The briney’s cooling, moderating influence tends to give longer hang time, lower alcohol levels and altogether more rewarding wines than hot inland areas in warm countries.
True, the viticulture can be more challenging, the land costlier, the risks higher – but the finest wines have always come from marginal climates and risky, challenging endeavours.
In this context, it was fascinating recently to taste a range of wines (100, to be precise) from South Africa’s newly created Cape South Coast appellation. To clarify – these aren’t all newly created producers or wineries (many of them already have an impressive track record). It’s simply the umbrella appellation that’s new, to take in a number of smaller wine areas along the cape’s south coast (namely Cape Agulhas, Overberg, Plettenberg Bay, Swellendam and Walker Bay districts as well as the Herbertsdale and Stilbaai East wards).
As for the wines, it was Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah that most impressed, with Pinot Noir more variable (as it tends to be, especially when some vineyards are young) but seeming to have a bright future. The names that most impressed were Paul Cluver (whites), Brunia, Ataraxia, Hamilton Russell, Beaumont, Luddite and Catherine Marshall. The overall standard was very creditable and disappointments were few, though Bouchard Finlayson deserves a reprimand for consistently bland, underwhelming wines.
Top tips are featured below.
Tasting notes (from 18th July 2012)
Paul Cluver Riesling 2010, 11.3%, Elgin (£10.99-11.99, Halifax Wine, SA Wines Online, D Byrne, SH Jones, Oxford Wine Co) – lovely clean, crisp, succulent style – well rounded, with defined red apple flavours. Lovely stuff, delicious. (The Close Encounter Riesling, a touch pricier but also lovely, is also worth a try.) 7/10
Brunia Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 13.5%, Walker Bay (£8.95, The Wine Society) – complex, mineral, layered flavours. Understated but vibrant too. Juicy grapefruit and pear flavours, with ripe citrus acidity. Elegantly textured, very long. (The 2011 is also tasting very nicely too.) 6.5-7/10
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 13%, Walker Bay (£11.49, Wimbledon Wine Cellar, Waitrose) – effortlessly elegant and engaging. Rounded, mineral and with beautiful earthy citrus character. Hint of honey together with a refreshing sea-spray freshness. Puts other ‘wannabe’ wines into context. 7/10
Elgin Ridge ‘282’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 14%, Elgin (£12.99, Les Caves de Pyrene, Green & Blue, Bedales, Wine Direct) – succulent, mineral – layered and long. Very well judged, albeit in a ‘bigger’ style, with flavours of roasted lemon and peas. 7/10
Shannon Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2011, 13.5%, Elgin (£13.32, SA Wines Online) – aromas of anis, wax, herbs and lime rind. This has a touch of Semillon, which adds this complexity and pithy character. Succulent and complex, lovely stuff. 7/10
Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2012, 13.5%, Western Cape (£15) – a really classy wine, with subtle but profound flavours of ripe citrus, honey, grapefruit and roasted herbs. Dense, graceful and complex. Very good. 7.5/10
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011, 13%, Hemel-en-Aarde (£21.99, Quaff, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods) – benchmark stuff from this reputable producer. It’s bright and characterful, with aromas of melon and burnt cream, but also well grounded with a ripe lemony acidity and mineral notes. 7/10
Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2010, 14%, Elgin (£14.20-15.20, Tanners, SH Jones, VIvat Bacchus) – pale, limpid, elegant style. Earthy and cultured, with scents of wild berries and warm clay. Very nice. 6.5-7/10
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010, 14.5%, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (£29.49, Quaff, Planet of the Grapes, Fortnum & Mason) – effortlessly elegant in the context (older vines?) with earthy, herbal, berry fruit aromas and a dense, polished, refined palate. Still a big style but lovely harmony. 7.5-8/10
Luddite Shiraz 2006, 14%, Bot River (£26.49, Les Caves de Pyrene, Green & Blue, Roberson, Bordeaux Index) – elegant peppery, spicy style with a juicy flavour profile. It’s relatively broad and spicy in style but elegant too. 6.5/10
Brunia Shiraz 2010, 13.5%, Walker Bay (£12.50) – toasted, ashen, black pepper flavours and a smooth yet spicy flavour profile. Understated, good. 6.5/10
Ataraxia Serenity 2008, 14.5%, Western Cape (£13.95, Stone Vine & Sun) – elegant, leathery style. Baked herbs; serious, grown-up style, needs food. Broad, structured, very classy. 7/10