Christmas came a little early for a trio of South African winemakers who received the fantastic news that their wines had been featured in Decanter magazine’s Top 50 of 2013.
The three winemakers in question, Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards, Donovan Rall of Vuurberg and Ian Naudé of Adoro were all equally delighted to have their wine’s names in the proverbial lights in one of the most influential wine publications in the world.
Alheit’s Cartology 2011 occupied the number 4 spot while Vuurberg’s White 2011, took the number 36 spot with the 1996 vintage of Adoro Red hot on its heels at number 37.
In announcing the Top 50 list Decanter wrote that the wines featured were chosen from more than 3 200 wines selected and featured in the magazine during the course of 2013. The selection was made on the basis of quality as well as the value that the wines offered.
The most fascinating thing is that all three are true believers in firstly, terroir, and secondly, on the benefits of blending to attain complexity and the best possible expression of both site and fruit. It’s the hook which Ian Naudé, with 32 vintages under his belt in America (Washington State and California), Italy, Germany, France and Israel as well as South Africa, has hung his hat on. “Shiraz or Merlot from Stellenbosch and Paarl have very different taste profiles. Blending them along with other grapes from Malmesbury or Darling makes for a seamless, textured and rounded wine.” And the texture of the Adoro Red is what the Decanter tasting note highlighted: “Texture defines this blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz and Mourvèdre – even the nose is velvety! Elegant with rich, ripe blackberry flavours with a sprinkling of cocoa and cigar box spice.”
The Adoro 2006 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Mourvèdre. The Cabernet comes from two distinct areas of Stellenbosch – Stellenboschberg and the Bottelary Hills – while the Shiraz was sourced from Agter-Paarl and Malmesbury. The Merlot from Swartland and Stellenbosch contributed intensity with its dark chocolate and mocha tones while the splash of Mourvèdre from the Perdeberg and Darling chipped in with spice and a soft, rounding effect to balance the power and depth of the other grapes. “It’s about the fruit expressing what it’s capable of, not me imposing myself on anything,” Naudé said.
Donovan Rall has made a name for himself by conjuring up Platter 5 Star winning white blends. But his day job is at Vuurberg, a small operation on the slopes of the Simonsberg in the Banhoek valley near the entrance to Pniel, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The Vuurberg White 2011 is a complex mix of Chenin Banc, Viognier, Semillon, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Verdelho and Clairette Blanche which the Decanter sages pronounced worthy of 93 points out of 100 and described it as: “Round and exciting with apple, pear and a creamy vanilla note. Bright mandarin fruit acidity. Textural, tight and minerally. “ Grapes were sourced from both Stellenbosch and Swartland and while Rall aged the blend in 30% new French oak he believes that the wood simply provides a platform for the fruit. “It’s quite opulent with the Stellenbosch Chenin and Viognier being quite intense and powerful – but the Clairette Blanche and Verdelho from the Swartland add a freshness which balances that power beautifully.”
As a result of the Decanter spotlight being shone on this previously unheralded wine, Rall reports that he’s being bombarded with emails and phone calls from all over the world. “It’s so rewarding to have this kind of feedback and attention. The response has been amazing – especially in the United Kingdom because we’ve never entered any competitions there and have only just been taken on board by a new importer. I’ve already had to ship them a new consignment of the next vintage.”
One confused liquor buyer phoned Rall saying a client of his wanted to know where he could buy the Alheit Adoro Vuurberg wine…
On a more serious note, until 2012 Chris and Suzaan Alheit were virtual unknowns on the South African wine landscape. Then they scorched onto the scene with a Platter 5 Star rating with their first ever wine, the Alheit Cartology 2011, the same wine which Decanter placed in its Top 5 with 96/100!
Like Naudé, the Alheits have worked and travelled extensively in foreign wine regions – from California, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and France to Greece. The exposure to different wines and wine making styles and philosophies has expanded their horizons immeasurably and shaped their thinking. “Travelling gave us a lot of valuable perspective. It also cemented a real sense of excitement for what the Cape can achieve if we play to our strengths. The Old World way of thinking really inspired us.”In the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge cellar on the fynbos-bedecked farm Hemelrand, they keep their wines as simple as possible, allowing the wine to virtually make itself with their contribution being well-used oak and the addition of some sulphur to prevent oxidation.
Sadly there is very little Cartology 2011 available anymore but the wine is mainly Chenin Blanc with a splash (just 8%) of Semillon, all from old, dry-land bush vines which the Alheits have painstakingly sought out and paid top dollar for. The vineyards range from Citrusdal, Kasteelberg, Perdeberg and Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Hills to Franschhoek. Chris Alheit describes these old vines as South Africa’s vinous heritage and speaks movingly of finding “the voice of the land itself”.
The past year has seen a noticeable increase in positive sentiment and assessment of South African wines by influential international commentators and critics. Consequently, the contribution that these three wines and their makers have made to further improving the status and standing of South African wines on the international stage cannot be underestimated or lauded highly enough.
Photo caption: From left, Chris Alheit, Donovan Rall and Ian Naudé with their top-rated wines.