The Chef and I spent a lovely two weeks with our good friends Harry & Susan, who eschew winter in the Perigord for three months in Gordon's Bay, a beach town about 45 minutes east of Cape Town, South Africa. When the four of us are together, the conversation tends to be about what we ate and drank the day before, what we are eating and drinking now, and what we'll eat and drink next.
Harry racked up many kilometers on his white Hyundai (I would conservatively estimate that more than 60% of the automobiles in the Western Cape are white) taking us around the Winelands. We visited Vergelegen, Thelema, Jordan, and Waterkloof in Stellenbosch; Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia on the Cape Peninsula; and Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Findlayson out east in the Overberg appellation. The wineries range from the grand (Vergelegen is where Nelson Mandela has been known to entertain foreign dignitaries) to the functional (Hamilton Russell's tasting room is refreshingly modest).
Wine reviews will appear as my lousy work habits permit. These first three are definitely not typical South African wines (well, the Pinotage is, but it's an odd version). Next time there will be a discussion of a few bottles that were real knockouts. Two of them are rieslings. Yes!
Reyneke was on my list of places to visit; in the end we never quite got there (Jordan is a near neighbor), but we did manage to open a bottle. I learned of Johan Reyneke from reading Monty Waldin's Biodyamic Wine. Reyneke, who in 1998 took over his family's hundred-acre farm just outside the town of Stellenbosch, is one of a very few South African winemakers to rigorously follow biodynamic precepts. Click here for pictures and a brief story about how he works.
Reyneke Reserve White: We drank the 2011, a blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay. The chenin definitely leads off, with aromas of melon and yellow fruits; after a bit you start to pick up notes of lime and oak. The palate follows with more yellow and tropical fruit, with a zing of grapefruit pith at the back end, along with some chalky mineral notes. The chardonnay seems to be more for texture than flavor. The 2010 got 93 points from the Wine Spectator; Johan Reyneke says the wine improves with a few years of bottle age, which may explain why we found it to be a good-not-great wine. These wines recently became available in the U.S., but as best I can determine, only in the New York/New Jersey metro area. In Cape Town, the wine sells for 167 rand, equivalent to about $18.50. A quick search showed prices at around $23 online.
Da Capo Idiom Zinfandel 2007: This was strange. Zinfandel with the aroma and flavor of chocolate mint. It is made by Bottega Family Wines, which holds an annual “La Vendemmia” festival to celebrate its Italian heritage. I presume therefore that winemaker Reino Thiart knows what he's doing, but this did not resemble any zinfandel or primitivo I've ever had before, whether from Sonoma or Sicily or anywhere else, for that matter.
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2009: Another oddity. As the label indicates, the phenomenon of vinifying Pinotage so it comes with aromas and flavors of coffee and chocolate is now going into it's twelfth year. It provoked a brief discussion of the meaning of "torrefaction," and it was pleasant enough, I guess. I found myself wondering what foods it would pair with. I'm still wondering.