SOUTH AFRICA‘s new wave of WINEMAKERS are creating new flavours and fascinating blends that impress MARY DOWEY …
Innovative winemakers are a bit like surfers. When conditions are flat calm they’re nowhere to be seen. Then come ripples building into breakers and before you know it, a massive wave is being ridden so skilfully by a bunch of daredevils that it takes your breath away. That’s the state of play in South African wine right now.
“This new movement has been steadily gaining momentum for the past six or seven years”, says Dr Éilís Cryan whose Galway-based company Kinnegar Wines has become Ireland’s leading importer of the Cape’s best bottles. “It’s incredibly exciting”.
The young guns have changed the focus and flavour of South African wine. Whereas traditionally the industry developed around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, they first seized on Swartland, a hot region to the north associated mainly with bulk wine, to show what they could do. A 2010 symposium, “The Swartland Revolution”, generated so much enthusiasm that before long young winemakers from other parts of the Cape were joining in.
Rather than work with the popular international varieties that have dominated South African production – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot – they experiment with less familiar material, often concocting fascinating blends. Semillon, Muscat, Roussanne and Viognier are favoured white grapes alongside the Cape’s undervalued glory, Chenin Blanc. Newly appreciated red grapes include Cinsault, Grenache, Tinta Barroca and Mourvèdre while interest is maintained in more widely planted Syrah and South Africa’s longstanding red speciality, Pinotage.
Who are these mavericks? Too numerous now to list in full but there’s no doubt winemakers like Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, Chris Alheit and Chris and Andrea Mullineux have been particularly influential. Rosa Kruger, a viticulturalist travelling around the Cape to seek out abandoned vineyards whose old vines yield magnificently concentrated flavours is also a key figure in South Africa’s new wave.
“The newcomers are well educated, widely travelled and open-minded,” says Éilís Cryan. “Some have been mentored by top winemakers while working in established estates where they’ve been allowed to run their own small projects as a sideline until they’re ready to set up on their own”. Most don’t own any vineyards, preferring to source high-quality grapes from the best terroirs. They work on a small scale in a low-tech way, often following organic or biodynamic practices and intervening minimally in the vinification process.
This hotbed of innovation has produced heaps of individualistic wines, infinitely more memorable than most of the South African offerings on supermarket shelves. They’re more expensive, admittedly, but then quality rarely comes cheap. Look out for them in the best specialist wine shops as well as many leading restaurants including Chapter One, Patrick Guilbaud, Forest Avenue and Ely wine bars.
One last thing. The Greatest Cape, a revelatory tasting which brought half a dozen trailblazers to Dublin last September, is due to return later this year. Catch it if you can.
3 Of The Best
AA Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc, Swartland 2015. From a Swartland pioneer, this well-priced white has fresh pear flavours and a creamy texture. Delicious with light, fruity first courses. Alcohol 13.5%. From www.jnwine.com; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Whelehans, Loughlinstown; 64 Wines, Glasthule; Dicey Reillys, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, about €15.
Botanica Chenin Blanc, Citrusdal Mountain 2013. Ginny Povall’s stylish Chenin was among my favourites at the Greatest Cape tasting – layered, rich and poised. Enjoy it with pork roast with pears or a pumpkin risotto. Alcohol 14%. From www.mitchellandson.com & Mitchell & Son CHQ, Dublin 1, Glasthule & Avoca; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Redmonds, Dublin 6; www.kinnegar.com, €29.90.
Tim Martin Hitch Mourvèdre, Swartland 2015. Ex-financier Tim Martin, one of the Cape’s newest stars, is already brilliantly accomplished. Deep in colour, flavour and concentration, seductive Hitch will shine with a hearty stew. Alcohol 13.5%. From www.wineonline.ie; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Baggot St Wines, Dublin 4; Green Man, Dublin 6, €29.99.
MARY DOWEY @MaryDowey
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday April 6.
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