South Africa 2008: Keep
Cool, rainy, labour intensive vintage culminating in ideal ripening weather. Inconsistent quality, but ripe, elegant, well balanced reds from top growers.
Almost twice-normal rainfall introduced a long, cold winter: of ‘biblical proportions’ in Constantia, though Klein Karoo was much drier. Root growth was sluggish and budburst up to two weeks later than expected. The rains continued through spring, and canopy management – aerating vines, resisting fungal disease – was vital. Gusty winds encouraged healthy vineyards in some regions but also curtailed flowering – in Stellenbosch in particular.
Cool summer temperatures and yet more rain brought mildew, rot and even berry splitting among early varietals, all necessitating further intensive canopy control. Also highly prioritised in some areas – green harvesting, to promote even ripening. .
The atypically inclement weather delayed harvest up to a fortnight. Then, mid-autumn was glorious; ripening gathered momentum – bringing headaches as many varietals were ready simultaneously. Pressure continued in the cellars, separating rotten fruit from healthy berries.
Wide variations, but where growers succeeded, there’s good phenolic ripeness, great purity of fruit, supple tannins – with notably lower alcohol than other blockbuster vintages. Defining characteristic: elegance.
Merlot stars in several areas in South Africa . Excellent colour, fruit and structure from Robertson, and pure fruit flavours and racy acidity from Cape Agulhas in Overberg. Constantia too has well-balanced Merlots with impressive fruit expression. .
Of later varietals, best Cabernet Sauvignon is fully ripe, full-bodied, sleek, with high natural acidity. Stellenbosch promises deeply coloured, very approachable examples, and the best from Paarl have good concentration and ageing potential. Top Shiraz is spicy, peppery, deep coloured, with bright fruit and ripe tannins. Paarl’s is particularly Rhône-like; Stellenbosch fresh and concentrated.
For Pinot Noir, Elgin shines – fine tannins, good fruit and aromatics, with bright acidity. Swartland’s Mourvedre and Grenache are ‘best for ages’.
Good bets so far include: STELLENBOSCH: Hidden Valley, Simonsig, Ernie Els Wines, Kanonkop, Luis Nel, Spier, KWV, Kleine Zalze; PAARL: Lisha Nelson; SWARTLAND: Spice Route; FRANSCHHOEK: Chamonix; HEMEL-EN-AARDE: Hamilton Russell; ELGIN: Oak Valley; WELLINGTON: Doolhof Wine Estate