South Africa 2006: Drink soon
Bordering on an outstanding vintage. Incredibly well-balanced wines, with great depth and fruit purity for drinking in short to medium-term.
Forecasts of a bumper harvest were unfounded, though it still came in 6% up on 2005. Early-summer winds (gale force in Western Cape) and heat waves late February (notably Stellenbosch) cut expected yields, as did water shortages in Olifants River, Little Karoo and Worcester.
Though dehydrating, the winds were largely welcomed, reducing berry size and concentrating flavours. A cold, wet winter and cool, damp spring meant soils were in good shape to withstand drying-out, and budset and ripening were mostly good, if a little uneven for Shiraz (Western Cape and Robertson in particular). Shiraz – and to a lesser extent Merlot – saw patchy ripening too, putting the emphasis on careful and selective harvesting.
Physiological ripeness occurred at low-ish sugar levels, and Merlot was often picked later than usual to ensure sufficient accumulation. Later-ripening varietals benefited from the mid/late summer heat spikes, and a burst of very hot weather late April/early May spelt the end of the harvest.
Most regions claim well-balanced, weighty and flavoursome reds. Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is a likely stand out, and Petit Verdot from Robertson. Pinotage, Merlot and Shiraz are looking good across the board, and Malbec and Mourvèdre are showing fine varietal flavour.
Watch out for Franschhoek reds, notably Shiraz, for their fine colour and flavours and good ageing potential. Also Durbanville Pinotage: ripe tannins and modest alcohol. Elgin Pinot Noir has a cooler-climate character in 2006 – chilly nights and warm days created small but not overly ripe berries. Rhone varietals stand out.
Guardian Peak (Western Cape); Newton-Johnson (Walker Bay); Amani Vineyards (Stellenbosch); Cederberg (Cederberg); De Trafford (Stellenbosch); Englebrecht Els (Stellenbosch); Escapade Winery (Stellenbosch); Durbanville Hills (Durbanville); Excelsoir Estate (Robertson); Boekenhoutskloof (Franschhoek), Lynx (Franschhoek); Southern Right (Walker Bay); Saronsberg (Coastal Region); Elgin Vintners (Elgin)