A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of taking the afternoon off from my day job and heading out to London’s Excel exhibition centre to attend the London International Wine Fair. If you’re thinking “big deal, we’ve been to the Robertson Roadshow, how mich bigger can it be?”, think again. Over 3 days there were 14,000 visitors who came to see 1,250 international exhibitors, each of which must have had on average 5 to 10 wines… It’s easy to see how things can go fairly drastically wrong! The show is a trade show and, as such, not open to the public but only to e.g. trade buyers, importers, retailers, off-license staff, hotel/catering buyers, agents and press. So of course I went as Press – my first press badge!
Once inside, it’s quite overwhelming and unless you have a plan you won’t get the most out of the day. I met up with my good friend Andrew (who had already spent the morning there) and he let me choose what we would be tasting. No prizes for guessing… I headed straight for the huge South African pavillion! After a rather disappointing start at Kleine Zalze, we moved on to two of the more impressive SA tastings I’ve had in years.
First up was probably my favourite estate in the country – Springfield. The estate is in the lovely Robertson valley and is owned by brother and sister team, winemaker Abrie and marketer Jeanette Bruwer (who was one of the people manning the Springfield stand when we visited). Abrie is known for being obsessed with terroir (the influence of the land where the grapes are grown on the wine) and his philophy is that “terroir is a gift from God inherited by our ancestors”. This means that the winemaking process is kept as direct and uncomplicated as possible so that the natural elements in the wine can speak for themselves, with the least possible human interference.
Whatever he is doing, let me tell you it works. We started with the 2007 Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc (classic cut grass and green pepper aromas on the nose; slight initial prickle on the tongue giving way to luscious guava flavours) before continuing on to 2007 Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc (less aggressively green on the nose; a balanced palate full of gooseberries & spiciness); 2007 Special Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc (also a slight prickle on the palate at first and less fruity than the other two, but far more complex and really delicious – my favourite white); Wild Yeast Chardonnay (a promising “cheesy” nose which I usually associate with French wines; but slightly flabby and too sweet for me on the palate); and the Methode Ancienne Chardonnay (a lovely golden colour but shy nose; beautifully balanced palate with both fruit and acid, creamy and mouth-filling with a very long finish).
From there we moved on to the reds, starting with the Firefinch Ripe Red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (lots of ripe red fruit and cherries on the palate, easy-drinking), 2003 Work of Time, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (jammy vanilla flavours on the nose; beautifully structured wine with restrained fruit and balanced tannins – delicious); 2006 Whole Berry Cabernet with natural yeast and unfined & unfiltered (deep ruby colour; on the palate, the first taste is… red grape juice! This is followed by more complex, smoky, jammy flavours balanced by remarkably soft tannins. My favourite red by a mile.); and the 2002 Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon (very deep garnet colour; very complex palate – oaky, tobacco flavours but also dark fruit jam and dried berries – delicious but never over the top or overblown).
From there we staggered across to the lovely ladies at Ses’fikile. Now I have to confess that I had never heard of them before, but that’s hardly surprising as the company was only founded in 2004, by which time I was living in London. As it turns out, manning the stall were two of the owners and two more charming and passionate people you could hardly hope to find. Ses’fikile, as they told me, means “we have arrived” in isiXhosa and it is an empowerment company in the very best sense of the word, owned and run by women and fully BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) compliant. The women in question are former schoolteachers who set about educating themselves in the wine industry and they have a strong partnership with winemaker Bruce Jack of Flagstone. It is, by all accounts, a winning partnership for all concerned, and Ses’fikile wines are available through Marks & Spencer in the UK.
We tasted the 2007 “Rain Song” Chenin Blanc (“cheesy”, musty cellar nose – smells like a French rather than a South African wine; uncomplicated palate with hints of stewed fruit – easy drinking); the unoaked 2007 “Folklore” Chardonnay (a musty cellar nose again; quite fruity, well balanced and very pleasant for an unoaked Chardonnay); the 2006 “Rain Song” Pinotage (great colour for a Pinotage; a big mouthful of sweet cherries and soft tannins – about as lovely and accessible as a Pinotage gets); the 2005 Folklore Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend (deep colour; luscious, intense blackberries with hints of vanilla & balanced tannins – absolutely delicious); and the 2004 Matriarch Shiraz reserve (intensely purple; “meaty”, savoury nose; very intense jammy plum pudding flavours, in fact verging on a good ruby port).
And the best part is that as we staggered off at the end of the day, Andrew (who has spent many years in the wine trade) confessed that he had been expecting overblown South African wines and general mediocrity… but had been floored by the high quality and restrained Old World style of the wines that he had tasted that afternoon.
Now that really rocks.
And while we’re all feeling warm and fuzzy, why not pop over to Can You Twist and read my short story – easiest if you click the “read this story from the beginning” link first. And if you like it… please register and vote for me!
- S.A. Wine – Diamonds in the Rough.
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- Nederburg Wins Again
- Graham Beck – proudly South African bubbly
- SA Cookbook wins food and wine Oscar
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