When golfer Ernie Els established a winery in Stellenbosch back in 1999, there was initially just one Bordeaux-style red blend made in a modern, full-bodied style and carrying an ultra-premium price tag but the range has grown bigger and bigger over time and now includes a number of more modestly conceived, medium-priced wines. “We want to be more approachable to a larger market segment,” says Winemaker and managing director Louis Strydom.
Newest to the range are two whites, the Big Easy White 2011 (from Chenin Blanc) with a cellar price of R65 a bottle and Ernie Els Sauvingon Blanc 2011 at R85. Strydom wants to stay focussed on reds so outsources most of production of these wines, Johan Joubert of Kleine Zalze involved in putting together the Big Easy White and Lizelle Gerber of Boschendal the Sauvignon Blanc. Tasting notes as follows:
Big Easy White 2011
Guava through yellow apple aromas and flavours. Good fruit expression, fresh acidity. Not hugely complex but great purity. Interestingly, Strydom contemplated adding Viognier to up the fruitiness even more but the feedback from both on-con and off-con was that white blends at whatever price point don’t move. Score: 15.5/20.
Ernie Els Sauvingon Blanc 2011
Pineapple on the nose and palate. Ripe fruit, soft acidity. Not unappealing but a little bland. Strydom intent on getting as far away as possible from the green end of the flavour spectrum and in this respect, he’s succeeded. Score: 15/20.
A wine fairly well established in the portfolio is the Proprietor’s Blend, the 2009 looking better than ever. This includes 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Shiraz, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Malbec, the wine having spent 15 months in a combination of French and American oak, 70% new.
If you think of Ernie Els wines as typically being big, bold and opulent, then this wine will surprise you with its coolness and austerity. It’s no shrinking violet – there’s plenty of optimally ripe dark fruit but there’s also an attractive herbal edge, firm but fine tannins and fresh acidity (score: 17/20).
”It used to be the bigger the better, when it came to wine and we in the Helderberg were well positioned to deliver on that. Now there’s a shift [to greater refinement] and the trick is to step back a little in the winemaking process without losing the essence of place,” says Strydom.