Thursday 18 May 2017
The regular wine tasting evenings are a highlight of my month. Today was no exception. I had chosen the wines of Elgin and Hermanus for a mix of reasons: I was unfamiliar with wines of the area; the wines are high quality; and Walker Bay had been suggested to me for a future tasting evening. I made my usual preparations for the meeting, having visited the vineyards for the wines being showcased, written notes on the wines and their grapes, and setting the tasting table. I really enjoyed the trips to Oak Valley, Paul Cluver, Charles Fox, Almenkerk, Iona and Elgin Ridge in the Elgin Valley, together with the tastings at Southern Right, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge, Sumaridge, Ataraxia and Creation in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. There’s more to visit too and I shall return.
The cool climate wines have elegance and finesse that stem from their terroir. Tonight, and with their agreement, my guests had to work a little before tasting. Learning about wine is not half as complicated as many make out or think. The terroir is the synthesis of the climate, soil, topography and other elements that make up where the vines grow. We learned from first principles what character, style and price the wines from Elgin and Walker Bay area would be. We deduced, with a little guidance, that the climate has cool, wet winters, moderate sunny summers, and prevailing, moist sea breezes.
We thought through how the soil would be made up of alluvial clay and shale overlying decomposed granite. We learned too how these ideal growing conditions produce grapes that are not overly fruity. Therefore, the mineral and soil elements show through to the nose and palate. This makes these wines so special and award-winning Worldwide. It was an easy thought process too to link low yields with high demand and to predict wines that sell for above average prices. The discussion was lively and informative. The wines soon beckoned as I explained how to assess and score wines.
The Elgin and Hermanus valleys are famous for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. I chose examples from each location for tasting, together with other cool climate varietals. The Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc was more medium straw to pale gold than expected but a classic zesty citrus in flavour. Most preferred the Chardonnay. The star white wine of the evening was the lightly wooded Chardonnay from La Vierge. Mellow honey, and nougat sweet on the nose, it tasted of creamy baked apples on the palate.
The highlight of the evening for me was when one of the guests discovered their liking of Gewürztraminer, a wine they had not tasted before. It is not everyone’s preference, with characteristic rose petal a litchi flavours, but she really enjoyed it. One of aims for the Society is to broaden people’s experiences of wines and to discover (and like) varietals that are new to them.
We tasted the 3 Pinot Noir beside each other to compare those from different vineyards. Like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir is rarely the first choice of wine one reaches for from the bottle store shelf. We discussed the differences between each wine – each being individual observations – fresh, fruity, red, strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant and cranberry from Creation; lighter-bodied and slightly bitter maraschino flavours from Oak Valley; and strawberry to sour cherry with white spicy peppercorn notes from Iona.
The final wine for tasting was also a favoured wine – the cool climate Syrah from Sumaridge. This was much enjoyed for its subtle dark fruity spiciness and lighter body than the traditional, potent, big fruited Shiraz from Stellenbosch.
We ended the evening with the customary cheeseboard, with a selection of cheeses to match the wines. There was time too to taste those special wines again over yet more fun conversation. I can’t wait for the next meeting. Make sure you have 15 June in your diary when we shall be exploring Food and Wine Pairing.
2016 Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc – R117
2016 La Vierge Chardonnay – R125
2015 Almenkerk Chardonnay – R220
2016 Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer – R100
2016 Creation Pinot Noir – R210
2014 Oak Valley Pinot Noir – R195
2014 Iona Pinot Noir – R260
2013 Sumaridge Syrah – R180