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Top Values at the LCBO (May 2016)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

There is a lot to tell you about this month with 12 wines new to my Top 50 Best Values list. Sadly four of those are de-listed favourites with big discounts to quickly clear the shelves. So don’t hesitate on those or you will miss out. There are good stocks for now; but they may be all gone in the next week or so.

Four new vintages of current listings, that I have tasted since I last wrote, were better than the last vintage and so they also joined the list as did four wines that jumped onto the list because they are on discount for the next four weeks. These are the usual reasons for wines joining the Top 50 Best Values list. There are also another eight wines that all have lots of Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) for the next 4 weeks if you are a collector of miles.

Today’s report pulls best buys from Steve’s Top 50 which is a standing WineAlign list based on quality/price ratio of the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the VINTAGES Essentials Collection. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The current discount period runs until June 19th. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine that I highlight.

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


La Posta Cocina Tinto Red Blend 2014 Mendoza, Argentina ($7.45 was $12.95) DELISTED – An opaque red blend of malbec with syrah and bonarda that is full bodied and flavourful with some firm tannin giving grip and acidity for vibrancy. Good to very good length just a little hot from alcohol on the finish. Try it with steak.

Beso De Vino Seleccion Red 2011 Carinena, Spain ($8.95 was $9.95) – This is a ripe structured red with a nice lemony tone to nose and palate. The palate is full bodied with some tannin and lemony acidity for balance. Try with sweet ribs.

La Posta Cocina Tinto Red Blend 2014Beso De Vino Seleccion Red 2011Frisky Zebras Seductive Shiraz K W V Roodeberg 2013

Frisky Zebras Seductive Shiraz, Western Cape, South Africa ($8.95) – This batch of this non-vintage red from the Cape is better than last time it came my way. It is a dry soft shiraz with black cherry fruit with a hint of tobacco. The palate has soft acidity to keep it lively and mild tannin. Good length. Try with grilled red meats.

K W V Roodeberg 2013, Western Cape, South Africa ($9.95 was $12.45) – This is medium bodied Cape classic had been in our stores for years because it offers good value for a well balanced and fairly complex red. Impressive depth for a wine that’s less than $10 for the next few weeks.

Tons de Duorum Red 2014, Douro Valley, Portugal ($10.35 was $12.55) – DELISTED – This is an elegant fruity red that is midweight to full bodied and juicy with the fruit well balanced by lemony acidity and mild tannin. Very good length. Chill a little and try with bbq meats.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2015, Central Valley, Chile ($10.95 + 5 BAMs) – The 2015 vintage is one of the best I can recall of this excellent unpretentious pinot with a harmonious nose and a pure well structured palate. It is fresh, pure, fruity and very drinkable.

Tons De Duorum Red 2014 Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2015 Tribunal Red 2012 Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013 Fielding Fireside Red Cabernet 2012

Tribunal Red 2012, North Coast, California, USA ($11.45 was $18.95) – DELISTED – This slightly peppery red is brimming with berry fruit. Its youthful exuberance is very appealing. Enjoy on its own or with bbq meats.

Ara Pathway Single Estate Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.95 was $16.95) – A structured juicy fruity pinot that is midweight with decent length and a fine balancing vibrant acidity. Quite elegant with new world styling but dry and tightly knit.

Fielding Fireside Red Cabernet 2012, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($13.95 was $14.95) – This blend of cabernet franc with cabernet sauvignon is very appealing. It is well structured for food with red cherry and plum aromas and flavours. Try with a steak.


Jaszbery Etyek Budai Riesling 2014, Hungary ($7.55) – The 2014 vintage is a fine dry riesling with aromas of melon, lemon and pear fruit with a floral tone. It is lightweight well balanced with just enough sweetness to cover the acidity. Very drinkable at a good price.

Brazos de Los Andes White 2015, Mendoza, Argentina ($7.95 was $13.90) – DELISTED – This is blend of chardonnay and torrontes with a splash of pinot grigio. It is midweight and creamy smooth with a good depth of fruit flavour a little sweetness but if finishes dry. Very good length. Try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Alvear Medium Dry, Montilla Morilles, Spain ($12.60) – This smells and tastes like toffee with floral orange and nutty tones, but with only a little sweetness. It is a great price for such a complex, zesty rich wine. Try with blue cheese. The delicate sweetness nicely balances the bitterness from the blue parts.

Jaszbery Etyek Budai Riesling 2014 Brazos De Los Andes White 2015 Alvear Medium Dry

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 37 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

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Top Values at the LCBO (April – 2nd Edition)

Your Guide to the Best Values, Limited Time Offers & Bonus Air Miles selections at the LCBO
by Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

Steve Thurlow

When I wrote to you a few weeks ago, I thought that spring would soon be here; I was so wrong. So to console you I have found some great value wines to drink while we all wait for the weather to improve.

For you bargain lovers I have some great news. Although there are only three new wines on my Top 50 Best Values this month there are another six, that were already on the list, that are either discounted or have Bonus Air Miles (BAMs) that apply, making these wines even more attractive and your spring drinking even more affordable.

There are also some new listings that are fine buys. As usual wines have been joining the Top 50 Best Values list and others have fallen off over the last 4 weeks. Those of you who follow me know I really enjoy discovering inexpensive gems. I have also included in this report four wines that almost made it onto the Top 50. I am writing about them because they all have lots of BAMs for the next 4 weeks.

Steve’s Top 50 is a standing WineAlign best buys list based on quality/price ratio of the 1600 or so wines in LCBO Wines and the VINTAGES Essentials Collection. You can read below in detail how the Top 50 works, but it does fluctuate as new wines arrive and as discounts show up through Limited Time Offers (LTOs).

The current discount period runs until May 22nd. So don’t hesitate. Thanks to WineAlign’s inventory tracking, I can assure you that there were stocks available, when we published, of every wine highlighted.

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!


Citra 2014 Sangiovese Terre di Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy ($7.95 +5 BAMs) – This red is a little rustic with a savoury herbal nose, but quite tasty with mildly flavoured red meat dishes or a mild hard cheese like cheddar.

Santa Carolina 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rapel Valley, Chile ($8.95 + 5BAMs) – This is a pure and very even red with a good depth of flavour. Not a lot of complexity but then it is under $9. Try with roast meats.

Santa Carolina 2015 Merlot, Chile ($8.95 + 5 BAMS) – Great value for an exuberant fruity merlot. The palate is brimming with lively bright fruit with enough tannin for balance and good to very good length. Enjoy on its own or with cheese and meat dishes. Very versatile.

Citra Sangiovese Terre Di Chieti 2014 Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Santa Carolina Merlot 2015 K W V Paarl Cape Ruby Bodegas Castaño Hécula Monastrell 2013 Château Canteloup 2012

K W V Paarl Cape Ruby South Africa ($9.85 + 6BAMs) – This is a fullbodied fortified red made in similar way as ruby port. It is medium sweet well balanced with decent length. Try with blue cheese, semi-sweet dark chocolate or dried fruit and nuts.

Bodegas Castaño 2013 Hécula Monastrell, Yecla, Spain ($10.45) New to Top 50 – The monastrell (mourvedre) grape in southeastern Spain makes many delicious juicy full bodied reds like this. The palate is very smooth with a good depth of flavour and it finishes dry with some fine tannin for grip. Very good length. Try with roast meats.

Château Canteloup 2012, Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($19.65 + 10 BAMs) – This is great value for a good quality Bordeaux with the aromatics of a great wine. Though the structure is not that of the best, it is still very impressive for the money. It’s medium weight with a silky mid-palate, then a firm tannic finish. Excellent length.


Periquita White 2013, Portugal ($8.95 + 5 BAMs) – A juicy blend of three white grapes with a very smooth palate and a good depth of flavour. Enjoy with mildly flavoured seafood.

Domaine Jean Bousquet 2015 White Blend, Argentina ($11.90 + 4 BAMs) – This is an aromatic white that’s midweight and deeply flavoured with the fruit well balanced by soft acidity. Try with roast veal or pork.

Periquita White 2013 Domaine Jean Bousquet White Blend 2015 Santa Rita Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2015

Santa Rita 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($11.95 + 7BAMs) – A juicy nicely structured sauvignon with just enough sweetness to balance the acidity and not too much greenness. Try with sautéed seafood.

Marqués de Riscal 2014, Rueda, Spain ($12.70 + 6 BAMs) – This is a pure fresh crisp white with an aromatic nose of grapefruit, passion fruit, white pepper with some honey notes. Since it is lively and juicy with very good length and is so refreshing, it is a great selection for seafood and mildly flavoured white meats.

Wolf Blass 2014 Yellow Label Chardonnay, Padthaway/Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($12.95 was $14.95) – This is a well balanced fruity lively chardonnay with a touch of oak; quite elegant for such an inexpensive wine. Try with rich seafood dishes, roast pork or sautéed veal.

Marqués De Riscal 2014 Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay 2014 Riverlore Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2015

Riverlore 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.90 was 15.90) New to Top 50 – This crisp very juicy kiwi sauvignon shows classic Marlborough aromas and flavours. It is midweight and well balanced with a creamy rich palate and crisp dry herbal lemon finish. Try with grilled calamari or creamy goat cheese.

Peter Yealands 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($13.95 was $15.95) New to Top 50 – There is a soft appealing mineral tone to the aromas and flavours of this juicy vibrant mouthwatering sauvignon. Nice concentration and very pure with very good length. Try with seafood dishes.

How does a wine get selected for the Top Value Report:

There are three ways that a wine gets into this monthly report of wines that are always in the stores either on the LCBO “General List” or the VINTAGES Essential Collection.

– On Sale (LTO’s or Limited Time Offers): Every four weeks the LCBO discounts around 200 wines I have looked through the current batch and have highlighted some of my favourites that offer better value at present…. so stock up now.

– Bonus Air Miles (BAM’s): If you collect Air Miles then you will be getting Bonus Air Miles on another 150 or so wines…a few of these have a special appeal for a while.

– Steve’s Top 50: Wines that have moved onto my Top 50 Best Values this month. This is on an-on going WineAlign selection that mathematically calculates value by comparing the price and rating of all the wines on the LCBO General List. You can access the report any time and read more about it now.

The Rest of Steve’s Top 50

Steve's Top Value WinesIn addition to the wines mentioned above, there are another 37 wines on the Top 50 list this month. So if you did not find all you need in this report, dip into the Top 50 LCBO and VINTAGES Essentials wines. There will surely be something inexpensive that suits your taste.

To be included in the Top 50 for value a wine must be inexpensive while also having a high score, indicating high quality. I use a mathematical model to make the Top 50 selections from the wines in our database. I review the list every month to include newly listed and recently tasted vintages of current listings as well as monitoring the value of those put on sale for a limited time.

Before value wine shopping remember to consult the Top 50 (Click on Wine => Top 50 Value Wines to be taken directly to the list), since it is always changing. If you find that there is a new wine on the shelf or a new vintage that we have not reviewed, let us know. Moreover if you disagree with our reviews, tell us please. And if you think our reviews are accurate, send us some feedback since it’s good to hear that you agree with us.

The Top 50 changes all the time, so remember to check before shopping. I will be back next month with more news on value arrivals to Essentials and the LCBO.


Steve Thurlow

Top 50 Value Wines
Wines on Limited Time Offer
Wines with Bonus Air Miles

Editors Note: You can find our complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great value wines!

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Treve’s Travels: Cape Wine Discoveries

Cape Wine Discoveries
by Treve Ring

Cape Wine Discoveries

*not a photo of Treve

When discovering the wines of South Africa, there are some things to wrap your head around straight off. First, most of the selection we see in Canada has nothing to do with what is actually happening in the country. There are some exceptions (thank you Nicholas Pearce, UNIVINS, Noble Estates, Vinexx, Trialto, Symbioses, Rézin), but by and large, our world view of the wines of RSA is pinhole sized at best, and industrially dominated at worst.

Second, South Africa has over 350 years of winemaking knowledge, with first plantings dating back to 1659. They are currently in the midst of a full borne renaissance, kicking off with the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy, only just in 1994. Forget outdated “New World” thinking, and focus on “New Wave” thinking. The golden era is now.

These past two decades of freedom have opened up the wine world to South Africa, and vice versa. For the first time, growers and winemakers were able to travel outside the country, learn, experience and taste. Wine export and import shackles relaxed, allowing for the flow of information as much as for wine.

Today, South African wine production is in a golden age, fuelled by a league of youthful, travelled and passionate winemakers, many in their late twenties and early thirties. Camaraderie and collaboration runs high, with collectives such as PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa), Swartland Independents, Zoo Biscuits and the brand new Cape Vintner Classification banding together for marketing, touring and resource pooling. Many of these talented folks run senior positions at large, established wineries while developing their own brands. Vineyard land, especially pockets of older, heritage vines in exciting fringe areas, is still relatively affordable, encouraging experimentation and garagiste wine culture. We all know that small, nimble operations are at the fore of change, adaptable and experimental; tasting through the country last fall it was readily evident that the trends sought after in major wine cities and by sommeliers worldwide are in full effect in the Cape. Fresh, lower alcohol reds and textured, higher acid whites; natural winemaking; reviving heritage vines; terroir exploration; pet nat; traditional method fizz – just a few darling, available and accessible finds. Quality is very high and prices are low – a unicorn find for wine consumers and professionals.

Expanded wine education available to South Africans is key to this quality boom, driving a better understanding of viticulture. Much of this has been the rediscovery of abandoned heritage grapes, though local terroir expert Rosa Kruger also attributes strides to the greater understanding of site, soils and grapes. For the last decade Kruger has been mapping the old vines in the Cape, building a registry of vineyards which is now accessible on her website. A lawyer by trade and an adventurer at heart, Kruger has helped match winemakers who share her vision of vine preservation and terroir expression to specific sites. Some of the most lauded names in Cape winemaking today are a result of her pairing: Eben Sadie, Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Adi Badenhorst, Chris and Suzaan Alheit amongst them.

The current sorry state of the Rand aside (it makes the Canadian peso look kingly), and not without recognizing and absorbing the extreme social barriers in South Africa, tasting around the Western Cape feels more energized and positive than any wine region worldwide that I’ve been to in the past few years.

Winegrowing Areas of South Africa

WHAT is the Western Cape?

Recognizing that most consumers aren’t as familiar with the Western Cape, I thought it apropos to give a little primer. South Africa’s vineyards are mainly situated in the Western Cape, near the coast. These Cape Winelands stretch from the rugged slopes of the Coastal Region (seldom reaching beyond 50k to the ocean) to the open plains of the Klein Karoo, where river valley viticulture is at the fore. On the coastal side of the Western Cape rainfall is relatively plentiful, up to 1000mm/year, though it dramatically decreases as you travel up and over the mountains into the hinterland. There are nearly 99,500 ha of wine grape cultivation spread out over nearly 800km in length. Place matters; Under the Wine of Origin (WO) rules, this area is divided into six main regions, which encompass 26 diverse districts and 67 smaller wards. Soil variation is high and complexed, but the three most important soil types include derivatives of Table Mountain sandstone, granite, and shale.

The diversity in microclimate and soils is evident when you take into consideration the native vegetation of the region. Over 95% of the wine is produced within the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of only six such plant regions in the world, this being the smallest and richest of them all. Over 10,000 recognized plant species have been identified here – more than the entire Northern Hemisphere. Seventy percent of the plants found here are not found anywhere else on earth. Recognizing and protecting that diversity has been a huge push for the wine industry. Producers can become certified as sustainable and the Wine and Spirit board seal on their bottles earmarks this commitment. Consumers can use the numeric code on each bottle to trace it back through to the vineyard practices. South Africa also boasts more Fairtrade wines than any other country, with 75% of all Fairtrade wines sold in the world originating from there.


DISCOVERED : What to Watch For

Part of the thrill of exploring South African wines is the discovery; pretty much everything I tasted was new. Here’s my personal list of what to hone in on:


In many parts of the world, chenin is relegated to a workhorse status and blending partner. Though the Loire is still considered the zenith, twice as much chenin is planted in South Africa. Chenin is firmly rooted in the Western Cape, where Jan Van Riebeeck introduced the first vines in 1655. There are still gnarly aged bush vines here being taken care of by adventuresome growers, especially in Stellenbosch. The Swartland is also a striking area for Chenin, where vintners are letting the grapes express themselves through hands-off, sustainable winemaking. Chameleon-like, examples veer from vegetal and meadow through to waxy pours of lanolin and honey, and from bone dry to heady and sweet. Unmistakably constant in cared-for wines is the spiking acidity, apparent even through softening with time in wood or via heavy-handed winemaker intervention. Well handled, these compelling and memorable wines carry texture and complexity to match some of the finest whites in the world, and can last for a decade or two.

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
A series of three identically made wines on different soils and sites, this is a wine geek’s dream. Each wine was whole bunch pressed, racked to neutral oak and wild ferment, after which it spent 11 months on fine lees.


Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block A Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Sandstone, 140m altitude. Floral and orchard fruit rises from glass. Pear, apricot pit and a wave of pithy mandarin on the juicy finish. Cushion of gentle lees. 90 points

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block S2 Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Shale, 240-265m altitude. Lemon curd creaminess, with earthy, grippy texture. Light, nutty lees and stony spice on the finish. 91 points

Mulderbosch Vineyard 2014 Block W Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch
Decomposed granite, dry farmed, massale selection, 4km to ocean. Intense smoked stone notes, light nut, powerful structure and weight. For the future. 92 points

Mullineux Wines Granite Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland
This is one of the top tier Single Terroir Range wines from Mullineux Family Wines (see Syrah below). This comes from two vineyards in the Paardeberg, 38 and 42 years old, each with deep, decomposed granite soils. As with their other wines, winemaker intervention is minimal (wild yeast, low sulphur, no enzymes) allowing the terroir-transmission powers of chenin on granite in Swartland to shine. After whole bunch pressing and four weeks for the natural ferment this spends a year in older French oak before being bottled unfiltered. Give this singular wine some breathing room to air off a slight reductive note. With a bit of time to stretch its legs (I recommend decanting), alluring wild herbs, sea salt and broken stones emerge, backed with a concentrated and intense palate of pear, flint and a fine citrus peel. Very textured palate draws you through this powerful, finessed wine to a lengthy finish. Only 165 cases were made, so if you find some (or its cousin, Quartz Chenin Blanc), scoop and enjoy or cellar for the next decade. 93 points



Bet you thought I was going to say pinotage, yeah? Though pinotage has great genes (pinot noir crossed with cinsault in 1925), it’s overworked, overcropped, overoaked, overvillified status has it fallen from favour. And while cabernet sauvignon and syrah are the most widely planted reds, I was charmed by the characterfulness of humble cinsault. It used to be the most widely planted red variety, well adapted to the heat and capable of high yields – a workhorse grape. Cinsault was long a silent softening partner in red blends, and a historically favoured grape alongside cabernet sauvignon. In blends, cinsault brings perfume and lift, with a finely rasped pink and white peppercorn spice. These lovely, lighter, fresher perfumed qualities are readily apparent when the grape is vinified solo. At higher yields, a delightful and gulpable fresh red, ready to be chilled and enjoyed, abundantly. At lower yields, something more serious emerges, with stoniness, wild raspberry and wild herbs interwoven amongst the perfumed lightness. There are currently less than 2000 ha planted, though much of this is old vine material that nimble producers are working with, particularly in the Swartland. Here early picking, whole bunch and skin contact are making remarkably characterful, alluring wines – the type that one bottle simply isn’t enough.

Silwervis 2014 Cinsault, Swartland
Young, fun and passionate team Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons focus on finding old, special vineyards and making wines of them. This is a cinsault bottled under the Silwervis line and Avant Garde wines label, picked early from a sandy, shale layered site. 100% whole bunch spends three weeks on skins before going directly into concrete egg. Hugely fragrant and lively acidity, with finely gritty tannins, savoury wild cherry and alluring white pepper on the fresh finish. Highly pleasurable, almost too easily gulpable. 91 points



Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam 2015 Darling Cinsault, Darling
Chris Alheit is a name you’ll see popping up again and again – he is also responsible for Alheit Vineyards Cartology. The focus for Chris may be still white wines from South Africa’s heritage grapes, though he is also highly handed with reds, as this wine attests. This is 35-60 year old dry farmed bush vines from Darling, whole bunch fermented with a short time in wood and early to release. The result is a very pale, lifted, light and fresh red with gossamer fine tannins and a stony base, imprinted with cherry and raspberry. Quietly confident and very charming. 91 points.

Flotsam & Jetsam


More specifically, traditional method sparkling. In South Africa, these are called Methode Cap Classique, or MCC. The term was created in 1992 by The Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), a group of like-minded producers who banded to promote quality traditional method fizz. There are now 150 members producing 7.5 million bottles annually. Any grapes are allowed, though Chardonnay is seen as the best, and wines must spend nine months on the lees and a total of twelve months in bottle. According to Pieter Ferriera, sparkling winemaker guru and head of Graham Beck (transitioning to entirely fizz production), the goal is to up the minimum lees time to fifteen months in 2016.

Graham Beck 2010 Brut Blanc de Blancs, Robertson
Winemaker Pieter Ferreira is one of the leading proponents of the MCC (Methode Cape Classique) association, and a globally recognized fizz specialist. Graham Beck is transitioning to a 100% sparkling wine house, a move propelled by his skill at the style. This fresh, focused chardonnay was disgorged in 2014, yielding a fine balance between subtle tangerine pith and gently creamy, biscuit-laced lees. You can feel the wake of the region’s warmth on the finish, though this crisp and saline fizz rings with freshness. Robertson has a high proportion of limestone soils and this chardonnay is predominantly sited on them. 91 points

Graham Beck

Huis Van Chevallerie 2013 Filia Chenin Blanc Brut Nature Kap Klassiek, Swartland
From gnarly old bush vine chenin from Paardeberg, planted at 330m. This is zero dosage, but with 4 g/l of residual sugar naturally left from the wild ferment, it is labelled Brut. Fourteen months on the lees provides this skeletal and racy fizz with a little cushion on its bones – just enough to prop up the green apple, salty, wet stone and lemon pith raciness of the chenin. 90 points.

Filia Chenin Blanc



The Zoo Biscuits is a like-minded gang of merry vintners making interesting low intervention wines across the Western Cape that honour terroir. To many, including me, they typify the energetic, intelligent passionate current generation of vintners propelling this golden era of wine (last year they held a tasting event titled The Young and the Restless).  It’s hard to miss the roving pack – just watch for the VW camper van. They were the hit of Cape Wine 2015. 


Duncan Savage 2014 Follow The Line, Western Cape
This is the personal project of Duncan Savage, successful winemaker at Cape Point Wines and somewhat of an informal leader of the Zoo Biscuits collective. He sources fruit from mostly marine-influenced vineyards, preferably at altitude, for his finessed, graceful and precise wines. This is predominantly cinsault, splashed with equal parts grenache and syrah. Expressive and fragrant wild herbs and thorny florals, wild strawberries and raspberries open and drive through to the palate where rasped white pepper and plum join in. Tannins are fine, lithely structured and grippy. There’s a lovely core weight here, precisely balancing freshness with an anchor of gravitas. It strikes that chord between lightness and concentration that is intrinsic in the very best wines. Tasting beautifully now, but will continue to reward with 5+ years easy. 94 points



Craven 2014 Faure Vineyard Syrah, Stellenbosch
A global affair, husband and wife team Mick (Aussie) and Jeanine (South African) met while working at a winery in Sonoma before returning to Stellenbosch to source fruit for their natural wines. This was grown on granite, shale and dolomite, entirely whole bunch fermented with wild yeast and gentle extraction before 10 months in old barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Light and finessed, with fragrant violets, savoury broken stones, blue and black plum and a pulse of fine grained black pepper. Very savoury and fresh, and at only 11.5%, this haunting syrah is a surprising beauty. 93 points.

Craven syrah


Crystallum 2014 Clay Shales Chardonnay, Walker Bay
Brothers Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson are third generation winemakers and the sons of the fellow who pioneered Pinot Noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. This is a single vineyard wine crafted from fruit grown just outside of the Hemel en Aarde Ridge ward, at 300 metres in altitude. Whole bunch press with no additives, fermentation and aging lasted 10 months in barrel, with 17% new wood. Salted lemon and stone are integrated seamlessly into creamy, earthy lees and crystalline lemon curd, brightened and tightened with green apple and a lightly toasted almond note. Beauty focus and concentration here, one that will last this wine over the next decade. 92 points


Swartland Independent Producers

This group of like-minded independent individuals share the goal of making wines that purely express the Swartland. To this end, grapes are all from the WO, vinified naturally (without additives) and see no more than 25% new wood. They are also limited to varieties that have proven themselves suited to the terroir. A minimum of 90% of a red wine must be from syrah, mouvèdre, grenache, carignan, cinsault, tinta barocca or pinotage; and a minimum 90% of a white wine must be chenin blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, clairette blanche, palomino or semillon. This grape list is reviewed every couple of years as further exploration continues.

A. Badenhorst 2014 Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Swartland
Welcome to new wave South Africa, from the leading oracle of doing things traditionally, Adi Badenhorst. Savoury earthy herbs and salt lead the nose, before pear, stone, meadow blossoms and fennel join in. A welcome chenin waxy sheen coats the textured palate, drawing almond, pear, nut shell, subtle honeycomb, melon and citrus pith along with it. Lively, energetic acids finish off with savoury salts. Lovely focus and drinking well now, but will reward with 3-5 years cellaring. And this, Secateurs, is their starter tier; it only goes up from here folks. 91 points.


Porseleinberg 2013, Swartland
One of the Swartland Independents, Porseleinberg is a wine sourced from Porcelain Mountain, and a label produced by Marc Kent and Boekenhoutskloof. This lifted syrah is a great place to start realigning your thinking of South Africa. Organically farmed, with wild yeast and low sulphur additions, Porseleinberg is 100% whole bunch (“a record of the vintage, according to winemaker Callie Louw”), and seen time in concrete eggs and aged foudre. Bright and crunchy, fragrant with red berries, cracked cassis and black cherry. A vein of wild herbs is drawn across grippy, fine tannins to a textured, stony finish. Tactile and fresh (only 13.7% alcohol) down to the labels – printed on the farm on a 1940 Heidelberg platen letterpress. 92 points



Rall 2013 Red, Swartland
Donovan Rall is another name that you’ll see connected to many projects, and many delicious wines. Rall is his personal project since 2008 and focused on making one red and one white wine from the most interesting vineyards he can find. 2013 Red is mostly syrah with 10% grenache, the former grown on schist and the latter on decomposed granite (and from the 2014 vintage). Authentic and bright, 50% whole bunch has left yielded a very savoury light red with crunchy acidity and fine, grippy tannins. Wild raspberry, strawberry and cherry crackles with energy, finishing with fine perfumed red fruit and white pepper. 92 points.


Mullineux Wines Single Terroir Range
One of the most respected names in the Cape, Chris and Andrea Mullineux began sourcing fruit in 2007, and now work with a dozen exciting vineyards. They focus on South Africa’s heritage grapes, including working with 115 year old cinsault, the oldest red vineyard in Africa. The Single Terroir Range Syrah mirrors their chenin blanc project (mentioned above).

Mullineux Wines 2013 Iron Syrah, Swartland
Sourced from a single parcel of organically farmed dry land bush vines on a rolling hillside west of Malmesbury. 100% whole bunch, with dark kirsch, black raspberry and a beautiful, persistent violet perfume. A sheen of dark cherry, black plum, iodine-laced fruit covers grippy, structured tannins. Full bodied and powerful, easily mitigated and balanced by brisk acidity. 92 points

Mullineux Wines 2013 Schist Syrah, Swartland
This syrah is sourced from a single parcel of 17 year old vines from the stony, schistose soils of Roundstone Farm on the Kasteelberg. Gently ripe cassis and a flow of kirsch and red plum offers a moderate generosity on the palate, though this savoury wine is ruled by its rocky structure and dusty, grippy tannins. Layers of thorny, savoury fruit and broken stone. Though drinking well now (decant in advance), it is still very much in youth, and full potential of this wine will be revealed with time. 93 points



*Thanks to Dr. Jamie Goode for sharing photos from Cape Wine 2015. 

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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – Mar 19, 2016

Highlights from March 19th, Taste Ontario and Cuvée
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report shines a spotlight on local wines in the wake of two big Ontario wine tastings last week. There was palpable energy at the ROM for Taste Ontario, where an impressively large contingent of sommeliers, media and wine buyers had gathered to take the pulse on the latest Ontario vintages releases. I share some of my top new picks here. The 28th edition of Cuvée also rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, and Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel each select three of their most memorable wines from the gala tasting.

The March 19th VINTAGES release features yet more Italian wines. And at the risk of over saturating you with vino, I’ve picked out two irresistible bargains, a red and a white both under $20. Also included is a trilogy of smart buys from South Africa that has your dinner covered from bubbles to main course, and a pair of outrageous $13.95 values from the Iberian peninsula.

Taste Ontario Highlights: 2013s and 2014s 

This year’s Taste Ontario event featured mostly wines from the 2014 and 2013 vintages, with the rare early release 2015 thrown in. After the warm 2012 vintage, 2013 saw a return to more ‘normal’ temperatures on average, although with highly variable weather, with occasional disruptions caused by inopportune rains especially towards the end of the growing season.

Earlier ripening varieties fared best, and it has turned out to be an excellent year for the grapes Ontario does well most consistently, namely riesling and chardonnay, as well as other aromatic white varieties. For reds the top pinots are spectacular, refined and fragrant wines, while cabernet franc returned to its appropriate cool climate style, certainly a local strength. The harvest was the largest on record, so there will be plenty of wine to go around.

Many of you will recall the brutal polar vortexes of winter in 2014 – I recall some 20 days in February with temperatures below -10ºC, and many days well below -20ºC. It seemed like the winter that would never end (how much nicer has this winter been?) Grapes, of course, suffered, and it was a stark reminder to growers that Ontario’s climate is not suitable to the ludicrously wide variety of grapes grown here. Tender grapes like syrah, semillon, sauvignon blanc and merlot were reduced to next to zero crop in many vineyards, if not killed outright by the repeated pummelling of glacial polar air masses. Quantities, needless to say, were down sharply. The positive side is that there’s now a better appreciation of matching site to variety. Vineyards that required re-planting will presumably feature varieties more suitable to the site.

Bizarre, challenging, cool weather continued through the summer and harvest was later than normal, again favouring early ripening grapes – Bordeaux varieties, with perhaps the exception of cabernet franc, were tough to get fully ripe. Yet despite all the cruel inclemency of Mother Nature, many winegrowers managed to pull out some exceptional wines, especially whites (most of the ‘reserve’ reds have yet to be released), and to them, chapeau bas.

One thing was clear from Taste Ontario: the number of wineries producing excellent wines is clearly on the rise. Each time I turn around there’s another player with a great new addition to the Ontario wine scene, while established producers continue to maintain high quality standards.

Below are some 2013-2014 highlights:

Thomas Bachelder/Queylus

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013Thomas Bachelder seems to have gotten it all right in 2013, crafting some of his best wines yet under his own label, as well as Domaine Queylus, the up-and-coming project for which he is régisseur – head winemaker and estate manager. His 2013 Bachelder Lowrey Pinot Noir, St. David’s Bench ($44.95) from a choice parcel of the well-tended and sought-after Lowrey vineyard is a gorgeous wine. After the more burly and structured 2012, 2013 conspired to yield wines of paler colour, silkier texture and more haunting perfume – this is just how I imagine Bachelder would like his pinot noir to be (or at least how I’d like them to be). This is toute en finesse, filigree and lacy, with unexpected but genuine depth and length, for fans of finessed pinot. Bravo. Best 2016-2023.

Over at Domaine Queylus, Bachelder’s Signature Pinot Noir ($29.95) is a similar though slightly more saturated garnet red, with appealing, candied red fruit flavours leading. There’s no wood influence outside of Bachelder’s trademark oxidative styling, and light tannins and moderate acids make this a wine for short to mid term ageing, best 2016-2020. The 2013 Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc ‘Tradition’ ($24.95) is likewise the best yet under this label, a lovely, floral, fragrant, lightly herbal expression well within the classic varietal idiom, attractively priced. Serve this with a light chill. Best 2016-2023.


Still in the pinotsphere, the 2013 Rosewood Estates Winery Select Series Pinot Noir Niagara Escarpment ($21.95) is a rare sub-$25 value in this rarefied category. Varietally authentic pinot at this price is hard to come by, so don’t hesitate to buy several bottles of this high-toned, floral, pot-pourri-inflected example, crafted in an appealing, gently oxidative style for immediate enjoyment. Drink with a light chill over the next 2-3 years.

Rosewood Select Series Pinot Noir 2013 Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2013 Cave Spring Estate Cabernet Franc 2013

Cave Spring

Venerable Cave Spring Cellars quietly continues to make some of Niagara’s most reliable wines, and have been particularly en form in the last few vintages. Long time fans will not be surprised to see the 2014 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling CSV Beamsville Bench ($29.95) recommended here, the latest release of one of Canada’s most consistent and best, made from the estate’s oldest vines, the oldest of which have already celebrated their 40th birthday. It’s tightly wound and still a long way from prime drinking, but this shows classic styling, more stony than fruity, mid-weight but authoritative and palate gripping, with palpable chalky texture and great length. Revisit in 2-3 years, or leave in the cellar for a decade or more.

Also impressive from Cave Springs is the 2013 Cabernet Franc Estate ($29.95), a fine and floral, ripe and lightly cacao-inflected expression with delicate structure, lively but balanced acids and very pretty styling all around. In 1-2 years this will have fully digested its oak component, leaving a perfumed and silky wine in its place. Best 2017-2023.

2027 Cellars

2013 Wismer Vineyard - Fox Croft Block Chardonnay 2027 Cellars Aberdeen Road Vineyard 2013Winemaker Kevin Panagapka has slowly been expanding the range of wines under his virtual 2027 Cellars label (made at Featherstone Winery). Single vineyard chardonnay and riesling are his strongest suits in my view, and 2013 in particular seems to have lent itself to his typically tightly wound, ageworthy style. The first edition that I’ve tasted of the Aberdeen Road Vineyard Chardonnay Beamsville Bench ($30.00), is just such a wine, aromatically reticent despite 18 months in wood, with loads of palpable extract and sheer density evident – a genuine, solid mouthful of wine. It has power and depth in spades, and needs another 2-3 years at least to unfurl. Best 2018-2023. For more instant gratification, track down Panagapka’s 2013 Wismer Vineyard – Fox Croft Block Chardonnay Niagara Escarpment ($22.95), a more open and notably toasty Niagara chardonnay with verve and energy. It’s a terrific value for cool climate, oak-aged chardonnay fans.


I don’t generally consider pinot gris to be a great white hope for Ontario, but the Malivoire Wine Company makes a convincing argument with the barely bottled 2015 Pinot Gris Niagara Escarpment ($19.95). It’s still a touch sulphury at this early stage, but shows excellent promise for near-term development. The palate is lively, vibrant, succulent and appealingly saline, with great acids and excellent drive through the long finish. Let it sit for another few months and crack for mid-end summer enjoyment, or into autumn.

Rosehall Run

Rosehall Run Ceremony Blanc De Blanc Brut Malivoire Pinot Gris 2015And finally, over in Prince Edward County, Rosehall Run enters the increasingly crowded local sparkling wine market with a strong release, CEREMONY Blanc de Blanc Brut ($34.95), made from pure County fruit. It’s a well-balanced, rich and flavourful sparkling chardonnay, made from evidently fully ripe grapes with high flavour intensity, yet vibrant acids and fine tension and energy. Length and depth are superb, and dosage is well measured.

Cuvée Highlights

The 28th edition of Cuvée rolled out in Niagara Falls last weekend, organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). For the past few editions, the Cuvée gala tasting has featured a ‘winemakers choice’ – a wine from the portfolio of each of 48 participating VQA wineries, deemed special by the winemaker him/herself. Wines were paired with signature dishes from 12 celebrated local chefs at live cooking stations.

It’s more than just a drinking-and-grazing industry party, however. Proceeds from the event go to the Cuvée Legacy Fund, which awards academic scholarships and contributes towards industry-driven research projects. “Not only does Cuvée showcase the finest VQA wines to consumers, it helps the industry continue to grow by funding valuable research and scholarships,” says CCOVI director Debbie Inglis. That’s a reasonably good cause to wine and dine, a sort of virtuous circle of investment.

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Beautiful Niagara Falls

Sara d’Amato and Michael Godel select three of their most memorable wines below.

Cattail Creek 2014 Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Cattail Creek’s 1976 planted riesling is one of Ontario’s oldest blocks. In 2014 Roselyn Dyck and consulting winemaker Steve Byfield let the vintage and the old vines speak for themselves. The result is nothing short of impossible, or remarkable.
Sara d’Amato – Produced from some of the oldest, if not the oldest riesling vines in Niagara planted in 1975 and ’76. With a steely, mineral character and a subtle and slow build of flavour on the palate, the wine offers exceptional elegance at a steal of a price. Bone dry, tart but not austere, this is classic Niagara riesling.

Fielding Viognier 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($25.95)
Michael Godel – In a Niagara Peninsula discussion of what grape varieties to plant and where, winemaker Richie Roberts has more than a vested interest in viognier. If the 2013 from Fielding Estate helped decipher the code of the how, where and why, this follow up 2014 speaks at the symposium.

Cattail Creek Small Lot Series Old Vines Riesling 2014 Fielding Viognier 2014 Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013 Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2013 Rockway Vineyards Small Lot Block 12 140 Syrah 2012

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula ($44.95)
Michael Godel – It’s a tale of two vineyards, the Grand Cru of Neudorf and the upstart Queylus. Two inexorable blocks, running west to east, spoken through the lens of Pinot Noir. The middle sibling in the three that are made at Queylus is blessed with wisdom and a tale of future memories created in the here and now. So very young, it is the strongest reminder that reconciliation takes time.

Thirty Bench 2013 Small Lot Pinot Noir, Beamsville Bench $35.00 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Grapes for the Small Lot Pinot Noir were planted in 2000 and have started to produce outstanding wines. Modern, peppery and floral, this is a pinot with a great deal of charm and character. Emma Garner really shows her prowess in this impressive vintage.

Rockway Vineyards 2012 Small Lot Syrah Block 12-140, Twenty Mile Bench, $29.95 (Winery Only)
Sara d’Amato – Of the many skillfully produced syrahs that were showcased at Cuvée, Rockway’s Small Lot Block 12-140 had the perfect blend of cool climate expression and modern, fruity appeal. Sophisticated and beautifully balanced with a punch of acidity brightening the rich, spicy palate.

Buyers’ Guide to March 19th: More Italian Wine and other Smart Buys 

Jerzu Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau Di Sardegna 2011 Terredora Di Paolo Loggia Della Serra Greco Di Tufo 2014Fans of distinctive wines should make a b-line to the ‘Other Italy’ section of VINTAGES and grab a bottle or two of the Terredora di Paolo 2014 Loggia Della Serra Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, Italy ($19.95). It’s an intense and characterful white, one of the best in the Terredora portfolio, and consistently one of Campania’s most impressive whites. This is all lemon oil and fresh and dried herbs, wet volcanic rock and fresh earth – distinctive to be sure, perhaps too much so to be truly widely appealing, a wine lover’s wine to be sure.

Sardinia’s version of garnacha finds a fantastic expression in the Antichi Poderi Jerzu 2011 Chuèrra Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Sardinia, Italy ($17.95), one of the most characterful reds in the March 19th release. Revel in the spicy-earthy complexity with a whack of ripe, dark berry fruit, laced with Mediterranean scrub. A very tasty wine for the money, over-delivering in the category.

South Africa comes up big in the quality/value category, starting with the refined and toasty traditional method Graham Beck 2010 Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs, WO Robertson, South Africa ($23.95), from one of South Africa’s sparkling specialists. It’s on the richer side of the scale, nicely mature now, with excellent length.

With the next course pull out the Vinum Africa 2013 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa ($15.95), a wine made with care but following a more natural, non-interventionalist approach. Wild yeast, and no temperature control during fermentation shift this out of the simple and fruity category (and there’s a touch of acetic acid, but well within bounds) into a wine focused on texture, depth and extract. I’d decant this and serve at cellar temperature in large glasses alongside poultry/veal or pork – something substantial in any case.

Shifting to red, the Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof 2011 Syrah, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa ($24.95) is a classy and quite elegant, mid-weight, succulent and juicy syrah from arch-classicist Rustenberg. Tannins are firm and fine, acids lively, and the overall length and depth, and especially complexity, in the price category are impressive. It’s drinking well now, but will surely be better in 2-3 years.

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc De Blancs 2010 Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2013 Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2011 Mondeco Red 2010 Olivares Altos De La Hoya Monastrell 2013

And over to the Iberian Peninsula for two outrageous values from opposite ends of the style spectrum. Fans of lighter and zestier reds need look no further that the 2010 Mondeco Red, DO Dão Portugal ($13.95). This is high-pitched and floral, elegantly-styled Dão, with light tannins, designed to be enjoyed now with a light chill. But if you’re searching for a more substantial red, than the Olivares Altos De La Hoya 2013 Monastrell, DO Jumilla Spain ($13.95) is for you. This has all of the masses of bold and dark, jammy fruit and abundant oak spice that are normally found in wines at considerably higher prices. Best 2016-2021.

Attention Trade – Taste Ontario! is coming to Ottawa

For members of the trade in the Ottawa area, you will have your opportunity to explore the latest Ontario vintages releases on Wednesday, March 30th at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Please note that this event is reserved for hospitality trade and media and is not open to the general public. Register or find out more here:

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.


John Szabo MS


From VINTAGES March 19, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All March 19th Reviews

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Pepperjack Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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Welcome to South Africa’s Capelands

Text and photos by Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Michael Godel

Take Godello to a place that’s far away and it will fill him with words. With memories still thick as Bredasdorp pea soup, it is hard to believe it has already been four months since travelling to South Africa in September for Cape Wine 2015. The southern hemisphere’s three-day vinous congress of producers, winemakers, marketers, buyers, sellers, sommeliers and journalists is a matter of utter energy. That show plus an expansive, wayfaring winelands itinerary included encounters with Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA), along with South Africa’s newest wine-procuring superstars, the Swartland Independents and the Zoo Biscuits.

South African wine is changing rapidly. Tastings, tours and fervent immersion into Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swartland and Hemel-En-Aarde acceded to that belief. With your finger randomly plunging onto a map of the world, direct it to land on South Africa and plan to pay her a visit. Time to unearth what revelations lurk.

On Saturday, February 6th, VINTAGES is running a feature on South African wines. Laid out in varietal by varietal terms, South Africa is deconstructed to articulate and accentuate what’s happening in today’s Western Cape and how it translates to markets around the world. I spent some time back in September with VINTAGES product manager Ann Patel in the Cape. Her picks have much to do with what she found, in excitement from “breaking boundaries and forging new ground with winemaking.” As consumers we should look forward to more chances taken in LCBO purchasing decisions, in varietals and from a more eclectic mix of wineries. Read on for my thoughts, or skip directly to the wines below.

Cape Wine 2015

I tasted hundreds of wines over three days at the bi-annual Cape Town event, along with dozens more in restaurants and at wineries in Stellenbosch, Swartland, Franschhoek and Constantia. Three of the more memorable culinary experiences happened at Open Door Restaurant located at Uitsig Wine Estate in Constantia, at Publik and the Chef’s Warehouse, both in Cape Town.

Cape Wine 2015


A visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum at the Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate rolled into a tasting of wines with Gareth Robertson, Sales and Marketing Manager at Anthonij Rupert Wines. Verticals were poured; Cape of Good Hope, Leopard’s Leap, La Motte and Optima L’Ormarins. Then the varietals of Anthonij Rupert Estate.

A full on PIWOSA experience at the Car Wine Boot hosted by Journey’s End Vineyards was nothing short of a wine-soaked, large object flinging, Stellenbosch hoedown throw down. A trip down astral memories being laid down lane in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley is the hardest impression to lay down in words.

South African vineyards are surfeited by demi-century established chenin blanc bush vines, painted pell-mell with expatriate rootstock and varietal cuttings outside the Bordeaux and Burgundy box; nebbiolo, barbera, tinta barocca, albarino, riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, tempranillo and tannat. There isn’t a grape known to human kind that can’t complete a full phenolic journey. Grenache and cinsault on solo flights are producing exceptional wines.

Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. Fresh, natural, orange, amber, caliginous and tenebrous have established Cape footholds with enzymatic force. The act of passing off pinotage as Bordeaux has been abandoned and now, in the hands of both progressive and praetorian makers, finesse and elegance rule the day.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Anthonij Rupert Wyne Estate

What separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is a playground mentality and their confident executions in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect in the vast growing region known as the Western Cape, or, as it is known in the local vernacular, the Cape Winelands. The mitigating effect of Cape winds helps  to eradicate vine disease. The place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden. Or, as in the case of the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, a verdant, fertile valley known as “heaven on earth,” the adage takes on the paradisiacal guise of the sublime. South Africa exudes progress.

A certain kind of comparison presents South Africa as the wine equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.

And now for the wines…

In addition to the February 6th South African releases I’ve added some extra highlights. Some are available through their Ontario wine agents while others are not. At least not yet. There are many undiscovered South African wines that will soon be finding their way into our market.

Chenin Blanc

No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of chenin blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current, hyper-intense reality.

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Old Vine Reserve 2015, Stellenbosch – In VINTAGES, February 6th, 2016

Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape

Oldenberg Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2014, Stellenbosch

A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2013, Bot River-Walker Bay

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015 Fleur Du Cap Unfiltered Chenin Blanc 2014 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2014 Secateurs Badenhorst Chenin Blanc 2015 Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2013


Other Whites and Blends

The idea of appellative blends as a designated category is not necessarily so far off or fetched. Chenin blanc is most certainly the pillar and the rock with support ready, willing and applicable from clairette blanc, verdelho, chardonnay, viognier, gewürztraminer, semillon, roussane, marsanne, grenache blanc and colombard. Riesling does play a bit part in the white idiomatic presentation of South African wine. With the emergence of Elgin as a cool climate growing area capable of expertly ripening both aromatic and aerified varieties, the future will crystallize with more riesling, gewürztraminer and offshoot concepts.

What obscure or less heralded white grape variety would you like to play with? Ask the Cape winemaker that question and he or she might keep you awhile. The rules again need not apply. Spin the wheel and work your magic. Odds are even that a handful of least employed Châteauneuf and/or Gemischter Satz multi-varietal styled blends will show up at a Cape Wine sometime soon.

Avondale Wines Jonty’s Ducks Pekin White 2014, Paarl – In VINTAGES, February 6th, 2016

Cederberg Bukettraube 2014, Cederberg Mountains

Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015, Stellenbosch

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Chenin Blanc-Sémillon 2014, Western Cape

La Vierge Original Sin Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin White 2014 Cederberg Bukettraube 2014 Kleinood Farm Tamboerskloof Viognier 2015 Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bushvine Chenin Blanc Semillon 2014 La Vierge Original Sin Sauvignon Blanc 2015Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014



As the understanding of cool-climate locales dotting the landscape continues to develop, so too does the Sparkling wine oeuvre. The association that determines the authenticity of Méthode Cap Classique is more than just a marketing strategy and a copy of Méthode Champenoise. It is a distinctly South African program, established in 1992. Rules dictate a minimum of 12 months on the lees and post disgorgement, further maturation under cork. Winemakers are free to play with beyond those simple parameters. That is the South African way. Stand together and act alone.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique, Western Cape – In VINTAGES, February 6th, 2016

Thelema Mountain Blanc de Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2012, Stellenbosch

Boschendal Cap Classique Grand Cuvée Brut 2009, Stellenbosch

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Thelema Mountain Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2012Boschendal Cap Classique Grand Cuvée Brut 2009



There was a time when all South African Rhône varietal wines needed to be compared to the mother land and many continue to encourage the adage “you can take the varieties out of the Rhône but you can’t take the Rhône out of the varieties.” The modern cinsault maker has turned expatriate exploits on its axiomatic head. You’ve not likely had your way with these versions of cinsault and like me, once you have, you may never go back.

The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Cinsault ‘Thirst’ 2015, Stellenbosch

Alheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, Darling

The Winery Of Good Hope Radford Dale CinsaultAlheit Vineyards Flotsam & Jetsam Days Of Yore



The globe trekking grape has been backed into a corner, with blood primarily spilled at the hands of big box Australian producers but some blame has also circulated South Africa’s way. Heavy petting, elevated heat and alcohol, street tar and vulcanized rubber have combined in resolute, culprit fashion to maim the great variety. As with cinsault, but in an entirely more mainstream way, the fortunes of syrah are wafting in the winds of change. Natural fermentations, some carbonic maceration and especially prudent picking from essential syrah sites are turning the jammy heavy into the genteel and dignified wine it needs to be.

Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2013, Coastal Region – In VINTAGES, February 6th, 2016

Journey’s End Syrah ‘The Griffin’ 2012, Stellenbosch

Mullineux & Leeu Syrah 2011, Swartland

Radford Dale Nudity 2014, Voor-Paardeberg

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland

Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2013 Journey's End The Griffin Shiraz 2012 Mullineux Syrah 2011 Radford Dale Nudity 2014 Porseleinberg Syrah 2013


Pinot Noir

The future for pinot noir is bright beyond the pale, with certain exceptional growing sites producing varietal fruit so pure and of ripe phenolics as profound as anywhere on the planet. A few producers have found their way. More will follow and when they do, South Africa will begin to tear away at the market share enjoyed by the likes of New Zealand and California.

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2014, Hemel En Aarde Valley

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2014, Hemel En Aarde Valley

J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014, Outeniqua

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2014 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2014 J H Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir 2014


For so long we ignorant, pathetic and far away people knew not from pinotage. We imagined its machinations through, by way of and expressed like espresso, forced and pressed with nothing but wood in mind. That the grape variety could have a personality bright and friendly was something we had no reference from which to begin. A visit to the Cape Winelands re-charts the compass and the rebirth is nothing short of born again oenophilia. The new pinotage may be what it once was but it is also what it can never be again.

Cathedral Cellar Pinotage 2013, Coastal Region – in VINTAGES, February 6, 2016

Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Pinotage 2014, Western Cape

Paardebosch Pinotage 2014, Swartland

Cathedral Cellar Pinotage 2013 Fleur Du Cap Unfiltered Pinotage 2014 Paardebosch Pinotage 2014


Other Red and Blends

The sky is the limit for what can be attempted and achieved with the varietal kitchen sink of availability. In consideration that any red variety can scour the Cape Winelands in a journeyed search for phenolic ripeness, a prudent pick, ferment (or co-ferment) will certainly, invariably conjoin towards assemblage nirvana. Rhône styling is most often mimicked, from both north and south but OZ indicators and even California flower child prodigies are both seen and heard. Common today is the exploratory cuvée of recherché to examine the diversity of mature dryland bushvines out of vineyards dotting the Western Cape. There is no tried and true in this outpost of red democracy. In the case of Cape wine, anarchy rules and there is really nothing wrong with that.

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Western Cape – in VINTAGES, February 6, 2016

Rustenberg R.M. Nicholson 2013, Stellenbosch – in VINTAGES, February 6, 2016

Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2012, Western Cape – in VINTAGES, February 6, 2016

Grand Vin de Glenelly Red 2009, Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Renegade 2011, Stellenbosch

Savage Wines Red 2014, Western Cape

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Rustenberg RM Nicholson 2013 Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2012 Grand Vin de Glenelly Red 2009 Ken Forrester Renegade 2011 Savage Wines Red 2014

At the lead there is Wines of South Africa, headed by Michael Jordaan and Siobhan Thompson, chair and CEO, respectively. André Morgenthal and Laurel Keenan head up communications, marketing, events and PR for WOSA, in South Africa and in Canada. The show and the excursions around the Cape Winelands were made possible by their collective efforts. Their immense efforts and impeccable work can’t ever be overestimated.

The act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning. Though just the embarkation point of what I am planning for a life-lasting fascination with South African wine, the wines tasted, people met and places seen were collectively just the beginning.

Good to go!

Michael Godel

From VINTAGES February 6, 2016

Signature South Africa



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Pinotage: South Africa’s Impossible Grape

Editors Note: Three WineAlign critics – Michael Godel, Remy Charest and I – are currently in South Africa tasting at @CapeWine2015. Watch for our reports this fall on what’s happening in this exciting, progressive wine region. Meanwhile enjoy this perspective on pinotage by David Lawrason, who spent considerable time in South Africa last year, and will be returning in March 2016. – Treve Ring.

by David LawrasonSept 16, 2015


David Lawrason

David Lawrason

For as long as I have been tasting South African wine (since the early 80s – pre sanctions) pinotage has been a perplexing, controversial and divisive wine. Personally I have never wholeheartedly embraced it, but I have spent a lot of time trying to understand it, and I have occasionally been impressed. But more often disappointed and frustrated. Now at least I think I know why.

My latest opportunity to put pinotage under the tasting scope came in South Africa in March 2014, when colleague John Szabo and I sat in a Stellenbosch cellar at Asara Estate with 18 examples assembled for us by Wines of South Africa. For me it capped an extended three-week sojourn in the Cape wine lands where I had come across pinotage almost daily at various wineries and restaurants. And where it continued to perplex.

There were several different styles in the WOSA line-up. I had specifically asked not to have any mocha-coffee inspired samples that have become so popular at lower price points, but are despised by many winemakers in South Africa who have any respect for this distinctive South African variety. But I was perhaps mistaken to exclude this type – it’s a bona fide commercial success at least, and just the latest chapter in the search to figure out what to do about pinotage.

Pinotage is a vinifera hybrid that was created in 1925 by University of Stellebosch professor Abraham Perold, by cross-pollinating pinot noir and cinsault. Its story has been often penned and is easily Googled, so I am not going to divert you down the path. Its parentage is important to the story of course, but I am more interested in its present and future.

The tasting presented varying styles of pinotage, and this alone was troubling. Some were heavily oaked and smoked; some flirted with the above mentioned mocha-fication; some were heavy, raisiny and over-ripe; some had been transformed into more elegant so-called “Cape Blends” with cabernet, merlot and shiraz – but they were no longer pinotage. (One Cape Blend labelled as a tribute to Perold was not even a majority pinotage). And then some, surprisingly, were vibrant, juicy and really delightful.

About half way through the tasting it hit me. We were tasting different regional examples as well as winemaking examples and the better wines – again in my view – were from cooler, coastal climates like Walker Bay, Hamal-en-Aarde and Elgin. They had vibrancy, brighter fruit and gosh – they were more like pinot noir, the king of cool climate reds. Remember that pinot noir puts the pinot in pinotage.

This further led me to consider whether the tinkering of Prof Perold was inherently flawed, creating a most unlikely and essentially unsuccessful pairing of cool climate Burgundy-grown pinot, with heat seeking Mediterranean-grown cinsault. Pinot’s more ethereal spirit was being dragged down by the bull headedness of the not very flavourful, tannic and rustic cinsault – and the combination could never result in wines with innate harmony.

Kanonkop has long been a Pinotage champion

Kanonkop has long been a Pinotage champion

And this of course explains the long history of meddling by winemakers – searching, searching for that elusive balance. In the early days pinotage was considered a great cellaring wine, perhaps because it was the only way to make it balanced and smooth. But that also brought on oxidative, leathery and often bretty characters that are less acceptable today. Indeed some unfairly blamed the grape for the volatile and funky characters they didn’t like. And it may contribute more so than other varieties but I don’t understand why (except that pinot noir can easily volatilize as well). I still think its problems had much more to do with poor cellar and barrel hygiene.

In the 90s Beyers Truter at Kanonkop brought fruit forward/new oak California philosophy to bear, going for extraction and polish, and it sort of worked. There are some good wines of this genre, but they miss pinotage’s edge. Then came the Cape blends that can be very tasty wines in their own right, but are not bona fide pinotage. Some have made decent pinotage rosé. And now we have the almost cloying and artificial mocha monsters.

So Where is Pinotage Going?

You will get several opinions on the future of pinotage in South Africa, and many who prize it are perhaps more sentimental about it. It has always had its loyal followers – there is even a Pinotage Association for that purpose – but I really think they have an emotional fondness for the idea of pinotage – and perhaps a commercial stake – rather than a love for its taste. And that’s okay too – there is no right or wrong about what one likes or why.

Despite all its incarnations in its 60+ year commercial history pinotage has never risen to stardom and icon status – certainly not price-wise, and certainly not internationally. And even as an inexpensive “braii” or BBQ wine it has problems with all that stylistic variance that is not at all self-evident to buyers. Then at lower prices quality can vary greatly as well.

The answer, if there is one, would seem to lie in defining a true and authentic pinotage style, warts and all. To stop trying to make it conform, and let it be what it is.

Anthony Hamilton Russell is one who actually believes in the character of pinotage, so much so that he has designed a dedicated pinotage winery called Southern Right next to his more famous pinot noir vineyard in the Hamal En Aarde Valley near the coastal town of Hermanus. (Southern Right is the species of whale that come to winter in Walker Bay). And he has made a compelling 2012.

“The instrinsics of pinotage are fascinating” Hamilton Russell says, “but I am worried about the future because it is considered part of the old guard South Africa and the young guns of the next generation are not paying it the attention it needs”.

But let’s assume that authenticity is its ticket to ride. This means laying way back on oak – kicking away that crutch. And if that is to be done, and the wine has to walk on its own two feet, it is critical to achieve the best possible natural balance in the vineyard. I think that begins with planting it in the cool to moderate regions that will produce lighter reds that bring out its pinot side. When did you last even see a varietally labelled “cinsault” let alone really enjoy a Rhône blend from anywhere with cinsault as the lead varietal.

Coastal areas bring out the pinot in pinotage

Coastal areas bring out the pinot in pinotage

Having now visited most of the Cape’s regions, even if superficially, it is apparent to me that pinotage should be grown near the coast, perhaps from as far south and east as Elim, up through Stanford, Walker Bay, Hamal-en-Aarde, Bot River, Elgin, Constantia, Durbanville Hills and perhaps in the coolest sub-regions of Stellenbosch. Once farther inland in Franschoek, Paarl, Swartland then over the mountains in Robertson, I think the cinsault genes begin to dominate and take over pinot’s gentler side, and the wines just get to burly and coarse. There can be a real bitter streak to pinotage.

Examples that Show the Way

So where to set the compass among existing wines. I would dial straight into the Beaumont 2012 Pinotage from Bot River. Sebastian Beaumont has decided to focus on pinotage as the most natural expression of red wines that are uniquely South African. His mother Jayne first made pinotage from estate vines in this shale area in 1993 and the vines are now broaching 40 years of age.

Incredibly this wine would sell for under $20 in Canada, and if it can be done this well cheaply there is nothing wrong with pinotage being a kind of everyday country red (I kept thinking of sangiovese). But if I were a producer looking to safeguard the reputation of pinotage I would price it higher; or at least go for a reserve level that relies more on low yield and fruit, rather than new oak, for its balance and depth.

What others stood out? All from the same coastal area east and south of Cape Town, the above mentioned Hamilton Russell Southern Right 2012 from the Hamal-en-Aarde Valley is excellent. I also admired Springfontein Jonathan’s Ridge 2012 from the same small valley. And although a bit heavily wooded the Wildekrans 2011 also from Bot River shows core authentic pinotage character. And from nearby coastal Elgin the lively if tart edged slightly green Spioenkop Battle of Spioenkop Pinotage 2012.

Spot successes from elsewhere included Manley 2011 Pinotage from the more remote Tulbagh region; Durbanville Hills 2012 Rhinofields Pinotage, and MAN Family Bosstok Pinotage 2012 from a single vineyard in the Jonkershoek sub-region of Stellenbosch.

Again, the answer to me would be let pinotage be its rather coarse, wiry, sour-edged self. It’s allure is within its oddity.  Stop trying to make it conform to some smooth, svelte rich international taste profile.  And if it never becomes a global  darling – so be it.  That’s where merlot and syrah come in.

David Lawrason


Vines, fynbos, rock and blue sky define Cape terroir

Vines, fynbos, rock and blue sky define Cape terroir

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15 Great South African Wine Values

Photos and text by David Lawrason
with notes from John Szabo and Steve Thurlow

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

In a recent Newsletter called the New World Order (VINTAGES Jan 10) I made the statement that South Africa currently heads the list of the best sources of wine value in the world; followed by Argentina and Chile. I stand by that statement and want to elaborate, then to point out 15 South African wines currently at the LCBO or VINTAGES Stores that stand as evidence. The WineAlign team recently had an opportunity to taste the entire South African General List category, plus some recent VINTAGES releases.

First, I want to define value. It doesn’t solely mean wines that are the lowest price. Value juxtaposes quality and cost, at any price level. Quality I define as true, balanced, complex and generous expression of grape and place. The problem for South Africa – and in the end for consumers – is that so many of the wines bought by the LCBO are based on low price only. They will claim we consumers won’t pay more for South African wine. I contend that we will gladly pay more once exposed to the right wines. I spent three weeks in South Africa last year, and was stunned by how many “more expensive” wines showed great quality, and were still good value. And I tasted hundreds.

This is of course the age-old problem with the LCBO one-buyer monopoly system. They simply don’t have shelf space for more than a token representation from any one country and to be fair to all they must list wines from all countries. South Africa has suffered most from this because their supply and quality was interrupted when in 1987 Canada stopped buying to protest racist Apartheid policies. To regain market share after the sanctions were lifted in 1994 the LCBO bought the cheapest and often least good quality wines – which left a poor impression. The industry was stuck in a quality rut during the sanctions period, which I witnessed on my first visit just after Nelson Mandela was elected president.

South Africa

Fynbos, a collective term for the varied native vegetation of the Cape, can lend its wild aromas to the wines.

But those days are history, and since then quality has improved dramatically, particularly in the last five years. I noticed it during a visit in 2011, and by the time I visited again last March it was crystal clear. The same conclusions have been reached by all WineAlign colleagues who have also recently been to South Africa – John Szabo, Anthony Gismondi, Steve Thurlow and Janet Dorozynski. Each of them has come back writing about how South Africa has turned the corner. You can scan our archives for their articles.

The current situation is that the LCBO selection is still ridiculously small given what is available to the buyers; and the selection is still governed to a large degree by low prices, with some loyalty being shown to brands that have just always been around, which makes entry more difficult for new brands that are upping their game. Even VINTAGES, with its average bottle price of $18.95, lists few South African wines that are over $20. But, the good news is that quality within that price band has increased a great deal. To me the average $15 Cape wine is on a quality level of the average $30 French or California wine.

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The complex terrain of Stellenbosch creates many sub-appellations

The quality surge has everything to do with better, often more natural grape growing. I was impressed by the level of ecological awareness in South Africa. It is also a result of better winemaking, with far fewer faulted “meaty and rubbery” wines. And there is also much more attention being paid to better location of specific varieties in the right climatic zones. I could go on and on about the latter in particular – the emergence of well-defined wine regions and regional styles – but that has already been covered before by our correspondents. And I will shortly be posting a detailed essay on pinotage which, by example, demonstrates these themes.

For now, I simply want to encourage those of you who have not tried South African wines to do so. To dip into our list of the best values on the shelf today. If you want an opportunity to sample first, some LCBO stores will be doing that on Saturday, Feb 14; and LCBOs with event kitchens will be staging mini-South African fairs.

And if you really want to dig into this subject by flying to South Africa itself, Wines of South Africa has a contest running until March 3rd that will send two people to the Cape with airfare, accommodation, meals and wine tours included. Enter at

The Whites

Goats Do Roam White 2013

The Wolftrap 2013 WhiteThe Wolftrap White 2013, Western Cape ($13.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is an amazing white for the money with its intensely flavoured palate and pure complex nose. Expect aromas of melon and baked pear fruit with lemongrass and floral heather plus some typical South African minerality. The palate is intense and very solid with some bitter tones nicely closing the finish. It’s a bit chunky and does not have the elegance of the 2012 vintage. Very good to excellent length. Match with sautéed pork chops.
David Lawrason – Totally agree on the value quotient of this intriguing white blend that is built around viognier (60%),  chenin blanc (21%) and less seldom seen grenache blanc (19%). It’s a combination of warmer climate (Rhone)varieties that provide opulence anchored in chenin blanc acidity. Partial fermentation and ageing in French oak adds even ore layers.  The emergence of Rhone varieties grown in inland areas is one of the great stories of the new South Africa

Goats do Roam 2013 White, Western Cape ($11.95)
John Szabo
– The first vintage of this whimsically-named, Rhône-inspired blend was 1998, and the quality has steadily risen. And now that the vines are over 15 years old, there’s more than enough complexity to put this into the sharp value category. It’s about 2/3rds viognier with roussanne and grenache blanc, mainly from the Fairview property in Paarl with a small percentage from Swartland, delivering pleasant citrus-pear-apple fruit, savoury herbs and light floral-blossom aromatics on a mid-weight, essentially dry and fleshy frame. This will please widely.
Steve Thurlow – This is a consistently great value white. I love the pureness and the vibrancy of the 2013 vintage. It is an aromatic blend of three white grapes with lifted floral fruity aromas and an intensely flavoured palate. The nose shows apple and custard with pasty, floral orange and white peach fruit. It is medium-full bodied with firm balancing acidity and a long firm finish. Very good length. Enjoy as an aperitif with pastry nibbles or try with mildly spicy Asian cuisine.

Fleur du Cap 2013 Chardonnay, Western Cape ($12.85)
Steve Thurlow – This wine has been sadly absent from our market for a few years and it is a welcome return to the LCBO list. It is an oaked chardonnay with just enough oak to add complexity to the nose and palate. Expect aromas of baked apple with vanilla, caramel, with lemon and cinnamon notes. The palate is rich and very smooth with intense flavours and very good length. It is old school but well done. Try with fish and chips.

Mulderbosch 2012 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape  ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mulderbosch is happy to pay a premium price for this fruit, sourced almost exclusively from bush vines, many over 30 years old and all dry farmed (Swartland, Malmesbury). The extra concentration shows through on the palate with its rich, succulent texture and very good to excellent length. 20% gets barrel treatment, though wood is not a player in the profile, and this is virtually bone dry. A wine with genuine depth and character, drinking now, but better in a year or two.

Boschendal The Pavillion 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, ($10.95)
John Szabo
– Here’s a lovely little value from Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest farms founded in 1685 and set in the dramatic Drakenstein Valley surrounded by the Cape’s staggeringly beautiful landscape. There’s genuine substance on the palate and plenty of ripe citrus, pineapple and melon flavours bolstered by a welcome impression of sweetness. I’d happily sip this, a wine to keep around the house to pull out on those ‘whenever’ occasions.

Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay 2013 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2012 Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014 Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc 2012 K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014

Simonsig Chenin 2012 Avec Chêne Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch  ($25.95)
David Lawrason – This is a fine example of Cape chenin, a quite full bodied, fleshy yet balanced example with classic green pear/honeydew melon fruit sewn with subtle fine French oak spice  and vanilla in the background. With chenin’s growing popularity, different styles are also proliferating, with varying levels of oak involvent. So check out labels before you buy. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V Contemporary Collection 2014 Chenin Blanc, Western Cape ($9.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a delicious amazingly well priced alternative for pinot grigio lovers. The 2014 vintage of this wine shows that South Africa can make good inexpensive chenin with a good depth of flavour and well structured. The nose shows fresh melon pear fruit with grapefruit and mineral notes. The palate is midweight with ripe fruit balanced by lemony acidity. Very good length with a nice bitter tone to the finish. Try with seafood or white meats.

The Reds

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, Swartland ($14.95)
John Szabo
– Mark Kent of Boekenhootskloof settled in the Franschhoek Valley, but has slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s a difficult region in which to grow grapes. Slowly but surely he’s pulled out vineyards (with the exception of some exquisite, old vine semillon) and replanted in other regions, especially Swartland, which he believes has enormous potential. And this all-Swartland syrah is a very strong argument in his favour, a wine that delivers all one could want at the price and more. The palate is rich and mouth filling, ripe but still grippy, with substantial flavour intensity and depth, as well as length. You won’t go wrong here.
David Lawrason – Not much to add here except “a high five”, especially if you are one who likes your syrah meaty, big and bouncy. This has been going strong since WineAlign first went on the air – scoring 87 points or better in every vintage since 2007.

The Wolftrap 2013 Syrah Mourvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
John Szabo – Although a small step below Boekenhootskloof’s Porcupine Ridge range in terms of depth and complexity (and price), this is a thoroughly delicious, savoury-fruity, well-balanced blend that hits all of the right notes. It’s also less oak-influenced, and as such will appeal to fans of classic Mediterranean blends (i.e. Côtes du Rhône). Infinitely drinkable all in all, especially with a light chill.
Steve Thurlow – This wine captures in each vintage the essence of a Rhone red and this is probably the best yet. It is made mostly from syrah with about 30% mouverdre and a splash of viognier. There are no jammy tones and the palate is firm with acid and tannin for balance. The tannins are ripe which gives it structure for food balance. Expect earthy black cherry and bramble fruit aromas with some smoke and black pepper spice and hints of dark chocolate. The palate is full-bodied yet it feels lighter and the length is very good to excellent. Try with BBQ meats.

Thelema 2012 Mountain Red, Stellensbosch ($12.95)
Steve Thurlow – This delightful blend of shiraz and 5 other grapes comes from high mountain vineyards above Stellenbosch. The lifted nose shows ripe blackberry and blueberry fruit with black pepper, mild oak spice and floral complexity. It is very smooth and quite dense with a degree of elegance. Very good length. Try with pizza or burgers.
David Lawrason – Excellent value, once again from a leading producer that was among the first to upgrade its style and quality in the post-Apartheid era. (I first tasted and was thoroughly impressed by their wines at a trade tasting in Toronto in 1995 – I believe). The blending of several grapes is very much in vogue in South Africa and this a good example.

Goats do Roam 2013 Red, Western Cape  ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – Fantastic value here. The 2013 is another excellent vintage with its lifted aromas of plum and black cherry, dark chocolate, mild oak spice, and smokey blackberry jam. It is midweight and well balanced with lively acidity and spicy black fruit and soft tannin. Very good to excellent length. It is a great food wine to be enjoyed with a wide variety of meat and cheese dishes.

Thelema Mountain Red 2012 Goats Do Roam Red 2013 Boschendal The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Avondale Jonty's Ducks Pekin Red 2011

Boschendal The Pavillion 2013 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch ($11.95)
Steve Thurlow – I love the zippy juicy vibrant palate to this exuberant red. It is midweight with aromas of red cherry with white pepper spice, and modest oak treatment, so the fruit shines through. The fruity palate is well balanced by soft tannin and some racy acidity makes it feel quite light. Good focus and very good length. Try with grilled meats.

Avondale Jonty’s Ducks 2011 Pekin Red, Paarl ($14.95)
John Szabo –
Well, this is quite a wine for $15. John and Ginny Grieve, owners of Vital Health Foods, bought the 300 year-old Avondale farm in 1997 and set about converting it to organic/biodynamic culture (actually, they’ve invented their own system called BioLogic). The same balanced approach is taken in the winery. And the results? Well, everything I’ve tasted from Avondale has been worth a look. Jonty’s Ducks is a second label of sorts, which blends about 2/3 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the Bordeaux grapes. It’s wholly satisfying and highly drinkable, either on its own for contemplation or with roasted meat preparations.

K W V Roodeberg 2012

Rustenberg 2011 ShirazRustenberg Shiraz 2011, Stellenbosch ($19.95)
David Lawrason – This is from of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch that first bottled wine in 1892!  It is also the site of one of the finest restaurants and tasting facilities in South Africa (I was stunned by the sophistication of the hospitality scene in and around Stellenbosch.) Because Rustenberg is a classic old-school estate expect leaner, very Euro and very complex reds. VINTAGES Feb 7.

K W V 2012 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.45)
Steve Thurlow – This is a medium bodied Cape classic that as usual offers good value with the 2012 vintage. It is well balanced and quite complex. It is styled like a French southern Rhône red with red and black cherry fruit, white pepper, with herbal and mineral tones. Good to very good length, try with rack of lamb.


David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

WOSA Canada Competition

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South Africa in The Spotlight Part Two: Getting Cooler

South Africa in The Spotlight: Part TwoAugust 21, 2014

by John Szabo, MS

Part one of the series last week makes the pitch for South Africa as one of the most exciting countries in the world of wine, and examines the Swartland region and its top producers. This entry covers the cool Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.Regions to Watch: The Hemel-en-Aarde ValleyThe Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (“heaven and earth”) is technically three separate wards within the district of Walker Bay: there’s the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley itself as well as the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, as you move inland from the seaside town of Hermanus. There are currently eleven wineries in the valley and 14 grape growers, and growing.

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

The coast by Hermanus, Walker Bay

This is pinot noir and chardonnay territory par excellence, cooled by breezes off the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn are chilled by the icy Benguela current that surges up from Antarctica and bounces off the Cape. Soils vary greatly, but follow the general South African pattern of variations on shale, sandstone and granite. The clay content, however, heavier at either end of the valley but lower in the middle, regulates the relative weight of pinot noirs, Anthony Hamilton Russell tells me. “The middle part of the valley [the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde] will always make lighter and delicate pinots”, he says, while more clay equates to fuller bodied and more structured examples.

Anthony’s father Tim Hamilton Russell was the first to plant vines in Walker Bay, although it wasn’t known then as Walker Bay. Travelling frequently to his holiday home in the old seaside fishing town of Hermanus, he was struck by the possibility of winegrowing in this cool maritime region. At the time it was outside of any official demarcated wine growing areas, and the pinot, chardonnay and sauvignon that Hamilton Russell made in the mid-eighties was labeled simply as “Western Cape Red/White Wine” without mention of region or grape.

Eventually the government would create the Walker Bay District, but it is a very large area with vastly different soils and micro climates, and so without logical coherence. It was then broken up five years ago into five wards: the Standford Valley, Bot River Valley, and the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards. “It’s been a commercially difficult transition, as the appellation is a mouthful to be sure, whereas Walker Bay is known and easy” says Hamilton Russell.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley with the Atlantic in the distance, seen from Newton Johnson Vineyards

Early challenges in the region included a lack of good plant material. The first clone of pinot noir available in South Africa was the Swiss Wadenswill clone, better suited to sparkling wine production in cool climates, and evidently not ideal for the Cape. “One of the frustrations for pinot noir producers in this country is that we’re in the minority” laments Bevan Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards. “Nurseries are much better equipped to respond to the demands of cabernet, merlot and shiraz producers. We’d send in orders but there was no incentive to offer quality clones. They knew we’d have to take what was available”.

Better clonal material such as the Dijon clones would eventually arrive, but another ongoing problem is endemic leaf roll virus. Most vineyards have to be replanted every dozen or so years, meaning that many vines may never reach their maximum quality potential.

Yet challenges aside, the wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde have a finesse and elegance unknown elsewhere in South Africa, and I suspect this little piece of heaven and earth will soon be much better-known both domestically and internationally.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Producers to Know 

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Anthony Hamilton Russell in his beautiful Canadian beaver pelt fedora

Hamilton-Russell. Little intro is needed here; Hamilton Russell is the original and still the gold standard for the region. The wines are all class, like Anthony Hamilton Russell himself, an English aristocrat who happens to be South African. Watch out for the turtles roaming the gardens in front of Braemar, the home of Anthony & Olive Hamilton Russell. The very good Southern Right and Asbourne labels are also produced by the Hamilton Russell team.

Newton Johnson Vineyards. This is a gorgeous spot in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde with a view to the coast down the Valley. It’s very much a family affair, with father Dave Newton Johnson a Cape Wine Master with thirty years experience in the business, and sons Gordon (winemaking) and Bevan (Managing Director, marketing).

Prior to settingling in the valley, Dave worked at Distell, South Africa’s largest wine company. But pinot noir was always his passion, and he used to drag his kids up to Walker Bay to see Peter Finlayson (former winemaker at Hamilton Russell before launching his own winery, Bouchard Finlayson, with a group of 18 investors including Paul Bouchard from Burgundy) to taste pinot. Pinot noir was, after all, Dave’s dissertation topic in the 1980s for his Master’s degree, a time when very little was known about the grape in South Africa.

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

Bevan (left) and Gordon Newton Johnson

He eventually purchased land in the area in the late 1990s and was joined by his sons; the purpose was clear: to focus on pinot noir. They started from scratch and have since planted sixteen hectares over the years 2002-2004. Chardonnay, sauvignon and the Rhône varieties play supporting roles.

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Lunch at Newton Johnson (pork belly is all the rage in South Africa, too)

Overall, the wines at Newton Johnson are pristine and perfumed, finely crafted, elegant, with a minimum of extraction and emphasis on elegance, precisely what the lighter soils in this middle section of the valley are best suited to produce. Research and experimentation continues. “Nobody has more than 30 years experience growing pinot in South Africa. We have so much to learn”, Bevan reveals.

As an aside, the restaurant at Newton Johnson is one of the finest in the Cape and certainly Michelin star-quality. Don’t miss a chance to dine here if you find yourself in the area.

Creation Wines. Husband and wife team Jean-Claude (JC) and Carolyn Martin run this tidy operation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward. The couple started from the ground up, converting a sheep farm under the imposing Babylon Mountain peak to vineyards in 2002, and following that with a cellar and restaurant in 2007. This part of the valley is about ten kilometers from the sea and at 300m elevation. And the climate is notably more continental: “midnight is always 12ºC cooler than the daytime high” JC tells me, and “harvest is two weeks later than the lower part of the Valley”.

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

Jean-Claude Martin, Creation Wines

More clay surfaces here amidst the 450 million-year-old Bokkersfeld shale soils, as it does lower down, favouring more structured wines. The Martins have forty hectares planted principally to pinot noir, with a mix of other varieties including chardonnay, syrah and grenache. 

Over lunch we’re treated to a first hand dose of Ridge weather. From calm, hot and sunny on arrival, within a matter of minutes a large front moves in from the north. Weather events hit here about a day after they move through Stellenbosch and Paarl as fronts curl around the cape and head up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The wind picks up and guest quickly scurry inside as the restaurant staff scrambles to lower umbrellas and close the sliding doors. Rain is imminent. The weather can change here in five minutes.

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines, with her fancy double decanting device

Safely inside, we sit down to a well-orchestrated wine and food pairing. Correctly speaking, Creation doesn’t have a restaurant, I’m told, but rather a “degustation room”. Carolyn is emphatic about ensuring that everything works to highlight the wines. On the menu, every dish is accompanied by a wine – in fact ordering food without wine is frowned upon (there’s a separate playroom for children – a brilliant idea that should be emulated the world over in my view – so that the adults can play in peace). Carolyn works daily with the chef, fine tuning dishes to pair with Creation wines, and everything is expertly done with love and care, down to proper serving temperature (reds are served cool) and double decanting wines when necessary. We have an excellent experience.

JC, who is of Swiss-French origin, is no less precise on the winemaking side. These are skillfully crafted and widely appealing wines, to the point that one almost wishes for a hair to be out of place. But there isn’t – every bottle is neatly coloured within the lines, a reasonable feat considering a production of 200,000 bottles under the Creation label, and another 150,000 bottles under the Whale Pod, made mostly from purchased fruit “and bits and pieces” of estate fruit. There are three tiers: Creation Estate, Creation Reserve, and the two top wines labeled “The Art of Chardonnay” and “The Art of Pinot Noir”. And JC tells me that his clones of pinot noir are virus-free, unlike the majority in the valley, meaning that as they age the full potential of Hemel-en-Aarde terroir may be revealed.

Also Noteworthy:

Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson

Sumaridge. A quality producer in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, owned by the Bellingham Turner family. Chardonnays here are a little denser and riper than the average in the region. Look also for the excellent “Epitome” cuvée, a shiraz-pinotage blend reminiscent of the southern Rhône.

Bouchard Finlayson. Although quality is highly variable from wine to wine and vintage to vintage, the estate is worth a mention as one of the longest-established in the region after Hamilton Russell, where Peter Finlayson was winemaker until the early 1990s. The 2007 and 2011 Galpin Peak pinot noir are among the best I’ve tasted from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, while the Overberg unoaked chardonnay is also worth a look.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Part One: Revolution in the Swartland; Buyer’s guide to South African Wines

Bad cop, good cop - Québec journalist Jessica harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

Bad cop, good cop – Québec journalist Jessica Harnois and Laurel Keenan of Wines of South Africa

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South Africa in the spotlight: Excitement & Revolution

South Africa in The Spotlight: Part OneAugust 12, 2014


Is South Africa One of the World’s Most Vibrant Wine Countries? 
by John Szabo MS

Part One: Revolution in the Swartland, South Africa’s hottest region; Buyer’s guide to South African Wines (Watch for Part Two next week: The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley) Cause for Excitement

Though 354 years old, the modern South African wine industry is barely celebrating its twentieth birthday. It’s only been a couple dozen years since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom, and twenty years since the first multiracial elections in the country, which effectively ended decades of international embargos and sanctions. The number of cellars crushing grapes has nearly tripled since 1991 (from 212 to 564 in 2013, with a high of 604 cellars in 2009). What was before an entirely insular industry has grown in the last two decades into one of the most vibrant and exciting wine scenes in the world.

Night falling over Table Mountain, view from Durbanville Hills

Night falling over Table Mountain, view from Durbanville Hills

Change of course hasn’t been easy. When the Cape opened up in the early nineties, the lure of chasing seemingly limitless international wine markets (and a very limited domestic one) was irresistible. Since the fashion of the time dictated red wine, many growers were motivated to rip out old vineyards of white grapes destined mainly for brandy and replant them with fashionable jet-setting grapes like cabernet, merlot and shiraz, which were minor players under the old winemaking regime. In 1990 cabernet represented just 4% of total acreage, and merlot and shiraz just 1% each. In 2012, the proportions had shifted massively, with those grapes representing 12%, 6% and 11% respectively. In the same period, chardonnay quadrupled to 8% of plantings, and sauvignon blanc moved from 2% to 10%, while at the same time, chenin blanc acreage was nearly cut in half from 32% to 18%.

New Plantings In Paarl

New Plantings In Paarl

The strategy at the time appeared reasonable enough, were it not for the reality that South Africans were a couple of decades behind the rest of the world. Revamping a vineyard is not like switching from corn to barley or cotton to sugarcane; it takes many years to establish a new variety. And there’s a truism in the world of wine: if you chase what’s fashionable, by the time you get there fashion will have moved on.

It’s not hard to see why in the rush to join the rest of the world, mistakes were unavoidable. In many cases, grapes and places didn’t match up. Although South Africa is blessed with a variety of climates and soils, many regions are simply too warm to make fine cabernet and merlot, or interesting chardonnay, while the regions that are suited were still being discovered. Not to say that there aren’t fine cabernets and blends – there are, particularly in Stellenbosch, but exceptions always prove the rule.

Many bet heavily on sauvignon blanc, made fashionable in the nineties by New Zealand, but it has proven over time, with rare exceptions, to make mildly interesting wine at best – nothing to shake the world or cause anxiety in Kiwi land. The hope that pinotage – a grape virtually unique to (and created in) South Africa – might one day become the country’s flagship grape were all but dashed by planting it in areas that are patently too warm for a variety that ripens earlier than pinot noir. The lamentable solution: mask the shortcomings with mocha-chocolate-coffee flavours. And there are other examples.

It’s easy in hindsight to say that the South African wine industry should have stuck with what it was already doing well, but that of course would never have happened. Often in this business you have to take a step forward in order to be able to take two steps back. And this is where I see South Africa today: the early leap forward into an uncertain future has allowed the industry to look back into the past with clarity and renewed purpose. Today it is so much clearer which regions and grapes, and their combinations, work, and yield wine that can truly be called distinctive. It would have taken a mighty visionary surveying the wine scene circa 1994 to see the future as it is today.

Fine-tuning the complex matrix of cultivar, climate and soil is well and truly underway, guided by both the important hand of history as well as hyper-acute technological tools. What used to take centuries and multiple generations has been accomplished in a mere couple of decades.

Always with us: Nelson Mandela still watches over vines at Fairview Cellars

Always with us: Nelson Mandela still watches over vines at Fairview Cellars

And the technical proficiency and open-mindedness that comes from travel and exchange of knowledge, unavailable to the previous generation of South African winegrowers, is widely enjoyed by today’s cohort. It has given the necessary confidence to both neglect fashion and be lazy in the winery, letting grape and place speak more loudly than technique. Such an attitude is possible only with self-assurance and a belief that one’s patch of dirt and distinct variety can make something of worth, and something that can finally and truly be called South African. And that attitude is spreading like wildflowers across the Cape’s astonishingly beautiful and incredibly bio diverse landscape.

That’s what makes South Africa one of the most exciting and vibrant winegrowing countries in the world, with so much more great wine to come. And when you throw all-important value into the mix, driven in part by the country’s weak rand, the story is even more exciting.

A full report on the SA wine scene would require far more words than even internet publications accept (not to mention time more time to read than anyone has), so I’ve written up mini profiles on two diametrically opposed but equally exciting regions that give a flavour for the overall South African wine scene. Part one covers the Swartland, along with the producers whose wines you’ll want to find, and drink, and part two next week looks at the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. I wrap up each with a buyer’s guide of South African wines currently available in Canada.

Part One Places to Watch: Revolution in The Swartland

We drive down a dusty, unpaved bumpy road passing parched fields of grass and wheat, grazing cattle, and vineyards scattered here and there with gnarled old vines spread like shrubs across the dry and stony ground. This is the land that was forgotten: The Swartland. The name means literally ‘the black land’, from the now endangered indigenous renosterbos (rhino bush) which once coloured the landscape dark. But it too has been forgotten.

Swartland Landscape - the land that time forgot (or at least the 1990s wine industry boom)

Swartland Landscape – the land that time forgot (or at least the 1990s wine industry boom)

When the wine industry upheaval came in the nineties, excitement was focused on Stellenbosch. Swartland wasn’t part of the boom. But recently it’s been Swartland’s turn for an all-out revolution, and it has become South Africa’s hottest zone for prospectors, punters and winegrowers fuelled by passion but with bank accounts running on empty. But some larger companies are already moving in and/or sourcing fruit in the region (Fairview, Mulderbosch, Boekenhoutskloof), and it’s only a matter of time before everyone is saying “Sf-var-t-lande” in proper Afrikaans.

The cause of the excitement is in plain sight, for anyone who takes the three-hour car ride up from Cape Town: old bush vines of unfashionable grapes. Land prices are still cheap (at least relative to areas like Stellenbosch where creeping urbanization is putting immense pressure on vineyard land, driving up values to unsustainable levels), I’m told about $5,000 per hectare (although most properties are large and can’t be subdivided), which in turn draws an anti-corporate, post-modern collection of young maveric winemakers seeking to make a unique artistic statement rather than simply collect a pay check. And voilà – you have a quality revolution. It’s more or less the same set of circumstances that have made places like Italy’s Mt. Etna or Spain’s Bierzo and Priorat (and what might make Southern Chile’s old vine pais and carignan) the sin-qua-nons of any cutting edge wine list over the last decade.

As a result of being spared participation in the first phase of the industry revamp, a disproportionate number of old vineyards in the Swartland were left untouched, farmed without fanfare by anonymous cooperatives churning out anonymous wines from grapes nobody had heard of or cared much about. But now in the ongoing worldwide search for distinctive regional authenticity, these ancient vines, perfectly adapted to their surroundings, have moved up to the order of national treasures. South Africa is simply identifying and acknowledging its own national viticultural treasures. Today Swartland has the highest percentage of old vines in South Africa, and South Africa has the greatest acreage of old white vines in the new world – that’s cause for excitement.

Grapes that were once thought useful only for distillation or jug wine, like chenin blanc and cinsault are proving otherwise. And they’ve been joined more recently by varieties that fit the region, like grenache, syrah, mourvedre, roussanne and viognier. Considering the scarce rainfall (300-500mm per year) and a heat summation equivalent to region IV – that’s like scorching southern Spain – Mediterranean varieties are logical. And the palette of soils ranging from decomposed granites to shales, schists and iron-rich red soils called Koffieklip provide for diverse expressions and intriguing blending possibilities.

Still, there are many old vineyards whose grapes are pumped into bulk tanks or cheap bag-in-box, so there’s ample opportunity for fine Swartland wine to grow. For now it’s believed that the market is not yet ready to absorb a massive influx of high end wines from this as-yet little known region, which is undoubtedly true. As consumers, we’d be smart to get in and buy what’s currently available before the rest of the world finds out how good these wines can be.

The Swartland Producers To Know

Sadie Family Wines

Eben Sadie

Eben Sadie

Winemaker Eben Sadie is one of South Africa’s most reflective and philosophical characters. On arrival I’m treated to a well-rehearsed one-hour discourse on his beliefs including, for example, the logic of blending grapes in the Swartland, as is done in other warm climates around the world (single variety wines are the domain of cool regions – think about it: Loire, Burgundy, Alsace, Germany, northern Italy, vs. southern France and Spain), or the dangers of dogmatic idealism (he’s on the minimal intervention side of the spectrum, but if the wine needs a touch of sulphur, he’ll add it), or the need to evolve over time (there used to be lots of new wood in the cellar, which has slowly given way to old barrels, large old wooden vats and more recently concrete eggs and clay amphora).

Sadie has one of the best collections of empty wine bottles in his office I’ve ever seen – all of the world’s greats are there – which I find highly comforting. He clearly knows what fine wine is. His passion for wine is matched only by his passion for surfing “I love it like you have no idea. It’s what I do”. He pours his wines in Zalto Burgundy glasses – in my view some of the best vessels in the world out of which to experience wine, and what Sadie describes as being like “flying to the moon”. It’s also reassuring: here wine is treated with care and respect. I later find out that he acquired his large and expensive glassware fleet by trading bottles of his top wine, Columella, with the owner of Zalto glassware in Austria “one for one”. I’m tempted to say that Herr Karner got the better deal, given the finite scarcity of Sadie’s wines; only 4000 cases in total (all labels) are made annually, with no intention to grow.

Sadie and his latest clay amphora

Sadie and his latest clay amphora

I appreciate Sadie’s confidence and thoughtfulness, almost as much as his wines. These are among South Africa’s best wines without question, hitting the right spot on the continuum of naturalness, with depth, precision, genuine complexity, purity and clarity. The multi-cépage blends Columella (red) and Palladius (white) sit at the top of the estate’s hierarchy; they’re also among the South Africa’s most expensive (approximately $130 and $70 respectively), but in an international context, are worth every penny and more.

He has recently introduced a range of single vineyard wines that should expose more consumers to his wines, if not in quantity, than at least in price, at around $40-$50 per bottle. These wines are the result of an obsessive search for old vine parcels that can produce at the highest quality levels. Starting from literally hundreds of potential sites, Sadie has slowly whittled the options down to a mere handful. The collection includes an astoundingly good chenin blanc ‘Skurfberg’ made from vines planted in 1888, a lovely, fine and firm cinsault ‘Pofadder’ (a grape Sadie describes as being “like your brother in jail – you love him but you can’t talk about him”), a floral and powerful, whole bunch-fermented grenache ‘Soldaat’, and a rare and arresting tinta barroca ‘Treinspoor’,  which he describes as being like “syrah married to nebbiolo”.

Sadie Family's latest single vineyard range. No concessions made to international markets - these labels are unapologetically South African

Sadie Family’s latest single vineyard range. No concessions made to international markets – these labels are unapologetically South African

The second label of sorts is called Sequillo (a red and white blend are made) and offer tremendous value. Sadie describes Sequillo as his R&D company. The wines change every year, and “all of the freak stuff goes into it”. But since even the freaky here is freakishly good, these are wines you’ll want to drink.

Mullineux Family Wines

Chris Mullineux

Chris Mullineux

In many ways Chris Mullineux and his wife Andrea are emblematic of the Swartland revolution. Chris has both an accounting degree (useful in the wine business) and a winemaking degree from Stellenbosch, so he is technically well-prepared. Andrea is from a winemaking background in California, and the couple met in the south of France while she was making wine in Chateauneuf and he in Bandol – so both are well traveled and experienced (and they continue to make a little bit of wine together in Napa from fruit grown in the Sierra Foothills). Chris made wine for five years at Fable Vineyards (formerly Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards), where he worked with purchased fruit from all over South Africa, including the Swartland, so he’s familiar with multiple regions.

When it was time for the Mullineux to strike out on their own, the choice of region was easy. Chris already knew that fruit from the Swartland was “the easiest to make into interesting wine without much manipulation”, and the grapes are suited to wine styles they both like to drink. The dry climate makes it easy to farm organically, yields are naturally low, and diverse soils and growing conditions provide lots of possibilities. Plus, Chris already knew all of the top growers and best sites in the region, grapes were available and inexpensive, and it was possible to set up a functional operation with minimal overhead, which would have been impossible in Stellenbosch. The pair moved in 2007 and crushed their first harvest in 2008.

Today they lease 42 different parcels, about 25 hectares in total. Emphasis is on blending, as Chris says “it’s tough to find a single site that has the full balance”. The Mullineux, like all of the avant-garde in the Swartland, are minimalist winemakers, a luxury made possible in part by working with old vines which tend to come into the winery already in balance. There are no additions to any of the wines, Chris tells me, but he’s not “dogmatic or fundamentalist”. He’ll filter if necessary, and bounce out bretty barrels. “It’s not a philosophy. It’s to make the most authentic expressions possible”, he says.

The spartan tasting bar at Mullineux, though outfitted with vineyard rock samples (left to right: schist, koffieklip, sandstone), always a reassuring sign

The spartan tasting bar at Mullineux, though outfitted with vineyard rock samples (left to right: schist, koffieklip, sandstone), always a reassuring sign

The Mullineux Family White, a blend of about 3/4 Chenin, 35-65 years old, clairette blanche and viognier, fermented and aged in mostly old foudre is rich and expressive, layered and textured with intriguing nutty/almond/marzipan flavours. The syrah, blended from parcels grown on granite, schist and koffieklip soils and fermented with 50% whole bunches offers lovely perfume in the violet spectrum, with pure dark fruit, blackberry, a touch of leafiness and lively acidity. “Weight and bigness happen naturally here”, says Mullineux, “it’s the freshness that we focus on, and what takes the most effort”. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

A second label called Kloofstreet has evolved over time from leftover wine that didn’t fit into the main range to a fully fledged brand. From two barrels in the first year that they didn’t want to sell in bulk, the Kloofstreet wines are now purpose-made from earlier picked, younger vines. The chenin blanc, from the ‘young’ 35 year old vines is crunchy and fresh, while the Kloofstreet Rouge, mostly syrah, is pure, spicy and peppery. Both are highly drinkable and fine value at about $20/bottle.


Lammershoek winemaker Craig hawkins, old vines and Swartland landscape

Lammershoek winemaker Craig Hawkins, old vines and Swartland landscape

Craig Hawkins, winemaker since 2010, got doubly lucky when he met Carla Kretzel, the sales and marketing manager for Lammershoek. In one shot he scored a lovely girlfriend and a job in one of the most beautiful corners in the country (Carla’s father owns the property). It’s a relatively small operation, producing 150,000 bottles annually, and it’s fair to say the style has changed dramatically since Hawkins’ arrival. The wines have lightened up in every sense except character and quality, and the blazes here now mark out unbridled experimentation and rigorous non-interventionist winemaking.

Craig admits to being inspired by his brother, who makes and sells natural wines, and the painted words over the cellar door, “Made From Grapes” sums it up succinctly. Novelties under the “Cellar Foot” range, like the “Underwater Wine”, a carignan-grenache-mourvedre blend aged for a year in barrels stored underwater, the Hárslevelú, one of the only examples of the grape I’ve ever scene outside of Hungary, are just some of the ongoing tasty experiments.

Lammershoek-ageing wine underwater

Lammershoek: ageing wine underwater in a concrete vat

Not everything is successful, mind you, – cidery notes and oxidation creep in here and there – but by and large these are pure, fine, fresh, low alcohol, infinitely drinkable wines. The Lam rosé is one of the most delicious I’ve tasted: pale, 11% alcohol, bone dry and savoury beyond, while the Roulette Blanc, a blend of chenin, viognier, chardonnay and clairette, manages an impossible balance of richness and depth on a lithe 12.5% alcohol frame. The predominance of sandy, decomposed granite soils on the farm tend to yield lighter wines for early drinking, but then again, most are so delicious they wouldn’t last in my cellar anyway.

Lammershoek crest and credo: "Therefore, we drink wine"

Lammershoek crest and credo: “Therefore, we drink wine”


Porseleinberg Syrah, Boekenhoutskloof

Porseleinberg Syrah, Boekenhoutskloof

Boekenhoutskloof. Mark Kent’s celebrated operation is based in Franshhoek, but recognizing the potential of the Swartland and the need to secure a reliable grape supply from the region, he recently purchased land on the Porseleinberg. The original parcels were planted in the late 1980s, while others are recent – Kent’s plan is to expand. The fruit finds its way in the excellent value Wolftrap and Porcupine Ridge labels, among others, but the real gem is the Porseleinberg Syrah, a wine of spectacular aromatics and massive depth and structure, made from 100% whole bunch fruit and aged in foudre and concrete eggs. The 2010 is years away still from prime drinking. And check out the beautiful label hand-pressed on a nineteenth century printing press.

Also noteworthy:

AA Badenhorst Family Wines. Although I haven’t visited the estate and their 28 hectares of old bush vines in the Paardeberg Mountain, what I’ve tasted from here has been enough to cause excitement.

If you wish to join the Swartland Revolution, plan to be in the region November 7-8th of this year, where you’ll get to taste what all the excitement is about.



Buyers’ Guide: South Africa

The following recommended wines show inventory in the LCBO, SAQ or BC Liquors stores at time of publishing:

Sequillo Cellars Red 2009, Wo Swartland

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch (231282) $17.95

Fairview Petite Sirah 2011, Wo Paarl (366252) $23.95

Avondale Cyclus 2010, Wo Paarl (295220) $24.75

Bosman Adama White 2010, Wo Western Cape (282764) $15.60

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012, Coastal Region (12724) $22.95

Waterkloof Circle Of Life 2011, Stellenbosch (284588) $24.95

Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2012, Wo Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, (660878) $26.95

Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Wo Cape Point (285221) $15.95

Bayton Chardonnay 2012, Wo Constantia (269084) $17.95


That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo MS

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Join Award winning Cape winemakers for an Exclusive Dinner, Tasting and Discussion

WineAlign is delighted to present a three-course, eight-wine pairing dinner on Monday, June 9th with four award winning South African wine makers. 

Join WineAlign host David Lawrason and Cape winemakers from Boekenhoutskloof, Fleur du Cap, Ken Forrester and Nederburg, for an exclusive, up close and personal tasting, dinner and discussion that will explore where South African wine has been and where it is headed.

These four award-winning properties and their purveyors are in Toronto for one night only. They bring exciting news from the Cape – the revival of chenin blanc, the ascent of new regions like Swartland, and the enduring success of wines from Stellenbosch. Each winemaker will have the floor for a few minutes and will rotate seating throughout the night to ensure you get time spent with each throughout the three course meal. An informal reception will kick off the event with passed canapés.


Marc Kent – Natasha Williams – Ken Forrester – Pieter Badenhorst

The Winemakers:

Marc Kent – Boekenhoutskloof

Natasha Williams – Nederburg

Ken Forrester – Ken Forrester Wines

Pieter Badenhorst – Fleur du Cap

WOSA LOGO 19.06Click here to Purchase tickets

Event Details:

Date: Monday, June 9th, 2014
Parts & Labour (1566 Queen West)
6:30 – 7:00pm
7:00pm – 10:00pm
$75.00 (includes all fees & taxes)

Please note tickets are limited to 60. Our events sell out quickly so please book early to avoid disappointment.

About Parts & Labour

Established in 2010 to major acclaim as the new cultural hub of Parkdale, this design infused space boasts an haute cuisine restaurant/bar, and a live-music venue on the lower level. The menu is overseen by Executive Chef Matthew (Matty) Matheson, who rose quickly through the culinary ranks in Toronto. He completed chef training and culinary management at Humber College in 2003 and from there took a job at Le Select Bistro. In three short years Matheson made it to junior sous chef, leaving in 2007 to helm La Palette in Kensington Market. Both Le Select and La Palette’s proper French training and Matheson’s own rogue Canadiana cooking skills have garnered an impressive following for Parts & Labour.

Click here to Purchase tickets



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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008