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Myrna Robins

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News

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The Platter’s 2019 SA Wine Guide by Diners Club International was launched, as usual, in November. Its dusky pink cover manages to be another first, its 712 pages means it’s quite a lot fatter than the 2018 edition and, as usual, its meticulous editor and his team and publisher Jean-Pierre Rossouw have produced another indispensable handbook for the wine industry.

A total of 90 five-star wines for 2019 were announced and the hghest-scoring in each category was named the category Wine of the Year.

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The top accolade, Winery of the Year was expanded to encompass three pinnacles of winemaking: The Newcomer Winery of the Year recognises the cellar that records the best results as a first-time participant in the guide. Erika Obermeyer Wines was the recipient, and it was indeed so satisfying to see this talented, determined solo player receive the recognition she richly deserves. Mullineux winery scooped the award for Top Performing Winery of the Year, having built up an impressive track record in the years that the pair have produced wines in their Swartland cellar. The third accolade, the Editor’s Award went to Newton Johnson Vineyards in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde which is sure to be a hugely popular choice, given both the scintillating and consistent quality of their wines and the popularity of the producing family.

The 2019 edition also introduces 100-point scores, alongside the ‘Platter’s Stars’. This global standard, now combined with the Platter’s own star-rating system, should give international readers a better understanding of the Platter judges’ assessments.

For the rest, the usual popular and essential features are there, although one new icon will be very popular with winelovers seeking out wines produced from vines 35 years or older. The Old Vine Project has taken off both here and overseas, and it is thought that this country posseses more surviving old vines than any other in the world. The quality of many of the wine that are being produced from these survivors is little short of stupendous.

There is a wealth of information on routes, cellars, restaurants and more for travelers to the winelands, and the maps seem to be clearer than last y ears. The RRP is R270.

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Wine of Malgas is the phrase under the Sijnn name on the contemporary labels. A name long connected with holiday homes, great angling and a venerable ferry, but now also a wine ward with a single cellar producing singular, exceptional and delicious wines.

The black and white photograph below graphically illustrates the stony path – well, a road of sorts – to the low cellar with its curved roof .

A trio of recent releases took me right back to the memorable evening when the cellar, nearly but not quite complete, opened its doors to visitors for a celebration –

 

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Founder and co-owner David Trafford took us through the young vineyards where bush vines had settled as part of the indigenous landscape, among two distinct soils which vie for sheer quantities of stone they carry . They did not deter vines from not only surviving, but thriving in this apparently inhospitable climate with its low rainfall and constant wind.

The Breede river made a  blue and placid contrast as, far below, it snaked around hills and through dales on its last 25km to the Indian Ocean.

During that evening I sampled the maiden vintage of Sijnn White, and became a fan for life. As I have said before, more than once, white blends, especially when chenin-based are perhaps the Cape’s finest achievement . The Sijnn example is not only as fine as any other but offers unique characteristics that can be attributed to both terroir and minimalist handling.

 

 

 

 

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The team has now released the Sijnn white 2017 and, unsurprisingly, this is what I opened first, knowing well that I was going to savour every sip.

Comprising 84% chenin, 13% viognier with roussanne making the remaining 3% , this is the 10th vintage , from vines now 12 and seven years old. A good year for the vintage. grapes were picked early, some bunch- pressed the balance basket- pressed. The wine was fermented in French oak, of which 11% was new, for 10 months before being lightly fined and bottled, unfiltered, in December 2017.

The wine is golden straw-coloured, with a nose presenting wafts of fruit sparked with wild fennel. On the palate, layers of complex flavour to relish, some peach  and a little lemon, overlaid with dusty spices which don't  mask the essential  freshness. I did not detect as much fruit as the tasting notes suggest, but came across a subtle wildness – herbs and minerals – with hints of maritime brine. Irresistible .

Their tasting notes suggest that its ideal on its own or with fish and seafood. Agreed. But it’s also a white that can enhance several Cape Malay classics, -including bobotie, especially when made with fish, chicken curry and chicken breyani. R280 at the cellar.

Sijnn Reds 2011 and 2015

 

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The 2015 vintage is acknowledged as one of the Cape’s finest, and equally so for Sijnn, where the wine was made in the stone cellar for the first time, avoiding the long journey to Stellenbosch. It was also winemaker Charla Haasbroek’s maiden vintage as she produced the 2015 Red using 47% syrah, 19% touriga nacional, 19% trincadeira, finished with nearly equal quantities of mourvèdre and cabernet. The vines, now 10 and 11 years old reaching maturity and – with the weather playing its part – the harvest was picked and sorted early, fermented in small open tanks and oak vats. Natural fermentation preceded a basket pressing and malolactic fermentation in 225 litre French oak for the first year. Bottled by hand in December 2016, unfined and unfiltered.

Already hugely enjoyable, but worth squirreling away as well, the freshness is there, no cultivar dominating; on the palate concentrated fruit and a little fennel well balanced by tannic structure. Spicy, rich and with a long finish, it features . alcohol levels of  just over 14%, This wine  calls for red meat given gourmet treatment, but will also complement rich dishes based on black mushroom. R350 from the cellar.

Because it took a while to open up and show its charms, the 2011 Sijnn Red has been released only now. The year saw a dry windy summer and the vines were irrigated during the growing and again during the ripening process, but otherwise left to themselves. Back in Stellenbosch the grapes were crushed into open tanks and oak vats. Spontaneous natural fermentation followed with maturation  in barrel for two years before bottling in January 2013. The nose says Malgas, the palate is rich with firm tannins and its easy to see this is a wine that will go on offering enjoyment for several years to come. The wildness of venison and game birds will be enhanced by this blend – with syrah comprising over half along with 19% touriga nacional, 17% each of trincadeira and mourvèdre,  finished with 6% each trincadeira and cab. It sells for R250 at the cellar door.

Finally, a word of appreciation to the team who compiled the information: well-written, concise and accurate, comprising everything a reviewer would like to know. If all the spec sheets and releases that come my way were as smart as these, my emails would be reduced by half.

For more info see www.sijnn.co.za

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Before we get to the bottle, the carton warrants a word or two – so cleverly designed it doubles as a display unit, opening on both sides to reveal the custom-made regal bottle, embossed with the initials JR, perched on a raised platform.

Salmon pink in hue, the wine adds to the patrician air with its simple front label, with little more than title and its 2017 vintage visible, although if you have very sharp eyes you will find more info on the producer – Anthonij Rupert Wyne and its Franschhoek setting in minute print along the bottom.

The wine is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Shiraz, is made in the Provençal style – as homage to the founder of L’Ormarins, home to Anthonij Rupert Wyne. Jean Roi, one of the French Huguenots who settled in 1694 in the wilds of what was to develop into Franschhoek, was born in the southern French village of Lourmarin.

Fresh and zippy, aromas of summer seasonal fruit precede the fruit on the palate which finishes with a touch of citrus. Alcohol levels are held at a modest R13%, and the whole effect is celebratory and festive, perfect for the time of the year.

It makes the ideal partner to glamorous menus, enjoyed on shady terraces, with the sound of water as background music.

This limited release sells at R290, which is steep for a pink – but for Christmas, or New Year or any other summer celebration, many will fork out to highlight the holiday or to greet 2019 in fine style. It is also available in a 1,5 litre bottle for R600.

One word puzzles me – why is it called Cap Provincial Rosé instead of Provençal? The rest of the title is French, why the English insert, which has nothing to do with the region, but simply means “of the province” and often is less than complimentary when attributed to its inhabitants.

 

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 For more information, visit www.rupertwines.co

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BEYOND ORGANIC – BIODYNAMIC PRACTICES ENVELOP MODERN AND ANCIENT WINEMAKING AT AVONDALE

 

 

Many moons have waxed and waned since I last visited Avondale, a farm steeped in more than three centuries of history, sprawling acrpss the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein mountains. So an invitation from brand manager Madeleine Laarman to wine and dine at their new restaurant FABER was more than tempting. I have yet to sample the farm-to-fork seasonal fare, but meanwhile was sent the current vintages from Avondale’s unique cellar where owner Johnathan Grieve and long-established winemaker Corné Marais craft an inspiring range of wines that have been certified as organic by international inspectors.

 

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Having sat through one of these inspections at another organic cellar I know just what heavy demands are made on vini- and viticulturist before they are satisfied. At Avondale the team goes a step further, employing biodynamic principles that make good use of rhythms of both earth and cosmos, using astronomical information and indications of optimal times for sowing, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting, in efforts to produce sustainable soils for healthy vineyards. Ducks replace vineyard pesticides, wasps and ladybirds deal with mealybugs and leaf-roll virus. Organic compost and cover crops increase carbon content in the soil and biodynamic preparations ensure there is no need for synthetic fertilisers.

 

In the cellar natural yeasts work their magic, while some of each harvest is matured in traditional clay amphorae, cast on the farm from its own clay.

 

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In March this year Avondale was the first South African winery to use clay qvevri for the 2018 harvest – egg-shaped earthenware vessels used for fermenting and ageing wine whose roots are found in Georgia, widely regarded as the cradle of modern viticulture. With a tradition that goes back more than 8 000 years, qvevri masters, until recently, were in danger of becoming obsolete. Now the man who made Avondale’s vessels has a waiting list for his creations. Each vessel, says winemaker Marais hold between 800 and 1 000 litres, each is unique. They are lined with beeswax and are buried in soil during use for stability. The effect on the wines of the new vintages is awaited with mounting anticipation.

 

 

 

Avondale’s six wines arrived in a simple but stylish environmentally-friendly cardboard carton, worthy of the quality of the contents.

 

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To start, the baby of the range, CAMISSA 2018 is a vibrant meld of just over half Grenache with 30% Mourvèdre and a splash or two of Muscat de Frontignan. All the vines are over 30 years in age, certified organic (naturally!) and presenting low but intensely flavoured yields. This is as fresh and moreish as the place of sweet water which the Khoisan herders named Camissa -  Table Mountain water( that today is returning to its previous significance in centuries long past.)

Camissa is an exhiliarating blanc de noir, from its onion skin hue,   scented nose and berried flavours with citrus zest leading to a long and dry finish. Alcohol levels of 13% are moderate, but the wine offers more body than most of its siblings perhaps partly because the Mourvedre and Grenache were fermented in second fill French oak and left on the lees for 12 months before being blended with the Muscat and bottled. Can be cellared until 2022 suggests their specs which sounds ambitious, but I am not going to argue... A great choice to accompany your classy New Year picnic.

 

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I remember raving about CYCLUS when I first tasted an early vintage at Avondale several years ago, so opened the 2014 vintage with great expectations. These were fulfilled and even passed:: This is an exceptional white blend, already golden in hue, made up of five cultivars: – Roussanne (30%), Viognier (20%), Chenin Blanc (20%), and finished with Semillon and Chardonnay each at 15%. Vines range in age from 10 to 26 years, yielding between four to eight tons.

Whole bunch pressed, 80% naturally fermented in 500 -litre oak, the rest whole bunch-fermented in amphorae. Left on the lees for a year with regular batonage before bottling, the result is a rich, full-bodied blend,  floral aromas preceding a refined fruit salad of stone fruit and citrus backed by some flint, the Semillon adding a touch of cream . Just 13,5% alcohol levels add to the appeal, and it makes a superb summer aperitif, but an even better partner to elegant fare: Certain Moroccan classics and  perfumed, sophisticated creations from Turkey and former Persia come to mind... Avondale named this special blend Cyclus, Latin for cycle, referring to the power of the vortex, because of the “way that Avondale’s unique life energy swirls through its invigorating layers.”

 

Avondale’s other white wine is a Chenin Blanc, 2015 vintage, named Anima, meaning vital lifeforce or soul, referring to the minerals of the farm’s soils which lend spirited character to the wine. The grapes used range in age from 10 to 34 years, and most were whole bunch- pressed, then fermented in 500-litre French oak, while a small percentage went to amphorae, which have added a distinctive body to the wine. This is an intense, wine, golden in hue, golden in character, more than a hint of honey accenting the wafts of melon, peach and pineapple, and all balanced by the minerality whichi is prominent but not assertive. Moderate alcohol levels, and this wine can be squirrelled away until 2023 the cellar suggests – I find it oxidative, concentrated and dense and wonder if it has not already reached its peak -  it lacks the freshness I expect from quality chenin. Time will tell...

 

And so to the two reds:

 

 

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LA LUNA 2012 is a fine Bordeaux-style blend comprising of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, the remaining percentage supplied by Cabernet Franc and and Malbec. First to third-fill oak barrels were used for malolactic fermentation and maturation for more than a year. The result is impressive, purity and freshness allied to smooth tannins, the dark hue indicative of restrained berry flavours,  all backed by minerality that is nicely integrated. It’s a wine that deserves to be sipped again and again, hourly, to appreciate the changes, and, while it already offers elegant enjoyment after six years, should go on delighting those who open it in future years.

Alcohol levels are unobtrusive at 14%, and its name, which reflects the biodynamic practices of Avondale  adds a nice touch of celestial romance.

 

SAMSARA SYRAH 2009

This Shiraz presents impressive proof of the regional quality of the cultivar for which Paarl is renowned, here with additional refinement that reflects both Avondale’s unique soils and handling. Freshness is there after nine years, along with characteristics typical of the varietal: berry flavours spiced with white pepper, a little cinnamon and hints of violet.

As Samsara seems unlikely to improve further in bottle, it should be enjoyed soon, especially if paired with well-cooked and spiced red meat dishes.

 

ARMILLA BLANC DE BLANC CAP CLASSIQUE  2011

Delicious and impressive, a bubbly that will heighten the joy of any celebration. It is also home to the only mistake I spotted on any Avondale label - "classic" replacing the correct "classique." This all-chardonnay Brut ,with  just 11,5% alcohol levels, produced from vines ranging in ages from 10 to 22 years, is lively, with traits one would expect – toast and green apple, restrained fruit, and a long finish. Here it marks the finale of this review, but it really deserves to be at the beginning to set a sparkling pace of wine and viniculture that are both kind to the environment and our planet.

 

 

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The Van Loveren team never cease to amaze by coming up with yet another first: This time its their Almost Zero alcohol Wonderful White. Produced by de-alcoholising sauvignon blanc, the wine is listed as containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, and is sure to find a receptive response among those who enjoy the company of wine and wine drinkers but prefer to avoid any possibililty of after-effects.

 

The foldout info tucked into the package lists three good reasons why consumers should choose this product: that its perfect for non-drinkers and those keeping to an alcohol-free January, perfect for weight watchers as 100ml of this contains just 71 kilojoules and that, with fruity flavours of apples, cirtrus and tropical fruit, it makes a good companion to salads and seafood. Banting devotees can also sip this without any guilt.

 

Brewers have proved there is a market for alcohol-free beers, so why not wine? Easy-drinking, fruity and crisp, this pale green-tinged drink comes in a screwcapped bottle, and begs to be chilled before opening

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The Wonderful White joins the Van Loveren stable of four non-alcoholic sparklers . It is selling for R65, can be bought from the farm or online through winehub@vanloveren.co.za and should be in your nearest retailer by now.

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