‘South Africa… A fresh start’: a reprise

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Photograph: Simon Peel

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Catriona Felstead MW – our South Africa Buyer – reflects on how the country’s remarkable wine scene has developed since the abolition of apartheid.

I found it fascinating looking back through the window of time offered by ‘South Africa… A fresh start’. It cannot be denied that, following the end of apartheid in March 1992, the winds of change had blown through the Western Cape, bringing promises of hope and opportunity to winemakers for the future. It is thought-provoking to look back now and assess just how far the South African wine industry has come since that historic referendum.

It has taken the majority of the last 23 years for the South African wine trade to become the truly exciting place it is today. First of all, it wasn’t only apartheid that held the Cape’s most talented winemakers back, it was also the dominance of the state-controlled cooperative, the KWV. The KWV brought stability to many South African growers but its prices were based on quality rather than quantity. This encouraged the bulk production of inexpensive, inferior wines that did nothing to establish the region’s potential to impress at a higher level in virgin export markets. South Africa quickly gained a reputation for cheap and cheerful wines that lacked substance and often had a smoky character, which many experts attributed to virus-ridden vines.

It was following the privatisation of the KWV in 1997 that the South African wine industry really began to open up. Winemakers who had been frustrated by the co-operative’s restrictions were suddenly free to reduce yields and focus on producing smaller volumes of higher quality wines; however, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took some time for many of the larger wineries to appreciate that investment in the vineyards and wineries could yield longer term profits. A number of enthusiastic mavericks left their previous roles in larger corporates and took the risky strategy of setting up on their own; mavericks such as Eben Sadie, who was integral not only to establishing the Swartland as a new, cult Cape wine region but whose efforts have firmly planted South Africa on the global fine wine map.

Where Eben led, others followed, and in the mid- to late 2000s, high quality winemaking became a key focus among the estates of the Western Cape. Historic estates such as Oldenburg in Stellenbosch which had old, disused vineyards were suddenly brought back to life by their new owners, and vast tracts of land were replanted on carefully chosen, virus-free rootstocks.  Adrian Vanderspuy took over Oldenburg in 2003 and immediately replanted the entire estate with new vines. Constantia Glen transformed its beautiful spot near Cape Town and also focused completely on regenerating the vineyards; but vines take at least three years to grow to the point of producing quality wine and so time passed. Both estates’ first vintage was in 2007.

Even more exciting for the South African wine scene today are the young winemakers who have travelled the world, gained inspiration, and have now come home to establish their own unique projects. Not wanting to simply follow the Bordeaux model so assiduously created in Stellenbosch, Chris and Andrea Mullineux produce glorious Rhône-inspired reds and whites in Swartland which are now widely acknowledged to be some of the best wines in the Western Cape. We have just taken delivery this year of Richard Kershaw MW’s second-ever vintage of his fabulous Clonal Selection Chardonnay and Syrah, developing Elgin as a fascinating new region for quality wines; and let us not forget Ginny Povall’s brilliant Botanica duo, as she searches out small parcels of superb fruit in both Elgin and the lesser-known but increasingly exciting area of Citrusdal Mountains.

Much has changed since 1992, but South Africa’s winds are firmly blowing in the right direction with superb results now and even more promise for the future.

Explore South Africa on bbr.com.

Category: New World

Sunshine Spritz

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Photograph: Simon Peel

As England bathes in the first hint of summer, our Spirits Expert Rob Whitehead champions the immensely refreshing, ever-so-trendy and suddenly-ubiquitous Aperol Spritz.

The very first thing I consumed whilst on honeymoon in Liguria was an Aperol Spritz, made, by a borderline-obsequious ‘greeter’. The drink was extra-long, with approximately five parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol and a splash of soda. As the fortnight whisked wonderfully by, the ‘greeter’ became ever more wearisomely enthusiastic – in the manner of a particularly quarrelsome hummingbird: our perfect pre-prandial (oftentimes lunch and dinner!) Aperol Spritz recipe gradually crystallised, mine heavier on the Aperol, my marvellous new spouse’s easier on the soda and positively overflowing with luscious blood-orange garnish.

We have all experienced a particular place being conjured instantly from the depths of reminiscence by a song, taste or aroma and, whilst I have never quite been able to perfectly recreate that last honeymoon evening’s harmonious libation on a dreary Thursday in Yorkshire, with a glass of Aperol Spritz in hand, the day’s troubles are whisked away and I can sit back, close my eyes and think of Liguria.

The all-important recipe for Aperol Spritz success
  • Ice
  • 3 parts Prosecco
  • 2 parts Aperol
  • 1 part Gin (optional)
  • 1 part soda
  • A slice of (blood) orange

Fill a glass with ice, pour over the Aperol and, if using, the Gin (we like No.3). Top up with Prosecco and soda before adding a slice of orange.

Buy the essential ingredients for the perfect Aperol Spritz on bbr.com, with our exclusive Aperol Spritz Duo, available for just £20.

Category: Spirits

Don’t you (forget about me)

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Ch. PIchon-Longueville Baron

Ch. Pichon-Longueville Baron

As the battle of Bordeaux 2014 en primeur commences, Damian Carrington – Agency Director of our wholesale arm, Fields, Morris & Verdin – reminds us not to forget about the ‘little guys’ from this lauded region.

It isn’t often that one quotes a Simple Minds lyric in a title for the Berry Bros. & Rudd blog; but I thought it apt recently when thinking about Bordeaux and its wines, with particular reference to restaurants and – how shall we put it – more everyday drinking. While most of my colleagues are poised by their computers and phones waiting for the forthcoming en primeur releases, with endless conversations and column inches dedicated to whether a handful of Bordeaux châteaux will price their as-yet-unbottled wines sensibly; we in the agency business have an eye on the other side of the white-painted Bordeaux picket fence. With over 6,500 producers in the region, only a tiny fraction get caught up in the hoopla of en primeur: the rest have to slug it out for restaurant listings like everyone else.

The good news for the restaurant-goer is that the overall quality of wine being produced (in my humble opinion) has never been better. Intense competition from wineries all over the world has meant Bordeaux has really had to up its game. Those looking for value in an investment have (unless they are squillionaires) also had to look at the less vaunted Bordeaux appellations like Graves, Cadillac, Canon-Fronsac and Côtes de Bordeaux. Regrettably, this makes life more complicated for the consumer, but does mean that there are great value and quality wines to be had out there. Two really great examples we have recently come across are Ch. de Cérons (Cérons, Graves) and Ch. Biac (Cadillac, Côtes de Bordeaux).

Xavier and Caroline Perromat took over the running of Ch. de Cérons in June 2012. Located in the heart of the village of Cérons in the Graves the 26-hectare estate is planted on deep gravel soils. The region has been historically known for its sweet wines but the Perromats are dedicated to producing top-quality whites and reds, and have been extremely successful in their first few vintages.

Tony, Youmna, Yasmina, Gabriel and Antonia Asseily of Ch. Biac are a Lebanese family who became ‘accidental’ winemakers or viticulturists in 2006. Since then they have made a determined commitment to quality at Ch. Biac and they are equally determined to create a legacy of fine wine production there.

These two examples could be joined by many, many more and whatever the 2014 en primeur campaign may bring there is still value to be found… just don’t forget about the little guys.

Read our on-the-ground reports from our team’s week tasting en primeur, and keep up-to-date with the latest releases on bbr.com.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

Explore South Africa: Live Q&A

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Join our South Africa Buyer Catriona Felstead MW tomorrow, Tuesday 14th April, at 2pm when she takes to Twitter for a live question-and-answer session.

She’ll be on hand to answer any wine-related queries, from the most common grape varieties grown in South Africa to the nature of vintages south of the equator.

Read other posts about South Africa or explore our range on bbr.com.

Category: New World