It’s almost 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and South Africa began to emerge from the bleak days of apartheid. Many things have changed since then, not least their wine industry, which was in a sorry state. By contrast, today, that country is producing some really high quality bottles.
So, I was particularly pleased when the Bristol Tasting Circle invited Duncan Pilbeam, from the historic Babylonstoren Estate north of Stellenbosch, to talk to us and show us some of the estate’s wines.
We began with Sprankel (£31.99), a soft, fresh traditional-method sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grown at altitude. More than 4 years on its lees gave it a savoury, biscuity character.
A quartet of whites followed – a Chenin Blanc, a Viognier and a ‘farm blend’, all well-made and pleasant easy drinking, but, for me, the standout white was the Chardonnay (£19.99). Almost Burgundian in nature with well-judged, subtle oak and lovely rounded tropical fruit flavours; this would be even better with food – something rich and creamy making a perfect partner.
I expected the reds to be better than the whites and so it proved. The Cabernet Sauvignon (£15.99) had a pure eucalyptus nose and rich black fruits on the palate while the Shiraz (£16.99) was a chunky mouthful with an attractive smoky edge. Both were food wines and both would improve for a further couple of years in bottle at least.
The evening’s final wine, the Estate’s flagship, Nebukadnesar (£27.99), is a blend of the 5 main Bordeaux grapes, aged in new French oak barrels for 2 years. This is a big wine that, again, is still very young – even decanted 3 hours before tasting, the tannins were still really prominent. Like so much in South Africa, it’s a wine for the future, but you will need to be patient.
For more information about any of the wines mentioned or to buy, contact the Wine Shop at Winscombe (www.thewinetastingco.com)