Christine Austin tastes what some of the country’s best producers have to offer as they bring their wares to the UK.
Gary and Kathy Jordan never seem to stand still. “We have bought the next door property, not so we can expand production, but to give us breathing space while we plan some replanting of our older vineyards.” Their estate, on one of the finest hills in Stellenbosch, South Africa, is meticulously planted and I expect the extra 20 hectares of vines brought under their control with the new purchase will be carefully knocked into shape before being allowed to contribute to their headline wines.
Gary is a geologist by training and he has used this knowledge to match grape variety to soil structure. Both he and Kathy, formerly an economist, now share the responsibility for their 160 hectares of vineyard and their cellars and aim to make wines that reflect the soil and location of each vineyard while allowing the fruit to shine out.
I have visited the lovely Jordan Estate several times and each time have come away impressed by the wines. This time Gary and Kathy had flown to London to take part in one of the best South African tastings when members of the Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa get together to show their wines.
This group of 15 wineries is by no means the only source of quality wine in South Africa.There are several producers who perhaps should be members, or maybe they don’t see the need to join. However each one of these 15 producers makes wines that are focused on quality, individuality and style.
From the Jordan range I really enjoy the Unwooded Chardonnay 2012 for its clean fresh, uncluttered citrus and peach flavours (£11.99, Harrogate Fine Wine) but I was really impressed by the new vintage Nine Yards Chardonnay 2013 for its purity of nectarine and apricot fruit, layered with citrus and underscored by almost negligible oak, despite spending 18 months in Burgundian casks. This is a wine that still needs time to stretch its legs, and since it is still on the water heading in the UK’s direction it will take a while to get to the shelves. Meanwhile the 2012 is actually showing better at present having settled into its flavours and become rounded and stylish with a touch more tropical fruit and a hint of savoury spice. Find it at The Halifax Wine Co. at £22.50 and drink it whenever you might think of opening a Meursault.
The flagship Jordan Estate red, Cobblers Hill 2011, is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet France all grown in a single vineyard on Cobblers Hill, named in honour of the family’s former occupation several generations ago when they were shoemakers in Northampton. The wine is outstanding with cassis compote flavours, a touch of chocolate and glorious, silky complexity. Penistone Wine Cellars (01226 766037) has the 2006 vintage at £25 which I last tasted a couple of years ago and it was gorgeous then so it is quite like to have improved even more.
It was good to see Brewer Raats at this tasting. He is the face, farmer (as he describes himself) and winemaker at Raats family estates, which is relatively small in production terms with just 20,000 cases to sell each year.
Chenin is the main focus here and while some South African Chenins are lacking in real varietal character, his Original Unwooded Chenin Blanc 2013 (£9.99, Harrogate Fine Wine) is the pure expression of the fruit with quince, pear and crunchy minerals giving the tastebuds a workout. It is crisp and vibrant with flavour and it makes a delightful summer lunchtime wine with calamari or shellfish. I was also bowled over by the Raats Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2012 (£10.50, Halifax Wine Co.). This wine perfectly demonstrates Brewer’s passion for Loire varietals. It has clear-as-a-bell leafy Cabernet Franc notes with crushed raspberries and cherries elbowing their way out of the glass.
Think Bourgueil as a style and even consider chilling it down in the fridge for 30 minutes before drinking. If you enjoy this wine then consider trading up to Raats Family Cabernet Franc 2010 (£18.50, Halifax Wine Co.) for deeper plums and blackberry flavours, still edgy with clear Cab Franc notes, but polished and silky.
It was good to meet up with the ebullient Ken Forrester at this tasting, since he always manages to inject some of his lively character into his wines. He makes exceptional Chenin Blanc wines, from old vines, some planted 50 years ago, dry farmed and bush pruned. These vines give intense, concentrated fruit that shows particularly in FMC 2011 (Field and Fawcett, York £23.80), a 100 per cent Chenin wine that combines waxy, honeysuckle aromas with almonds, lemon curd and a hint of spice. Drink this with scallops, fish pie or slow roasted pork belly. I also loved the bouncy, juicy, concentrated Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre in Ken Forrester Renegade 2009 (Hic! Wines, 01977 550047).
This red can stand up to big meaty flavours such as a spiced lamb kebab straight off the barbecue or a juicy rump steak.While you are calling Hic! Wines who are based in Castleford, try Mulderbosch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (£12.50). Sourced from several vineyards between coastal-influenced Elgin to high altitude Cederberg, each one adds layers of citrus, fig and floral notes, backed by super, bright, lively thirst-quenching freshness. This is a wine for sunshine drinking with fish and salads.
I was also impressed by the Paul Cluver range of wines. Based in the Elgin Valley and making the most of the cool breezes that waft in from the coast these wines have a seam of freshness running through them. I haven’t been able to find the finely balanced Sauvignon Blanc 2013 in Yorkshire yet, but Harrogate Fine Wine has the 2011 Chardonnay (£14.99) which has been made in an elegant, restrained style, with the oak sitting well under the fruit, giving a clear-cut, citrus-based wine, full enough to accompany a roast chicken. I also enjoyed Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2012 for its lifted perfume and bright elegant style. Harrogate Fine Wine has the 2010 vintage at £14.99 which should be hitting its mark around now.