Isn’t it strange how many South African sommeliers can name the sub-regions of Burgundy, perhaps even explain their subtle nuances, yet they couldn’t do the same for Stellenbosch?
Somm Social is our attempt to remedy that! Born out of a love of great wine, great people and of South African dirt we decided to setup a monthly trade tasting, for sommeliers, by sommeliers. The format is simple, highlight a topic that requires explaining, select the best examples of that expression, let people taste them side by side, with knowledgeable sommeliers on hand to guide them and follow it up with a informal gathering of food and wine, where thoughts can flow and opinions can be discussed. A social.
The 19th of February saw the launch of this idea and as a topic where better to start than right here in Stellenbosch with the once neglected and now stalwart of the South African wine industry, Chenin Blanc.
In a attempt to highlight sub regional specific differences the flights were divided geographically with Isabella Immenkamp representing Polkadraai & Bottelary, Esmé Groenewald showing off some Helderberg & Faure and, taking a quick break from taking selfies with Jancis Robinson, South African born and now renowned German sommelier, Jo Wessels, representing Simonsberg, Banhoek and Jonkershoek.
With a incredibly diverse range of attendees from Emirates flight attendants, American -, Zimbabwean – & South African sommeliers as well as some young up and coming talent from the Pinotage Youth Development Academy the stage was set for a informative, lively, somewhat boisterous exchange of ideas. The most fascinating of which, trying to find a unanimous favourite among the crowd. Turns out diversity really is in our nature.
Looking back at my own tasting notes: The freshness and brightness of the wines from the granitic soils around the Polkadraai were distinctly different from the Bottelary which clearly showed more ripeness and density from grapes grown on their comparably heavier soils. The areas close and on the Helderberg with proximity to the sea made for juicy, clean and fresher fruit profiles with rounder body than the Polkadraai examples, with an ability to absorb a bit more oak. When looking at the examples from the North, as in Simonsberg and the flatter areas beyond, the inland warmth really started to show with richer, riper and denser Chenin Blanc. As a summary it was quite incredible to have these examples in one go at the table, and as a reflection most restaurants with a normal-sized wine list within Stellenbosch would be able to compile a Chenin Blanc list of great diversity and quality without venturing outside the region.
Tasting done, attendants were offered the opportunity to stay behind, share their experiences over a glass of wine and enjoy some pizza specifically crafted to showcase which flavours pair well with these wines. A delicate Thai yellow curried butternut and coriander offering contrasted beautifully with the riper tropical flavours while a smoked chicken, pineapple and rocket number best expressed the flinty and slightly smoky character characteristic of restraint oaking used in the cooler micro climates.
A big thank you to all our the farms who sponsored wine for the evening, our partners who made the glassware and water possible and of course to all the wine professionals who came out in full force to learn and share ideas. Next month we look at the Kingdom of Cab.
Now I just need to figure out what pizza pairs with cassis and cigar box