Johan Malan has a very rewarding job. As the winemaker and co-owner of Simonsig Family Vineyards, he loves making and talking about the traditional and not so traditional wines that his family vineyard produces.
However, the toughest part of his job is educating wine consumers outside of his native South Africa about the remarkable values his country — and his winery — offers.
Even though winemaking in South Africa dates all the way back to the 1600s, many SA wines have had a tough time finding their way onto retail shelves and restaurant wine lists due to the former political practice of apartheid. The embargo of South African goods dramatically impacted the arrival of wines onto the international wine stage until the segregationist practice was finally abolished in 1994. So Johan, along with most other South African winemakers, has had to overcome a good deal of stigma in order to get his proverbial bottles in the door.
The Malan family has been involved in the wine industry in South Africa since Jacques Malan, a French Huguenot, first planted vines in the famed Stellenbosch region in 1688. The Simonsig Wine Estate takes its name from the region’s Simonsig Mountain range, where descendant Frans Malan planted vineyards of Chenin Blanc and Pinotage back in the 1950s. But it wasn’t until 1968 when the Simonsig label was first introduced.
Thanks to the diverse soils and moderating influences of the oceans that surround the Cape, Simonsig is able to also grow Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, and Bordeaux varietals. In addition, Simonsig created the first sparkling wine in South Africa and coined the term of art “Kaapse Vonkel,” which means Cape Sparkle.
Today, Johan upholds the 65-plus year Malan family winemaking legacy, while expanding the impressive lineage of their award-winning wines. His passionate commitment toward quality and innovation is consistently recognized with accolades and awards for his diverse portfolio. Johan believes that, although the awards are important motivation for the Simonsig winemaking team, he is passionate about the sustainability of the land and is very proud to earn the country’s “sustainability seal” and the first to feature it on their wine bottles.
The 2016 Simonsig Estate Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose is a delightful sparkling wine made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise and is a blend of 64% Pinot Noir, 34% Pinotage, and 2% Pinot Meunier. The bright salmon color is accented by tiny, precise bubbles. Aromas of pear, toasted hazelnuts and brioche are abundant on the bouquet. The palate is layered with flavors of citrus, ripe strawberry, rhubarb and baked apple upfront and ends with notes of baked bread on the long, fresh finish. A pleasant aperitif or lovely accompaniment with dessert. $20
Chenin Blanc, which comprises 20% of South Africa’s vineyards, was the first wine that Simonsig produced. The 2018 Simonsig Estate Chenin Blanc, from Stellenbosch, South Africa, is the winery’s 50th vintage. It displays a bright straw color, with a youthful expression of ripe pears, guava and sweet melon. The fresh acidity is the perfect foil for the tropical fruit flavors that form the core of this wine, where hints of green figs and kiwi fruit chime in to give the wine greater dimension. Sur lie aging enhances the flavor profile and gives the wine a creamier mouthfeel. Served slightly chilled as an aperitif or pair it with lighter seafood dishes. $14
Until now, I was generally not a fan of Pinotage — a varietal that was created in 1925 by crossing Cinsault (a Rhone Valley staple) with Pinot Noir. But the 2016 Simonsig Estate Redhill Pinotage made me a big fan of the hearty red grape. This is a full bodied, wood-matured Pinotage from a dedicated vineyard site. It sports an attractive blackberry core with vibrant flavors of dark plum, black cherry and tobacco on the elegant frame. Notes of cedar provides a lush texture on the lingering finish. While it is drinking well now, it can definitely benefit from a few more years or aging. $38
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