KWV are an important company in the history of South African wine. KWV stands for Kooperative Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid Afrika. It was formed in 1918 with a view to avoiding the perennial problems of overproduction and price collapses that beset the wine market at that time. Then, in 1924, the government gave the KWV power to fix the price of wine that was to be used for brandy production. In 1940 this power was extended, and KWV set the price for table wine, too. Then, in 1957, the KWV were allowed to set quotas for wine production. It had become incredibly powerful.
The big change was the end of white minority rule in 1994. The KWV ended its quota system in 1992, dropped the minimum pricing in 1994, and was converted into a private company in 1997. But as a winery, KWV has been best known for volume wines. To change this perception, they created a small winery just for top wines, and thus the Mentors range was born in 2006.
This was a tasting of highlights from the range with winemaker Izele van Blerk, who has been with KWV for 12 years. She now focuses all her attention on the Mentors wines.
‘When I make wines I focus on the vineyards,’ says Izele. ‘I don’t want to panel beat a wine to make it sexy.’ But she isn’t afraid to intervene if she thinks that it’s going to help quality, especially acid adjustment. She says she didn’t used to add too much, but one of her winemaker mentors pushed her to adding plenty early if it was going to be needed, because there are a lot of high pH reds in South Africa. ‘I add a lot of acid on the grapes,’ she says. ‘I break it in as early as possible. And sometimes she’ll later deacidify, too.
One of the highlights of the Mentors range is the Limited Edition bottling each year. ‘Four years ago the marketing team asked if I could do something unique,’ says Isele. ‘I said what about a limited editon? We decided to launch the first limited edition in 2019 with a Carmenère.’ This was followed up by a Petite Sirah, and the latest edition is a striking Malbec.
Pricing is pretty keen, with the Chenin and the Orchestra my favourites, and good buys at £16.99 RRP (you may find them a bit cheaper, too).
KWV The Mentors Chenin Blanc 2020 Swartland, South Africa
14% alcohol. This is the first time there has been a 100% Swartland Chenin in the range, and the grapes come from Roodrai, from 52 year old bush vines. Izele uses wild ferment, but for 60% of the barrels she inoculates them with a dash on unhydrated cultured yeast. This allows the barrels to get a wild ferment going, but then the inoculated yeast takes over and completes fermentation to dryness. This is fresh, vivid and intense with a mandarin and lime edge to rich pear and peach fruit. It’s a complex, layered wine with the emphasis on bright, expressive fruit, with trademark Chenin bright acidity as well as some riper pear and baked apple notes, and then finishing with orange peel and lemons. Lovely stuff. 94/100 (RRP: £16.99 | Available from: slurp.com, Cellar Door Wines St Albans, Kwoff, Sovereign Wines)
KWV The Mentors Pinotage 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. ‘We are pioneers of Pinotage,’ says Izele, ‘but we need another 500 years to know how to make top class Pinotage.’ From two blocks in Botteleray on the same farm (one is older bush vine giving structure) This is a powerful expression of Pinotage, with olive, plum, raspberry and cherry notes as well as some smoky oak and a touch of clove. It has firm structure and good acidity, with some sourness on the finish. Lots of concentration here, and potential for development. Right now, it’s a little unintegrated, but with the keen acidity, the tannin, and the bright fruit this could work well with richer dishes where it would cut through nicely. 89/100 (RRP: £16.99 | Available from: Cellar Door wines, Cork of the North, The Wine Shop, Gwin Llyn Wines, Newton Wines, Perold Wine Cellar, Slurp.com, The Whalley Wine Shop, Mitchells Vintners)
KWV The Mentors Petit Verdot 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. ‘Petit Verdot is one of my favourite varieties,’ says Izele. ‘It can be a very difficult variety if you don’t manage the tannins, and you get lots of small green berries if you don’t pick at optimum ripeness.’ Aromatic and intense with powerful blackcurrant and cherry fruit, as well as some pot pourri and rose petal. There’s ripe dark fruit, but also lots of freshness, and some supporting oak. It’s a dense, ripe modern wine, with lots of polish and some acidity sticking out a bit, but this is built for the long haul. It’s polished, but not over-ripe, and I’d lose this in the cellar for a while. Impressive fruit. 92/100 (RRP: £16.99 | Available from: Lindley Fine Wines, Cape Wine & Food, Perold Wine Cellar, Drinkfinder.com, Cellar Door Wines, The Whalley Wine Shop)
KWV The Mentors Orchestra 2019 Western Cape, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carménère. This is the biggest blend in the Mentors range with 22 500 litres, and it is aged in 40% new oak. Deeply coloured, this is well proportioned with a hint of green that integrates nicely with the plush blackcurrant and berry fruits. Fleshy and nicely concentrated with purity and nice intensity. It’s ripe but classically structured, showing a touch of spicy cedar and good tannins and acidity. Drinking nicely now in its primary youth, but will age nicely, too. Some olive on the finish. 93/100 (RRP: £16.99 | Available from: drinkfinder.com, Perold Wine Cellar, The Dorset Wine Company, Newton Wines)
KWV The Mentors Limited Edition Malbec 2019 Paarl, South Africa
14% alcohol. From a 0.98 ha block on Malmesbury shale soils, 70% new oak. 1300 bottles made. This intensely coloured wine has spice, cedar and mint, as well as blackcurrant and cherry fruit. The aromas are quite striking, with a distinct mintiness accompanied by some sage and rosemary, and then progressing to some Christmas cake and vanilla, as well as cinnamon and pepper. There’s some red fruit as well as black and it shows lovely intensity and freshness. A distinctive wine with a lot of character. There’s some sweetness to the fruit but it isn’t jammy, and there’s a lot of spiciness in the mix. 94/100 (RRP: £39.95 | Available from: Richardson of Whitehaven, Carruthers & Kent, The Whalley Wine Shop)
KWV The Mentors Perold 2017 Coastal Region, South Africa
14.5% alcohol. 34% Pinotage, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Shiraz, 8% Malbec, 2% Petite Sirah. The icon of the Mentors range, designed to show elegance, fruit sweetness and concentration. Sweet, enticing blackcurrant and blackberry fruit on the nose with some subtle green notes and a touch of tar. The palate is bright and vivid with sweet black fruits and keen acidity as well as a touch of pepper. Compact and tight knit with a juicy finish. This is a distinctive wine with a sense of freshness, vivid fruit, and a lot of concentration. 92/100 (RRP: £69.95 | Available from: Perold Wine Cellar)
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com