We are spoilt in the UK. We often get the lions share of allocations of rare, small production, icon or boutique wines to the annoyance of the home market. The European and other international markets have been far quicker to accept and pay the premium prices these wines often command.
We all know the local SA home market has an inbuilt aversion to paying more than R150 (£8.99) a bottle for a white wine, and perhaps R250-R300 (£16.99) max for a bottle of red. As long as this mentality prevails, most of SA’s greatest wines will be exported to international markets.
No point being sour grapes about this fact. It’s a reality that only the local consumers themselves can change. Though, in 2016, I have seen a glimmer of hope that buying behaviour is starting to change in the local market.
Producers and distributors are working harder than ever on more innovative ways to get locals to part with their hard earned cash. Premium producers like Vilafonte have had great success with their exclusive wine members club, while De Toren has successfully carved out a successful premium on-trade niche for their Book XVII and Black Lion wines. Mullineux & Leeuw Family Wines have also been successful with their exclusive wine club micro-vinifications that help to cast an even broader halo over their entire range of fine wines.
So it was with great interest that I learnt about Chris Alheit’s new 2015 single vineyard release earlier this year… with a small(ish) production of 5000 bottles primarily destined for the local South African market.
Inspired by great Mediterranean white wines such as Mas de Dumass Gassac, Le Soula, and Domaine de La Grange des Peres, the Hemelrand Vine Garden white is produced from a new “fifth-leaf” vineyard planted directly behind the Hemelrand cellar on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, situated at 360 meters above sea level, on gravelly clay, with Sandstone intrusions. The blend is comprised of 48% Roussanne, 27% Chenin, 22% Chardonnay and 3% Verdelho.
Tasting Note: A pale pineapple yellow, this white blend is laced with dusty white citrus minerality, limestone, grapefruit zest and wet chalk. There’s a real old world restraint permeating this wine. The palate is intense and concentrated, bursting with yellow citrus, white peach, pineapple pastille, salty lemon and a honied, Bon Bon finish. I was expecting this young wine to be a lot tighter and leaner, but once again, the 2015 vintage intensity and opulence clearly shines through. Add to that the Alheit blending skill, and you’re gifted a magical blend, seamlessly woven together, with a complex, slightly oily finish. Lovely now but will be even better in 2 to 3 years time. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)