Wine Menu – an interesting array of varietals
13 July 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams: This is Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, thanks for joining me, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams . Corlien, I didn’t even know about Wine Menu until I interviewed The Fledge –
Corlien Morris: Leon Coetzee.
JCW: Leon Coetzee and I said, but where can you get your wines and he said, “Oh in Jo’burg, it’s only at Wine Menu”. I thought, well, where is Wine Menu. But the more people I speak to, they all know about Wine Menu, but I didn’t and that’s the key thing. So, here you are, well, perfectly visible at the BlueBird Shopping Centre and people come to you in droves.
CM: That’s true, well, I hope the droves will increase as time goes. Bless Leon, yes, we’ve been here for three years and slowly building our clientele to people. It’s kind of like the personal trainer, it’s our personal little wine shop.
We only tell those that we want to know about it and we hope that the tale goes around a little bit more. We’re happy here in the BlueBird Centre. We were looking for a place where it’s like a neighbourhood centre rather than a big shopping centre, like the Mall of Africa where you’re just lost. We want to be easily found, parking easily in front of us where people can load their boots full of wine and the good stuff, yes.
JCW: You’ve got some, when I say rare, unusual, different is possibly best, but you’ve got bits and pieces of all of that. The way it’s laid out, you start with champagnes, you go onto the lighter wines, there’s a natural progression.
A host of different varietals
I’m interested in just about every single thing we’ve spoke about, but maybe we can talk a little bit about this section that I’m standing in front of here. These are the different varietals that you can get, that people are not buying in huge numbers. But they’re beginning to be familiar with them. Maybe we can just talk about some of these?
CM: I think for us, this is the exciting bit about what we do. A lot of these varieties people can’t even pronounce the names of the varieties. They think that it’s actually the name of a blend often and they would ask us “What is in this blend of Grenache” and it’s like no, that’s actually the name of the variety.
This is really our education shelf, which has grown a lot and it’s becoming our problem child. Because there’s too much of it and we can’t keep up. We have to add shelves here for all this fantastic stuff. It also shows that there’s a big change in the whole wine-making in South Africa. Cause years ago these varieties were all blended away in white blends and red blends. We didn’t even know they were in there.
Yes, fair enough, some of them are newer plantings, new varieties like Albarino from Newton Johnson, that hasn’t been in South Africa for yonks. But semi or something that was blended with Sauvignon Blanc and people didn’t even know that it was in there.
Grenache was in our Shiraz blends. But people didn’t even know the variety, they just knew it’s a red blend with majority Shiraz. Now our winemakers are coming out and making these single, beautiful wines with these varieties and it’s very exciting.
JCW: Talk to me a little bit, because this wine has been hugely spoken about and that is Lismore’s Viognier, tell me a little bit about that.
CM: So, Sam from Lismore, she’s a fantastic winemaker and a remarkable lady for what she’s achieved. She’s really one of those people who showed people that you can break away from everything traditional and still be very good. In my opinion, that’s one of the best Viognier’s in South Africa.
Viognier is a variety that’s very difficult to get right on its own. It blends really well with other varieties like Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. But on its own it can very easily be flabby or over-fruity and just falls away quickly and doesn’t age. She’s done it right, she’s made a super wine here, full-body, full flavour and you can age it really well. She showed us that Viognier can be done on its own, if it’s done right.
JCW: And she’s American, –
JCW: Isn’t it interesting to American winemakers, not all that far apart from each other, I’m thinking obviously of Mullingnier. I mean there are lots of other winemakers, but two American’s, it’s quite unusual.
CM: Yes, it’s unusual, but I think the part that I prefer is that they’re both women!
JCW: I suppose you’d have to add Norma Ratcliffe, wouldn’t you?
JCW: Part of the revolution when it came to Bordeaux style wines.
CM: Absolutely. Look, Norma is an absolute legend and she’s already not even making wine anymore, she’s handed over the reins. But she was so instrumental in so many things in South Africa and it’s very good to see that her dear son is also keeping that going. Warrick is staying on top of it and she didn’t leave it and then everything fell flat. She built a good, solid foundation there for a fantastic winery.
JCW: I hear that she’s tinkering –
CM: She’s always tinkering.
A little vineyard with a sparkling heart
JCW: We want past the sparkling wines and the champagnes, but you did pull one out, won’t you just pull it out and tell us a little bit about it because it’s such a fantastic story, Le Lude?
CM: Yes, Le Lude is fairly new on the market, launched their first wines into the market at the end of last year, 2015. Yes, it’s a small little farm, but there’s not enough space on the farm for all the vineyards, so they source grapes from various areas in the country. At the moment they have a Brut and a Rosé on the market and there’s more to come.
The thing that’s really exciting is the Agarf wines that’s coming. Where they do the secondary fermentation, which is the way we make champagne. We do a first fermentation, making a base wine, and the second fermentation happens in the bottle. That’s where you lock in those bubbles and it’s generally done under a crown cap, a bit like a beer cap.
But they are doing it now under a cork and this cork is kept together with sort of a metal clasp and it’s rather an expensive way of doing it. Because you now have to use two corks in the making of one bottle of wine. But the results are just so amazing and I can’t wait for that wine to hit the shelf, it’s going to be fantastic.
JCW: All right, so we’re looking at Le Lude Rosé, Le Lude Brut and we are waiting now for the next one.
JCW: And you’re going to be one of the few people in Johannesburg, I dare say, to actually stock it?
CM: Oh, absolutely, I’ll definitely it. I don’t know how many others will be able to get, cause I’m sure there won’t be a huge amount made of it, but we’ll definitely have it.
The trick to Rosé
JCW: Let’s walk down a little bit because I love the Rosé, in summer. I just think those lovely dry Rosé’s, there’s such an art to them. Because for so long they were over-sweet they were, in fact, horrible.
CM: I think that there’s still, unfortunately, a lot of people in South Africa that think that our Rosé’s are still too sweet for them. But I think they’re not trying enough. There’s a lot of really good, beautifully dry, fresh, crisp Rosé’s out there. There’s only a few that stand out as good enough to stand up against the French that we’re so used to.
But you must remember, when you go to the South of France on holiday, you’re in a different mood, you’re completely in a different country. You will enjoy anything they put in front of you. So I don’t think our Rosé’s have to stand back that much. It’s just that the mood is different.
Chardonnay is a special varietal to South Africans
JCW: I think you’re probably right there, but nonetheless, I’m standing now, this is a very tempting wall, Chardonnay we’re looking at. All I can see is Paul Cluver, Newton Johnson, Jordan. What stands out here, what’s happening here that makes you want to stock it?
CM: Well, Chardonnay for me is one of those varieties that we really do well with in South Africa. We need to recognise that within ourselves for starters. Then there’s something else like a Thorne & Daughters who is making this beautiful Zoetrope Chardonnay which is just elegance, beautiful.
Richard Kershaw, there’s very few Chardonnay’s that I’ve had from around the world that beat that. We’ve got some fantastic, elegant stuff and it’s also that thing that we’ve realised we need to move away from the heavily over-oaked, over-sweet Chardonnay’s. Make more elegant wines and that’s what’s happening now. There’s lots of elegance coming through Chardonnay’s and that’s where our little sweet spot is.
JCW: There are sweet spots throughout this room because I’ve already identified about six bottles of wine that I can’t buy. One or two that I probably will buy, but they’re very tempting. I’m also quite interested in the way you highlight some of the wines. Like for instance, here you’ve got Platter’s Five Start Winner and that’s a Swartland, it’s David Sadie?
CM: That’s correct, that’s his Hoersten Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc, very little of that stuff made. So we’re very proud to have some of it on the shelf, to be honest. The little highlights is really to make it easier for the people that come and shop with us.
There are still a lot of people that believe in the star ratings and for us, there’s so many competitions, you can’t listen to them all. But there’s a few judges that must know what they’re talking about and for the consumer, they often just want to have a little bit of reassurance that they’re buying something that somebody else said was good. For that, it’s good to highlight those.
Donkey’s Buy – an enchanting desert wine
JCW: I highlighted a wine that I can remember going into a bottle store and saying “I want to buy some of the Trophy Wines” and I was talking about the dessert wines. They said “No, don’t buy those, buy Donkey’s Buy,” which I’d never heard of. It was in a funny little bottle. There was something so charming about it, it was wonderful. But it’s not the Steen, it’s something different.
CM: Correct, the Donkey’s Buy that you were talking about is a straw wine. So it was a straw wine made of Chenin Blanc. This Donkey’s by Steen, that we’re looking at now is also Chenin Blanc. But now it’s just made as the dry, white wine. So kind of the same grapes from the same area and yes, the grapes, the Donkey’s Buy range belongs to Jean Engelbrecht from Rust en Vrede.
We all know and these grapes are not from the Rust en Vrede farm, they’re grapes that they’ve bought in from other areas. So the Steen is coming from lovely vineyards going past the Piekenierskloof area as you go over to Citrusdal. That’s where their grapes come from for this.
JCW: I’m just enchanted with the label because it does so stand out, doesn’t it? It really does
CM: Yes, and each one of the Donkey’s Buy labels has a slightly different donkey on it. The donkey does something different on each label.
The Mullingnier collection
JCW: I didn’t know that, so I would want to collect all of them because a lot of the importance of a bottle of wine, of course, is in the label, but take us through, just take us through. We’ve spent a bit of time on this opposite side of the shop.
It is, it’s boutique size, but it’s perfectly laid out, it’s perfectly logical, so it’s easy to browse. I can see amongst the five star, I can see Mullingnier, Mullignier Schist, Mullignier Iron, which is the granite, this is a lovely collection, isn’t it?
CM: Yes, you know, we’re trying to make it easy enough for people when they walk in, to find what they’re looking for. That’s why we have it by varietal, but you know, there’s so many things in our shop that you’re not going to see around and that you might never have seen before. Each person is grabbed by the front door and literally guided through the shop until they find the perfect wine for their taste.
Yes, I think when you walk into something like this, it’s a little bit of daunting task maybe, to find the wine that you look for. But there is something here for everybody’s taste and you don’t have to go and buy the Iron at R900 at a bottle. There’s something at R100 a bottle that you would enjoy.
JCW: Yes, there are some that are remarkably reasonable. I can see one for R150, but you pointed out that was one, in fact I think it was Kershaw was it? No.
CM: Yes, Richard Kershaw is a fantastic Shiraz, beautiful, elegant, from Elgin. I pointed out the Vondeling Baldrick Shiraz which is R83 a bottle and absolutely fantastic value for money. There are fantastic things out there, you just need to know where to find them.
But if you’re going to, in a supermarket, you’re going to stand there and not know whether the R80 bottle is going to be worth it. But here we can tell you what it’s going to be like, you know what you’re going to expect and you’re going to know, oh well, that R80 is money well spent.
Bordeaux Blends still popular in Jo’burg
JCW: Indeed. Here, this is the Syrah and the Shiraz, it’s one and the same. If I look to the right, it is what everybody loves, it’s the big wines, aren’t they? And yet my sense is that they’re beginning, maybe not to sell as well as they used to, or is that just my imagination?
CM: I think, specifically in the Johannesburg market, the Bordeaux Blends, the Cabernet Merlot kind of blends, they still sell really well. I think the thing though is that the really good ones are becoming quite expensive and therefore not becoming people’s everyday buy anymore.
They’re starting to look for things that are a little bit more affordable. Face it, all of us, our pockets are not quite as steep as they might have been a few years back. So when it comes to money-watching, then when you have to buy your favourite wine at R400 or R500 a bottle, then you might just not buy five a week, but just one.
JCW: I guess that’s with books and everything, you go through this journey, I guess. I’m just looking at this very unusual bottle, I’ve never seen a bottle that looks quite like that before?
CM: That’s the Viljoen red blend, it’s also a Bordeaux style blend and they are situated in Franschhoek area, wedged between Boschendal and Lorama. There they’ve got a fantastic little strip of vineyards and making this one and only Bordeaux blend as their red. Then a nice, lovely Merlot Rosé.
Just the two wines, but Mark Eisen owns the farm and the bottle is beautiful because he’s actually a designer. Interesting enough, he also designed those bottles, the Protea bottles which were so beautiful, he designed those. Designing is in his veins, so he can’t put a bottle on the shelf that just looks like every other bottle, he’s put a bit of effort in.
JCW: In fact, I think the smaller label is what makes it stand out, it’s so beautiful.
CM: And he’ll probably tell you, it’s all in the paper stock!
JCW: It probably is, it probably is!
Pinot Noir in South Africa
JCW: Pinot Noir in South Africa, I’m a Pinot Noir fan. So when someone says listen, this is among the top seven Pinot Noir’s in the country and that man happens to be Michael Fridjohn, I want to know a little bit about it. You’ve got a bottle of the Fledge, so tell us a little bit about that.
CM: The Fledge & Co, which is Leon Coetzee and Margaux Nel, they’ve made a few interesting bits and pieces. They literally go around and drive themselves silly around the country trying to find vineyards that they like and that they would want to make wine from.
This Pinot Noir, which is called Die Katvis is the one that really a lot of people have been speaking about. It’s under R200, which is unusual for a Pinot Noir of any note, to be at that price point. It’s just beautiful because for me, that purity of fruit and that’s what’s so beautiful.
They’re being able to show the Pinot Noir fruit and not masking it by oak or anything like that. Just an honest, honest wine and this is not their only Pinot Noir they make. The others they just make in smaller batches and they sell out even quicker.
But every single thing that Margaux and Leon has put their hands to, well, I say every single thing, they will disagree with me, because they’ve made a few experimental batches that never even saw it onto the shelves. Because I think they just drank it all themselves. But there’s some fantastically interesting stuff, and Shiraz that they’ve made and things that’s just really beautiful. I’d say watch Fledge & Co, there’s good stuff coming.
JCW: They’re very interesting, aren’t they?
JCW: And also one of those wine companies that doesn’t have an estate, that doesn’t have a Cape Dutch homestead or anything like that at all. But it’s very contemporary and he writes so beautifully, when he describes his wine. You understand exactly what he’s saying, but Yoda comes into it and whatever, I can’t help myself, I just love it.
CM: I think Leon, coming from a marketing background, he’s taught himself how to write beautifully. But he’s an incredibly intelligent man with a general knowledge in his head that just brings out all these stories. That’s, I think, the beauty of it.
There’s quite a few guys that as you say, don’t have the gables and the big homesteads, like Hannes Storm. He used to be wine maker at Hamilton Russell, now he’s got this little shed that he works from and he’s punting out this Storm Pinot Noir that in my opinion is really one of South Africa’s best. I’ll put it in my top five for South Africa for the moment. Really fantastic stuff and they’re just showing us that you do not need the big homestead and the big farm to churn out really good wine.
Some real unusual wines to try
JCW: I like it, there’s kind of a subtleness of approach. If you had to pick out a couple of wines that you’ve got here, that are particular favourites? They’re all favourites because you don’t want to have people say “Oh, they didn’t pick mine out”. But if you had to pick something out that was unusual and maybe people would want to try, but they might not know about it at the moment?
CM: I’d say when it comes to Pinot Noir I’d really like people to try JH Meyer Cradock Peak Pinot Noir, that is absolutely beautiful. I have to remind myself every now and then how good it is by opening a bottle and drinking it and you know, just reaffirming it.
That for me is really something to watch, fantastic stuff. I also think that Newton Johnson is known for their Pinot Noir and their Chardonnay. People forget that they make this fantastic wine called The Granum which is their Shiraz Grenache blend, really beautiful, big time. If you haven’t seen it before, that’s really something to look out for.
Then I’d really like to urge people to try new things. These varieties that they’ve never heard of before, try those out, there’s some interesting stuff there that you wouldn’t necessarily see on wine lists because I think in South Africa we’ve got a bit of a problem.
We don’t allow in our wine lists a space for weirdness where everything is just like, it’s got to be Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc or Shiraz. Then what about all the other stuff? It doesn’t fit in. So, we don’t see this on the restaurant lists. I’d like to see a section on restaurant wine lists where there’s weird stuff going on.
How to help a client
JCW: I suppose what they would want is for people to actually buy it, as opposed to not buying it. If I was to come in here and say “I want to buy my husband a wonderful birthday present and I don’t know what to buy, I don’t drink wine” what would it be? Take me where you would take somebody.
CM: I would first of all say fine, you need to help me a little bit and say, should we go with white or red here, you’ll hopefully know that –
JCW: I don’t know, but I often see him with red.
CM: Okay, that’s great, then let’s go then over to our special little shelf where we have all these fantastic blends. Because if you’re not really sure what your husband likes, then we’re going to have to play it a little bit safe and not give him a Cabernet when he actually likes his Shiraz.
So go with something a little bit softer, but that’s special. You have something like Dalla Cia makes this fantastic wine called Teano, that’s something really special and unusual. If you say “Oh no goodness, my budget doesn’t allow me to spend R700 a bottle” you say fantastic, then let’s go to something like La Luna who is organic.
Beautiful, soft Bordeaux. can’t really go wrong with it, it’s soft, it’s an older vintage, 2009. So if your husband is not the type who has the patience to put it down in his cellar, he can open it tomorrow and drink it immediately, then you go to something like that.
JCW: If I wanted to buy him a bottle of white, to go with the bottle of red, because that price is really quite reasonable?
CM: Then you immediately go really to our white blends where there’s some fantastic, interesting stuff going. There you can buy something really special that doesn’t break the bank, but it’s got an interest factor. There’s no point in buying somebody a Sauvignon Blanc for a birthday gift, that’s just not interesting enough.
Well, you could, but then it’s got to be something really special. I’d say let’s go and have a look at the blends and find him something that’s a good middle highway. It doesn’t stand out too much on the heavy side, also not too light, but very nice, interest factor.
JCW: What would that be?
CM: Let’s see, I’d steer towards something like Vondeling Babiana, which is a lovely blend of Chenin Blanc Chardonnay. A bit of Grenache Blanc and Viognier in there. It has enough body, but also enough freshness. Beautiful fruit there, so that’s a lovely highway road and everybody loves it. Once they’ve tried it, they come back for more, it’s really beautiful.
Or you do something that’s a little bit of an unusual label because it’s also nice to give something that just looks good. Then you have Thorne & Daughters which has these beautiful labels and really fantastic wines inside as well. Again, a blend, but this time you have Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, really interesting varieties, coming out with a wine that’s not too heavy. It’s got a nice freshness there, beautiful fruit showing, really lovely wine. For R200 you’re buying your husband something really special.
If wine didn’t have a price
JCW: If money was no object, if it was just anything that was wonderful, it could be red, it could be white, it could be bubbly. It does not matter how much it costs? There are those people….
CM: There are those people. Then you go, literally back to your Bordeaux style blends and you give them something really nice and big. Viljoen as a blend or the Teano that I spoke about earlier as well, MR de Compostella, that’s a wine that’s just so beautiful. But it’s going over R1 000 a bottle. You say to me “Money is no object, I want the best wine” I’m going to take you straight to MR de Compostella.
JCW: Let’s see it.
CM: That I can’t show you right now.
JCW: Somebody has booked it I gather?
CM: Yes, that’s one of those wines that there’s very little and we are waiting patiently for our new vintage to come in. Today it’s the 30th of June and 1st of July, it’s arriving tomorrow. We’re hoping the farms keep their promises and that we’ll have it on the shelf next week.
Can people come do tastings?
JCW: All right, so presumably people can come in here and they can taste and you’ve got a decent list of people, how does it actually work?
CM: We do little tastings here in shop on Thursday, Friday evenings from 4:00 to 7:00, anybody can come in, any time they like. Pop in after work, come and taste a little bit of wine and it really for us was a thing of education. Showing people, we’re showing different wines and people can try it and see what they like.
That way we get to know their taste and they get to know their own taste too. So they can tell us, “I didn’t like that Chardonnay the other day that we tasted” and we know immediately, okay, that’s the style you’re going for. Saturday’s we do it as well from 11:00 until 2:00, that’s a little bit more casual. People come in, they spend a bit more time, tasting a bit more than just the tiny little drop. But yes, it’s really about education, so you come in, but we do a lot of other events, tastings, more focused events.
We do dinners with winemakers on a monthly basis where somebody would come up from a farm and we pick and choose them. Not everybody is welcome, it needs to be a farm that we would want to show off and they come and show a selection of their wines.
We do dinner with that at a chosen restaurant and we go around with restaurants as well. It’s a bit of a supper-club actually, it’s turned into that. Then our events. The one that’s coming up now in August, our next big event is called The Unusuals.
We will be showing off these interesting varieties and then people pay R200 and they can come and really explore interesting varieties. We’ve a variety of different things we do, a fantastic database of people that read our newsletters. They’re irregular newsletters because we only send a newsletter out when we really have something to say.
We don’t like bombarding people with a daily newsletter of the same stuff. That’s really how it works, but word of mouth is really how we have grown. That’s the way, it’s sort of an organic growth, but it’s a stable growth. Because the people that come to us now and said “We’re coming because we heard about you, a friend told us about you” they’re the people that stay with you.
They’re here, they’re loyal, they remain, they’re here for the right reasons. So we feel that our customers have built, have grown with us over the last three years. We’re very fortunate with what we have, fantastic customers who come to us for all the right reasons.
JCW: If anybody is listening to this and I know lots of you are, we’re here at the BlueBird Shopping Centre, it’s one of the outside shops in the courtyard, how do people get onto your mailing list?
CM: They could literally go, we have a website, www.winemenu.co.za, it’s actually under construction. But on that page you will be able to click on subscribe to our newsletter, so it’s as easy as that. Otherwise you could just drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to the mailing list.
JCW: Thank you so much, I’ve loved this.
CM: Thank you very much, it’s wonderful to have you here.