The wine world is in a notorious state of disagreement and debate. From Bordeaux to Bellville, Dunedin to Durban and Margaret River to Mendoza, there is a constant buzz of diverse opinion to be heard — who is drinking what wine, where and why; what styles and which grape varieties are set to rope in hordes of modern consumers; and where should the world’s next gem of a wine region pop-up?
Common consensus, however, is that today’s wine drinkers can’t seem to get enough of pink wine, more elegantly termed rosé. And, the thirst for this style of wine continues to be insatiable even though pink wines don’t usually gain much hype from wine writers and marketers. Being fun, light, uncomplicated, easy to drink and — heaven forbid — simple to understand, rosé is free from the analytical scrutiny, and high-browed pontification red and white wines are placed under by self-important wine critics.
It appears to be a case of the less said, the better, as rosé wines seem to sell themselves, growing in all international markets. Even the French are importing bulk wine from South Africa from which to make rosé, as they don’t have enough themselves.
With our agreeable sunny climate and the nation’s love of the outdoors, local wine-drinkers’ enjoyment of rosé is a no-brainer, and consumers are truly spoilt for choice. There are sweetish cheap pinks to glug from icy beer-mugs while listening to house music, fizzy pinks for creating a romantic impression by candle-light or dry and bracing wines for all-day sipping while catching some rays.
A particularly fine rosé to which I have been returning as summer sets in is the Vondeling Rosé 2018. Vondeling makes a diverse range of wines from its vineyards set in the Voor Paardeberg region of Paarl, and under the guidance of cellar master Matthew Copeland, has become a winery to watch. Sure, Vondeling has a great range of more serious wines — the Babiana white blend is among the country’s finest — but the farm’s rosé has really impressed of late, particularly as the summer mood strikes.
For his rosé, Matthew mainly uses Merlot grapes, which are grown in the broken stone soil of the Vondeling region. The structure of the earth there is particularly conducive to wines of firm body, yet confident fruit expression. After pressing, the juice is bled off the red grapes, allowing it to draw just enough colour from the skins to give it that appealing pale pink that makes rosé, well, rosé.
The wine is as much a joy to drink as it is to behold, lying in the glass with a colour somewhere between marshmallow and French undergarments. Like classic rosé, Vondeling is bone-dry, yet exudes subtle notes of rose-petal, pomegranate and cherry. But, it’s no fruit-salad, the balance between acidity and residual sugar provides a perky drink of life-loving, bright-eyed freshness. The ever-so-slight stroke of tannins from the brief exposure to the grape skins provides a broad, pleasant mouth-feel to make drinking even lovelier. I enjoy mine with carbonara pasta, chicken mayonnaise and smoked salmon with capers.
As far as single variety wines go, Sauvignon Blanc leads the popularity stakes in South Africa for exactly the same way rosés are so much in vogue: they are fresh, approachable and you don’t need a Cape Wine Master certificate to understand them.
Those wishing to look beyond the many good quaffable Sauvignon Blancs in South Africa should try to get their hands on those being made by Fryer’s Cove on the Cape West Coast. And by this, I mean the real West Coast, way up past Eland’s Bay in the region of Strandfontein. If you want extreme terroir, this is it — the Sauvignon Blanc vines grow within sea-spray reach of the icy Atlantic Ocean.
Not a lot of the wine is made here due to the challenges of farming wine grapes on land better suited to a crayfish factory, but the Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017 really shows that this grape is capable of displaying a gritty, attractive character when planted on an extreme site. Low yields, as well as the dry, unforgiving soils and the maritime influence result in a fruit of individuality. Once pressed and fermented, the resulting wine is given extended lees contact to ensure every inkling of regional expression and varietal specificity is captured.
The result is quite brilliant, and the wine has a distinct salty, kelp-like sea-breeze feel, which is not just the figment of some inspired label writer’s imagination. Recognisable Sauvignon Blanc tastes of gooseberry, asparagus and passionfruit are definitely there to please lovers of this variety. But these wines are enhanced by the oyster-shell, tidal-pool notes that lift the wine to something quite extraordinary. No surprises here — live oysters or grilled fish go a treat with this awesome white wine.
For some, red wine may take a backseat during summer months as something chilled is preferred to room temperature wines of firm tannin disposition. This might be so, but Pinot Noir is an all-climate wine, those sweltering 36°C Cape summer days included.
With its lower body-mass-index and the fact that chilling improves the inherent dark fruit aspects, Pinot Noir is as refreshing as it is classy. And the wine breaking my heart at the moment due to its elegance and beauty is the Nom Pinot Noir 2017 from Sauerwein. It’s a project of Jessica Sauerwein, wine marketer and lover, who each year selects grapes from a vineyard high-up in the Elandskloof near Villiersdorp to hand-craft an extraordinary Pinot Noir. It was the South African wine sage Danie de Wet who said there are only three types of wine: red, white and Pinot Noir, and the words ring true in this one from Sauerwein.
Dense and dark, the wine enlivens the palate with a brisk rush of energetic acidity before the diverse range of flavours so characteristic of well-made Pinot Noir takes over. Yes, there is also that mysterious mushroom, forest-floor nuance lovers of this grape so often seek out. But the interesting aspects, for me, are the spicy and herbal riffs that lift the tastes of blackcurrant, cherry and strawberry. Lush and sappy, this wine is as generous in its offering of pure, unfettered enjoyment as it is in presenting consumers with a taste of classic, old world wine elegance.
Drink with… well, just do it.