Niche is nice

In the live Instagram presentation of his South Africa 2020 Special Report, Tim Atkin spoke approvingly of the greater varietal diversification in the South African wine spectrum, many of them niche rather than mainstream.

In the Report itself, he suggests the reason for the lack of diversity has been: ‘For too long South Africa has looked to France rather than Italy, Portugal or Spain for its inspiration, …’

And its necessity is driven ‘With climate change in mind, South Africa needs to plant a greater range of grape varieties and explore new sites.’ These varieties need to be drought and heat-resistant, retain acidity in hot vintages and/or ripen late.

Tim’s selection of Boplaas Touriga Nacional Family Reserve 2019 as his Best Value Red of the Year addresses both above points.

Boplaas winemaker, Margaux Nel (her father, Carel is Cellarmaster) tells me about Touriga and their other Portuguese varieties; these also appear under The Fledge & Co. the label belonging to her and her winemaker husband, Leon Coetzee.

To set the picture: 2019 vineyard figures for Touriga Nacional 103ha and Tinta Barocca 162ha, as compared with particular Pinot Noir’s 1201ha, bears out Tim’s point how we look to France rather than Portugal.

I started by asking Margaux which do better as varietal wines and why?

We work with Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Souzão, Verdelho & Touriga Franca (or Francisca).  For us Touriga Nacional is the most complete of the grapes, having aromatics, structure, tannin, fruit and complexity. Touriga Franca has superb acidity, colour and also reined in wildness. Tinta Barocca is workmanlike and extremely versatile. Souzão has incredible acid retention, is a great blender and the vines enjoy and relish heat, drought and otherwise devastating conditions for a "normal" vine. Verdelho offers such versatility; harvested early one gets electric acidity and crisp green citrus, while later you get fatness and voluptuousness.

Which make good partners in table wine blends?

The blends are where one can craft exceptional expressions of the soils, vines and vintage.  Touriga Franca is pure class, like Nacional, but with "aristocratic barbaric nobility". Tinta Barocca is the stuffing with broader shoulders and aids longevity; Souzão does the same with elements of freshness and exotic fruit.  Our barrel fermented and matured Verdelho is the green citrus, acid spine and "white spice" element to Gamka Branca and (Fledge & Co) Vagabond blend.

So which soils and growing conditions do these varieties prefer?

A universal theme amongst all these grapes is their ability to perform well in the harsh South African conditions, while consistently producing sufficient quality fruit for wine production. You can stick the vines in any soil and they'll grow; they're particularly hardy, some more than others. It's more about getting the climatic conditions correct and then the soils.

Does their role in Port-style fortifieds differ from table wines?

Very analogous to that of the still wines. The thing with fortifieds is to remain true to the style; this dictates which varieties you use.

We truly believe that for us the future is Portuguese, the varieties are built for our climate, offer versatility and untapped potential; on top of that there are over 400 varieties to play with.

- Blog by Angela Lloyd