Exciting new wines from the Cape, by Neal Martin
Following my report earlier in the year, this second tranche of new releases from the Cape shows how much the region has to offer. Traveling to South Africa remained difficult under COVID-19 rules so I tasted the wines in the UK over a week in July 2021. I cannot wait to return to this wonderful country; it has been too many months since I could visit vineyards and discuss the ever-changing region face to face with winemakers.
They have endured a few difficult months, not least due to the government’s vacillation over limiting or banning sales of alcohol. Although I wrote this report amid easing travel restrictions and a growing sense of anticipation that I might visit the region again before long, recent developments with the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 means I might have to wait a little longer.
The 2020 growing season broke the run of “drought years” between 2016 and 2019. Though ultimately the harvest was 8.2% larger than 2019, flowering was disturbed by windy conditions during fruit set and consequently there was uneven ripening between and within parcels. Swartland flowered some 10 days earlier than normal. Thankfully, the summer was devoid of heat spikes and rainfall was welcome, particularly in those regions prone to drought. The downside of the rain was that it resulted in more challenging sanitary conditions and winemakers had to be vigilant, proactively spraying their vines against mildew and rot. It also necessitated more weed control.
Swartland did experience one 40°C spike in mid-January that nudged their picking date forward. In Stellenbosch, the earlier-ripening varieties tended to be picked two weeks earlier than usual, while the later-ripening ones were ready at the normal time due to those moderate temperatures, which enhanced flavor retention.
This sweep of the Cape includes a mixture of larger-volume/more commercially driven producers and cutting-edge winemakers whose limited allocations are fought over. It was perhaps expected that not all of the entry-level wines made the grade, and there were plenty of instances where very ordinary and occasionally faulty wines had to be excluded. That is the same for any country or wine region, irrespective of reputation.
I prefer to focus on the standouts because, as I have written countless times before, South Africa is frankly unbeatable in terms of quality-to-price ratio. Kanonkop still provides what for this writer is the exemplar of South Africa’s signature grape variety, Pinotage, and one of those wines that I would serve blind to those who dismiss it out of hand. Their Kadette range remains outstanding value, particularly their 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for the paltry sum of two ten-dollar bills.
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