Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa! I've come down to the Cape Winelands to dive deep into South African wine in a way that isn't possible in the United States. In most wine stores I'm lucky to find a handful of South African wines at most, and forget about restaurants, which often just have a single representative wine on their list, if anything at all.
So I'm here under the imposing shadow of Table Mountain to attend Cape Wine 08, the biannual South African wine convention -- their equivalent of VinItaly or VinExpo. I'll be visiting a few wine producers, having a few meals, attending a couple of seminars, but mostly I'm going to be doing one thing, and one thing only: tasting as much South African wine as I can.
At least, as much as my jet lag will let me. It hasn't kicked in yet, but I expect it to in about 24 hours, so while I'm able to be rested, I've gotten started on my explorations.
My first event of the week was a lunch sponsored by the winemakers of the Simonsberg Ward of the Stellenbosch District. The South African wine regions take some time to get one's head (and one's tongue) around. Those familiar with California wine appellations will find the best analog to the Districts and Wards in the relationship between say, the Central Coast appellation and the specific AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) like Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande Valley. In South Africa, the Stellenbosch District represents the larger wine region, while the Wards are the equivalents of our AVAs.
The Simonsberg Ward takes its name from its primary geographical feature, Simonsberg Mountain, which nicely separates the Stellenbosch and Paarl wine districts, much as the Mayacamas mountains separate California's Napa and Sonoma counties.
Simonsberg Ward is home to a mere 15 wine producers, most of whom focus on growing Bordeaux varietals and blended wines on the sloping, rocky hillsides that ring the craggy mountain.
After tasting a couple nice Sauvignon Blancs on the patio (with little space for me to take notes) we moved into a restaurant for lunch and tasting wines. Here are my notes from the wines I tasted. I found the wines competently made and varietally true, and some had great personalities. In addition to standard Bordeaux blends, some of the red blends in the area also contain Syrah as well as Pinotage, South Africa's signature cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
I believe that I may have missed one or two wines on offer, but I plan on seeking them out at the convention tomorrow.
2004 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Inky ruby in color this wine has an intense nose of espresso and black cherry aromas. In the mouth it is soft and rich with flavors of cherry, plum, wet earth, and a spicy cedar note that seems to ride on the back of the suede-like tannins. Nice finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $27. Where to buy?
2000 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Inky Garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cedar and sawdust with a hint of red fruit lying underneath. In the mouth it is lean and taut with flavors of cherry, sawdust, and caramel, and light, dusty tannins. The fruit has dried somewhat but has not been replaced by more interesting secondary aromas and flavors. Score: around 8.5. Cost: n/a
2006 Warwick Estate "Trilogy" Red Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth it is medium bodied with nice, smooth tannins that wrap around flavors of black cherry, and then on the finish, sweet cocoa. Pleasant but not amazing. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2004 Tokara Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of earth, leather, and tobacco aromas. On the palate it offers a straightforward combination of cherry, spices, and a heavy helping of oak and vanilla, that ends up being the lasting impression of the wine. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2005 Rustenberg "John X. Merriman" Bordeaux Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a remarkably savory nose of mixed herbs and what I'll call "tree bark" aromas. In the mouth it centers on cherry flavors with a good helping of oak and dried herbs, and some unfortunate alcoholic heat towards the finish. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. Where to buy?
2004 Deleheim "Grand Reserve" Bordeaux Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of a very pretty concoction of cherry, mint, and leather aromas. In the mouth the leather quality persists both in flavor as well as the texture of its grippy tannins. The primary fruit is a bright cherry that mixes with a nice minerality that lingers in the finish. Very Bordeaux in style. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??
2007 Laibach "The Ladybird" Bordeaux Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a promising nose of mocha and hazelnut aromas. In the mouth, however, it leaves something to be desired. All the flavor sensations seem to be at the top of the mouth, as this high-toned wine slides by the palate without engaging it, leaving very pretty aromas of cassis and oak but not much body to show for them. Score: around 8. Cost: $??
1995 Kanonkop "Paul Sauer" Red Wine, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a leathery nose, as if it brushed by a saddle shop on the way to the barrel. In the mouth it is smooth and lean, with sandalwood, and very soft cherry aromas that mix with incense qualities that show the wines age quite prettily. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: n/a
2004 Kanonkop "Paul Sauer" Red Wine, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Inky garnet in the glass this wine has a powerful nose of dark cherry, espresso, and tobacco aromas. In the mouth it is round, lush and juicy with cherry and black cherry aromas that are nicely balanced with earthier, mineral complexity. Velvety tannins trace through this perfectly dry, poised wine that feels like a river of cherry silk in the mouth. A gorgeous finish rounds out this absolutely top notch wine. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: ??.
2005 Le Bonheur "Prima" Red Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a bright cherry smell, and primarily cherry flavors in the mouth. The wine shows a bit too much of the green bell pepper characteristic that is common sometimes in Cabernet Sauvignon for my taste. For those who are not put off by such flavors (which are a lot of people) this is a straightforward wine. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $14.Where to buy?
2005 Uitkyk "Carlonet" Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium ruby in the glass this wine has a promising nose of cherry, leather, and earth aromas. In the mouth it offers a core of cherry fruit with lots of earth tones that somewhat overwhelm the fruit. These darker notes, combined with the drying tannins make for a wine that seems more bitter than it should be. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $??
2005 Quoin Rock Syrah, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a pretty nose of cassis and floral aromas. In the mouth it has, classic, strong blackberry flavors, and an unusual touch of chocolate before it heads to a finish that brings in tones of violets. Score: around 8.5. Cost: ??
2004 Morgonhof Estate Red Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium to dark ruby in color, this wine has a wonderfully earthy nose. In the mouth it offers rich black cherry flavors with a nice spicy black pepper quality that tends a little towards the bitter side as the wine finishes. Score: around 8.5. Cost: ??
2005 Remhoogte Red Cape Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has an odd nose of aromas that seem both vegetal as well as gamey while at the same time being neither. In the mouth it is smooth and soft on the tongue with dried fruit characteristics of prunes, figs, and chocolate, with an undercurrent of the vegetal, that I attribute to the including of Pinotage in this blend of Cabernet and Merlot. Score: around 8. Cost: ??.
2005 Knorhoek "Pantere" Red Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis and wet earth aromas that are quite inviting. On the palate, the wine is a nice balance between rich earth tones of mud and leather and fresh cherry fruit. Nice texture and acid make it easy to drink. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: ??.
2005 Laibach "Widow's Block" Cabernet Sauvignon, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine grabs your attention the moment the earthy, cherry aromas hit your nose. By the time you've got even just a little bit of the wine in your mouth you are tasting chocolate and cherries, bouncy with juicy acidity. And by the time the velvet tannins snake their way around your tongue and the wine is finishing beautifully, you already know you're going to take another sip. Score: around 9. Cost: ??
2005 Muratie "Ansela vin de cab" Red Blend, Simonsberg Ward, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a pungent nose of chocolate and smoky aromas. In the mouth that smoky quality persists quite strongly, incorporating woody, cherry flavors into a lean angular body. Quite distinctive, but not utterly compelling. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: ??
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