Posted on | January 19, 2016
Written by | Sara Kay
If wine’s “Old World” is Europe, and its “New World” is considered the United States, South America and the Antipodes, where does South Africa fit? It is becoming refreshingly evident that South Africa is successfully bridging both worlds. There is a genuine reverence for terroir; yet winegrowers also are eager to tinker—to produce wines that are generously expressive.
The modern South Africa wine culture is being led by some long-established wineries. We recently had the chance to sample some current releases of Vergelegen, an estate whose history predates our country. When Willem Adriaan succeeded his father as governor of the Cape in 1700, he started farming the slopes of the Hottentots range; it took three days by ox-wagon to reach the farm; hence its name “Vergelegen,” meaning “situated far away.” Today, it’s all about the vines and wines, of course, with Vergelegen owned and operated by Anglo American PLC, one of the world’s largest global mining groups who developed it into a thoroughly modernized wine estate.
Of special note, the Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $18.99), made with no skin contact and a splash of Semillon, emphasizes freshness and tart varietal SB character but without the aggressive edge often found in New Zealand examples. And the two flagship “GVB” blends (GVB stands for “Grown, Vinted, Bottled”): the 2011 Red (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc; SRP $48.99) is ripe and complex with excellent fruit-tannin-oak balance; the White (56% Semillon, 44% Sauvignon Blanc) is whole-bunch pressed and then fermented and matured in new French oak for 10 months, yielding a round, lush, full-bodied wine. blackhawkimports.com
Croft, the oldest continuously active Port house, is releasing their first Reserve Tawny Port in the U.S. Residing between two established styles—Fine Tawny (aged 3-5 years) and 10-year-old Tawny—the Reserve is typically aged for seven years, providing the depth that aged Tawny is known for, coupled with a smooth character that makes it easy to drink and pair. Croft Reserve Tawny Port has a nose of red fruit, caramel, raisins, nuts and cloves; spices, butterscotch and strawberry jam join in on the smooth and round palate, leading into an elegant finish. Pairs well with dried fruit, nuts, figs, caramel and crème brûlée. SRP $19.99; 20% ABV. kobrand.com
After stints at California retailer BevMo and supplier Purple Wine Co., Dennis Carroll set out to start his own portfolio, Wine Hooligans, with both new and existing brands. Broadside, a $15 Cabernet from Paso Robles, has already proven to be a hit. But their brand with the biggest upside is arguably Cycles Gladiator.
Wine Hooligans acquired it from Hahn Family Wines in 2014 when it bottomed out at 100,000 cases. They quickly scaled back the SKUs to five varietals; nixed the idea of creating a new red blend; and upgraded the entire line to a Central Coast AVA. Perhaps most important of all, they brought back its original labeling—infamous for getting banned in Alabama—and winemaker, Adam LaZarre. The 2014s (except for Merlot), entering the pipeline in January, represent Adam LaZarre’s first complete vintage. The SRP has ticked upward to $10.99, but the wine still represents great value for Central Coast varietal wine. winehooligans.com