Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stark-Condé Winery: An Essential Stellenbosch Experience

The view from outside the Stark-Conde tasting room is one to behold.
When I was planning my trip to Stellenbosch, South Africa, Stark-Condé winery was on the top of my list. I’ve enjoyed a few of their wines in the past, and knew of their outstanding reputation. But visiting in person was far better than I could’ve imagined.

Located in the Jonkershoek Valley, a more highly elevated area of the larger Stellenbosch region, Stark-Condé is one of the most stunning and awe-inspiring wineries I’ve visited. Period.

When I arrived in late May, near the start of the South African winter, the area was a few degrees cooler than Stellenbosch central, and a heavy fog lingered. The views of the surrounding mountainous are epic. The tasting room is located on a small island gazebo in the middle of a pond, surrounded by weeping willows and squawking ducks. There’s something serene about tasting wine in this location.  
Beneath those willows on the left lies the tasting room. What a spot!
Winemaker Jose Condé casts quite a wide net with the varieties he vinifies and the different wines he produces. But Stark-Condé is best known for their Bordeaux varieties. Unfortunately, I didn’t taste any of the higher-end Three Pines series, but I was still impressed with the rest of the lineup.
If you’re visiting Stellenbosch, I dare say a stop at this winery is an absolute necessity. Here are my notes on the wines I tasted.

2013 Stark-Condé The Field Blend - South Africa, Coastal Region
Love the lemon, honeysuckle and potpourri nose. Zippy and tangy on the palate with lemon, pineapple and quince. I get some creamy notes, but this is a mineral- and flower-driven wine. Lots of stuff going on here. A unique and exciting blend of 44% Roussanne, 41% Chenin Blanc, 8% Viognier, 7% Verdelho, all co-feremented, 60% in tank, 40% in oak barrels, 10% new. (88 points)

2012 Stark-Condé Pinot Noir Pepin Condé Rowey Vineyards - South Africa, Overberg, Elgin
Cool berries and roses on the nose. High acid, fine tannins, crisp red berry fruit. Cool, soft, with floral, earth, cedar, spice, tobacco and oregano. Complex, elegant, beautiful, drinking well now but could age. (91 points)

2012 Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Violets and cedar accent the cranberry and blackberry aromas. Full and grippy on the palate with medium acid. Young but beautiful, with notes of olive, dark earth, smoke and violets. This could open up wonderfully in the cellar. Aged in 25% new oak, includes a bit of Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cab Franc. (90 points)

2013 Stark-Condé Petite Sirah - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Bold, tannic, brooding, with blueberry, cedar, charcoal and sweet barbecue sauce flavors. Could use three to five years unless you want a kick in the teeth, which is sometimes fun. (86 points)

2011 Stark-Condé Syrah Unfined and Unfiltered - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Elegant aromas of plum, soil and violets. Silky and pure on the palate with fresh acid and fine tannins. Fresh plums and blackberries mix with loam, smoke, pepper and black olive notes. Could develop in the cellar over the next few years, and hold for more, but it’s drinking quite well now. Aged 22 months in 25% new French oak. (90 points)

2012 Stark-Condé Lingen Vineyard - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek Valley
Dark purple colored. Earthy, soil, spice, cedar and moch notes on top of deep black cherries. Bold and tannic, but the waves of pure blackberry fruit roll in. Notes of plum cake, pepper, cedar, anise and cola add all sorts of complexity. A beauty, but deserves some time in the cellar. A blend of Cabernet, Petite Verdot, Syrah and Petite Sirah. (91 points)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tasting Report: California Pinot Noir (2012 & 2011)

Growers and winemakers from all over California have praised the quality of the 2012 vintage, and for good reason. Sure there were regional differences, and the wines in this report cover a wide area of diverse vineyards, but lovers of California Pinot Noir have good reason to be excited about the 2012s.

The best offer lots of structure and ripe fruit but also clean acid. A return to normalcy perhaps, after the cold and wet 2011 vintage, the weather was warm and steady in 2012, leading to healthy crop sizes and evenly ripened fruit. The Wine Institute estimates the state’s 2012 wine grape crop at 3.7 million tons, an increase of about 400,000 tons compared to 2011.

Some 2011s found their way into this report, and they take a lighter, tangier approach, which I actually enjoy quite a bit. But, broadly speaking, it looks like buying and burying some 2012 California Pinots is a solid move. (The 2012 Chardonnays are equally impressive.)

All these wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Alta Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $48
A light cranberry color. Complex and evolving aromas of wild cherries, spiced cranberry sauce, black pepper and pickled beet, which combine to form an aromatic orgasm. Tangy acid and fine tannins frame the cranberry and strawberry fruit. I love the fresh and brisk approach of this wine, not to mention the cracked pepper, beef broth and pickle flavors. Juicy, but so tangy, with lots of secondary flavors that I think could develop well over the next two to four years. Wow. This is so complex and unique, packed with flavor but still so elegant. One of the most contemplative and intriguing California Pinots I’ve had in while. (93 points)

2011 Alta Maria Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $28
Soft ruby-raspberry color. Beautiful, intriguing aromas of sour cherries, roses, rhubarb and white pepper. Firm but fresh on the palate, full of tangy red fruit (raspberries, wild strawberries, red currants), but there’s also a lot of spice, tobacco and white pepper elements, some spearmint and subtle vanilla in there. Its tangy elegance belies its structure. Beautiful. (91 points)

2012 Longoria Pinot Noir “Lovely Rita” Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $32
A vibrant cherry-ruby color in the glass. Aromas of red currants and black cherries, dried rose petals, some roasted coffee notes, a hint of smoky tobacco. Such a vibrant wine on the palate, with tingly acid and grippy tannins. The fruit is tangy and bright (red currants, wild strawberries, some fleshy black cherries), and it’s backed up by a complex mix of coffee, cedar, white pepper and some truffle notes. Equally delicious and intriguing, this Pinot evolves a lot with just a little air. Could use some cellar time to develop even more complexity. (91 points)

2011 Longoria Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $48
Dark ruby color. Black cherries, violets, floral incense, cedar and mocha on the nose. Medium+ bodied, tangy acid, fine tannins. A lot of fruit packed in here, fleshy black cherries, raspberries, some blackberry even, along with cedar, forest floor and roasted chestnut and hazelnut. This loamy soil and iron note lingers onto the finish, and glazed mushroom note comes out with air. Bold but not overpowering, seems to show more grip and power than a lot of other Pinots from 2011. This could open up more over the next two or three years. Aged 14 months in 30% new French oak. (91 points)

2012 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $35
Medium ruby color. On the nose, I love the combination of sweet roses, red currant, jammy strawberries and rhubarb pie notes. Bright acid on the palate, balancing off of tightly-wound tannins. The red berry fruit is tart and punchy but rich as well, backed up by notes of black tea, soy and beets. I like the complex floral and herbal tones. A beauty of a wine, and I’m thrilled that it only costs $35. As much as I like this wine, I think it’s good to drink now or in the near future, because its present exuberance is what makes it so attractive. 14.8% alcohol, but it holds itself well. (91 points)

2012 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Pinot Noir Estate - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $28
A dark ruby color. Smells of cranberry sauce (a beautiful mixture of tart and sweet), strawberry jam, potpourri, a hint of pickling spices. Structured well with dusty tannins and moderate acid, combining in a velvety mouthfeel. Cranberries and black cherries play off themes of sweet flowers, mushroom and forest floor. White pepper and rhubarb linger long on the finish. Only 13.5% alcohol, this is a fruity and fresh wine that could develop in the cellar. (88 points)

2012 Amici Pinot Noir “Olema - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $20
A medium ruby color. Aromas of rich black cherries, red currants, sweet roses and vanilla coffee. Dusty tannins, medium acid, rich fruit. I get juicy black cherries, blackberries and raspberries (almost like pie filling), laced with roasted coffee, vanilla and cola flavors. Focused on sweet fruit, this is a fun and yummy Pinot for $20. (86 points)

2012 Amici Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35
Dark ruby-light purple color. Fresh black cherries and red currant fruit on the nose along with some sweet vanilla cola and rhubarb. Fleshy texture on the palate, fine tannins, medium  acid, the black cherry and currant fruit is ripe and bold, accented by cocoa, toasted oak and cinnamon. Solid stuff, with good length on the finish. Aged 12 months in 35% new French oak. (88 points)

2012 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $37
Dark ruby color. Sweet cherries, plum cake and raspberry jam on the nose, underlined by notes of mocha and vanilla. Rich and open on the palate, with fine tannins, full-body and medium acid. The black cherry and plum fruit is so jammy it’s spreadable, but there’s other stuff going on here: roasted coffee, chestnut, earth, vanilla and red hot candies. Rich and juicy, but well-made and drinking well right out of the bottle. (88 points)

2012 Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $45
A red cherry-magenta color. Gorgeous nose of sweet potpourri, rhubarb and white pepper on top of fresh strawberries and raspberries, notes of cola and clay soil. Rich but bright on the palate, with freshness from the acid and fine but firm tannins. I love the red plum, raspberry and cranberry fruit, and it’s laced with a complex blend of spice (white pepper, rhubarb, rosemary) and some sweet notes of cola, clove and dark chocolate. Full of structure and flavor, but maintains nuance and elegance. Could use a year or two, but a lot in here to unpack in the cellar. 13.9% alcohol, aged 11 months in 25% new French oak. (92 points)

2011 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir Estate - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $27
Medium ruby-red currant color. Smells of soft cherries, fresh strawberries, all cool and clean, with notes of rhubarb and white pepper. On the palate, the acid is tart, the tannins are fine and the fruit tastes red and chilled. So fresh and balanced, and I love the way the tobacco and rhubarb mix with the light dose of toast and vanilla. A vibrant, food-friendly, effortless Pinot. (88 points)

2012 Merryvale Pinot Noir Starmont - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $27
Color like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. Smells like cherry pie filling and raspberry cheesecake topping with some sweet cedar notes. Juicy red fruit on the palate (that cherry pie and raspberry cheesecake thing keeps going), along with light tannins and some tanginess from the acid. Rose petals, cola, cedar and coffee round out the wine and linger on the finish. Straightforward, very pleasant, and that acid makes it easy to sip. (86 points)

2012 FEL Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
A ruby-cranberry color. Smells of chilled black and red berries, mocha, sweet rose potpourri and cedar. Dusty but grippy tannins and medium acid provide the foundation for the rich raspberry and black cherry fruit. Accents of peppercorns, bay leaf and earth mix with cedar and mocha. Not overpowering, but a powerful wine. I’d like to cellar this for a few years. (88 points)

2012 Moniker Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP: $30
Smells like cranberries, olives, violets and a pickle note. Medium acid, fine tannins, I like the combination of red fruit, earth, rose hips and smoke. Fresh, quite complex, showing well at a young age. A blend of fruit from Anderson, Redwood and Potter Valleys. (88 points)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

South African Surprises

I knew my three-week trip to South Africa was going to be amazing. After years of dreaming, I had developed the highest expectations for scenery, surf, wine, wildlife and food. Well, it turns out the reality was far greater than my imagination.

The raw beauty of the Western Cape cannot be grasped, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen. The pristine blue right-hand waves of Llandudno blew me away, despite all the hours of surf videos I’d watched in the preceding months. And sipping some local wines after a long day of surfing and hiking far exceeded any South African wine I’d picked up at some American shop.

This sense of discovery, it’s why I surf, why I write and why I love wine. My love of wine is inseparable from my love of discovery, the former stemming from the latter. And South Africa is a land full of natural beauty to be discovered.

I planned out a bunch of winery visits, which I have been chronicling on this blog. But I also stumbled upon a lot of fun wines that I’d never heard of before. These surprises keep me perpetually excited about wine, year after year, trip after trip.

Here are a few of my favorite South African wine surprise wines…

2013 Buitenverwachting Sauvignon Blanc Bayten - South Africa, Coastal Region, Constantia
Aromas of slate, lemon, honeysuckle, some spicy mineral notes as well. Super tangy on the palate with gooseberry and lemon peel flavors. Mineral and grass notes rush across the palate, and there’s a slight lemon-nutty note on the finish. (87 points)

Hand-made wine, hand-written label, I love everything about this wine.
2013 Hout Bay Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Hout Bay
Medium yellow color. Strongly aromatic, with white peach, green apple peel, sea brine and something that reminds me of sage and seaweed, which I love. The acid tears through this wine, but there’s some creaminess to the body that helps balance it out. Lemon, lime zest and green apple peel mix with a hint of richer, more tropical fruit (guava?). I love the oyster brine, sea salt and seaweed notes to this wine. It really tastes like Hout Bay! Could hold up to some strong seafood, but the wine shows some elegance and complexity that makes it nice to sip and contemplate on its own. Impressive, for me this $10 bottle beats most Chilean, Californian and New Zealand Sauv Blancs in the $15-$20 range. (88 points)

2011 Val de Vie “GVC”  - South Africa, Coastal Region, Paarl, Franschhoek Valley
When our host at the Old Joe’s Kaia bush camp pulled out this blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Clairette, I was stoked. Who knew a Franschhoek Valley winery was making this kind of thing? Not me. The wine is so unique and fresh and complex. The nose is lovely, with orange blossom and seashells from the Grenache Blanc, some floral and peach and orange peel from the Viognier. Lush yet totally mineral-driven on the palate, with creamy white peach, sharp orange peel, all sorts of floral tones. Lots of seashells and lingering minerals. My wife and I shared this wine with a dinner that included some springbok carpaccio and Cape Malay style chicken. The pairing was actually a whole lot of fun, even though seafood would be the natural choice. (90 points)

2012 Raats Chenin Blanc Original - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
The nose shows apricot, white peach along with some brine and lemon pith notes. Tangy and nervy but also creamy. Lemon peel, green melon, I like the combination of cream and sea salt. Quite complex for 99 Rand, (about $10) a long finish. After a long day of surfing Llandudno, this hit the friggin’ spot. I’ve liked this producer’s wines in the past, but I was really impressed by how good this wine seemed, especially for the price. (88 points)

2013 Eagles’ Nest Viognier - South Africa, Coastal Region, Constantia
Pale yellow color. Peaches and cream, honey and lime, also lots of mixed floral aromas. Fresh acid on the palate, this wine has a juicy but compact structure. Flavors of white peach, honeydew, orange marmalade and candle wax. Lots of floral tones as well, like dried wildflowers as well as basil and white pepper. Complex, fresh, floral and just plain delicious. My first Viognier from Constantia, and my first wine from this producer. I’m impressed. (89 points)

2010 Nitida Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Tygerberg, Durbanville
Aromas of red and black currants, mulberries, laced with cedar, eucalyptus, sweet herbs and some Kalamata olives, opens up a lot after two hours to show more floral and herbal tones. Fresh and restrained on the palate, with medium+ acid and velvety tannins. The blackberry and mulberry fruit is both ripe and tart, and it’s backed up by notes of mint, eucalyptus, pencil shavings, olive brine, lavender and pot smoke. Salami and broth notes come out more with time. Complex and evolving, more approachable now but, like many Cabs I tasted on my trip, could develop more in the cellar. I’d like to try it again in three years. (90 points)

2012 Weltevrede Estate Syrah Bedrock Black - South Africa, Breede River Valley, Robertson
Medium purple color. Black cherries, cassis, violets, a mix of earth and herbal qualities on the nose as well. Tannins are sanded down to the finest grain, there’s a moderate amount of acid to keep it fresh. I really like the fruit quality, tangy but rich, like plum sauce and currant jam, but the mouthfeel is smooth and the wine is not heavy at all. Lots of equally present non-fruit flavors, like Kalamata olives, nutmeg, mocha, cedar and anise. Bold in its flavors but also silky and restrained. Lovely stuff, and what a steal for about the equivalent of $12! After surfing Kammabaii, I drank this just feet from the Hermanus rocks while watching a massive south swell crash in. While the waves contributed vast amounts to my bliss, I think this wine would be kick-ass on its own. It’s fitting that the wine’s name means fully satisfied, because that’s the way I felt. (91 points)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Audacia: Forward Red Wines From Stellenbosch South Africa

I spent months planning my recent trip to South Africa, but I left some wiggle room for the inevitable hiccups. With a trip of this magnitude, my wife and I needed the freedom to explore whatever things sprung up and enticed us.

I scheduled a few tastings well in advance (Vilafonté, Warwick, Stark-Condé), but I also find it fun to roll up to an unknown winery in completely random fashion. These accidental tastings can introduce one to wines that are eye-opening, mediocre, downright bad or some combination of all three. But these tastings are always educational and worthwhile.

I stumbled upon Audacia because the winery also hosted a weekend market, and my wife likes to shop. While she was checking out local crafts, I spent a half-hour in the tasting room bullshitting with a nice bru at the bar about wine and surfing. 

I found the wines to be fun, a bit simple, but I was really impressed with the flagship Cabernet Franc, which I think deserves some serious attention.

Audacia wines have a silky, forward, open style, with notes of cola and sweet fruit. Audacia calls itself a boutique red wine outfit, which rings true because they produce only reds and in relatively small amounts.

Here are my notes on a few fun Audacia reds…

2011 Audacia Merlot - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Sweet red licorice and smoke on the nose. Tangy, with fresh raspberries and soft tannins. Lively, with notes of eucalyptus and mint. My wife had a glass of this with dinner at The Big Easy in Stellenbosch and enjoyed it a lot. (85 points)

2012 Audacia Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Aromas of currant, mint, cola and violets. Creamy on the palate with fleshy currants, mint, cedar and tobacco. (86 points)

2011 Audacia Shiraz - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Lots of smoke, charcoal and olives on top of the blueberry and cedar aromas. Silky, fruity, pulpy, with flavors of blueberry, smoke and cedar. Quite deep, but ultimately a refreshing Syrah that is good to go now. (87 points)

2010 Audacia Cabernet Franc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Smells of cola, cedar, flowers, earth, very sexy. Fleshy but tangy on the palate. Raspberry and red currant mix with sweet coffee, tobacco, mint and eucalyptus. Long and ageworthy, but so sexy right now. Love this sweet cola and herbal combo. Surprisingly tasty and exciting. (89 points)

N.V. Audacia Jete - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Smells like sweet, candied berries. Juicy red fruit on the palate along with smoke, earth and sweet wood. Residual sugar makes this a bit goopy, but it’s still fun and I could see this being a hit with a lot of casual drinkers. A blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. (80 points)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pictures From My South African Wine Travels

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Hamilton Russell were two of my favorite South African wines. Unfortunately, their tasting room was closed for renovations but I stopped by sister winery Southern Right and tasted through the whole family line-up.
Groot Constantia is located in the Cape Peninsula winegrowing region of Constantia. With False Bay to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and mountains all around, it's an incredible and diverse region with a lot of exciting wines.

Ashbourne (a Hamilton Russell project) produces a gorgeous white blend (Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay) and red (Pinotage/Cabernet Sauvignon) from the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. Both are intriguing and age-worthy wines. 

This Ashbourne white blend was submerged in Walker Bay to age beneath the cold waves of the
Southern Cape. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a bottle home because I didn't want a customs headache.

Stark-Condé winery has one of the most beautiful tasting rooms I've ever seen. You sip their wines
on a little oasis in the middle of a pond. The surrounding mountains of the Jonkershoek Valley are stunning.

Take the vertigo-inducing Chapman's Peak Drive south down the Cape, and you'll arrive at Cape Point Vineyards. What a place!
The Hemel-en-Aarde-Valley is a striking place. The coastal influences can be smelled in the air and tasted in the elegant wines. 
Muratie Estate, located on the mountainous outskirts of Stellenbosch, is a history-rich winery with an Old World aesthetic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

California Whites: Anything But Chardonnay

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Summer and California white wine is always a good pairing.

I was quite impressed with this lot of Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) samples from California. From Albariño to Sauvignon Blanc, these wines would all work well as summer party sippers, although the standouts are complex and food-friendly enough to deserve a long, contemplative meal.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind as part of a report for the daily wine blog Terroirist.
SRP: $20
Very pale straw color. Nose bursts with ruby red grapefruit, lemon-lime and notes of lavender and baby’s breath, all combining in aromatic bliss. Very fresh and lively with tangy acid and a moderately creamy mouthfeel. Focused and elegant, with grapefruit and white peach flavors. Slight orange blossom and a spicy-floral tone that reminds me of baby’s breath. Such a clean wine, but it doesn’t lack depth or flavor by any means. Only 12% alcohol. (89 points)

2012 McGah Family Cellars Sauvignon Blanc “1070 Green” - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
SRP: $25
Light gold color. Aromas of lemon-lime, grapefruit, oceanic notes and just a hint of grass and sprouts. Creamy body but zippy acid on the palate. Green pear and ruby red grapefruit mixes with lots of mineral and limestone notes. Crisp, clean, but impressive depth, with notes of honeycomb and wax on the finish. (89 points)

2009 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
Clean lemon color. Green melon, lime and sea breeze on the nose, a bit of white pepper and floral notes. Crisp and tangy throughout, I get themes of lime, honeydew melon, white peach, but also underlying spice and sea brine notes, which I like. A lot of depth to this wine, equal parts creamy fruit and live-wire acid and minerals. Complex, and very delicious, begging for oysters, salads, goat cheese. I was surprised to see it’s a 2009 because, if anything, I thought this could stand a year or two. Impressive stuff. (90 points)

2010 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $50
A bright lemon-lime color in the glass. So fresh, smells of grapefruit, lemon peel, green melon, a bit of underlying honey, some sweet basil and limestone notes. Creamy body but tart and refreshing acid. Rich and honeyed, but so fresh, with lemon, apricot, white peach, and a lovely mix of mountain stream, minerals, sea shells and white flowers. Clean, but long and complex. (90 points)

2011 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $30
Medium lemon colored. Aromas of honeydew melon, ruby red grapefruit, apricot as well as a hint of sweet basil and crushed rocks. Tangy acid lines up with some richness on the body, and the result is a bold but balanced wine. Flavors of lemon pie, apricot and honeydew mix well with sea shell, mineral and floral notes. A hint of wax and nutshell on the finish. Bold but complex and lively. Fermented in stainless steel but aged in old oak, and I like the result a lot. (90 points)

2012 Vineyard 29 Sauvignon Blanc “Cru” - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $54
A light straw-green color. Very floral on the nose (honeysuckle, citrus blossom, potpourri spice) along with a parsley note. Tangy citrus peel (grapefruit, nectarine, lime) mixes with a white peach and pineapple fruit. I get this salted lime margarita element as well, and it kicks. Crisp but deep, with a bunch of complex mineral, honey and floral tones. Very elegant stuff, showing a lot of complexity. Long, mineral-driven finish with sea brine and oyster shell. Wow, this reaches that next level of excellence that few Napa Sauv Blancs do (for my palate). The wine sees a mix of old and new French oak, concrete and stainless steel. My second vintage of this wine, tasted blind, and I’m officially a huge fan. (93 points)

2012 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $18
Pale straw color. Grapefruit, lime zest, rosemary and green onion aromas. Tangy acid rips across the palate of this medium-bodied wine. Flavors mirror the aromas, but a bit of creamy peach and green melon rind as well. The grass and herbal flavors aren’t too strong, and I also get some honeysuckle. Great cut to this wine. Not very deep, but quality juice. (86 points)

2012 Foppiano Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $15
Very pale straw color. Lemon, grapefruit and sea shells on the nose, a hint of green herbs. Crisp and clean acid, a zingy mouthfeel. Green apple peel and lemon mix with a hint of apricot. I also get sea breeze, limestone and a hint of green onion. Straightforward stuff, but well-done. (86 points)

2012 Nico Fiano Tanya’s Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $25
A yellow-gold color. Floral aromas, some white peach, papaya and sea salt. Creamy on the palate, with flavors of pineapple, orange marmalade and honey butter. But the wine is also really zesty, with notes of orange peel, mussel shell and sea salt. The combination is a tropical yet oceanic wine that’s very complex. From a single vineyard in the RRV, I love the unique interpretation of a unique variety. (89 points)

2012 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $27
Medium yellow color. Lovely aromatic mix of spice (white pepper, sage) and flowers (orange blossom, honeysuckle), along with notes of sea salt, white tea and limestone. Generously fleshy texture but medium acid throughout. A beautiful sense of purity and freshness pervades this wine. Flavors of apricot, green melon, white peach and lychee are accented by nutshell, lemon oil, honeyed tea and lots of different floral notes. Very pretty, and so food-friendly. A blend of 34% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, 30% Grenache Blanc and 6% Roussanne. (90 points)

2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño Kristy Vineyard & Jespersen Ranch - California, Central Coast
SRP: $18
A straw-banana peel color. The nose is a fresh combination of honeysuckle, white peach, also some oyster shell and sea breeze notes. Clean acid and a plump but balanced mouthfeel. The green apple, lime, apricot and papaya notes are fresh and tangy, backed up by mountain stream, mineral and a slight green tea note. Very brisk and refreshing (13.2% alcohol) a beautiful summer sipper but enough complexity and length to keep it really interesting. (89 points)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Muratie: a South African Estate With a Rich History

You can search near and far, but you may not find such a quaint, rustic wine estate anywhere. The Muratie Estate is tucked away down a long winding round between the hills of the Knorhoek Valley north of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

The farm on which the vines now stand dates back to the late 17th Century. Today, Muratie’s aesthetic is intertwined with its rich historical significance. The farm building, which houses the tasting room and some dining areas, is lined with old cement fermenting vats, cracked and caked with grape must from decades past. The floorboards inside are worn smooth from wear. A chaotic netting of spider webs hangs from the ceiling and wraps around rows of old bottles. Signs warn visitors not to touch the webs.  

Muratie’s wines boast a similar charm. They’re not bombastic and flamboyant, but they offer a sense of pleasant rusticity, a hand-crafted quality. Muratie is best known for being the first producer of Pinot Noir in South Africa (they bottled Pinot back in the 1920s) as well as making a range of Port-style dessert wines. But Muratie offers a range of well-made, delicious, age worthy wines.

Perhaps most importantly, the estate offers a unique and memorable wine tourism experience. If you’re traveling in the Western Cape, I highly recommended visiting this estate.

My notes on the Muratie wines I tasted…

Yours truly, enjoying the compelling wine and atmosphere at Muratie.
2012 Muratie Wine Estate Chardonnay Isabella - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Lovely aromas of saline, lime, lemon meringue and green melon. Creamy yet so tangy on the palate with lime, apricot and lots of flinty, limestone, mineral accents. A nervy and zesty Chardonnay with some complexity. Could cellar well for two or three years. Aged in 40% new oak. (89 points)

2008 Muratie Wine Estate Chardonnay Isabella - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
After commenting on how much I liked the 2012, the man at the tasting room popped open a 2008 of the same wine to see what I thought. A very interesting wine, the nose shows lemon crème, key lime, nougat, a slight musky note, also a briny-saline note that reminds me of drying off after a surf session. Tangy on the palate, yet creamy, still plenty of life, with notes of white tea, dried honey, some hazelnut and nougat to complement the green melon and dried apricot fruit. Showing its age, but loving the complexity here. (89 points)

Admit it: this is the coolest tasting room you have seen. 
2011 Muratie Wine Estate Pinot Noir George Paul Canitz - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Pure and elegant on the nose, with soft raspberry and wild strawberry, so many spice aromas it’s like smelling the combined spillover from bottom of a well-stocked spice rack. Juicy and berry-driven on the palate, very fresh and silky. Lots of spice and rose to match the fruit. Very smooth, good to go now but could do with some near-term cellaring. Aged in second-year oak for 18 months. (88 points)

2010 Muratie Wine Estate Ansela van de Caab - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Cedar, anise and dried roses meet gushing black cherries on the nose. Grippy tannins, this is a bold wine, with spicy plums and black currants. Laced with anise, black pepper, charcoal and tobacco smoke, this is a bold and ageworthy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. (90 points)

2011 Muratie Wine Estate Shiraz Ronnie Melck - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Smells of black cherries topped with black olives, iron, smoke and loam. Firm with a gorgeous texture. Plummy, with accents of granite, olive tapenade and loamy soil. I also get this sweet cola and root beer, which adds a playful but restrained sweetness to the wine. Very pretty, with cellaring potential of the 3-5 year variety, possibly longer. (89 points)

2013 Muratie Amber Forever - South Africa, Western Cape
Pale gold color. I get lychee, orange blossom and honey on the nose. Rich and honeyed on the palate with lychee nut, orange marmalade, candied grapefruit and potpourri. Medium acid helps calm the richness and make this easy to drink. Not incredible, but a very enjoyable Muscat dessert wine. I’d like to see what this can do in five years. (87 points)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On the Stellenbosch Wine Trail: Lanzerac

Like every winery in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region, Lanzerac is located in a beautiful spot. Nestled at the foot of stunning mountains in the Jonkershoek Valley (on the outskirts of Stellenbosch), the estate is full of history and charm. It boasts classic Cape Dutch architecture, beautifully maintained grounds, and an expansive tasting room. They also operate a hotel, which looked quite nice from my brief visit.

The staff was helpful and the wine selection was quite generous, everything from bubbles and roses to whites to a wide range of the typical red wines of the region. Overall, the wines were all quite solid, although nothing jumped out and screamed: “Buy me and bring me back to the States!”

Still, I think the wines are worth a mention. Here are my notes on a few Lanzerac wines I tasted…

2012 Lanzerac Chardonnay - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Smells of candied lemon, apricot and butterscotch. Creamy texture but fresh acid, with flavors of baked apple, banana, toasted marshmallow and cinnamon toast. Fun flavors, but not much drive or complexity. (85 points)

2011 LanzeracMerlot - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Sweet plum, mocha, vanilla and cedar shavings on the nose. Fleshy and tangy on the palate with medium tannins. Plums and blackberries laced with bell pepper, earth and vanilla. Fresh and lively in the face of richer, oak-influenced aspects. (85 points)

2012 Lanzerac Pinotage - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Dark cherries, coffee, soy, some violet aromas. Velvety texture, driven by tangy berries, accented with pepper, smoke and earth. Juicy, but soft and pleasant. (86 points)

2011 Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Spicy-sweet aromas of cola, chewing tobacco, currant and vanilla. Firm, grippy tannins and bold plum and currant fruit. Notes of granite, pencil lead and sweet oregano add complexity, and there’s some balanced vanilla and cedar. Pleasant, big, could use a few years. (87 points)