Following my recent tasting at 15 top wine estates across South Africa, here is my pick of the top ten reds for current drinking or laying down.
Franschhoek CAPE CHAMONIX PINOT NOIR RESERVE 2012
(£17, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; WoodWinters, Edinburgh/Bridge of Allan; Luvians, St Andrews/ Cupar; Lockett Bros, N Berwick; Swig, www.swig.co.uk; Stone Vine, www.stonevine.co.uk; www.sawinesonline.co.uk)
This wine was one of the most popular on our recent Cape tour. Chamonix winemaker Gottfried Mocke has the midas touch and is leading the pack in the Cape today with pinot noir. He sources high-grown Franschhoek fruit, uses whole berry fermentation with high stalk content which he believes adds freshness and green mint – and matures this wine for 16 months in 50 per cent new oak. Very forward berry, cherry fruits with a hint of pepper and a very elegant, soft palate. STAR BUY
Walker Bay HAMILTON RUSSELL PINOT NOIR 2012
(£23, The Wine Society; Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh/Peebles)
Soft, rounded, luscious pinot noir from this long established pinot specialist based in the southern part of Hemel en Aarde valley in Walker Bay. Hamilton Russell was voted among the top three of our favourite estates and this reminded me of an elegant, aromatic Chambolle Musigny burgundy. Anthony Hamilton Russell is Cape’s guru when it comes to the pinot varietal – his current theme is to mature with just 50 per cent new oak and 50 per cent untoasted barrels as he wants a lighter purity of fruit and fine tannins – I also spotted some amphorae he is experimenting with. Superb effort.
Franschhoek CAPE CHAMONIX GREYWACKE PINOTAGE 2011
(£14-£16, Oddbins; Cornelius Wines, Edinburgh; Wine Raks, Aberdeen; Champany Inn shop, Linlithgow; WoodWinters, Edinburgh/Bridge of Allan; Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews; Lockett Bros, N Berwick)
This is the only pinotage I have ever really liked. Winemaker Gottfried Mocke really understands what is needed with this rustic grape. In 2007 he completely changed the way he made his pinotage – and now uses a mix of early picked and dessicated grapes employing several unique vinification methods taken from the Italian Ripasso dried grape technique and the Beaujolais’ carbonic maceration. Herby, wild and briary pinotage with a soft, luscious, glycerol feel – this is exciting stuff.
Stellenbosch RUSTENBERG JOHN X MERRIMAN 2011
(£12.99-£17.99, The Wine Society; Majestic Wine; Great Grog)
Rustenberg was another popular estate with our tasters (for both its reds and whites). This traditional Stellenbosch family estate make a superb top Simon Barlow cabernet sauvignon, but it is pricey. This John X Merriman blend of five Bordeaux grapes (predominantly cabernet sauvignon and merlot) is superb value in comparison. Rich, fat, lush fruits with underlying spiciness and a slightly herbaceous quality give plenty of value for your money.
Stellenbosch KANONKOP CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010
(£22 each for 2 or £27, Majestic Wine)
Kanonkop’s pinotage is legendary, but I preferred its cabernet sauvignon at my recent tasting at this famous Stellenbosch estate. Typical of Kanonkop, there is a richness of fruits, spicy oak notes and mocha undertones with a fine balance of tannins from the 26-year-old vines. More Audrey Hepburn than Elizabeth Taylor is how Kanonkop’s owner, Johann Krige, aptly describes it.
Robertson SPRINGFIELD ESTATE ‘THE WORK OF TIME’ 2008
(£16.65, Emperor Wines, www.empwines.com)
Another revelation. I had always thought of Springfield Estate in Robertson as primarily white wine producers, but its reds are fabulous too. Rich, intense berried fruits, very approachable with soft, rounded tannins now it has had time in bottle. A clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot to lift the natural acidity. Delicious with curry or game.
Robertson SPRINGFIELD ESTATE METHODE ANCIENNE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006
Another Springfield find. In 1979 the Bruwer family cleared a rocky outcrop and planted cabernet. Its low yielding vines give them 17-19 barrels in the best years (none made in 2005). After two years maturation in barrel and three years in oak, this 2006 was deemed mellow enough to be released. Fabulous, lush richness: even though cabernet sauvignon-based, it reminds me of a mature pomerol in its voluptuousness.
Stellenbosch GLENELLY LADY MAY 2010
Bordeaux meets South Africa. Lady May-Eliane de Lencquesaing used to own Chateau Pichon Lalande in Pauillac. She was so impressed by the repeated Cape successes in winning the Pichon trophy at the International Wine Challenge, she decided to invest in Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg slopes – right next door to Rustenberg. This is her beautifully elegant, stylish flagship Bordeaux blend, which needs a good few more years in the bottle. Tuck it away in the cellar for a future treat.
Wellington BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF SYRAH 2011
(2008 is £27.99, Waitrose; Champany Inn wine shop, Linlithgow; www.empwines.com; www.sawinesonline.co.uk)
I have long been a fan of Boekenhoutskloof (tricky name to pronounce, but distinctive label with a row of seven chairs). My recent visit to its fancy new tasting centre in Franschhoek just confirmed how much I love its wines. Boekenhoutskloof’s cabernet sauvignon and semillon are all exceptionally good – but its syrah, which comes from a five hectare vineyard in Wellington, is outstanding. 2011 is still a baby – tightly packed which will mellow with time in the bottle. Snap up more mature vintages like 2008 if you can find them on the shelves.
Swartland PORCUPINE RIDGE SYRAH 2013
(£6.99 each for 2 or £8.99, Majestic Wine; £7.99, Waitrose; £9.50, Berry Bros & Rudd)
Made by the legendary Marc Kent and his very able winemaking assistant Jean Smit at Boekenhoutskloof, this is the best value red I tasted in the Cape – with its vibrant fruit and spicy notes this screwcapped syrah punches well above its price point. They use French staves in the vats rather than chips to get the smoky overtones. STAR VALUE BUY
• Join Rose’s South African Masterclass on 30 April at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh, £36, firstname.lastname@example.org