Roussanne gaining traction as Cape vintners dabble with novelties

OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM as regards the great white wines of South Africa, there are three varieties that have been grabbing a little more attention in recent years by way of good to very good reviews for small bottlings from some of the best winemakers in the Cape. Roussanne, Verdelho and Grenache Blanc are the names of the grapes, which locally remain obscure to the point of being unheard of even at some of the country’s fine wine shops but which are well worth seeking out for their unique characteristics and at prices that aren’t cheap but are certainly affordable.Painted Wolf Paarl Rousanne front label 2014 (smaller)

The future of Feiteiras Verdelho from Bot River is uncertain after the farm changed hands recently, however The Mentors version of the variety from Paarl’s KWV has put in some respectable performances and the newcomers include Thelema of Helshoogte, Stellenbosch. KWV has also made some remarkable varietal Grenache Blanc under The Mentors label, Adi Badenhorst has dabbled with it in the Swartland for sale at the CWG Auction and Meerlust winemaker Chris Williams is on a roll with a number of highly-rated Grenache Blanc vintages from grapes grown in the Voor Paardeberg area of Paarl for sale under his own label, The Foundry.

Roussanne, though, is out in front as the most popular and most successful of the three ‘novelties’. Williams is also represented in this sector under The Foundry label. Fairview’s Charles Back of Paarl has been moving product through Marks and Spencer stores in the UK. Simonsig of Koelenhof in Stellenbosch made some waves with a CWG Auction special they called The Russety One, and Rustenberg’s Stellenbosch Roussanne has been decent. Whereas the producers who have arguably done most for the category of late are Bellingham (DGB) via The Bernard Series as well as the Borg couple – winemaker Jeremy and photographer Emma – with their Painted Wolf Roussanne.

“I am excited about this cultivar in our warmer regions,” says the Painted Wolf winemaker. “It can make wine with relatively low alcohol which also has a lot of depth and finesse.” And it plays its part in a range that sells under interesting labels/artworks, supporting conservation of the highly endangered African wild dog and protection of the diminishing wild spaces on the continent.

Verdelho is a Portuguese variety, used on the island of Madeira to make a sweet fortified wine quite unlike the dry examples of South Africa. White Grenache (Blanc) is a French variety typically used in Rhône-style blends. Roussanne is also French in origin, also usually a component for Rhône blends, but its footprint extends to Provence and the Languedoc, as well as outside France such as in Tuscany, Italy.

The Painted Wolf Roussanne 2014, for example, is described by the winemaker as showing citrus, praline and white peach characteristics with a long finish and fresh acidity. The grapes come from the Perdeberg in Paarl, the wooding was moderate, only 5500 bottles were made and Borg reckons it may age well through to 2020. Interesting drink. And we have it on good authority that “roast duck with honey, lavender and thyme” is seriously delicious with this wine.