Category Archives: Wine Tasting

Exploring heaven and earth in Hermanus

Carla van der Merwe tells of her adventure at the official launch of the Hermanus Wine Route.

Hermanus will soon be filled with teenagers and tourists seeking sunshine and a good time. But this coastal town is not just a whale trail and offers more to visitors this summer. The now officially launched Hermanus Wine Route is packed to the brim with vinous adventures.

The launch of the Hermanus Wine Route took place at Creation Wines on Thursday, 1 December where a few new members were welcomed to the region bringing the total number of wine farms to fifteen. The evening included a tasting of wines from the different farms on the route as divided into four categories; Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Red Blends. Each category was introduced by a Hermanus Wine Route winemaker who broadly defined the varietal and style of the valley. The four categories were also paired with canapés made from local produce by Season Restaurant in Hermanus.

Bartho Eksteen
 from Hermanuspietersfontein (and recent Cape Winemakers Guild inductee) introduced Sauvignon blanc and made the bold statement that South African consumers drink Sauvignon blanc too young and that “we don’t have to force Sauvignon blanc down the throats of consumers in the first year, it should be left to age”. Many of the Hermanus Wine Route producers share Bartho’s sentiments and release their Sauvignon blanc’s later.

Jessica Saurwein, assistant winemaker at Bouchard Finlayson had the following say about Pinot noir; “Pinot noir is the most fickle of grapes that flourishes in a cooler climate with the correct terroir, both of which we have here”.

The task of talking about Chardonnay fell on Kevin Grant from Ataraxia, who recently placed in the top ten Chardonnay’s in South Africa in Christian Eedes Chardonnay Report. Kevin stated that Chardonnay is; “the queen of all white varietals and the most expensive wines in the world are made from Chardonnay grapes”. He further commented on the change in Chardonnay winemaking style in recent years, saying that “consumers prefer the lighter style of Chardonnay due to Chardonnay plantings moving to the coast where this style is best suited”.

Creation Wines’ winemaker JC Martin spoke about the region’s Red Blends and the use of Rhone cultivars to produce these wines in Hermanus Wine Route wines. He continued by saying that the Rhone cultivars, especially Shiraz, has flourished in the coastal climate. This is not hard to believe as the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity blend consists of predominantly Shiraz.

In addition to the official launch of the Hermanus Wine Route, the evening also saw the launch of the Hermanus Wine Route R320 charity blend. The blend is made from grapes donated by eleven producers from the valley; Southern Right, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Spookfontein, Ataraxia, Creation, Mount Babylon and Domaine des Dieux and Whalehaven. Hermanuspietersfontein donated funds towards the production of the wine.

The Hermanus Wine Route R320 blend is made from Syrah (73%), Malbec (9%), Pinotage (9%) and Merlot (9%) and is available at R100 per bottle at a number of local stores and restaurants in Hermanus (see below for a complete list of stockists). The proceeds from the sale of the wine will be used for social upliftment of the Hermanus community and the Hermanus Wine Route aims to raise between R150- and R300 thousand by the end of February 2012.

On Friday, 2 December a few members of the media and I were treated to a tour of the Hermanus Wine Route with local wine enthusiast and tour operator Percy as part of his tailor-made Percy Tours packages. Percy Tours specialise in organising completely individualised tours (and transfers) of Hermanus, Cape Town and Western Cape regions, with a fleet of luxury VW minibuses (and Cars) with Chauffeur Tour Guides on board. Each luxury minibus is able to transport up to nine persons per minibus, which you will have exclusively to yourselves, therefore allowing you loads of space to spread out in comfort while on tour with Percy Tours. For more information on what Percy offers visit his website at

We visited six wine farms on our tour that included Hermanuspietersfontein, Southern Right, Hamilton Russel Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson and La Vierge. Our personalised tour started off with a scenic drive to the top of Hamilton Russell Vineyards where we were treated to a breathtaking view of Hermanus and a pair of Blue Cranes feeding on the indigenous fynbos vegetation.

Next we headed off to Bouchard Finlayson where Peter Finlayson conducted a tasting of his multi-award winning wines. Peter even opened a bottle of his 1991 (his first vintage) Blanc de Mer for us to taste and compare to the latest release 2011 vintage. Both wines are Riesling driven and it was amazing to see the evolution of flavours that the wine had undertaken over the past twenty years. The 2011 was fresh, zesty with a dominant fruit and floral character whereas the 1991 has settled into the secondary characteristics associated with an aged white, peas and vegetation were dominant.

Our next stop was a brunch at La Vierge where winemaker Marc van Halderen entertained us with his cheeky humour and equally cheeky wines. After lunch we headed to Newton Johnson where we enjoyed a tasting of their newly released 2008 Full Stop Rock paired with the Sao Tome DV chocolate.

When our tour ended I collected my bags from Sumaridge where I had the fortunate pleasure of spending the night on Thursday. The incredible view and African inspired decor is well worth the visit as the guest house has five bedrooms and can sleep ten people. The staff (and rescued animals) were very welcoming and I even got a send off from Daisy the donkey when I left.

I had an amazing time exploring all that the Hermanus Wine Route has to offer and would recommend a visit to all wine enthusiasts. If you’d like to find out more about the wines and wine farms on the route please visit

The fifteen wine farms that make up the Hermanus Wine Route are; Ashbourne, Ataraxia, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Domaine des Dieux, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Hermanuspietersfontein, Jakob’s Vineyards, La Vierge, Mount Babylon, Newton Johnson, Southern Right, Spookfontein, Sumaridge and Whalehaven.

To view more pictures from my trip, please click here.

The Hermanus Wine Route R320 blend can be purchased from the following stockists:

Shops: Wine Village (call 028 316 3988 or email, Hermanus Liquors (call 028 312 3660 or email and Wine & Company (call 028 313 2047 or email

Restaurants: Season (call 028 316 2854), Burgundy (call 028 312 2800 or, Fabios (call 028 313 0532 or email and Harbour Rock (call 028 3122920).

This article was first published on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.


T-time with Ken Forrester

It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to be in the company of an iconic winemaker such as Ken Forrester, and therefore I was quite elated at the invitation to spend the afternoon with a group of journalists having ‘T’ at the Mount Nelson.

The story of the Ken Forrester ‘T’ is an interesting one, as this Noble Late Harvest came about as a birthday gift for Ken’s wife Teresa in 1998. Sadly the first vintage of the wine was never produced.

The current vintage, the 2009 T Noble Late Harvest, therefore marks a decade of the wine’s existence and was the reason for celebrating at the Mount Nelson.

The ‘T’ is produced from a single vineyard Chenin blanc block on the estate and is very labour intensive to produce as many successive pickings (except for the 2001 and 2009 vintage) are done throughout the harvesting period. Ken notes that the picking starts at the end of February “when the botrytis starts to form a ring in the center of the grape” and has continued as late as the end of May in previous vintages.

The production techniques that are used to produce the ‘T’ are very intricate and labour intensive as only 40kg of grapes are pressed at a time in a 400kg press. The wine then gets placed in a large 4000 liter barrel where it is allowed to start fermenting before being showered with dry ice.

The start-stop process of fermentation allows for layers of complex flavours to form as a result of the layers of multiple wild yeast at work. This tireless process does not always yield positive results as it is a bit of gamble, and as Ken muses “this is the kind of wine, that if you were to make it for a boss, you’d get fired as it’s an all or nothing wine”.

After understanding the process of production in the wine, we were all treated to a veritical tasting of six vintages of the ‘T’ from 2000 to 2009.

We started our tasting with the youngest of the lot and worked our way back:

2009 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 12
Total Acidity (g/l) – 7.7
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 135.8
Ph – 3.61

On the 2009 vintage Ken noted that it (along with the 2001) was a great year for Chenin Blanc in South Africa with favourable conditions for botrytis similar to that of the Loire Valley.

The 2009 was very fresh with guava and baked apple characteristics.

2008 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 11
Total Acidity (g/l) – 7.8
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 154
Ph – 3.54

The 2008 vintage was never released due to limited quantity.

The flavour profile was very similar to the 2009 with the bit of bottle aging aiding in the wine opening up with a fuller fruit component. With characteristics of honey, apricot and baked apple.

2006 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 13
Total Acidity (g/l) – 7.8
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 137
Ph – 3.68

The 2006 vintage had started to develop the deeper honey colour and was quite a developed wine, though it had no cloying or stickiness.

The bouquet was one of biscuits, caramel and vanilla with the taste resembling that of ruby grapefruit, with the sweetness and acidity in balance.

2005 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 13
Total Acidity (g/l) – 7.8
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 137
Ph – 3.68

The 2005 vintage was beautifully fresh with a screaming acidity and the colour only just starting to set into a rust coloured hue. Ken admitted that the 2005 vintage was currently his favourite.

2001 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 13.51
Total Acidity (g/l) – 8.2
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 132.2
Ph – 3.53

The 2001 vintage was a perfect year for noble as their was an early onset of botrytis which resulted in only one picking of the single vineyard. The quality of botrytis was also similar to that found in the Loire which made this vintage a stand out year. The colour on the 2001 vintage was also much lighter than it’s younger 2005 and 2006 counterparts.

2000 Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest

Alcohol % – 13.2
Total Acidity (g/l) – 8.0
Residual Sugar (g/l) – 131.7
Ph – 3.53

The 2000 vintage was a very hot year which resulted in over ripe fruit and therefore a very sticky and sweet noble. The colour was also extremely dark on this vintage with the defining characteristics being treacle and molasses extract on the nose and burnt / caramelised apple on the pallet.

The distinguishing differences in each of the six vintages that we tasted just further proved the significance that varying vintage conditions have the wine that is produced, especially when the wine is made from a single vineyard.

The beauty of each bottle of wine is found in the fact that it is the photograph of a vintage.

This article was first published as a blog post on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.

Sticky, Sweet and well Aged

I have found lately that as the winter months move on I’ve become quite fond of a glass or two of sweet wine.

Though this could (in part) be attributed to my untrained pallet and sweet tooth, I’m inclined to also mention that I have come to appreciate both the skill it takes to produce such a wine as well as their age ability.

But before I get to the wines, just a note on the matter of age. I am not ashamed to admit that I am new at being a wine editor / writer / enthusiast and that my relatively young age does not afford me much authority as yet.

I too have noticed, as both Christian Eedes and Cathy Marston have noted, that there is quite a big gap in terms of age demographics in the wine journalist landscape. I can easily count on one hand the number of writers under 30 years of age that I have met in this profession. This startling fact also makes me wonder (as Angela Lloyd mentioned) where we will be creating a platform for ‘inexperienced’ writers to get their name out, with print publications no longer being able to survive in the current economy and changing times.

Is blogging and online writing (for the way of the future for young wine writers? And how important will their role in the industry become if the proposed ban on alcohol advertising takes effect?

I guess only time will tell …

Back to the topic of sweet wines. I have had the privilege in the last two months to taste the following wines (many of which outrank me in age):

The first of the ‘golden oldies’ that I’d like to make mention of is:

1933 KWV White Jeripigo, which was the oldest entry into the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show competition this year where it walked away with the Best Fortified Sweet Wine Trophy (in the Museum Class). I was fortunate enough to taste a sip of this at the Old Mutual Awards Public Tasting in June. Some comments on this was the fact that it was still very fresh for its age and many commented on the coffee colour and nuttiness of the wine.

My second opportunity to try a few sweets was when I went to visit the team at Rietvallei in Robertson. Rietvallei boasts the oldest certified muscadel vineyard in South Africa which was planted in 1908. The quarter hectare block is used to produce the Estate’s flagship 1908 Muscadel wine.

I was fortunate on my visit to be able to do a vertical tasting of the Rietvallei Red Muscadel which included the 1980, 1998 and latest 2010 vintages.

Our comments on the different vintages were:

1980 Rietvallei Red Muscadel – coffee character with some cooked and stewed fruit. This was also (in John Burger’s opinion) the best vintage at Rietvallei.

1998 Rietvallei Red Muscadel – strong cinnamon and caramel characters. The different vintages were all made with vines other than the 1908 block. The age range of the vineyards used was between 30 and 70 years old.

Late in June I was also one of the lucky guests to sample some of Norman McFarlane’s apple crumble with a glass of 1984 L’Ormarins Bukettraube Noble Late Harvest which one can (surprisingly) still purchase in a local wine merchant.

And then lastly my most recent encounter with older sweet wines was at this past Monday’s Nederburg Auction Media tasting at the Nederburg Estate in Paarl. I felt very honoured to have been invited as this was my first time at such an event.

We made our way rather quickly through the white wines before settling into the sweet wines where the stand out for me was most definitely the 1979 vintage Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur. Both the Nederburg Eminence and Edelkeur sweet wines have consistently been produced from the same vineyard blocks. This means that the spores have been given the chance to settle and happily live in the vineyard to help with forming botrytis.

1979 Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur – a note on the 1979 vintage was that many of the sweet wines made in that year lost their colour very early on (which gives me some indication of what to expect from the 1979 De Wetshof Edeloes which I’m saving for a special occasion).

Just in closing, if you have the opportunity to drive through to the Breedekloof Soetes and Soup festival this weekend do pop in at Opstal Estate where they will be conducting a vertical tasting of a few vintages of their Hannepoot.

This article was first published as a blog post on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.

Wine tasting options

To many people think the term wine tasting relates to the activity of visiting a wine farm (or a few farms) over a weekend and sitting in the tasting room with friends while sampling the Estates offerings.

While this is an enjoyable way to spend a day in the winelands, one is often limited by time and the distances between farms. This often means that most winelands visitors often choose a selection of farms in one geographic area to visit.

Though this allows one more leisurely time, most people don’t take the time to visit areas that are harder to come by and often off the beaten track.

There are a few ways that I have come across that allows a person the freedom to taste wines from multiple farms without needing to drive too far or waste a lot of time. For ease of explanation I have broken the options down below.

Option 1: Attend a regional festival

Regional festivals allow visitors the opportunity to drive to one central point and taste wines from the entire region’s farms thereby providing ease of navigation and more time to visitors who prefer to move at a more leisurely pace. This also makes it easier for wine tasters to identify similarities in wines from the same region. The only down side to regional festivals is that due to popularity it does often become a bit crowded. Popular festivals which are coming up in the next couple of months are:

Franschhoek Bastille Festival 16-17 July
Breedekloof Soetes and Soup Festival 22 – 23 July
Stellenbosch Wine Festival and Wine Week 23 – 31 July
Robertson Slow Festival in August
Swartland Revolution in November

Option 2: Attend a public tasting

Public tastings are great due to the fact that they offer a wide selection of wines from different regions for the eager wine taster to try in one location. This makes it possible for people to try wines which they would not otherwise have been able to try as the sheer distances between most regions makes them difficult to visit. Public tastings are often linked to either competitions or other events such as auctions.

The fact that the public tastings are linked to such prestigious events means that the wines on offer have been put through a rigorous selection panel and are well worth the taste.

The two public tastings which I had the fortunate pleasure of attending recently were the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show public tastings, where I was able to taste the high scoring and extremely rare 1933 KWV White Jerepigo, and last night’s Nederburg Pre Auction public tasting where I was also fortunate enough to try some rare stand out wines.

The three wines which took my fancy at last night’s event were:

Nederburg Private Bin D234 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
Bellevue Pinotage 2002
Le Bonheur Prima 2001

If you have missed both of these public tastings, don’t worry as they are annual events which you’d be able to visit next year. Just keep an eye out for the announcements as these tastings are very popular and tickets sell fast. If you are however keen to attend a public tasting you are still able to attend the Nederburg Pre Auction Tasting in Johannesburg on the 27th of July. The Top 100 SA wines consumer festival public tastings are also around the corner with the date set as 21 July for the Johannesburg festival.

This article was first published as a blog post on WINE.CO.ZA, please click here to see the original article.