This month we bring the focus to the southern hemisphere and one of the southern-most wine growing regions on the continent of Africa, Walker Bay. Located 60 miles from Cape Town, Walker Bay is stretched between the Bot River to the North and Cape Agulhas (where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet) to the South. The bay itself is a marine protected area and has become a popular ecotourism destination for whale watching, visiting penguins, diving with great white sharks, and now, visiting world class wine estates. This small, up-and-coming maritime wine region stays cooler than any other in South Africa, thanks to the very chilly Benguela current coming up from Antarctica. This cold oceanic current brings cooling breezes that keeps the grapes fresh as they bask in long sunny growing conditions. Soils are primarily well-draining shale and sandstone, but also contain a high amount of clay which aids in water retention as the vines dig deep root systems for nourishment. This soil combination is ideal and makes this subregion of South Africa perfect for a variety of grapes. Here you will find many grapes suited for the cooler climate like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc as well as reds like Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Pinotage and even a bit of Merlot.
Kicking off this new world flight is the Benguala Cove Cuvée 58, a non-vintage "Cap Classique". The wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Sparkling wines made in the traditional method are called "Méthode Cap Classique" in South Africa. This term came about in the 1990's as a response to concerns over using "Champagne" or "Méthode Champenoise" for any sparkling wines not made in the region of Champagne. Located on the Bot River Lagoon, the vineyards for this sparkling overlook the Atlantic Ocean and are kept extremely cool by those oceanic breezes mentioned earlier. The wine is named after the gold standard for facets of a diamond, 58, to honor the “precision both the diamond cutter and winemaker apply to their craft”. Fresh and clean aromas of citrus and pear with tart flavors of citrus and apple, this sparkling wine is dangerously easy to drink.
Next, we move to Alheit Vineyards and their Chenin Blanc and Semillon blend called "Cartology". The Alheit winery is located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (meaning Heaven and Earth), and was started in 2010 by a husband and wife with the mission to produce, in their words, “very South African wines”. Their wines show a distinct sense of place, meaning that the qualities in the wine reflect the vineyards and natural terroir rather than intervention of any kind in the winemaking process. Cartology is one of their flagship wines, highlighting grapes that have been grown throughout the Western Cape for hundreds of years. Pure ripe pear, sweet herbs, citrus, and balanced salinity make this wine incredibly pleasant to drink now, yet it could hold up for years to come.
Beaumont Family Wines brings the third flight wine and is made from the distinctly South African grape, Pinotage. Pinotage is a genetic cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault by scientist Abraham Perold in 1925. The reason for this was to create a heartier Pinot Noir-like grape that could grow well in South Africa’s climate. Pinotage was popular for a bit, but has struggled with a bad reputation due to high yield, low quality, commercial wines that make up a majority of the wines. However, in the last 15 years, a few South African winemakers have begun to focus on more intentional winemaking techniques to help Pinotage really shine. Beaumont Family Wines was founded in 1974 and is still family run today. This bottle reflects the cooler Walker Bay with ripe red fruits and fine tannins. We suggest pairing your Pinotage with barbecue, spiced curries and the heartier fare of the winter months.
Hermanuspietersfontein, named after a Dutch teacher who came to South Africa in 1778, is a town off the southern coast of Walker’s Bay. In 1902 the town’s name was changed to Hermanus by the Postmaster out of practicality; Hermanuspietersfontein was too long. Hermanuspietersfontein Wines is located in the town of Hermanus and sits at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Their 'Posmeester' is a Merlot-based red blend that rounds out our flight. As you may have now guessed, the name means Postmaster in Afrikaans (language evolved in the Cape of South Africa by Dutch, French and German settlers), and is an ode to the history of the town. This smooth, easy drinking wine provides red fruits, spice and earth. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Wait, we have a bonus wine this month! Did you know that South Africa was globally known for a very special dessert wine back in the 17th and 18th centuries? Constantia is a historic area in the Western Cape known for unfortified dessert wines made from Muscat de Frontignan. The wine, also known as Vin de Constance, was widely exported to Europe and also held in the highest regards by many royalty at the time. Sadly, phylloxera obliterated the market in the late 1800s. Winemaking in Constantia eventually came back, but the wine world has certainly changed since then. While this is not quite Vin de Constance, this unique dessert wine from Benguala Cove is made using Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The grapes are allowed to hang past normal ripening to become more concentrated in their sugars. This method produces a sweeter wine, with concentrated flavors, yet maintains a good dose of acidity to keep the finish lifted on the palate. With the holidays already here, there is no better time to add a little extra indulgence to your tasting!
Walker Bay is one of the renowned wine regions of the Western Cape and will only continue to produce exceptional quality wines at great value. Winemakers and farmers alike from this region, as well as all over South Africa, continue to hone their techniques and learn through each vintage to produce the most reflective wines of the place they call home. We look forward to sharing all five of these wines with you throughout the month of December.
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