Tuesday 26 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
It is rare that I sample wines without visiting the estate at which they are made. However, there was good reason with Guillaumé. First, I came by the wines on the eve of covid-19 Lockdown and, second, Guillaumé, is a garagiste producer and consequently without a Tasting Room. The three wines, one rosé and two red, make up the entire range made by Johan Guillaumé. A garagiste, to set the scene, is a small-scale winemaker. According to South African wine classification, the garagiste must be a commercial rather than a home winemaker as well as being the sole financier and winemaker. Production needs also be under 9,000 litres per annum to gain SAWIS certification under the Wine of Origin scheme. It is customary, though not essential, that garagistes buy in grapes and do not own any vineyard.
Garagiste literally means a ‘garage mechanic or garage owner’. The name comes from the pioneer of the ‘movement’, a Bordeaux wine merchant called Jean-Luc Thunevin. Frustrated by the big name, historic producers and with ‘No money, no big vineyards’, he set about making his own wine in 1991 in an old garage in the back streets of St Emilion. He bought in grapes from a 1-hectare plot of vines and sold the wine he produced under the Château Valandraud label. Five years later, the great American wine critic Robert Parker rated one of his wines higher than the famed and iconic Château Petrus. I can only imagine the ripples of Gallic shock and discontent that must have rippled through the French wine establishment.
It took only 4 years for the first garagiste wine to be made in South Africa, a remarkably quick turn of events. First was Cathy Marshal who started Barefoot Wine in Muizenberg, to be closely followed by Clive Torr of Topaz Wines who produced Pinot Noir from a plot of just 400m2 of vines in Somerset West. There are many more garagistes nowadays. Indeed, I recall hearing at the Small-Scale Winemaking (aka Garagiste) Course, which I completed at Stellenbosch University in 2018, of at least 28 garagistes in Durbanville alone. Some, like Guillaumé, make it into the Platter’s Wine Guide. I have tasted – and reviewed – the wines made by Bemind Wyne (McGregor) and Sonklip (Stellenbosch), both of whom are listed.
Johan Guillaumé, true to form and like his Platter-garagistes Isle Schutte and Frik Kirsten, makes wine in his garage. He is based in Orangezicht, close to the Cape Town city bowl, and has produced wine since completing the ‘Garagiste’ Course in 2015. 2020 marks his sixth vintage. Johan’s ancestors were French Huguenots who came to South Africa at the invitation of the Dutch East India Company. Francois Guillaumé arrived in Cape Town in 1726 with the intention of being a silk maker. On his arrival, he changed his name from the French to Dutch (later Afrikaans) spelling and pronunciation. However, and I am unsure whether this was the cause, the business failed. He wanted to become a winemaker instead but this was not possible at the time due to the lack of available wine farms and so he moved to become a sheep farmer in the Overberg. It intrigues that six generations later, descendant Johan is making wine from grapes bought in as he does not own a vineyard either.
The first Guillaumé I tasted during the ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ series was the Le Phenix, a Merlot-led red blend. The name refers to the Greek mystical bird the Phoenix that regenerates itself to be born again. Wine blends do much the same when different cultivars come together to make something anew. It seemed fitting too that I was sampling a Right Bank Bordeaux-styled wine, as if the garagiste journey was returning to the place where the movement began. The wine is made from Stellenbosch grapes in small amount (198 bottles only) such is the small-scale of typical production. After de-stemming, the grapes are soaked for 5 days before fermentation with frequent, manual punch downs. Light basket pressing follows before 18 months of maturation in new/4th fill French oak barrels and minimal filtration prior to bottling. The deep ruby wine showed classic Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon notes of burnt raspberry, red plum and cherry t0gether with bramble, cassis, mint, leather, and meat, respectively, on the nose. The dry wine showed good balance with silky Merlot offsetting the more structured tannins of the cabernet Sauvignon. The heady 14% alcohol was well matched by the dense fruits to make for an enjoyable wine that will age well.
I shared ‘Live’ the Rosé tasting a few weeks later. Like Le Phenix, this was a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties with Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead cultivar (48%) with the grapes sourced from Kaapzicht and Bottleray in Stellenbosch. Johan tells me that the idea for making a rosé came from a day making wine at De Toren. Rather than waste 60 litres of juice bled off to concentrate a red wine, he fermented it in stainless tanks. Sixty days on the lees followed before hand-corking with only 110 bottles made. The Rosé was a pale salmon in colour with delicate aromas of red strawberry, candied honey, and slight white blossom. These notes followed though to the palate which showed above average acidity, a refreshing clean dry taste, and modest length.
My favourite of the three wines, Johan’s too, was the Cabernet Sauvignon and bottle number 45/153. The grapes also come from Stellenbosch, hence the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin on the elegant and stylish black label. The wine was made in similar fashion to Le Phenix – with a dash of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for complexity and balance – with light basket-pressing and 110 litre barrels for maturation before light filtering and bottling. The wine showed classic deep ruby appearance with aromas of warm dark fruits – ripe cherry, dark plum, cassis – smoky toast with excellent complexity and intensity. The dense, concentrated fruits balanced well the 14% alcohol and structured tannins on the palate that were already showing some signs of opening. I liked the decent finish. This wine will improve with keeping as tertiary aromas and flavours develop in the bottle.
I recall asking Professor Wessels du Toit during the Small-Scale Winemaking Course whether making wine was really that easy as I feared producing awfully expensive vinegar. Johan Guillaumé has shown that it is entirely possible for a garagiste to make decent wines and, indeed, to sell them. More pleasure even for me, is that the Live Tasting videos of his wines have had some of the highest viewing numbers. I say so as I am keen always to profile the small producer. I raise a glass to Johan and encourage you to buy and enjoy his wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2019 Rosé (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot) – R150
Red: 2017 Le Phenix (51% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) – R300
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – R300 FAVOURITE WINE
SAME ESTATE, SAME CULTIVAR, SAME VINE-GROWING, SAME WINEMAKING, SAME VINTAGE – DIFFERENT SOILS
Thursday 25 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A month ago, I ‘Tasted Live’ two Sauvignons Blanc from Lomond estate. The wines were identical except that one was made with grapes from clay and the other from sandy loam. It made for a fascinating tasting and to explore whether theory matched practice (read more here) and one worth repeating. The opportunity arose with two Chardonnay from De Wetshof. Both wines were 4* Platter’s rated, of the same vintage (2019), made with grapes of similar age, contained 13.5% alcohol and vinified in the same way: de-stemmed grapes, fermented in stainless steel tanks, unwooded and matured on the lees for 6 months before bottling.
De Wetshof lies in the Robertson Valley. It is the oldest estate in the Valley. Danie De Westhof pioneered the growing of noble grape varieties in 1972, first Chardonnay and then Sauvignon Blanc. Three generations of winemakers later and with 180 hectares under vine, De Wetshof produces mostly white wine (90%). The estate has a range of rocky slate and clay soils with limestone outcrops.
Each soil type brings a different character to a wine. Limestone contains beneficial nutrients to produce better and sweeter grapes. It remains moist in dry weather and has good drainage. It can lead to iron deficiency which is overcome by frequent fertiliser application. The alkalinity in the soil promotes acidity to make zesty wines. Clay retains even more moisture than limestone which it releases throughout the dry summer months. The extra moisture brings a cool soil to slow ripening. The resultant wines are rounder, bolder, more generous and with more structure and colour from deeper extraction. Slate is metamorphosed clay that has been compressed under heat and pressure. It is low in organic matter so does not retain water. Therefore, slate soils warm quickly and retain heat. Broken rocks on the surface shade the roots from the sun and reflect the heat onto the vines, which make them good in cool climate regions. The resultant wines contain higher levels of alcohol, leaner and more mineral in character.
The popular Limestone Hill Chardonnay is made with grapes that are grown close to the River Breede. This has heavy clay soils that are rich in limestone. The Bon Vallon wine comes from vineyards in Bonnievale (hence the name) that contain broken rock with slate. The expectation therefore is that the Limestone Hill wine will show more structure and fullness, with deeper colour and more tropical fruits than the Bob Vallon Chardonnay. The latter ought to show a more steely and mineral character. The Tasting Notes describe aromas/flavours of ‘grapefruit and nuts’ and ‘citrus, wildflowers and grilled nuts, with a nuanced minerality on the aftertaste’ for the Limestone Hill and Bon Vallon wine, respectively.
The proof of the wine is in the drinking, so to speak, and so I poured equal amounts of each into a bowl-shaped wine glass, ideal for Chardonnay. With both wines being unoaked and with the same winemaking, there was predictably little colour difference. I tested the Nose on both wines first without swirling as this can help to detect minor variation. The Limestone Hill (clay) showed slightly more intensity of aroma than the Bon Vallon (slate). With swirling, the Limestone Hill revealed aromas of baked Granny Smith apple, melon, kiwi fruit and green pineapple. This compared with the Bon Vallon that was more citrus in character, showing less tropical fruit notes and more lemon and lime citrus.
The Chardonnay were beautifully balanced on the palate – between fresh fruits, well-integrated acidity, and the medium alcohol – to make two excellent wines. There was a distinct difference on the Palate between them. The warmer tropical fruits of the clay-based Limestone Hill followed through on the Palate that was fuller, weightier and with more structure in the mouth. In contrast, the Bon Vallon showed a livelier and fresher character with a cleaner mouthfeel and more mineral character due to the rocky slate soils.
The tasting fascinated as expected. It was intriguing that the practice of tasting matched the theory as forecast. Whilst the clay soils were cooler than those of the rocky slate, this had the effect of slowing down ripening to allow a fuller structured and rounder wine with more sugar development and hence a warmer fruit profile. The tasting proved, if proof ever needed, the extent to which fine wines are made in the vineyard, together with the vital importance of terroir.
2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay – R102
2019 De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay – R142
CAROLINE’S FINE WINE CELLAR
Wednesday 13 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Website: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
It is not the best of times to be a wine drinker and smoker now in South Africa. We are approaching the 50th day of lockdown and living under the most restrictive covid-19 conditions in the world. Alcohol sales, including online buying, are forbidden. Alcohol is deemed not to be an ‘essential’ product, unlike in most other countries. The home stocks are running dry for many and, for some, run out completely. We must therefore dutifully and patiently wait for lockdown Level 3 – seemingly some way off as the virus is far from its peak – for the bottle shops to open for 3 mornings a week. Meanwhile, according to the news today, an estimated 20,000 lives have already been saved. That is good news amid the teetotal gloom.
I began reviewing online wine stores a few months ago – long before lockdown, coronavirus and covid-19 became part of our daily vocabulary – beginning with Premier Cru and then Wine Cellar. It is timely to look at the online retailers again in the hope that sales will soon be permitted. I buy often from Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar and regularly attend Caroline’s specialist wine tastings. It thus makes sense to share my first-hand experiences with you.
Caroline’s, as the retailer is affectionately known, has 2 stores as well as an online business. The stores are in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD and in the Southern Suburb of Tokai. The CBD shop beneath Strand Street is by far the larger and resembles a cave with its terracotta tiled floor, arched wine displays, wooden shelving, and discreet lighting. Living in Wynberg, the Tokai branch is slightly closer and with the ease of available parking outside. It has the same style of décor but a smaller selection of wine albeit with the same broad range. Both stores are open during regular weekday shop opening hours and on Saturday mornings. The staffs are always polite and well dressed in pale and navy-blue uniform that adds to the exclusive wine merchant brand.
‘Purveyor since 1979’, Caroline’s has an established footing in the fine wine and international wine market. Owner Caroline Rillema had a varied wine career at the Lanzerac and Carlton hotels, retail in Johannesburg, and marketing for Buitenverwachting and La Motte before opening her first specialist wine store in the CBD. She is engaging company and ready to share her obvious passion for wine and to recount tales of her frequent (before lockdown) trips to the wine regions of the world. The website ably describes the focus on the finest South African wines and those from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire, Champagne, Italy, and Spain, together with the New World.
Wine is the best place to start. Caroline’s offers 1,169 South African and International wines that range in price from R86 to R9,620. South African wines number 711 with imported wines making up the 458 remainder. France predictably makes up the bulk of international wines (254) followed by Italy (69), Portugal (46), Spain (32), Australia (20), New Zealand (13), Argentina (10), Germany (9), Chile (4) and the USA (2). Not all wines are currently in stock which is entirely understandable given the present ban on the transport of alcohol. The website groups South African wines by style – then by cultivar for red and white wines – and foreign wines by country with France and Italy sub-divided by region. There are also selection options for Platter’s 5* and Rare Wines. The simple drop-down menus are easy to use. One can usefully sort by Popularity, Latest or Low-to-High price or High-to-Low price within any selection. Rijk’s 2014 Pinotage (R298) tops the Popularity of South African wines whilst the 2010 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico Reserva (R695) currently heads the imported range.
Compare Caroline’s with other like specialised online retailers, and the range and number of wines (711/458 South Africa/Imported) is on a par with Wine Cellar (circa 550/440), fewer than Port2Port (972/860) and more than importer Great Domaines (84/426), whilst wine.co.za sells only South African wine. Select an individual wine from the bottle shot and you will find more detailed information about the region, a Tasting Note, food pairing and the producer. This information is basic and adequate for most wine lovers to be able to make their purchase, though I prefer more details about the viticulture, wine-making and tasting analysis, which is included by some of the competing retailers. Caroline’s prices are broadly comparable to those of her online competitors. My impression from 3 years of buying South African and international wines for my own pleasure and for my Cape Wine Academy/WSET studies is that Caroline’s wines tend to be priced around 5% to 10% higher – there is the added expense of 2 shops to run – than elsewhere. That said, I am fortunate to live locally and so able to collect purchases from the Tokai store. There is always the delivery fee to factor in. Shipping fees are not currently listed on the website due to lockdown so I cannot comment on how they compare. Nonetheless, I do find Caroline’s useful when looking for a specific wine or region, particularly so for wines from Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.
Turning to other products and services, I have always enjoyed the tasting events. I have attended inter alia those for Alheit, Eben Sadie and French Rosé wines. Caroline often hosts these herself or the winemaker hosts, which makes for an enjoyable and informative evening with the opportunity to buy after. The events are invariably very well-supported, and I advise early booking. There is a Wine Club too, which I have not joined, that offers a case of selected wines every 3 months with free delivery for circa R1,500. Neither have I attended any of the School of Fine Wine courses for enthusiasts (four 2-hour sessions at either store, morning or evening) or service staff (Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced levels). Caroline’s also offers a broad range of wine accessories that includes glasses, decanters, aerators, glass and bottle bags, openers, and stoppers.
My experience of Caroline’s is generally very favourable. I am content to pay slightly extra on occasion to buy the wines I want for my studies and tastings that I host. I can offset the extra cost against the benefit of being able to collect the wine/s from Tokai. I have mentioned the limited but basic information on the website. Other niggles include the fact many of the more limited or specialised wines, notably imported wines, are often listed on the website but sold out. This pre-dates South African lockdown and the severely curtailed movement of wine. Further, whilst listing total stock number, the website does not show the number of bottles in the CBD and Tokai outlets. The tie up between the 2 is not perfect which has meant that I have had a wasted journey to Tokai for a wine that is in Strand Street, even after a prior phone call to check. There appears to be no regular transport of wine between the 2 stores – other than when Caroline happens to be making the journey – and so it always feels like I am asking a huge favour to collect a bottle from Tokai that is in the CBD shop.
To conclude, these are minor gripes compared to the impressive selection and range of wines that Caroline sells. The layout of the stores makes for easy browsing and in comfortable surroundings with staff always to hand. Use the online shop too but it helps to shop around if you want a particular wine but do not forget to factor in shipping fees. Above all, show your support for Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar to re-stock your wine cellar when lockdown ends. Sweet Caroline, we wait for the good times to seem so good again … 😊
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A few weeks ago, during another ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ 6pm daily tasting, I experimented with glasses of different sizes with a red wine, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch Reserve. The tasting experience fascinated with a mix of outcomes, some predictable and others less so. It was always my intention to repeat the tasting with a white wine. The recently released 2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – of similar price and quality – offered the ideal opportunity. The variety is one of the more aromatic common cultivars and perfect to expose any differences between the glasses. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed and then barrel-fermented using natural yeast in 20% new/80% old French oak, with 10 months of maturation with weekly barrel-turning to stir the lees.
Read the previous article for more background about the wine glasses we own and use. The aim of the tasting was the same. Does glass size and shape really make a difference to the drinking experience, as the glossy marketing material from the single-varietal glass companies will have us believe? The only was to discover, of course, was to put it to the test. Thus, I picked out 3 quite different glasses to compare. There was the utility, durable ISO 21.5cl glass that is used in most tasting rooms and wine courses, retailing at R25 each but far cheaper when bought in bulk. Second, was my trusty Riedel Vinum glass. It is recommended for Cabernet/Merlot, but it is very much a universal size and shape. I am familiar with it as it is the glass, I use for my WSET Level 4 Diploma tasting and a big step up from the ISO glass in quality and price (R400). The final glass was the featherlight White Wine glass from high-end Zalto with an exalted price of R670 to match.
Riedel and Zalto are both Austrian companies. Riedel dates back 11 generations to 1678 and steeped in the history of Bohemian crystal glass. Fast forward to 1973 and it was the first company to make machine-made varietal glasses. The glass promised to ‘emphasize the fruit …. to allow the bouquet to develop’. Zalto has roots in Murano, Venice dating back to the Middle Ages, but it was not until 2006 that the current mouth-blown, seamless glass collection hit the headlines. The shape is said to be inspired by the tilt angles of the earth. Like Riedel, the marketing copyrighters have been busy to claim that the glasses are ‘nearly too delicate to hold’. Surprisingly, there was no mention of Chenin Blanc in the single variety copy (nor for Riedel) but the universal White Wine glass suited as being ‘especially suited to fruit forward white wines’.
I poured the Chenin Blanc into each glass at the same level and at the ideal serving temperature. There were no differences in Appearance as one might expect the wine being pale lemon in colour. As with the similar red wine experiment, I assessed the nose from each glass without swirling to start, as this might best emphasize the differences between them, before swirling. The ISO glass showed simple lemon and lime citrus aromas that, even with swirling, showed limited intensity. The Riedel offered a greater steely minerality on the Nose – typical for this lean style Chenin Blanc – with similar lemon and lime but with delicate white spice and kiwi notes. Surprisingly, the glass brought out subtle vanilla aromas from the barrel-fermentation. Last, the Zalto glass showed the greatest intensity of aroma – more open – with a riper lemon and mineral character that was backed up by a gentle florality of white blossom.
The Chenin Blanc was bone dry on the palate. Like the Nose, the Palate with the ISO tasting glass was simple and one-dimensional, with the wine barely filling the mouth and showing modest length. The aroma profile followed through to the Palate for the Riedel with flavours of lemon, lime citrus, green melon, and kiwi. The big difference was how the broader glass rim led to a fuller mouthfeel with more pronounced alcohol, texture, and length. Further, the glass emphasized the bright, zesty acidity of the Chenin Blanc for a fresher experience. The Zalto glass on the other hand made for a subtler and softer feel to the wine to show off the lean mineral character with a more rounded elegance and finesse.
In drawing together the conclusions, I am mindful of the results from the comparison of the different glasses for the red wine as there are similarities. The ISO tasting glass offered a limited tasting experience, in terms of both aroma and flavours on the palate. The glass did not do justice to the wine and that is a sobering thought (pun intended) for the many Tasting Rooms that use this size and shape of glass as their standard. The Riedel and Zalto were closer in how they presented the wine than to the ISO glass. The Riedel better brought out the aromas and flavours in both intensity and complexity. Interestingly, and I am unsure why, I detected enhanced vanilla notes on the Nose for the Chenin Blanc and for the Cabernet Sauvignon during the red wine comparison tasting. The Zalto, meanwhile, displayed softer aromas and flavours of lesser intensity than the Riedel but with more refinement.
It certainly does seem therefore that bigger is better – and that size does matter 😊
2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – R150
SAME ESTATE, SAME CULTIVAR, SAME VINE-GROWING, SAME WINEMAKING, SAME VINTAGE – DIFFERENT SOILS
Monday 24 April 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4/5
Soil is an integral element of terroir together with climate, terrain and winemaking tradition. It is the synergy of these natural and man-made factors that give a wine its unique and identifiable character. The effect of soil type on the taste of a wine is a topic that has long fascinated and continues to do so. South African lockdown meant that I had to postpone my Dr Peter Master Class ‘Soils’ tasting. The aim was to compare like wines of varying cultivars from different soils and to see if any consensus or consistent conclusion could be drawn amid those at the tasting. The event was not to be, for the moment at least, but I did happen upon 2 Lomond wines that well suited a comparison for one of the ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ daily 6pm live tastings hosted on Facebook by the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society.
Lomond was the 100th estate that I visited and tasted wines for review on the www.capewinelover.co.za website. I remember it well, travelling 3 hours from Cape Town to the Agulhas wine District. The vast estate on the Agulhas Plain has 120 hectares of 1,100 hectares under vine and grows a broad range of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. It lies 8 km from Gansbaai and so gains the benefit of cooling South-East and South-West breezes to keep February temperatures below 30ºC on slopes that are 50-100 metres above sea level. The large property brings with it 18 different soil types and so perfect for terroir-cultivar matching, as well as the potential to taste wines from differing soils. All the wines are named after the local fynbos and indigenous plant species.
The 2 Sauvignons Blanc were from the same wine estate, of the same 2017 vintage, grown on high East-facing vineyards and made by the same winemaker. The grapes were hand-harvested, fermented at a cool cool 13-15ºC in neutral steel tanks and underwent 8 weeks on the lees before bottling.
Soils differ in their fertility, nutrient and organic matter content, water retention ability, temperature and a whole host of other factors. These all impact on the character of the wine. Fine clay is cool and retains water. This, as theory suggests, makes for a fuller bodied wine with a higher extract and colour. In contrast, sandy loam – loam being a fertile soil with a near equal mix of silt, clay, sand and organic humus – is well-drained and retains heat. This produces eelegant wines with high aromatics, pale colour and low tannins.
The Tasting Note of the Sugarbush Sauvignon Blanc, from clay soils, describes a nose with “aromas of citrus, with distinctive minerality, layers of herbaceous flavours and Cape fynbos”. Further, the taste has “full-bodied, clean, mineral tones with gooseberry purity”. The Pincushion, in contrast, from sandy loam soils promises a bouquet that is “elegant, driven by minerality and citrus nuances” together with a taste with “flavours of tropical fruit with a hint of citrus”.
The theory set. The full-bodied label description of full body and elegance for the Sugarbush and Pincushion, respectively, certainly matches the clay soil and sandy loam theory expectation. Will it prove to be in tasting practice? There was only once way to find out as I filled 2 glasses equally for side by side comparison at the Dr Peter Live tasting. There was little difference to their pale lemon colour, so I assessed both wines for the Nose.
The Sugarbush (clay) showed fresh primary fruit aromas of fresh lime, grapefruit and unripe lemon citrus together a delicate florality and notes of English gooseberry that were reminiscent of a Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The Nose of the Pincushion (sandy loam) was very different. There were fewer green and herbaceous notes. Instead, the aromas were of stone fruits and of melon, kiwi and ripe lemon with less perfume. I checked the minerality after. Both wines showed some minerality on the nose – a slight salinity – but it was not very intense.
The differences on the Nose followed through on the Palate. The clay-soil Sugarbush Sauvignon Blanc was elegant on the Palate with good balance between the fresh fruits, medium alcohol and a bright, integrated acidity. I liked the clean, crisp texture. The Pincushion, from the sandy loam soil, was likewise well balanced but with a fuller mouthfeel and weight. The wine showed warmer tropical fruit flavours but with poise, elegance and finesse.
The comparison was fascinating, and the theory was mostly borne out by the tasting. The effect of the cooler, damper clay soil certainly contributed to the fresh citrus fruit aromas and flavours of the Sugarbush wine whilst the Pincushion (sandy loam) had the expected a warmer, more tropical and less herbaceous fruit profile. The relative fullness of the Pincushion was not anticipated but the warmer fruits could have confused, yet the greater elegance was expected.
I am now keener than ever to try this tasting experiment again with the other wines I have that are identical but for their soils. Alas, I shall Have to wait for lockdown to end to be able to arrange that tasting.
Monday 16 March 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Website: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Ask yourself what makes a great online wine merchant? What criteria do you go by? Remember too that, like a supermarket or most specialist retail stores, you cannot taste the wines in advance. You have the convenience of being able to order from your home computer or even mobile phone, without the need to travel to your favourite wine estate for prior tasting. This is an extra benefit in these uncharted coronavirus days when many wineries regrettably, but understandably, are closing their doors to visiting tasters. I came up with these Top 6 criteria:
- Wide range of national and international wines
- Comprehensive, informative, easy-to-use and up-to-date website
- Competitive pricing
- Excellent customer care, service and advice
- Rapid cost-effective, secure delivery
- Additional services and offerings
Wine Cellar specialises in fine local and international wines and is based in Observatory, Cape Town. Business partners David Bryce and Richard Burnett established the company in 2000, although their common wine interest harks back to UCT and UK student days in the 1960s. The day-to-day business has been run by Managing Director, Roland Peens since 2005 who oversees a team of 15 persons who cover the essential functions of Sales, Fine Wine Sales, Brokerage & Investments, Office Management, Logistics, Finance, Marketing, Web Design, IT, Cellar and Stock Management.
I confess I buy the bulk of my South African wines from estates that I visit for tasting. It not only means I can review their wines and the tasting experience but that I can sample the wines before buying. Not everybody has that luxury and so online buying offers a valuable alternative. Wine Cellar lists close to 1,000 wines of which 550 or thereabouts are South African with circa 440 from around the world. They include all the main wine styles: red, white, rosé, sparkling, sweet and fortified. The South African collection ranges from AA Badenhorst (clever marketing there, akin to 1-2-1 Taxis and AA Taxis in the Yellow Pages era) to Yardstick which as close to an A-Z of national wine as one can get. The wines come from over 30 regions. These are dominated by Stellenbosch (188 wines) and the Swartland (88 wines). Franschhoek surprisingly is under-represented with just 10 wines whilst at the other end of the spectrum there are wines from regions few might have heard of, for example, Philadelphia that lies between Durbanville and Malmesbury, and Prieska on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape.
As for the international wines, I largely buy in support of my academic wine studies (WSET Level 4 Diploma) as well as for personal enjoyment. Wine Cellar offers wines from all the major producer countries: Australia, Austria, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and the United States. There is even 1 bottle sold from China. Oddly, given the wide range of countries listed, there are no wines from Argentina which is the world’s 5th largest producer. I would have expected to buy Malbec and Mendoza wines and perhaps from Hungary (Tokaji and Egri Bikavér) or even Greece. The latter country because of the popular attention to climate change and the vogue for drought-resistant and indigenous grape varieties. Jordan, incidentally, has recently planted white Assyrtiko.
Nonetheless, this is an impressive and comprehensive selection of wines from South Africa and the rest of the world that well passes my first criterion. This is only bettered, from my estimation using current online listings, by Port2Port (1,573 wines: 866 from South Africa, 707 world wines). Wine Cellar is thus on a par with Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar (1,257 wines; 697/492 South Africa/International wines) and far ahead of importer Great Domaines (510 wines; 84/426 South Africa/International wines) and wine.co.za (South Africa wines only) when it comes to the range of wine offered.
There is little point in offering such a comprehensive listing if one is unable to find the wines that one wants to buy. This is where Wine Cellar excels. The website is one of the easiest to use – and I am not limiting this comment to online wine companies alone. Click on the ‘SHOP’ button and one is led to a choice of ‘STYLE’, ‘REGION’ and selected other choices, including Wine Cellar and Customer favourites (70 and 44 wines, respectively), mixed cases, vintage wines, highly rated wines, and even en primeur/futures. The Shopping Options are conveniently grouped according to Producer, Country, Region, Style, Variety, Vintage, Bottle Size and Price. Each of these sections offer simple drop-down menus to aid buying choice. There is a high-level Search function as well as the ability to order by Product Name, Price, Vintage or Producer. The online shopper can also choose whether to see 24, 48 or 96 wines on a page, mark individual wines for a personal ‘Wish List’, and decide if to view in Grid or List display. Throughout, the website is fast, responsive and error-free.
The information provided for each wine is equally comprehensive and impressive. Not only is the Score and its rating author shown at the top level (before clicking on the wine itself) but the Price, Country/Region and Number in Stock are also shown. Select any individual wine from the excellent photograph and the website leads you a mine of information. This is as detailed as any wine buyer needs except for Tasting Analysis items such as the alcohol level, which is listed for some but not all wines in the Tasting Notes section, as well as sweetness/residual sugar. Included is a brief summary inter alia about the Producer, a Tasting Note, Viticulture and Winemaking, details of bottle size, country, rating, when to drink/keep, price, producer, region and variety. Below, there are sections for Customer Reviews (albeit from a casual look I could not find any) and Shipping Information. A side-note covers delivery, online payment means and security, who to call for buying advice and shipping timing.
In addition, look under the ‘EXPLORE’ tab and you will find excellent information about: Wine Countries, their regions, common red and white grape varieties and wines; individual Grape Varieties; and Food & Wine Pairing.
Wine Cellar will sell you a bottle of wine for R60 or R80,000 and at any price in between. Buying online is great when one knows the product and the product is exact. To latter extent, a bottle of wine is a commodity. A 2015 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon (say) is the same wine bought online or from a supermarket, other general retailer, or specialist store. A simple Google search will direct you to plenty of sellers in South Africa and worldwide. Look at the www.wine-searcher.com site and you can research prices for local and international wines. The Wine Cellar price of R410 per bottle is very competitive and the lowest on the Wine Searcher website considering whether local sales tax is included, minimum bottle order number and other hidden costs, delivery included. This price is below that offered online by Kanonkop itself (R450). Compare prices for a Hamilton Russell 2018 Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, a 2018 De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, or a 2017 Glenelly Glass Collection Syrah and Wine Cellar is as competitive as any online supplier. It is more difficult to compare prices for international wines as each importer has their preferred producer. That said, and I buy much French and other international wines in support of my WSET studies, Wine Cellar prices well compare for Bordeaux, Burgundy or Loire wines as any other importer.
There is no substitute either for good customer care or advice. I have only ever found the Wine Cellar team, most commonly Aimée Beaumont, to be entirely professional and helpful. There has always been a smile and a welcome when I have collected my wines from Observatory and the wines ordered have been correctly selected, packaged and priced as well as being immediately available.
Prompt, secure and fault-free delivery is mission-critical for any online company and no less for Wine Cellar that is selling a product that is heavy, bulky and liable to breakage or loss. I am fortunate to live locally in Cape Town so able to collect my wines from Wine Cellar in Observatory hence I am unable to comment on the delivery service. Price must always be factored into any online purchase and here I am able better to compare. Wine Cellar delivery is free to anywhere in South Africa for orders totalling over R1,500. This equates to a case of medium-priced wine, a reasonable fee given the vast size of the country. The website gives a scale of charges for up to 12 bottles for purchases below this amount, ranging from R60 in Cape Town to R130 for Joburg/Pretoria/Bloemfontein to R210 for elsewhere. International delivery is available on request. Like bottle price, these rates are competitive when compared with other online suppliers. The Port2Port portal may list more wines, for example, but it is easy to be caught out on delivery costs as they source from different suppliers, with the result that one order may be split between several suppliers. Not only does this mean, and I have been caught out on this, that the delivery fee is multiplied but also that one likely has to receive a single order on different days which is a distinct disadvantage if having to be home to receive.
Wine Cellar does not only sell wine online. It offers a wide array of other services. This ranges from gift-wrapping and selected monthly or mixed case offerings, to gift vouchers to Gabriel glassware. The company also offers a comprehensive investment and advice service to enable wine enthusiasts to build up a portfolio of local and international wines. There is a cellaring service which I have not used (yet!) but which I have heard only good reports of. Stable and correct heat, light and humidity are essential for long-term wine storage, as is the security of any investment wine. The minimum storage time is 6 months. Mixed cases can be stored but they attract a higher fee than un-mixed cases due to the obvious extra cataloguing and administration. Additionally, Wine Cellar is pioneering the fine wine auction sector, pairing up with Strauss & Co who are one of South Africa’s leading auction houses. The market is developing, and it is early days as consumers are not yet in the habit either of laying down wine, buying wine as an investment, or even generally knowledgeable about the emerging fine wine sector and its wine. I have been to one pre-auction Fine Wine tasting and was impressed by both the quality, age and range of local and international wines on offer.
Whilst I have little used the above extra services, I am a frequent attender at the Wine Cellar tastings (regrettably but understandably suspended temporarily due to the coronavirus). These are held every 1-2 months in Observatory (Johannesburg also) in a neat upstairs Tasting Room. I have been to evenings that have offered a tasting of AA Badenhorst, 2016 Bordeaux, 2017 Burgundy Whites, 2017 Burgundy Reds, South Africa MCC v Champagne, and Piedmont wines. The fee varies but is usually between R450 and R750 for 12 wines with the offer to buy at the end of the tasting. The evenings are hosted by Roland Peens who has a natural and enthusiast but geeky flair that easily rubs off, together with an exceptional knowledge of the wines offered, their producers, the viticulture and viniculture and the respective wine regions. I highly recommend attending if you are able, whether novice, student, enthusiast, wine collector or professional.
I return to my 6 selected essential criteria for an excellent online wine supplier: range of wines on offer; user-friendly website; competitive prices; customer care; effective delivery; and additional services. Wine Cellar passes all with aplomb. I have little to suggest by means of improvement other than some minor ideas I have hinted at that would put the wax on top of the wine cork. Included in these are to sell selected wines from Argentina, particularly Malbec and from the Mendoza region that not only are increasing in quality, but which also offer great value for money. The Franschhoek region is similarly under-represented, particularly for sparkling wines and top Sémillon. A modest improvement to the already excellent Wine Cellar website would be the inclusion of a Help/Web Chat facility. Many online companies are offering this and not only in the wine sector (Cotton On, for example, as well as Port2Port). This offers the customer a cheap, quick and easy means to ask order questions without having to make a phone call. It would be useful too if the ‘More Information’ section for all the wines listed Alcohol level (%) and Sweetness/Residual Sugar. The option too to search white wines for Wooded/Unwooded would also be useful. This would take some once-off effort to amend up to 1,000 wine entries but better inform the buyer.
To conclude, Wine Cellar well meets and passes what is required for an online wine supplier. It is an established company with a proven record, product range and expertise. The website, its layout, information and ease of use is one of the best. The business operates at the fine wine end of the market which, whilst not as price sensitive as some, nonetheless offers an excellent range of South African and international wines at highly competitive prices (delivery included). I have had only good experiences in all my dealings with the company and I thoroughly recommend Wine Cellar for any online wine purchaser.
Friday 28 February 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4.5/5
My (new) wife told me after breakfast that she had a lunchtime business networking meeting at Perdeberg Winery. “Do I want to come with? You could do some wine-tasting”, she said. I did not need a lot of persuasion. I had been to Perdeberg before, nearly 2 years ago, for the annual Pinotage and Biltong Festival which returns for its 6th edition on 18-19 April. I had not tasted the Perdeberg wines, so this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Perdeberg lies some 10 kilometres to the North West of Paarl amid dry rolling wheat land. I well remember the large cellar building that is a legacy of the former co-operative winery. It was built in 1942 by Jan Roussow so that the local wine growers could gain best prices for their high-quality grapes. It is this kind of innovation that has become a tradition at Perdeberg. It was the second cellar in South Africa to introduce cold fermentation in 1956, the first winery in the region to employ from 2010 a full-time viticulturalist and, recently, to use aerial infra-red photography for the extensive vineyards.
The sun shone brightly as I sought a shady space to park. Inside, the Tasting Room offered a relaxed environment. There were relatively few guests for a Friday lunchtime but, I suspect, most were enjoying the new East@Perdeberg Restaurant upstairs. Des was my attentive and efficient host. The room was simple rather than opulent, functional rather than expansive and with wine and associated product displays on surrounding shelving against bare brick walls. The tasteful decoration in black, white and red perfectly matched the Perdeberg ethos of doing simple things well. The tasting offer was 5 wines for R50 from a selection of almost 30 wines. These were divided into 3 main collections (the iconic Speciality Range (2 wines) and the easy-drinking fruit-driven Soft Smooth Range (3 wines) were not available for tasting): the Dryland Collection, from selected grapes of dryland vineyards that showcase their terroir and made in the New World style; the single variety Vineyard Collection made from specific vineyards chosen for their combination of cultivar and terroir; and the Classic Collection of elegant fruity wines that can be drunk with or without food.
Choosing just 5 wines was a challenge and especially so when the choice included less common varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Cinsault and Malbec. Fortunately for me and knowing my interest in wine, Des was generous in allowing me to taste a wide selection. I began with a side-by-side comparison of bush vine Chenins Blanc from the Dryland Collection. Both the wines were a shiny pale lemon in colour with distinctive Chenin Blanc aromas of ripe lemon and lime citrus, tropical mango and pineapple, with an undertone of fresh herbs. The unwooded ‘Braveheart’ was crisp on the palate and fresh despite its 2015 vintage with medium+ acidity and a rounded feel at the average finish. I just preferred the 9-month French oak, barrel-fermented ‘Courageous’ that cost just R10 more. The nose was fuller and more concentrated to show a more honeyed, sweeter character together with nectarine stone fruits. The intensity of aroma followed through to the palate that was predictable more rounded, softer and with better integrated acidity. The 2 wines made an excellent start to the tasting and of excellent value for money (R100 and R110 only).
I opted for the Vineyard Collection Sauvignon Blanc next, but Des was keen for me to taste and compare with the ‘Expression’ sibling from the Dryland Collection. Their appearance was comparable, with the ‘Expression’ being a slightly deeper pale lemon in colour. The Vineyard wine was made in green style and dominated on the nose by bell pepper and grassy, herbaceous notes that developed in the glass to include lime and tropical fruits. The bright acidity on the palate led to a slight bitter finish but this was nonetheless a decent example of a warm region Sauvignon Blanc, again great value for money (R70). I much preferred the ‘Expression’ wine from the Dryland Collection. Sporting a cork rather than screwcap closure, the Sauvignon Blanc unusually was matured for 18 months in old French oak barrels with lees contact. This was very different wine albeit with the same herbaceous and green pepper aromas. These were toned down and layered with notes of sweet lemon, gooseberry, tropical fruits and vanilla. The texture was more rounded and the balance better with an integrated acidity and well worth the extra R30.
The last 2 white wines I tasted were a Grenache Blanc and a white blend called Roussow’s Heritage. Grown in just 0.14% of South Africa’s vineyards, the rare Grenache Blanc is commonly found in Rhône white blends. It is suited to dry conditions and I expect to see more wines in the future (Anysbos, for example, in Bot Rivier has recently planted). The wine, now in its second year of production, showed a medium+ fruity intensity of fresh stone fruits of peach, nectarine and lemon citrus. I detected slight notes of vanilla and white pepper to suggest a modest use of oak in maturation. Surprisingly, the intensity on the nose weakened on the palate. The acidity was firm with just the edge of sharpness rounded off (also suggesting some use of oak) to make for a clean mouthfeel. The wine makes a pleasant alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and was again excellent value at R75, when premium pricing for a rare cultivar might be expected.
The Roussow’s Heritage of the same 2019 vintage was a Chenin Blanc-led blend (59%). Des did not know the percentages of the 5 cultivars of this Southern Rhône-style white blend, but the website does not show it either. This was my favourite wine with an inviting, medium+ intensity nose that combined the honeyed tropical fruits from the Chenin Blanc and the herbaceous grassy aromas of Sauvignon Blanc together with delicate white stone fruits and blossom. The flavour intensity held up much better on the palate than for the Grenache Blanc with an elegant, rounded texture and a decent finish.
Perdeberg lies between Durbanville and Malmesbury in the Agter Paarl region. The extensive vineyards total a sizeable 2,564 hectares out of the 6,000-hectare owned property, a reflection of the former co-operative winery era. The vineyards, on varied soils, are largely un-irrigated to give concentrated fruits that benefit from cooling sea breezes during ripening. Most of the wine that is produced is red (60%) made from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, Pinotage and Shiraz grown in the Perdeberg vineyards. White cultivars include Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and hence most wines are Wine of Origin Paarl, with some Wine of Origin Coastal Region among the red wines.
Lesser known Cinsault and Malbec were the first red wines I tasted. The 2 wines were from the Vineyard Collection, of 2018 vintage. 14% alcohol and priced a very affordable R85. The pale ruby Cinsault was a more representative example of the variety than the Waverley Hills wine I recently tasted. The wine showed classic red strawberry and raspberry fruits of bold intensity in the glass with a beautiful balancing violet floral character so typical of the cultivar. The fruitiness weakened a little in the mouth but were finely balanced by a fresh acidity and light tannins to give a youthful but not overworked wine. The Malbec was also youthful but typical of the grape with a deep ruby-purple colour with delicious, luscious red and dark fruity aromas of red and dark berries, cherry and plum. Dry oaky tannins emerged on the palate to give structure to balance the ripe fruits. The Malbec is a great food wine and improve with age as the tannins soften and integrate.
Des was not letting me taste single wines and so I sampled Pinotage and Shiraz from both the Vineyard and Dryland collections side by side. I rated the Dryland ‘Resolve’ Pinotage higher than the Vineyard wine. The 2 wines showed characteristic plush ripe, more dark than red fruits of cherry, plum, mulberry, prune and estery banana on the nose. Whilst the Vineyard Pinotage was lighter on the palate than I expected, the Dryland ‘Resolve’ showed added pepper spice for a more concentrated nose. This intensity carried through to the full-bodied palate with tight tannins that showed its youth (2017 vintage).
I ended the tasting – I could have sampled the Cabernets Sauvignon, Joseph’s Legacy red blend and Longevity Natural Sweet Chenin Blanc and more – with Shiraz, again from 2 collections. I scored both the same although they were different in style. Classic spicy, dark fruits of cassis, cherries, mulberry and blackberry notes hid underlying aromas of black pepper and liquorice on the nose. The Vineyard wine was fresh fruity, with a soft candy/ester Pinotage tinge, and of more delicate style hence, I imagine, the Rhône-shaped bottle. By contrast, the ‘Tenacious’ from the Dryland Collection showed greater focus and concentration of ripe fruits so typical of the outstanding 2015 vintage. The Bordeaux bottle nodded to a bigger style of wine with riper, fuller tannins that will soften with age.
Perdeberg offered an excellent range of, mostly, single variety wines and so much more than the Chenins Blanc for which the winery is known. I could have tasted or bought sparkling MCC Chenin Blanc and Rosé, Cinsault Rosé, Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blanc de noir, dessert Chenin Blanc and more. I was especially impressed by the rare cultivar wines in the collections together with the same variety made in different unwooded and wooded styles. I liked the distinctive shield-shaped label on the Vineyard Collection labels that gave a modern yet classic feel. So too did Merlot the mascot zebra, complete with own blog (!)(albeit the website link did not load), that gives a nod both to the historic wild zebra and quagga that once roamed the Paardeberg mountains and roamed the early vineyards and also to current conservation measures to preserve endangered fauna and flora. Perdeberg has clearly come a long way from its historic co-operative beginnings to produce some excellent, well-made wines. These were served at the right temperature (not always guaranteed, even at the most prestigious wine estates) and with minimum fuss. The wines offer superb value for money and I highly recommend a visit for tasting and to buy wine. Perdeberg has indeed ‘earned its stripes’!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Dryland Collection ‘Braveheart’ Chenin Blanc – R100
2018 Dryland Collection ‘Courageous’ Chenin Blanc – R110
2019 Vineyard Collection Sauvignon Blanc – R70
2016 Dryland Collection ‘Expression’ Sauvignon Blanc – R100*
2019 Vineyard Collection Grenache Blanc – R75*
2019 Dryland Collection Roussow’s Heritage (Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc) – R130* FAVOURITE WINE
2018 Vineyard Collection Cinsault – R85*
2018 Vineyard Collection Malbec – R85*
2018 Vineyard Collection Pinotage – R80
2017 Dryland Collection ‘Resolve’ Pinotage R120
2018 Vineyard Collection Shiraz – R80
2015 Dryland Collection ‘Tenacious’ Shiraz – R120