De Toren Z 2006
This sophisticated "Right Bank"-styled Bordeaux blend debuted in the 2004 vintage as a complement to De Toren's legendary "Left Bank"-styled Fusion V. A higher proportion of Merlot makes this delicious red softer and more approachable in its youth than its blockbuster sibling. It delivers intense aromas and flavors of plum, dark berries, and spicebox with classic notes of tobacco, graphite, and leather.
De Toren proprietors Emil and Sonette den Dulk left Johannesburg in 1991 to establish their vineyards in the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch. Situated on southern facing slopes overlooking False Bay, De Toren enjoys the cooling effect of constant ocean breezes. Taking a holistic approach to keeping vineyard soils healthy and balanced, viticulturalist Ernest Manuel employs sustainable farming practices throughout the property. Infrared Aerial Imaging is used extensively in order to monitor ripeness in various vineyard blocks and determine optimal picking times, although actual harvesting and production are done almost entirely by hand.
The winery is operated on gravity flow principles; a 4000 liter pressure tank in an elevator shaft (the "Tower" from which the winery takes its name) is cleverly used to exploit gravity in transporting wine between tanks and barrels without the use of mechanical pumps. As a result of De Toren’s innovative, minimal intervention production methods, their wines were among the first South African bottlings to qualify for IP (Integrated Production) certification by the Wine and Spirit Board.
The Den Dulks and winemaker Albie Koch seem to have found the key to success with their simple winemaking philosophy: gentle handling, no pumps, and minimum manipulation. Armed with this winning formula, the boutique farm has quickly risen to the ranks of South Africa’s winemaking elite with their duo of dazzling, stylish and complex five-varietal Bordeaux blends: the flagship Fusion V (which debuted in the 1999 vintage and has been hailed by Wine Spectator as "a consistently polished, outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend") and the Merlot-based "Z," introduced with the 2004 vintage.
With an important wine renaissance in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux lean towards a highly structured and earthy style whereas New World areas (as in the ones named above) tend to produce bold and fruit-forward blends. Either way, Bordeaux red blends generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.