WHAT if I told you – you don’t have to drink your white wines in the same year their grapes were harvested? That they will be even better a year, two – even more – later?
Yes, it’s true, and always has been. While wine makers these days create wines with immediate drinking in mind (the length of time from the shelf to your home), most can still do with being left alone in the dark for a while. Sauvignon Blanc, for example. (Not the wine maker.)
Everywhere you look right now you’ll see the 2020 vintages available in abundace; and other whites and rosés too. Nothing wrong with that at all, and with the weather warming up we’re all in the mood for something nice and fresh at lunchtime. But if you can, stash some away…I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The wines from Seven Springs don’t display the vintages on the front label, so if you pop into this Hemel-en-Aarde winery for a tasting this week, you’ll be sipping the 2016 Sauvignon. New vigneron – his skills lie in the vineyards as well as the cellar – Gus Dale says they tend to keep all their wines for a good few years before they release them. Having joined Seven Springs in 2018, Dale says he loves his Sauvignon Blanc he made in 2019: “But it’s still so tight and closed, it will take at least another year or two before it starts really expressing itself.”
For me, Sauvignon Blanc is often a challenge, especially the green ones, so it’s reassuring to hear this from an expert. The Seven Springs unwooded Chardonnay is also 2016. “We get a lot of marmalade flavours on the nose,” says Dale. “It’s very fresh, very clean, bit of mid palate without being oily or viscous. It didn’t go through malo so its acidity is natural, and there’s no residual sugar.”
It’s the winery’s top selling white and you’ll find it in a lot of restaurants in Hermanus where people quaff it with pasta and seafood…or even on its own. I bought a bottle to bring home with me, which I opened the other evening and relished every sip. Definitely need to get some more.
The third wine of the six wines made from four cultivars planted on eight hectares down the road, is the oaked Chardonnay. It’s a bit more expensive, mainly because of the cost of the barrels, explains Dale. “It’s a much deeper colour, very different. If I’m not mistaken this one was 25% new oak.”
All these wines were made before Dale was appointed remember… “I have to wait four years for my 2019 reds to release so it’s a bit frustrating from that point of view. As a winemaker. It’s difficult to talk about someone else’s wine,” he says. The 2019 Syrah Rosé is the exception. Dale is aiming for European style with a little more than a blush colour, fruity and full bodied yet dry as a bone. “It’s good with scrambled eggs in the morning,” he notes.
The Seven Springs reds are a 2015 Pinot Noir (the 2016 should be available by the end of this year), and 2016 Syrah. “The climate here is very similar to northern Rhône, which synonymous with some of the best Shiraz in the world,” says Dale. “This is not as jammy, not as heavy as some of the Stellenbosch, Paarl and Wellington Syrahs; it’s quite elegant and feminine.”
For some reason I have no notes on the Pinot Noir from this visit to the tiny tasting room – and barrel and tank tastings in the cellar – which had begun at 10.30am and ended with a mad scramble to leave in time for my next appointment.
“My wine making philosophy is quite organic. I don’t have a chemistry degree behind me but I have a lot of experience – 22 years of making wine,” says British-born Dale, whose interest in wine began when he was a tender 19-year-old working at Oddbins in London, starting out as a van driver then moving on to packing shelves, before taking WSET courses. He opened two fine wine stores while still a teen but the company balked at promoting him to manager or buyer because of his age. Realising there wasn’t much chance of upward mobility, Dale headed off to Burgundy for a harvest – and the wine bug bit good and proper.
“I faxed my resignation to Oddbins at 2am in a wine cellar,” recalls Dale, who didn’t return to the UK for four years.
After manual labour in the vineyards and not being able to speak the language, Dale got to help out in the cellar where he fell in love with wine making process as well. Once he could speak enough French, he put himself through wine school for two years. To catch up with the French, who begin careers such as this when they are so much younger, Dale needed to get in two harvests a year. South Africa was the natural choice, so he could get away from the frozen northern hemisphere.
One day he went to a flower shop in Stellenbosch to buy some flowers for a young lady he was courting, and fell madly in love with the woman who sold him the flowers. They’ve been together ever since.
Flowers In The Foyer is still there, and so is Hermien Coetzee, who used to steal flowers from gardens and sell the posies in the foyers of businesses in Stellenbosch. Drawing the world ever closer, I had perchance stumbled across this very flower shop a couple of weeks earlier, and met Hermien briefly.
Such are the wonderful conversations enjoyed with wine.
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PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©