The forgotten magic – Port style wines from the Cape

What isn’t to love about port? Richness and sweet alcoholic deliciousness are guilty pleasures, admittedly, but at its best it’s also marvellously complex and interesting in its various stylistic guises. The difficulty, perhaps, as with other sweet wines is where and when to serve it – the leisurely elegance of cheese, nuts and fruit at the end of a meal, accompanied by a few glasses of port (and then a taxi home if that’s not where you are) is a perfect, but rare, arrangement.

SASA’s latest tasting, hosted at Auslese on the 10th of March, saw a collection of Portuguese Ports and Cape counterparts across the major styles of the category presented by Cape Wine Master and Port guru, Boets Nel, and Higgo Jacobs. Wines ranged from current release non-vintage Ruby Ports to beautifully aged vintage Port from the early 1960’s.

Ports – and their Cape equivalents – are basically distinguished as to whether they are aged primarily in bottle (reductively) or in large casks (oxidatively). Ruby Port is in the first camp, though it’s actually not aged long at all – and is often a vintage blend, as consistency is the prime requirement, along with simple, mildly structured pleasure. So with our first pair. Calitzdorp Cellar Cape Ruby. (R45) is dark-fruity and not spirity. Rich, balanced by decent but separate acid, with a sweetish finish. It was that sweetness that mostly suggested to me it was a local version, though interestingly it had the same residual sugar as the Niepoort Ruby, from Portugal’s Douro Valley. It was the higher alcohol in the latter (20% versus 18%) that probably gave it its drier balance. My note on the Niepoort was: More complex, less pure, less simply fruity  nose. Shows more alcohol, more dry tannin. Drier finish. Integrated. A little elegance with the charm. Slightly herbal finish. As you can see, I preferred the Port, though the Calitzdopr Cape Ruby is great value.

The second pair were of the oxidatively matured style – tawny by name and tawny in colour. Much closer in quality – and price, in fact:

  • Quinta de Vallada 20 Year Old (about GBP 23 in the UK for 500 ml). Tawny with hint of amber-olive on rim. Lively fresh nose, some almond nuttiness, spice, coffee. A nice bit of spirity fire. Light, fresh feel. Fantail finish, slightly sweet. Better integrated of the two.  
  • Boplaas Cape Tawny Vintners Reserve Bin 1880. (a tiny bottling, about R250 for 375 ml). Deeper red version of tawny [reflecting its comparative youthfulness – about 10 years in cask, Amber rim. Luscious, a touch less finesse than previous, more fruity, but less obvious spirit.

Someone very reasonably suggested that these tawnies would go well with spicy food.

Then we returned to the bottle-aged style. As the name implies, Late Bottled Vintage ports are kept in barrel for longer than Vintage ports – a good few years as opposed to perhaps 18 months – in order to make them supple and drinkable sooner. LBVs are consequently a bit less opaquely black than Vintage, and a bit lighter in character too. They’re often a source of very good value, as with these.

I was very pleased when the first of the pair was revealed as Axe Hill Cape LBV 2010, as I hadn’t admired the 2009, but did like this very much. Lovely complex bouquet, with prune and liquorice, and some dark chocolate and coffee from the oak influence – which some tasters thought too obvious. Some power, density and tannic grip; fairly long finish, though not great intensity. The spicy Krohn  LBV Port (about GBP 15) was less appealing to me – a bit too easy-going for the style: softer, lighter, rounder, less tannic, a bit more acid-bony.

Then we moved onto three serious Vintage-style wines (frequently in South Africa the best add “Reserve” to the Cape Vintage designation). There were two fine examples from De Krans, a decade apart: 2007 and 1997. Good dry tannins were, of course, more prominent in the younger wine, which was also notably more complex, no doubt largely due to the greater contribution from touriga nacional – the soft, delicious and charming 1997 was mostly from tinta barroca.

I found, however, the Warres Quinta de Cavadinha Vintage Port 2002 altogether more exciting and somehow lifted, with an almost delicate prune-spice bouquet. Some sweetness, but a drier, more savoury finish than the De Krans pair, and very long-lingering. Needing longer in bottle still to attain real harmony of its components.

There were three older wines. The Rustenburg 1990 was past its best, though still alive, with a tawny rim to its mahogany colour and an almost pungent, oxidative nose. To me, unpleasingly toffee-sweet and lacking structure – very much in the older style of Cape fortifieds.

Showing much more vigour were two (very different) wines from the early 1960s. Ferreira Vintage Port 1963 (it’s a famous vintage) had a lovely subtle aroma and palate, beautifully developed but not in the least oxidised. The great joy with old port like this is the totally resolved tannic structure, almost undetectable as such, but holding everything together in its sublimely velvet grip.

The Monis Collectors Vintage Port 1961 was a special release (in 1987), and has sold for large sums at the Nederburg Auction. I don’t know how long it had been in cask versus bottle, but it actually showed more tawny character than I’d have expected – from the olive-rimmed tawny colour, to the complex aromas and flavours (menthol, liquorice, toffee, tea and much else) and the great richness of body. No hurry to drink up!

There is, of course, no greater and rarer pleasure for a winelover than fine old bottles summoning up the warmth of summers of many decades past; and few wines age as splendidly as good fortifieds. This was altogether a most memorable occasion.

SASA Member passes ASI Sommelier Certification

SASA is proud to announce that Jean-Vincent Ridon, a previous board member of the association,

has passed his ASI (Association de la Sommellerie International) Sommelier Exams with Gold merit in

Salzburg, Austria.

This makes Jean-Vincent one of 47 ASI graduate sommeliers worldwide this year, and one of only 16

achieved with distinction.

As a member organisation of ASI, SASA aims to host the ASI certification exams locally in 2018 to

allow our members in South African the opportunity to gain this accreditation here. Individuals

interested in sitting the exam can contact us on

This serves as very positive preparation for Jean-Vincent as he will also be representing South Africa

in the Best Sommelier of Europe and Africa competition coming up in May in Vienna, Austria.

Jean Vincent confirms: “I am so proud to the first sommelier in Africa to receive this international

qualification. It is now my duty to help prepare SASA candidates to achieve this Diploma, and

transfer my skill to the young upcoming generation of South African sommeliers”

SASA is a non-profit organization and aims to offer its services to local and international Sommeliers,

in being the contact and network portal for those local and international.  The association aims to

provide training and mentorships to guarantee the continuous development of professional

standards of the highest level. It will also liaise (or partner) with associations from other countries

and will therefore act as an official representative of its professional membership within South


Classifieds adds

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Congratulations to the newest SASA Certified Sommeliers


One of the biggest hurdles to South African sommeliers has always been the lack of formal, attainable, internationally recognised, sommellerie accreditation in South Africa.

In an effort to address this we set out more than two years ago. Drawing on the experience of senior members in the organisation, who had been trained and accredited by various bodies around the world from France and Sweden to the USA. To create a syllabus that would test the proficiency of sommeliers by sommeliers, while simultaneously striving for international recognition.

Now after our third round of exams, we are proud to announce the first six sommeliers who have passed all three the rigorous exams and are now accredited sommeliers by the South African Sommelier Association, a recognised member of the association de la sommellerie internationale (ASI).

From left to right: Eben Bezuidenhout, Spencer Fondaumiere, Jean Vincent Ridon and Barry Scholfield. Absent: David Clark, Ralph Reynolds.


Our next round of exams will be held on the 9th of October 2017. For more information please contact


A little more about our newest Certified Sommeliers:


Barry Scholfield

Through a chance encounter with a warm summer’s day and a glass of wine, overlooking the Franschhoek Winelands Barry had an abrupt change of career and of heart that started a journey through the South African restaurant industry from high street restaurants to winelands weddings, corporate hotels and everything in between before training under Joakim Blackadder at the prestigious Rust en Vrede Restaurant. Where he worked his way through his CWA courses followed swiftly by the intermediate WSET courses and finally enrolling for the grueling WSET level 4 diploma which he is currently busy with.


David Clarke

Has been in the wine industry since 2000 and was certified as a sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers in Australia in the mid-2000s. During this time he was the wine director at Vue de Monde restaurant in Melbourne, and was executive officer of Sommeliers Australia, a national association with a database of more than 3000 members before moving to Cape Town in January 2013. David has worked in fine wine retail in London and in Melbourne. He and his wife Jeannette (also a certified sommelier) run a wine agency based in Cape Town called Ex Animo. They also export South African wine to the thirsty people of Australia.


Eben Bezuidenhoud

Eben studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. After completing his Degree he went on to work as a harvest intern at various South African cellars. Understanding the need to have a global perspective on the wine industry he enrolled in the Master Vintage graduate program in France, Italy and Spain before returning to South Africa as assistant winemaker for Almenkerk. Thereafter he moved to the hospitality side of the industry as Apprentice sommelier at Singita before finally settling at Grootbos Nature Reserve as Resident Sommelier where he has since completed his WSET level 3 certification and is currently enrolled in the level 4 program.


Jean-Vincent Ridon

Is the total French wine man. He started as a sommelier in the family restaurant Le Lion d’Or before embarking to launch his own restaurant wine bar in Sancerre. While being a wine broker, wine importer and winemaker, he worked in many Michelin star restaurants before moving to South Africa in 1996. He consulted for many wineries as a winemaker and has been internationally awarded for the wines produced by his urban winery and wine bar, Signal Hill winery. Journalist and wine educator, he works as freelance sommelier for restaurant and private clients. He produces the “extreme pairing” video program for, is the author of “Passion for Pairing” book. He organises the South African Wine Tasting Championships and the National Beer Trophy, he is as well the coach of the South African Team of Wine Tasting. He was awarded Vice Best Sommelier of South Africa 2016


Ralph Reynolds

Got into wine a little later in life. Starting off as FOH and Bar manager for Charlie Crofts in Durban and Richards Bay before moving to Karibu in the Waterfront where he worked as waiter and assistant sommelier. After a brief break from the restaurant he rejoined the team in 2011 and soon worked up to sommelier, bar manager and FOH manager. Ralph is a certified Cape Sommelier through the CWA, captained the South African Tasting Team for the International Tasting Championships and is currently a sommelier at Aubergine Restaurant.


Spencer Fondaumiere

Started off training as a chef Nairobi Kenya whereafter he opened a catering company from his mother’s kitchen which he spent the next seven years building into a successful business. It was however on a trip to Cape Town, while gaining a diploma in Business Management from the University of Stellenbosch, that he fell in love with the Mother City and decided to battle home affairs for permission to stay before finally foregoing the freedom of self employment for the opportunity to work and train under Neil Grant at Burrata Restaurant. Here he gained valuable experience from a world class sommelier while completing his CWA Certificate and WSET Level 3.