South Africa’s fortified wines, namely the Port-styled products and the country’s famous Muscadels, count among the country’s best-loved vinous offerings and during each year’s Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Competition Awards the tasting of these wines count among the highlights experienced by the international judging panel. “Before I tasted at Michelangelo, I was aware of the country’s reputation for Ports and other fortified sweet wines,” says René van Hoven from the Netherlands, one of the 28 international judges in Michelangelo 2017. “And when I got here, this reputation was vindicated. These dessert wines are beautifully structured between sweetness, acidity and complexity of flavours – I am definitely taking a few bottles home with me!” When it comes to Port-style wines, the town of Calitzdorp in South Africa’s arid Klein Karoo region is known as the country’s capital. In this hot, arid environment, traditional Portuguese Port grape varieties such as Tinta Barocca and Touriga Naçional thrive as the conditions are similar to that of Portugal’s Douro Valley, their ancestral home. And it is here that De Krans Wine Cellar of Calitzdorp has become known as one of the leading producers of Port-style and other fortified wines. At the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirit Competition Awards for 2017, De Krans won gold medals for its Cape Vintage Reserve 2014, a Port-style wine, and the Muscat de Frontignan 2017, fortified Muscadel wine made from the Muscat de Frontignan grape and recognised as one of South Africa’s great sweet wines. In making both these dessert wines, the fermentation process of the grapes is arrested by adding grape spirits to stop the natural sugars from turning into dry alcohol and thereby maintaining the rich sweetness for which these delectable wines have become famous for. Boets Nel, co-owner and CEO of De Krans, has been in love with Port and Port-style wines all his life and is known as one of South Africa’s leading experts on these wines.
Concerning the use of the term “Port-style”, international legislation states that only wines made in Portugal’s Douro Valley may use the name “Port”. So although the wines from South Africa are known to be of as high as quality as those from Portugal, here one has to refer to “Port-style”. With a history going back to 1890, De Krans has established itself as one of South Africa’s leading producers of Port-style wines. The style of wines range from the traditional to modern, catering for all palates throughout the year. The wine cellar has won more than 500 medals and awards since 1980, which include Champion Private Wine Cellar in the Klein Karoo region, 4 and 5 star ratings in the authoritative and internationally recognized Platter’s South African Wine Guide to name but a few. De Krans has also established a name for itself internationally for its award-winning Port-style wines, as well as interesting red wines made from unusual grape varieties such as Touriga Naçional and Tempranillo. Besides the accolades at the Michelangelo Awards, De Krans’s reputation as producer of international quality Port-style wines was further reinforced in 2017 when two De Krans Port-style wines scored 96 and 92 points in the annual review of South African wines by revered UK authority Tim Atkin MW. Atkin described De Krans as a “brilliant fortified wine producer.” The De Krans 2015 Cape Vintage Reserve received an excellent rating of 96 points. It was also rated as the Best Overall Fortified Wine of the Year in South Africa, as well as the top scoring wine from the Klein Karoo region. The De Krans Cape Tawny Ltd Release received a score of 92. According to Atkin the De Krans 2015 Cape Vintage Reserve “is the best young Port-style wine I’ve ever tasted from the Cape. Rich, dense and hedonistically perfumed, it’s dark, plush and very sweet, with beautifully judged tannins and rich bramble and blueberry fruit. Brilliant.
The Cape Tawny Ltd Release is described by Atkin as a “figgy, sweet, rancio-style Tawny with an average age of eight years. Complex, flavorsome and mature, it has a winning interplay between residual sugar and alcohol”. The De Krans Cape Tawny Ltd Release already got a 4½ star rating in the 2017 Platter’s Wine Guide. According to Boets, the reason for De Krans’s success with this style of wine can be ascribed to the terroir of the Klein Karoo. “This is unlike any other part of the Western Cape’s winelands,” he says. “The dry, hot conditions with the vineyards growing in isolation lead to great concentration of fruit, perfect for making Port-style and other fortified wines. And then again, the whole De Krans team is obsessed with Port and Port-style wines, and that also helps!”
A versatile drink
When speaking of these dessert wines, one tends to think of cold, rainy evenings spent before the fireplace sipping a glass of Port or Muscadel. But Boets is an ambassador for promoting year-round enjoyment of these wines. Boets says that the perception, that Port-style wines can only be enjoyed in winter, is not correct. “At De Krans we produce a wide range of styles that can be enjoyed throughout the year and at many different occasions. These wines are definitely not only meant to be enjoyed after dinner at the fireplace with cheese, dessert or coffee, although this will always be a great combination as well. There is just so much more to Port-style wines. These wines also go extremely well with food.” Some of the Port-style wines in the De Krans Portfolio include: Cape Vintage and Cape Vintage Reserve are robust, full-bodied and complex Port-style wines that can either be enjoyed in their fiery youth, or aged for a few decades. A young De Krans Cape Vintage can easily accompany a Karoo lamb potjie, venison pie or roasted vegetable lasagne, while the Cape Vintage Reserve is superb with venison, wild fowl and hearty traditional fare. The De Krans Cape Tawny Limited Release is the perfect partner with brown onion soup, loin of pork, stuffed with dried fruit, or a selection of fine cheeses. It can even be served chilled with prawns prepared in a light Malaysian style.
In winter De Krans Premium Cape Ruby can be served with traditional Cape bobotie, waterblommetjie-bredie, hearty soups or rustic pastas, but it will be equally enjoyable with chocolate-based desserts and fine coffee. De Krans Original Cape Pink and Premium Cape Ruby are also frequently used in interesting cocktails, as is the tendency all over the world, with Port cocktails now served in top cocktail bars from Cape Town to Johannesburg and London to New York. Some De Krans cocktail recipes include: Ginger Up: Pour De Krans Original Cape Pink in a highball glass filled with crushed ice, a shot of Gin, a dash of bitters and topped up with ginger beer. The perfect thirst quencher! Pink Sunset: Pour De Krans Original Cape Pink and chilled iced tea in equal amounts into a tall glass. Add sliced strawberries and crushed ice or ice cubes – a great punch! Porto Urbano: Pour equal parts of De Krans Premium Cape Ruby and cranberry juice into a Martini glass, and add a dash of lime cordial and some crushed ice. Garnish with orange peel and maraschino cherry. Ruby Port Sparklers: One or two tablespoons of chocolate liqueur with chilled De Krans Premium Cape Ruby in a champagne flute. Top up with some sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon-zest strip. So, next time you see a bottle of De Krans Port-style wine, let your imagination run free – the makers of that wine have given permission to do so!