De Krans: Outstanding Port-Style Wines from Calitzdorp

Sweet wines in South Africa have a long and storied history beginning in the 17th century with the planting of the first vitis vinifera in the Western Cape. Huegenot immigrants, religious refugees from France, played a critical role in establishing a sophisticated wine industry.  Among those French Huegenots was the Nel family, which today owns De Krans Wines, which is located in Calitzdorp, the production center of Port style wines made from traditional Portuguese grape varieties. In this article we review the current releases of De Krans. To see more i-winereview reports and articles on South African wine, click here. 

Located along the upper reaches of the Gamka River Valley in the Klein Karoo, the Nels family vineyard includes Tinta Barocca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, and Souzão. This is where Louis van der Riet crafted the delicious Port-style wines reviewed here.  In late 2019, Eisenberg grad Christoff de Wet replaced van der Riet as winemaker.

As in Portugal, South African producers of Port-like wines make several styles of non-vintage and vintage tawny and ruby ports, including a unique rosé style Cape Port.  Also, as with Portuguese Port, demand for sweet South African wines has been on the decline. While that’s not such good news for those of us who love Port and Port-like wines, it is good news for those who like still table wines made from Portuguese varieties. Winemakers are increasingly taking advantage of the low prices for old bush vine fruit and making single varietals and blends of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and other varieties.  A good example of this is the De Krans Touriga Nacional blend called Tritonia.

[Note: Since these wines are not now imported to the US, the prices listed are retail prices in South African Rand; the exchange rate at the time of tasting was fifteen Rand to the US dollar.]

UK Importer: The Wine Society

The Wines

De Krans 2017 Tritonia Calitzdorp (R195) 91  This blend of the best barrels of several Portuguese varieties, each separately vinified, led by Touriga Nacional is a structured, meaty, dense and super flavorful wine showing layered, dark red fruit with espresso, chocolate and earthy nuances.  Still youthful with gripping tannins, it needs a couple years of cellaring to soften and integrate. 70% Touriga Nacional blended with Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca, and Tinta Amarela.

De Krans NV Cape Pink Calitzdorp (R60) 88  This is South Africa’s first pink Port style wine, first produced in 2008.  Made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca and Tinta Amarella, it’s sweet and softly textured with aromas and flavors of Turkish delight, rose petal, and Maraschino cherry. If consumed straight, make sure it’s cold. My personal preference is to serve it over the rocks with cold sparkling water and a slice of lemon. RS 72 g/L  Alc 16.7%

De Krans NV Cape Tawny Limited Release Calitzdorp (R190) 91 Medium maroon orange. Spicy honeyed nuts and cranberry scents.  Moderately sweet on a surprisingly light and fresh palate with notes of red fruit, toffee, and roasted nuts.  This is an easy drinking, Port-like Tawny. Relatively high acidity gives the wine a dry finish. A blend of 30 year old vines, predominantly Tinta Barroca, naturally fermented and aged 5-15 years in old 225L oak. RS 85 g/L  18.5% alc

De Krans NV Premium Cape Ruby Calitzdorp (R85)  89  Medium dark red. The Cape Ruby is a fresh tasting ruby Port showing dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors. It’s appealingly fresh in style with good acidity, uncomplicated red fruit, and a dry finish that lingers in the mouth. Perfect to pair with a creamy cheese. RS 92 g/L 18.5% alc

De Krans 2017 Cape Vintage Calitzdorp (R105) 91 A clear step up from the Cape Ruby, the 2017 Cape Vintage offers more complexity and depth on both the nose and palate. Dark rose petals, dark red cherry, and earth spice show on a sweetly perfumed nose. The palate is silky and layered, evoking a savoury mélange of forest cake, cigar box, tobacco, and milk chocolate. Finishes dry and long. Made from estate fruit (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Amarella, Tinta Roriz, and Souzao), spontaneously fermented, matured 12 months in concrete tanks followed by 10 months in old 300L oak barrels. RS 96 g/L 19.6% alc Pair with a good Gorgonzola.

De Krans 2016 Cape Vintage Reserve Calitzdorp (R325) 95  This wine certainly ranks among the very best Cape Ports I’ve tasted. It offers a powerful, multifaceted perfume of ripe dark red fruit, dried cherries, and cocoa powder. It has a superb, firm structure and deeply layered flavors of mulberry, dark cherry, and baker’s chocolate that linger forever on the finish.  Drink now or anytime over the next two decades.  Estate fruit (74% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barocca, 8% Tinta Roriz) is handpicked at 26° Balling, destemmed, crushed and cooled in a lagar, then fermented with ambient yeasts, pressed and matured in large oak vats for 20 months. RS 91 g/L 19.3% alc

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