Ross' Blog - Cape Wine Tasting

It sure makes a lot of noise... 
I did a mental calculation and worked out that this was the 30th Staines tasting I’d been involved with going back across the past 15 years, and with over 100 punters booked in and 56 wines to taste (plus gin, craft beer, cheese and olive oil) it was panning out to be a day to remember. I always get a buzz from these events - catching up with old customers and chewing the fat with suppliers and growers about the state of the SAFFA wine industry.  Politics aside – the ever constants of enthusiasm, and can-do positivity about the industry, ancient terroir and wine always leave me encouraged and spirit-lifted. 

I start every tasting with a taste of SAFFA sparkling wine.  This time it was Charles Fox’s Vintage Brut from 2013, classily blended from all three traditional champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Not for spitting out. Beautiful golden straw colour, citrus, almond and biscuit on the nose.   Swallow it contemplatively and savour the full, clean, crisp long flavours of pears, green apple all edged with almonds.  Discounted to £19.99 for the tasting – a bargain when compared to French champagne at 2 or 3 times the price.

I had a whale of a time for a few hours taking tasters through flights of Vondelingwines.  Now in its 17th year, Vondeling continues to delight with every vintage – meticulous investment from its owners who have even invested in their own botanist to geo tag and catalogue the endangered fynbos of their farm.  The flight of wines on the table was superb, with one of my standout favourites – perhaps due to the sunshine outside - being the Rosé (from Merlot) pale, dry hints of crushed red berried fruit, echoing more austere versions in Provence. Chilled right down, it is something that will go perfectly with charcuterie or perhaps some smoked salmon, cream cheese, sunshine and your back garden…  
I have found that SAFFA Sauvignon Blancis often green, grassy and citrusy.  Vondeling’s interpretation is threaded with balanced crisp, acidity with lovely tropical flavours of guava, melon and passion fruit. This is “just glorious” (in the words of one taster) and will tick boxes with lovers of Kiwi Sauvignon.
I dislike the term “food wine”, but the complexity in the blooming aromatic scents and flavours coming from a blend of Chenin, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc in Vondeling’s Babiana lend themselves to a pairing with a well roasted chicken, an Asian spiced pork dish or a bit of seafood.  Again – a sublime complexly layered wine to be savoured.
Standing behind a table pouring tasters gives you the opportunity to watch the expressions on people’s faces as they take a sip of what you’ve poured them, which often reveals more than the tasting notes that follow...  To a man and woman - Vondeling’s Bowwood Pinotage caused huge amounts of animation and exclamation, and within 15 minutes of me pulling the cork Debbie’s allocation had been sold. Not a typical Pinotage, and every part of it from vineyard to cellar has been immaculately hand crafted.  Riffs of its cross-pollinated heritage from the 1920’s emerge, tipping a hat to its botanical roots of Pinot Noir and Cinsault.  The nose has hints of something scrubby and herbaceous growing in hot sunshine, dark berried fruit edged with vanilla.  The palate bursts with long flavours of fine grained polished tannin with intense long cherry and plum flavours – an immaculate tripod of oak, alcohol and fruit.  Yes, it’s pricey at £36.50 a bottle.  But step back a moment and think about the cash you may drop on coffee, pastries, a bag of crisps, an indifferent bottle of supermarket wine or a packet of smokes each week. Pop a bit of this cash in a jam jar each week for a month or two and you’ve got your £36.50 to buy a bottle as a treat.  Well worth the discipline.  Pair it it with duck, pulled pork – and yes, that shoulder of lamb with pomegranate molasses come to mind again.  Or simply, your sofa and the company of one Very Good Friend, as you may not want to share it with many...  
Word has it that there may now be a few more bottles available. Go and get one!
 was tasked by a mate to pick a couple of cases of wine out of the list for him.  He gave me licence to spend his cash like a drunken sailor on shore leave in Marseilles…  However, he’s a fussy chap with a sharp critical palate, so my work is cut out.  He told me not to put in any Sauvignon Blanc “unless it is absolutely stellar – I don’t want to taste green peppers, cucumbers, granny smith apple and grass.”  I was going to pick the path of least resistance and avoid Sauvignon Blanc completely, and pick some Chenin, Chard and white blends for him. However, this was my plan before I tasted Oak Valley’s Fountain of Youth Sauv Blanc. For me it was the stand out white wine of the tasting, and I’m bunging three bottles in his selection.  This would be IT if I had to pick one desert island white wine from the tasting. 
Elegant fruity notes of passion fruit, ripe summer white peach from the Italian deli, and a hint of something herbaceous.  Never blousy, brash or cloying, beautifully elegantly balanced tropical flavours fan out across your palate.  Passion fruit, white pear, stone fruit edged with an echo of lemon rind and something slightly salty at the back of the palate, rooting it in the Elgin terroir of its origin.  Just stunning.  I could drink it by itself in the sunshine, or with a simple piece of grilled white fish. Salt. Pepper. Lemon. Dill. Butter. 
Buy a bottle now – hell – buy a case - it’s a bargain!  Oh, and it has 5 stars from Platter as well.  Of course it does...

Boschkloof’s Syrah remains one of my all-time favorite interpretations of the grape made in a Rhone style.  Dense, spicy, layered flavours of dark fruit (perhaps mulberry?) infused with violet and a thread of dark chocolate… Something to be sipped slowly in the company of an old friend or two, and it is the yin for the yang of a decent piece of meticulously grilled lamb shoulder infused with rosemary, lemon, garlic and pomegranate molasses…  Oh, and their Chardonnay is stunning as well… Lingering flavours of citrus, edged with hints of apricot and vanilla. Fabulous with a creamy pea and prawn risotto. 

I’m always amazed by the entrepreneurial spirit of people who start wine farms from scratch. No more so than Tim and Vaughn Pearson of Seven Springs Vineyards, who fell in love with the Cape, and bought some land outside Hermanus in 2007, planted vines and made wine. It all sounds very simple. But I’ve glossed over the 10 years of sweat and grind that it took to get to the point of producing some exceptional wines… Come to the next tasting, have a chat and hear their story. Imbibe the passion and love for Africa.  It’s fascinating stuff.  The terroir makes for the creation of beautiful wines. Their Pinot Noir – slightly chilled, was sublime offering glorious flavours of cut raspberry and a hint of light vanilla edged red cherry with a long savoury finish.  Would go perfectly with duck.  They’ll give you a recipe, if you ask nicely.

A SAFFA tasting for me is not complete without a taste of something from the Swartland, and two standout absolute gems for me were Annex Kloof’s Chenin Blanc – a medal splattered bottle, with flavours of pear and cut apple, easy to drink and beautifully balanced.  The second is Tulu - a Rhone styled blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Genache – savoury spiced, dark black fruit plum, and blackberry. Standing back from the crowd and sipping the Tulu meditatively (another 5 star not for spitting) I got chatting and comparing notes with a fellow taster also who had really enjoyed his day out.  He was singing the praises of the tasting and Cape Wine and Food as a local independent little landmark. He ended our conversation with the words “you know for a little shop, it sure makes a lot of noise in Staines…” I raised my glass in a toast “here, here. Absolutely, old chap.”
And long may the noise continue.