Tim James: Some new-wave releases from Ex Animo

By , 15 February 2021

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Recent months in Cape Town haven’t offered many wine trade tastings (where restaurants, retailers, media, etc get a chance to sample new releases). Recent months? The past year, on the whole, unless you count some online efforts. So it seemed particularly exciting to go last week to the launch of a dozen wines in the portfolio of Ex Animo – still arguably the most dynamic and hardworking of local distributors. Mostly wines retailing under R200, some closer to R100.

With extrovert David Clarke (owner, with his inevitably rather more restrained wife Jeanette) as Ex Animo’s most public face, the rather expanded portfolio consists substantially of young(ish) new-wave producers. It’s not hard to suspect that, very reasonably, the wines reflect David and Jeanette’s own tastes and it occurs to me that they also reflect the kind of winemaker that David, especially, likes to hang out with (also pretty reasonably – though there are one or two of them that at least a vastly less sociable person, such as I, might find rather hard-going…).

David also likes to hang out with site editor Christian Eedes, so he has reported on many, at least, of these wines. But I thought it worth mentioning my favourites from the tasting (and a comparative unfavourite, as Christian much admired it!), and I’ll link to his inevitably lengthier, and scored, tasting notes.

Lukas van Loggerenberg has, in just the few years since the release of his 2016s, built a brand of real stature. He’s now taken the sensible step of expanding his Break a Leg Blanc de Noir into a small brand of wines that should connect to a public beyond that willing to spend quite a lot on new-wave-fashionable styles and varieties. And such is the quality and good value of the Break a Leg Chardonnay and Merlot, both 2020 and about R140, that everyone should hope that the Break a Leg range grows. Neither is a dumbed-down version of these mainstream varieties, and all but the most left-field-radical of wine lovers will enjoy the dry, light-feeling freshness that accompanies the excellent varietal expression. The Chardonnay declares just 12% alcohol and, while it’s delightfully unfruity, doesn’t lack appropriate weight (though there’s no grandeur, of course, and it’s for drinking young). The label of the also rather easygoing but sufficiently structured Merlot says 14% alcohol, but I swear you’d never guess it. As to the cinsaut Blanc de Noir – it’s lovely, though perhaps not quite as exciting as it used to be (are we getting rosé-blasé?). (See CE’s notes here.)

Another enjoyable three-wine group at this tasting came from Bernhard Bredell, whose Scions of Sinai also looks set to become established as an important young brand of new-wave Cape wine. These three 2020s are at the more modest end of Bernhard’s range. All have declared alcohol levels of 11.5%. To me, the most interesting and innovative was the Señor Tallos White (R220ish) from chenin and grenache, though probably the complex winemaking is more significant than variety or origin: beautifully balanced in its light, tight, dry way; fascinating and elegantly gorgeous. I fully buy into CE’s description of it as “intellectually engaging and more-ish at the same time”.

My favourite white of the tasting that was, and perhaps it’s time to mention how I disagree with Christian about another white blend – the Mother Rock White 2019 (R150), that he scored much higher (96) nearly eight months ago. Too heavily perfumed and even rather vulgar, I found it (having written warily of viognier recently, I would adduce this as a blend which would have been better with that variety toned down); I couldn’t conceive of giving it a higher score than Sadie Skerpioen, Kokerboom or Mev Kirsten 2019, as Christian did. But I am generally, perhaps, a touch less of an enthusiast for Stompie Meyer’s assertively hipsterish, sometimes highly successful but often rather careless and erratic winemaking.

The two Scions of Sinai reds both involved pinotage. The Atlantikos (R160) is a straight varietal wine, very pleasant – perfumed and charming, more sweetly fruity than the wine made for the Ex Animo home range: Bredell, Bredell & Clark Pinotage 2019 (R240 or so), an impressive wine, which is also perfumed and delicate, but has significantly more vinosity and structure – very welcome to me. Nomadis (R220) is cinsault with 14% pinotage. Again very charming, fresh and elegant, but just a touch too light and insubstantial for my own taste.

Trizanne Cinsault 2020 does have more vinosity, albeit less refinement perhaps, and aims at a slightly more savoury, lightly gripping and textured style. At about half the price of Nomadis, it’s good value. And then, to conclude this brief report, two old favourites. Craven Pinot Gris 2020 (R210) is another notably light wine, but just about getting away with it; light in character, that it, it’s quite a deep rose colour this year, from the skin contact with this red-skinned grape. And Intellego Kedungu 2019 is as usual a really good buy at under R150. This year has mourvèdre in the majority, with cinsault and syrah; it’s fresh and light, very well balanced, textured and with a decent grip.

As a response to the liquor/hospitality restrictions of the Covid-19 lockdown, Ex Animo was able to move into direct online sales last year. Most of the above wines are available there, and more should be soon, it seems – but it’s worth exploring the whole portfolio.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013

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  • Christian Eedes16 February 2021

    Hi Tim, Regarding Mother Rock White 2019, I recently poured it for guests next to Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2019 and Vondeling Babiana 2019 as three examples of “Cape White Blend” that I admire. Stylistic divergence was marked which divided the room but to my mind overall quality was exceptionally high and Mother Rock held its own. It is indeed extremely aromatic but I find it striking rather than too heady. I don’t believe scores should be relative or category dependent but at 11.5% alcohol, it is quite a long way away from the Sadie wines. Natural wine gone right, you might say. We surely want to avoid a scenario where the wines that cause the least dissent are necessarily considered the best…

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