SASA Benchmark Series

Benchmark Series - Merlot Edition

On Monday 15 April James Downes from Shannon Vineyards in Elgin ventured across the mountain range to Somm’s home venue at The Woodmill Lifestyle Centre in Stellenbosch to bestow merlot wisdom on the members of the South African Sommelier Association. James presented statistics, explained the difficulties and possibilities in working with such a fickle yet potential grape and showcased the evolution in his own wines made from the grape in comparable vintages.

What is merlot and where does it come from? Why does it have a reputation of being soft, round and textured yet it makes some of the most expensive and age-worthy wines in the world, like the famed Château Petrus? Firstly, to set records straight, Merlot is a bastard, a little bit like Jon Snow from the Game of Thrones. One of the parents is Cabernet Franc, the other is an obscure and unnamed variety from Brittany in northern France. Nowadays, Merlot is the second most planted grape intended for winemaking in the world, coming shortly after its sibling Cabernet Sauvignon. The most prime examples are still thought to come from its home region, Bordeaux, more specifically from Pomerol on the right bank where about 80% of the plantings are made up by Merlot.

Merlot has for long been frowned upon for pleasing the mainstream market but providing little intellectual stimulation for the consumer. But like Pinot Noir, Merlot is difficult to work with from a viticultural perspective, and only just less fashionable than the former. It has a tendency to be too vigorous in fertile conditions, yet it tends to produce the best wines in soils that contain a good portion of clay which often equals vigour in South Africa. Managing the canopy and the crop levels are key to producing high-quality fruit without the highly disapproved green characters that can otherwise appear in the wine.

The first flight focused on maritime and cool climate expressions of single varietal merlot. Contextually the wines from Elgin showed great depth, yet brightness, but with low and fine fruit tannin. Constantia has a similarity to Elgin in the sense of low and fine levels of tannin but still possess a darker fruit profile than the comparative Elgin fruit. Durbanville showed a dark fruit profile with a naturally higher fruit tannin than the other regions. There is potential here, if the vinification changes from focusing on the classic fruit-forward and early drinking style of merlot to something a bit more daring.

The second flight explored warmer and more continental climate conditions as well as blends with a merlot dominance, together with some international examples for comparison. In this particular context, Stellenbosch fruit seemed to lack a bit in freshness unless the grapes were grown at altitude, one of the best performers happened to be Rainbow’s End Merlot 2017 high up in the Banghoek Valley. A very serious example was the Holden Manz Merlot Reserve 2015 with incredible structure from both fruit and wood with a classic savouriness that will only get better over the next 10-15 years. If anyone manages to keep any bottles back until then, they will most likely be rewarded.

The following tasting notes were done with the assistance of Coravin for the wines that were available at the time of the assessments.

Shannon Mount Bullet 2016
Such a smart wine. Seductive. Bright and complex red fruit notes with noticeable cranberry and underlying dark and broody notes, toasted oats, fresh ginger and roasted nuts. The wine is finely textured both from fruit and wood tannin with searing, refreshing acidity and a very well-judged wood type and toast to fit the fruit profile. This is overall a very complete wine and it really excels were many red wines from this vintage struggles to achieve greatness. This vintage of the Mount Bullet will only evolve for the better over the next 6-8 years.

Shannon Mount Bullet 2012
A very good comparison and vision for what 2016 might become. Deeper and darker fruit, spicier, yet with the same bright red fruit in the finish that freshness up the wine. The texture is rounder from age and the fine fruit tannin is polymerised. The wine shows earthier characters from evolution and a deeper spice from the toasting of the wood. Pretty perfect as it is with direct decantation and should be served at 14-15 degrees to retain its balance, otherwise the wood might become prominent. Although the wood to fruit ratio is rather high the 2012 vintage will still evolve into a more savoury direction for another 2-3 years, but it is drinking pretty perfect at this point in time!

Steenberg Merlot 2016
Dominated by a red fruit profile rather than the usual dark fruit, resulting in a brighter, rather refreshing, flavour profile. The wood shows prominence in this vintage due to the lightness and lower acid in the 2016 wines, with the wood profiles character and sweetness resulting in the wine seeming slightly confected. There is a good tannic grip, mostly provided from the wood rather than the fruit. The wine is smoothly textured and should be enjoyed early due to the low fruit structure and dominant wood but will still evolve positively for another 1-2 years. Should be consumed within the next 3-5 years though.

Groot Constantia Merlot 2015
Shows a deep, dark and broody fruit with a savoury, bready undertone from extended lees contact. The wine is very textured, both from a well-managed extraction of fine fruit tannin together with the lees contact and the structure provided from the wood. The ageability of the wine is contextually very good, it will benefit from another 4-6 years of evolution based on the overall structure but should be consumed within the next 10 years.

De Grendel Merlot 2017
Shows slightly more reductive notes but aside from that shows a clear similarity to the Durbanville Hills fruit profile with a dark fruit profile and a fine tannin at higher levels than the Constantia fruit. The wine is clearly youthful and due to its fruit extracted style it will only benefit from a short period of ageing of another 2-4 years and should be enjoyed relatively young.

Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Lighthouse Merlot 2016
Pretty linear and uniform dark fruit profile, bright cassis and blueberry with a clear eucalyptus note. High fruit tannin from well-managed extraction, more so than the Constantia fruit. Marginally higher acidity than the Constantia counterparts. Due to the extraction there is a good concentration but the ageability is related to the fruit forwardness of the cold soaking technique and it will probably not evolve positively for more than 2-3 years and should be enjoyed within the next 5 years.

Creation Reserve Merlot 2016
Ripe and dark fruit profile with slightly elevated notes. Gives all the textural sensation that is expected from merlot. Well judged wood profile that fits the dark and broody fruit but quite generous in wood impact. There is a clever blending of parcels involved with a small but vital core of bright, red fruit that lifts the wine and provides freshness to the finish. Drinks pretty good as is, but will evolve in texture to the benefit for another 2-3 years.

Hartenberg Merlot 2016
Dark, plummy and slightly sweetish, elevated fruit profile. Soft and fruity by Hartenberg standards, presumably due to the weaker vintage. Smart wood management with a subtle and elegant dry spice and toast from the oak influence, which provides most of the structure to the wine. The acidity is relatively mellow and with the structure of the wine in mind, this vintage is better enjoyed young although it might benefit from another 1-2 years of evolution.

Rainbow's End Merlot 2017
Ripe, dark, deep and broody with a savoury undertone. This is one of the highlights of the tasting, very compact and concentrated fruit and although the fruit profile is very much in the dark spectra there is a bright blue fruit character that lifts the wine. This wine has a serious fruit tannin but no notes of greenness, clearly from well-judged extraction well managed, small bunch, fruit in the vineyard. The potential is good, to say the least, positive evolution is expected to be between 5-8 years and the wine really deserves at least 2-3 years before being enjoyed.

De Toren Z (54% Merlot) 2016
The only South African merlot-dominant blend in the lineup and a slightly lighter vintage, due to the 2016’s vintage conditions, than what is usual for this wine. This resulted in the wooding being slightly more upfront and prominent with toasty dry and sweet spice notes followed by the black fruit with notes of blackberry and dark cherries. Due to the delicacy of the fruit in comparison to the wood, the equilibrium of evolution will be relatively narrow and the wine should benefit from developing further for another 2-3 years but should be consumed within 5-6 years before it goes wood dry.

Summary of Event and Thank You to Partners

Overall the Merlot category is promising and it seems like South Africa overall has learnt how to work with the grape. In order to create a single varietal, prime example, cool climates or altitude seems to be necessary or a very quality dedicated and thorough viticultural practice.

Thank you to Great Domaines and Coravin which allows us to access the wine in our own time to write thorough tasting notes as well as all the wine brands that participated in the tasting and making it possible, to begin with.

The South African Sommelier Association

Originally published in

The first Cape winery to offer a wine made solely from cabernet franc was Landskroon, it seems, with a 1983. The grape had been grown in a small way through much of the 20th century and became much more important from the 1980s, with the rise of the Bordeaux-style red blend where it is a widely used component of greater or lesser significance. A few other producers joined Landskroon with varietal versions, but even by the end of the century there were fewer than ten made. Expansion since then has been pretty spectacular, and the current Platter’s Guide lists something over 70 cab franc wines, reflecting the grape’s success in a range of conditions. In terms of hectares planted, the variety is still under one percent of the total, but this is double what it was at the turn of the century.

In France, there’s little Bordeaux made solely from cab franc (it contributes about 50% to famous Château Cheval Blanc), where, as in South Africa, it’s overshadowed by its progeny, cabernet sauvignon (sauvignon blanc is the other parent). But in parts of the Loire Valley it’s a different story, and in that cooler zone it tends to make a relatively light, earlier-maturing, more modestly oaked, fresher varietal wine than red Bordeaux – a style increasingly appreciated as the wine-drinking world thinks again about heavier, grander styles.

Lukas van Loggerenberg of Van Loggerenberg Wines.

That turn is happening in South Africa too, including with cab franc, and the shift was the focus of a tasting organised in Cape Town by sommelier and general wine-man Higgo Jacobs for SASA, the Somelliers Association of South Africa – sommeliers tend to love the lighter, fresher style of reds, for their great compatibility with food. Higgo worked with the notably well-informed Lukas van Loggerenberg in compiling the tasting – Lukas is the Cape’s great champion of what we could call Loire-style cab francs, and his Breton (named for a Loire synonym for the grape) has received much acclaim in the few years that it’s been made.

At the tasting, held at the Test Kitchen, we blind-tasted four flights of three wines, one in each flight being a foreigner. The first, Domaine de la Semellerie 2016 from Chinon on the Loire set the tone: a fairly simple, but beguiling wine, with red, raspberry-toned fruit, a leafy, herbal element – common in cab franc and part of its freshness – and a modest but informing tannic structure. It was not hard, in fact, to pick out the two locals in this flight – a little more extracted and ripely sweet-fruited: De Kleine Wijn Koop Knapse Kerel 2016 (herbal & floral notes predominating and quite fresh), and Waterkloof Circumstance Cabernet Franc 2015 (bigger, very grippy, darker cherry fruit, some meatiness).

The Van Loggerenberg Breton was in the next flight, following a very good Loire: Domaine Des Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny La Marginale 2013. Incidentally, this wine confirmed a point that Higgo had made – that Loire wines are not by any means always light and modest; many are getting riper and more powerful. What they do have to offer generally, however, is an acidity that complements riper fruit and allows the wine to retain freshness and elegance. Breton 2017 also fitted well into this pattern, however, more than any other local cab franc, being floral, a touch leafy, and fresh, refined and light – just a little sweetness hinting at its Stellenbosch origins. It deserves time in bottle. Hannay Cabernet Franc 2016, from Elgin, was appealing but more awkward, bigger, bolder and more extracted, with a little new oak showing.

It was starting to emerge more clearly what we should be looking for in this lighter style of cab franc: as Lukas suggested, a balance of the herbal, pyrazene note with ripeness of mostly red fruit. A purity of fruit, of course, unmuddied by excessive oak; finesse, definition and texture. These are the qualities that endear this style to sommeliers, as it does go refreshingly well with a range of foods.

The first of the two locals in the next flight was from the producer probably most associated with the variety in the Cape, Raats. The Dolomite 2016 was very fine, arguably more Bordeaux-like in structure, with plenty of tannin and power. The same applies to Eikendal’s Infused by Earth 2017 – also very youthful (some toasty oak evident), needing time for the tannins to integrate.

And then a few more yet-to-be-released Cape wines: Hermanuspietersfontein Swartskaap 2016: rich and fruity, deep, dry and serious, but fresh and pure. Gabriëlskloof Landscape Series Cab Franc 2017 is, to my palate, the best of the three that Peter-Allan Finlayson has bottled; it’s classically leafy (despite its ripeness and 14.2% alcohol), with a velvet, finely textured softness over a firm structure.

The tasting finished with a Chilean wine that came as a bit of a surprise even to Higgo, to whom it had been warmly recommended: Garage Wine Co Pirque Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015. Very plush, fruity and showy, though well structured; about as far as one could get from the unpretentious charm of the Chinon, the first wine of the tasting. In that sense it served to remind us again that it’s not easy or even desirable to make generalisations about cab franc: it’s a grape variety and not a brand. The great thing in South Africa now is that with the Van Loggerenberg Breton we’ve got a benchmark of a style that hadn’t been seen and tasted here. Already it seems to be having an effect, encouraging more restraint and lightness in other cab francs. As for terroir – well, we must watch and taste and see where cab franc will do well, do best. I’ll venture just one guess: it won’t be the Swartland.

~Tim James

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

Chairman’s Speech – L’Avenir Gala Dinner

Rootstock Session Gala Dinner Speach

In an article published in Business Day and Winemag online platforms in February this year Michael Fridjon asks the question: “Is the SA Sommelier movement losing momentum?”

Michael actually follows on with content in the article that compliments individual and industry efforts and takes a welcome and justified stab (and not for the first time) at distributorcontrolled wine lists, loss of creativity through listing fees and restaurant owners unwillingness to hand the control of their wine programs over to educated, well imbursed wine professionals; I.E. Sommeliers.

We are grateful when someone of Michael’s calibre brings our profession to his audience, and I personally thought that the article mostly had valid points.

But that question in the title line caught my (and I’m sure many others’) attention.

I believe that the answer to this question is NO

If SASA was a wine, it would be like a very young Chenin made from young vines. It’s planted in a promising site and it’s being received well by the industry, but it’s still getting used to its environment, trying to get its roots in deeper (in sometimes hostile soils), and therefore hasn’t reached its full potential.

We have achieved lots in recent years. I would like to share some of these successes:

Our SASA courses are now well established, offering mentorship and certification for sommeliers and wine stewards across 3 different levels. Two recognised academies in the form of SOMM and the Sommelier Academy are licenced to offer SASA courses to students. Made possible by funding from the NDT, the Sommelier Academy has embarked on a project to train and qualify 300 junior sommeliers over the next 3 years.

We are now a full member of the Association de La Sommelier International (ASI). This allows us to compete on the international stage and also offer internationally recognised sommelier certification in SA. I am on a sub-committee of the ASI. We are working towards establishing a regional African chapter in the ASI, and we are shortlisted to host a large ASI event in Cape Town in the nearby future.

We have recently staged 2 very successful competitions for young sommeliers working in SA. The Moët & Chandon / SASA Best Young Sommelier of South Africa (won by Wikus Human, who will compete in SA’s Best Sommelier competition this year); and the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards (won by Joakim Blackadder who is off to Beijing to compete with other winners). Both these competitions are confirmed to continue in the future.

In September this year, we will stage the Best Sommelier of South Africa competition for the second time. The winner will represent us in Antwerp next year in the world championships. Most will recall our success with Gareth Ferreira’s performance at the previous showing in 2016.

We will once again be involved at Cape Wine, including an exciting official calendar event in collaboration with the Chenin Blanc association.

We now employ 2 part time people devoted to driving SASA’s goals and tasks

A PR company to drive further awareness of the association and increase membership has been hired

We are already seeing an increase in membership, also with the help of an improved new website. Watch this space for more interactive online improvements and payment portal

And, of course, our well attended monthly tastings offer education and networking for our

growing membership base

If you had told the founding members back in 2010 when this thing started around a dinner table in Neil Grant’s house that the sommelier fraternity would have achieved all of this in 8 years, I don’t think any of us would have betted on that as an outcome. We didn’t set up for failure of course, but we just wanted to get something going as a platform.

The SASA Board members are custodians of this organisation. Not owners. Not beneficiaries. It is a member driven organisation. I am the only founding member still remaining on the board after 8 years. This shows that SASA gets in new energy and direction on a regular basis. Some of the founding members and previous board members are here tonight.

At some point they may come back to the board and at some point we will entirely hand over this custodianship to the next generation of SA sommeliers. Such is the workings of an NPO and a democratic organisation. It is a group effort.

You can all be very proud of your organisation. I certainly am.

I would like to, once again, encourage all members of all membership types to get involved, make suggestions, make yourselves available, and keep us moving forward.

Thank you to all our sponsors for tonight:

L’Avenir, Stir Food, Gavin Withers Photography, Stellies Beer, Geometric Gin, DowningsandDurr Bottling

Thank you to the wine producers for the wonderful wines sponsored for tonight:

Almenkerk, De Wetshof, Klein Constantia, KWV,Nederburg,Negrar,Vilafonte,Wine Cellar (Drappier),L’Ormarins, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Fable andMulderbosch

Thank you to SASA Vice-President, David Clark

Thank you to Event Organiser, Elsa Fourie

Notes to editor: SASA (or the South African Sommelier Association) is an organisation established in 2011 as a not for profit organisation with the goal to further the profession of sommeliers, set standards for excellence in the service of wine and other beverages in the South African hospitality industry, promote the professional interests of our members, and to be a platform for a fraternity of sommeliers to interact with each other and connect with international somms.

We are a membership driven organisation. We do not receive grants from government or from any other industry bodies. We do not receive any corporate sponsorships other than the membership fees for businesses, which is a fixed annual rate for all. We hold bi-annual AGM’s where we elect the executive, or board members from our membership base. The board (including the chairpersons) do not receive any remuneration for our efforts and time put in. We do invoice for services rendered when we stage events / organise competitions / teach courses. This is usually well below industry related rates.

~ Higgo Jacobs

Gaggenau South Africa Announces Sommelier Finalists

Johannesburg – Gaggenau South Africa has announced the five finalists who
will be competing in the first-ever South African Gaggenau Sommelier
Awards on 23 and 24 May in Cape Town.

After receiving CVs, and completed questionnaires, from aspiring sommeliers
from across the country, Gaggenau, in association with South African
Sommeliers Association (SASA), have selected their top five successful

The young sommeliers in the finals are Juliet Urquhart, Wikus Human, James
Mukosi, Pardon Taguzu and Joakim Hansi Blackadder.

These talented wine professionals will take part in the two-day competition,
which takes place at the Gaggenau Showroom, in the Cape Town BSH
Experience Centre. Their skills and knowledge will be pushed to the limit, in the search for the winning young sommelier.

“We are incredibly excited to host South Africa’s first Gaggenau Sommelier
Awards. A celebration of the discipline, art, passion and appreciation of wine
and wine making, this competition is an opportunity to not only promote the
skills of young sommeliers locally, but to give them the opportunity to represent South Africa on an international level,” says Elizabete Nelson, Gaggenau Communications Manager in South Africa.

The Prize

The winner of this year’s Gaggenau South Africa Sommelier competition will
automatically qualify for the International Gaggenau Sommelier Awards that will take place in Beijing, China later this year. Here, the winner will compete against multi-talented sommeliers from around the globe and show off their wine mastery and erudition.

Astute industry leaders, including Higgo Jacobs, Abigail Donnelly, Michael
Crossley and Jean-Pierre Rossouw, will panel the judging for this year’s local


Zimbabwean born James Mukosi is a self-motivated, devoted sommelier who
has been making waves in the restaurant industry in South Africa. He is
currently the Assistant Sommelier at Rust en Vrede Restaurant in Stellenbosch.




Joakim Hansi Blackadder was born and raised in Sweden, where he also
started his sommelier studies and career. He moved to South Africa in 2008 and is currently one of the Managing Partners for Somm Hospitality Enterprises in Stellenbosch.




Juliet Urquhart is currently the Beverage Manager and Sommelier at the Royal
Portfolio Silo Hotel and, since 2008, has lived out her passion at some of South Africa’s most acclaimed hotels and restaurants.





Pardon Taguzu is currently a Sommelier at Aubergine Restaurant and Auslese
Function Venue in Cape Town. He is a passionate and dedicated young
sommelier who has been honing his craft since 2015.





Wikus Human is currently living his passion as a Sommelier at David Higgs’
acclaimed Marble Restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg. This young
sommelier has been continuously striving to sharpen his knowledge and skills
since 2013.

Gaggenau South Africa Announces First Sommelier Awards To Take Place In May

Gaggenau South Africa announced today that it will hold its first Sommelier Awards for young professionals of the industry during May 2018.

The Prize

The winner of this year’s Gaggenau South Africa Sommelier Awards will automatically qualify for the International Gaggenau Sommelier Awards that will take place in Beijing, China during Autumn of 2018. Here, the winner will compete against multi-talented sommeliers from around the globe and show off their masteries and erudition in front of world renowned viniculturists and international press. “Gaggenau is proud to support the South African wine industry by offering young Sommeliers the opportunity to not only promote their skills locally but by also offering the winner a platform to showcase their talents and represent South Africa on an international level,” says Elizabete Nelson, Gaggenau Communications Manager South Africa.

The international Gaggenau Sommelier Awards were launched in 2014 to offer an insight into the future of wine culture, by recognising and promoting highly talented sommelier newcomers. Astute industry leaders that will panel the judging for this year’s local competition include Higgo Jacobs, Abigail Donnelly, Michael Crossley and Jean-Pierre Rossouw. Nelson further comments that, “If you want to be the best you have to be judged and mentored by the best. So, not only will contestants meet these captains of industry (the judges) during their journey, but we have also partnered with one of South Africa’s top restaurants, The Test Kitchen to host an element of the competition.”

The Process

Gaggenau in association with SASA (South African Sommeliers Association) will select five candidates to participate in the South African Gaggenau Sommelier Awards that will take place at the Gaggenau Showroom in the Cape Town BSH Experience Centre. All interested applicants between the ages of 25 and 35 can download the first-round question paper on the SASA website at and submit their completed questionnaires, current CV and portrait photo to

The application submission deadline is Friday, 23 March.

At What Age is Wine at It’s Best

Drinking Perfectly. At What Age is Wine at It’s Best: Tasting Follow Up

Tuesday 15th August

Bocca Restaurant


Diemersdal Sauvignon blanc 2015,2016,2017

Vondeling Babiana ,2010,2012,2015

Eagles nest Shiraz,2009,2012,2015

Delaire Botmanskop 2010, 2012,2015

The Idea of the tasting was to establish at what age a wine would drink optimally. Granted there are various external factors such as storage to consider. However, in broad strokes, keeping as many factors within our control equal, we would attempt to see the influence time would have on the wines and if indeed as it is often described, does wine get better with age.

The wines were all supplied and in some instances generously donated from the respective farms vinotechs. All the wines were served in the same glasses and at the same temperature.

The wines selected were all highly acclaimed and well reputed examples. Indeed, there were 5 5 star platter wines in the line-up.

The wines were poured in four flights, different vintages in each glass. The panel were aware of the wines and the various vintages in the flight, they were however unaware of which vintage was in each glass. They were tasked with righting a note, scoring them and arranging them in order, from their favourites to their least favourites. At the end of the tasting the vintages were revealed and rather surprising results ensued.

From the sauvignon flight the unanimous favourite was the 2017, followed by the 2016 and then the 2015

From the Babianna flight the unanimous favourite was the 2012, followed by the 2010 and then the 2015

From the Shiraz flight the favourite was the 2012 followed by the 2009 and the 2015. This was a slightly obscured result as the 2015 had just been bottled. Nonetheless it was a fantastic opportunity to taste the wine at such an early stage in its development. It was the general feeling by all that it will turn out to be an outstanding wine.

From the Botmanskop flight the favourite was the 2010 followed by the 2012 and the 2015

The results were very interesting, certainly the preference with sauvignon was to drink it young.

The result from the white showed that the development in the older wines was greatly appreciated, though the 2010 might have been slightly just passed its best

The result from the reds also varied, though unanimously the youngest wines scored the least. The older 2009 shiraz lost out only slightly to the still youthful 2012. Though it was a close-run thing. Would perhaps go as far as saying on a different day the results could have been reversed.

It was unanimous with the Botmanskop that it improved with age which is very much in line with conventional thinking with respect Bordeaux style wines.

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


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.

Rhone VS South Africa Tasting

On the 6th of February SASA hosted the first of two tastings pitting key examples of Rhone wines against South African expressions. Focusing mainly on the Northern Rhone, with Syrah, Rousanne and Viognier, plus a little Grenache to make things interesting. Following is an amalgamation of tasting notes, taken from  our senior members, with some footnotes thrown in for the benefit of those that could not make it this time around.

SASA would just like to thank Alex Dale from The Winery of Good Hope and Christophe Durand from Dorrance Wines for supplying some of these beautiful wines. Oldenburg Vineyards for their Viognier and Rust en Vrede for, not only allowing us to take over their tasting room for an entire morning, but also putting their own wine on the spot against this lineup.


2014 Francois Villard Condrieu

This wine is clear pale lemon

The wine is clean with a pronounced flavour intensity including primary aromas of floral (lavender) stone fruit (apricots and peach) and almond pip the wine shows no secondary or tertiary characters. Developing

The wine is dry with medium well defined acidity. Slightly warming medium alcohol. It has a medium body with a medium (+) flavour intensity of peach, apricot and lavender with a little more nutty flavour coming through. The wine as a good viscosity and good texture with a medium finish.

This is a very good wine that shows purity, balance and concentration but lacks the complexity of a outstanding wines.

Can be drunk now but will benefit from up to 2 years further ageing

Grape: Viognier

Glass: Narrow tulip shaped white wine glass. Loire.

Serve: 8-10⁰C

Food : Avoid bitter elements which would accentuate the bitter phenolics and look for more aromatic dishes and maybe slightly sweeter dishes. As example, oven  roasted chicken with glazed sweet carrots.


Note: Many people confused this wine with a Muscat due to the almost grapey floral nose. It is important to note the characteristic lower acidity, even at modest ripeness of viognier and the characteristic viscous mouthfeel.

Available from Dorrance wines

2015 Oldenburg Viognier

The wine is clear medium lemon

The nose is clean with pronounced intensity aromas of stone fruit (apricot and peach), bitter almonds, with noticeably leesy aromas (cheese rind). Fully developed

The wine is dry with a low acidity, medium alcohol, medium bodied with pronounced flavours of stone fruit (apricot and peach), bitter almonds and noticeably leesy flavours (nutty). The wine has a pleasant medium length finish of stone fruit.

This is a good quality wine that shows typicity, with concentration but lacks the complexity or structure to develop off a very good wine.

Dink now


Grape: Viognier

Glass: Narrow tulip shaped white wine glass. Loire.

Serve: 8-10⁰C

Pair: Avoid bitter elements which would accentuate the bitter phenolics, as well as dishes high in acidity which would accentuate the already lacking structure and look for more aromatic dishes and maybe slightly sweeter dishes. Oven roasted chicken with glazed sweet carrots.


Note: The audience generally agreed that this is a very good value for money wine.


2015 Yves Cuilleron Saint Joseph Dique

This wine is clear medium lemon

The wine is clean with a pronounced intensity primary aromas of lemon zest, sweet spice, lavender with notes of ripe citrus (orange peel). The wine is developing

The wine is dry with a refreshing clean medium acidity, medium alcohol that is well integrated. The body is medium with a medium flavour intensity of lemon zest, sweet spice and orange peel. The wine has a medium [+] refreshing zesty slightly earthy finish.

This is a very good wine that shows typicity and length but lacks the concentration to develope the complexity of an outstanding wine.

Can be drunk now but will benefit from up to 4 of further ageing


Grape: Roussanne

Glass: Narrow tulip shaped white wine glass. Loire.

Serve: 10-12⁰C

Pair: A powerful wine that would easily stand up to lighter red meat dishes preferably where it could take advantage of that beautiful aromatics like Duck à l’orange.

Note: This wine caught out the majority of the audience, even though most got the grape variety right, almost everyone placed it in South Africa, specifically calling it a white blend of Chenin Blanc and Rousanne from the Swartland area. Although hotly debated here the first clear differences between the Rhone and South Africa started to show. Even though it is very hard to articulate there is a marked difference between the acidities of the two regions. The numbers might look the same on paper but they feel notably different on the palate.

Available from The Winery of Good Hope


2011 Gramenon La Sagesse Cotes du Rhone


This wine is clear medium ruby

The wine is not completely clean with notes of nail polish remover (VA, acetic acid). Showing medium intensity of red fruit (strawberries), black fruit (blackberries) and a herbaceous (thyme, rosemary) character. The wine is not showing any secondary character. Tertiary characters – savoury notes (game). Fully developed.

The wine is dry with medium acidity, gritty medium [-] tannin, noticeable medium [+] alcohol, medium body as well as medium flavour intensity of strawberries, blackberries, rosemary and meat. Here the wine is showing more bitter ´stemmy´ structure. The finish is a medium mouth drying  finish with very little fruit

This is a good quality wine that shows some complexity of fruit and is typical of this style but lacks the freshness of fruit, structural balance with overt stem tannin and concentration of a very good wine.

Drink now, not suitable for further aging


Grape: Grenache

Glass: Tulip shape red wine glass with narrow rim. Hermitage

Serve: 16⁰C

Pair: Rich gamey tomato based dishes. Tomato braised leg of venison.

Available from The Winery of Good Hope


2013 Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie


The wine is clear deep ruby

The wine in clean with medium [+] intensity primary aromas of concentrated dark black fruit (plum, prune), dried spice (rosemary, sage) and a floral herbaceous notes (fynbos, violet, fennel, liquorice,) as well as earthy notes (cocoa) with very well integrated secondary aromas of oak (toast, smoke) and lot of tertiary character of raw meat. The wine is developing

The wine is dry with a medium [+] acidity. It has ripe, medium [+] fruit and wood tannin and high yet very well integrated alcohol. The body is medium [+] with medium [+] intensity flavours dark black fruit (blackcurrant), black pepper, liquorice, and clove with a long mouth drying finish of dried herbs and blackberries.

This is an outstanding wine. It has structure, concentration, typicity, balance and length.

Can drink now but will benefit from up to 15 years further aging.


Grape: Syrah

Glass: Large tulip shape red wine glass. Bordeaux

Serve: 16⁰C

Pair: Rich hearty herbaceous dishes. Rosemary roasted rack of lamb with herb butter potato gratin.

Note: It must be said that this is probably the least impressive example I have personally ever tasted from this producer and it is still an absolutely outstanding wine. Although not a cheap bottle this is still great value for money in the premium wine category and a textbook example of old world Syrah at it’s absolute best.


Available from The Winery of Good Hope


2013 Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard Syrah


This wine is clear deep purple

The wine is clean with a medium [+] intensity primary aromas of ripe concentrated black and red fruit (blackberries, cassis, cherries) with a hint of white pepper and liquorice. Secondary character of toast, smoke and clove and no noticeable tertiary character. Developing.

The wine is dry with medium acidity and high alcohol. It has high levels of ripe fruit tannin and dusty grainy wood tannin that have not yet fully integrated. The wine is full bodied with pronounced flavours of cassis, cherries, a touch of white pepper and liquorice. With a long, mouth coating, finish of blackberries, white pepper and clove.

This is a very good wine. Powerful and concentrated with ample structure to integrate and develop concentration over time but lacks the balance and freshness of an outstanding wine.

Can be drunk now but will benefit from up to 8 years of further ageing.


Grape: Syrah

Glass: Large tulip shape red wine glass. Bordeaux

Serve: 16⁰C – 18⁰C

Pair: High protein or high starch dishes to balance the weight of the wine preferably braaied or smoked to take advantage of the liberal oaking and dark fruit. Flame grilled fillet of beef with buttered and smoked corn.

Note: This wine left nobody in the audience in any doubt about it’s origin. Big dark fruit

driven and highly concentrated. If the Jamet spoke of vineyards covered in snow in winter, plagued by frost in spring and battered by the Mistral in summer, then the Rust en Vrede expressed the concentration and richness of long summers days on hard granitic soil.  


2014 Yves Cuilleron Saint Joseph Les Serines


The wine is clear deep ruby

The wine is clean with medium [+] intensity aromas of blackberries, thyme, lavender and white pepper. The wine is developing

The wine is dry with mouth puckering medium [+] acidity, medium [+] dusty tight grained tannin, medium alcohol and medium body. The wine has medium [+] intensity flavours of juicy blackberries, thyme, lavender and white pepper, with a long finish.

This is a very good wine, well balanced and showing some complexity with good structure but somewhat lacking in concentration for further development.

Can be drunk now but will benefit from up to 6 years of further aging.


Grape: Syrah

Glass: Tulip shape red wine glass with narrow rim. Hermitage

Serve: 16⁰C

Pair: Rich gamey tomato based dishes. Tomato braised leg of venison.


Note: Another beautiful, textbook example of old world Syrah again sparking the debate of mouth feel and acidity. Although South African wines often attain the same numbers on paper based on TA and PH, there is a marked difference, a lightness, a mouth puckering, well integratedness about the the higher acidity in these wines that is unmistakable.


Available from The Winery of Good Hope

2014 Mullineux Syrah


The wine is clear medium ruby

The wine is clean with a medium intensity primary aromas of blueberry and violet. Secondary aromas of nutmeg, almond and rye bread. Showing hints of black pepper and vanilla. The wine is developing.

The wine is dry with medium acidity and medium [+] ripe fruit tannin, some stalky tannin and dusty wood tannin. The wine has a medium body with medium flavour intensity of blueberry, violet, vanilla, and black pepper with a medium length slightly bitter finish

This is a good wine showing some complexity and typicity but lacks the concentration, structure and freshness of a very good wine.


Grape: Syrah

Glass: Tulip shape red wine glass with narrow rim. Hermitage

Serve: 16⁰C

Pair: Sweet and savoury style venison dishes with a herbaceous element. Braaied

springbok fillet with blueberry and buchu sauce.


Note: This wine caused some differences in opinion where some, this author included, thought that this was at least a very good wine, but others felt it lacked freshness and showed to much reductivity.


2009 Hartenberg gravel hill


The wine is clear deep ruby

The wine has a lifted nose (VA, acetic acid) with medium (+) intensity primary aromas of stale cooked black fruit (blackberry, prune) and black pepper. Secondary aromas of oak (smoke, toast). Tertiary aromas of damp leather and meat. Developed

The wine is dry with medium (+) acidity medium (+) mouth drying tannin and medium (+) warm alcohol. It is a full bodied wine with a medium (+) intensity flavours of cooked blackberries and prunes. The wine has a oxidative aspect , the finish of the wine is medium (+), wood dry and lacking in freshness.

This is a good wine it has concentration  and some complexity but lacks the freshness, complexity and structure of a very good wine.

Drink now not suitable for further ageing.


Grape: Syrah

Glass: Large tulip shape red wine glass. Bordeaux

Serve: 16⁰C – 18⁰C

Pair: Rich hearty winter dishes that do not require much freshness. Black bean and braised beef stew.


Note: Considering the acclaim of both the vintage and the wine most people were very disappointed in how this wine was ageing.

Submitted by Barry Scholfield