Find your Place in the Sun

It wasn’t a sunny day at all but the event sure was warm and fuzzy…

Today saw the media launch of a new portfolio of wines by producer-wholesaler Distell, a range inspired by South Africa’s 300 days of sunshine. Easy to drink and easy on the pocket, this new range of wines in Distell’s ever-expanding collection is a fun, and let me be honest, frivolous compilation of “happy wines”.

Called a Place in the Sun, this new Fairtrade-accredited collection stars a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from the 2010 vintage, as well as a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc.

Deon Boshoff, cellarmaster at Adam Tas cellars in Stellenbosch, was “seriously involved” with the creation of these wines, which he says aims to fill a gap in Distell’s marketing sector: “it is positioned above brands like Two Oceans, but below Zonnebloem”.

Reds spent three to six months on staves. High turnovers and maximum consumption is the name of the game here which means that these wines aren’t remotely intended to be enjoyed by serious-minded folk looking to mature their wines in well-stocked cellars – but that doesn’t mean that these super quaffers aren’t enjoyable.

Consumers are bound to lap up these wines with the sun-motif on their labels. Reds retail for R45, the Cabernet Sauvignon probably providing some of the best drinking in the category at that price point, while the Merlot is actually quite pleasant. The Shiraz is juicy and equally eager to please, whereas the Sauvignon Blanc is about as good as you are going to get if you are unwilling to spend more than R35 on your wine… or even less.

Rumours are that Pick n Pay outlets are currently selling these at a promotional price of R29. Best you rush to the shops now to secure your Place in the Sun.

Cheap Ports make for delightful drinking

This weekend saw South Africans descend on SA's Port capital, Calitzdorp, and, having spent some time in the region and having tasted some of the best the valley’s got to offer myself, I hope visitors returned with renewed sense of awe for Port.

In the July issue of Decanter magazine, Port legend Dirk Niepoort is quoted as saying: “The older generation of Port drinkers is dying, and the younger generation doesn’t really know what Port is about. It is our duty to explain it to them. We need to give them the opportunity to taste Port – once they do, they realise what a wonderful drink it is.” Indeed.

During a recent visit to De Krans, owner and winemaker Boets Nel echoed the same sentiment: “Young people are scared – intimidated – by Port.” It might have something to do with my Free State roots; but I’ve never experienced this problem. During winter I crave for tiny glasses filled with Port, sipped in front of a fireplace. There are few things I like about this season, but Port just about saves me from the claws of seasonal depression…

With winter officially in full swing I am on a Port mission, and was therefore elated when Boplaas owner and cellarmaster Carel Nel invited me to a vertical of his Vintage Reserve Port earlier this month. The oldest vintage in flight dated back to 1986. Other vintages in the line-up included 1989, 1991, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. The latter three vintages I found extremely youthful (as they should be), with 2005 in particular showing promise of maturing into the intense and layered 2001, 1999 and 1989 wines.

The 2001 Vintage Reserve, bottled for the CWG was a particular favourite, the flavours concentrated, the body voluptuous. With quality abound in Boplaas’ Ports, it is little wonder Peter Symington, of Graham’s-fame, once declared these “best of the Port’s he’s tasted in the New World, including Australia and California”. Which begs the question: Why are our local Ports so cheap?

It is this question that kept nagging me during my visit to the De Krans and Boplaas cellars in Calitzdorp last weekend. Delicious Ports selling for sub-R150 a bottle – for that kind of quality it is like finding a Tretchikoff at a flea market!

My top picks / finds:

Boplaas Cape Tawny 1997 – R150 ex-cellar
Easily my top pick of the trip. Royal nutty aromas, with hints of raisins and dried figs. Impeccable follow-through, beautiful intensity and layers and layers of pleasure. Buy plenty now.

Boplaas The Chocolate Port 2008 – R38 ex-cellar
Prejudices aside this wine isn’t half bad. Barrel matured (as oppose to stave-aged) Port which results in a surprisingly impressive drink. Chocolate flavours evident but not overpowering, bright palate reveals some cherry and Christmas cake character. Lekker.

Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2006 – R140 ex-cellar
“This wine will age well for another 100 years,” says Carel Nel, and given the structure and intensity of this wine, it is a statement I won’t argue with.

De Krans Cape Vintage Port 2008 – R65 ex-cellar
“The poor man’s Vintage Reserve,” is how Boets Nel describes this wine, and he’s spot-on. Less intense than the Vintage Reserve but every bit as rewarding.

De Krans Ruby Port – R42 ex-cellar
A non-vintage blend, this wine is a delightful mix of vibrancy and light. Lovely tannic grip and a nutty finish complete this pretty picture.

For more on Calitzdorp and these beauties, see my travel article in the August issue of  Wine magazine.

Two stunning verticals. First up the FMC 2000 to 2009.

I’m in the fortunate position that, due to the nature of my job, I get invited to tastings that make wine geeks salivate. Two recent tastings that achieved this Pavlov-effect were a FMC vertical tasting with vintages dating back to 2000, and last week, a Boplaas Vintage Reserve Port vertical with the oldest vintage in the line-up dating back to 1986. On both occasions rare wines were opened, poured and scrutinised by a critical, but mesmerised crowd.

Celebrating ten years of FMC

With 5-Star ratings and top scores woven into its DNA, the FMC is one of those legendary Chenin Blancs. Long before Chenin Blanc was taken seriously by the local wine drinker, two winemakers were seriously focussed on producing a serious wine. And the result was a seriously good Chenin Blanc. The FMC might very well be mistaken for referring to “f***ing marvellous Chenin”, as once observed by a UK taster, but the initials have a rather obvious connection: winemakers Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert, creators of Forrester Meinert Chenin.
Today the FMC is still one of the leading flagship Chenin Blancs, its makers unashamedly proud of their ‘concept wine’.

Noting the evolvement of this iconic wine over the past decade is, for this wine geek, an honoured task – but when this honour is coupled with a tasting in the presence of Mr. Silver Fox Forrester himself, this mesmerisation makes an ‘objective evaluation’ of the wine a bit of an oxymoron…

What isn’t a subjective observation is this variety’s ability to grow even more complex and beautiful with age.
Ten years later, the maiden 2000 vintage (then Scholtzenhof Grande Chenin), bottled for the CWG, and auctioned at an average of R165, still has plenty of appeal. It was my highest scoring wine in the flight (19/20); vintages 2002 and 2007 almost equally stunning at 18/20. Superlatives aside, my notes depict a Vouvray-like savouriness, along with waxy and honeyed notes. Ken observed that “balance” is the FMC’s greatest appeal – and I concurred, in spite of wine analysis’s suggesting a bold, overblown style.

Vintage 2009, currently available from the cellar, was the youngest wine included in the flight. On the day it showed rather primary characteristics, but with its DNA this wine will undoubtedly develop as beautifulluy as its siblings.

Winemaker Martin noted: “this wine has an amazing life ahead of it”. At R295 per bottle the consumer should hold him to his promise…