After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest. Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.
Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy. Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.
In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle. Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle. A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities). Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.
with apologies for the quality of my snaps…
Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)
We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this. It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes. Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!
BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)
Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own. It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it. These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic. For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast. The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.
Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)
Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”. The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires! If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes. It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein). I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.
B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)
It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa). This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red. The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity. This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing. I certainly loved it!
My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)
This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine. It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should. The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices. The finish is pleasantly dry.
My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)
This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend. It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit. There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins. An excellent wine.
Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)
This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz. Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah. Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch. 2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity. The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.
B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)
This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa. Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label. This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.
4 thoughts on “Unfinished Sympathy”
As you probably know, Frank, I’m a big fan. So glad you had a chance to have a good taste of these fairly unique wines.
Very interesting labels and stories! South African wines are hard to find in the USA with the exception of some big brands – will be looking out for these.