Tasting Notes from South Africa

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-27-2011

Glen Carlou, where I had some incredible Chardonnay.

As regular readers know, I recently returned from South Africa, where I spoke at the 37th Annual Nederburg Rare South African Wine Auction.

While there, I tasted hundreds of wines. Many were delicious — I had stunning examples of just about every varietal, and was extremely impressed with the nation’s top wines. The best reds bridged the differences between Old World wines and New World wines quite elegantly.

But while half the wines I had were somewhere between “really good” and “wow, this is excellent,” the other half had some predictable problems. Too many Cabernet Sauvignons (and Bordeaux-style blends) were under-ripe and over-oaked. Too many of the Sauvignon Blancs were excessively green – chock-full of over-the-hill asparagus and green peppers rather than grass, gooseberries, and passionfruit. (Of course, a random sampling of U.S. wines — especially big reds — would likely result in half being over-ripe and over-oaked.)

South Africa’s top wines are definitely worth seeking out. My impressions of the South African wine industry, overall, will be posted later today. In the meantime, notes on the wines I tasted formally are below the fold. Please note that these wines were tasted non-blind.

Just in case you’re wondering, I only tasted formally at five wineries. The All Stars among the wines I didn’t take formal notes on included Cape Point Vineyards (where the Sauvignon Blanc was stunning); Kleine Zalze Estate (home of an excellent barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc); Le Riche and Tokara (the source of the best Cabernet Sauvignons I tasted); and Nederburg (where the sweet wines were heavenly).

Glen Carlou

  • 2011 Glen Carlou Chardonnay Unwooded – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    On the nose, in-your-face, ripe lemons and lemon zest. On the palate, vibrant acidity – and a creamier mouth-feel than one would expect. (This was fermented in a concrete egg, so the creaminess is likely the result of lots of interaction with the lees.) Very enjoyable, if a bit simple. (86 pts.)
  • 2010 Glen Carlou Chardonnay – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    On the nose, lemon curd, some light oak, vanilla, and gala (not green!) apple. Very light-bodied and perfectly balanced. For consumers looking a real Chardonnay (i.e., aged in oak, malolactic fermentation, etc.) this is delightful. (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Glen Carlou Chardonnay Quartz Stone – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    This wine smells serious. Like the previous two Chardonnays, lots of fresh lemons – but they’re fuller and darker. Underneath all the lemons, there’s some toast, smokiness, and vanilla. The wine has an energetic acidity. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Glen Carlou Chardonnay Quartz Stone – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    Again, a very serious wine. The nose is excellent and tremendously complex. Lots and lots of fresh lemon – but creamier, even on the nose. Lemon pulp, lemon rind, lots and lots of lemon curd, some fresh lime juice, some pink grapefruit, and some lees. Again, an energetic acidity – the mouth-feel of this wine is comparable to Newman’s Own lemonade. A stunning wine. (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Glen Carlou Grand Classique – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    The nose is quite complex and seductive – lots of big black fruits, with some herbaceousness. On top, lots of blackberry, some black currant, some fresh-out-of-the-oven cooked blackberries and blueberries, and bacon (!). Underneath that, a hint of green pepper, some woody eucalyptus, and smoked cedar. Huge, huge tannins that just barely outlast the fruit. The herbaceousness, unfortunately, is a bit too much for me. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Glen Carlou Grand Classique – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    This wine jumps out of the glass as ripe, delicious, and fresh. It’s just incredibly aromatic. Blueberries, blackberries, vanilla bean ice cream (think dessert, but tastier). On the palate, big-but-purposeful tannins, extremely long finish. A very well structured wine. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Glen Carlou Cabernet Sauvignon Gravel Quarry – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    Again, an extremely aromatic wine. Black currant meets spicy oak and cigar box, with some green pepper and bitter chocolate.(88 pts.)
  • 2008 Glen Carlou Cabernet Sauvignon Gravel Quarry – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    Huge, ripe, and incredibly appealing. Nose of blackberries, black currant, melted dark chocolate, and dark, fresh cherries. Tastes as delicious as it sounds. (91 pts.)
  • 2010 Glen Carlou Pinot Noir – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl (9/14/2011)
    A ripe-but-not-too ripe, warm-climate Pinot, that’s unfortunately lacking in varietal focus. Smokiness. Dark, dark cheery. Raspberry. Nice savory notes. (87 pts.)

La Motte

  • 2001 La Motte Millennium – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl, Franschhoek Valley (9/14/2011)
    While this wine is a full ten years old, it actually smells a tad more advanced than it should. Aged characteristics come screaming out of the glass – caramel, crème brulee, and vanilla extract. The fruits are underneath – cherry compote and cherry tobacco, some boysenberry, prunes, and a lovely hint of violets. Tannin, acid, and fruit are all in harmony — this would be a great food wine. (90 pts.)
  • 2004 La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon – South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl, Franschhoek Valley (9/14/2011)
    On the nose, black currant, blackberry jam, some fresh green pepper, some sage, and a scary oak monster. A ripe, full mouth-feel – with a disappointingly short finish. (86 pts.)
  • 2005 La Motte Shiraz – South Africa, Western Cape (9/14/2011)
    The nose on this wine is lovely – ripe raspberries and blueberries, huge, rich blackberries, white pepper and chocolate. The palate is fresh and quite concentrated, but wonderfully juicy and elegant. Could pass for an extremely expensive, well-crafted Hermitage. (91 pts.)
  • 2005 La Motte Hanneli R – South Africa, Western Cape (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 53% Shiraz, 29% Grenache, 8% Cinsault, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon that spent 30 months in 100% new oak, this wine is dominated by red fruits and incredibly delicate. It smells and tastes like it was handled like Pinot – extremely delicate and feminine, with a hint of spiciness and white pepper. The wine is fresh and lively on the palate. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 La Motte Hanneli R – South Africa, Western Cape (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 80% Shiraz, with the rest split between Grenache and Moudevre, that spent a whopping 45 months in new oak, this wine smells rich. Ripe blackberries, vanilla bean ice cream, fresh wild herbs, and rich, dark soil. A firm, well-structured wine with incredible texture and a finish to match. (92 pts.)

Graham Beck

  • 2009 Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc Pheasants Run – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    This wine smells like Fenway Park, because the green monster is huge – grass clippings, jalapeno peppers, asparagus, and a hint of elderwood. Too green for my palate, but the texture and acidity are quite lovely. (85 pts.)
  • 2011 Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc Pheasants Run – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    Fresh grass, sugar snap peas, pineapple and other tropical fruits, and some minerality. A delightful Sauvignon Blanc – quite refreshing; it’d make for a fun summer quaffer. (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Graham Beck Chenin Blanc Bowed Head – South Africa, Western Cape (9/14/2011)
    As soon as this wine is poured, it smells rich, fresh, and ripe. Ripe pineapple, fresh-from-the-tree peaches, honeysuckle, and some lemon rind, all with a trace of green notes and a trace of botrytis, in equal proportion. Deliciously mouth-watering on the palate. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Graham Beck Cabernet Sauvignon The Coffeestone – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    Old World meets New World. Ripe black currants and blackberries mixed with tobacco, green pepper, smoky oak, and a hint of lavender. On the palate, a well-structured wine with soft tannins. Would do quite well at the dinner table. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Graham Beck The Joshua – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 95% Shiraz and 5% Viognier, the wine smells super ripe (it’s right at the edge) and a bit alcoholic. Blackberry, plums, prunes, sirloin, and a delightful hint of black pepper. Not terribly complex, but quite drinkable for a borderline huge Shiraz. (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Graham Beck Syrah The Ridge – South Africa, Breede River Valley, Robertson (9/14/2011)
    Extremely hard to get past the malo – the opening notes suggest a diacetyl mess, with lots and lots of burnt butter. Underneath the butter, some plum, prune, and even a hint of white pepper are trying their best to compete. Disappointing. (80 pts.)

Fleur du Cap

  • 2007 Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Unfiltered – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    Too green, but so pure and laser-focused that it makes for a fun wine. Fresh, crispy green pepper, farmer’s market asparagus, creamy lees. Full and mouth-coating, with a zippy acidity. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Fleur du Cap Chardonnay Unfiltered – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    New world in style, but quite elegant. Butter is the first smell, but underneath the butter is some lemon, lemon curd, orange blossom, apricot jam, and spiced oak. On the palate, a great minerality shines through. (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered Stellenbosch – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    Despite its age, the wine is young and tight. Black currant and blackberry, smoky oak, and chocolate. Firm and structured, with huge tannins that last just a bit longer than the fruit. Should improve for quite some time. (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc Unfiltered – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    The wine smells like an early spring day after several hours in the yard – fresh cut grass, hedge trimming (seriously!), lavender, roses, and gooseberries. On the palate, juicy and delicious. (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon Laszlo – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 18% Shiraz, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec that spent 28 months in 100% new French oak, this wine would make every fan of way-too-expensive Napa cabs salivate. A delicious nose of blackberry, dark cherries, pie crust, dark chocolate, cooked raspberries, and rosemary, the wine is incredibly rich and concentrated on the palate. It’s well-structured, with gigantic tannins and huge acidity that is balanced by an endless amount of fruit. (95 pts.)

Le Bonheur

  • 2010 Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc Estate Wine – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch(9/14/2011)
    A very floral, green Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh grass, green pepper, and asparagus, with some blossoming white flowers and orange blossom. Ripe and weighty on the front end of the palate, followed by lots of acidity. The finish, unfortunately, is short, quick, and a little bitter. (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc Estate Wine – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch(9/14/2011)
    Lighter and fruitier than the 2010 — white flowers, gooseberries, some tropical fruits, and fresh cut grass. As a summer quaffer, fantastic. (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Le Bonheur Rosé of Pinot Noir – South Africa, Coastal Region (9/14/2011)
    Wow – a beautiful, beautiful nose. Fresh honeydew melons, kiwis, strawberries, underripe rasberries, and cranberries. On the palate, some almond milk and a full, juicy mouthfeel. Excellent. (92 pts.)
  • 2010 Le Bonheur Chardonnay – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    40% of this wine was fermented in new French oak – the rest was fermented in tank. The wine didn’t see any malolactic fermentation. The nose is fresh and beautiful — lemon rind, lemon curd, sweet lime juice. A surprisingly short finish, but otherwise, a delight. (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Le Bonheur Prima – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 68% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon the wine opens with perfectly ripe blackberries and dark cherries, with elements of cocoa dust, spicy oak, sneaking through. Soft tannins, nice finish. An extremely elegant wine.(90 pts.)
  • 2009 Le Bonheur Prima – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    A blend of 68% Merlot, 22%Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine is a bit darker than the 2008 – lots of blackberries, plums, and dark chocolate. On the palate, a bit dusty – and not as sweet as the nose suggest. A great “Old World meets New World” red blend. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Le Bonheur Cabernet Sauvignon – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    On the nose, black currant, prunes, underripe blackberries, coffee, and some oak. The palate is better than the nose – as it’s remarkably sweet, soft, ripe. (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Le Bonheur Cabernet Sauvignon – South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch (9/14/2011)
    This wine would pair perfectly with a s’more – as it smells like chocolate covered blackberries served with plums and graham cracker. The palate is similar to the other Le Bonheurs — sweet, soft, ripe. An elegant, despite all the big dark fruits. Fantastic.(92 pts.)

Comments (1)

  1. Hi David

    Nice article!

    You should have come tasted on other farms in the region. When you’re in South Africa again, let me know!

    Keep it up.