Travels in South Africa: De Waal, JC Le Roux and Mulderbosch
My adventure in the Winelands of South Africa continues with visits to three producers: De Waal, J.C. Le Roux and Mulderbosch.
Upon strolling into De Waal, I was greeted by a gentleman who was mired in a fierce battle with the tasting room’s credit card machine. After we chatted briefly, he went to the back office to continue waging his personal technology war, and I was welcomed by Helga, who was my knowledgeable host for the tasting. She let me know that the De Waal family has been making wine in Stellenbosch for nine generations, and that the troubleshooting warrior I’d just met was that ninth generation – current owner Pieter De Waal. (Now there’s an owner who’s hands-on with his operation!) In fact, it was a member of the De Waal family who made the first wine from Pinotage in South Africa. C.T. De Waal was a professor at Stellenbosch University, where the grape was first produced by crossing Pinot Noir and Hermitage, and in 1941 he made an experimental barrel of wine from Pinotage, sixteen years after the variety was developed by his colleague at the University, Professor Abraham Perold. (For more on Pinotage, check out this previous post.)
Helga walked me through seven wines: 2014 Young Vines Chenin Blanc, 2013 Young Vines Shiraz, 2012 Young Vines Merlot, 2012 Pinotage, 2013 CT De Wall Pinotage, 2012 Top of the Hill Pinotage, and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. As I tasted the Top of the Hill Pinotage, Helga told me that his particular wine is made from grapes grown in the oldest block of Pinotage vines in South Africa, which was planted in 1950. We walked outside onto the rooftop lounge, and Helga showed me the hill.
I love wines that have great stories or are of historical significance, and also just happen to be delicious. The 2012 Top of the Hill Pinotage fit the bill on all counts, and so it was added to the Texas-bound haul. And I paid in cash, for which Helga and Pieter were both thankful.
J. C. Le Roux
The next morning, I’d scheduled a visit to J.C. Le Roux, one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in South Africa. (Morning sparkling wine tastings are an excellent way to start a day!) I wasn’t familiar with the brand, and found out that the majority of their production stays in South Africa and their largest export market is Europe, so their wines are not widely available in the US. Even so, I thought it was important to sample their offerings, given how ubiquitous the brand is in its home country.
The tasting room is very elegant and posh, with jewel-toned velvet chairs and banquettes providing a beautiful contrast to the bright white tables.
J.C. Le Roux has a “lifestyle” brand which is produced by injecting CO2 into still wine to create bubbles in sparkling wine. The house’s premium brand is produced using the traditional method used in France to create Champagne, in which the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles is completed in the bottle. In South Africa, this production method is called “Méthode Cap Classique” (or MCC, for short).
Of the 7 wines I tasted, six were MCC wines (non-vintage Brut, 2009 Pinot Noir, 2009 Pinot Noir Rosé, non-vintage La Vallée, non-vintage La Vallée Rosé, and their flagship wine, the 2008 Scintilla), and one was in the lifestyle range (non-vintage Sauvignon Blanc). At the top of the list for me was the 2009 Pinot Noir Rosé, which was a pretty deep pink color with fresh strawberries on the nose and palate. Refreshing and delicious.
I put Mulderbosch on my “must-see” list, as they are one of my go-to producers for reliably good Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and are usually available at Costco and Central Market at reasonable prices. I’d also bought their dessert wine, a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, at Spec’s for a dinner party last year and really enjoyed it.
The tasting room at Mulderbosch is quite cozy, with lots of dark wood, a fireplace, sofas, and bright red accents everywhere.
I sat at the bar and tasted through seven wines: 2014 Rose, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 1000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Faithful Hound White, 2014 Chenin Blanc, 2013 Faithful Hound Red, 2010 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The two standouts from my tasting were the 2013 1000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc and the 2013 Faithful Hound Red.
The 1000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc is a very small production wine available only at the winery, and is aged for a short period of time in French Oak. This production method is somewhat atypical for Sauvignon Blanc, but I found it being used by winemakers in several of my winery visits here. For me, the oak aging on this particular wine provided a bit more complexity and roundness to the wine, while not losing any of the citrus and green apple notes that I adore in a Sauvignon Blanc.
The Faithful Hound Red is a Bordeaux-style blend made from all five of the traditional Bordeaux grapes (39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 9% Petit Verdot) and was a classic example of the type, with good structure, nice balance, and cherries, cocoa, baking spices, violets and dried roses on the nose and palate.
After my tasting was complete, I took advantage of the beautiful fall day and the tasting room’s pizza oven, and enjoyed a glass of the 2013 Faithful Hound Red along with a delicious fig and prosciutto pizza on the veranda of their tasting room, overlooking the vineyards.
To my delight, when I returned home to Texas, I found the Faithful Hound Red is available at Central Market, along with the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Hooray!
That’s a wrap for today. Stay tuned…many more visits and pictures to come!