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News & Features  :  Tasting Highlights

12 Diverse Wines from South Africa

New reviews of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage and other affordable bottlings from South Africa

Posted: March 8, 2013  By James Molesworth

News & Features  :  News

Mandela Family Launches Line of Wines in United States

Newly introduced to America, House of Mandela wines will promote Fair Trade and worker education, health and empowerment

Posted: February 27, 2013  By Lizzie Munro, Dana Nigro

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Vins d'Orrance

Christophe Durand brings a French attitude to the Cape

Posted: February 25, 2013  By James Molesworth

It's summer in South Africa. I've got a tan and I'm in my element—kicking the dirt amidst the vines and talking to winemakers.

So how fitting is it that after nearly two weeks of of checking out bush vine Chenin Blanc and comparing granite and schist soils, my very last visit her would be to the most Francophile one of the lot, Vins d'Orrance. As I walked down into the dimly lit cellar at the Steenberg winery, a few bottles were standing up on the head of an upturned barrel. It was an SRO tasting, and one right out of any Rhône cellar that I've ever been in.

Opening the bottles was Christophe Durand, 45. Broad-shouldered, Normandy-born and English speaking with a distinct French accent, Durand arrived in South Africa in 1995 while selling Gillet and Darnajou barrels to the local market (his first client was the rugby player-turned-cult Pinot Noir producer Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof). It was here he met his wife, Sabrina, who is from Durban. Now married 10 years, they work together on Vins d'Orrance, which he started in 2000.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Buitenverwachting

Lars Maack's estate offers some of the Cape's best values in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

Posted: February 22, 2013  By James Molesworth

Located just next door to Klein Constantia is Buitenverwachting (bay-tun-veer-vak-ting). It's always been one of my favorite South African names, but alas, market pressures have forced them to change their label: Bayten will now be in large font on the labels in the U.S. market, with the winery's historical name shrunk to fine print. I say, "Boo." After so much time with the original label, I would have liked to see them stick it out and not worry about tongue-twisting their customers.

But at least the wine isn't changing. This is still one of the top Sauvignon Blanc producers on the Cape, along with excellent Chardonnay and a characterful Bordeaux blend. Lars Maack, 46, is the owner of this 370-acre property, which has an ample 260 acres of vines. For background, you can reference my notes from my 2007 visit here.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Klein Constantia

Klein Constantia, one of the Cape's most storied estates, is no stranger to change

Posted: February 21, 2013  By James Molesworth

Klein Constantia is one of the Cape's most historical wine estates. But if may be seeing more change now than it has in its entire history, which dates to its founding in 1685.

The Jooste family, which resurrected the estate in the 1980s, sold in 2011 to a pair of international businessmen, as well as a pair of Bordelais, Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and Bruno Prats, who folded their Anwilka joint venture into the new ownership structure.

Located in the verdant Cape Town suburb of Constantia, which gets considerable rainfall (63 inches annually) and has a lush appearance thanks in part to its many stately homes, Klein Constantia is a 370-acre estate with 200 acres currently under vine. The property produces primarily white wine and production now stands at 33,000 cases, with plans to eventually reach 60,000.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Sijnn

Out to the boonies to see David Trafford's Sijnn project in the remote Malgas Ward

Posted: February 20, 2013  By James Molesworth

The road up to David Trafford's place in Stellenbosch is an adventure. The road out to Sijnn, his second project, in Malgas, is something else entirely. It's a 2.5-hour drive from Walker Bay, with over 45 miles of gravel roads. The constant clanging and thumping of rocks underneath, along the side and occasionally off the windshield of the car drown out any music you might have on the radio.

But of course, it's worth it.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Ataraxia

Chardonnay is the main attraction at Ataraxia as owner and winemaker Kevin Grant awaits his Pinot Noir vineyards to mature

Posted: February 19, 2013  By James Molesworth

Continuing the family tree lineage from Hamilton Russell, winemaker and owner Kevin Grant started his own Ataraxia Mountain after leaving Hamilton Russell in 2004, following a 10-vintage run there. Located a 20-minute drive up the valley from HR, at the highest elevation in Hemel-en-Aarde (1,300 feet, versus 600 feet for Hamilton Russell), Ataraxia is located in the newly created Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward, a windy site with a convoluted mix of convex and concave hillsides, though the soils are very similar (clay/shale) to what's down below.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Hamilton Russell

Anthony Hamilton Russell and winemaker Hannes Storm specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but continue to experiment in their own backyard

Posted: February 14, 2013  By James Molesworth

Walker Bay wine history starts with Hamilton Russell, when Tim Hamilton Russell founded his winery in 1979. At that time, the wine industry was ruled by a quote system for production, and the early vintages of Hamilton Russell were made in a, shall we say, slightly clandestine manner, sourcing fruit from what are now the estate's vineyards, though at the time were not "legal."

Today the winery is one of the most recognized brands in the U.S. market, and rightfully so, as it has become the flag bearer for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from South Africa. Tim's son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, now runs the estate, zipping down from his house on his favorite motorcycle to the winery which sits at the bottom of the slope. In between are 160 acres of vines (the estate totals 420 acres) which often show the telltale band of red leaves along the base of the canopy that marks the leaf roll virus. The virus, which shortens a vine's lifespan and makes ripening difficult, is a fact of life on the farm, brought in with the original plantings. Hamilton Russell is constantly replanting and trying to stay ahead of the shorter life curve of his vineyard parcels.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Bouchard Finlayson

In the cooler climes of Walker Bay, Peter Finlayson makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Posted: February 13, 2013  By James Molesworth

After finishing up in the warm Swartland it was time to take in some ocean-fed breezes in one of South Africa's cooler wine regions, Walker Bay. Located less than two hours drive east from Cape town, along a beautiful coastal road and over a dramatic mountain pass, Walker Bay is the home of the Cape's best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers. Among them, is Bouchard Finlayson.

With his white beard and slow cadence, Peter Finlayson, 64, easily evokes the person of one of the Cape's elder statesmen. He earned his stripes at next door's Hamilton-Russell as that winery's first winemaker starting in 1979, at just 31 years of age and working alongside Tim Hamilton-Russell.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Fairview

Vintner Charles Back's Fairview and Spice Route operations set an example for the South African wine industry

Posted: February 12, 2013  By James Molesworth

A sit-down with Charles Back is like attending a State of the Wine Industry speech. Back, 57, is one of the South Africa wine industry's elder statesmen, though he still has plenty of pep in his step. He's one of its most respected leaders and one of its craftiest marketers as well. He combines quality in his Fairview wines with business smarts and a genial hands-on approach. Back has been and will continue to be critical to the success of South African wine.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Marc Kent

The Boekenhoutskloof winemaker has a new Syrah project in the Swartland's untamed Porseleinberg

Posted: February 11, 2013  By James Molesworth

On the surface, writing a blog about a winery that makes one wine should be easier than writing a blog about a winery that makes dozens. But for Marc Kent's latest project, it's not quite that simple. There's too much energy and passion going in to a remote, previously undeveloped spot to make this an easy report. I'm lucky to get to see places like this and kick the dirt or, in this case, kick the jagged chunks of blue schist, right at the beginning of a project and to try and convey what is going on here to you. Don't tell Marvin, but these are the ones I would do for free …

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Sadie Family

Eben Sadie marches to his own beat, and his new lineup of single-vineyard wines are each unique on the Cape

Posted: February 8, 2013  By James Molesworth

In the Swartland, a new brand of winemakers is shaking things up. At Sadie Family, Eben Sadie is one of the devoted winemakers rescuing abandoned old vineyards.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: A.A. Badenhorst Family

Adi Badenhorst has a boisterous, outsized personality, but his wines are elegant and refined

Posted: February 7, 2013  By James Molesworth

In the Swartland, a new brand of winemakers is shaking things up. At A.A. Badenhorst Family, Adi Badenhorst.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Mullineux

In the Swartland, a new brand of winemakers is shaking things up, including Chris and Andrea Mullineux

Posted: February 6, 2013  By James Molesworth

In the Swartland, a new brand of winemakers is shaking things up. The young husband-and-wife team of Chris, 36, and Andrea Mullineux, 33, already has a fair amount of experience—they worked at Tulbagh Mountains Vineyards, where I first met them during my visit here in 2007. The couple leases vineyards and purchases fruit, but does not yet own any vines. They work 26 parcels covering 47 acres and are focusing on Rhône varieties based on three main soil types: schist and granite similar to what you might see in Côte-Rôtie, along with the iron/clay soil in the area known as koffieklip.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Anthonij Rupert

Johann Rupert's renamed L'Ormarins estate is making world-class wine

Posted: February 5, 2013  By James Molesworth

Anthonij Rupert, owned by Johann Rupert, has gone into a hyperdrive pursuit of quality since 2005 when Rupert took over control of the estate following the death of his father, Anton. The estate has been renamed (from the original L'Ormarins) for Johann's brother, Anthonij, who died in 2001 and whose dream it was to see the Cape produce world-class wine.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Boekenhoutskloof

At Boekenhoutskloof in Franschoek, the most compelling wine comes from mutated 111-year-old Sémillon vines

Posted: February 4, 2013  By James Molesworth

Boekenhoutskloof, despite the tricky name, has become one of the most respected South African wineries in the U.S. Market. Owner Marc Kent is a Rhône lover, and his Syrah and other Rhône-style blends display a more Old World profile, while his Cabernet and Sémillon bottlings show how South Africa has an uncanny knack for both diversity and quality.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Ken Forrester

An afternoon tasting Cape Chenin Blancs and Rhône-style reds with the charming, bow-tied Ken Forrester

Posted: February 1, 2013  By James Molesworth

Ken Forrester is known for several things: bow ties, Chenin Blanc and a youthful passion for living hedonistically. Forrester, 55, is as affable as they come, and nothing gets his hearty laugh going going like a good bottle of wine, a good cigar and a few good jokes. The former restaurateur still has his hospitality skills from his early days, but he has added winemaking to his repertoire. His tireless work in the U.S. has been responsible for him building a 54,000-case operation, of which half goes to the U.S. market. And he seems to relish being one of the flag bearers for his country's still-developing wine industry.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: De Trafford

At the top of one of the Cape's most jarring roads lie some of its most compelling wines

Posted: January 31, 2013  By James Molesworth

The last time I visited David Trafford's place, my lower back took a week to loosen up after driving up the steep, bumpy road to his winery. I was secretly hoping it would be better-paved this time, but no such luck.

No matter. The incentive to meet and taste with David is more than enough to power through. I'm often asked what my favorite wines are, and I always say I can't play favorites, especially as a professional critic. What I put in print is what I stand behind. But let me make this clear if a decade's worth of reviews haven't made it clear enough already: David Trafford makes some of the most distinctive, compelling wine in South Africa. And his Syrah is one of my favorites.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Ernie Els Wines

Golfer Ernie Els' Stellenbosch operation is running smoothly on its own now under the day-to-day oversight of winemaker Louis Strydom

Posted: January 30, 2013  By James Molesworth

Just next door to Rust en Vrede is Ernie Els Wines, which carries the name of the internationally acclaimed professional golfer. While Els himself likes wine and puts his (slightly more than) 2 cents into the project, the day-to-day work falls to winemaker Louis Strydom.

Strydom was the winemaker at Rust en Vrede previously, and from 2000 through 2005 he worked at both wineries, which were coupled by Jean Englebrecht's helping Ernie Els break into the wine business and some shared fruit sources. But Els has developed and is maturing into its own stand-alone winery, and since 2006 has been running by itself. The 185-acre property now has 94 acres of vines with plans to plant up to 20 more acres.

Blogs  :  Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth

The South Africa Diary: Rust en Vrede

One of South Africa's top red wine estates is expanding its exciting lineup of Cabernets and Syrahs into more single-vineyard offerings

Posted: January 29, 2013  By James Molesworth

From the slopes of the Simonsberg, I swung around from Kanonkop to the other other side of Stellenbosch, up against the Helderberg, an equally dramatic mountain that provides part of the constantly jaw-dropping view around these parts.

At Rust en Vrede (for background, see my March 2007 blog entry from a visit here), decomposed granite from the Helderberg mixes with sandstone from Table Mountain to form a yellowish, fine-pebbled soil. With the site protected from the prevailing sea breeze, it's decidedly warmer than most, so red wines are all that are made here, with an emphasis on Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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