Simonsig Wine Estate: A Groundbreaking South African Producer
Over a recent dinner with Johan Milan, co-owner and winemaker at Simonsig Wine Estate in South Africa's renowned Stellenbosch wine region, just east of Cape Town, I tasted through the winery's current portfolio and learned quite a bit about the history, future, and present day of their operation. Johan’s father, winery founder Frans Milan, was responsible for numerous noteworthy accomplishments during his time at the helm. These included the production of South Africa’s first chardonnay and the country’s first sparkling wine made in the classic method. Frans also played a key role in starting the Stellenbosch Wine Route in 1971.
Today, Johan and his two brothers run the show at Simonsig; they continue to move the ball forward by replanting vines, employing new production methodologies, and experimenting with different grapes — all to aim for the highest quality their vineyard can take them to.
Here’s a look at a half-dozen of my favorite wines from their current releases.
Simonsig 2015 “Sunbird” Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
This offering is entirely sauvignon blanc from fruit sourced within Stellenbosch. After fermentation, this wine was kept on the lees for more than three months to help develop the mouthfeel. Some 5,000 cases were produced. Lemon zest and grapefruit aromas lead the nose while a dollop of linseed oil provides a nice counterpoint. Yellow melon, papaya, and citrus flavors dominate the palate. The long finish has a slightly creamy edge to it and it shows off white pepper and a tiny hint of honey. What stands out most about this sauvignon blanc, though, is that outstanding mouthfeel.
Simonsig 2013 Cabernet Shiraz ($13.99)
The blend here is 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent shiraz. Production was 5,000 cases. Bright red cherry and black raspberry aromas light up the attractive nose here. The palate is stuffed with a potpourri of red and black fruits that show off a gamy edge. Black raspberry, bacon fat, cinnamon, toast, and more round out the finish, which has good length. This is a solid everyday red for a terrific price.
Simonsig 2013 Pinotage ($17.99)
There were 5,000 cases of this, Simonsig's entry-level pinotage, produced. This wine is entirely pinotage. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Hints of smoke lead the nose along with red plum and bits of blueberry. The palate is fresh and fruit driven with red and black fruits vying for the attention of your taste buds. Juicy blackberry and bits of spice fill out the solid finish. If you’re looking for a wine to pair with just about anything you pull off your grill this summer, look no further.
Simonsig 2012 Redhill Pinotage ($37.99)
All of the fruit for this wine (entirely pinotage) came from the Simonsig Estate. After open-top fermentation it was aged in a combination of new and used French and American oak. Only 1,000 cases were produced. Black plum and subtle cocoa aromas dot the nose here. The palate is studded with a who’s who of dark fruit flavors underscored by wisps of savory herbs such as thyme and sage. Boysenberry, blackberry, earth, and chocolate sauce are all in play on the long, lusty finish. There is a ton of depth and precision here. One vintage after another, this is one of the best expressions of pinotage on the market. The 2012 is certainly no exception to that.
Simonsig 2011 Tiara ($38.99)
This Bordeaux-inspired blend is composed of cabernet sauvignon (66 percent), merlot (21 percent), petit verdot (9 percent), and cabernet franc (4 percent). After fermentation it was barrel-aged over 16 months in a combination of new and previously used French and American oak. Production was 1,800 cases. Cherry characteristics tell a lot of the story of Tiara. The welcoming nose is stuffed with red Bing cherry; the palate is loaded with red and black cherry flavors alongside bits of leather and tobacco as well as a nice spice component. Red earth, chicory, and a dusting of cocoa are present on the above-average finish. What impresses most here is the dense palate which is loaded with layer after layer of proportionate fruit.
Simonsig 2010 Merindol Syrah ($43.99)
The name for this syrah is taken from the Malan Family coat of arms. Back in 1996, they replanted syrah in select spots in their vineyard using clones that were virus treated. Fermentation and aging took place entirely in 100 percent new French oak. A mere 700 cases were produced. A jam-laden nose leads this syrah. Boisterous raspberry and strawberry aromas abound. The palate is stuffed with red and black cherry flavors as well as wisps of red raspberry. Cinnamon, clove, earth, and hints of smoked meat are all present on the impressive, velvety finish. Bits of kirsch liqueur are also in evidence alongside a touch of roasted espresso. This is a terrific expression of syrah that will age well over the next decade.