Friday, May 3, 2019

South African Wine Experience

South Africa Wine Experience

Traveling on a multi-continent ten country odyssey I arrived in Johannisburg, South Africa. We stayed at the Protea Marriott Balalaika Sandton Hotel and dined at the Bull Run Restaurant on premises, aptly named for the stock market theme and huge imposing bronze bull out front, as it sits opposite the country's Stock Exchange in the center of the banking financial district. 
The huge imposing bull stands 3.2 meters long and 2.2 meters tall and represents The Bull Run’s determination and heft, and refers to the name, which means a period of rising prices in the market. The bull weighs a crushing 1.2 tons of pure bronze and was created by sculptor Michael Canadas.

The menu (shown) is classic steak house with a selection of alternatives and accompaniments. The winelist is 100% South African with a broad selection by varietals representing the named grapes of Bordeaux, the Rhone, blends of each, and the native grape varietal of South Africa, Pinotage

For practical reasons, we dined at Bull Run the three straight nights of our stay in country since it was adjacent to our hotel. 
We met Wine Director Oscar who gave us a tour of the wine cellar and we got to peruse 'Oscar’s Corner', his collection of special selections, in limited number, not necessarily on the winelist. 
From that meeting with Oscar and getting introduced to his 'special wines' the first evening, we selected our wines for the rest of week, against which we would select our entrees and accompaniments. 
We received wonderful, professional and attentive service from the Bull Run staff, from Wine Director Oscar, Ryan Coaklin, bar and beverage manager to our server Priscilla, and others. 

Ni’Tida Caligraphy Durbanville South Africa Bordeaux Blend 2015

We hit a home run with this selection the first evening from the winelist. It also turned out to be a spectacular QPR value – a great find and one worth looking for if the chance arises to try it again or pick some up for home. 
I would value this wine at two to three times its price in value if it were available, and a ‘run out and buy a case’ recommendation as it’s almost a special occasion, at least a once a week or so wine, at an ‘everyday wine’ price.
Our server Priscilla

We’re told that 2015 was a fabulous vintage for the region. It certainly showed well through this vintage label – a blend of 53% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and the remainder Petit Verdot (percentages approximate from recollection of the rear label which I did not photograph).

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, fruit forward, nicely integrated and well balanced black berry and black currant fruits accents by notes of anise, cinnamon spice, hints of cedar, oak and tobacco leaf with full tannins on the lingering finish.

RM 91 points.

This was a perfect compliment to the filet of beef. I asked if they could prepare my 350g filet my favorite Pittsburg style, hot pink center and lightly charred and their preparation was perfect. 

Rupert and Rothstein “Classic” Red Wine 2016

Having been forty straight hours in transit over two overnight flights to get here, in front of an intense schedule of meetings, I forced myself to stay up late to force adjusting to ‘local’ time and enable sleep tonight to overcome jetlag. All that aside, and in light of the tremendous QPR we found in the local wines, we ordered another bottle to close out our dinner.

While a great value at the price point on the winelist, this was more expensive than the first bottle tasted above, and not nearly as inspiring or delectable, such was the great QPR of the Caligraphy above.

Dark garnet colored, slightly astringent black berry and black cherry fruits with notes of earthy leather, tea and tobacco leaf with moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 88 points.

Day two and dinner again at Running Bull in Sandston

Both Oscar, Wine Director and Ryan Coaklin, bar and beverage manager, filling in for Oscar tonight, highly recommended this Label so we tried it.

Ken Forester Wines “Gypsy” Stellenbosch GSM Rhone Blend 2014

The label says this wine should be laid down for ten years if one can resist to do so. This is a blend of Rhone red varietals Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Australian producers craft this concoction of a blend and call it “GSM” for the three varietal grapes included.

This label says this is from 50 year old Grenache and 30 year old Syrah vines. This particular labeling blend is from the most select barrels of each from the vintage.

I was expecting this to be much bigger, brighter and more robust than it was so I ordered the barbecue entrée this evening for my pairing. In retrospect I would’ve switched my Thursday and Friday night wine and entrée pairings. Never-the-less this was interesting, enjoyable and worth exploring, albeit sub-optimal per my wine-food pairings. Others might disagree and find this most suitable.

The winemaker notes on this label calls it ‘wild’ and brambly, ‘bohemian’ in style, this was dark grayish ruby colored, medium-full bodied, concentrated with tones of cinnamon spice, nutmeg, cigar and leather, the fruits almost taking on a layer of bourbon whisky accented by the cigar smoke notes, with tangy bright acidity on moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 91 points.

Night Three in Sandton, dinner again at Bull Run ...
Rick and colleague Mark B EMEA GM

Tonight we finally embark on a wine label that Oscar showed us the first evening, that we chose and set aside with much anticipation for this evening, one of the two remaining bottles in the cellar.

Beyerskloof “Diesel” Stellenbosch Pinotage 2015

The Diesel label is a tribute to the relationship between the vintner and his dog, Diesel, the namesake for label – the second of our wine favorites as such, (the other being “Scout’s Honor’ from Venge Vineyards in Napa Valley, named for their faithful golden retriever from the nineties).

This is composed of the Pinotage varietal grape, the native grape indigenous to South Africa. I have had several Pinotages back in America but never one like this. This must represent the best of the varietal representation. This was extraordinary resembling a big concentrated powerful fruit filled Syrah or Shiraz from south central Australia.
Dark Ruby Garnet colored, full bodied, firm structured backbone of concentrated vibrant black berry and black raspberry fruits accented by cinnamon spice, clove, hints of anise and sprites of tangy cherry with a long firm tannin laced finish.
This was great with my delicious unique starter of black mushrooms, creamed spinach and tomato sauce, followed by beef brisket in red wine truffle tomato sauce – a wonderful combination. 
This might have stood up better to last night’s barbecue (shown right), and the Gypsy GSM better paired with tonight’s entree selection. 
Delicious all around in any event.
Rabelais Thelema Mountain Vineyard Red Wine 2009  
Thelema Mountain Vineyards is a family owned and managed wine estate, from the
Simonsberg Mountain range in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Situated on the South Easterly side of the Simonsberg Mountain with elevations 530m above sea level with mainly south-facing slopes, with some of the highest elevations in Stellenbosch. The high altitude and the rich red soils are ideal for premium quality wine grape production.
Rabelais is a blend of the best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range from the vintage. During the annual vintage review individual barrels are identified and earmarked for the Rabelais blend. 
This was a Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Petit Verdot (15%), and Merlot (5%). The vines were planted in 2002/2003 & 1988. This was aged 20 months in 80% new 225 L French oak barrels.
Winemaker notes: Concentrated aromas of dark berries and cedar wood on the nose are complemented by lovely sweet fruit and polished tannins on the palate. The wine finishes long and firm and will reward cellaring.

Upon our departure the Bull Run staff kindly gifted us this native Knorhoek Stellenbosch Shiraz which we did not have the opportunity to consume during our visit. 

Despite all good intentions to share it with our guests at a wine dinner event planned for later in the trip, it was confiscated as contraband from my luggage during an intermediate stop in a Middle-eastern Arab country.
My failed attempt to retrieve my 'Retained Goods' at the
Customs Office upon departure from the country.