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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 152 (September 4, 2007)

Saturday, August 25: Last night Deborah dropped me at the airport for the flight to Frankfurt at 10:05 pm. Mercifully, I get upgraded and I get about four hours sleep, no wine, no dinner. There is a five-hour lay-over in Frankfurt before the 12-hour flight to Cape Town. Somehow I manage to lose my cap. On the plane, I am seated next to an Ottawa man who works for CSIS. Dinner – chicken with splits of Boland Kelder Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and KC Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Watch three movies and doze for a couple of hours. The customs declaration form is very comprehensive; it says we are forbidden to bring into the country anything that has been manufactured or made in prison. I guess someone has tried to smuggle in license plates. Arrive in Cape Town at 5 am. Eventually find my driver, who takes me to the Spier Hotel in Stellenbosch. My room is not ready but they find me one and I get to bed about 6:30 am. Sleep three hours and wander in for breakfast. The weather is quite chilly although the sun is out. The Spier hotel has its own railway station and is situated on a former De Beers estate of some 2100 acres. It includes captive cheetahs and eagles which you can interact with. At breakfast I met Dermot Nolan, a Dublin-based MW, and tagged along with him to Century City, a 20 minute drive from the hotel. Century City is a cross between Disneyland, Las Vegas and a Florida shopping mall. There is Venetian canal complete with gondolas and a huge food court dominated by a vast McDonald's golden arches. We stopped for a pizza and a beer before walking around the shopping galleries.

A cheetah on the Spier Estate

Danie Steytler at the braai

This evening all the judges for the Michelangelo International Wine Competition are foregathering in the lobby to drive to Kaapzicht Estate for dinner in the Bottelray Hills. Kaapzicht means Cape View and Bottelray is an old Dutch word for "pantry." Early settlers used to provision their ships with food grown on these hills. Danie and Yngvild Steytler have prepared a braai (South African BBQ) for us, luckily indoors since there is periodic torrential rain. Danie has set out several vintages of his range of wines. We begin with a 2007 Kaapzicht Sauvignon Blanc, which is delicious (gooseberry and passion fruit flavours, a cross between New Zealand and Loire). Danie's top wines – Vision, a Cape Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinotage) and a varietal Pinotage – are bottled under his Steytler label, the rest under Kaapzicht. I tasted Bin 3, a Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Blend from the 2005 and 2001 vintages; Shiraz 2004, 2005; Merlot 2002, Pinotage 2000, 2003; Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 and 2003, and the range of Vision – 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. These are terrific wines and Danie's Pinotage are some of the best I have tasted. Ended the evening with Hanepoort Jerepigo 2006.

Monday, August 27: Again torrential rain during the night. Awoke at 5 am and that was the end of sleep. After breakfast we take the minivan to Vrede, a wine farm where we will be tasting. The Michelangelo International Wine Competition is so-called because all but one of the judges are international – one from each country to judge South African wines. We are divided into four panels of three, except my panel is four, led by a Cape Wine Master, Christine Rudman. The other members are Anne Serres, a wine writer from Paris, and Antonio from Madrid. We are to score on the 100-point system, except this is broken down to specific numbers for colour (Limpidity maximum 5, Sight maximum 10); then nose (Intensity max. 8, Clarity max. 6, Quality max. 16); then taste (Intensity max. 8, Clarity max. 6, Quality max. 22, Finish max. 8); finally Overall Judgement (max. 11). We begin with two Rieslings, followed by 20 Cabernet Sauvignons (we give one gold in this category). Next a flight of 12 Semillon (one double gold), followed by 5 Viognier and 8 sparkling wines. Next two horrible Blanc de Noir and a final flight of 13 Cabernet Sauvignon with vintages ranging from 2000 to 2006.

Anne, Antonio and me

Lourensford Winery

Back to the hotel for lunch (overcooked pasta with pesto, a Windhoek Ale and the possibility to retry some of the wines from the competition). In the afternoon our group visited Lourensford in Somerset West. This huge estate of 4000 hectares, enclosed on three sides by mountains, was bought by a highly successful businessman in 1998. A former fruit farm, it is now under 350 acres of vines and currently produces 100,000 cases. The contemporary winery has the most advanced equipment in South Africa. The most entertaining feature is a roof crane that can lift a satellite tank and deposit the 5 tonnes of grapes into the fermentation tanks or drop 5,000 liters of wine over the cap inside a fermentation tank or remove pomace. The crane is suspended from a 50-metre ceiling. Winemaker Philip Costandius showed us around, including the barrel cellar (capacity 3500 barrels – he favours 300-litre size), and then led us into the tasting room for a tasting.

  • Lourensford Sauvignon Blanc 2007: very lively, tart, green bean and gooseberry flavours.
  • Viognier 2007 (5% Chardonnay): peachy, honeysuckle, lovely mouth feel, lively acidity.
  • Five Heirs Three Peaks Shiraz/Viognier 2006: coconut, blackberry and plum flavours; oaky.
  • Lourensford Merlot 2006: green pepper, red berry flavoured.
  • Lourensford "1700" 2003 (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 4% Shiraz): spicy, red berry, smoky, tarry. The 2005 vintage was better (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Shiraz).
  • Lourensford Noble Late Harvest Semillon 2005: golden colour; spicy, honeyed peach with a botrytis note; short finish.

Then we drove to Stellenbosch for dinner at The Wijnhuis Restaurant. Sue van Wyk, who runs the competition, had brought along a couple of boxes of wine from entries we had already judged, so these were passed around during the meal (Salad, Cob fish, Malva Pudding). I sampled the following wines: Flat Roof Manor Semillon 2006, Hermanuspietersfontein Nr. 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Lands End Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (the sulphur made me sneeze), Lourensford Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Eikendal Semillon 2006. The reds: Indalo Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Kleine Zalze Cabernet Sauvignon, Boland Cellar No. 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and Saam Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Brandy.

Tuesday, August 28: After breakfast, we were driven back to the Vrede for the morning's tasting session. Our panel is now only the three of us – Anne, Antonio and myself – since Christine Rudman and Sue van Wyk were tasting the Pinotages. We began with 17 Viogniers and a Gewürztraminer. Followed by 21 white blends based on a combination of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Semillon and Colombard and one (mercifully) lonely rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon. After a break we tasted seven Pinot Noir and 31 Merlot. I am now convinced that Merlot is a grape that should not be grown in South Africa. Our panel gave no gold medals today. A late lunch back at the hotel, on the terrace: sweet potato soup, chicken breast in a sweet sauce. Sue brought out more wines from the competition so I got to taste KWV Steen 2007, Alvin's Drift Chenin Blanc 2007, Babylon's Peak Chenin Blanc 2007, Signal Gun Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Nederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Marianne Pinotage 2004. Tempel Pinotage 2004. This afternoon at 5 pm we leave for Kleine Zalze, a golf and wine estate with a lodge, guest cottages and housing. We have a "sundowner" on the deck of the lodge – Kleine Zalze Gamay Noir Rosé 2007 – while the winemaker, Johan Joubert, gives us the lowdown on the winery's three levels of wine: Family Reserve, Vineyard Selection and Cellar Selection. They also do a series of wines called Foot of Africa from vineyards all around the Cape coast. Then inside for a tasting.

  • Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2005: nettles, passion fruit, green pepper flavours.
  • Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006: more in Sancerre style, tart elderberry flavours, very racy. Our group is split in their preference. I like the 2006 better.
  • Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2004 from bush vines: rich, spicy peach with lively acidity.
  • Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2005: barrel-fermented, a little funky but full on the palate.
  • Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007: youthful, banana, pear and pineapple flavours with a floral note.
  • Select Cuvée Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2007: botrytis affected – ripe tropical fruit and quince flavours, good acidity.
  • Family Reserve Shiraz 2005: dense ruby, blackberry; smoky, peppery, ripe fruit; dry, well balanced, iodine note on the finish. Lovely wine.
  • Family Reserve Shiraz 2004: dense ruby; floral, barnyard note; blackcurrant, oaky, good acidity but thins out on the finish.
  • Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: deep ruby; cedar, blackcurrant, richly extracted, firm structure with lively acidity. Finishes with a medicinal note. Great wine.
  • Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003: elegant, claret style, fruity note.

Dinner in the winery's Terroir Restaurant, voted by Eat Out Magazine as the best restaurant in South Africa. The chef is Michael Broughton. While we wait for dinner we have the Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc 2005 and the Chenin Blanc 2005. The chef brings out two amuse gueules – a slice of egg and bacon flan and gnocchi with shellfish sauce. The main course is Rib Eye steak with Béarnaise sauce, then Pear and Frangelica crème brulee.

Wednesday, August 29: The tasting this morning is White Varietals or Blends with 9 to 15 grams of sugar (10, all but one 2007), one Bukkettraube 2007 (a variety I have never heard of), 16 rosés from 2007, then 47 Shiraz-dominated red blends, 2007 back to 2003. Lunch back at the Spier Hotel – soup and overcooked pasta. On the table for us to taste: Stellenzicht Pinotage 2005, Neetingshof Lord Neetling Pinotage 2003, Rijk's Private Cellar Pinotage 2003, Morkel Pinotage 2005 (the best), then Nederberg Edelkur 2005 and Alvi's Drift Muscat de Frontignan 2006. After a siesta, we all meet to drive over to Beyerskloof. As we arrived we are offered a glass of Pinotage Brut Rose 2007 – delicious: salmon pink colour, dry, strawberry and pink grapefruit flavours. Beyers Truter is not here, unfortunately, but his son Anri tours us through the winery. Beyers was the first winemaker to use new oak barrels for Pinotage. After sampling from the barrel (2006 Pinotage Reserve in new and second-use barrel) we move to the tasting bar to taste a series of Beyerskloof wines. The winery is very modern and beautifully furnished, starkly decorated in white, red and black. Beyerskloof is an all-red winery which specialises in Pinotage and is the world's largest producer of this wine – 1.25 million bottles. Beyers is recognized as the king of Pinotage. They even make Pinotage jam and Pinotage salami here (which is delicious).

  • Beyerskloof Pinotage 2006: smoky blackberry nose with licorice notes, tarry.
  • Pinotage Reserve 2005: smoky black cherry, spicy; lively acidity.
  • Pinotage Reserce 2003: deep ruby, black cherry with an earthy note; intense fruit, spicy oak.
  • Beyerskloof Synergy Reserve 2004 (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend) – a Cape Blend; Beyers was the first to use the term Cape Blend on a label: earthy, savoury, tight – needs time.
  • Beyerskloof Synergy Reserve 2005: elegant current flavour, fruity, dry and firmly structured.
  • Beyerskloof Field Blend 2003 (Cabernet/Merlot): tobacco note on the nose; claret-like St. Emilion style, elegant, dry red and blackcurrants; firm structure – a lovely wine.
  • Beyerskloof Field Blend 1997: oaky, firm, elegant claret style; still youthful.

Dinner in the winery restaurant with open bottles of the above wines: crayfish risotto and steak.

  The goats' tower at Fairview

Thursday, August 30: This morning our panel tasted 32 Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (hard on the teeth), 30 dry red blends 2003–2006 and 14 sweet Muscatels. The very last wine was a 1953. Three of us gave it 100 points, they only one in the competition I gave a perfect score. It turned out at be KWV Muscatel Jerepigo 1953. It was tawny brown with an olive green rim, as sweet as brown sugar and dried figs but with balancing acidity. In a blind tasting I would have thought it was an old Malmsey Madeira. Lunch at Fairview with its goats' tower. Tried to take photos of the goats but they were not very cooperative. Our lunch was outside, like an Italian wedding. We had a selection of cheeses (goat's, naturally), salami and prosciutto and salad. The wine: Fairview Sauvignon Blanc 2007. In the afternoon the bus took us to Cape Town's waterfront, where Desmond Nolan, Anne Serres from France and Adriana Etcheberry from Spain went to buy gifts for the competition organizers, Lorraine Steyn and Sue van Wyk. All the judges had kicked in 100 Rand each. Dinner at Ocean Basket started with a Namibian beer, Windhoek lager. I ordered grilled calamari with rice. The wines came from the competition entries: Tokara Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Nitidia Semillon 2007, Beisjes Craal Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Rijk's Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2006, Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2006. For dessert, an amazing Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Friday, August 31: Mercifully, the last day of tasting. I am suffering palate fatigue and it takes me two flights to get in sync with my panel.

We eat lunch at the tasting venue – chicken and then apple flan (Longridge Merlot 2004, Mischa Estate Shiraz 2003) – and then there is the judging of the trophy wines. These are wines that have all received Double Gold awards (96 points). All the judges sit at a long table with nine wines to taste. We have to score them and rank them from 1 to 9. We don't know the producers but the wines in tasting order are (my ranking in brackets):

  • Chenin Blanc 2004 (4)
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (6)
  • Chardonnay 2003 (1) - An amazing wine, like a Chevalier Montrachet
  • Shiraz 2005 (9)
  • Shiraz 2003 (8)
  • Red Blend 2002 (7)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (5)
  • Noble Late Harvest 2003 (3)
  • Muscatel Jerepigo 1953 (2)

Although I gave the Jerepigo 100 points and the Chardonnay 97 I put the Chardonnay top because the Jerepigo will not be available and it was a no-brainer. In discussions with other judges afterwards it seems that this dessert wine will get the top award.

Tonight is our last meal together. I have to get up at 4 am in order to catch a 7 am flight to Frankfurt. We dine in Moyo, an African restaurant on the Spier Estate, set in a vast tent. (Moyo in Swahili means "soul.") All the guests have their faces painted by the serving staff. My design is a sunburst. The food is served buffet style with a food stations each marked Chicken, Meat, Vegetables, Starch, Dessert, etc. There are dancers on stage and a band with a dance floor. The bottles on the table: Anura Vioginer 2006, Naude Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2006, Pulpit Rock Shiraz 2006, Mooiplaas Pinotage 2003, Cederberg 5 Generations 2005, Labach The Ladybird 2006 (all five Bordeaux grapes), Renosterbos Shiraz 2006, Meerkat Burrow Blend 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), Dombeya Amalgam 2004 (Cabernet Sauvignon /Shiraz/Merlot) and Hercules Paragon Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. At 11 pm Lorraine and Sue presented all the judges with watches, a fitting prize for Juan Carlos Redon from Colombia, who was congenitally late on every occasion. I get to bed at 11:30 pm.

Saturday, August 31: A wretched night, staring at the alarm clock. Have already showered when the wake-up call comes. On the plane I am seated next to a young man who listens to his iPod at threshold of pain. I can share his music. When the flight attendant offers drinks he asks what beers they have on board. "How old are you?"asks the attendant.

"Seventeen," he replies.

"I can't give you beer."


On the flight I had splits of Eskai Chardonnay 2005 and Boland Keller Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. I book into the Sheraton at the airport since my flight to Toronto tomorrow is at 10 am. No dinner, too exhausted.

Saturday, September 1: Up at 7 am. The Air Canada computer system is down just as I get to check in. Apparently, they check the system in Canada at 1 am or so, which means every other time zone around the world is down for half an hour. The women at Frankfurt airport who check us in are not happy. There is a very long queue for this flight. I use an upgrade certificate to get into Business Class so I can drink Drappier Brut, the champagne I bought for our wedding. As I walk towards the line for Business Class in the lounge a middle-aged German guy steps out of the line for Economy and starts berating me for jumping the queue. With great satisfaction I show him my Business Class ticket. He doesn't apologize. This Boeing 777 has the individual sleeping cubicles and the food isn't bad. Pumpkin terrine with asparagus and lentil salad, Chicken breast with red Thai curry sauce, cheeses (German Camembert and Bavarian Blue), Chestnut mousse in a bitter chocolate cup. The wines: La Fornarina Pinot Gris 2006, Colio CEV Chardonnay 2006, Montgras Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and then a couple of glasses of Drappier while I write this.




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