Off piste: Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2015 & 2016 and Cape Tawny Vintner’s Reserve

Cape fortified wine

Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve & Cape Tawny Vintners Reserve Bin 1880

Vintage Port from 2016 has garnered plenty of headlines this year.  Rightly so, but now for something quite, if not completely, different –  South African fortified wines made by Boplaas in Calitzdorp, Klein Karoo, with Portuguese grape varieties.

The samples came courtesy of  Rozanne Nel, whose family accidentally started making wine from Portuguese varieties in the 1970s.  I say accidentally because her grandfather, Danie Nel, got Tinta Barocca (planted 1968) when he ordered Shiraz vines from a Cape nursery.  Rozanne told me the error was not picked up until her father, Carel, finished his studies and joined the business.

Fortunately, it was a happy accident and, since then, the Nel family have planted Touriga Nacional, Souzao, Touriga Franca and Verdelho.  While they make both dry wines and fortified wines from Portuguese grapes (and Rozanne sent samples of both), it was the fortifieds which stood out for me.  Here are my notes on the three examples she sent me, all fermented in lagares then barrel aged prior to blending and bottling.

Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2016 (W.O. Calitzdorp)

This blend of 80% Touriga Nacional from young vines, 18% Tinta Barocca from the 1968 vines and a splash of Sousão (2%) was aged for 12 months in barrel.  This vintage was very hot and dry in the Cape, but it would seem that Klein Karoo came off quite well.  Wines of South Africa report that this Western Cape region experienced “a cold, wet winter and a warm, dry summer leading to a big and healthy crop.”  I found it the purer, more layered and refined of the two Cape Vintage Reserves.  It sports a lovely purity and fluidity of cassis, ripe red berry and plum fruit, with liquorice and cocoa-dusted tannins, a touch (attractively) sinewy on day one, smoother but still adding ‘bottom/gravitas’ to the finish on day two.  Beautifully integrated spirit makes for a long, smooth finish, quite elegant, with focus and a minty coolness about it.  Very good.  TA 5.4 g/l, pH 3.91, Residual sugar 85.8 g/l, Alcohol 17.8%

Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2015 (W.O. Calitzdorp)

This brawnier, more savoury Vintage Reserve is a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 8% Tinta Barocca and 2% Souzao.  According to Wines of South Africa’s vintage report,  in 2015, “an unusually early, healthy season brings a high quality, but smaller harvest,” which is perhaps reflected in the concentration and tannin structure of this wine.  It has mouthfilling, dusty, spicy cassis fruit, with liquorice, bitter chocolate and a smoky, tarry note, which becomes more pronounced on day two, amplifying its savouriness.  The tannins are quite chewy, but the full bodied, velvety fruit and well integrated spirit makes for an overall roundness and generosity.  Finishes spicy, savoury and brooding with fynbos/brush notes.  Plenty of welly, but not the purity and focus which I enjoy in the 2016.  TA 5.6 g/l, pH 3.6, Residual sugar 105.8 g/l, Alcohol 18.4%

Boplaas Cape Tawny Vintners Reserve Bin 1880 (WO Western Cape)

The components of this non-vintage blend of 85% Tinta Barocca and 15% Touriga Nacional spent at least 10 years ageing in 475l barrels.  Emphatic rancio character here, so drier, less fleshy than an equivalent Tawny Port, with a hint of pickled walnut on day two.  A little shorter too.  However, lots to like on a compact millefeuille palate with dried fig, vanilla bean, mocha, toasted hazelnut, and toffee fudge notes.  Finishes warm, a little woody, with rum and raisin notes. TA 5.5 g/l, pH 3.3, Residual sugar 95.4 g/l, Alcohol 18.6 %

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