Many people don’t think much of wines from South Africa, maybe because most are so affordable they aren’t taken seriously. If that is what you believe, I think you should reconsider and try more wines from the area. I am not saying they rival Bordeaux or Napa but they certainly have the potential and I think they will get there someday. Meanwhile, drink up while they are still inexpensive.
We have written about South Africa in several previous posts and will write more posts once we have visited the area this summer. With that in mind I’ll keep this brief with primarily our tasting notes. Please use the search box on the right to view all of our previous posts on South Africa wines.
At our usual Thursday night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton we had six wines, all red, covering Stellenbosch, Paarl, Worcester and Robertson. If you take a look at a map of South African wine country you will see this covers a lot of area, all with their own climate and terroir differences. Looking at the map you will also see there is much more area to cover if you really want to explore wines from South Africa.
Our first wine was from Guardian Peak Winery in Stellenbosch. Their wines are made by the team at Rust en Vrede Wine Estate in a “New World” style and the grapes may come from their own vineyards in Namaqualand, a quite dry area, or sourced from other areas in the Western Cape. Guardian Peak’s wines are made to be ready to drink on release. The name “The Kalahari Lion” on the Merlot we tasted reflects their involvement in the preservation of the lions in the Kalahari desert.
2010 Guardian Peak “The Kalahari Lion” Merlot – medium ruby to garnet in the glass. Smoke, concentrated dark fruit and a bit of an earthy aroma waft from the glass. Flavors of dark, ripe plums combine with earthy, vegetal flavors. The fruit flavors are a tiny bit sweet, but are well-balanced with juicy acidity, smooth tannins. A flavorful glass of wine.
Interestingly, our next wine was a Merlot from Rust en Vrede Wine Estate by the same team that made the Guardian Peak Merlot. Rust en Vrede has been around for over 300 years sometimes making wine, sometimes not. However, they have been specializing in Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the past 30 plus years. They produced the first South African to be nominated in the Top 100 Wines of the World and repeated this accomplishment for four consecutive years.
We tasted two wines from Rust en Vrede, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
2012 Rust en Vrede Wine Estate Merlot – dense, bright ruby color in the glass. Aromas in the glass are predominantly vegetal. Flavors of jalapeño and tart plums combine with zippy acidity and grippy tannins to produce a glass of wine that is a bit austere.
The flavors are pleasant and well balanced, but this wine is not as extroverted as the prior Merlot. Interesting contrast in style. This wine came in as the second favorite in our tasting group.
2010 Rust en Vrede Wine Estate Stellenbosh Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet color in the glass. The nose is an interesting combination of mint and dark fruit with a bit of smoke in the background. The flavors in this wine developed significantly in the glass over time. Complex, dark fruit flavors, moderate acidity and drying tannins combine to produce a riper style of wine.
We moved on the Graham Beck Wines with vineyards in both Stellenbosch and Robertson. Graham Beck is a large producer with a wide range of wines, several of which we have had in the past. All of their wines we have tried have been very good. As far as the estate, you just can’t say enough about Graham Beck in a small article, low intervention winemaking, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. The entire team at Graham Beck really practices what it means to give back to the land and community.
2010 Graham Beck “The Game Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet in the glass with a complex minty, smoky dark fruit nose. Rich dark fruit flavors combine with a bit of mint, lots of acidity and lingering, drying tannins. The finish was long with both flavor and tannins. Overall, a very flavorful, well balanced glass of wine with a light to medium body. This was the number one wine in our tasting group.
Are you a golfer? If so you will know who Ernie Els is a very successful professional golfer from South Africa. He also owns a winery there which has won many awards for their wines. As you would expect from a professional golfer, you can walk out of the winery and practice your chipping. They even have chipping competitions on the last Friday and Saturday of each month.
2011 Ernie Els Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon – dark ruby-garnet in the glass. The nose is mostly dark fruit aromas with just a hint of vegetal in the background. Obvious dark fruit flavors dominate with a subtle earthiness and hints of green pepper in the background. Tannins are drying and produce good structure for this rich, fruity wine. Lots of flavor, but not lacking in acid.
Our last wine from the evening was made by Mulderbosch Vineyards and is called Faithful Hound. Several of our tasters have a fondness for Faithful Hound as we have tasting it on and off for several years. Mulderbosch also makes a very nice Chenin Blanc in addition to their other wines.
They were purchased in 201 by a California investment company headed by a former Screaming Eagle co-owner. We will just have to wait and see where the company heads now, although I have heard prices will be increasing so lets hope there is a commensurate increase in quality.
2010 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound Stellenbosch Red Blend – very dark ruby in the glass. Obvious mint on the nose. Flavors are a combination of jalapeño, dark fruit, blackberries and cedar. Drying tannins provide good structure for the complex flavors. Lots of flavors here, not too ripe, not too much wood influence. Just delicious.
In conclusion, all of the wines were quite good for their price point. As I said earlier, enjoy these wines while they are affordable.
I’ll go on a little bit of a rant here now. I have nothing against investment groups owning wineries like Mulderbosch except I think the focus may become profit rather than quality. After all, what is an investment group but a bunch of people making investments to grow their capital? Much better is an individual or family who has a passion for making wine. Hopefully other wineries in South Africa won’t be pressured into raising prices so they don’t get lumped in with “the other cheap wines”.