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Tasting Notes from South Africa


These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013

Wikus Pretorius Winemaker and viticulturist Wikus Pretorius (shown right during ‘punching down’ the cap of floating skins in a vat of Syrah), met me outside the winery nestled beneath the Helderberg mountain next door to Rust en Vrede estate. This is the home of both Haskell and their second brand, Dombeya wines. Wikus explained that the owner of the two estates, Preston Haskell, a property developer from Florida, took over the operation and vineyards in 2005, keeping Dombeya as the ‘foundation brand’ with Haskell as an ultra premium label. The first wines under the Haskell label were released in 2007.

Wikus gained experience in California, France, Corsica and Australia before returning to South Africa and as we walked the vineyards it became clear that he is both excited and totally engaged in fully understanding and improving each of their vineyard plots. “Haskell is all about single vineyard expression and small batch selection,” he told me. Wines under the Haskell label are released “Only if the vintage is up to scratch,” he continued, “So there was no Haskell in 2009 for example – to show that we are serious about what we are doing.”

Standing in the vineyards, Wikus pointed out the direction that fog clouds regularly travel over the estate, helping to cool the vineyards. Fifteen hectares are planted, almost all with red wine grapes, but there are some older blocks of Chardonnay. “Every 20 yards you find a different soil structure,” he says, and it is expressing those differences that is key to the Haskell programme. “We are really trying to tap into single vineyard sites and the past five years have been all about the vineyards.” As we stand looking at the site of their extensive composting programme (the picture illustrating the organic life in the rich mulch), he explains that he is using only organic and biodynamic practices in the top Pillars vineyard, “but at this stage that’s all about trying to improve the wines; we’re not looking for certification.”

The Wines

Haskell’s wines are imported by Lea & Sandeman. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Haskell Vineyards, Anvil Chardonnay 2011, South Africa
From a single vineyard planted in 1998. Three pickings at different levels of ripeness for this wine which is aged in barrel, 50% new, for 12 months. Around 5% of each new vintage is blended back into the previous year straight from the fermentation tank to add freshness. “That’s how we get natural acidity given that we don’t have the chalky soils of Chablis,” says Wikus. Plenty of creamy, gently toasty oak, with a touch of brine and saltiness that is pleasing, and a little touch of lime. The palate has a lovely zesty, pure and grippy character, with delightful lemon pith acid and again that fresh, mineral quality. 91/100.

Haskell Vineyards, Anvil Chardonnay 2010
A touch more nuttiness, a touch more honey, with a rounder, more buttery character in the mouth, with plenty of freshness again, perhaps tastes a touch more phenolic, but Wikus thinks it could be a small cork/oxidation problem. Not scored.

Haskell Vineyards, Pillars Syrah 2007
Five barrels only were made of this, the very first release. Naturally ferment from only the third crop of the Pillars vineyard, it has delicious aromatics, with a floral lift, nice rose, even a touch of Turkish delight exoticism. Lovely cherry black fruit and freshness. There’s a twist of liquorice on the palate, the finish now drying a little perhaps, but lovely chocolate-smooth tannins and a really nice wine with great concentration, and a firmness but tannic silkiness to the finish that I really like. 92/100.

Haskell Vineyards, Aeon Syrah 2008
From a vineyard slightly higher on the mountain, more clay but only five rows used for this wine. Wikus thinks it gives a deeper, structured character. Striking, intense nose, with a real intensity of fruit aroma, with spice and lovely fragrant aromatics but also seems solid and sonorous. The palate is big and pretty dry, the tannins are intense and structured, a bigger wine in every sensory way despite exactly the same alcohol. If this is Barossa, Pillars is Rhone maybe, yet they only 800 metres apart. Lots of spice and intensity of flavour, a long finish – would I drink more of the Pillars? 91/100.

Dombeya, Altus 2007
A blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 4% Malbec, the Malbec blended back from the 2008 vintage. Matured in 30% new oak and in older barrels. Lovely nose, lots of freshness and cedar, a really nice ashy and mineral edge to it. The palate has lovely juiciness – it seems a touch hot at first, spicy, but the lovely fresh quality of the fruit, savoury and European ion style, with a touch of green phenolic that is lovely in this mix. Delicious 91/100.

Haskell Vineyards, Haskell IV 2008
Eleven barrels were produced of this Cabernet Blend with 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Deliciously smoky and stylishly earthy nose, with cedar and a certain ozoney quality, a little more fruit a concentration and richness. Ripe and full, but at the same time staying so fresh and focused. Delightful racy tannins here, food acidity, the red and black fruit tartness lovely against the fleshier, sweeter concentration here. Long, gently smoky and spicy but finishing on fruit. 93/100.