Oh, wouldn’t the wine world be so much poorer without the dreamers, the visionaries and the adventurous spirited?
I just love the men and woman who shun convention — those who have an untameable obsession for the growing of grapes and the making of wine in new, uncharted regions. Sure, their efforts don’t always work out, but when they do, the gamble certainly pays off, providing joy to both the winemakers and the wine-lovers who get to taste something unique.
A Wine Hero
My most recent wine hero is David Trafford from Stellenbosch. He is still the same quiet, unassuming and thoughtful guy who made great wines at his De Trafford farm in Stellenbosch, the most notable of which is the Chenin Blanc and Noble Late Harvest.
I haven’t forgotten the excellence of De Trafford, but David is currently responsible for — to my mind — some of the most exciting wines coming from South Africa. This time, he is at work in Malgas, a one-horse town located next to the Breede River, some 15km from where the expanse of water flows into the Indian Ocean. A frequent visitor to this wild region, David began to dream about the wine-making potential in the area’s ancient rocky soils. Surely, he thought, if the vines would grow, the wine would be uniquely individual, offering a taste of place?
David planted his first vines in 2003, producing his first vintage in 2007. Now, David’s dream, named Sijnn, is releasing one stunning vintage after the other. As far as vineyard plantings go, David chose wisely: he has Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne on the white side, and on the red side Syrah, Touriga Naçional, Trincadeira, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Task of Tasting
As I settled down to the taxing task of tasting and scrutinising wines after a punishing festive season of unbridled glugging, I could hardly have asked for better wines with which to begin the year’s scribbling than the new offerings from Sijnn. Once again, I was reminded of how absolutely terrific they are — individual and character-laden, expressive of that tough, raw and never-to-be-tamed part of the Southern Cape from where they come.
The Sijnn White 2017 is drafted from Chenin Blanc (84%), Viognier (13%) and Roussanne (3%). The approach in the cellar by David and his assistant Charla Haasbroek seems pretty intuitive. For the Sijnn White, some batches were whole-bunch pressed. Fermentation in the barrel (French oak, 11% new) was spontaneous, while maturation was done for 10 months.
The wine is driven by the features of extreme Chenin Blanc you find from unforgiving geography. Dry, poor soils and pummelling winds keep yields down to three tons a hectare, even on vines scarcely a decade old. On the nose, the fruit is loud and brash, with loads of honeycomb, potpourri and torn dried fynbos. You rise to it and want to dive in. It’s delicious.
The Makings of a Masterpiece
Despite being of Irish heritage, I don’t do bets. That said, I am willing to wager the Sijnn Red 2015 is a wine destined for greatness. Sijnn Red 2015 comes in at Syrah (47%), Touriga Naçional (19%), Trincadeira (19%) and equal quantities of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Honestly, I was almost irritated by the brash confidence of this wine. I mean, the vines are only ten and eleven years old, it’s only the eighth time this wine has been made, and already it commands the presence of a South African masterpiece.
Oh, just have a whiff of that assured whack of savoury and brooding fruit on the nose. And while you’re at it, taste the layer-upon-layer of viscerally enchanting black fruit, all currants and berries. Elegant and refined are great elements to have. But when there is a note of aggressive power to meet the classy suaveness, that’s when a wine — for me — makes perfection seem possible.
Meeting a Legend
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Green — the same gentleman whose names are found on the popular South African wine range. The range has been going since 1942, and Douglas Green was also a pioneer in his day as he tried various new wine styles and marketing mannerisms.
When I asked Mr Green how today’s wine portfolio compares to what it looked like five decades ago, the word ‘sherry’ popped-up frequently as this used to be one of the more popular wine styles. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Sherry is an amazing wine — one of my favourites — and South Africa has a great history of making them.
Locally made wines can no longer be called sherry because of EU regulations, but Douglas Green has been thinking out of the box again. The company now imports real sherry from its home of Jerez, that exotic region in southern Andalusia in Spain, all under the Douglas Green label.
The Art of Sherry
There are three sherries in the range: Medium Dry, Pale Cream and Medium Cream (in order of sweetness). All of them are made in Spain from the traditional Palomino grape, aged in massive wood vats, and offer good value at under R150 a bottle. Let that sink in — grown and made in Spain by a sherry master. Bargain, baby. My favourite of the range is the Medium Dry. It’s not quite as bone-dry as the fino-style but offers all the complexities in texture and flavour that makes sherry such a wonderful drink.
The secret to sherry is the slight fortification — grape spirit is added to stop the fermentation, allowing the grapes’ optimum fruit expression to remain. A layer of yeast, known as flor, covers the wine during ageing, giving it a characteristic nutty, waxy and dry fruit flavour.
To enjoy sherry, please do not pour it from the drawing-room cabinet into one of those thimble-sized short stem glasses. Cool the bottle as you would a white wine. Splash copiously into a broad, deep glass. And drink it on its own or with savoury dishes.
And when the Cape cold fronts start rolling in, the sweet heart of the Douglas Green Medium Cream sherry will certainly warm the cockles.