TLDR: It does not begin and end with fortified wines.
Being invited to this first online Klein Karoo Terroir tasting has been one of the highlights of my year. I’d just gone through 4 months of purely fortified studies and finally felt as though I’d done my homework and deserved the generosity of attending a small, winemaker-led tasting. I could sit back and relax…
Hah! Within the first 10 minutes I’d filled most of my page with facts I’d just learned.
I learned that the Klein Karoo Wine Route covers 600km and is arguably one of South Africa’s most diverse wine routes, producing fortified and dry wines as well as pot-stilled brandies. Something I hadn’t considered when I’d lumped all of the Klein Karoo into one category (fortifieds…I’m still hanging my head in shame) was the range of microclimates that this unique region offers. From the north facing 700 metre high altitude vineyards on the Outeniqua Mountains, to the foothills of the Swartberg near Calitzdorp, the Klein Karoo is able to grow a wide range of grape varieties.
Boplaas Cape Portuguese White Blend 2021
We started the tasting with a wine I’m very familiar with and that I purchase each year as the blend changes with every vintage.
The Boplaas Cape Portuguese White Blend is made with 95% Verdelho and 5% Chenin Blanc. Tropical fruits, citrus, lemongrass, hints of nutmeg and coriander, along with its zippy acidity make this a refreshing and energising choice for summer.
Although the Boplaas story can be traced back to 1880 when brandy made in Calitzdorp was exported to England, it was only in 1982 when the first Boplaas Estate wines were released. They’ve been winning a slew of fortified awards ever since 1986…as well as regularly picking up awards and trophies for their still wines.
* Priced at R80 a bottle – it’s a no brainer for hot summer days.
Axe Hill Gatos Kanna 2020
This blend of 52% Chenin Blanc, 30% Viognier, and 18% Palomino was a wine I’d not tasted before. After the racy Verdelho, this wine felt much softer and far more aromatic. I’d picked up spanspek (cataloupe), stone fruits, sweet grapefruit, fennel, nutmeg, and even smoky campfire. As soon as the speaker mentioned loquats, I immediately tasted them! There’s a roundness and weight to this wine thanks to skin contact and ageing in old French oak barrels. To be honest, I didn’t think much of this wine until I had a glass with my meal (egg fried rice) and BANG, it sprang to life. This is brilliant with food!
A friend often visits Kannaland, so I’d come across this Calitzdorp winery before. Friend – be warned, I will be inspecting your wine shelves more carefully from now on…and I will more than likely be headed for your bottles of Axe Hill next time we have a dinner party.
PS. Gatos means cat in Portuguese…cats, wine and egg fried rice…what more could I ask for?
* Priced at R120 a bottle…you can bet we’ll be stocking up on this…especially with the amount of egg fried rice that I eat!
Herold Weisser Riesling 2020
AKA my favourite wine of the tasting – and one of my most exciting discoveries this year. The vineyards are planted between 650 and 700 metres on the north slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains in George…the most unexpected place to look for Riesling. They also produce Pinot Noir…which, in hindsight, is now unsurprising.
With only 700 bottles made, it’s no surprise that their website is already sold out. Traces of petrol, lime blossoms, lime cordial, citrus candies, honey…and the high acidity, lean metallic minerality that you’d expect from Riesling. Delish!
* Priced at R160 a bottle…proving that Riesling keeps offering great value.
Karusa Terre Noire Syrah 2018
Next time you take a trip to Oudsthoorn, know that there is more to the town than just Cango Caves and ostriches. In fact, you could stop at Karusa for a cheeky wine tasting (or beer) with lunch en route to the caves. At altitudes of 450 metres, this continental climate winery is intriguing for the long ripening possibilities that come with its high diurnal range.
This mid weight Syrah offers lilacs, dark cherries, mulberries, guavas, cloves, Chinese 5 spice, dark chocolate, pepper…but also delicious oyster sauce and savoury meaty notes.
* Priced at R155 a bottle
De Krans Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend 2017
De Krans need no introduction with their long history dating back to 1890. Their first grapes were planted in 1936 and they made their first port in 1977. They were the first in SA to produce a Touriga Nacional as a dry red, the first in SA to produce a rosé port-style wine, and the first to make a perlé Moscato.
Tritonia is a blend of 68% Touriga Nacional, 28% Tinta Roriz, 2% Tinta Barocca, and 2% Tinta Amarela. It is deep and satisfying with its blackberries, mulberries, plum jam, prunes, roasted coffee beans, cloves, star anise, and some smoke. Full bodied, age-worthy tannins and generous long finish.
* At R205 a bottle, it’s delicious value.
Joubert-Tradauw Reserwe Cabernet Franc 2017
Cabernet Franc is probably my favourite red grape…and I’ve just planted a handful of vines in my backyard so I feel more invested than ever. I’d also heard the 2016 being called the best South African Cabernet Franc. It’s made it to my shopping cart a few times, but then I’d inevitably balk at the price. So I feel incredibly grateful to have received this wine and finally understand why the MW raved about it.
Situated between Montagu and Barrydale, it’s an unexpected location for Cab Franc. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was surprised by the elegance of the winemaking. Already showing rusty garnet at the edges, it’s a pronounced bouquet of quintessentially Cab Franc aromas: raspberries, cranberries, plums, pencil shavings, tomato leaf, cloves, cedar, savoury charcuterie, and even saffron. The tertiaries are there with hints of raisin, soy sauce, cooked fruits, and leather. My notes literally say ‘I could keep going on for ages’! My only criticism is that I wish the finish were longer and that there was a smidge more richness. But I can see why this wine scores the points.
* Priced at R580 a bottle
Peter Bayly III 2016
Already tried and tested because I adore the Portuguese varieties. This co-fermented blend is comprised of 56% Touriga Nacional, 28% Tinta Barocca and 16% Souzão planted in the Groenriver Valley at the foothills of the Swarberg near Calitzdorp. So much about how this wine is made speaks to the traditions of Port production – the co-fermentation, hand punch downs, fermentation in open cement lagars, and the 9 to 18 month maturation in old 3rd and 4th fill 225 litre barrels. The difference being that these are French oak.
The rusty ruby hints at this being a 2016. A fairly pronounced nose of deep dark fruits, all the delicious baking spices, sweet oyster sauce, meaty charcuterie, traces of black coffee, and I honestly wrote down salted guava skins. Who salts their guavas?!? I will suggest that you decant this for a while, as it softens the tannins and makes it much easier to appreciate the delicious flavours.
* Priced at R250 a bottle this offers plenty of satisfaction.
Montagu Mont Massif Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
The packaging for this bottle felt like a very special Christmas gift. And with its pronounced blackberries, dark cherries, cedar, freshly tobacco, cloves and star anise, it would make a lovely gift. It is full and plush bodied, has good acidity and finish. This was another of my favourites because of its tertiary soy and leather, and more savoury palate.
My next door neighbour is from Montagu, so I have a soft spot for the town. Which may be another reason for this being one of my faves.
* Priced at R150 a bottle, this one is easy to add under the Christmas tree…and it pretty much already comes wrapped!
I was sad to miss the presentation of the last 3 wines thanks to load shedding…that’s how much fun I was having learning about the Klein Karoo. It really is a remarkable region that offers so much diversity. I’ll always think of them as the home of the fortifieds, but now I know just how much more is available. Road trip!!