Slowly pushing south and west towards the Cape’s Swartland region, South Africa’s wine footprint is again coming into focus trekking from Limpopo Province’s bush down to the Port Elizabeth-to-Plettenberg coastline and mountains. Along that path, a couple of broad and large tastings combined with a host of resort wine list experiences to reinforce two general impressions formed on previous visits to this country:
- Lots about South Africa’s aura and topography is big, wild, and uneasily tamed. In general, the wines are often as overwhelming, bottled as fitting, rough cut country-styled byproducts of this cultural and physical profile
- Beautiful, expressive, and elegant wine can be made here with the proper focus, land, and orientation
An interesting dichotomy emerges, filled with tremendous opportunity for the right growers and winemakers. Right now, sustainability has surfaced as a prevalent focus and the issue du jour. Environmentally friendly growing and wine making practices are combining with an awareness to control non-native species and protect indigenous habitat. It’s a guess at this stage, but as next phases (already in evidence) of organic and natural wine making combine with the region’s new found environmental awareness, South Africa should take its place on the world wine stage with less reliance on power and more appropriately showcasing the natural grace its beautiful winelands have to offer.
In the mean time, I find myself picking through very generally bracketed categories of style beginning with massively extracted high tannin wines, a separate group showing true varietal fruit and aromatic profiles but eventually weighed down by excessive tannin, and a final group offering accessibility, restraint, and low alcohol with moderate extraction and measured wood influence. Here are three red wines I tasted this week worth noting:
**** $29 2008 Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch: Beautifully full with gentle red and black fruit showing elegance and stylish construction. The wine hangs together in balance with tannins befitting the fullness of the fruit. The grace behind this wine could have fooled me as Cabernet dominated Bordeaux. It is drinking beautifully now with lovely cedar and berry aromas. There is no need for patience here and it is selling at a price that favors immediate drinking and quaffing.
**** $21 2007 Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch: Ultra rich black cherry aromas you can almost chew. Hints of chocolate, tobacco, and toasty wood on the nose. Great expression of Cabernet fruit, very new world, rich mouthfeel with grainy tannins that need some time to soften. There appears to be enough fruit here to stand up to the time the tannins requiree to mellow. This could be an absolutely killer wine down the line, but for now it is a brooder that shows all the right stuff.
***1/2 $33 2007 Cirrus Syrah, Stellenbosch: Jean Engelbrecht, proprietor at Rust en Vrede, is also responsible for this wine. One interesting fact is the Cirrus Wine Company launched as a joint venture between Ray Duncan, proprietor at the long time and notable California Cabernet producer Silver Oak and Engelbrecht of Rust en Vredre. Their mutally single varietal focus making only red wines brought them together under a vision and friendship to produce Syrah in South Africa. The 2007 is 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. The Viognier adds its sweet floral aromatics to this big, chewy, new world wine. Engelbrecht says he captured “the best of the Rhone and South Africa”, but you really need to stretch your imagination to detect the Rhone reference that occurs in Cote Rotie where it is not uncommon to leverage 5% Viognier in final blends for its color stability and aromatic advantages. The ’07 Cirrus is a big, powerful, extracted wine with black cherry and spicy flavors buffeted by strict tannins that are not as fully integrated as one might prefer right now. It is possible that the wine will improve with age, but if you want a full on Syrah for drinking with heavily spiced meats you won’t go wrong here.
A few more days to Swartland, but first more coast and mountains to traverse.