The number of wines I tasted in my recently concluded Western Cape trip is more than that of all my previous total South African wines drunk in my entire wine drinking life. Since I have been drinking wines circa 1994, it seems like I have practically ignored South African wines for almost the last 20 years. And honestly, it may not be simple snobbery but more on South African wines’ availability and appeal in my little world here in the Philippines and the neighboring Asian countries I visit frequently. Most of the wines seen in this part of the world come from the three giants of South African wines: Distell, DGV and KWV —though combined, these wines come in multiple brands, different quality and pricing levels at commercial quantities.
My wine tour, again expertly planned by the erudite Dave Jefferson, also my wine drinking partner, took me to a tasting odyssey that crossed some of Western Cape’s top wine districts, including Franschhoek, Breedekloof, Worcester, Stellenbosch and Elgin. This is simply a tasting trip and I will not even attempt to sound scholarly on these districts, its soil composition, microclimate, best grown cultivars (or varietals), etc., as those can be researched on the internet or via reference books like Platter’s South African Wines Guidebook – considered the bible of South African wine industry. Instead, I will share my impression, tasting notes and interaction with the wineries I visited.
First stop: Franschhoek
While Western Cape is already stunningly beautiful in general, Franschhoek is like the icing in the cake. This is one of the most charming wine valleys I have ever encountered in the world, with endless picturesque views everywhere you look. Franschhoek, which means French Corner is a town rich with French influence in both wine and food. The French heritage began over three centuries ago when the Huguenots (members of the Protestant Reform Church of France) escaped religious persecutions in their homeland and relocated to various nations, including the Dutch Cape colony known today as South Africa, where they settled in this town. Both the Huguenot Museum and Monument are still huge tourist stopovers in the area. It is no surprise therefore that Franschhoek is also considered the gourmet capital of South Africa, with some of the best known restaurants of the entire country located in this small town. I seriously could not have asked for a more auspicious start to my Western Cape wine experience.
Leapard’s Leap Wines – this is one of the most aggressive wineries in all of South Africa, with its most recent achievement being the biggest wine exporter to mainland China. In an unprecedented move, Leopard’s Leap had a joint partnership with Perfect China, a huge sales & logistics company in China, to form Perfect Wines of South Africa, and created the brand L’Huguenot exclusive for the Chinese market. Last year, a total of 2.8 million bottles of L’ Huguenot wines made by Leopard’s Leap were exported to China, accounting for an over 60 percent of all South African wines imported by the entire country. We went to the very touristy Leapard’s Leap compound, which is barely a year old, complete with restaurant, wine tasting bar, wines and cooking accessory shop, and a mini culinary school. The place was packed for lunch even when it was already past 2pm when we got there. We ended up in the wine tasting bar and I had my first sips of South African wines in South Africa.
Tasting notes of wines I enjoyed:
• Culinaria Brut Methode Cap Classique NV – `Cap Classique is the compromise term used in South Africa for the same secondary bottle fermented Methode Champenoise of France; this is a blend of typical Champagne cultivars of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the effervescence is tiny, multiple stream and relentless, nose is very clean and subtle, lovely citrus, biscuity, caramel, with an easy crisp dry finish’
• Culinaria Grand Vin 2010 – `this is a Bordeaux blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, very ripe nose, pruney, luscious, full bodied, juicy acids and long mocha like finish,
• Leopard’s Leap is not yet distributed in Philippines. For those interested, please visit their website at www.leopards-leap.com.
Rickety Bridge Winery – one of the wineries, with centuries of winemaking history dating back to 1797. The estate was part of the original La Provence farm granted to the first Huguenot who settled in Franschhoek (then called Oliphantschoek). The estate has a popular restaurant, wine tasting room and overnight accommodation. We were nicely entertained by Shani van Niekerk, Rickety Bridge Hospitality Manager when we did our wine tasting.
Tasting notes of wines I enjoyed:
• Pinotage 2011 - `rich nose of vanilla, black berries, basil, nice textured body, good acid backbone, and long cherry like finish’
• The Foundation Stone 2011 – `this is Rhone inspired blend composed of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and Viognier, with addition of Tannat (a notable cultivar from the French Madiran AOC); the wine is spicy, very ripe on the nose, rich and viscous, with nice bitter-sweet tannins and long round finish’
• Rickety Bridge is not yet distributed in Philippines. For those interested, please visit their website at www.ricketybridge.com.
Next stop: Breedekloof
Breedekloof is another district covered by gorgeous mountain slopes and clear streams. The vineyards also have some of the most diverse soils and climates in Western Cape that are important recipes for growing fantastic grapes.
Silkbush Mountain Vineyards - Silkbush is the English translation of the Sybasberg Mountain in Western Cape. Silkbush Mountain Vineyards has been supplying majority of its grape juices to top South African wineries for over a decade now. The Breedekloof vineyards have been a favorite source for highly priced premium South African Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. But now the company is gearing more towards forward-integration and building their own brand equity. The company has the right size (tonnage), excellent vineyards, and a gifted viticulturist in Anton Roos. Silkbush also has a luxury self-catering cottage in Kingsbury Cottage, where I stayed for a few nights, and was blown away by its scenic surroundings, backdrop of the Sybasberg Mountain, idyllic vineyards and indescribable sunset and sunrise views.
• Breedekloof PInotage 2009 - `nice cinnamon nose, prunes, vanilla, violets, medium-bodied, with very nice juicy acids, very flavorful in the palate, and a lovely round finish’; in this trip I tried several Pinotage wines and this one is among the few I find not too overpowering and probably truer to its cultivar flavor
• Silkbush is not yet distributed in Philippines. For those interested, please visit their website at www.silkbush.com.
More on other Western Cape wine districts next week ….
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I am a proud member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. You can also follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/sherwinlao.