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
DE KRANS WINES
Thursday 26 December 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Visiting De Krans was a spur of the moment decision. Calitzdorp was the night stop for the second day of my trip down Route 62. I did not know where else I was going other than Route 62. The trip to Jeffrey’s Bay had been a ‘bucket list’ ambition for several years. Even better if I could sneak in some wine tastings along the way. It being the Xmas/New Year period and close to harvest this was perhaps easier said than done. Thus, late on Boxing Day afternoon, I found myself on the edge of Calitzdorp village some 400 miles from Cape Town on the Western edge of the Klein Karoo. Best known as one of the important Cape Port producers in this hot semi-arid inland region, I was looking forward also to tasting some wines. If my memory serves me right, the Tritonia red blend was a previous Best Non-Bordeaux Red Blend winner at the 2017 Old Mutual Awards.
I parked in the shade beside the road a short distance away from the main entrance. The small white painted Tasting Room nestles beside the vineyards with shaded outdoor seating spilling over from the inside. The vines were heavy with grapes with long stems and V-shaped trellising to raise them above the ground. I learned after that these were Hanepoot, for public picking in February when ripe, and not for winemaking. The Tasting Room was busy – I sensed mostly with local guests – who were enjoying their wines and a light lunch from the Deli or Bistro. Xmas carols played through the Tasting Room speakers which, as a Brit used to chilly Xmases, still seems weird.
Wine tasting was a very affordable R40 for 6 wines (waived on bottle purchase). I ordered a cheese platter (R125) that was large enough to share with my fiancée. It was made up with bread and toast, 4 small cheese portions and a choice of 3 sides. Choosing 6 wines was quite a challenge given the number of and range of wines and styles available. It was good to share different tastings with my partner which made the choice a little easier. De Krans wines essentially fall into 3 groupings: Sparkling (MCC and Moscato Perlé); white, rosé and red table wines; and fortified and Port-style wines.
I sampled as broad a range as I could, beginning with the Tritonia White from the Flagship Terroir Range. Made from 70-year old Malvasia Rei (Palomino) and Verdelho, the two wines were blended after 4 months each on the lees with 15 months of barrel fermentation. The wine was served from a tall, heavy bottle and needed cooling to have been at its best (it was over 30ºC outdoors). Pale lemon in colour, the nose showed a mix of green and citrus notes – lemon, lime, lemongrass, green herbs and a mineral saltiness – that were simpler on the palate, showing vanilla flavours from the oak, with a medium+ acidity. This was my favourite wine.
Next was the Free Run Chenin Blanc from the entry Classic Range. The R58 price showed. Whilst it was an obvious Chenin Blanc with fresh aromas of tropical guava, ripe lemon and mango, the intensity was modest. This was matched on the palate that was dry with more citrus flavours and a short finish.
I was excited to taste a Pinot Noir that was made using grapes grown in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, hence the Garden Route name and Wine of Origin Outeniqua. Pale garnet in colour and showing some signs of ageing from the 2016 vintage, the wine showed an uncharacteristic ripeness of jammy red plum, redcurrant and black cherry on the nose with slight pepper spiciness. I might have bought the wine until I tasted it. I was reminded how few Pinot Noir do well away from a cool climate. Almost certainly better had the wine been chilled, it needed more depth, layering of flavour, bite and length. I sensed the fruits had already tailed off as it had aged in the bottle.
I much preferred the more robust Tinta Roriz from the Terroir Range. The first of the red Portuguese varieties I tasted, the wine was an inky deep purple in colour. There was an intensity of aroma that contrasted with the Pinot Noir – port-like and oxidised – with ripe black cherry, dark plum, cassis, ripe blueberry and herbs. These gave way to dry, earthy, dusty and chewy tannins on the palate to balance the 13.0% alcohol and medium length.
I rated the Touriga Nacional almost the same. The variety was first planted in 1994 and made into a single variety wine in 2000 aided by the continental climate and shallow clay Karoo soils that are not unlike the hot, dry Douro Valley in Portugal. The wine was similar in colour with ripe red as well as black fruits, including cassis and bramble to match an earthy spicy clove and cinnamon nose (no doubt from 12 months maturation in 3rd/4th fill French oak barrels). This was a definite food wine with firm drying, earthy tannins, though the 13.5% alcohol appeared less than expected, that filled the mouth and offered a medium+ finish.
De Krans dates back to 1890 when it was bought by the Nel family. The 78-hectare estate remains family owned. Chris and brother Danie built the Cellar that is behind the Tasting Room in 1964. Chris planted the first Portuguese grapes in 1973 albeit unintentionally. There’s a parallel here to Carmenère and Merlot in Chile where supposed imported Merlot turned out to be Carmenère. The intended Shiraz that was planted in 1973 turned out in 1976 to be Tinta Barocca when the first grapes were produced. Further Portuguese varieties have been planted since 1985. Today, De Krans has 45 hectares under vine – there are peaches, apricots and the Hanepoot too – with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon together with the Port-producing varieties of Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella and Souzao. Red wines amount to half of the production (50%) followed by fortified wines (37%), with 10% white wines and 3% Rosé.
The next wine I tasted was entirely different, a White Moscato made in Natural Sweet Perlé style. Perlé usually refers to a lightly carbonated wine that is often pink in colour (after the German grape of the same name). The Moscato was all that I expected: vibrant in character with floral and perfumed jasmine, Turkish delight, rose petal and grapey Muscat de Frontignan aromas and flavours; sweet on the palate with medium- acidity and low alcohol (7.5%). This was a pleasant, easy-drinking wine and perfect for a summer’s day like today. The wine was great value for money too at just R58.
As indicated above, I had tasted the Tritonia before. De Krans call it a Calitzdorp blend (as opposed to a Cape or Bordeaux Blend) as it is made from 5 Portuguese varieties: Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella and Souzao. These are typically used to make Port and Cape Port but these cultivars are increasing being made into table wines, even single cultivar wines. The Tritonia was deep garnet in colour with early signs of ageing at the rim (2016 vintage). Blackberry, cassis, plum, dark cherry black fruits were luscious and ripe with spices on the nose and palate. Dusty tannins – benefiting from 12 months maturation in 2nd/3rd fill French oak barrels – and high alcohol (14.0%) gave the wine a full body in the mouth with layers of flavour for an extended length at the finish.
I sampled one Port in my tasting selection, the Cape Vintage Reserve. Sediment at the bottom of the glass showed this was unfiltered. The nose showed intense dried black fruits and the oxidation. This was confirmed on the palate with rich flavours of black plums, prunes, hazelnut and Dundee marmalade matured over 20 months in large vats. The Cape Port warmed by its 19.0% alcohol to give a medium sweetness of character.
The Tasting Room Manager, Chris, asked me to taste the Pinotage Rosé that was of 2019 vintage. The wine was a very pale pink to show very little extraction with mostly strawberry and raspberry fruits on the nose. Dry acidity came to the fore on the palate to overpower the delicate fruits. The crisp mouthfeel was too sharp and biting for my preference.
A visit to Calitzdorp and to sample the Wines of Origin from the Klein Karoo and Calitzdorp was long overdue. De Krans offered me an insight to how dry the region is and the challenge to balance vine growth and crop and the need for excellent water management. The range of De Krans wines was impressive to reflect a willingness to experiment and try new styles, notwithstanding the accidental history behind the first Portuguese grape planting. The wines were generally very good with a broad price range that reflected in their quality. I would have liked then to have been served cooler and at the right temperature. This is never easy for Tasting Rooms at intense peak visitor periods and so I am willing to set this imperfection aside and award a 4/5 experience rating. In sum, do visit De Krans if you are near Calitzdorp. Better still, venture down Route 62 and make a night stop of it.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2019 White Moscato Natural Sweet Perlé – R58*
2017 Tritonia White (Malvasia Rei, Verdelho) – R150* FAVOURITE WINE
2019 Free Run Unwooded Chenin Blanc – R58
2019 Pinotage Rosé – R58
2016 Garden Route Pinot Noir – R120 (reduced to R80)
2018 Tinta Roriz – R90
2017 Touriga Nacional – R100
2016 Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend (Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella, Souzao) – R185
2016 Cape Vintage Reserve (87% Touriga National, 13% Tinta Barocca) – R295