Yesterday was the London leg of the Wines of South Africa Wine Workshop tour, held at Vinopolis. The event was split into four sessions, one of which was titled Can South Africa do Reds?
I’d like to think that it is generally accepted that SA can, even though a lot has been written about whether the country’s white wines are in fact the real stars of the show at the moment. But with most red wines being consumed within a few years of production the discussion was probably more along the lines of whether South Africa is producing ‘classic’ reds that show have complexity and ageing potential. Not trying to make wines that taste like famous appellations, but wines that are great, red and from the tip of Africa.
Can you answer that question in just over 60 minutes? Probably not, but you can make a very good impression. The wines (and winemakers) that were in London to make the case were from Kanonkop (Abrie Beeslaar), Le Riche (Christo le Riche) and Stark-Condé (José Conde).
The tasting focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux style wines, with each producer showing three vintages of the same wine. WOSA communications head Andre Morgenthal was quick to point out that the choice of varietal was not a suggestion that this is the premium red wine category from the country. Rather that WOSA had invited submissions which were all tasted blind and based on availability of the winemakers to travel at the time and the aim of presenting a compact tasting showcase these wines were selected. I don’t envy the task of putting together a program like this as you are never going to keep everyone happy!
There were around 50 people at the workshop and we tasted through the 2004, 2005 and 2007 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, while Abrie chatted about his philosophy on winemaking and the approach at Kanonkop. Paul Sauer is approximately 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 was awesome.
Next was Christo le Riche, who is following in his father Etienne’s footsteps, showing the 2000, 2005 and 2007 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The cellar is unique in South Africa (I think?) in that they only make one wine (along with a small separate bottling for the Cape Winemakers’ Guild auction). Christo talks about them as blends, even though they are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are sourced from 2 or 3 different vineyard sites and in his opinion the terroir of each is so important that combining them creates a blend. I quite like that way of looking at the impact of the site of the vineyard. The 2005 was bolder and more of a show-off than the other two, but I would choose the 2007 if I had to. Elegant and balanced, with pure fruit flavours.
Thirdly Jose Condé presented three vintages of his Stark-Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon – 2006, 2007 and 2009. Winemaking was a career switch for José, after moving to South Africa from the USA about fifteen years ago. Again I’d go for the 2007 if I was going to drink a bottle right now. It’s got great tannin structure – soft but supporting the riper fruit flavours that show on the palate. But that 2009 looked like it could be really good in a year or two.
The winemakers all mentioned that their wines can be enjoyed fairly soon after the vintage (two to three years) and that wines which have the potential to age don’t need to be completely inaccessible in their youth.
The wines were fantastic and although not particularly old vintages the comparison across vintages showed their class. The tasting was on the same day as Christian Eedes posted an article on the Wine Magazine website talking about Cabernet’s fall from fashion in South Africa. This small sample was a reminder of the quality that is coming out of Stellenbosch and you’d be able to find many more examples.
Bordeaux varieties have taken a bit of a bollocking over the last decade in the rush towards fashionable Rhône and Mediterranean styles. But let’s not forget that a lot of that has been around the choice of vineyard sites, and Stellenbosch continues to deliver quality wines.
Favourite wine of the tasting? Hmmm… tough to call, but I’ll go for the 07 Paul Sauer over the Le Riche – just because it’s a couple quid cheaper!