So what do you drink at a Wines of South Africa official tasting at the Old Federal Reserve Building in San Francisco, third stop on a national tour?
Well, if you run into unabashed wine geek Jake Parrott standing behind one of the tables, the answer is Maximiner Grunhaus Halb-Trocken 1996, Maximiner Grunhaus Spatlese 1996, and a 1997 Ribolla Gialla.
Otherwise, you have to fall back on those South African wines, I suppose.
With scores of SA wines available, and some supplier tables bulging with product, it was easy to go overboard. Since I was “working” at the event, I had to remain somewhat circumspect (no staggering, no spitting on people, no braying laughter, no smashing of glasses or bottles or untoward groping of women; you know, the professional persona), and was thus limited into how many wines I could gulp down….er, taste and evaluate…in the limited time I had.
Still, there were a few standouts.
The two that stood out most were at the Warwick Estates/Bartholomew Broadbent table. They were pouring the two wines produced by Zelma Long, with viticultural work done by her partner Phil Freese, vineyard manager extraordinaire, in partnership with the Warwick folks. The two reds, Vilafonte are called, simply “Series M” and “Series C”.
These are the first release, the 2003 vintage. Splendid initial offering, with superb promise of things to come from this collaboration. The Series M, the Merlot-driven version, is silky and smooth and elegant with lovely berry aromas and lush mouth-filling berry and spice flavors. The Series C, with the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, is dramatically different. It’s big and husky and bold, with noticeable sturdy tannins, loads of bitter chocolate, and herbal, almost St. Estephe-y chunky notes. Serious wine geeks need to check the Vilafonte out. If you can find it, cause it’s gonna be in short supply. Broadbent Selections brings it in.
The other standout red was the Morgenster Estate Lourens River Valley (Stellenbosch) 2001, from The Wild Grape LLC. This is a blend of 55 % Merlot, 40% CS, 5% CF, and it came pretty damned close to rocking me back on my heels. Jake also had a Cabernet-driven Morgenster, a la the Vilafonte previously mentioned. It would be fun to put these two, the two Vilafonte, a couple of California, and a couple of Bordeaux together in one tasting. It would be fun, and a hell of a learning experience.
But I started out my hunt for Chenin Blanc, since I’ve been enjoying the SA renditions for the last several months, and with the final onset of dry, sunny weather here, suspect I’ll be acquiring and enjoying even more. I found a few.
FairValley Chenin 2005 (Coastal Region), from Vinnovative, was pretty decent, lively and refreshing. Also from Vinnovative was the Vinum Africa CB (Stellenbosch) 2004, but I didn’t care for it much; decent enough CB character but for some reason they felt like it had to have some obvious oak character: I didn’t agree with that assessment.
The aforementioned Jake Parrott, with The Wild Grape LLC, poured a very nice, very credible, Avondale Estate Chenin Blanc (Paarl) 2005; although it’s from a warmer region, it’s still pretty good CB, and I’d happily invest in a few bottles of this---although right now I gather there isn’t an appointed distributor in the are for the Wild Grape portfolio, which is a shame.
Villiera had my second favorite CB with their Villiera CB (Stellenbosch) 2005. In a restrained style, but some nice funky CB character clearly shows through. But the winner o’ the night Chenin was the Raats Family Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch) 2004, from Cape Classics, the good people that bring you Mulderbosch and some other goodies. Plenty of acid bite here, and lavish fruit with lots of juicy melon, and CB funk. I’ll be looking for this for sure!
What I won’t be looking for is the Pinecrest Chenin Blanc 2005. Feh. Avoid. Not worth it.
Also found a white wine that turned out to be more interesting than I had thought it might. From the folks at Saxenberg, it’s a blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier, called Guinea Fowl White Blend (natch, there’s a red counterpart). I’d previously had only the Estate Private Reserve Pinotage from Saxenberg, and those were pretty staunch wines. Well, this is their cash flow/glass pour level wines. The Chenin/Viognier blend was primarily CB, with a little Viognier added (and said V having a touch of light barrel to tone it down a bit). The aromatics worked surprisingly well, I thought.
Oddities, but standout oddities: the irrepressible Mr. Parrott insisted I sample his Vriesenhof Vineyards Melelo 2005 (Stellenbosch), 91% Muscat of Alexandria/9% Touriga. As pretty a wine as you could wish, sort of a purple red pink magenta. Fun wine. A touch more serious and dignified was the Vergenoegd Port 2000 (Stellenbosch), 100% Tinta Barocca. Good, rich, but not overwhelmingly cloying port-styled wine---with an intriguing strong whiff of fresh coconut! Not coconut like American oak coconut, although I guess it could have come from that, but good, fresh, just cracked open and shredded coconut. Weird, but good.