It’s been a tough year to say the least. A pandemic; almost six months of lockdown for the food industry; and an on-again, off-again alcohol ban that had even the most seasoned wine drinkers reaching for the back of their cellars.
It’s not all bad though. Many local winemakers have 2020 set as being a fantastic vintage, and the releases this year were arguably some of our country’s best yet — with three wines awarded a prestigious, perfect score of 100 points by international wine critics.
But this article is not about scores, stars or awards; nor is it claiming to list the best, or most comprehensive — and it definitely shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s simply a list of wines that Wanted’s resident foodie, Steve Steinfeld, enjoyed this year. Some are on allocation, some are sold out and some are readily available — and all are pretty damn fantastic.
The Champagne: Champagne Lanson Le Black Label Brut NV
Napoleon is famously attributed as saying, “In victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it.” and whether he did or didn’t say it means little, for it’s the sentiment that I agree with. This year, naturally, called for its fair share of fizz.
Champagne Lanson remains one of my favourite Champagnes. Bone dry and crisp with a pleasantly biting acidity, a vibrant mousse and a fresh, enticing palate of stone fruit and citrus. It’s a truly beautiful bottle of bubbles and makes for the perfect apéritif. This year the famed house’s 260th anniversary was celebrated with a sexy new rebrand of their cuvée’s packaging, catering to the discerning drinker’s thirst for a better understanding of what’s in their glass.
The Sauvignon Blanc: Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Off the bat, I’m not the biggest fan of Sauvignon Blanc. I find many iterations of the varietal astringent, offering up little more than notes of green grass, green pepper, passion fruit and the oft referenced cat’s pee (it’s a real tasting note, look it up). However, I’ll very rarely turn a glass away before at least tasting it... Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised on tasting this one.
Yes, the passion fruit was there but with it a balanced acidity, the “greenness” was, too, however, rather than grass it was that of tomato leaf backed by notes of the West Coast — something reminiscent of oysters, seaweed and that salty taste of sea air. It’s a uniquely gorgeous expression of the varietal, and one that makes for a proper food wine too.
The Chenin Blanc: Paulus Wine Co. Bosberaad 2019
The second vintage released by wine wunderkind Paul Jordaan (assistant winemaker at Sadie Family Wines) sees him raise the bar set by his fantastic first vintage — proving that this young winemaker knows exactly what he’s doing, and then some. It’s extremely focused and well-balanced, with notes of ripe stone fruit and crisp apple mingling with those of citrus and honeysuckle, all brought into balance by a glorious salinity and vibrant acidity. It’s very clearly just the beginning for Paulus Wine Co. and I, for one, am excited to see what’s next.
The Chardonnay: Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018
I’ve long been a fan of the wine produced by husband and wife team Craig and Anne Wessels of Restless River, having first tasted their outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon (Main Road & Dignity) on a tasting menu some years back. Coming out of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, I had to taste their chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and I’ve been smitten ever since.
It’s incredibly clever winemaking, producing wines with elegance and finesse. The latest release Ava Marie Chardonnay being no exception — it’s intense with a weighty and textured palate of lime, peaches and stunning minerality, a minimal oak influence adding structure — enhancing, rather than overpowering, the natural beauty of both fruit and site.
The Unusual Varietal: Damascene Franschhoek Semillon 2019
Acclaimed winemaker Jean Smit’s sophomore release was lauded as one of the most anticipated releases of the year. If his first vintage was met with critical acclaim, the second’s success was meteoric in comparison with almost the entire vintage selling out within hours of release. Having tasted them, it’s easy to see why — the wines are elegant and refined, with a phenomenal purity of fruit, imbued with a clear and concise sense of place and purpose.
I’ve chosen to feature the Semillon on this list because first, it’s a truly phenomenal wine. Harvested from old bush vines, it’s a rich, textured and wonderfully balanced wine with a complex and ever-evolving palate. And second, because I think Semillon is a varietal to watch in SA — and as it grows in popularity, Damascene’s will be one of the ones to measure against.
If 2020 is anything to go by, the one certainty we can look forward to in 2021 is that no matter what we face, we can find solace in the fact that there will be great wine to come.