To truly grasp South African wines, one has to understand why wine would be in South Africa. It’s not only a hot, intense climate, but it’s also an area of vast trade and fluctuation in populace and politics. The first vines were planted in the 1650’s in what is now South Africa. Why? Trade and government- of course! The Dutch East India Company (DEIC) used the Southern Cape (Cape of Good Hope) as a port in between its journeys for years. Finally, one of the captains decided that it was ridiculous not to have fresh foods and drink, so they made a “refreshment station” and farm in Constantia. New territory, yet, as with trade, government and agriculture, it likened to awkward teen years for quite a while.
South Africa is broken into five large geographical areas: Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, and Limpopo. Of the wine producing areas of South Africa, the majority of production is in the Western Cape. The Western Cape is a small area in the southwestern corner of the country. The Mediterranean climate is warm, with sunny growing seasons that are thankfully cooled by the Benguela Current (aka the Cape Doctor) which flows north from Antarctica. The Cape Doctor does more than cool the coast, it also inhibits fungal disease and eases the heat off of the vines in these intensely hot areas.
South Africa’s geology is rich with history and environmental diversity as well as majestic in beauty. The coast is protected by the plutons, dome-like intrusions of igneous magma into the earth’s crust with a coarse crystalline texture, which have eroded into hills (Paarl, Perdeberg Mountains, Darling Hills, Table Mountain and Simonsberg Mountain) that are flat and covered with sandstone. The layers of each region have individual meso-climates allowing for a vast array of varietals and growing environments. This diversity matched with the exposure to wind and ventilation create patches of subtleties such as vineyards “hugging valley floors, clambering over hills, climbing steep mountain slopes, or tucked beneath high peaks”.
Of the varietals grown in South Africa, we find 26 red varietals (most popular being Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Mourvedré) and 23 white varietals (most popular are Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc (Steen) and Sauvignon Blanc) with a history of a killer dessert wine- the liquid gold of Klein Constainia. Reds are big and bold, with subtle bacon or brine notes. Many have heard of Pinotage- the red varietal that was created from Cinsault (then called Hermitage) and Pinot Noir in the Stellenbosch University Vicultural Center in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold. It is a flagship as well as the somewhat bastard child of South Africa. Whites are full with bright fruits, medium to low acid and spicy qualities. Chardonnay is rich, full and likens to a balance between California Sonoma and Côte Nuit when oaked. Unoaked, it’s very similar to Macon, with a bit more acidity. As South Africa has invested in growth and modern technology, we find excellent examples of Pinotage and award wining wines across the board.
For wines that are exported around the world, we find that the Western Cape, specifically the Coastal region with districts of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Franschhoek, Swartland and Darling are prevalent. Though Stellenbosch and the Western Cape rule the current market, don’t hesitate to adventure into the other four wine region of origins! For more details, check out this great resource.
Happy New Year! Here is to new adventures! Jaci
The Ballard Wine Elves are counting down the days. Here are Jens’ and Jaci’s favorites for gifting. At my house Santa always brings me a bottle for my stocking! Hint, hint- don’t forget to buy something fun for yourself too!.
Here is our gift suggestions that wouldn’t be a disappoint in the stocking!
— Jens and Jaci
- Chateau Guadet Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé (Bordeaux, France) — Reg. $97.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $78.39 — Worth Every Penny
- Josephine de Boyd Margaux (Bordeaux, France) — Reg. $61.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $49.59 — Love of your Life
- Château Lafargue Pessac-Léognan Blanc (Bordeaux, France) — Reg. $38.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $31.19 — Elegance
- Coutier Ambonnay | Montagne de Reims (Champagne, France) — Reg. $52.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $42.39 — Dream
- Philippe Deval Crémant de Loire Rosé (Loire Valley, France) — Reg. $23.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $19.19 — Dazzle
- Zuazo Gaston Finca Costanillas (Rioja, Spain) — Reg. $35.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $28.79 — Seductive
- Nottola Anterivo Super Tuscan (Tuscany, Italy) — Reg. $45.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $36.79 — Entertainer
- Pelassa Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) — Reg. $61.99 | INSIDER $59.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $47.99 —The Ultimate
- Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley, Washington) — Reg. $59.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $47.99 — A Whistler
- Corliss Red Blend (Walla Walla Valley, Washington) — Reg. $86.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $65.99 — Bodacious
- Ken Wright Freedom Vineyard Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon) — Reg. $69.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $55.99 — Sock Knocker Off’r
- Domaine de Nalys Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réserve (Southern Rhône, France) — Reg. $65.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $52.79 — Till the Last Drop
- Paul Reitz Volnay (Burgundy, France) — Reg. $57.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $46.39 — Who’s Got the Funk?
- Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California) — Reg. $46.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $39.19 — Cigar Aficionado
- Jackson Triggs Winery Vidal Ice Wine (Niagara Peninsula | Ontario, Canada) — Reg. $39.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $31.99 — Sweet Complexity
- Taylor Fladgate 20 year Tawny (Douro Valley, Portugal) — Reg. $61.99 | Mixed Case 20% off $49.59 — Liquid Kisses
My niece was born this month and I have been preparing meals for the new little family. Thankfully, it is harvest time (even for grapes too)! Admittedly, I am excited for fall (beyond my beautiful niece’s presence). I can’t say that I love one season more than another. Yet when it comes to cooking, the transition from summer to fall sparks the creative in me.
Our tomato plants are ripening. We are harvesting sweet peas as well as plotting the potential new garden for the fall. For those of you that support our local CSA’s, this is the time of year that we scratch our heads a bit and wonder what… what is this thing and what do I do with it? Well, as we saunter towards the fall season, here are some classic French cuisine recipes to guide us (maybe with a few pairings too…)
Endive, Curly (Fresée), Arugula or Dandelion Greens— Salade Lyonnaise Pair with a Patrick Clerget Mâcon (Burgundy, France)
Kale and Greens– Hamhock Stew and Veggies | Garbure This is a thick rich stew, yet something savory and lighter bodied pairs fantastic! Domaine Allégret Laudun Côtes du Rhône Villages (Southern Rhône, France)
Peppers– Poulet Basquaise Roasted chicken with peppers… oh yes please: Domaine de Nalys Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Classique (Southern Rhône, France)
Turnip– Navarin d’Agneau Savory and rich lamb cooked with potatoes and turnips- Enjoy with Domaine Le Mourre Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Côtes du Rhône, France) 100% Grenache that will knock your socks off!
Herbs and Potatoes– Baeckeoffe A meat stew slow cooked with potatoes and juniper berries. Pair with Les Couventines Gigondas (Côtes du Rhône, France)
Artichoke Hearts– Red Snapper en Papillote Couscous with freshly baked Red Snapper in artichoke hearts and tomatoes would pair nicely with Domaine Jacky Marteau Touraine Gamay (Loire Valley, France)
Leeks– Vichyssoise AKA Potato, Leek soup = Domaine Perraud Crémant de Bourgogne “Le Grand Sorbier” (Burgundy, France)
Zucchini– Soupe au Pistou Summer Vegetable Soup with Pesto- enjoy with Domaine Haut de Mourier (Languedoc, France)
Squash– Butternut Bisque –Robust cream based soup with a touch of carrot to boot- Enjoy with a slightly oaked Burgundian Chardonnay: Domaine Claude Nouveau Santenay “Le Chainey” (Burgundy, France)
Because it is delicious… Cassoulet Since it is cooked with duck confit, enjoy this recipe with Château Franc Grâce-Dieu St-Emilion Grand Cru (Bordeaux, France).
Pan Bagnat Also is a killer tuna based sandwich with peppers and capers. Enjoy with La Colline aux Princes Sancerre (Loire Valley, France)
Salad Mix (Mesclun*) – Nicoise One of my FAVORITE salads- fresh tuna, nicoise olives, capers, egg… mmmm… Enjoy this with Domaine de Herbauges Muscadet Côte du Granlieu Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France)
Pumpkin– Pumpkin Pot This is a traditional French country soup. Nothing better than to enjoy with a rich and dry Alsatian wine! Domaine Moltès Pinot Blanc Réserve (Alsace, France)
Sweet Potato– Souffle Another Souffle? Yes please! This is a dynamic recipe with a bit of Gruyere. Go Bordeaux! Château Le Caillou Pomerol (Bordeaux, France) or even La Croix Dillanges Saint-Julien (Bordeaux, France) for an extra kick.
Celery– Céleri-Rav Rémoulade– Oh yes, yes we can not ignore the rémoulade… Château Martinot Entre-Deux-Mers (Bordeaux, France)
I hope that you are as entertained by these as I have been! Please stop by with your fall recipes to pair- regardless of France!
How is it that the marshy, maritime region of Bordeaux came to fruition? Cold wet winters and springs with the Atlantic to the west, autumn humidity and spring time frost- does not seem too appealing as a viticultural area. Yet the evidence of wine making is found in the area dating back to 4th century AD! The Dutch play a huge role in irrigation channels and trade for Claret. The latter enticing England to establish its dominance in the region- and actually rule that area for almost 300 years!
The influx of wealth and investment lead to negociants and brokers. With vested interest in the area, old wealth held strong to the properties even to this day! Over the last few decades we see investment in Bordeaux from China as well. Once the en primeur sales (annual open house of Bordeaux wine as futures) are released, Bordeaux is on fire.
With the Gironde Estuary from the Atlantic Ocean, the region is split by the Garronne and Dordogne Rivers as one proceeds east. On the southern end, the banks of the Garronne River hosts the Left Bank of Bordeaux (as well as the city of Bordeaux). Left Bank hosts two regions (Medoc/Haut Medoc and Graves) and 8 AOP villages (listed below). On the northern end of these rivers is the Dordogne which hosts the Right Bank and the Côte du Blaye and Côte du Borg. As the rivers split, they leave the area Entre Deux Mers (in between the seas), which is 100% white wine. Each area has its own claim to fame. So let’s break it down:
Left Bank Bordeaux … Medoc/Haut Medoc
1. Located on the left bank of the Gironde estuary and Garonne river
2. The Médoc soil consists of gravel topsoil with Margaux showing increased layers of limestone, sand and clay.
3. 100% red wine. This gravely soil structure is vital for the maturation of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenère
4. Médoc – the northern region with three sub regions (Haut, Médoc, Bas)
5. Notable villages: Médoc AOP, Haut-Médoc AOP, Saint-Estèphe AOP, Pauillac AOP, Saint-Julien AOP, Listrac-Médoc AOP, Moulis/Moulis-en-Médoc AOP, Margaux AOP
6. All first growths except one are located in the Médoc area. What’s First Growth and 1855 Classification of Bordeaux?
Left Bank Médoc Bordeaux wines are structured, tannic and expressive!
Currently in stock for Left Bank | Médoc:
- Château Lalande de Gravelong (Medoc) Reg. $21.99 *Nov 1st
- Château La Valière (Medoc) Reg. $23.99 *Nov 1st
- Fleur du Grand Port (Pauillac) Reg.$45.99
- Josephine de Boyd (Margaux) Reg. $61.99 *Nov 1st
- La Croix Dillanges (Saint-Julien) Reg. $40.99
- Les Chevaliers de Dauprat (Pauillac) Reg. $32.99
Left Bank Bordeaux … Graves
1. Located on the left bank of the Gironde estuary and Garonne river, the original wine making area
2. Graves, similar to Médoc, shows a sandier mixture with gravel and light clay (known as boulbenes) especially in the southern areas.
3. Mix of reds and whites, similar to Médoc with gravely soil structure and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenère red varietals; whites similar to Entre Deux Mers- Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.
4. Graves – the southern region which produces white, reds and dessert wines
5. Notable villages: three smaller sweet wine appellations— (Cérons, Barsac, and Sauternes); Pessac-Léognan AOP (red and white)
6. Of all the first growth designations from the 1855, Château Haut-Brion is the only one located in Graves. All others are in Medoc! Château d’Yquem is a first growth superior (Premier Cru Supérieur) in the Sauternes AOP.
Left Bank Graves Bordeaux red wines are structured, tannic and expressive; whites are dry, crisp and refreshing; sweet wines are succulent with spicy undertones.
Currently in stock for Left Bank | Graves
- Château Lafargue (Pessac-Leognon Blanc & Rouge) Reg. $38.99
Right Bank Bordeaux …
1. Located on the right bank of the Dordogne river
2. Soil consists of sand, clay and gravel with layers of limestone outside of Pomerol and iron rich clay (crasse de fer) in Pomerol.
3. The varietals nurtured by this unique soil structure are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and moderate amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon
4. Pomerol is 70-80% Merlot and 20-25% Cabernet Franc, aka Bouchet
5. St. Émilion (and surrounding Pomerol areas) are 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec
6. The origin of the garagiste movement- Garage wines!
Right Bank Bordeaux wines are soft, elegant and plush on the palate!
Currently in stock for Right Bank
- Belle Eleonore (Lussac St-Emilion Rouge) Reg. $19.99
- Château Franc Grace-Diex (AOC Saint Emilion Grand Cru) Reg. $32.99
- Château Guadet (AOC Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé) Reg. $97.99
- Château Le Caillou (Pomerol) Reg. $53.99
- Château Mazeyres Le Seuil de Mazeyres (Pomerol) Reg. $41.99 *Nov 1st
- L’Adage (Saint-Emilion) Reg. $23.99
1. Located in between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne
2. Though translation is “in between two seas”, some claim it is “marée” which is tide- in between two tides.
3. To be suspected- the soil is representative of the rivers upon which it banks: clay and limestone along the Dordogne next to a steep cliff; “boulbènes” very suitable to white grape varieties in the center and southern part of the plateau, with limestone and fine gravel on the southern slopes; in the north, clay and limestone with stretches of gravel and sandy zones; in the east, a majority of silty soils.
4. 100% white wine, dry. Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
5. Some sub-regions vinified sweet with botrytis.
Dry, crisp whites, meant to be consumed young, however some can age.
Currently in stock for Entre-Deux-Mers:
- Château Martinot (Entre-Deux-Mers) Reg. $15.99
Blaye, Bourg, & Côtes de Bordeaux
1. Located west of Right Bank, is the Blaye, Côte de Blaye, Bourg and the Côte de Bourg. The oldest vineyards in Bordeaux are located here. (“Côte de” is a smaller sub region within the region noted.)
2. Côtes de Bordeaux is the surrounding areas outside all other designated areas mentioned above. This appellation merges together the outlying areas so that it is easier for the consumer to recognize the area, however it can be from either Left, Right or Bourg areas!
3. All three areas produce reds and whites similar to the surrounding areas, however Blaye and Côte de Blaye produce whites of Ugni Blanc and Colombard.
4. Premières Côtes de Bordeaux AOP will only be sweet wines, and Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOP produces sec (dry), moelleux (soft/lightly sweet), or liquereux (liquer/stronger and rich) styles
The wines from these areas vary! Some are fantastic, some are what they are! The whites from the Blaye are oily and rich- fantastic with poultry, oily fish, clams and savory foods.
Currently in stock for Blaye, Borg, Côte de Bordeaux
- Château La Galante (Bordeaux Blanc) Reg. $14.99 *Nov 1st
- La Fleur Chazal (Bordeaux Blanc & Rouge) Reg. $15.99
We hope that you enjoyed the Bordeaux highlights here! There is always more to explore and learn! Stop by soon to check out Jens’ new Bordeaux wines and taste!
Mount Vesuvius- Campania, Italy
Soils layered with molten rock, pulverized pumice, stones, ash and clay, Mount Vesuvius vineyards offer character and diversity. An eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 decimated Pompeii, Herculaneum and the surrounding areas. The volcanic soils are ideal for vineyards in an area of vast biodiversity including pine trees, lavender, and broom sung. It is a panorama of breathtaking beauty during all months of the year.
The sides of Vesuvius are deeply scarred by past lava flows, and its lower slopes are extremely fertile, dotted with villages and covered with vineyards. Casa Setero‘s vineyards climb up the slopes of Vesuvius in Trecase. The area is protected by a National Park (per 1995). The family grows traditional Campania varietals: Piedirosso, Aglianico, Falanghina and Caprettone. Of these red varietals creates the blend the classic Lacryma Christi.
One of the few DOC’s in the area, Lacryma Christi (del Vesuvio), translates to “the tears of Christ on Vesuvius” and of course it comes with a story! The first legend is upon ascending to heaven Jesus wept tears of joy as he looked over the beautiful Bay of Naples which fell upon Mount Vesuvius. The second legend begins when an angry Lucifer is ejected from heaven, storming off with the fallen angels and a piece of “paradise”. This lands on Mount Vesuvius, and is why Jesus cries. And another legend is that Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, sheds tears of joy which sprout the vineyards on the slopes of Vesuvius. Regardless of which rendition you (or the winemaker) believes, it is the reasoning why on any bottle from the Mount Vesuvius the crown label has either red wax or an image of red wax dripping to represent “the tears of Christ on Vesuvius”.
Lacryma Christi red is a blend of Piedirosso, Sciascinoso and Aglianico grapes and the white varietals are typically blends of Verdeca, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina grapes. Fragrant, with scents of wild strawberries, raspberries and hints of aromatic herbs such as oregano and thyme as well as wild flowers and violets. On the palate, blueberries, tart cherries, pomegranate mingle with balsamic and subtle sea breeze notes. Earth notes such as pine and volcanic ash are noted with a gentle tannic finish. Pairs with seafood, white meats, fresh cheeses, pizza, fish soups, white meats, roasted chicken, root vegetables and pulse soups.
One of Italy’s oldest grape varieties, and cultivated in Campania since ancient Roman times, Falanghina is the white wine of the region. Primarily cultivated in Campania, Falanghina can be located in Puglia and Abruzzo (Southern Italy). Mount Vesuvius’ porous volcanic soils and the warm Mediterranean climate are an excellent environment for this beautiful, floral and citrusy white. Tasting notes of citrus-blossom, bitter orange, summer apple and Bosc pear layered with minerality. Pair with pizza; combinations with pear, walnuts, Gorgonzola; seafood cuisine, shellfish; vegetable and pulses soup, legumes; fresh cheeses; or even meats roasted in citrus or peppers.
Aglianico is one of the most widespread red varietals in southern Italy. Originally assumed to be of Greek origin, Jancis Robinson has suggested that the lack of DNA support and the strong Greek merchant activity in the height of growth most likely trends this belief, however Aglianico is mostly likely an indigenous Italian varietal. It is a rich and full-bodied with notes of balsamic and pomegranate compote. Visualize a compote of rich red raspberry, currants, pomegranate and cherries mingled with an elegant minerality, hints of balsamic and subtle licorice. Tannic finish with medium acidity. Pair with roasted meats, chicken, pomegranate, rich seafood, squash, roasted vegetables.
We hope you enjoyed our feature of Mount Vesuvius! Join us to try these wines at our shop:
- Casa Setaro Lacryma Christi Reg. $19.99 | INSIDER $18.99 | Mixed Case 20% $15.19
- Casa Setaro Aglianico Reg. $17.99 | INSIDER $14.99 | Mixed Case 20% $11.99
- Casa Setaro Falanghina Reg. $19.99 | INSIDER $17.99 | Mixed Case 20% $14.39
Shuffling through the wine shop- we restock, we straighten, and above all, we check vintages. So- it may seem basic, but here we go: What’s in a vintage? The vintage on the bottle is the year that the grapes were in the vineyard. That eventual fermented juice could spend a few years in a barrel, but the vintage will not change when it is bottled. Some regions have aging requirements on the label to inform the consumer how long it was in the barrel (for example Crianza in Spain or Riserva in Tuscany) and some do not. And then, then there is non vintage (NV). This is when a winemaker decides that blending of two or more years produces the results s/he wants. It is found most often in fortified or sparkling wines such as Champagne and ports.
Most wineries have their style for their wine and do their best to keep that mark. Why does it matter if one year is different or not and what would make it any different? Well, crafting wine is not the same as making legos. Winemakers cope with the weather, which (as we know in Seattle) is more variable than one might expect. As much as winemakers desire to hold true to their style, each year has a challenge. For those of you that enjoy visiting wine country, you have heard the stories- and every year has them!
- Early frost, or surprise frost for that matter
- Hail– as seen this year in Chablis and few years ago in Piedmont
- Over the top temperatures (2015 California)
- And even a simple rainy finish prior to harvest can create watery juice…
All situations create unique growing adventures. Variable weather conditions have to be accounted for through vineyard management- early harvest, tarping and heating the vines, or adjusting pruning and maintenance. And all play a factor in how winemakers maintain their end product- that potentially delicious bottle of wine. The winemakers with the ability and skill to manipulate from vintification to vinification are classically the wines that people seek when the vintage reports are claiming poor years.
Want to learn more about each years’ vintages per region? Check out Jancis Robinson>
So as much as we seek consistency, wines are variable. The same applies when it comes to aging wines. It is a gamble! A potentially delicious and fascinating gamble, but a gamble nonetheless. There is the dynamic of vintage year and the above mentioned impacts, but as the wine ages the variables increase! Proper storage is vital. That is, out of direct light, with little vibration, with no contact with chemicals and odors, minimal fluctuations in temperature as well as humidity, and of course, on its side so that the cork stays moist. When that is said and done, which wines age? Think of freshness- fresh whites with no oak as well as rosé wines should be consumed in the first few years of bottling. Wines with high residual sugar age well as do wines with supple tannins and higher acidity. The last component to look for is alcohol. High alcohol can turn your wine to vinegar, if the wine is out of balance of other said components (sugar, tannins, acidity). For example, port is high in alcohol + residual sugar + tannin, so it’s balanced and ages well.
So as you endeavor in the world of wine, aging and vintage choice, ask your local wine merchant to guide you. That’s what we are here for!
Jaci, Sommelier, Wine Writer & Portalis Manager
Scuttlebutt Tripel 7 Belgium — $1.59 12 fl oz — Very smooth & delicate, finishes dry with a hint of tartness. Dark Gold, Slight Copper in color with aromas of clove and banana, white pear. Hops: Bullion and CZ Saaz