Giant in talent, tiny in production.
Donovan Rall is one of South Africa’s finest small independent wine producers. Yet a man of great height, and filled to the brim with talent. One of my favourite winemakers; he is as easy to spot as a beacon of light in wine tastings as he towers over most of his peers at six foot six. A man of this build and aptitude you may deem to be intimidating, but Donovan is the characterisation of a gentle giant. The wines he produces are the antithesis of his nickname “Scandinavian Viking”, full of elegance, poise and charm.
In tastings, he is humble and unassuming. He lets the wines do the talking and boy, they are poetic. He follows this same philosophy when making the wine; he wants to showcase the grapes rather than masking them with alchemy in the cellar. This simple, hands-off approach isn’t revolutionary but takes a degree of humbleness and restraint.
Rall Grenache Blanc 2020
Many other single bottlings of Grenache Blanc I had tasted had been rather flabby and lacked complexity. This example, however, is the wine that made me stop and pay attention to Donovan. It is radiant. From 20-year-old bush vines planted in sandy soils in Piekenierskloof. Hot days and long cool nights allow long slow ripening. He picks the block at two different ballings for a balance of freshness and fruit ripeness. The result is a wonderfully textured wine with generous fruit weight. Baked orchid fruit is lifted by bright citrus acidity. It’s remarkably elegant and incredibly appealing.
Rall White 2020
His “firstborn” under this his own label and the wine that put Donovan on the map as one of South Africa’s best young winemakers in 2010. Now this wine is recognised to rival great Burgundies.
64% Chenin Blanc, 32% Verdelho and 4% Viognier. When great winemakers blend, it is the ultimate expression of their creativity. This is a masterpiece of a wine, exotic yet clean and focused. Attractive aromas of naartjie, pears and orange blossom entice before mirroring flavours in a spectacularly nuanced and full palate with endless complexities and length. The final touch in this work of art is its animated acidity, bringing light to the canvas and a nervous system to the wine.
Rall Ava Chenin Blanc 2020
Be warned, this is a bit of a tease as very little of this wine was made (1244 bottles), and it was sold out on release. If you find some, please share! It is now a selection from 2 vineyards around the Riebeeksrivier and Kasteelberg areas. The fruit from the latter used to be used as a component in his ‘White’, but it offers such distinct flavours that it was dominating the blend. There is a minerality that you don’t expect in Chenin Blanc with notes of hay and a flintiness, an intricate oasis of stone and citrus fruit pursue, interlaced with fresh acidity. Another very smart wine.
Rall Ava Syrah 2020
Like its Chenin Blanc sibling, this wine now comes from 2 vineyards around Riebeeks river and the Kasteelberg regions in the Swartland. Both were previously undiscovered before Donovan found them in 2016. It is a vineyard that is very close to his heart, and even with the tiny yields, it produces he’ll never stop farming it, much to his bank manager’s dismay! This wine is the perfect example of how a struggling vine can produce the most exquisite fruit. A beautiful umami line runs through; sour cherries, peppered charcuterie, paprika and olives, underpinned by an intense purity of fruit. An exemplary rendition of Swartland Syrah evoking an innate sense of place.
Rall Cinsault 2020
40% of the fruit is from Darling, and the remaining 60% is from a vineyard he shares with Duncan Savage and David & Nadia to drop a few names 😉 This will surely keep all the Cinsault naysayers quiet. It has the perfect balance of bright, crunchy fruit and structure as well as imparting an impressive length. Pomegranate, raspberries with a sweet perfume of rosewater and a sprinkling of dried Mediterranean herbs. Fine, supple tannins and a bright acidity make this a most enjoyable wine.
Rall Red 2019
65% Syrah, 13% Grenache, 13% Cinsault and 9% Carignan – all from Swartland. A broody, rustic and earthy wine with spiced berries, forest fruit and cured meat. A dark and seductive wine but nonetheless in line with the other wines; it shows restraint and elegance, a light touch at the hands of a giant.
These wines are unpretentious and honest and are a great testament to South Africa by one of our best and most humble winemakers.