Discovery Course: South Africa Wine Regions – Part 2

24 May, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm BST

The Sommelier Collective is excited to host the Wines of South Africa Discovery Course – a deep dive into the fascinating diversity of the very best South African wine producing regions.

Running over two sessions this online course for sommeliers takes you through eight of the country’s top spots for great wines with eight winemakers introducing you to their wines and their regions, direct from the winery.

This is definitely a great opportunity to get to grips with what differentiates South Africa’s varied and complex regions, whilst learning straight from the experts on the ground about what is happening right now in the vineyards and what these skilled winemakers think makes their region, and its wines, so special.

This is the second of two deep-dive webinars about eight wine regions of South Africa. You can catch up with part one by watching the video, click here to watch on-demand.

On this session, members will be introduced to the wines and winemakers of the following regions:

  • Breedekloof
  • Robertson
  • Franschhoek
  • Elgin

Registration

Over 70 members have already registered to join this webinar.

If you have NOT YET signed up you can register to join the Zoom webinar, please provide your details below. No more tasting kits are available for this event.

Discovery Course: South Africa

26 April, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm BST

The Sommelier Collective is excited to announce the Wines of South Africa Discovery Course – a deep dive into the fascinating diversity of the very best South African wine producing regions.

Running over two sessions this online course for sommeliers will take you through eight of the country’s top spots for great wines with eight winemakers introducing you to their wines and their regions, direct from the winery.

This is definitely a great opportunity to get to grips with what differentiates South Africa’s varied and complex regions, whilst learning straight from the experts on the ground about what is happening right now in the vineyards and what these skilled winemakers think makes their region, and its wines, so special.

The Wines

Each session will show 12 wines, covering four regions. There will be three wines per region all of which will be  from different producers. What better way to get a snapshot of South African quality wine in the current climate?

The regions being covered in Wine of South Africa Discovery Course are: Stellenbosch, Swartland, Constantia, Hemel-en-Aarde
, Fanschhoek, Robertson, Elgin and Breedekloof

Course Dates

Monday 26th April at 4.00pm – 5.30pm
Stellenbosch, Swartland, Constantia and Hemel-en-Aarde  (12 wines)
Monday 24th May at 4.00pm – 5.30pm

Fanschhoek, Robertson, Elgin and Breedekloof (12 wines)

Apply now for a place on the Discovery Course: South Africa that will teach you about the wines that are really breaking ground in South Africa.

Frequently asked questions

Is this a certified qualification?

No, this is a special two-part educational webinar for sommeliers in the UK and it is not a formal qualification. However, you will receive a certificate of attendance from Wines of South Africa if you are logged in for both sessions and actively take part in sharing tasting notes and asking questions throughout the two webinars.

Why do I have to fill in this form every time I apply for a tasting?

We do not store your details and do not assume your details will remain the same over time.

Why do I not get selected for wine samples?

The tasting kits are provided free to members but are limited to 30-40 packs on each occasion. We keep a record of recipients so we can balance out who receives a pack. There are plenty more tastings planned in future so please apply for each session you are interested to join.

Do you share my details with sponsors?

No, in accordance with the membership privacy policy, we do not give your contact details to anyone, ever.

Can I buy tasting samples?

No, we do not have additional tasting kits available for you to purchase. All wines are kindly provided free by hosts.

Application form

This session will be video recorded and be available to watch by all members after the tasting. Details will be included in a forthcoming newsletter.

Delivery details for tasting samples

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For the love of Semillon

I know what you’re thinking: Semillon is a classic blending varietal without much personality. Even Boekenhoutskloof’s Marc Kent, who is clearly a fan, calls it ‘innocuous’.

But that is exactly why I love it. When treated with a bit of TLC Semillon can be rich, have a lovely linear acidity and take oak incredibly well. It is also partial to a bit of botrytis, leading to some of the world’s most sought-after sweet wines.

I heart Tyrells

Now, I love a lot of varieties, from Chardonnay to Roussanne and everything in between, provided the wines are made with a bit of love.

But from the moment I first tasted Tyrells Vat 1 Semillon early in my career, the grape has always been a favourite.

It one of the first wines that I tried from the new world that wasn’t Chardonnay (yes, this is a long time ago) and I remember it being rounded, smooth and flavourful, without being dominated by oak.

Brokenwood and De Bortoli Noble One became regular purchases of mine, while Keith Tullochs’s Field of Mars Semillon is still a personal favourite: smooth, waxy, rich and packed full of flavour.

Blender par excellence

I love the myriad ways Semillon can be used to provide a rich, slightly waxy/lanolin texture to Sauvignon Blanc blends.

In fact, maybe it’s because it is such a fabulous blender in Bordeaux blanc that it is often misunderstood and underestimated. Yes, it’s a vigorous varietal, but so is Cabernet Sauvignon, and when treated correctly it can be exceptional and age incredibly well.

In Bordeaux it encompasses both ends of the spectrum, used in easy drinking wines such as those from the Entre-Deux-Mers but also dominating the age-worthy and complex wines of Graves and Pessac-Léognan.

See Château Haut-Brion blanc or La Mission Haut-Brion blanc if you’re splashing out. Otherwise, Château Chantegrive’s Cuvée Caroline is a fabulous, more affordable alternative.

And of course, if you’re looking for super long-lived expressions of Semillon, the luscious botrytised versions from Barsac and Sauternes are undeniably five-star.

No marks for appearance, but botrytis is the wonder-mould behind the sweet Semillons of Bordeaux

From France to the world

Semillon is first recorded in Bordeaux in 1736, where it was known as Sémillon de St-Émilion. It travelled to Australia in the 19th century where it took up home in the Hunter Valley region and became used as a blender everywhere else both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay alike.

In South Africa it used to be one of the most planted varieties, under the name Semillon Gris – a mutation of a grape known as Groen Durif (literally ‘green grape’) that was thought to make up 80% of the Cape’s vineyards in the 1800s.

It is still the fifth most planted white grape in South Africa today, though its profile remains strangely low.

Adi Badenhorst has cultivated grapes from the oldest Semillon vineyard on record ‘La Colline’ in Franschhoek, dating back to 1902. Marc Kent also makes use of this vineyard for both his dry Semillon and his Noble Semillon, the unirrigated bush vines coping well with Franschhoek’s arid conditions.

If you haven’t tasted it, please make it your mission to do so. It nods more to Barsac than Sauternes but in all the best ways.

Marc Kent refers to Semillon as ‘sensitive, yet nice to work with’.

Maybe we should all be a little bit more like Semillon.

Boekenhoutskloof’s Marc Kent: a fan of Semillon

Wine Recommendations

all wines tasted February 2021

Brokenwood Semillon 2018, Hunter Valley, Australia

A really lovely racy acidity and gorgeous waxy feel to this lighter, yet flavoursome style. White fruits and grapefruit notes surround a grassy centre, with just the merest hint of acacia honey. A fab everyday style that is just a bit too easy to drink!

Having checked trade price, this reviewer feels it is best drunk at home for the bargain price of £9.99 from Waitrose.

Brokenwood wines available from Bancroft Wines.

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2018, Franschhoek, South Africa

A beautiful waxy lanolin feel and linear acidity is backed up with white fruits a plenty, firm structure, waxy orange peel and notes of thyme and rosemary. All these sit atop a soft oak base and wonderfully long length. A hint of Muscat d’Alexandre (approximately 2%) here adds just the right amount of perfume to the nose without detracting from the Semillon itself. Arguably a tad too young, this will benefit from 3-5 years age.

New Generation, £20.42 Ex VAT

Château de Chantegrive, Cuvée Caroline 2018, Graves, Bordeaux

A 50/50 blend with Sauvignon Blanc the Semillon beautifully shines through here with the Sauvignon providing a smattering of aromatic and supporting acidity. Honeysuckle, lemon peel and tangerine are just some of the glorious flavours here. All beautifully wrapped in vanilla tinged oak and an extremely long length to boot. Gorgeous and very drinkable now but will happily age.

Berry Brothers & Rudd, £18 Ex Vat

Chenin Blanc – The king of white grapes

This might be a controversial question, but is Chenin Blanc the King of white grapes? I would say yes, without any doubt.

Just look at its versatility. This is a variety that can make wines ranging from dry to sweet to sparkling even sweet sparkling. It makes wines that are excellent whether they are fermented/aged in oak, stainless steel or amphora.

With Chenin, anything is possible.

It’s because of this that I’d argue that it could even be greater than Riesling…

Those in the know – sommeliers, real wine-lovers – all round the world mostly know this. Yet it remains curiously underrated by the general public. It’s our job to open their eyes to what it can offer!

Vines and bell-tower in the Loire. Photo courtesy of Tech Image

Where do we find Chenin Blanc?

The home of Chenin Blanc is France’s Loire Valley. Though there are several other places around the world – and in France, too – where Chenin Blanc is common. It’s used as a blending component in Limoux for Crémant de Limoux, for instance.

In South Africa, where it’s called ‘Steen’ it’s grown all over the country – largely because it used to be heavily used in brandy production. Nowadays, it is mainly used as a blending component, though there are producers doing single vineyard wines too. We will come back to that later.

France and South Africa are the main producer countries, but its grown in smaller quantities in most parts of the wine world, from the US to Australia and Chile to Argentina.

How does it grow and what does it taste like?

Chenin Blanc has a high productivity in the vineyards, depending on where it is grown. It tends to bud early, which can make it vulnerable to spring frost.

It is prone to powdery mildew and botrytis although the latter is often welcomed in certain areas. Obviously, botrytis is essential for sweet wine, but even dry wine producers find that a little can add some extra texture. Bunch sizes are medium to large, yet the berries are quite small. 

Flavour profile can vary significantly depending on where it’s being grown and how it’s being made

Generally speaking it is a straw coloured wine with a high acidity, medium structure and alcohol ranging between 12-13,5%. Notes of bruised golden apples, quince, fruit blossoms, ripe peach and lemon zest are key markers for Chenin Blanc.

Older or sweeter versions, or wines that have spent some time in oak can move more into exotic notes of tangerine, dried orange peel and spices such as ginger and saffron.

Key regions and producers

The Loire

Anjou in the Loire Valley has an almost mythical reputation for Chenin Blanc with producers such as Nicolas Joly, Richard Leroy, Mark Angeli & Stéphane Bernaudeau.

As with many parts of the Loire Valley, the styles range from dry to sweet. Sweet wines are made on the south side of the Loire river, where the proximity of the Layon river, creates an ideal condition for noble rot during the autumn season.

The best AOP’s for sweet wine are Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. Though for me one rather undiscovered sweet wine area is Coteaux de l’Aubance, which gets its name from the Aubance river.

The dry wines of Savennières are made on the north side of the river on south facing slopes. Here we will find La Roche aux Moines and the famed Coulée de Serrant by Nicolas Joly.

Chenin ageing in Vouvray. Photo courtesy of Tech Image

Vouvray is the most comprehensive expression of Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley. Styles here range from dry to sweet to sparkling. The famous Vouvray Sec is a classic, a versatile wine to pair a variety of dishes. Domaine Huet is a bucket list wine from this area.

Vineyards Le Haut Lieu, Clos du Bourg and Le Mont are the most concentrated wines of the area. Clos de la Meslerie is one to see when you are visiting the area.

Across the river on the southern part we find Montlouis-sur-Loire an area which is hard to differentiate from Vouvray. One producer to look out for here is François Chidaine, who also owns vineyards in Vouvray.

South Africa

There’s been a real growth of quality Chenin in South Africa. Driven mostly by the Swartland region, it’s focusing on single vineyards, different soils and single varietal wines or field blends. The variety is at the heart of a raft of small producers who are rebuilding the image of South African wine.

Eben Sadie tending some old-vine Chenin Blanc in the Swartland

The likes of Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, Chris Alheit, Chris and Andrea Mullineux  and many others are making single vineyard wines with a main focus on Chenin Blanc. Some wine are field blends consisting over five different varieties depending on the cuvee.

Swartland tends to focus on minerality and tension where Stellenbosch often goes for a more concentrated and riper style of Chenin Blanc.

Food pairing for Chenin Blanc

Obviously, with such a wide range of wine styles, Chenin Blanc can go with a huge variety of foods. But here are my top three pairings.

Please note: for reasons of availability, some bottles shown are a different vintage from the one mentioned

Clos de la Meslerie, Vouvray, 2014

£15, Dynamic Vines

Crunchy veal sweetbreads with pigeon and foie gras on a salad

Eben Sadie, Voetpad, 2016

£28, Dreyfus Ashby

Skate wing meuniere and a classic dugléré sauce

Ferme de la Sansonnière, La Lune, 2011

£35, Yapp Brothers

Cod gently roasted, with fresh shrimp and beurre blanc sauce