Posted by: zawino | September 10, 2010

A day out with the bloggers

A couple weekends back I participated in an interesting experiment run by the folks in charge of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) network here in South Africa. The short version of the story is that GWC is a network set up to promote wine tourism – a worthy cause in my mind. Each year they run a competition aimed at assessing the Best In Wine Tourism; local entrants from each of the wine capitals are judged and the finalists from each capital are pitted against one another to receive the awards. As part of an effort to increase awareness of the campaign and also to assess the potential of including public opinion in the process of selecting the finalists to represent Cape Town, a bunch of local online junkies (bloggers/twitterers/etc) were invited out for a day in the winelands. To find out more I recommend you check out their website (link above) or the more informative post by fellow blogger Harry Haddon that goes into much more detail than I care to.

Great Wine Capitals

So onto our day… which started out at Seidelberg – quite a change for me as this is a farm I generally only visit once I’ve been to a few others already and when I’m more interested in drinking than tasting. Sadly, even when given this opportunity to assuage my uncontaminated palate they failed to impress. The hostess whilst knowledgeable failed to gauge the knowledge of her guests and any attempted interruption or interjected question to set her on track was barely noticed as she rattled off all the “correct” things to say. As for the wines, they also failed to impress. The whites were either flat or flabby and the reds all had this common trait – that I can’t put my finger on – that put me off. Terroir? Wine-making artefact? I’ve got no idea.

Next up was Plaisir de Merle, the flagship estate of industry giant Distell, where the quality of wine definitely took a big step up and the price even more so. The tasting room smacks of old-school elegance and our tasting assistant, Jackie, was fantastic… whilst we had her full attention. She delighted in regaling stories relating to the farm and wines and it was only at the end, when there were other customers that she stumbled a little leaving us to pour our own tastings of their flagship Grand Plaisir – with no complaint from me… in fact I wish more winemakers/assistants would leave me alone with a bottle of their good stuff!  The “Taste Sensation” tasting, a pairing of 6 wines coupled with some morsels of food, was nice but as an entrant in the Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences category I didn’t see anything there that would have them posing much threat to other entrants to this category.

Continuing down the road a way, our next stop was L’Ormarins: home of Anthonij Rupert wines, the Terra Del Capo range of wines, a car museum replete with 1000 cars that are rotated on a regular basis and an art collection that will apparently get your juices flowing. L’Ormarins was where it got really difficult for me… This was admittedly the first time I’ve actually done a tasting there as it’s a long process: you wait in the reception area and they fetch you in a fancy minibus, and then drive you to and from the tasting centre further up the road. The wines were great, the tasting excellent and the farm, and all the old buildings, outstandingly beautiful, even on a wet winter’s day. But I struggled to slow down, appreciate the experience and could never break from my desire to get the tasting over and done with and move on asap. That said, the point of the exercise was to evaluate the offering from a tourism standpoint and when looking through those rose eyed goggles I could not fault them.

As soon as our limo had brought us down the hill we headed back onto the Paarl route towards our half-way point - Backsberg. As an entrant in the category for “Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices”, Backsberg would definitely get my vote – whilst they may not be completely on the organic/biodynamic bandwagon they definitely lead the pack when it comes to sustainable practices in this country. As SA’s first, and as far as I know still the only, carbon neutral winery they have a firm belief in ensuring that sustainability is considered in everything they do be it environmental, business and/or community based. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that their wine tastes great and offers superb value, regardless of price point. On this visit I was especially pleased to be able to taste their latest release 0f the Babylons Toren White and Red blends which had me salivating for more.

Moving on a little further down the road we arrived at Glen Carlou - an entrant into the Art & Culture and Wine Tourism Restaurants categories. Not knowing anything about art I’ll reserve my opinion there, but I did take a quick gander through the gallery and was definitely intrigued. But of course, we were there for lunch and they certainly impressed there… A kudu carpaccio starter left me drooling for my main course – a mouthwateringly (yes I just made up a new word there) delicious rack of Karoo lamb which didn’t disappoint either. It was also great to be able to sit through a full tasting of their wines, presented wonderfully by the tasting room manager Georgie, whilst enjoying our meals. And so it was that time somehow slipped away from us and we ended up spending a good couple hours there.

We arrived at the final farm, Delheim, rather late – 15mins before closing – and I was almost expecting to be denied the opportunity but too their credit they welcomed us in, sat us down for a tasting and did not– again against my expectations – hurry us to taste and leave. Unfortunately though the tasting assistant was understandably rather busy cleaning up, cashing up and generally getting ready to get the hell out of there so I didn’t get to explore their entry into the sustainability category but the farm certainly has a wealth of history in these matters including being a founding member of what has become the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy. I guess, I’ll just have to go back there at some point to find out more.

Sadly folks that’s where our day was wrapped up. It was definitely a most entertaining day and quite a mindset shift for me to actually try looking through the eyes of a tourist, and a judge – never before have I really considered whether there was adequate signage and/or parking and whether or not the seating was comfortable. I’m there for the wine. But I have to admit that there is a certain wonder in slowing down, and truly appreciating the beauty and wonder of this outstandingly beautiful region we are so privileged to live in. So next time you’re out on the routes, hurrying your way through in an attempt to hit the top spot on spitorswallow why not stop, look around, take a deep breath and be glad that you’re in some of the most beautiful winelands in the world.

Posted by: zawino | September 2, 2010

Alive in Cape Town

Sumac Ridge Merlot

Well folks, like an unkempt vineyard after the winter pruning the winstokies (sp?) have certainly been lying around composting this blog for the last couple months. So let’s catch up… I left you a couple months back en route to Canada for a stint as a best man; leaving behind a cushy position developing enterprise software in the financial realm. This wasn’t my first trip to CA although previous trips have all been to Ontario and sadly the more highly rated Oakanagan wines are in short supply, with LCBO – one of the world’s largest liquor buyers – favouring the local Niagara region wines instead when it comes to Canadian wine (there are some highlights coming out of there too – Hillebrand’s Trius Red is still the best wine I’ve tried out of Canada). Anyway, this trip, to Saskatchewan presented the chance to try a little more of the BC wines – the only problem being that the liquor stores around the small town hamlet I was based in, Rosthern, didn’t exactly carry the best selection. I did manage to pick up a few bottles on a trip into Saskatoon but even then the selection was far from ideal and the local beer left me with a far better impression. The reds I did drink reinforced my impression that Canadian reds carry a distinct dusty character to them and it also reconfirmed my belief that the merlots and pinots are generally better than the heavier cab’s. However, there is always the ice wine of course and whilst I didn’t drink any there – @CA$50 a half-bottle is not something I buy every day – I did bring a couple bottles back and an Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine ’07 tasted a couple weekends back with the whitesticksips showed incredible intensity , the length of a 7’ woman’s legs and acidity to carry it through beyond my years of this planet.

Upon my return to the fairest Cape I walked straight into my new job, and no, it’s not in the wine industry although it does present a very unique opportunity for the industry to get involved in some of the latest tech going round. We’ll hopefully be launching sometime before November  (don’t quote me on that) and I’ll be sure to throw a couple ideas and links around shortly before the time.

And then of course there was The World Cup, which, passed in a blur of beer, football and vuvuzela conversations around my neighbourhood – which I duly participated in. Overall though, it was definitely more of a beer affair – as my waistline now shows – and I did often wander how one could convert football into more of a wine affair. But whilst it was beer season for the majority I rather enjoyed stopping off at Cru Café whilst walking back along the Fan Walk from a game for a couple glasses or two – generally of the Morgenster Lourens River Valley (think it was ’05 at that point in time).

Netherlands vs Cameroon

The highlight of the period when it came to wine was without a doubt the Stellies wine festival, which while very being very different to last year, turned out to be good fun and imho much better aligned to the tourist market than previous years. Not that I saw many of them (the tourists) whilst spending most of the morning reaffirming my conviction that David De Trafford is one of the best winemakers in South Africa whilst tasting 15 vintages of the De Trafford Shiraz – wow! Although, whilst I enjoyed the new format I’ve always enjoyed the “fringe” events in previous years, having never attended the mass pissup I hear the main event has become, and I seriously missed the usual Kanonkop vertical tasting/snoek braai this year – I’m promised it will be back last year.

The dust had barely settled on the fragmented remains of the pitch at Soccer City after the final – viva Espana viva – and I was off to Botswana, 4×4’ing my way through the Kalahari, Okavango – at the height of an 18-yr flood – and Chobe, armed with a mixed case of Harties Cab/Shiraz and Saronsberg Provenance Rooi to accompany the beautiful Botswana beef cooked whilst camping under the stars in the bush. For any of you outdoor lovers with your own 4x4s I would highly recommend getting up there – you can’t beat it! No fences round your camp (ala Kruger) – just you and the bush. It is a little known fact that I grew up in Botswana and when my family left, 15 odd years ago, Maun was barely more than an outpost at the edge of the delta where you could stock up on petrol and the basics. You can imagine my surprise when we arrived to a bustling town complete with a wine store stocked so well it would give the wine list in most Capetonian restaurants a run for their money. I guess with all those high-end safari lodges there’s certainly lots of money to be made and probably still some room there (particularly around Kasane) for a budding entrepreneur.

Since getting back from Bots it’s been tasting season through and through with so many wine shows to choose from you could end up drowning yourself in wine if you went to all of them – certainly my cupboard is well stocked with enough of those disposable tasting glasses to last until next season. Despite the plan of action and 3 consecutive appearances last year, I decided to give Winex a skip this year opting rather for the more quality focused Caroline’s Red and White Reviews. I would’ve loved to attend the CWG auction tasting but as I’ve been unplugged for so long I didn’t know it had happened until a week after it occurred. And then there were all the other tasting, shows, festivals, etc. On the go. It really has been a busy winter.

And now, sadly I find myself spending most of my time in an office, a vibrant one at that, but nonetheless stuck behind a computer churning out lines of code. But at least, I’m back in the beloved Cape and every so often I still manage to make my way out to the vineywards. And so wine lovers, geeks, snobs, junkies and quaffers I bid you adieu for now but watch this space as more adventures are sure to follow soon.

Be safe now folks..
Posted by: zawino | May 4, 2010

(a)maze(d)

The entrance to maze: anyone for a bottle of wine?

Often in the past I’ve found that when something is hyped it ends up disappointing just because of all the hype – it holds true for movies, restaurants, wine, all things subjective really. Such was my feeling going into the White Stick Sips tasting held at Gordon Ramsey’s maze. Having not been there in the year or so they’ve been open and having seen all the reviews flying on the foodie blogs it certainly had quite a lot to live up to – despite some reviews tempering my expectations somewhat. However, in this case the hype lived up to expectations and the evening was definitely a winner.

Situated inside the magnificent One&Only hotel you can rest assured they pay attention to their wine list. And if you’re doubtful of that, the line up of bottles greeting you at the entrance should at least make you question that opinion.

Let me explain why… It’s very rare amongst the WSS panel that all of us agree on the quality of wines we are served and heated debate often breaks out regarding some ratings – which inevitably turns into discussion around ratings in general and what they actually mean. This is a good thing; it means we aren’t all looking for the same things and allows for the diverse tastes of the panel to be expressed through our ratings. However, where maze really amazed was that there was very little disagreement in general about what we had in our glasses and that whatever it was, it was quality. Is this perhaps a result of their decision to only list wines that were tasted blind and agreed upon by trained sommeliers and senior staff members? It certainly looks like it and it’s a practice I would highly recommend to any restauranteur – despite the fact that your clients will drink the wine sighted.

So what were we served that is deserving of such praise you ask. Well here’s the list:

1. Silverthorn Genie ’07 (16/20)

I have to admit this wine really stumped me. Any of the other MCC Shiraz’s I’ve tried – Nitida, Camberley and a couple from Oz a few years back – have all been dark red in colour, slightly – if not overtly – sweet with a flavour profile that shows their red grape origins. This on the other hand was bone dry, showed just a blush of pink in the colour, and had a light strawberry nose, lots of lemon and citrus acidity on the palate – flavours that I wouldn’t normally associate with Shiraz – and a terrific finish.

2. Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc ’08 (15.5/20)

A great example of your salty/tinned pea/asparagus style Sauvignon Blanc with hints of perfume on the nose as well and a great flinty-minerality to the palate. The only thing that brought this wine down slightly was a little volatile acidity on the finish.

3. Raats Chenin Blanc ’08 (14.5/20)

Have never been a fan of Raats’ Chenins when tasting them sighted and as it turns out, I’m not the biggest fan when tasting them blind either. This was one of the few wines that I disagreed with many of the panel members on. It’s an elegant wine but I didn’t pick up much on the nose and the palate lacked body being very much on the lighter side to me – in fact slightly watery even.

The panel having finished the tasting

4. Rustenberg Stellenosch Chardonnay ’08 (17/20) The high RS on this wine was sure to set it apart from the previous wine. Serious burnt popcorn on the nose indicative of lots of oaking gave way to . Candied melon dominated the palate with the wine having lovely structure held together by good acidity balance against the high residual sugar. As a side note, this wine really reminded me a lot of the Rudera Robusto – although that’s a Chenin so perhaps I was just confused – regardless, if you enjoy the Robusto be sure to give this a try. I’d wager it appeals to your palate.

5. Muratie Pinot Noir ’07 (14.5/20)

Really not my style of Pinot Noir. Big, full-bodied and surprisingly herbaceous, cactus/aloe-vera notes on the nose, one could easily mistake this for a Merlot. The palate came across super-dry and lacking in fruit. Needless to say I was pretty much alone in my opinion.

6. De Trafford Merlot ’06 (17.5/20)

Without a doubt the wine of the night for me! Showing a little bit of age and some caramelised toffee notes on the nose. The palate was everything you could ask for: elegant, balanced, structured with well integrated tannins and a long herbaceous finish. Really, no really really, a spectacular wine!

7. Warwick 3 Cape Ladies ’05 (16.5/20)

The value pick of the evening at R290/bottle was also showing it’s age well. A brighter almost ruby colour with heaps of red-berries thrown in amongst some violets on the nose. The palate followed through showing hints of spice, loads of pinotage juiciness and a long mint-chocolate finish.

8. Vilafonté Series M ’05 (17/20)

The final wine of the evening and certainly another crowd pleaser. Dark and brooding on the nose: dark chocolate, dark berries. Moves into a juicy red berry palate with light buttery-vanilla notes and some boiled sweets. Rounded off by a long minty finish. Despite being the same age as the previous wine, this one was still as fresh as a 1st-year and definitely has the legs to go a good few more years. Delicious!

Looking in on the Vista Bar at the One&Only

So there you have it… a great line up of wines that managed to convince the panel that maze should take top spot. That, despite the fact that the Raats and the Muratie let them down slightly in my books – my average of 16.06 falls slightly short of Cru Cafe’s 16.13 and Westin Grand’s 16.63. But really, they shouldn’t have – the Raats is a highly rated wine regularly achieving 90+ scores in international ratings and the Muratie is somewhat of an industry stalwart when it comes to Pinot Noir.  The Raats, as mentioned previously, has never been a wine I have enjoyed and the Muratie clearly just didn’t agree with my palate on the night. Nonetheless, I have to say that this really was one of the highlights of the WSS tastings thus far and given the location and the venue I would eagerly anticipate any form of tasting, food and/or wine, that occurs there.

The One&Only, Cape Town

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Posted by: zawino | April 14, 2010

Five fine Flies fall flat

The courtyard inside Five Flies

Situated at the opposite end of Keerom St to Carne SA and 95 Keerom, Five Flies, a long standing member of the fine dining circuit in Cape Town, certainly has positioned itself to pick up some of that high-end judicial traffic due to it’s proximity to the High Court. However, judging by the quality of their wine glasses the legal crowd must be more of the cocktail-slugging, whiskey-sipping clientelle than wine drinkers because if I ever went back there I’d be tempted to take my own glass let alone my own bottle of wine.

Joined by our guest for the evening, the young Louis Krog who arrived fresh from his day as assistant winemaker at Camberley, the tasting was held in the Rupert Room and the evening started out well with the whites. It was the reds however that really dragged the score down. Adding to the V-shaped, thick-rimmed glasses – I really can’t stress enough how bad these glasses are to drink wine from – which made nosing the wine difficult enough in the first place the reds were served in a strange order and fresh from the refrigerator – yes it is possible to serve wine too cold – resulting in dull, green, tannic reds and it was only on the 2nd pass through the flight – despite much hand-based warming on the 1st pass – that these wines started showing their true potential.

Beyond all of that though, what was most interesting to me about the night was that we were served 2 wines which had been served at other establishments previously. Of course this is interesting because it hints at the consistency of our ratings. However, there are numerous reasons – cop outs or not – as to why a wine would/could score differently on separate occasions. Anyway, the first double was the Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc ’09 – served previously at Mama Africa – and the 2nd the Mulderbosch Chardonnay ’07 – served at Osetra Tapas & Champagne lounge. See below to see how I fared…

1. Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc ’09 (14/20)

The first of the re-tastings, happily this time round I at least spotted the varietal and vintage correctly having confused it for a Chenin at the previous tasting. My score of 14 was half a point below my previous rating of 14.5 at Mama Africa which is perhaps attributable to the glassware? Ok, I’ll stop harping on about it now. On the night the wine was somewhat confusing having a waxy note to it initially and then proceeding to a very tart, almost appley palate with lots of methoxypyrazine style flavours (which in this case came across as somewhat unpleasant).

2. Hartenberg Chardonnay  ’08 (15/20)

The light oaking evident on the nose deceived as it led into very prominent burnt toast on the palate; a long limey finish redeemed the overwhelming oak on the palate somewhat.

3. Paul  Cluver Gewurztraminer ’09 (17/20)

My top scoring and best-value wine of the night and certainly the wine I’d order off the list based on what we tasted. It was also an easy spot for a blind tasting. A sickly sweet nose abounding with floral notes and packed full of tropical fruits set against and off-dry palate with good acidity providing backbone. Lots of lemon/lime/citrus and green apple on the palate. Definitely one to age a couple years.

4. Mulderbosch Chardonnay ’07 (16/20)

The 2nd duplicate for the night this wine received exactly the same score as the last time I tasted it at Osetra – despite smelling and tasting somewhat different to the previous time. A pungent, slightly oxidated nose hinted at the bit of age on this wine. More balanced oaking (than the Hartenberg) on the palate (just a light vanilla) accompanied by some slightly salty, asparagus-styled-Sauvignon-Blanc flavours – which were most confusing and had me thinking Sauv/Sem blend. Good backbone lead into a nice long finish.

5. Dornier Pinotage ’07 (13.5/20)

For reasons mentioned above I really can’t say too much about any of the reds. The Dornier came across as dry and metallic with a handful of berries thrown in.

6. Raka Quinary ’05 (14/20)

The Raka was soft but still green (which is surprising given its age) with nothing obvious to make it stand out from the crowd.

7. Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ’07 (14.5/20)

A minty-caramel nose initially with, again, nothing prominent on the palate. Seemed shy but drinkable with some cassis and pencil shavings thrown in as it started to warm.

8. Stellekaya Merlot ’06 (14.5/20)

A savoury nose with mushroom/forest floor notes to it. Definitely showing some age and distinct herbaceous notes to the finish.

So overall, a sad 14.81 personal average for Five Flies and it seems I was generous as usual as the full panel’s score came in even lower at 14.28. Which means they narrowly avoiding coming in at the bottom of the ranks - something that could definitely have been avoided. Their wine list is also a lot more extensive than the narrow range we tasted and definitely features some top quality wines so don’t write them off completely. Their food alone will make the visit worthwhile. But perhaps someone wants to print the following article which goes a small way to explaining the value of glassware and get them to upgrade ;).

Getting ready to start the tasting - note the glasses

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Posted by: zawino | April 8, 2010

Cru Café impresses at White Stick Sips tasting

The venue for the evening... Cru Café

I’m not really a wine-bar-fly preferring to source my wines at the estate in general and finding their, the wine bars’, usual 300% markup highly unpalatable. And if I ain’t drinking wine I bought at the estate and opened myself then there are so many tastings going on in town, free and/or paid for, that I already struggle to find time for a night off every now and then. That said, the White Stick Sips tasting event held at the Cru Café in the new Cape Quarter has certainly made me question that and on the odd occasion that I do end up at one, there’s a damn good chance you’ll find me me there. The markups are far more reasonable, the waiters well trained and attentive and the ambience relaxing. They even offer smaller tastings paired with some snacks for those, like me, who want to try more than one wine.

Our guest for the evening was Leonard Arangies; part of the team that brought out the Mzala Discover DVD series and more recently the Eezi Mzi range of wines and it was certainly great to have him around – particularly to hear his opinion when the usual banter regarding ratings broke out although he certainly does like to stir up the hornet’s nest.

Oh yes, one last thing before we get into the wines; I’m happy to report that I was jumping the gun last week and Cru Café broke from the wine-bar-norm serving 2 flights of 4 wines rather than individually. So, let’s go to it then…

1. Crios Bride Sauvignon Blanc ’08 (15/20)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of West Coast Sauv. I love the fynbos and sea breeze characteristics that come through on a lot of them. But really, this wine took was too much. Whether or not it’s as a a result of the oxidative style in which it’s made, there really wasn’t much else going on beyond the oyster/sea breeze characters that dominated the nose of this wine and subsequently followed through to the palate being finished off by some lingering acidity. Ok, ok, that was a little fruit in there but really!

2. Laibach Ladybird White ’09 (15.5/20)

A shy nose, showing signs of light oaking gave way to a lovely full palate. Good concentration and acidity although the oak was a little prominent and overrode the fruit on the palate somewhat. A nice finish rounded it off well. Without a doubt, my value choice of the night.

3. Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling ’09 (16.5/20)

Pineapple and ripe red apple on the nose along with some floral notes gave this away as a South African Riesling. Very crisp on the palate, slightly sweet with definite acerbic characteristics (that tingle-on-your-tongue grapefruit acidity). Still very young but great complexity and a nice finish.

Let the tasting begin

4. Domaines-Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Riesling ’05 (18/20)

A turpentine/diesel nose gave this away as an older, non-South-African Riesling. Showing signs of bottle age on the palate with great litchi flavours coming through and the acidity still holding strong, leading into a long silky finish. An absolutely delicious wine that I wish I could drink bottle after bottle of. Without a doubt the wine of the night for me!

5. Meinert Merlot ’06 (16.5/20)

Colour so light it could have been Pinot Noir. An earthy-smoky nose was also misleading but the somewhat fuller palate should have tipped me off that this was a Merlot. Lots of cherry coming through on a well-balanced palate with tannins to support future development. Not my favourite wine but definitely a good buy nonetheless.

6. Laibach Ladybird Red ’08 (16/20)

The 2nd of the organic Ladybird range, this wine also impressed; buttery, boiled sweets on the nose leading into a dark, earthy palate with green tannins indicating it’s youthfulness.

7. Graham Beck The Ridge Syrah ’05 (15/20)

The shock of the night… this wine seemed highly, if not over-oaked to me. An extremely toasty nose with hints of mocha – not overdone like the coffee pinotages though. Lots of red fruit and green tannins indicating youth although masterfully hidden by toffee flavours presumably as a result of the oaking. Sadly it fell short at the finish. Note: Really didn’t expect this to be a Shiraz. Where’s the pepper? Where’s the spice?

8. Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon ’07 (16.5/20)

This wine had me thinking it was the Shiraz of the flight. Spice and leather of the nose. A relatively light palate (more cool-climate Shiraz than what I would expect from a Cab.) albeit with nice complexity despite the finish dying off quickly. Again, a bit too young for my liking.

So all in all, I have to say this was one of my favourite White Stick Sips tasting and my personal average of 16.13 puts it right up behind the Westin Grand in my books. Sadly, I am but 1 of 8 and whilst Cru Café may come out 2nd on my list thus far, the wines didn’t necessarily appeal to the palates of the whole panel so go and check out the full results here.

My character for the evening... quite fitting I think ;)

Posted by: zawino | March 30, 2010

WhiteStickSips venture to Stellies

Osetra Tapas and Champagne Lounge seen from the street

Being based in Cape Town and well past my days of partying it up with the students, I rarely give enough attention to establishments in Stellies passing through the place on my way round the winelands, only occasionally stopping to pick up a quick bite to eat or some cheese at the Simonsberg factory shop. But given that one of the regular panel members is based there, we thought it only fair to expand our horizons and look beyond the lights of the big city for our next WhiteStickSips tasting. And so it was, that we saddled up, being all environmentally friendly sharing rides, braved the rush-hour Tuesday traffic and made the mission through to Osetra Tapas and Champagne lounge in Stellenbosch. Our celeb tasters for the evening were Andrew Harris, Wine Business Manager at Alluvia and Neil Bent, chairman of the Maaties Wine Society.

I’m not sure if I’m jumping the gun here but there seems to be a trend emerging amongst the wine bars/restaurants we have held tastings at. The restaurants have, thus far, all gone with 2 flights of 4 wines, whereas the wine bars – to be fair there have only been two – seem to prefer serving the wines individually – as was the case at Osetra. At the moment, I have to admit I’m siding with the restaurants here, preferring to be able to taste the wines as a flight and then re-taste them whilst discussing our findings amongst the panel as a whole. In addition, with each wine served individually one loses out on the chance to taste them in a different order – which to my mind plays a critical part in the rating process allowing wines to be compared not only to what came immediately before.

Enough about that though… Here are the details:

1. Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc ’08 (14.5/20)

Nice tropical notes on nose and palate although the wine seemed a little out of balance with some heat (alcohol?) coming through on the palate. Good finish with lingering acidity.

2. Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc ’08 (15.5/20)

Creaminess to the nose showing asparagus notes that follow right through to the finish. Crisp, clean palate showing evidence of extended lees contact. Little sharp though.

★ 3. Mulderbosch Chardonnay ’07 (16/20) ★

Lovely, complex nose showing signs of bottle age. Good balance on the palate, well-oaked with caramel/candied fruit set against citrus acidity. Strong finish. Definitely the wine of the night and what I’d be drinking if I ever went back.

4. Waterford Rose-Mary ’09 (13.5/20)

Only slightly pink in colour. Watery, acidic palate. #FAIL

5. La Motte Millenium ’07 (15/20)

Meaty, stewed fruit nose. Young green palate that didn’t live up to the nose. One to drink in a couple years time. Wine was also served far too warm – as were all the reds for the evening.

6. Waterford Pecan Stream ’07 (14/20)

Shy nose; hints of coffee and boiled sweets but still green. Big chewy palate. Nice… but… tannic through to the finish. Initially thought it should lie down but in retrospect it’s probably past its best.

7. Dornier Cocoa Hill Red ’07 (15/20)

Thin palate albeit slightly herbaceous with lots of berries. Seriously tannic finish.

8. Bilton Cabernet Sauvignon ’06 (16.5/20)

Lovely jammy nose, boiled sweets. Good structure to the palate but had this slightly sour note to it. Could definitely lie down a couple years.

Overall, the evening was a success and after the tasting several of us decided to make more of a night out of it staying on for a couple more bottles. I must admit, that coming from Cape Town where markups are frequently in the 300-400% range, the prices were a breath of fresh air and I think my personal average of 15 is a fair reflection on a selection of good value, drinking wines; although they really could do with serving their reds slightly cooler.

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Posted by: zawino | March 30, 2010

WhiteStickSips at Societi Bistro

Societi Bistro as seen from Orange St

I must admit, I’ve driven past Societi Bistro on my way to and from work for the last couple years and I’ve always wandered what it’s actually like inside. And so it was with great eagerness that I joined the WhiteStickSips panel along with our “celebrity” taster for the evening, Jacques de Klerk, winemaker for The Winery of Good Hope to taste through a selection of their wine list.

Societi decided to mix things up, serving 2 flights of 4 wines, each paired with a delectable morsel of food (some of which worked, others which didn’t). Regardless, the wines were tasted and rated individually before taking into account any of the pairings. They also decided on 5 whites, 1 rosé and 2 reds. And so, without further ado, here they are:

1. Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc ’08 (13/20)

Possibly the disappointment of the night, having tasted this wine at the estate last year and loved it so much I even have a couple bottles stashed away at home. On the night it was very green showing sulphur on the nose and falling flat on the palate with no real finish to speak of. The pairing of tomato, basil and mozzarella also didn’t tantalise my taste buds.

2. Le Bonheur Chardonnay ’08 (14.5/20)

A definite step up from the last wine, this was quite a surprise to me as I’m not a huge fan of unwooded chardonnay in general. It had a lovely floral nose, with the palate, despite being quite light, showing citrus notes and good backbone. The prawn spring roll pairing was delightful.

3. Raats Original Chenin Blanc ’09 (15/20)

Tropical fruits abounded on both nose and palate. Nice finish and paired well with chicken liver parfait and pineapple chutney.

Tasteful decor and low light provide for great ambience

4. South Hill Rosé ’09 (12/20)

A very yeasty nose put me off this wine right at the start. It lacked character and any sign of fruit. The palate followed through on the nose… i.e. fell flat on it’s face. Thankfully the accompanying pancetta and glacé fig was delicious.

5. Bosman Family Chenin Blanc ’09 (15.5/20)

Stepping on up the ratings again, this wine was a pleasure to taste. A slightly oxidative nose followed by good concentration on the palate, nice complexity and well balanced acidity. I certainly thought it was a blend of sorts.

6. Hartenberg Weisser Riesling ’08 (16.5/20)

My pick of the evening, both from a value point of view and from an overall score, this wine was an easy spot – and I think the 1st time I’ve managed to get the estate, varietal and vintage correct. Hints of burnt match on the nose with typical riesling oiliness (turps?). Intense fruit flavours on the palate backed by good acidity and light oaking rounded this wine off as a winner. Surprisingly, to me, the pairing of gaspaccio worked really well.

7. Hillcrest Cabernet. Sauvignon (unlabelled) (15.5/20)

Dense nose, lots of red fruit, plum, cherry and hints of spice followed by a cedary finish showing the youthfulness of this wine. Certainly had me thinking Bordeaux blend and Merlot driven in fact – perhaps that’s the cooler Durbanville climate showing through.

8. Doolhof Dark Lady Pinotage ’08 (14/20)

As one would expect this wine caused some controversy around the table, with some panel members dismissing it because of its style. In my opinion, given the style – a new-age, made-to-drink-now pinotage – it was a relatively good example. Yes, it was over oaked with strong mocha notes on the nose but these gave way to a light, but fruity palate with hints of mushroom.

To wrap things up, despite the somewhat low scores (a 14.5 point average for me), Societi is definitely a place I will go back to. The wine list is very well priced, the ambience is great and if the pairings are any indication of their food I look forward to trying the real deal.

The WhiteStickSips panel tasting up a storm

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Posted by: zawino | March 24, 2010

SpeakZA: Bloggers for a free press

This article is a result of a call by Sipho Hlongwane for bloggers to join in the outcry at the tactics employed by the ANC Youth League in dealing with the media. I urge everyone to join in and stand up for the freedom of the press in South Africa.

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa. We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic
safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but a insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

Blog Roll

http://thoughtleader.co.za/siphohlongwane
http://rwrant.co.za
http://vocfm.co.za/blogs/munadia/
http://vocfm.co.za/blogs/shafiqmorton/
http://blogs.news24.com/needpoint
http://capetowngirl.co.za
http://thoughtleader.co.za/sentletsediakanyo
http://thoughtleader.co.za/davidjsmith
http://letterdash.com/one-eye-only
http://boyuninterrupted.blogspot.com
http://amandasevasti.com
http://blog.empyrean.co.za/
http://letterdash.com/brencro
http://6000.co.za
http://chrisroper.co.za
http://pieftw.com
http://hamishpillay.wordpress.com
http://memoirs4kimya.blogspot.com
http://thoughtleader.co.za/azadessa
http://watkykjy.co.za
http://fredhatman.co.za
http://thelifeanddeathchronicles.blogspot.com/
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/common-dialogue/
http://www.clivesimpkins.blogs.com/
http://mashadutoit.wordpress.com
http://nicharalambous.com
http://sarocks.co.za
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/stompies/
http://helenmoffett.book.co.za/blog/
http://01universe.blogspot.com
http://groundwork.worpress.com
http://iwrotethisforyou.me
http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za
http://attentiontodetail.wordpress.com
http://blogs.women24.com/editor
http://www.missmillib.blogspot.com
http://snowgoose.co.za
http://dreamfoundry.co.za
http://www.vanoodle.blogspot.com
http://www.exmi.co.za
http://cat-dubai.blogspot.com
http://alistairfairweather.com
http://www.zanedickens.com
http://www.nickhuntdavis.com
http://guysa.blogspot.com
http://book.co.za
http://baldy.co.za
http://skinnylaminx.com
http://blogs.african-writing.com/zukiswa
http://www.mielie.wordpress.com
http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/gatherer/
http://thoughtleader.co.za/sarahbritten
http://stii.co.za
http://blogs.news24.com/FSB_AP
http://twistedkoeksuster.blogspot.com
http://whensmokegetsinyoureyes.blogspot.com/
http://trinklebean.wordpress.com
http://commentry.wordpress.com/
http://matthewbuckland.com
http://blogs.news24.com/colour-me-fran
http://gormendizer.co.za
http://guy.cognasium.com
http://cathjenkin.wordpress.com/
http://oopsmother.blogdrive.com
http://blogs.news24.com/mynews24
http://bridesmaid-to-be.blogspot.com
http://blindcripple.co.za
http://www.macgeek.co.za
http://www.futurechurch.co.za
http://whereisbrotha.blogspot.com/
http://letterdash.com/VernonWolf
http://khadijapatel.co.za
http://ravingfans.co.za
http://helenmoffett.book.co.za/blog/
http://angelo2711.posterous.com/
http://wineandi.wordpress.com/

Posted by: zawino | March 16, 2010

Harold’s entertains WhiteStickSips

I first discovered Harold’s in January when meeting up with some of the WhiteStickSips crowd for a couple drinks. Tucked somewhere between Manhattan and Mr Price it’s easy to miss but next time you’re wandering your way home from a run on the promenade or a laze on the beach I’d suggest to stop in for a couple toots. Harold’s has a really good selection of well-priced wines, many from estates you quite easily may never have heard of (and for them nay-or-yay-sayers out there that doesn’t mean that they’re good or bad… just that you haven’t heard of them). The glassware – yes, possibly the most important aspect of any wine bar – is immaculate, the place very laid back and the the walls covered in wine – which is great and all but I only hope that his stock turnover is really high because without cooling it isn’t exactly the best place to be storing wine. Harold himself comes across as having a passion for wine, a good judgement for value and a good ear for what his consumer’s are looking for. Although I did walk away from the tasting feeling a little like a lab-rat being released after being experimented on. But that can also been seen as a good thing because it’s about what the consumer likes and it was great to see the attention paid when chatting to him about what we liked, disliked, etc. To my delight, he decided to mix things up serving 2 whites, a rose and 5 reds – as well as throwing the odd exotic varietal our way to boot (the experimentation so to speak)  - serving each wine individually rather than in flights. And blow me down, I never thought these words would ever come out of my mouth but it was a rosé that came out as my tip for the night. On to the details…

1. Drakensig Sauvignon Blanc – 14.5/20
A 1st time taste for me this was definitely not my style of wine. Young, acidic with punchy, tropical fruit flavours and no more finish than those folks cut off before Chapman’s peak in the Argus over the weekend.
2. Viljoensdrift River Grandeur Chardonnay ’09 - 16/20
Yet another estate I haven’t tasted anything from before. This lightly oaked chardonnay impressed with floral/peachy notes on the nose and a light, fruity but well-balanced palate. Really thought there was some Viognier in there though. Ah well, we live and we learn.
3. Amani Pansy Poppy Blush ’09 – 16/20
As I mentioned above, this wine came out as my value pick for the night. A fact that, like the name of the wine, makes me blush somewhat with this being a wine that will appeal to anyone from your poppy to your pansy. Not your usual rosé, this wine had a deep red colour and showed a strong savoury, yeasty character on the nose – reminiscent of the the biscuit one finds on a MCC – whilst maintaining a surprising strawberry/cranberry fruitiness on the palate and a good long, dry, slightly acidic finish.
4. Zorgvliet Cabernet Franc ’07 – 15.5/20
The 1st of the exotic varietals, this wine didn’t excite much but had a nice gamey/meaty nose and a smooth, somewhat jammy, palate with red fruits notes and well-integrated tannins. A wine to dirnk now imo and in retrospect after learning this was a Cab Franc I nmust admit to being somewhat impressed by the accessibility of a varietal that often provides the tannic backbone to a Bordeaux blend.
5. Altydgedacht Barbera ’07 - 15/20
This was another wine that had me perplexed – somewhat restrained it showed herbaceous notes on the nose alongside toffee and caramel, a buttery palate without too much fruit following the nose quite closely and a pleasant albeit somewhat short-lived finish. The minty character certainly had me thinking Merlot and the caramel notes perhaps Merlot-based Cape Blend. Wrong!
6. Stellenrust JJ Merlot ’05 - 14/20
Possibly the disappointment of the night. This wine really should have been quite a bit better than it was – an earthy nose, light palate and dry metallic finish.
7. Gabrielskloof ’08 - 15.5/20
A shy and tight wine on the night, the forest floor on the nose along with overripe fruit and green tannins in the mid-palate put me off slightly although it did have some lovely violets on the nose. It’s still a very young though so perhaps it will improve.
8. Eaglevlei Shiraz ’07 - 16.5/20
A seriously big wine, with the biggest score as well… A heavy nose and palate to suit showing lots of liqourice, and, again, heavy earthy notes and a long herbaceous finish. Yet again, I was thinking red blend.
So that brings me out with a personal average of 15.38 (slightly below last week’s score of 15.75 for Mama Africa although it seems the group average speaks differently as Harold’s managed to pip Mama Africa for 2nd place thus far).

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Posted by: zawino | March 12, 2010

WhiteStickSips hits up Mama Africa

Mama Africa

A popular spot on the tourist trail and a definite must-visit for any local, Mama Africa (the restaurant not the singer) was the host of the WhiteStickSips tasting on the 16th Feb and this time we were joined by a couple members of the Under the Influence group, along with mysticopias and the Swede.

Given that one of our members, Harry Reginald is responsible for their wine list, it was a certainty that they would have a couple treats on their list whilst also catering to the “mass” market that is their bread and butter (this is a totally unsubstantiated guess on my behalf). And that, ladies and gentleman, was exactly what we were treated to; a good display of their wines to meet all requirements and refinements of palates: a couple of run-of-the-mill offers, one or two better wines (better scoring and better value imho) and a couple of treats that you won’t see on every wine list in the city.

Like the Westin Grand, Mama Africa decided to go with a flight of 4 whites, followed by a flight of 4 reds (disclaimer: Harry had nothing to do with the selection and despite knowing the wine list well he like us was in the dark as to what wines would be served). The whites started out with a little controversy when chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc were confused; the 1st wine being the KZ Chenin ’09 (14.5/20) and the 2nd the Warwick Professor Black ’08 (14.5/20). This, despite tasting notes such as fresh cut green grass on the sauv and guava/tropical fruits on the Chenin. I’m still not sure wtf happened… it was just more of a gut feel and that was clearly, very wrong. The 3rd white was definitely the value for money pick of the night – the Backsberg Chardonnay ’08 (16/20). A well-balanced wine although it falls slightly short on the finish; but at R120 it’s a bargain. The last wine of the flight created a little controversy amongst the group. A seriously oxidative nose brought about discussion as to whether it was faulty or whether that was the style of the wine. In the end it turned out to be a stylistic choice as the Lammershoek Roulette Blanc ’07 (17/20) was revealed.

The reds kicked off with a Hoopenburg Pinot Noir ’08 (15.5/20). An easy spot from the colour alone with strawberries and pencial shavings on the nose making it a dead giveaway. The herbaceous Hartenburg Merlot ’08 (15) followed, which came as a little surprise given that I am generally a fan of this wine and would have rated it higher when tasting at the estate. On that note, I generally find reds the harder to judge, particularly when double blind as their various flavour profiles can bear more resemblance than a Thai lady boy to the real deal (anyone who doubts that metaphor should check out National Lampoon’s Lost Reality whilst comparing a full-bodied fruity merlot to a herbaceous cab). Regardless, we go about this challenge in the hope of learning more, gaining experience and hopefully providing some useful insights and an independent view on what to drink the next time you visit the establishment. Which in the case of the reds we tasted, would be the 3rd wine, a Mooiplaas Cab. Sauv  ’02 (16/20). Whilst showing its age and dominant varietal nicely, hints of spice on the palate had me thinking there may be a bit of shiraz in there. As it turns out I was mistaken but nevertheless this is fine example of an old world style cab that I would gladly drink again. The last wine of the evening was astoundingly dark, broody and complex. A powerful nose, albeit with some vegetative (cabbage patch) notes, a tight, spicy palate and a long finish with a good concentration of fruit throughout. It turned out to be the Sequillo ’06 (17.5/20) – certainly the best wine of the night and if you’ve got the dough to spare, then drop it on this baby. Note: if you’re going to drink it at home be sure to decant this baby to allow it to open up properly as its best years are still well in the future.

So that’s it for this installment. If you average out all those ratings (actually you don’t have to because I’ve done it for you) you’ll find my personal rating comes out as a 15.75, although it seems I was a little more generous than the rest of the group on this particular night (mine being the highest average score awarded – check out the WhiteStickSips site for more). Nonetheless I find this a very reflective score on what I thought to be a great tasting complete with wines to suit any drinker and budget.

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