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The fynbos family makes it mark on wine

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Please may I begin by stating that I am not linking Rooibos and Honeybush tea and their natural benefits to wine suddenly being a healthy tipple, that is not what I am saying. A recent advert in the Sunday times saw the National Liquor Authority voicing concerns that this could be misleading and interpreted that ‘Rooibos wine’ is healthy. No. This wine is not made from the leaves of the Rooibos bush, nor does it contain tea anywhere in it. Quite simply, this wine has no added sulphites or preservatives and, rather, Rooibos and Honeybush wood are used during the fermentation and ageing processes.

Now that we have that slight glitch out of the way, please allow me the opportunity to give you a bit more info on this very interesting wine that is making a name for itself.

The ‘No Sulphites or Preservatives Added’ Merlot 2013 hails from Audacia, a red wine boutique winery situated between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. It is a first to be made in this pioneering method and an innovation that was patent-protected very quickly by proprietor, Trevor Strydom. Although 2011 saw experimentation with new techniques involving these indigenous woods, it was only in March 2014 that it was first launched. And it was fast to receive interest and positive reviews, receiving a Bronze at this year’s Veritas Awards. Added to this, because the wood is sourced from plants native to the Cape Floral Kingdom (Rooibos and Honeybush are part of a Unesco World Heritage Site), the Merlot found itself recognised as a project of the World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 under the Sustainability Solutions category.

Why on earth should I drink this?

The wood from these two plants is distinctive in that it has lower tannin levels than other wood used in wine making, as well as high levels of anti-oxidants. Many folks out there may enjoy a red that doesn’t lay claim to mouth-puckering tannins – the facial guises akin to an awkward teenager having to kiss a silver haired, saliva-cladded family member. And of course, these woods will impart their own, unique flavour profiles to the wine. The 2013 Merlot spent eight months on indigenous wood.

As every wine lover will know, the main preservative in wine is sulphur dioxide. With many people being sensitive to sulphur, there has been a drive in recent years to lower the SO2 levels in wine. Audacia’s winemaker, Michael Van Niekerk, played a large part in bringing this unique vintage to fruition, stating, “the use of indigenous wood in the wine making process provides wine drinkers with a unique-tasting alternative, free of traditional amounts of allergy-inducing preservatives.”  In our beloved South Africa, the legal amount of sulphites allowed in table wine is up to 150mg/l, “while the Audacia Merlot 2013 contains only 3mg/l of sulphur (which is naturally produced by yeasts during the fermentation process). We add none ourselves.” If you don’t have to add the price of a box of Sinutab to your wine purchase, why the heck not give it a bash?

Buy now, drink later?

No. As mentioned, the Rooibos and Honeybush species contain decent amounts of antioxidants and so preserve the wine more naturally. Bearing this in mind, this wine is not made to be kept for a lengthy number of years. So, buy a bottle to try with friends, buy a bottle to gift to a wine-loving family member, or buy a bottle for your (overseas) clients to treat them with something unusual and 100% South African. Because there is nothing available on the global wine stage that is quite like this. And local is, after all, lekker.

It was insightful for me to partake in hosting a wine tasting at Audacia for this ‘No Sulphites or Preservatives Added’ 2013 Rooibos-wooded Merlot earlier in the year. People were intrigued…both positively and negatively. Some turned their noses up and refused to try it, others couldn’t get the cash out fast enough. We paired it with vol-au-vents filled with mince that had been flavoured with Rooibos and a little chilli. It worked a treat. But it was fascinating to hear opinions and feedback – and see the facial expressions. Most people didn’t even realise that the Rooibos plant had wood attached to it, let alone that it could be used in the process of making wine. Wag ‘n bietjie…julle het TEE ini wyn bygegooi??? Fortunately, I had sampled enough of the wine during the tasting to be able to answer this question calmly all the way to the end.

My tasting note on the Rooibos wooded Merlot 2013

100% Merlot.  A luscious, inky, deep-purple colour. Intense aromas offer up an array of ripe cherries, rose petal, a very subtle hint of Turkish Delight and the classic Rooibos note.  Medium-full bodied, the palate is elegant with a smooth, balanced tannin structure.  The wine’s predominant flavour is reminiscent of fynbos and, yes, you can pick up the same distinct flavour profile that you would on a cup of Rooibos or Honeybush tea. However, it isn’t overwhelming and is complemented by a subtle, ‘Christmas’ spice flavour. A pleasant, sweet red berry finish lingers at the end. Enjoy this with a meaty dish or perhaps, more interestingly, with a dessert…Chili-&-cinnamon-infused chocolate pots maybe?…Sounds good to me.

I have had the privilege of spending some time with the winemaker and being taken through the Rooibos/Honeybush-wooded 2014 line up of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Cab Franc. I’m looking forward to being re-introduced to them a little later down the line and comparing my tasting notes. Of course, Audacia makes these wines without the Rooibos wood element as well. Naturally, they realize it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Sorry…had to be done.

I am happy to tell you that Pick ‘n Pay is the exclusive national retailer to stock the Rooibos wooded wine, available in selected supermarkets and liquor outlets. The retailer’s liquor buyer, Mervyn Cusens, says, “It brings something new and fresh to an over-traded industry. Rooibos is an iconic local emblem. The Audacia team has succeeded in using its [the Rooibos plant] singular properties to create a product that is original, distinctive and proudly South African.”

Please visit www.audacia.co.za for more, and be sure to pop by the farm for a wine tasting. You can, of course, swing by the farm on the weekend to experience the ROOT 44 market and do the tasting then…just make sure to take: lots of bucks to splurge on eats and treats that you don’t need (except wine, one always needs that), and leave: grumpy family members at home.

It retails around the R100-mark from both the tasting room and supermarket shelves.

Audacia Merlot 2013