A week in London with an independent Wine Merchant…

Hot on the heels of our nomination as South African specialist of the year from Decanter I spent last week flying the flag for three of the farms we represent exclusively in the UK.

On day one Natte Valleijwere selected to showcase their 2018 vintage Simonsberg-Paarl Cinsault which was flown over specially for the tasting at the Kensington Wine Rooms, a progressive tasting emporium that champions South African wine for no other reason than the owners they really bloody like it. Hear, Hear!

Winemaker Alex Milner’s enthusiasm is electric and he commands the attention of the group of London’s finest sommelier’s as he details the intricacies of harnessing the secrets locked within this delicate grape, a skill he’s honed to such an extent that Jancis Robinson scored his 2017 Darlingexpression 18/20 and described it as having ‘a Burgundian elegance’.

On our second day, I welcomed a weary Clayton Reabow (winemaker at Môreson) to London with Iberian ham (which he liked) and the Austrian grape Zweigelt (which he didn’t). Then we crossed the road to Hammer & Tongs, a braai restaurant in Farringdon, out of fifteen farms chosen to show their wines at a press tasting 3 of them were imported by yours truly.

Amongst them were the afore mentioned Natte Valleij, which I poured for Amelia Singer (The Wine Show) and Peter Ranscombe (fabulous freelance journalist) to their united delight. They also showed a similar enthusiasm for Uva Mira’s O.T.Vto whit Amelia enthused over having been searching for a decent Cab Franc all day at the New Wave SA tasting and was left un-satiated until this as yet unreleased loveliness.
Despite one of peers trying to poison Clayton & I with Orange wine at a hospitality industry hot spot in Soho we made it into our third day unscathed… more or less. A good thing it was too as we were about to host a Môreson winemaker’s lunch at The 10 Cases in Covent Garden. Our first such event in the capital, but certainly not the last.

Our audience was a group of our trade customers and Clayton, South African winemaker of the year 2019, took them through a journey celebrating his Franschhoek origin wines. Franschhoek is still considered by many to be home to wineries simplybuying in grapes from neighbouring regions whereas farms such as Môreson are actually growing their own fruit and making some wines to be reckoned with. Their 2017 Mercator Chardonnaywas the wine Clayton won his recent accolade for, whilst his Blanc de Blancsparkling has been rated as highly Billecart-Salmons Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Champagne which costs three times as much. Enough said?

The final day began at 10am at the South African Embassy, where I’d been invited to sit on a panel of fellow independent wine merchants including Greg Sherwood MW – buyer for the reknowned Handford Wines and the first South African Master of Wine.

Our task was to taste through a selection of older vintage wines, as well as the most recently released equivalent, and remonstrate over what the future might hold for South African wine.

There were some fascinating examples, including a 1993 vintage Methode Cap Classique (South Africa’s way of saying traditional / Champagne method) which had only been disgorged three weeks ago. We also tasted Boschendal’s 1994 Chardonnay, their first release after the fall of Apartheid and one of only 6 bottles left in existence.

We tasted Bordeaux blends from 2005, 2008 and 2009 made by Bosman, Glenelly and Warwick respectively but they were all somewhat homogenous and merely good examples of mature South African red… nothing more.

Yet, what excited me most was the young wines. Amongst them were wines that have the quality to compete on a global stage, in particular Bosman’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than simply be a good expression from South Africa without challenging offerings from Napa… or even Bordeaux itself.

This is the reason why I champion South African wine, it’s not just a job for me. This is something I’m passionate about and believe in, these are the wines I drink at home and am enthusiastic to introduce to my friends and family… not just our customers.

As Tim Atkin MW rightly said “South African fine wine is good value… for now” but these wines are gaining recognition so now’s the time to start exploring, finding your favourites and stocking up before the rest of the world catches on. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…