PIWOSA throws down the gauntlet: South Africa -v- French classics

Posted on 10 June 2013 under PIWOSA News

PIWOSA members Paul Cluver of Paul Cluver & Alex Dale of Radford Dale

PIWOSA members Paul Cluver of Paul Cluver & Alex Dale of Radford Dale

Ken Forrester

Ken Forrester

Gary Jordan

Gary Jordan from Jordan Wines

Nicolas Bureau of Glenelly Pieter du Toit of Cederberg

Nicolas Bureau of Glenelly Pieter du Toit of Cederberg

Rollo Gabb from Journey's End

Rollo Gabb from Journey’s End

James Downes Mount Shannon

James Downes Mount Shannon

In February, I flagged up the launch of  the ‘Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa’ (PIWOSA), a self-selected group of fifteen like-minded, independent (largely family-owned) producers, who are seeking to raise the profile of premium South African wine.

Yesterday I caught up with several PIWOSA members who hosted a blind tasting comparison of ‘South African Stars vs French Classics,’  putting their Chenin Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rhone & Bordeaux blends/varietal wines under the spotlight.  Like the confidence!

It was a clever exercise too,encouraging us to focus on that detail which defines provenance, but also speaks of quality.

So how did I do?  Blind tastings offer plenty of scope for egg on face, but I reckon picking out 3 of the 5 French classics counts as respectable.

The pointers?  For me, Cape Rhone blends and varietal wines have a ‘garrigue’ signature of their very own – of fynbos, not rosemary et al.  More generally, the relative freshness of the French wines and sweetness/intensity of fruit of the Cape wines set them apart.  But not always….

For example, having congratulated myself on picking out the Chateau Pierre-Bise Clos de Coulaine Savennieres 2010, I was dismayed to realise that I’d failed to spot the Domaine Huet Le Haut Lieu Demi Sec 2009, which also lurked in the Chenin line up.  Perhaps because, as Noel Pinguet told me, “in 2009 the balance is between a demi-sec and moelleux” – in this hotter, forward year, it weighed in at 14.5% abv.    And conversely, the firm acid structure of Ataraxia Chardonnay led me down the Burgundy garden path.   Wrong again!

As for quality – arguably the most important factor – with one exception the two hemispheres squared up to each other rather well.  That exception was, no surprises, Pinot Noir, that most difficult of grapes.  Though there has been significant progress, it really is hard to replicate the freshness, purity and lift of Burgundy in the southern hemisphere and I think that the Cape lags some way behind certainly New Zealand, but also Australia in this regard.

That said, I was impressed with Bruce Jack’s new (to me at least) family venture The Drift “There are still mysteries” Pinot Noir 2012.  Much less of a mouthful than the name, behind the veneer of oak it had appealingly lively red cherry fruit and a lovely floral perfume.  (The other Pinots were elegant Burgundy Maison Remoissenet Pere et Fils Toussaints 1er Cru 2010 and, from the Cape, Newton Johnson Family Vineyards 2011, Radford Dale Freedom 2012 & Paul Cluver Seven Flags 2010).

Other stars?  The Chenin table was very strong, well represented by three stellar examples – Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2012, Raats Family Old Vine Chenin 2011 and Ken Forrester  (pictured) FMC 2010.  Aside from the intrinsic quality of these wines, it’s good to see their very different styles.

Also impressive and similarly varied in style were the Chardonnays – Mulderbosch barrel fermented 2010, Journey’s End Destination 2011, Ataraxia 2012 and, especially, Jordan Nine Yards 2011 – a beautifully made, intense yet poised Chardonnay with plenty of fruit power. It easily outshone the Domaine Jacques Prieur Les Combettes 1er Cru 2010, which cost more than twice as much (£24.95-v-£55). No wonder Gary Jordan (pictured) looks so happy!

Of the Rhone varieties and blends, in terms of complexity and structure the silky Mullineux The Schist Syrah 2010 and brawn with brains Radford Dale Syrah 2011 gave the slippery-fruited and seductive Caves Yves Cuilleron L’Amarybelle a good run for its money.  Not that the other wines (Cederberg Shiraz 2010 & Glenelly Grand Vin de Glenelly 2008) were slouches.

It transpired that there was no ringer on the Bordeaux varieties and blends table, which didn’t stop me from deciding that the gravelly, slightly bloody (in a good way) and cassis-driven Journey’s End Cape Doctor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 was from Bordeaux.  It was very good and, as Rollo Gabb (pictured) sympathetically pointed out, it’s from a cool part of Stellenbosch (Somerset West) and was made in a cooler year.

Also impressive was the plusher The Drift Mary Le Bow Red 2011 from Overberg, a Cabernet, Shiraz & Petit Verdot.  However, standing head and shoulders above the rest was the exceptionally juicy, fine, perfumed and long Mvemve Raats de Compostella 2011.  As polished as fine Bordeaux, but positively new world in its fabulous fruit intensity and purity. (Also shown: Jordan Cobblers Hill 2009, a little too herbal for my palate and the plump of palate but serious Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2010).

By Sarah Ahmed – The Wine Detective