CAPE OF GOOD HOPE

by Rose Murray Brown MW
Published in The Scotsman 22 March 2014    

I am standing at Cape Point Vineyards, one of South Africa’s newest and most exposed maritime vineyards, on a sunny ridge overlooking Long Beach at the foot of dramatic Chapman’s Peak.  Fierce winds are lashing up the Cape peninsula from Cape Point.

Tanned surfer cum-winemaker Duncan Savage looks as windblown as his vines.  “The grape that really works here is Sauvignon Blanc”, he says.  “It’s an upright vine, that doesn’t mind wind.  I have pulled out Pinot Noir and most of the Chardonnay to concentrate on making minerally, salty, focused Sauvignon Blanc here”, says Savage.

Everyone seems to be mad about Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa today, but few are making anything as interesting as Savage.  I visited fourteen wine estates in South Africa – across the regions from Cape Point, Constantia, Stellenbosch, Walker Bay, Elgin to Robertson.  Of those I tasted, the best Sauvignon Blancs were from Cape Point Vineyards, Buitenverwachting in Constantia, Tokara in Stellenbosch and Springfield in Robertson.

To my surprise, I was much more impressed with Cape’s Chardonnays.  All my favourite Chardonnays came from well-known estates: Hamilton Russell in Hemel en Aarde Valley, Rustenberg in Stellenbosch and Springfield in Robertson.  With one exception – one startlingly good newcomer, Cape Chamonix in Franschhoek whose winemaker Gottfried Mocke (pictured below) is making some of the best wines in the Cape – still at very affordable prices.

Cape Chamonix winemaker Gottfried MockeMocke’s Chardonnays are not flabby or over oaked.  “The key is to plant for soil, not climate”, says Mocke.  His Chardonnays have citric depth, intensity, a touch of austerity, but beautifully balanced.  Like Savage who is experimenting with amphorae, Mocke is also exploring different maturation methods: he matures in concrete eggs as well as oak.  In other wineries like Hamilton Russell in Walker Bay and Lammershoek in Swartland, I also saw lines of stoneware amphorae and concrete eggs.

Pure varietal quality Chenin Blanc now seems thinner on the ground.  The best are emerging from undulating drier hotter slopes of Swartland, northeast of Cape Town, from a varied patchwork of granite and schist soils: a hotbed of experimentation with Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek, Chris Mullineux at Mullineux, Eben Sadie and Adie Badenhurst.

Another region to watch is higher-altitude Citrusdal, best known for its citrus fruits and rooibos tea.  “Rhone grapes like Grenache grow so well in Citrusdale on the sandy soils; it reminds us of the Languedoc”, says Marc Kent and Jean Smit of Boekenhoutskloof.  Look out for Cederberg and Tierhoek wineries here.

By far the most exciting Cape whites today are the new ‘Mediterranean whites’ – with Chenin Blanc blended alongside Rhone grapes like Grenache Blanc or Clairette Blanc. 

Legendary winemaker Miles Mossop of Tokara is probably the greatest ‘Mediterranean blend’ guru.  His own label Saskia, named after his daughter, is a sensational blend of Chenin Blanc for acidity, Viognier for aroma, Clairette Blanc for texture and Verdelho for weight.  This is definitely the future of exciting Cape whites.

TOP CAPE WHITES:

SAUVIGNON BLANC
CAPE POINT VINEYARDS SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVE 2012

(£22.95 www.swig.co.uk)
Very classy Sauvignon with 13% Semillon matured in large oak so little obvious oak; with salty maritime minerally feel to the palate.

SPRINGFIELD SAUVIGNON BLANC SPECIAL CUVEE 2013
(£12.49 Majestic Wine)
Intense creamy rich, but not heavy; better than their Life from Stone Sauvignon in my opinion.  Well priced too.

BUITENVERWACHTING HUSSEY’S VLEI SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
(£12.50 www.swig.co.uk)
Named after previous owner Clara Hussey, this is single vineyard Sauvignon is Buiten’s best.  Herby, vibrant, juicy textural palate with steely undertones and long length.

CHARDONNAY
HAMILTON RUSSELL CHARDONNAY 2012  
        
(£22 Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh; www.sawinesonline.co.uk)
A fine balance between richness and sleek elegance from this Chardonnay specialist; the most Burgundian and elegant of all the Chardonnays we tasted.

SPRINGFIELD METHODE ANCIENNE CHARDONNAY 2009
(£19.95 Emperor Wines www.empwines.com; Bibendum Wines)
Rich exotic spicy, well balanced oak, substantial fruit on palate, attractively mature – just superbly made.

CAPE CHAMONIX CHARDONNAY RESERVE
(£14.95-£17 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com; Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; Berry Bros; Swig; SAWinesonline; Emperor Wines)
Rich intense with citric depth; vinified in 70% new oak, but very subtle: could be even better with a year or two in bottle.  Well priced too.       STAR VALUE BUY

SEMILLON

BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF SEMILLON 2011

(£18 The Wine Society; Swig; Champany Inn wine shop, Linlithgow)
Outstanding example of Semillon; keep this in the cellar for five years to appreciate its mellow  honeyed waxy notes at its best.

WHITE MEDITERRANEAN BLENDS
SASKIA 2011 Miles Mossop     
(£18 Swig; www.swig.co.uk; SA Wines www.sawinesonline.co.uk)
Stunning lush multi grape (Chenin Blanc/Viognier/Clairette/Verdelho), multi region blend; grilled pineapple notes, creamy textural toasty; very fine      STAR BUY

LAMMERSHOEK ROULETTE BLANC 2010
(£10.79 L’Art du Vin, Dunfermline; Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk; www.revolutionwines.co.uk)
Earthy savoury, honey and ginger notes with lovely rounded finish; fascinating organic blend of Chenin, Viognier, Chardonnay and Clairette

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