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)

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