Wednesday 19 June 2019
It has been a few weeks since wine tasting due to final Cape Wine Academy Diploma Theory and Tasting exams. I was looking forwards to a break from having my nose deep in books for revision but that was not to be the case. I have aspirations to enrol for WSET Diploma (Level 4) which meant that I had first to pass WSET Level. Thus, my break has been delayed by 10 days with crash revision for more exams on 25 June, part of which is to learn wine tasting the ‘WSET way’. The language and tasting emphasis differ and so I ventured to Flagstone Wines as the venue for my tasting ‘calibration’ with Elizma Myburgh-Venter (more later) as I had not been to the winery before. It was, to coin the Flagstone marketing strap line, a ‘creative’ decision. The winery is located South-West of Somerset Mall in Somerset West close to Paardevlei. Getting there proved to be a little awkward as my iPhone Maps app took me through the Paardevlei security booth to a dead end the wrong side of a fence. Fortunately, Google maps came to my rescue and I easily found Flagstone a few minutes away.
This was not my usual tasting as Elizma chose the wines to teach me what I needed to know to pass the Tasting Exam next week. The Tasting Room is in an old factory building set apart from other like buildings. The surrounds reminded me of a former military base with potholed approach roads and slightly unkempt grass and old fencing. I read after that the building was previously a dynamite factory which explained. The building had been well converted with a small tasting area with cellar behind. Additional, comfortable seating for tasting and offices were upstairs with a fine view over the cellar beneath.
Flagstone is described as ‘a winery without a vineyard’ and is one of South Africa’s first to do so. The business was founded in 1998 by Bruce Jack, one of the first South African winemakers to study winemaking in Roseworthy, Australia. He started the winery in 1999 in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, buying in grapes from 5 core vineyards ranging from the Swartberg to Elim to the Breede River Valley. The business has been housed in the 1901 dynamite factory since 2002 (save for a few years in Stellenbosch) that was due demolition before it was converted into a winery by Bruce Jack. Flagstone is the top brand (the others being Kumala Wines and Fish Hoek Wines) and part of the global Accolade wine group that is headquartered in South Australia. The company is the largest wine company by volume and value in the UK; Kumala is the UK’s number 1 South African wine brand. Flagstone produces wines in 4 ranges: Super Premium; Premium (R50 tasting fee, 3 wines); Foundation Range (R50, choice from 11 wines); and the entry Poetry Range (R20, choice from 8 wines). Red wines overall outweigh white wines (60% production). Selected international wines are available for tasting, much reduced in number, including a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Da Luca Prosecco from Italy.
My tasting began with 2 Sauvignons Blanc, one from South Africa and one from New Zealand. I shall leave the WSET language and learning for another article. Unsurprisingly, the 2 wines were very different. The Free Run Sauvignon Blanc was familiar with classic cool climate (Elgin and Elim) shiny, pale straw appearance and lemon, lime, green pepper and grassy aromas. The palate was fresh and crisp with well integrated high acidity and moderate length. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, from Mudhouse, confused on blind tasting. Deeper in colour than the Flagstone wine, the mostly tropical notes of apple, pineapple, lemon, peach, pineapple, melon, quince and slight white honey reminded me of a white blend, perhaps containing Sémillon albeit unlikely due to the absence of oak. This was not a typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (nor the quality at R90 a bottle) and without the characteristic pungent gooseberry and tinned pea or asparagus aromas.
Elizma selected 2 white wines for the second tasting flight with differing acidity levels to assist with my palate calibration. The first was a well made, affordable Chardonnay that was lightly oaked (6 months) and made from grapes sourced from Wellington and Stellenbosch. The slight oaking showed in the deep straw colour (pale lemon in WSET language) and the subtle vanilla flavours that emerged more on the palate. The nose showed the warm climate origins with tropical melon, passion fruit and nectarine notes overlaying those of ripe apple and sweet lemon. The acidity was higher than many a Chardonnay I have tasted but not unpleasantly so due to its integration to make a pleasant wine with a decent finish.
Beside the Chardonnay was an aromatic and recognisable Viognier, an uncommon cultivar in South Africa, with pronounced aromas of orange blossom, jasmine, honeysuckle, pear, nectarine, rose, acacia (Hungarian oak), lemon and white pepper. The boldness on the nose reminded me of the Viognier I recently tasted at Kleinood (Tamboerskloof) but with less subtlety. The notes well followed through to the palate that showed typical Viognier weight and oily texture. This was another well priced wine, especially so for the cultivar.
Two Cabernets Sauvignon, of different quality and price, completed the tasting and my initial foray into WSET learning. Both were deep ruby in colour with the Music Room showing a fuller body than the Poetry wine. Ripe fruits of mostly black cherry, plum and blackberry, with a hint of mint, eucalyptus and cedar, showed on the nose and palate of the entry Poetry Cabernet. This was clearly the lower quality, and hence lower priced, wine due to the lower complexity and intensity compared with the Music Room from the Premium Range. The latter showed a slight sweetness of ripe and juicy fruits – including mulberry, bramble, pencil shavings and cigar box, together with those of the Poetry – as well as more rounded tannins for an improved balance and length at the finish.
Flagstone well served my needs today. I visited and tasted wines at a new winery (sadly, the Pinot Noir was sold out) and Elizma gave me excellent guidance for my WSET Tasting Exam. Flagstone is not your typical winery as the grapes are bought in and, unlike Leopard’s Leap whose wines are also made from externally sourced grapes, there are no vineyard surrounds. Nonetheless, I recommend a visit. The wines show a broad range of quality with those at mid-price showing good value for money.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Flagstone Free Run Sauvignon Blanc – R110
2015 Mudhouse Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) – R90
2017 Flagstone Two Roads Chardonnay – R110
2018 Flagstone Word of Mouth Viognier – R110
2018 Flagstone Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon – R56
2018 Flagstone Music Room Cabernet Sauvignon – R280 FAVOURITE WINE