Saturday 18 October 2014

New Kids on the Block

Another opportunity to taste South African wine, this time a masterclass at IFT Macau (Macau Institute of Tourism Studies) led by Richard Kershaw MW, an Englishman who is now making his own wine in Elgin, South Africa.

Richard called this masterclass 'South Africa New Kids on the Block' because the winemakers are based not in the classic wine regions of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek but in cutting edge areas such as the cool Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde and the Mediterranean Swartland. Moreover, these winemakers don’t own vineyards and some not even wineries (they share wineries). They work with growers and source grapes from the best, mostly smaller and older, plots. These winemakers are also small scale operators, only make a few wines, most of them only two. Richard summed it up by saying that not owning land or wineries lowers the barrier of entry and therefore presents an opportunity for new winemakers to make something unique. These new kids, most in their mid 30s, focus on offering the best wines made from the best grapes.

The wines were divided into three flights. The first was white blends. Richard explained that a wine called a white blend tends to be lower quality, easy drinking and mostly box wine, but these winemakers try to make a point that white blends can in fact be decent. The blends are not Bordeaux SSB (Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc) but from a myriad of grapes with no dominant variety. While some are field blends form old vines, other winemakers source grapes from five or more vineyards to make a few barrels of wine.

Courtesy of David Wong
David Aristargos 2013: Only six barrels were made. This is a blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Rousanne and Clairette sourced from seven vineyards. The wine is fresh, laden with fruit purity and has a concentrated mid-palate adding complexity. Winemaker David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie) is a member of the Swartland Independent and one of my favourite winemakers. He started with only 713 bottles of Aristargos in 2010 and now makes four wines of about 4,000 bottles. Available from Vincisive.

Rall White 2013: A Chenin Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier blend. Chenin’s refreshing acidity gives the wine the backbone and minerality to support the floral notes and spices of the other varieties. Donovan Rall is another member of the Swartland Independent but some of the grapes of this wine were actually sourced from Stellenbosch. He makes only two wines (a white and a red), each only a few barrels.

Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse Cape Wine Blend 2013: A blend of Rousanne, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc, this is another complex wine with a herb garden spicy aroma and a creamy palate. The wine takes its name from the rocking horse that John and Tasha Seccombe made for their eldest daughters using old oak barrel staves. John studied winemaking at Plumpton in the UK (where I also received my winemaking training) so I’m particularly proud of him. And yes, you guessed right, only 3-4 barrels were made.

The second flight was Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and again we tasted three wines:

Kershaw Elgin Chardonnay Clonal Selection 2012: From the coolest region of Elgin in South Africa, this wine is restrained and elegant and the oak fermentation and ageing (40% new oak) adds complexity. Richard is very precise and aims to create clonally selected, site-specific, cool climate wine from noble grapes. This Chardonnay is made from Clones CY97, CY95 and CY76. You will be able to buy it from Vincisive soon.

Alheit Cartology 2013: 88% Chenin Blanc sourced from four vineyards and blended with12% Semillon from old vines, this is a fine wine with good concentration and ageing potential. Owners Chris and Suzaan Alheit work with Rosa Kruger, a highly respected viticulturist in South Africa who is a pioneer in discovering forgotten old plots. This wine, Cartology, meaning the study of maps, is a tribute to Rosa’s work. The good news is that the wine will be soon be available in Hong Kong from Vincisive.

Testalonga El Bandito 2013: Love it or hate it, this is made from 100% Chenin Blanc with prolonged skin contact (I mean weeks!). It is two shades deeper in colour, structured with a bit of tannin, nutty yet floral and fresh, reminding me of Georgian qvevri wine. Someone in the audience said "cider" which was certainly not wrong. Testalonga is the own label of Craig Hawkins, winemaker at Lammershoek in Swartland.

The last flight was Pinot Noir and Syrah from the cool regions next to the Atlantic coast.

JH Meyer Signature Pinot Noir 2013: A charming, fruit driven wine with a good balance. Winemaker Johan only makes two wines, about 1,000 bottles each.

Crystallum Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noir 2012: Red fruits, hint of floral and spices, certainly a wine with depth and ageing potential. The father of this team of brothers, Peter Finlayson who put Walker Bay Pinot Noir on the world wine map, would be proud of sons Andrew and Peter-Allan.

Kershaw Elgin Syrah Clonal Selection 2012: Another precise, clonally selected wine from Richard using Clones SH9c and SH22. A subtle wine with black fruits, white pepper, spices and a hint of vanilla from the 50% new French oak. Soon available from Vincisive.

These wines are all good quality. But what I really like and appreciate is the commitment of the winemakers (often supported by their wives). They are not making crowd-pleasing wines but rather wines that respect and reflect their origins. These 'kids' are pursuing their dreams and making wines with their hearts, and we should applaud them.

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