The Wines of South Africa came to Los Angeles late last year, pouring an incredible range of wines at a media and trade master class and dinner, held at Upstairs 2 Restaurant at the Wine House. It truly was a “Wine Safari: The Cape South Coast”, focusing on some of the current trends and newest areas of production. The exciting cool-climate districts of Elgin, Bot River, and Hemel-en-Aarde were well-represented, along with warmer Walker Bay and sweet wines from Swellendam and cross-regional blends. Jim Clarke, US Marketing Manager of the WOSA (Wines of South Africa) presented an excellent overview of the Cape South Coast areas, aided by Elizabeth Kate, a freelance writer, who shared her perspective of life and tourism in the region, with the support of the South African Consulate-General Los Angeles. Everyone was impressed with the quality of the wines and the affordable prices.
Elgin is a premier cool climate area, once renowned for apple production, but now an upcoming area for wine. Home to higher elevation vineyards further inland, the vines are refreshed by South Atlantic ocean breezes. Two Downes Family wines were sampled, and while the Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and refreshing, the Merlot was a standout, smooth and ripe, with good acidity, body, and balance, a very nice wine, the Downes Family Merlot 2013.
Walker Bay, while still cool and breezy, is warmer, and the wines reflect that. The Wildekrans Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014 is ripe, more tropical fruit, with a medium body and a rich creaminess to the wine. Also poured, the Wildekrans Estate Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2013 blend, an example of the warmer varietals grown in the area. The two Luddite red wines were a revelation, the Luddite Shiraz 2012, elegant and complex, meaty with black pepper spice, blackberry fruit, and accented by garrigue, that kind of French scrub herbal quality. Smooth, with polished tannins, good acidity and a medium-full body, it lingers on the palate, amazing for the price of $30-35 for the bottle. The Luddite Saboteur 2012, a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvedre, is also very nice, with dark fruit, spice, and earthy notes, finishing long and balanced, offered at $20+ prices (subject to currency fluctuations).
Bot River produces expressive wines from its cool maritime climate, especially known for its Pinotage, Shiraz, and Chenin Blanc. Two Beaumont wines were tasted, a Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. The opulent Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2013 definitely displayed the range of aromas and flavors that Chenin is famous for. Well made in a riper style, with apple and citrus, touch of honey, and a waxy texture, it is medium full in body, with good acidity, finishing long and full in the mouth.
Hemel-en-Aarde is South Africa’s Burgundy, with three wards producing quality wines, aged in French oak. Two Southern Right wines were poured, a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage. The Southern Right Pinotage 2014 was exciting, a beautiful example of South Africa’s unique signature grape, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. Gamey and savory aromas fill out this medium bodied wine, balanced with good acidity, black cherry fruit, accented by spice and garrigue, and a pleasant medium long finish to boot. Two classic Burgundian varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, by Hamilton were poured. The Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 was very good, with apple and citrus fruit, herbal notes, and a toasty oak quality, evidenced with light butterscotch aromas, a medium bodied wine balanced with good acidity. The Storm Vrede Pinot Noir 2012 was good, with a savory palate, cherry fruit and forest floor aromas and flavors, it was a more fruit forward version of Burgundy, with the riper fruit balanced by a good dose of acidity.
Sweet wines from Swellendam and other regions finished out the night. The Alheit Vineyards “Cartology” 2014, a Chenin Blanc-Semillon blend from the Western Cape, was interesting. With only a touch of sweetness, the ripe apple and lychee fruit, accented with fennel and white pepper, and waxy texture, made for an intriguing wine.
South Africa’s wine future looks bright, with many efforts to continually improve the quality of the wine and preserve their heritage. Sustainable farming, conservation of natural habitat, and commitment to Fair Trade ethics, adds to the appeal of delicious wines at affordable prices. Trek to your nearest wine store, hunt for South African wines, bag a few trophy bottles, and savor South Africa’s dynamic wines.