Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Aug 19th, 2017

Eight Head Turning South African Wines for $175
By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I know have said this before in years gone by, but in August VINTAGES tends to release a lot of average wines, perhaps when fewer people are looking. In the past two releases there have been many wines I thought should have scored better at their price. It is not all doom and gloom however. The glowing exceptions are eight very good quality, excellent value wines from South Africa.

I mentioned in May on release of the Cederberg Shiraz 2015 that the LCBO seems to be finally tuned in to the fact that South Africa is perhaps the New World’s single best source of very high quality, underpriced wines. The line up August 19 seals the deal, and given the success rate one could only wish there were double the number being released. Not only has VINTAGES purchased wines with great price-quality ratio, the selection tells the story of current varietal and style trends in South Africa.

Casas Del Bosque

Cap Classique sparkling wine made via the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle is growing in stature and quality with specialist Graham Beck leading the way.

Among whites, South Africa is all about chenin blanc, the classic high acid Loire Valley grape once used for bulk whites that has fallen into the eager hands of winemakers like the Raats family, who are convinced in its second coming as a premium white, especially when sourced from old vineyards that abound around the Cape. Sauvignon Blanc is also very important (and underrated) in the most coastal regions like Constantia, Stellenbosch and Walker Bay, where Southern Right by Hamilton-Russell has fashioned an extraordinarily good example. Chardonnay is less important in fact, but special regions like De Wetshof’s limestone enclave in Robertson have provided a natural home.

The red trends include very vibrant pinot noirs, again from the coolest coastal areas like Elgin and Walker Bay/Hemel en Aarde, here represented by a very good value, juicy example from Elgin Vintners. A cousin once removed from pinot noir is South Africa’s pinotage, a fascinating and perplexing crossing of pinot noir and cinsault that has spilled more ink than any variety in the country. See all the ink I spilled in a way too long treatise here two years ago. And then there are the great Bordeaux-styled classic reds of Stellenbosch, a brilliant modern cabernet by Ernie Els, and a classic Euro-styled blend by Rustenberg.

So what to choose? Well how about buying one of each – an eight-bottle, head turning, attitude adjusting collection of South African wines. Total tab would be $174.60. Average bottle price is $21.75. I am convinced you will be impressed.

And then you can also afford to add some other red bargains from elsewhere. We flagged those from Southern France last week. This week John, Michael and I have identified some other notables as well.

Buyers’ Guide VINTAGES Aug 19th

South Africa

Graham Beck 2011 Brut Rosé, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Western Cape, South Africa ($21.95)
John Szabo – The vintage-dated version of Graham Beck’s fine rosé, this recently-disgorged bubbly is a marvel of balance and fruit concentration, depth and length. It’s sufficiently toasty from six years on the lees to drive significant complexity without sacrificing fruit altogether. This should bring fear to many champagne producers charging ambitious premiums for their pink wines.…

Southern Right 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Walker Bay, WO Western Cape ($21.95)
John Szabo – The “second label” of regional leader Hamilton Russell, the Southern Right sauvignon is a fine wine crafted in the riper style, quite drastically different from the more typical grassy versions popular in South African. Fruit is neither over nor under ripe, while acids are fresh but balanced and alcohol, at 13.5% declared, is in check. I like the richer textural experience, and the very good length and concentration. A real wine of gastronomy. Best 2017-2022
David Lawrason – This is a very elegant, compact and juicy sauvignon blanc with classic nettle, grapefruit, sage aromas and flavours. There is a sense of minerality as well. Somewhere between Pouilly-Fume and white Bordeaux.

Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2011Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded 2016De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2016

Raats 2016 Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded, WO Stellenbosch ($21.95)
John Szabo – Bruwer and his cousin Gavin Raats are chenin and cabernet franc specialists, sourcing specific soil types and old low-yielding vineyards in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Durbanville Hills and Paardeberg. Vines are on average 25 years old, grown 250m above sea level. The 2016 “Original” unwooded old vines Chenin offers fabulous aromatics, dripping with ripe citrus, melon and apple fruit, with excellent length and depth and appealing sapidity. Give it another six months to a year in bottle to blow off the SO2 and reveal its full potential. Length and depth are excellent.
Michael Godel – Bruwer Raats is rapidly making his ascension to chenin blanc guru, leading the way with originality and the greatest attention to detail. This is serious, grown up chenin, tightly wound, dry as the desert and tart as it gets. The soil delivers and the fruit stands up. The geology ultimately gets the final say.

De Wetshof 2016 Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay, WO Robertson ($16.95)
John Szabo – Limestone-rich clay soil lends solid depth and richness to this wine from a pioneering Robertson chardonnay producer. It’s fairly round and ripe, plush and full, and satisfying in the broader style. Acids nonetheless hold things together nicely, and depth is impressive for this price category. Lots of wine here for the money to be sure.
David Lawrason – De Wetshof is one of the most highly regarded white wine producers of South Africa – especially for chardonnay grown on its limestone based soils in Robertson. The nose is quite ripe and generous with chive butter, green melon fruit and a touch of bread crust/lees.  It is medium weight, slightly rounded and rich, but cut by lively acidity, even a hint of CO2. There is indeed a chalky/limestone note to the finish.
Michael Godel – What a flat out juicy, succulent and supple chardonnay from the now famous Limestone Hill. The level of lime flesh and lemon pith is incalculable at this price. You can’t find more for less in Robertson or anywhere else in the Western Cape.

Ernie Els 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Stellenbosch ($24.95)
John Szabo – A ripe, polished, full but firm and fresh cabernet here from Stellenbosch, one that neatly captures the South African sun and the firmness and structure of an old world wine philosophy. I like the range of succulent and savoury flavours on offer, the balanced-firm acids and tannins, and the very good length.
Michael Godel – The Els cabernet sauvignon captures varietal Stellenbosch to a tee and also celebrates what South Africa does best with Bordeaux varietal reds. Filled to the brim with dark fruit and controlled power. Drink it now and for 10-15 years of major success while in its prime.
David Lawrason – Ernie Els, the golfer, is making the best celebrity wine on the planet. Sorry Gretzky, Weir, O’Leary  et al. This is a quite intense, tartish yet stylish cabernet with complex, generous aromas of blackcurrant/cherry, some rosemary/minty herbaceousness, iron and tar. There is great energy here.

Southern Right 2015 Pinotage, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay ($26.95)
David Lawrason – This is one of the most honest, authentic pinotage of South Africa. The grape is so often reviled for aromas of burning tires. But this one is about fruit and florality with fresh blueberry/chokecherry, peony, wood smoke, spice and yes a touch of tar. There is fine tannin and some minerality on the finish.

Ernie Els Cabernet Sauvignon 2014Southern Right Pinotage 2015Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2013Rustenberg Shiraz 2014

Elgin Vintners 2013 Pinot Noir, Elgin ($19.95)
David Lawrason -From one of the coolest appellations of South Africa, this is a very bright, almost vivacious young pinot with lovely lifted cranberry/strawberry fruit nicely framed by subtle oak spice and a hint of vanilla. It’s light body, fresh and energetic, with tart, juicy acidity. The length is very good to excellent.

Rustenberg Shiraz 2014, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Rustenberg does it again, this time with shiraz, expressing fruit pressed and juiced straight through Stellenbosch geology. The correct varietal and regional tune is expressed vintage after vintage simply because Rustenberg never sleeps. So young, hematic, fennel-ferric, schisty rustic and veering into the black.

Other Reds

Alejandro Fernández 2008 Dehesa La Granja, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain ($20.95)
John Szabo – Ribera del Duero Star Alejandro Fernandez runs this Zamaro-based estate, part of the Grupo Pesquera. Pure tempranillo is crafted in an immediately recognizable Spanish style with its American oak-inflected, coconut-tinged profile, but there’s also considerable red and black fruit, albeit it dried, and the wonderful herbal-spice notes that arise only with age (with storage in the estate’s huge maze of underground cellars, over 3000 square meters). The palate is rich and full, still densely packed with tannins and acids, overflowing with resinous herbs and more. Length is exceptional. To think you can get all of this for $21 is remarkable indeed. I’d buy a six-pack and drink a bottle each year to follow development. 100% tempranillo. Best 2017-2028.

Palacios Remondo 2014 La Montesa, Crianza DOCa Rioja, Spain ($24.95)
John Szabo – Alvaro Palacios rarely disappoints, and the latest Montesa is one of the best, a lovely, clean, fruity, modern expression of Rioja, absent the heavy American oak profile, focused instead on perfectly ripe red berry fruit. Tannins are polished and supple, though acids are firm enough to buoy the ensemble. Supremely drinkable, balanced and stylish. Best 2017-2022.

Alejandro Fernández Dehesa La Granja 2008Palacios Remondo La Montesa 2014Sagrado Tinto 2013Roche De Bellene Collection Bellenum Santenay Beaurepaire 1er Cru 1998

Sagrado 2013 Tinto, Douro, Portugal ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a nicely composed, balanced red with more complexity and depth than expected at $15. It has generous if not dynamic nose of cherry/plum fruit nicely integrated with dried herbs, hot stone and oak spice. It is medium weight, balanced, warm and dry. Give it a year in the cellar.

Roche De Bellene Collection 1998 Bellenum Santenay Beaurepaire 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($64.95)
Michael Godel – It’s always a gift to taste older Burgundy and righteously so from 1998. From the “Collection Bellenum” by Nicolas Potel and a nearly 20-year old bold and intact Santenay from what began as a surly vintage. Now cured like pinot noir gravlax meets bresaola, a gamey finish with Burgundian voice and vice grip tension.

Passo Del Cardinale 2014 Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia ($18.95)
David Lawrason – This deeply purple-ruby hued red nicely captures the floral and brambleberry fruit I love in zinfandel (primitivo in Puglia). There is also a menthol note, plus background oak spice and chocolate. It is full bodied, with surprsingly firm acidity/minerality, moderated 14% alcohol and excellent length. Overall it has far more life than expected. A fine example that will cellar for three to five years.

Passo Del Cardinale Primitivo Di Manduria 2014d'Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013Best's Bin No. 1 Shiraz 2014

d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013, Mclaren Vale, South Australia ($21.95)
Michael Godel – The iconic house of d’Arenberg is the grenache custodian for McLaren Vale, the keeper of nearly one third of the region’s varietal vines. The process includes foot-treading, which does not make it old school as much as it presses the idea that human intervention is very much a part of the wine. A deeply satisfying grenache of wealth and place from the juiciest of juicy grenache vintages.

Best’s 2014 Bin No. 1 Shiraz, Great Western, Victoria, Australia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Saving the best buy for last! This bold, juicy and fragrant shiraz is brimming with blackcurrant/blueberry fruit. Lots of fresh herbs (basil/rosemary) as well plus some cordite, vanilla and spice. It is full bodied, quite nervy and almost fresh despite its size. The length is excellent.

And that is a wrap for this edition. If you haven’t yet, check out the newly minted WineAlign Exchange that will deliver great mixed cases of wines selected by a panel of WineAlign critics.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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Casas Del Bosque