A large, enthusiastic crowd learned about wine making in South Africa while tasting some outstanding wines at Wine World Wednesday night.
The seminar sold out and Wine World had to turn people away because they ran out of room. The lucky folks who made it in were led through the wines by a rock-star South African winemaker and the founder of an importing firm focusing on artisanal family vineyards. All the wines tasted were limited production wines.
Both women were informative and entertaining, and brought delicious wines. They were joined by another woman who is co-owner of an exciting boutique winery.
Here is the lineup of the wines tasted:
Hill&Dale Sauvignon Blanc 2015. This was a light, crisp, pleasant wine with flavors of Granny Smith apples and a mineral finish. Some Semillon is blended in for a rounder flavor.
Blouberg Blanc NV. This is a medium dry wine with a trace of sweetness. It has a citrus flavor with a fresh finish. It’s made from a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The wine takes its name from the blue-tinged mountains of the Cape.
De Bos Chenin Blanc 2014. This was a wonderful wine full of rich tastes. Mika Bulmash, CEO and founder of Wine For The World, described the wine as having the freshness of Chardonnay but with a bigger mouthfeel. The wine had good structure and acidity, but a wonderfully complex smoothness. The wine is made by the eighth generation of the Bosman Family to own the land, dating back to 1707. The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc and spends a minimum of three months on the lees, giving it body and creaminess. In 2008 the family shared ownership of the company with their 260 full-time workers, who now own 26%. The winery has received the official Fairtrade certification for its ethical and sustainable methods of producing and trading wine.
Bosman Adama White 2014. This was a fantastic white blend, reminding me of a white Burgundy. The blend is 60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Grenache Blanc, 3% Semillon, 3% Viognier, 3% Pinot Gris and 1% Roussanne. It had a firm body with some smoothness, and flavors of lemon and peach.
De Bos Walker Bay 47 Varietal Rosé 2015. The wine really does have 47 varietals included in the wine. All the grapes came from the Walker Bay vineyard, and with only 750 cases made, they don’t need much of each varietal. The top three varietals are Cinsaut 20.287%, Clairette Blanche 13.175% and Ugni Blanc 10.066%. I couldn’t detect the .003% of Tinta Amarella or Verdelho, but it doesn’t matter. The blend is delightful, with hints of strawberry and cranberry. Very refreshing.
Stellekaya Hercules 2011.
After a break to get some wonderful food, including a South African dish, we started on the red wines. While the whites were outstanding, the stars of the evening were the reds. We started with this Sangiovese blend from a winery that is developing a great reputation for rich, complex reds made in the Stellenbosch region, the heart of the Cape Winelands. They make no white wines. The name comes from the Italian word for stars, stella, and an African word for skies, kaya. All the wines have drawings of constellations on the label and are named after the constellations. Owners Dave and Jane Lello see Stellekaya as an African winery that makes European style wines.
Jane Lello was at the Wine World tasting, and she said she and her husband are first generation winemakers who started in 1999. Their first harvest produced 300 bottles.
“When you taste our wine, you can call it love,” she said. Lello was very animated and clearly excited about having a winery that made such great Bordeaux blends.
The Lellos brought in a young winemaker who had won a scholarship to study at the University of Stellenbosch even though she had never tasted wine before starting her studies.
Ntsiki Biyela hit the ground running, winning a gold medal for the first red blend she produced in 2004. She became South Africa’s first black female winemaker and later woman winemaker of the year. She seems modest and doesn’t like to dwell on her honors, but prefers to focus on the wine.
The Hercules was a great introduction to the Stellekaya wines. It’s a beautiful, fresh blend with pleasant aromas and a crisp finish. Biyela described the aroma as the fresh smell you get when rain hits the earth. “I love nature, and I love that smell,” she said.
The wine is cold soaked for three days before being basket pressed. Malolactic fermentation takes place in the barrel, and the wine spends 12 months in French oak barrels. It is a fresh, fruity wine, with good grip in the mouth. It is great at room temperature, but you can also chill it slightly.
Stellekaya Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. I reviewed this wine two months ago and fell in love with it. It is an intense, full-bodied wine with layers of dark fruit and crisp acidity. It is a balanced wine that gets better with each sip. This wine spends 24 months in oak barrels and another year in the bottle before it is released. I thought this might be the best Stellekaya wine until I tasted the Orion.
Bosman Adama Red 2015. This blend of Shiraz (59%), Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Nero d`Avola, Mourvedre, Primitivo and Viognier is a smooth, layered wine. Raspberry aromas lead to flavors of cherry and plum with a refreshing mineral finish. The grapes are fermented separately and blended about four months before bottling. It is a gorgeous wine that could be the star of a special dinner, or served with pizza or pasta for a quick mid-week meal.
Stellekaya Orion 2008. This Bordeaux-style blend was the star of the night. It’s a full-bodied blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. It was the most complex wine of the evening, with layers of black fruit and integrated tannins. The flavors were rich and full with good acidity, but you didn’t really taste the oak, even though the wine was aged 22 months in 100% new French oak. This was such a complex wine every sip brought out a new flavor. Some of the things I tasted were blackberry, cherry, spice, vanilla and maybe a hint of truffles.
“You take a sip and you go back and get another layer,” said Biyela. “You take another sip and get another layer. It is a wine that will take you where you want to go.”
A lot of extra care goes into this wine, as with all the Stellekaya wines. Only 330 cases of this wine were produced.
Bulmash of Wine For The World told me while were tasting the Orion that it is one of her favorite wines. I agree with her; it has jumped to near the top of my list.
Invalid Displayed GalleryBulmash and Biyela were wonderful guides for our trip through these South African wines. I think we are lucky to be able to buy them locally, because with such limited production it would be easy for the producers to just sell them in big cities and move on. Thanks goodness they have a commitment to spreading around the wealth.
Biyela was fun to talk to on Skype, and in person she is even more impressive. She clearly is knowledgeable about wine and wine making, and her personality is effervescent, her smile infectious. She clearly is a woman who loves what she is doing and when you taste her wines you know she does it better than most.
Biyela also told me she has a couple of other projects in the works. She has collaborated with Napa Valley winemaker Helen Keplinger on a wine called Keplinger/Biyela Red Collection No. 1, a full-bodied blend of cab and sangiovese grown in Stellenbosch. It is bottled by Wine for the World. Bulmash said the wine was being rebranded because the label is a mouthful. I think she said it will be called Suo. The wines are certified environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.
Biyela also is making a red and a white under her own label that will be available later this year. I am looking forward to those wines when they are released. I hope they will be available in our area.
On a personal note I would like to say how much I appreciate the time these women devoted to telling us all about their wines. They were in the middle of a busy week of flying to Texas and Washington and New York, but they spent an evening with us after two busy days in Charleston. I know they’re selling wine, but it’s not like they have to come to North Augusta or Augusta to sell their wine. They could sell it all in the big cities or online.
I interviewed Biyela by Skype in April and I could tell how busy she was. Lello and Bulmash are just as busy. So for them to make the trip to North Augusta is a commitment. But it is a common trait in the wine industry. People just seem to enjoy sharing what they produce and they love telling people about it.
I also appreciate Andrew Benjamin and his crew for bringing them in and taking care of all the logistics involved in running a wine tasting like this. It was a wonderful evening.
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