On Wednesday I had the pleasure of spending a few hours having lunch with Pieter Malan. Along with his two brothers he runs Simonsig Famliy Vineyards in South Africa. It was founded by their father in 1968. Pieter is a raconteur of the first order. He told the intimate group gathered at King's Carriage House in Manhattan as much about wine in general as he did about his wines specifically. Pieter made an analogy that seemed to get the attention of everyone at the table. Basically he said that wine is like a four legged table. If fruit, acidity, sugar or alcohol is out of whack with the others, the table will not be balanced. It would be the equivalent of one leg being longer or shorter than the rest. As Pieter conversed with us we ate and tasted through six of his wines. First up was a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. While this wine definitely leaned toward the grassy style so often associated with New Zealand, I also found it to have some of the citrus associated with French and California Sauvignon Blanc's.
The second wine we tasted was a 2007 Chenin Blanc. This varietal is the signature white grape of South Africa. Depending on the producer one of the big differentials with Chenin Blanc is how sweet a style it's made in. The Simonsig Family Vineyards Chenin Blanc did have some light sweetness but it was never overdone. Rather that sweetness was enough to get the taste-buds primed after the more austere Sauvignon Blanc. The Chenin Blanc has a suggested retail of $10.99. For that price point it certainly would make a lovely aperitif or welcome wine to serve guests as they enter your home, or at the beginning of a long meal.
The next wine, and first red, was the 2004 Labyrinth Cabernet Sauvignon. Pieter revealed a story about the single vineyard (called Labyrinth) that this wine was sourced from. Long discussions with his brothers about planting a spiral vineyard led to planting one that is shaped like a Labyrinth. Pieter further described this wine as the one he finds the most pleasing to take into a corner and drink over a long evening. I found it to be a nice Cabernet Sauvignon for it's $20 retail price. Dark fruit and vanilla notes were the most prominent to me. It's particularly smooth for a Cabernet that's less than 4 full years old.
Next we moved on to two vastly different Pinotage's. While South Africa has more Chenin Blanc under vine than any other grape it's Pinitoage that is it's singularly unique offering. The first one we tasted was the 2004 Simonsig Pinotage. This wine saw no oak treatment at all. The thing that stood out to me about this offering was how much spice character it showed. It had good fruit and a medium body, but the spice is what drew me in for additional sips. For a suggested retail of $13.99 this was the wine that left the biggest impression on me. It struck me as steal. It's a red that has enough complexity to keep you interested, yet is light enough to drink in the summer when bigger reds tend to be a bit too much.
The second Pinotage and fifth wine overall was the 2006 Redhill Pinotage. It would be an understatement to say this was a completely different expression of the same grape. This wine spent 16 months in a combination of French and American Oak, all new. That oak influence added quite a few layers. I found this wine to be enjoyable now, but I'd expect it to better and more resolved a year from now.
The final wine we had was the 2004 Simonsig Merindol Syrah. This Syrah had more in common with old world wines than new world examples. Plenty of rich berry fruit and mocha characteristics where present along with an inherent spiciness. The Syrah retails for $36.99 and also has several years of positive evolution ahead of it.
The wines of Simonsig Family Vineyards were all well balanced, often elegant. Each of them was built with food in mind. When thinking of South Africa this is unquestionably a producer to not only be aware of, but to seek out. Recommended across the board.
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