Fable Mountain Vineyards Jackal Bird 2012, South Africa
S outh African wines have intrigued me for many years. Even though South African wines are considered new world, wine has been made there for centuries.
While most wine drinkers know about American, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and South American wines, few people know much about South African wines. That could change with the launch of a major effort to market South African wines in the United States this year, and to make more of their wines available.
Many of the internationally known grapes are grown there, but I have particularly enjoyed their superb, unique Chenin Blanc and the powerful Pinotage. Now I have found a Rhone style white blend that delivers fresh fruit flavor with a lot of complexity and structure.
The Fable Mountain Jackal Bird opens with some beautiful floral and pear aromas. On the palate there is a delightful mix of peach and slate that lingers long after the last swallow. The complex wine unfolds in the glass, with each sip revealing a new taste.
The fruit is fresh and lively, but there is plenty of acidity to give this wine a firm structure. The wine offers lush flavors that will stand up to all kinds of food while still being pleasant to sip on its own.
The mixture is 45 percent Chenin Blanc, 20 percent Grenache Blanc, 17 percent Roussanne, 9 percent Chardonnay and 9 percent Viognier. The grapes are all hand picked in small batches and fermented separately. Each grape variety is handled differently, depending on the target for the final blend.
Some of the grapes are cold soaked, some see a lot of contact with the skins. Some wine spends time in stainless steel, some in concrete eggs and some go into barrels. Much of the wine spends 9-12 months in French oak barrels. After all the wines are fully matured they are blended and bottled.
The winemakers say by choosing wines from so many different vineyards they are able to achieve greater complexity.
The Jackal Bird is named after the large raptors that have made their home at Fable. They can be seen most afternoons as they catch the thermals soaring high above the mountains, graceful and free.
Winery: Wine entrepreneur Charles Banks is the driving force behind Fable Mountain Vineyards. Probably best known for being a partner in the cult winery Screaming Eagle, he and his wife Ali bought Fable Mountain in 2010.
After a friend recommended he check out South African wines, he and Ali fell in love with the country and its wines. A year after buying Fable Mountain they also bought Mulderbosch.
The husband and wife team of Rebecca Tanner and Paul Nicholls founded Fable Mountain in 2009 and stayed on as winemakers when Banks bought the property.
Ali and Charles went to the same high school in Atlanta. He later graduated from the University of Georgia and she graduated from the University of Virginia.
He became an investment banker, got married and moved to California. When they had a chance to buy 600 acres in Santa Barbara and plant them with grapevines they decided to try the wine business. That property became Jonata, known for high quality wines.
Charles is the founding and managing partner of Terroir Selections, which owns Cultivate, Mulderbosch, Sandi, Mayacamas, Fable and Leviathan.
Fable has a beautiful location in the shadow of the rugged slopes of the Witzenberg Mountain range, at 1,300-2100 feet. The 80 acres of vineyards contain primarily Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache Noir.
The mountains have a cooling effect on the vineyard, providing morning shade that allows the grapes to ripen slowly. Sparse soil forces the roots to work their way deep into shale to get needed water and nutrients, giving the grapes power and character that is reflected in the wines.
The land is farmed biodynamically. As part of a diversified farm system cattle and sheep are kept on the property. They are pasture fed, and their manure is used to boost the health of the soil. In the winter they graze in the vineyards. Meat also is sold from the farm.
The other wines offered by Fable are a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend called Night Sky, and a Syrah.
Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this with gumbo I made, and we loved it. The mineral notes from the Chenin Blanc perfectly played off the rich, flavorful gumbo. The wine was full of great stone fruit, but good acidity gave it a nice crispness that made it wonderful with food.
The gumbo is one I have been making for several years, loosely based on a recipe by Pat Conroy. It is loaded with chicken, shrimp, crab, crawfish tails, Andouille and bacon. The dish takes most of the day to make, but I usually make enough to freeze several meals of it.
It starts with a roux that takes about 20-30 minutes of constant stirring, but it adds a rich caramel color and lots of flavor. Sipping the Jackal Bird made stirring the roux a lot easier. The one glaring omission in the recipe is that it didn’t call for okra.
I know I’m no gumbo expert since I grew up in the Midwest, but Southern cooks tell me gumbo has to have okra, so I always add okra.
We served this for the family on Christmas Eve and had it again on the weekend. The combination of the mouth-watering gumbo and the lush, complex wine made for a special meal.
The wine also would go well with many other seafood dishes, a rich chicken in cream sauce dish, grilled pork and hearty cheeses.
Author Dennis Sodomka