Part 3, exploring Elgin, Africa's coolest wine region


Almenkerk began when Joep van Almenkerk moved out to South Africa from Belgium in 2002 and bought a 32 hectare apple farm. He wanted to turn it into a wine farm - apples were bad business at the time and the region was looking very promising for grapes - and he asked his son, Joris, to run it. The farm is currently run by Joris and his wife Natalie, and they're a dynamic couple, doing a really good job.

almenkerk winery

All the Almenkerk wines are from the estate, which now has 15 hectares of vines, as well as some very profitable apples and pears. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the stars, supported by Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. There's also bits of other stuff, including Malbec, Viognier and Petit Verdot.

joris almenkerkJoris van Almenkerk 

Joris has a keen instinct for viticulture. For Merlot, he's looking to avoid the unpleasant green characters, so he untangles bunches early on (tangled bunches end up in uneven ripeness) and removes the shoulders, which are usually slower to ripen. The Almenkerk Merlot is one of the few South African examples that excite me. For the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is used to make rose, the canopies are allowed to flop over, shading the bunches with dappled light so that they can be harvested with lovely fresh fruit flavours.




almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc

The winery and tasting room is really impressive. Some contract winemaking takes place here, too. Winemaking here is technically very astute, and the thoughtful approach in the vineyard is also followed through in the winery. The notes here are from two visits: in October 2016 and March 2017.



Lace by Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Rather than being a second label, Lace is actually indicative of a different style of wine, but it's all from estate vineyards. Aromatic and vivid with lovely citrus fruits. Nice intensity. Very rounded fruit with some pear and peach. 90/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Elgin, South Africa
From a higher block with vines that experience a bit more stress, this is a lovely lean, mineral style of Sauvignon. Textural and detailed with keen acidity. Stony and mineral with a savoury edge to the citrus fruits. Quite Sancerre in style. 91/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Very pure and slightly saline with taut, compact, pure fruit, a bit of passionfruit, and lovely acidity. There’s pear, ripe apple and a hint of pithiness adding an extra dimension. Quite limey. 92/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Elgin, South Africa
This is made from a single vineyard at 305 m altitude, and it’s made reductively, with oxygen excluded at pressing and lees stirring by means of dry ice chunks. Nice texture here, with a hint of fig and some pear, with lovely citrus fruits. Some nuttiness, too. 89/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Complex and broad with nut, honey and pears. Ripe apples with some sweet vanilla notes, too. Attractive hints of fennel. 88/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2012 Elgin, South Africa (magnum)
This is a lovely wine, and from magnum it is singing Very fresh, lively and lemony with subtle notes of tangerine, herbs and toast. Real finesse with great acidity. This is developing beautifully. 93/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2013 Elgin, South Africa (magnum)
Tight and lemony with nice spiciness. Really nice reductive framing with textured apple and pear fruit. Lovely focus to this wine. 92/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Tight, fresh and pithy. Nutty but still linear and bright with pure citrus fruit. Pear and white peach richer notes, with some oak hints. 90/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
25% new oak, from a 0.6 hectare block. Aromatic apple, pear and meal nose. Fruit-driven palate with lovely citrus fruit and wax and herb notes. There’s a hint of cedar, too. Tightwound and stylish with lots of potential. 92/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely complex, mealy, spicy nose. Detailed citrus fruit palate with good acidity. Fresh and vital with high acidity. Spicy, lemony finish. 92/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Syrah 2010 Elgin, South Africa
This was picked ripe. Joris was told that every bunch should have the wrinkled face appearance and this is how you knew Syrah was ripe. This approach might work in warmer areas, but here it doesn’t fly. Ripe, sweet and spicy with rich berry fruits. Quite warm with a bit of alcohol showing. Smooth and quite lush with a salty edge, and some wood. Quite curranty, but there are nice aromatics here. 89/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Syrah 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Supple, spicy and quite smooth with nice weight to the pure berry fruits. There’s some warmth here but also some definition. Smooth mid-palate with some tannic structure. Nice stuff: very polished. This is grown up Syrah. 90/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Syrah 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Quite stylish with a subtle cedary, spicy edge to the berry fruits. There's nice black cherry and berry fruits with a hint of mint, and nice focus to the palate. Sophisticated and polished with nice weight, finishing warm and spicy. 91/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Syrah 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Lively and fresh with nice black cherry and pepper. Bright and vivid with juicy black fruits and some good structure and weight. Grippy stuff with good acidity. 90/100 (10/16)

Almenkerk Syrah 2013 Elgin, South Africa
Supple and fresh with nice black cherries and raspberry as well as some blackberry richness. Nice weight here with some spicy warmth. Hints of mint and pepper here, too. Nice freshness, and lovely fruit definition. 93/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Syrah 2014 Elgin, South Africa
This was a difficult vintage with a lot of rot, that had to be sorted through. There's a hint of roast coffee here behind the bright berry and cherry fruit. There’s nice fruit, and it's a really good wine considering the vintage. I like this for its freshness. 90/100 (03/17)

Lace by Almenkerk Dry Rosé 2016 Elgin, South Africa
This is made from Cabernet Sauvignon specifically farmed for rosé. Bone dry with lovely savouriness and fine-grained texture. There’s a hint of rose petal and some strawberry here. Quite peppery, too. 89/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Merlot 2013 Elgin, South Africa
The shoulders are removed from all the bunches and the canopies are opened out in order to get these grapes ripe. Lovely sweet, supple black fruits here with some herb and undergrowth notes. Supple palate has sweet black fruits. Really attractive with some gravel and grip. 90/100 (10/16)

Lace by Almenkerk Vineyard Selection 2013 Elgin, South Africa
A blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernets and a dash of Viognier. Juicy bright raspberry fruit with a nice savoury, spicy, meaty edge. Lovely balance with a grainy structure. 90/100 (03/17)

Lace by Almenkerk Vineyard Selection 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and Malbec. Beautifully fresh and elegant with supple, silky berry and cherry fruit. Fine and expressive with lovely precision and pretty fruit. 92/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Merlot 2013 Elgin, South Africa
Lots of vineyard work goes into getting this Merlot evenly ripe. Sweetly spiced nose. Lovely structure on the palate: clean, tight red fruits. Fresh and vital with nice structure on the palate. Good acidity. An expressive wine. 91/100 (03/17)

Almenkerk Petit Verdot 2014 Elgin, South Africa (from magnum)
This is a surprise. Very fresh, lively and vital with lovely juicy cherry and plum fruit. Fresh and really pretty, and not what you’d expect from Petit Verdot. 93/100 (03/17)


Elgin Ridge 
Paul Cluver

See also:

A visit to Elgin from 2010

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