Tim James: Two labels at lunch time

By , 15 April 2024

I wonder if it counts as name-dropping to mention three such Cape wine luminaries as Chris Alheit, Rosa Kruger and Lukas van Loggerenberg on one back label? If you recognise that conjunction you probably saw Christian Eedes’s review of De Keur Grenache 2022. Actually, perhaps it’s not name-dropping if they are almost lost amongst a multitude of lesser-known ones. I doubt if I’ve ever seen quite such a densely populated back label (I counted 13 names, but I might have missed out one or two). It reminds me of a Hollywood film star clutching an Oscar and tearfully thanking, ad nauseum, all those wonderful folks who made this possible….

Fittingly with that thought, after the starry professionals the other names are mostly family (except for a few viticulturists). The family, that is, of David and Jeannette Clarke of Ex Animo. Their names come last, just after those of their two children, and way below those of some of Jeanette’s family, on whose high-lying farm in WO Ceres Plateau the vines are grown. David and Jeannette are the pair responsible for what is arguably the most dynamic of the local distributors and, more unarguably, the one with the greatest representation of exciting new-wave talent. In fact, not content with being that, they’ve already also brought out a few joint-venture wines with some of their growers and winemakers – though The De Keur is the first to bear the Ex Animo label as such. Plus there’s an international component to the business, exporting to David’s native Australia and increasingly importing a small but growing range of wines, specialising in Piedmont.

In striking contrast to the confessional back-label, the display label is almost as reticent as Porseleinberg’s. A lot of whiteness, with a very pale “Ex Animo” pushed to one side, and an enigmatic, rather vestigial drawing of what looks like bits of vine. That’s what they are, in fact. It’s a clever idea: with each vintage, as the youthful vines mature and the wine – we trust – gets correspondingly finer, more components of the final design will be added. For the 2026 bottling and thereafter, the complete drawing of “an anatomical human heart using elements of vines” will appear. The drawing is by Lenka Kuhn I can let on; I guess there just wasn’t room on the back label to squeeze in yet another name.

The wine itself is rather gorgeous in its youthful and crunchy way; fragrant and fresh, unpretentious, sweet-fruited and happy to be drunk in its youth (though another year should make it even nicer), but quite refined and with a serious edge. Best pretty cool. It’s available now via the Ex Animo website at a reasonable R245 and soon elsewhere, they say (the distribution should be efficiently handled, I guess).

I had the wine for the second time last Friday – earlier in the week I hadn’t been able to resist broaching one of the case I’d bought. Friday I was taking a few bottles for the friend I was lunching with at Table Seven in Salt River, Cape Town. It’s pretty much our favourite place, and has just resumed offering lunch after what seemed a very long time concentrating on catering functions. Lunch was great, as ever. We decided, with permission, to crack open the De Keur (and share it with the chefs) after our first bottle’s last drops had been squeezed out.

That first bottle was City on a Hill Tinta das Baroccas 2021. Delightful wine, in much the same vibrant pattern as De Keur – plenty of charm too, and perhaps just a touch more simple and rustic, given the grape, and equally deftly crafted in the cellar. It accompanied a range of dishes really well, though I stuck with water for the chorizo course, the spiciest dish I’ve ever had at Table Seven. The label item that I’m quibbling with here is simply the name of the wine – which is the name of the grape variety credited. It’s a fun and, dare I say, a rather baroque name for the variety known in its Portuguese homeland (and therefore elsewhere) as tinta barroca and usually known here as tinta barocca – note the transposed doubling of consonants.

The great Wine Grapes book of Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz disdainfully suggests the dominant South African version of the name as a misspelling, but is obliged to give it as a synonym, along with tinta das baroccas. Fair enough, given that South Africa is the only country apart from Portugal that is credited with producing wines from the grape. Robinson et al are also a mite sniffy  about the quality of the variety in its homeland, where it is a significant port variety in the Douro.

A misspelling “tinta barocca” is, but we seem stuck with it, unfortunately or not. I’ve no idea when it emerged as such, probably from the start of the grape’s career here, which was, I think, in the 1920s – just about a century ago. Even the origin of the name for the Portuguese grape seems to be unknown. Does it mean “baroque red”, and if so why? A Portuguese-speaker tells me that barro means clay, so that might be a clue. Google barroca and you get informed that there are places named Barrocas, signifying caves, so maybe that’s another clue.

As for Tinta das Baroccas, that seems a uniquely South African invention. Why, I have no idea. Orffer’s 1979 book on Wine Grape Cultivars in South Africa doesn’t give the correct Portuguese spelling as a synonym for tinta barocca, but it gives both “tinta das baroccas” and “baroccas”. Fanie de Jongh’s Encyclopedia of South African Wine, of a few years earlier even says that the grape was originally known here as tinta das baroccas. So, given the praiseworthy enthusiasm for reviving traditions, its appearance on a new-wave Swartland winemaker’s name is not surprising. And such a good wine too.

  • 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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