March was an extremely busy month for us here at Philglas & Swiggot with the 100 Best Australian Wines Roadshow event hosted by Matthew Jukes, our very popular monthly Steak & Red Wine Club dinner, the last in our winter Intro To Wine series as well as private tasting events. I did however manage to slip away to South Africa for a week, primarily to sit on the selection panel at the prestigious Nederburg Auction but also to visit some of our South African producers.
The Nederburg Auction panel brings together eight local and international wine experts to judge the wines put forward for the Auction in September. These include many older wines from the 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s with a rare bottle of 1800 Muscadel a real highlight. Harvest season is a great time in South Africa, the weather is ideal, the new vintage wines still fermenting in tank and barrel, and winemakers are happy to talk about their current vintage wines and those which are due to be released in the coming year.
South African wine is definitely on a roll at the moment with so many new producers making great and interesting wines from old classic European style blends through to completely unique wines based around old vine Chenin Blanc and Cinsault. Traditional producers are lifting their efforts and making better wines too, creating a tremendous sense of excitement and diversity about the wines of South Africa.
A short road trip followed to the stunning Penhill Manor in the Nuy Valley to Conradie Penhill Artisanal Wines. I had the opportunity to taste the 2016 whites in tank as well as the reds still maturing in oak with winemaker CP Conradie. The white wines in 2016 are richer than they were in 2015, no doubt as a result of the very hot summer conditions leading up to harvest. The 2015 reds were looking good, softer than previous vintages. These are traditional, full-bodied wines well suited to oak ageing.
A visit to Klein Constantia Estate followed with a fantastic tasting hosted by chief winemaker Matt Day. Held in the vineyard at the top of the estate, Matt led us through a horizontal tasting of the 2015 Sauvignon Blancs and the 2012 Vin de Constance while the local vineyard workers kept a large troop of baboons at bay who were most interested in our lunch. Keep an eye out for a fantastic feature on Klein Constantia on ITV's forthcoming wine show airing in April starring Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode.
The wines were looking fantastic with a number of exciting stand outs including:
• Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc – The joint-venture wine with Pascal Jolivet in Sancerre. Incredibly silky and textured following 12 months on lees. Touch of reduction with fresh garlic flower, mint and sage but great spiciness and length. Beautiful.
• Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2012 – The best young Vin de Constance I have tasted. This is Matt’s first VdC to which he can claim complete ownership. The colour is glowing green/gold and full of life, notable for the absence of the amber and garnet edges more typical in young VdC. The palate is creamy and powerful, laden with floral characters, elderberry and peach and it has prodigious length. This is the most complete and wonderfully balanced Vin de Constance I've tasted, a truly great wine and we are looking forward to the release in April.
If you're ever in South Africa you must visit the Klein Constantia estate, one of the Cape's many beautiful properties. Look out for the cellar door only Single Block and Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blancs.
During the week I visited Peter Walser of Blank Bottle in Somerset West. Peter makes a host of wines and we have sold his Professor Kukorowitz, 15+1 and Moment of Silence wines. He's making some of the most interesting wines in the Cape - keep an eye out this year for his fascinating dual release of Limbic and Frontal Orbital Cortex.
Good friend Richard Kershaw MW of Kershaw Wines is making, in my opinion, the best South African Chardonnay in Elgin. It's complex, layered and powerful and balances the richness of California against the mineral elegance of Australia.
I checked out Restless River in the Hemel-en-Arde, where Craig and Anne Wessels make a very stylish and elegant Chardonnay and a textbook Cabernet with superb balance. I'm looking forward to getting the latter wine into our stores.
Keermont in Stellenbosch (based in the gorgeous and slightly cooler Heldeburg valley) are making some fabulous wines too and we are fortunate to have their single vineyard Chenin Blanc on our shelves. Its depth and power is a wonderful contrast to the early picked wines coming out of Swartland and elsewhere.
I rounded off my trip with a terrific end-of-harvest party at one of South Africa’s most exciting wine producers – and one of Philglas & Swiggot’s favourite winemakers - A.A. Badenhorst. Set in a stunning eucalyptus forest on the Badenhorst estate in the company of dynamic winemakers - including Adi Badenhorst, Eben Sadie, Andrea and Chris Mullineux - we were treated to lamb on the spit, free-flowing Badenhorst wines and the delicious Caperitif (and gin from a golden cherub fountain!) as the sun set over the Swartland landscape. Not even the generator catching fire could dampen the celebratory spirit of another harvest done and dusted. Brilliant stuff!