Archived entries for South African Wine

Discovery of a Region: A Snapshot of South African Wines

I was invited to explore a region lately that was unfamiliar to me – South Africa.  The distribution of these wines haven’t been strong in Dallas, so it requires some detective work to try a variety of wines from the region.  According to the Wines of South Africa site, the region has grown by 219 percent between 1998 and 2010.

The South African wine industry is backed by the Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, a state region which includes the departments of viniculture at the University of Stellenbosch and the Elsenburg Agricultural College.

The people of Graham Beck delivered  six sample bottles containing of a mix of sparkling wines, chenin blanc, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon.  Every wine was value priced and I was enthusiastic about every one that I tried.  While Graham Beck produces premium wines, the winery is also dedicated to education and empowerment of farm workers.

The first three were sparkling wines, one vintage and two non-vintage bottles all produced in the Methode Cap Classique.  The line-up was as follows:

  • Graham Beck Brut Rose, NV – notes of berry and floral, this was a delightful first taste into South African sparkling wines.
  • Graham Beck Brut NV – notes of pear, apple and baked bread with a nice minerality.
  • Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2008 – a premiere cuvee with notes of lime and of apricot.

We tried three still wines including:

  • Graham Beck Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012 – a refreshing white with notes of melon, pineapple and other tropical fruits.  I really like this style of white wine.
  • Graham Beck Game Reserve Pinotage 2010 – this is a style of wine that South African is well known for and this doesn’t disappoint.  Big notes of cigar, berry and plum.
  • Graham Beck Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 – notes of blackberry, cherry, chocolate and mocha.  I think this wine would benefit with a little more age in the bottle.

I really enjoyed getting a snapshot into South African wines and plan to do some exploring to find out more about the region.  Definitely worth the passport stamp.

Club W: A PYOW (Pick Your Own Wine) Club

I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of wine clubs out there – and most of them don’t allow you to pick the wines that you receive. Lately I’ve noticed a trend that puts the consumer in charge.  Club W does just that.  It is a wine club focused on bringing consumers value wines without being pretentious or telling you what you should drink based on some “expert’s” palate.  It allows you to choose the wines based on your taste and have them shipped directly to your door.

Club W asked me to experience why their way of doing things is different.  As part of the process, I filled out a Palate Profile, a questionnaire that helps Club W choose wines matched to my tastes.  Once I submitted the questionnaire, twelve wines were recommended to me and I choose three for shipment.  All of the wines are $13 retail, so your subscription is $39 plus a flat rate of $6 for shipping.  If six or more bottles are ordered, shipping is free.

While one of my original choices was out of stock, there were 11 other wines that I could select.  I ended up with the following:

The club also has wine choices of “still available” from past selections and “curator’s choice,” wines that are offered for $19, a slightly higher price point.  After you receive and taste your shipments, you can post your wine ratings so Club W can further customize your selections.

The mission of Club W is to take the guesswork and pretention out of enjoying wine at a value price point.  You’ll find no jargon or ratings, but the ability to discover what it is that you like without breaking the bank.  Each bottle also comes with a QR code that links back to Club W content, which includes video reviews of the wines that are accessible from the Club W mobile app.

The Club W people were nice enough to offer Dallas Wine Chick readers a free $13.00 credit, which is basically 1 bottle of free wine, if you sign up.  Use this URL and enter a coupon code of 411dallas.

I hope you enjoy the journey.

Celebrity Wines: The Good, the Bad and the Funny

Christy Lemire at the Oscars

Check out my column today in Culture Map Dallas where I interviewed Associated Press Movie Critic Christy Lemire to find out what she thought the persona of the wines would be based on the celebrity.  Then Jasper Russo, who runs the fine wine program for Sigel’s, and I tried the wines.

Wine Club Reunited: Spanish Heavy Hitters, White Flights, Napa Finds and Cajun Cuisine

Picture a group of very driven, professional folks that have a passion for wine, like to have fun, enjoy off the beaten path wines and make sure to not take ourselves too seriously.  The last part a total 180 from what you would expect a somewhat serious wine club to look like especially from a group representing a snapshot of corporate America.

We tried taking ourselves too seriously in the beginning where we voted members in, selected favorite wines and then tried to store them for the right period of time before opening and officially voting on our favorites. That all changed one fateful night of tasting Turley Zinfandels where we threw all decorum out the window and had an amazing time.  There may or may not be a YouTube video that you will never find capturing our version of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”  Throughout the years, we changed the goal of the club to enjoying wines we haven’t had before while putting the emphasis on fun.  And, you know, I ended up learning and retaining a lot more knowledge.

As most groups go, life got in the way for awhile and we had not met in a few months.  When Peter and Jen revived the group, I was excited. I walked in with my Spiegelau glasses and no idea of what surprises were in store.

It turns out we were having a Mardi Gras theme with homemade Cajun food.  Our hosts wanted to do a Spanish red theme, but knew that it wouldn’t match the food, so another theme was added to go with the dinner.  We started with wines that would go well with spicy food.  Our first line-up included the following:


  • Chateau Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers Blanc 2011 – a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle with grapefruit, minerality and a little hint of sweetness.  Great wine under $10.
  • Chateau Guibon  2011 – lots of pear and melon with a nice balance from the blend of Semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle.  This wine is led by the Semillon and is more muted than the first.  Another nice white under $10.
  • Leyda Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of citrus with lime, grapefruit and green apple.  Great minerality and nice finish. Also in the $10 range and a great bargain.
  • Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 09 – lots of grapefruit, exotic fruit and grassy notes. 
  • Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 07 – I am a big fan of Merry Edwards wines – especially the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinots – this had the same minerality and citrus notes, but unfortunately had lost some its essence with time.


Then it was truly showtime – a line-up of highly rated Spanish reds, all from the highly-rated 2004, of which I have not had the opportunity to try.  Our line-up was:

  • Bodegas y Vinedos Alion Ribera del Duero 04 – inky black with blackberry, chocolate, spice and some floral notes.  Incredibly rich and yummy.
  • Baron de Magana 04 – priced under $20, this wine had notes of oak, blackberry, current and graphite. Very earthy.
  • Bodegas El Nido Jumilla Clio 04 – it took some time in the glass for me to appreciate this big wine.  I tasted mocha, cardamom, cinnamon and something that was almost port-like.
  • Vall Llach Priorat 04 – lots of blackberry, herbal notes, chocolate, coffee, peanut brittle, vanilla, minerality and spice.  I really liked this wine and it changed in the glass through the course of the evening.
  • Numanthia ‘Termanthia’, Toro, Spain 04 – this was an incredible wine by one of the best Spanish wine makers out there.  It was complex with black and red fruits, eucalyptus and as smooth as silk.  My absolute favorite of the evening.
  • Dominio Pingus Ribera del Duero Flor de Pingus 04 – definitely needed more decanting time, but had notes of cherry, chocolate, oak, smoke, sage, licorice and coffee. 


And if we hadn’t tasted enough great wines, one of our participants had just returned from a trip to Napa, so out came the Guilliams Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 07 and Seavey Cabernet 09.  And that was a fabulous end to our evening and a foggy start to a Sunday morning.

Savor Cheese, Savor Wine, Savor Dallas

As a part of Savor Dallas, I was invited to a joint event held by the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and Scardello to discover wine and cheese pairings.  Ironically, I had recently attended an event with the Moet Hennessy event, which was also held in the same place,  and found the identical wine portfolio.  Jim White, the founder and face of Savor Dallas, welcomed us along with Michael Flynn, the director of food and beverage at the Mansion, and Rich Rogers, the lead cheese monger for Scardello. 
Rich walked us thought the several step cheese tasting process – which consisted of similar steps with the exception of touch.  He also taught us about leaving the cheese on the roof of your mouth for a moment before tasting.

I’ve written about the Chateau de Sancerre many times before and this was matched with a Cana de Cabra.  The goat cheese combined the acidity, creaminess and citrus of the wine splendidly.

Our next wine, the Café Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend, was paired with the St. Pat Cowgirl Creamery, a seasonal cheese from California.  It was wrapped in stinging nettle leaves and was a whole organic cow’s milk cheese.  This was a powerful combination and one that worked very well.

I have fond memories of Newton and I really like Chris’ wines, so I was happy to see the 08 Unfiltered Chardonnay with the Capricious goat cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company in California.  This brought together caramelization with a dry jack style.  I loved them both, but not together.

The next match was the 07 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir with a Pagliarino from Italy, a raw sheep’s milk cheese.  This was a nice match – the cherry was neutralized and the two combined had a great finish.

We then moved to the 07 Newton Merlot and the Cabot Clothbound, a cow’s milk cheese from Vermont.  The jamminess of the merlot and the sharpness of the cabot made this a buttery, nutty and caramel combination.  Very nice.

We ended with a Mahon Reserva, a raw cow’s milk cheese paired with the Termes (see link).  This was a nice mix of nutty and salt that was tempered by the richness of the Termes.

Also Rich gave some cheese advice to live by, “if a rind looks like something you shouldn’t put in your mouth, then don’t.”  Very smart advice from a very skilled cheese monger.   And cheers to another successful year of Savor Dallas making our city more informed about wine.

Dallas’ Most Interesting Wine List is at a National Hotel?

Last month I attended the Texas/New York Gridiron wine challenge had the opportunity to sit at a table with Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.  Surprisingly enough, our conversation shifted to wine and he told me about the Fairmont’s wine list which he had totally overhauled including a large number of Texas wines.  I was intrigued, so I asked Hunter if I could spend some time with him learning more about the list.

He’s an agreeable guy and very passionate about wine, so I found myself in the totally revamped Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont – with a tasteful local focus on Texas products and a rooftop garden.  I was handed the list, which received a Wine Spectator 2010 Award of Excellence, and like a kid in the candy store, I started perusing.  As Hunter hand-selected the 250 wines that are on the list, it was important find a variety of on and off “the beaten path” wines at any price that patrons would love.  I especially enjoyed the Underrated Reds and Underrated Whites sections that had a number of wines I have enjoyed in small little wine bars or across the country.  I never expected to see them at a restaurant in a national hotel.  You’ll also find grapes you’ve probably never heard of nor had the opportunity to try like Aligoté, at least in Texas, until now. 

Gruet was one of the selections on the Underrated Reds list and I mentioned that I had never tried its still wines.  In short notice, I had a glass of the 06 Gruet Pinot Noir Cuvee Gilbert in hand.  Hunter also had a large selection of wines that are positioned by varietal vs. region to encourage experimentation of all different types of grapes from around the world.

Of course, because this is Texas, you will find the usual big suspect Cabernets -we all know that restaurants have to carry these to please certain patrons.  Also, I believe that having some of the big steakhouse wines gives people the trust factor to try other wines that may not have considered otherwise.  

Wines that are sustainable, organic and environmentally farmed are given special consideration.  You’ll probably see a future focus on building out the French section of the list in 2011.  Hunter’s credo, like The Wine Century Club, is to broaden the wine drinking scope at every opportunity.  I, for one, look forward to my trip around the world with his wine list as my guide.

Smelling An Illegal Subject on the Nose: Not Another Sauvignon Blanc Tasting

Much to my (pleasant) surprise I was recently asked to attend a wine committee tasting at Lakewood Country Club.  You see, this was somewhat of a breaking through the glass ceiling moment for me because while I have been described as having a set of cahoona’s, they are not god given and the wine committee has traditionally been male oriented.  Tony Zaranti, club house manager and director of our  awesome wine program at Lakewood Country Club, has single-handedly upgraded our selections, introduced the use of wine lockers for members and brought some of the top winemakers to Dallas for tasting dinners with Chef William Koval.  Koval, once the youngest executive chef for the Ritz Carlton and the man responsible for the five star rating for the Adolphus’ French Room, has a menu that transcends what you may think country club food looks like.  It’s daring, it’s savory and rivals what you could get at any five-star restaurant in Dallas, but at a fraction of the price.  Anyway, back to the committee tasting.

Tony brought several of us together that day for a blind tasting of 18 Sauvignon Blanc wines.  The  ultimate challenge was to agree upon and select a new wine for the “by the glass” wine list.  When I walked in there were 18 wines in brown bags, each with a number.  We had two flights of five and two flights of four.  The wines came from California, South Africa and New Zealand.  We had spit cups and dump buckets nearby, which is pretty much the only way to survive these tastings with ones wits intact.

If you live in Texas, you probably, by default, like Sauvignon Blanc.  When the temperatures top 100 degrees, it is a great pool wine – crisp and refreshing.  It’s always a fine line when you are trying to choose a value wine that will appeal to a large number of people – many of them women who like big, buttery chardonnays.  After wading through lots of grapefruit, lemon grass and even one that vaguely smelled like a certain illegal drug, I am proud to report we chose a wine off the beaten path – the Indaba Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. 

This wine was crisp and had grass (not the pot kind) and citrus notes with some peppery finish.   It’s going to be great with seafood dishes and I look forward to  pairing it with some of Chef Koval’s wonderful dishes.

I also am pleased to report that I was asked back for the next tasting, which is high-end Cabernet Sauvignon.

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