wine blogging wednesday: south african red

I was intrigued by the idea of trying a South African red, because that’s one region I hadn’t tried before. I read through Cook Sister’s entry about it and then did a little more online research, but I still felt completely lost. Well, not completely lost, but barely treading water, for sure. Cook Sister did have some great information to at least help steer me clear of some really bad choices. Kieca gave me some good ideas also, so I finally made my way to the wine store. Well, I made my way to Larry’s anyway, which as I’ve mentioned before, has a great wine selection but not so great a wine staff. I was on my own. Unfortunately, they had a very slim selection of South African reds, and they were mixed in with the Argentinian wines, so all I could do was look for labels that weren’t in Spanish.

I had an added complication. I wanted to get P.’s thoughts on the wine and he’s generally not a fan of reds. He likes the lighter reds sometimes, but it’s tricky. I decided to try a 2002 Malbec, which was labeled “Tumara”, as well as “Bellevue Estate Wine”. The copy on the back says that it’s from the Stellenbosch region and that the winemaker is Wilhelm Kritzinger. It was aged for ten months in French oak (25% of which was new). It all sounded pretty reputable and I thought I understood exactly what I was getting.

I ran into trouble when I tried to find out more about it.

Tumara is the name of a wine produced by Bellevue Estate, but it’s a Cab/Merlot/Malbec blend. Definitely not the wine I got.

I found a review of what seemed to be the right wine, but this 2002 Bellevue Estate Malbec from Stellenbosch didn’t mention “Tumara” at all. (Unfortunately, I have no idea what R59 equates to in U.S. dollars, so I can’t tell if the price is similar (I paid $18), and anyway, I’m not sure how tariffs and import taxes play into the price of wine in any case. If this is the same wine, then the reviewers found it “easy on the palate, with quite distinctive chocolate and mint flavours.”

But then I found some interesting press about the retailer Cybercellar, who has an agreement with Bellevue to market their wines under a Cybercellar label, Umkhulu (discussed here in the last article on the page). Interestingly, all of the wines mentioned as being under the Umkhulu label (Malbec, Titan, Pinotage, and Atticus anyway) were at Larry’s under the Tumara label. And then, I found this discussion on the Let’s Talk Wine forum. The posters there say “Umkhulu is a brand name used by a South African internet based merchant, , i.e. they buy in wines or get them made to their specifications. The very solid Bellevue Estate (owner of the worlds oldest Pinotage vineyard) is one of their suppliers” and “Marks & Sparks has Bellevue Pinotage under the Houdamond label and Morrisons under the Tumara label.”

At first, that latter remark read to me as though Marks & Sparks has Morrisons under the Tumara label. But I think maybe I’m reading it wrong and perhaps this person actually meant that a distributor called Morrisons sells Bellevue Estate wine under the Tumara label. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. Although, I admit, I’m thoroughly confused at this point. (Also, google brought up a few results for Morrisons Tumara Pinotage, but nothing for Morrisons Tumara Malbec.)

Kieca suggested I check the wine of origin tag, so if I get a chance to do that, I’ll update this post with any new I find out.

Anyway, on to the wine. The text on the back of bottle says “upfront brambles, cape fynbos and eucalyptus on the nose. Plums, wild berries, spices on the palate, ripe soft tannins, and a long, clean finish. 14% alcohol.”

This is where tasting notes from other countries make me chuckle (and probably tasting notes from the U.S. make people in other countries chuckle). Cape fynbos? I have no idea what that is, much less what it smells like. Eucalyptus? I asked P., “does eucalyptus smell kind of minty?” “Those are the leaves that Koala Bears eat that make them stoned, right?” he said. Well, that was no help at all.

Monday night, I had a small taste. Aroma? I couldn’t get anything other than strong red wine. Maybe a little mint. Maybe. Taste? Spicy. Very, very spicy. It was hard to get past the spice. Monday night, we both tasted it. This time, the aroma was very distinctively of strawberries (or maybe cape fynbos). It was still pretty spicy, and a bit of the oak seemed to come through. The finish was nice and long. I liked it. I probably would like it better in a year or two if that spice settled in a little.

Edit: I tried it again tonight and it had mellowed further, although it’s still spicy. I expect this wine greatly benefits from decanting. It seems to like air.

P. though? Well, red is a hard sell. I’m always surprised when he likes a red. So, you can’t hold it against the wine that he was having none of it. The oaky spice was just too much for him. The finish? Well, he proclaimed it assy. But honestly, don’t take his word for it. I guess if you also are a white fan and only care for a few select reds, well then sure, take his review to heart, but otherwise, I bet you’ll like this wine.

If you can figure out what it’s labeled under.

The blurry label.

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