of wine tasting (he did the driving, we did the tasting 😊).

Anthonij Rupert Wines - ExteriorOur first port-of-call was the Anthonij Rupert Wine Estate, which is based in Franschhoek but also owns properties in several South African wine regions. The company was founded by Anthonij, son of billionaire Anton Rupert, on the L’Ormarins farm in Franschhoek, located against the dramatic backdrop of the Groot Drakenstein Mountains. In 1998 Anthonij Rupert also acquired the Rooderust estate in Darling with around 300 acres under vine. When Anthonij died in 2001, the estate was taken over by his brother, Johann, and the company was given its present name. The estate’s portfolio is now comprised of five ranges headed by the flagship Anthonij Rupert range of reds from Bordeaux varieties and Syrah.

Anthonij Rupert Wines - Optima 2015Of the six wines tasted, two red wines were absolute standouts…The 2015 vintage is internationally regarded as one of South Africa’s finest to date; and if there’s one wine that illustrates this fact, it is Anthonij Rupert’s Optima 2015. This fabulous Bordeaux blend is comprised of 40% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were hand-picked in the early morning and then hand-sorted in the cellar. After cold-soaking, fermentation started and lasted for approximately 20 days. Malolactic fermentation took place in new 225-litre French oak barrels and 10,000-litre oak tanks. The components were made and aged separately for 18-months in 225-litre French oak barrels (35% new) after which the wines were blended and aged for another 6-months in barrel and tank and bottle-matured for a further 24-months before release. After tasting this wine, I immediately decided to have six bottles shipped from South Africa… Yes, it’s that good. The 2015 Optima is priced around the $29.00 mark and is available online through Canal’s Bottle Shop in Marlton, NJ.

The Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 was also tasted and is highly recommended. Unfortunately, the 2014 is not available… What is available, however, is the highly-rated 2012 vintage. This is a heady, old-fashioned Cabernet with plenty of power, yet it remains suave and seductive on the palate. It may be purchased from several sources online for around $60.00. Definitely worth seeking out.


IMG_0859DeMorgenzon Winery: The wineries of South Africa are the most beautiful in the world… and there are many who believe, this writer among them, that DeMorgenzon is the most beautiful of them all. Indeed, my very first glimpse of this Stellenbosch estate, with vineyards ranging from 200-400 meters on the slopes of the mighty Ribbokkop Mountain, did not fail to impress. DeMorgenzon which means “the morning sun,” takes its name from the first Afrikaans settlers, who aptly named this part of the Stellenbosch region because it basks in the first rays of sunshine over the valley.

Vines were planted here in the 18th century. Yet, despite the historic lineage, Demorgenzon is very much the new kid on the block. In 2003, the estate was purchased by businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum. A former deputy chair of an investment group dedicated solely to women, Ms. Appelbaum, in collaboration with her husband, Hylton, has channeled her considerable business experience into quickly transforming DeMorgenzon from an unknown entity into a first-class wine producer. 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 Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017Today, DeMorgenzon is not only celebrated for its majestic beauty, but also, thanks to winemaker Carl van der Merwe’s incredible skill, for crafting some of South Africa’s most exciting and original wines. And it is the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc that has captured the attention of critics and connoisseurs alike. Crafted from old Chenin Blanc vines in the finest terroirs across the mountain, it is arguably the Cape’s most significant wine offering to the world. During my recent trip, I sampled the 2018 Chenin Blanc and it was nothing short of spectacular. And while this vintage is not yet available in the United States, the DeMorgenzon 2017 Chenin Blanc, which is every bit the equal of the 2018, may be purchased online from Saratoga Wine Exchange for $31.88 and Bedford Wine Merchants for $33.99 (plus shipping). If you would prefer Chardonnay, the 2016 DeMorgenzon Reserve Chard is also highly rated – and highly recommended – and may also be purchased online from Saratoga Wine Exchange for around the $40.00 mark.

The two red wines I tasted – the 2015 DeMorgenzon Reserve Syrah and 2016 DeMorgenzon Maestro Red – are also quite excellent. Syrahs can be on the harsh and heavy side… but the 2015 Reserve is as smooth as silk on the palate, loaded with ripe black fruit, and goes down nice and easy… Unfortunately, it isn’t exported to the US, so you’ll have to make a little jaunt to South Africa to pick it up. On the other hand, the 2016 Maestro Red, a first-rate Bordeaux blend comprised of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc, may be purchased online at for $27.00.


Jordan Winery Stellenbosch - Exterior 2Jordan Wine Estate: Gary and Kathy Jordan have been making world-class wines since 1993 on a farm with a history that goes back over 300 years. Gary’s parents, Ted and Sheelagh, bought the now 164-hectare Stellenbosch property in 1982 and embarked on an extensive replanting program, specializing in classic varieties suited to the different soils and slopes. The couple worked internationally for two years, learning the winemaking business before returning home to build a cellar in 1992. The following year, the wines were judged ready for making wines that would carry the Jordan name.

Our driver/guide, Conroy Gabriel, suggested we try the 2018 Jordan Nine Yards Reserve Chardonnay… and he was right on the money. A simply marvelous wine – big, bold & buttery – that sells for 425 South African Rand (approximately $29.00). Unfortunately, the 2018 is not readily available in the US. What is available is the 2012 vintage, which may be purchased in the US through Your Wine Cellars in Fort Lauderdale, FL, for $50.85, if you are so inclined.

Jordan Winery Stellenbosch - Cobblers Hill 2015This estate’s real claim to fame, however, is winemaker Gary Jordan’s incomparable 2014 Sophia, a Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, and 12% Cabernet Franc. It goes for 1,425 Rand (approximately $100.00 US dollars). This is a real gem; and I couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle to bring home in my suitcase. Sophia, however, is not imported into the United States. Fortunately, though, the 2015 Jordan Cobblers Hill, a similar blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 12% Cabernet Franc is readily available through Not quite up to Sophia’s standard, but still very, very good… and about half the price, $47.00.


Hamilton Russell Winery - Exterior of Tasting RoomHamilton Russell Vineyards: I have mentioned this prestigious winery on several previous occasions… Hamilton Russell Vineyards – one of the most southerly wine estates in Africa and one of the closest to the sea – pioneered viticulture and winemaking in the beautiful maritime Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven & Earth) Valley appellation adjacent to the picturesque fishing village of Hermanus.

Tim Hamilton Russell purchased the underdeveloped 425-acre property in 1975, after an exhaustive search for the most southerly site on which to make South Africa’s top cool climate wines from a selection of noble grape varieties. His son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, who took over in 1991, narrowed the range to only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and registered Hamilton Russell Vineyards as an estate, committing to work only with grapes from their terroir.

Hamilton Russell Winery - Anthony & OliveToday, Anthony and his wife, Olive, winemaker Emul Ross, and viticulturist Johan Montgomery are completely dedicated to expressing the personality of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards terroir in their wines. Diminutive yields and intense worldwide demand keep the elegant, highly individual, estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in very short supply.

During my recent visit to South Africa, I tasted both the 2018 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and the 2018 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir at their vineyard, and both were superb. The Chardonnay crop was tiny in 2018 – half the normal yield, according to winemaker Emul Ross – but the quality is as good as ever. The wine was fermented in amphorae and 29% new oak barrels, with 40% malolactic. “This is a beautiful and classic expression of Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and it’s sure to please any Chardonnay lover,” notes Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. Best of all, it is readily available in the US from a variety of online sources: Saratoga Wine Exchange, NY, $33.07; Empire Wine.Com, $33.95; Bedford Wine Merchants, $33.99 (various vintages also occasionally available through PA State Stores).

The HR 2018 Pinot Noir is equally up to the mark. It’s still a bit tight, but there’s plenty of backbone of sweet red berry fruit; and this wine should age and soften extremely well. Another fabulous effort from this superlative winery. The 2018 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir is available online from the Wine Library, Springfield, NJ, $29.99; and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, $34.99. Once again, various vintages are occasionally available through PA State Stores.

Hamilton Russell’s affiliates include Southern Right and Ashbourne, two small vineyards also located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus. Southern Right is a Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc specialist. The vineyard is named after the rare Southern Right wales, which frequent the cool South Atlantic waters a scarce three kilometers from the vineyards. Ashbourne also majors in Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc and has developed a reputation for innovative, highly individual, classically-styled age-worthy blended wines.


Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2018Although we didn’t manage to get to the Ken Forrester Winery (So many wines, so little time!), my travel companion and I were able to sample his excellent 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc with our dinner at Helena’s Restaurant in Stellenbosch. This is a lovely wine, golden-hued and full bodied, with a perfect balance of fruit and delicate oak/vanilla flavors. Ken Forrester utilizes six different Stellenbosch vineyards to make this old-vine cuvée. The wine is wild fermented with 20% new wood and tempts the palate with its rich flavorful fruit and fresh, well-balanced finish. An excellent wine at an excellent price. It is available online from for $16.99. I recommend it highly.




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