Category Archives: South Africa

Meerlust Estate 2013 Pinot Noir

Wine of Origin Stellenbosch, South Africa; 13.0% ABV
imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, Inc., Oakland, CA
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 May

I don’t recall previously tasting a South African Pinot Noir.  However, I have liked the more savory, rusty earth flavors in other SA reds, and they seemed like they might be good in a Pinot, so…

At first pour, the wine seemed mildly promising: light, delicate, restrained, and acid, in a more “Old World” style.  However, when it finally aired after about 2.5 hours in a decanter, I was not sure where to put it in the New / Old spectrum, and I was pretty impressed.  The wine tasted of soft and ripe dark red cherry, lighter red tart cherry, orange / dried orange peel leading to earthy root beer, a tinge of nutmeg / cinnamon, and nice Pinot funk.  With a little more air, some of the cherry darkens to black cherry and other black fruit.  Unfortunately, fairly soon after fully airing, the last bit of the wine seemed like it started shutting down, indicating to me that this wine would be better with more age.

The saved screw-capped bottle of this wine was more immediately accessible, with similar flavors, although the fruit never fully came out the way it did the first night, at least during the 1 or maybe 2 hours I drank it.  It was also more fully integrated and elegant.  While it’s not the Bailiwick Pinots (c’mon, what is?), I think this is very nice and interesting Pinot for the money.  It’s fine to drink now with enough air, or the next day, but would probably benefit from 2 or 3 more years of age.  I’ll probably get a few more bottles to do just that.

Flagstone 2012 “Noon Gun” white blend

43% Chenin Blanc, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Viognier, 1% Nouvelle; 13.0% ABV
Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
imported by Accolade Wines North America, Napa, CA
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store.  Still there.

This wine has interested me since it arrived a while ago, especially after the Rustenburg white was pretty tasty, but I am getting to it only now.  It’s also quite good.

It has a pleasant nose of yellow peach / pear and white pear / melon.  On the palate, the wine shows these flavors with some yellow and white floral character, some less ripe green lime, bitterness of citrus pith and grape skin that is close to a light minerality.  Anyway, if you liked the Rustenberg white, you’ll probably like this one, too.  For me, it’s a Thumbs Up.

My hesitation about this wine was that it would be too old.  The first day, I thought it was not showing its age at all, but the second day, it did show a tinge of oxidation.  Otherwise, however, it was still quite tasty the second day, with more forward yellow tropical fruit, still balanced with the same minerality and bitterness.

About the grape Nouvelle, this site had this to say:

Nouvelle – This grape, a crossing of Semillon and Crouchen Blanc (better known as Cape Riesling), was developed in South Africa by Professor CJ Orffer of Stellenbosch University. While plantings remain tiny they are increasing, mainly for inclusion in blends. It produces wines with a strong grassy, green peppery character.

The next day…

Rustenberg 2014 Sauvignon Blanc blend

58% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Chardonnay, 9% Viognier; 13% ABV
Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
$4 at the Richmond, Ca, store.  Gone now.

rustenberg_2014_whiteblendSorry to take a while getting to this; it was one of a couple white wines sitting in my fridge while I got over my cold.  Anyway, I think this is a nice wine for the money if any of it is still around.

I was intrigued by the blend, because I have noticed yellow tropical fruit flavors in SA SB that I haven’t in SB from anywhere else, and I thought the blend with Chardonnay and especially Viognier could be very nice.  The wine was indeed quite well made.  The nose showed yellow melon / apple, less ripe green melon, and some light yellow peach / apricot.  The palate is clean, gently crisp, and slightly minerally, with the ripe fruit flavors on the nose plus slight tropical fruit (mostly golden kiwi), balanced by some bitterness of citrus pith and grape skin.  The blend is seamless, although to me the wine is a bit intellectual rather than yummy.

The next day, however, the wine is definitely also yummy, with the sweetly ripe fruit coming forward over the bitterness, still elegantly blended and reasonably structured.

Eighth Wonder 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cape Cauldron, Stellenbosch, South Africa; 14.0% ABV
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store

eighthwonder_2012_cabernetThere was an Eighth Wonder Chardonnay that didn’t sell very well, but this Cabernet looked like it could be pretty good.  It might be, but I can’t tell yet.

On the first night, I felt this wine never really opened up.  While it showed promising flavors of earthy bing cherry, plum / blackberry, typical SA savory flavors (bay leaf, rust / dried orange peel), the fruit never really came forward, and it stayed rather closed and cranberry / plum acid.  It seemed like there was a bit packed in that that was not coming out, so I am hopeful about the saved bottle.

However, the saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle of this wine, while still tasting like good Cabernet — ripe and tart earthy bing cherry, maybe a little green bell pepper — still did not really open up.  So, while this seems like pretty good Cabernet for the money, I’m guessing it still needs a bit more age for me to really appreciate it.  Folks who like more reserved and tannic wines might like it now.

Graham Beck 2011 Rhona Muscadel sweet dessert wine

made from Muscat de Frontignan and named for the proprietor’s wife
produced and bottled by Graham Beck Wines, Robertson, South Africa; 16.5% ABV
$6 for 500ml at the Richmond, CA, store on 15 July.  We got only 12 bottles.

GrahamBeck_2011_RhonaMuscadelI was very excited when I saw these bottles, as it’s quite rare that the GO gets a dessert wine.  However, it’s not a typical dessert wine, in that it’s fermented on the skins for a while and then fortified (video).  While it’s not as exciting as its lovely appearance, it is a pretty tasty sweet wine for the price.

Like a couple ports I’ve reviewed here, this wine’s flavors (and acid) came out more after it had been open a few days.  (I took only small pours each day.)  Now, the wine shows flavors of golden grape / raisin, apricot, hints of orange peel, balancing acid, and an edge of caramel / roasted nut on the finish.  I couldn’t taste any Botrytis, but it bears enough of a resemblance to my memory of Tokaji to be entertaining.

Amy 2015 Sauvignon Blanc

Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa; 13% ABV
$5 or $6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 1 April

Amy_2015_SauvBlancI got this after liking the Amy 2014 Merlot, and thinking that the description on the back of that bottle was pretty accurate.  The back-label description on this bottle sounded good, too, so I got one.  This wine is indeed pretty good, and its back-label description is also mostly accurate.

This wine tasted of tropical yellow fruit, yellow and white melon, and gooseberry, balanced by minerality, acid that is slightly lemony, and a little grapeskin bitterness.  Especially a little warmed from fridge temperature, this wine was very tasty and easy to drink.

The next day, the rest left in the bottle was more forward and integrated, but otherwise much the same.

Amy 2014 Merlot

Stellenbosch, South Africa; 13.5% ABV
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 March

Amy_2014_MerlotAlthough I’m not much of a Merlot drinker, the description on the back label sounded pretty good, so I got a bottle during the sale.

I felt this wine needed 1.5 – 2 hours’ air to show dark red cherry, blackberry, red / purple plum, rusty earth, green bell pepper, and black pepper, with a drying, tannic finish.  The fruit has some soft ripeness to it, but there is also plenty of tangy acid.  The wine seems a little young, but is otherwise nicely elegant and well-made.  Fans of the savory style of South African wines should find a lot to like here, especially if you are more of a Merlot drinker.

The saved single-glass, screwcap bottle of this wine was really good.  The flavors overall are much the same, but more forward and better integrated, and the savory, rusty earth quality had a smokiness that’s delicious.  The finish is still a bit tannic.  In light of this second-day performance, you don’t even need to be much of a Merlot drinker to like this wine.

Lion’s Lair Dreyer Family 2012 Family Reserve White

South Africa
50% Chenin Blanc, 13% Roussanne, 13% Grenache Blanc, 12% Clairette Blanche, 12% Verdelho; 12.5% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 21 December

LionsLair_2012_ResWhiteThe front label of this wine struck me as dull enough, but I was really excited by the blend listed on the back label.  However, a regular customer told me that he hadn’t liked it because it was too sour.  It was with his comment in mind that I opened it to cook with last night.  Although the fruit is nicely ripe (lemon, yellow pear and melon) and blended, it is also rather sour, with a taste tending toward spoiled.  I was considering Thumbs Down.

Today, the fruit is a little more forward and that almost-spoiled character has subsided somewhat, so that it’s actually reasonably tasty, if still on the sour side.  I guess it’s okay, but not really for me.

There’s an accompanying Lion’s Lair red, blended in a southern Rhone style.  If anyone’s tried it, please let us know what you thought about it.

Marvelous 2011 Rhone-style red

Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
83% Syrah, 9% Grenache, 5% Viognier, 3% Mourvèdre; 14.5% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store in the last week or so

Marvelous_2011_RhoneBlendAt opening, this wine showed quite simple, light red cherry fruit with a little sweetness of oak.  After 1.5 – 2 hours in a decanter, the fruit darkens and becomes more complex, becoming dominated by flavors of boysenberry / blackberry, less ripe blueberry, and black earth / pepper, still in a lighter body, and still with the artificial-tasting sweetness of cheap oak flavor.  (I think what I have been objecting to as “American Oak” is actually wood chips thrown into the wine or something called liquid oak extract.)  The wine is yummy enough for easy drinking, but I wasn’t that fond of it.

The saved, single-glass, screwcap bottle was smoother richer, more integrated, but otherwise about the same.

Fable 2010 “Jackal Bird” white blend

54% Chenin Blanc, 17% Roussanne, 13% Grenache Blanc, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier, 1% Clairette Blanc; 14.0% ABV
Wine of Origin Western Cape, South Africa
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 17 Sept

JackalBird_2010_FableThe blend in this wine looked very interesting and the low price sealed the deal.  It is indeed very good!

At first opening, the wine is a bit tightly wound, showing very elegant yellow and white fruit embedded in a minerally structure.  However, after a little bit being open, and especially as it warms from fridge temperature, the fruit comes out into a very nice blend showing flavors of yellow apple and melon, a little lemon, a little tropical yellow fruit (golden kiwi?), white melon / maybe pear, with a minerally finish.  It was at times a little disjoint, but it seems substantial enough that it might be better the next day.

That’s indeed the case, as the wine is much better integrated and more overtly delicious the second day, with the flavors very much the same and still showing some minerality on the finish.  Overall, a big Thumbs Up for this one.