Connoisseurship

Now there’s a word that’s not used as much as it used to be. In fact, no less a wine-writing eminence than Hugh Johnson urged, in an on-line piece for the World of Fine Wine, “May we revive this useful word, please?” To clarify, he quotes André Simon’s definition: ‘A connoisseur is one who knows good wine from bad and appreciates the different merits of different wines.’ In other words, Johnson says; ‘If a wine is good … you should appreciate its merits. He (Simon) doesn’t say you have to like them, but taste is a personal matter.’

How to become a connoisseur? Well, this is the very agreeable part: there’s nothing to beat tasting as much wine and as widely as possible. Now this isn’t such a fun thing to do alone and even with a group of like-minded friends, you’ll probably get more out of the experience if there’s someone who knows what they’re talking about to guide in an encouraging and enthusiastic way.

WSET logoEnter Cathy Marston and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses for which she’s an ‘approved programme provider’; decoded, that means she’s allowed to run the WSET courses in South Africa, which she’s done for the past two years. Check the website here.
First hand I can confirm Marston’s encouragement and enthusiasm, as she kindly invited me to lecture for the Level 3 course on Italy, something I’ve enjoyed doing several times this year. Although Marston does much lecturing herself, she also calls on others far more qualified than myself: both local Masters of Wine, Cathy van Zyl and Richard Kershaw, give of their expertise, as do some knowledgeable sommeliers.

But figures speak louder than my endorsement. Over the past two years roughly 300 people have signed up each year, many progressing from Level 1 to Level 3 with good results. It’s just been announced that the next level, Diploma, will be introduced in South Africa next year; from there, the Master-of-Wine sky is the limit!

Endorsements too come from those who have signed up, many who’ve started and passed Level 1, carrying on through to Level 3. The majority are from wineries or others involved in the industry, numbers are increasing too from hotels and restaurants; many from both sectors are paid for by their employers, who recognise the benefit of well-informed staff. WSET programme providerThe courses are also open to the public, so the benefits work both ways. Most are held in Cape Town, the surrounding winelands and to a lesser extent, Johannesburg but KZN will soon join in the fun, as Laurie Smorthwaite of Abingdon Wines has recently become an approved programme provider.

Each session has both theory and practical components; although we don’t have the breadth or depth of international wines countries such as the UK enjoy, those we do have (plus some kindly donated by importers) offer a more than reasonable kaleidescope of the major wine producing areas of the world. Expect to taste anything from dry white Graves and Etna whites, to Barolo and Pomerol, all enlightening experiences.

The outside ....
The outside ….

Marston’s positive influence continues beyond her WSET interests; she writes as well as lectures (no surprise when you learn she graduated from Downing College, Cambridge with a degree in English) and is enjoying deserved success with her first book, Love Your Wine. It’s a darned good read whatever your level of knowledge but what I really like about Marston’s writing is that she doesn’t dumb down but treats her readers as adults who just need a nudge to get the most enjoyment out of wine.

The Introduction sums up what it’s all about. She writes: ‘Wine is easy. No, really, it is. Wine is something you grow and you turn it into something you drink. Look at it this way: bread is something you grow and you turn it into something you eat, but you don’t see people in the baked-goods aisle of a supermarket flummoxed by the range of products or agonising over their choice, do you? No one gets confused by wholemeal bread, wholegrain, best of both, white, rye, pumpernickel, brown, seed .. Well, maybe they do, but you know what I mean. If you have enough confidence to buy a loaf of bread, then you should be confident enough to buy a bottle of wine.

And that is precisely what this book wants to do – give you confidence about wine.’

and the inside of Love Your Wine
and the inside of Love Your Wine

Connoisseur might sound a larney word, but knowing good from bad and keeping an open mind on a wine’s merits, even when you don’t like it, should also increase your enjoyment.

Love Your Wine is published by Bookstorm (www.bookstorm.co.za) and retails for around R180.

Success – present & future

I am as sceptical as anyone when it comes to the results of blind tastings (even as a sometime participant in them) but it gave me immense pleasure to see the positive results of the South African Syrah tasting in December 2014 issue of Decanter.

‘Were they convincing?’, muttered colleague, Tim James, in his usual sceptical tone. ‘Did Boekenhoutskloof get two and a half stars?’ As Tim Atkin writes in his summary, ‘.. a few whose wines are usually rated Outstanding, such as DeMorgenzon, Boekenhoutskloof and Saronsberg, were ‘only’ Recommended.’ On Decanter’s scoring system that’s 15 – 16.75/20 or 83 – 89/100. One can argue about those, but as Atkin concludes: ‘Such is blind tasting.’ Looking at the more impressive side of things, of the 76 wines tasted, all, bar one, fell into the Outstanding (7), Highly Recommended (16) or Recommended (52) categories.

So, for once, South Africa’s red wines receive a positive report with, on the whole, convincing results. And for those who have questioned the bias of the judges (apart from Atkin, the other two are South Africans: Greg Sherwood MW of Handford Wines and Guy Harcourt-Wood, who works for a UK importer), isn’t it logical to appoint judges who are familiar with the country or area?

I wonder how our white blends would fare? They are considered our strongest suit. If such a tasting were to be held, I’d hope the Bordeaux-style whites would be separated from the others, unlike this year’s ill-considered Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award.

amalie2010Among those blending chenin with Rhône and Southern French varieties I’d put some money on Solms Delta Amalie 2013 to do well. This is new winemaker, Hagen Viljoen’s first vintage and a delicious wine full of interest it is. Of the blend – grenache blanc 44%, chenin blanc 27%, roussanne 23%, viognier 6% – only the last variety comes from this Franschhoek farm; the balance is drawn from Swartland, Voor-Paardeberg and Piekenierskloof. So essentially this is in the mold of other wines built on these areas – except it is possibly gentler in feel, its creamy breadth filled with layers of flavour; lovely drinking now and possibly better with a few years. A wine of this quality offers terrific value at R98.

Chenin Blanc has featured in a Decanter tasting but that was quite a few years ago; it didn’t fare well, at least by standards locals imagined it had reached. Time for another line up, I think.

The Cortez label changes annually; 2014 depicts the view above the bakkie (truck) in its loading bay.
The Cortez label changes annually; 2014 depicts the view above the bakkie (truck) in its loading bay.

Would Craig Hawkins’ Testalonga El Bandito chenins? Much would depend on the panel, for these are left field wines from organically farmed single vineyards, early picked and with minimal treatment. At a recent trade tasting, Hawkins explained El Bandito as ‘a strong name, which I like’ but it does also somehow reflect his non-mainstream approach.
We started with Cortez (the full name – see pic of bottle – a mouthful!), a chenin blanc made with no skin contact, but also in 2014 with no sulphur. It’s very pale with a clarity that derives from regular rackings but no fining or filtration. At 11.5% alcohol and the vintage’s naturally high pH, long ageing is doubtful, though it shouldn’t suffer from a year or so. Natural ferment in old barrels lends its usual own subtleties with a distant chenin floral fragrance a varietal identifier.

Two skin contact chenins also under the Testalonga El Bandito name, followed. I preferred 2014, which spent four weeks on the skins. The slight haze is as a result of the natural vinification but to minimise bacterial problems, Hawkins removed the wine from the lees post malolactic fermentation. He has also become just slightly more pragmatic about adding sulphur, but not enough to intefere with the expressive, pure aromatics; a spray of orange blossom and other florals. Such purity, delicacy is all in the flavour too. The other, a 2012, was bottled at the same time as 2014 after four weeks on skins and two and a half years in barrel. This is very different, in many ways other than its striking orange gold colour. Less aromatic and with less alcohol, 9%, a figure in g/l matched by the piercing acid. These and its gripping driness would have to be tamed by fatty food.

The Irish harp honours Hawkins' Irish grandfather.  Prix = vintage.
The Irish harp honours Hawkins’ Irish grandfather. Prix = vintage.

Each of these chenins, made in limited quantities with much exported, will retail for between R220 – R240.

I wouldn’t expect the 2012 to do well on a blind tasting, but both 2014s are attractive; my money being on the skin contact version.

I have learned today that Hawkins is leaving Lammershoek to concentrate on his Testalonga wines. He has been a trail-blaiser, never an easy role; this move should enable him to refine the range which has shown glimpses of much promise and more of interest.

Being alive

An evening tasting (alright, and drinking) a dozen Chateauneuf du Pape red wines might induce thoughts of a headache before they’re even opened. With a regulated minimum alcohol of 12.5% (none were as low as that, some hovered around 15%), which seems mighty low today, but is the highest minimum in France, these are considered full-bodied wines suitable for hearty winter dishes. Yet none of us – 13 tasters, comprising winemakers, a sommelier, MW, and writer colleagues – felt this a tiring experience. Why? The wines have a wonderful innate freshness and finish resolutely dry; they are full of life. Alcohol is part of the wines’ success, not an unbalanced negative.

There was much discussion how the French manage to achieve this effect, while similar South African wines at these elevated levels will taste sweet. According to the winemakers, it comes down to the type of sugar, a dominance of fructose in our case which gives this suggestion of sweetness, even when the wine is technically dry.

It was well into the tasting that Cathy van Zyl (the MW) noted the absence of new wood, or, if it was used, it wasn’t apparent. Neither were there intrusive tannins, though the wines didn’t lack structure.

What I and my friends were enjoying was traditional winemaking over vintages ranging from 1990 to 2010. We were a bit undecided whether the latter wine fell into the traditional or modern camp. La Roquète, a property owned by the Brunier brothers of Vieux Télégraphe (the 2001 La Crau was voted the evening’s favourite) had by far the most fruity profile, but youth and a great vintage could account for that; as far as vinification and oak ageing go, the approach is traditional. Grenache accounts for 70%, syrah and mourvèdre 20% and 10%. This and the other Brunier wines are available from the admirable Great Domaines.

My remaining two bottles of La Roquète won’t be opened for a good few years. This red was the last under the La Roquète label; future vintages have been incorporated into Télégraphe’s second wine, Télégramme and a new cuvée, Pied Long.

It’s worth noting the 1990 was Beaucastel in all its bretty glory and recognised by those who should know. What an enigmatic wine! I bought six bottles on release; some have been clean, others grim; this differed in that the brett was evident, but hadn’t stripped this still fleshy, flavoursome wine. There were those (me included) who dared ‘delicious’!

The 12 Chateauneufs tasted (& drunk!) chez Lloyd last Saturday.
The 12 Chateauneufs tasted (& drunk!) chez Lloyd last Saturday.

Grenache is a major player in Chateauneuf; often 70% or 80% but more important than that is vine age. Many are around 40 to 50 years and it is only with maturity that grenache, possibly more than any other variety, gives of its best. The oldest in South Africa I can find dates from 1952 and is all of 1.68 ha. The total plantings of red grenache over 35 years is 5.27 ha. We’ve a way to catch up on Chateauneuf.

Sequillo red 2102. The heart represents necessary flow and synergy between man and nature. For me, it doesn't have the strength of last year's label.
Sequillo red 2102. The heart represents necessary flow and synergy between man and nature.
For me, it doesn’t have the strength of last year’s label.


If there’s one local red wine that emulates these Rhônes in being alive, it’s Eben Sadie’s latest Sequillo 2012; both Tim James and I agreed when we tasted it in a group of newish releases, that it’s the best yet. Unusually, it omits grenache (and carignan, not a Chateauneuf variety), which didn’t ripen sufficiently, leaving a blend of syrah, cinsault and tinta barocca. Also breaking the mold is just one year in oak, the other in concrete vats to preserve fruit. The result is very much along the lines of La Roquète: wonderful fruit, structure and ageworthiness.

Saving Sherry

I love opera – more accurately, I love the sound of the human voice in song; what a wonderful instrument it is. My own singing voice is sadly creaky, simply because I haven’t used it enough since leaving the choir I sang with for many years. I still love listening to others, especially all the young talent that comes out of South Africa.

By the masses, opera is seen as elitist and ‘difficult’, mainly because it’s usually sung in a foreign language (sur-titles have eased that problem) and the characters spend an age repeating what they’ve already sung; ‘it’s all so silly’! Yet who doesn’t know, even if only the tune, Nessun Dorma; that’s from an opera, as are many other tunes hummed along by many who profess not to like the genre.

Sherry – the real wine, from the southern Spanish town of Jerez – suffers a similar fate. It’s all too complicated/old-fashioned; what on earth do Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso or PX mean and what’s the difference between criadera and solera?

As for old-fashioned, many still think of Sherry as granny’s Cream Sherry brought out from the drinks cupboard on Sundays. As many of our local versions include ‘Cream’ in the name, little wonder the genuine thing seems complicated and off-putting.

But it was a local wine, Monis 2012 barrel sample from the criadera (nursery) under flor yeast, followed by the current bottling of Monis Pale Dry that opened the recent and most excellent Sherry tasting organised by the Sommeliers Association of South Africa.

I was surprised that they managed to find so many different styles and producers; some available in South Africa, others carried back from his travels by the most informative and excellent presenter, Jean-Baptiste Cristini. Jean-Baptiste is currently marketing Spice Route wines but he once worked for well-known Sherry house, Gonzales-Byass.

Sherry butt with layer of flor protecting the wine.
Sherry butt with layer of flor protecting the wine.

To anyone who knows Sherry, both local wines seem unduly sweet, but then the Lustau en rama Manzanilla Fino and Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa would probably shock first-time Fino drinkers in their unrelenting driness. Both are imported by Wine Cellar and Vinovation respectively.

Sherry is defined by where it’s aged rather than were it’s grown or made, so Manzanilla Finos, aged in Sanlucar di Barrameda, tend to have a keener, more salty/iodine character, due to the town’s proximity to the ocean (it lies at the mouth of the Guadalquivir river). Finos from the other main towns, Jerez and Puerto are slightly fuller, less piercing, though still bone dry.

Yet nothing can be more mouthwateringly appetising than a chilled Fino, it just begs any number of Tapas, or small dishes. Even at 16% alcohol, these wines seem light and refreshing, a benefit of the flor yeast, which rests on top of the wine. Half or 500ml bottles are fairly common, so can be finished within a day or two – essential for Finos, which would hate to suffer granny’s Cream Sherry treatment.

If Finos are summer Sherries, Olorosos, which are matured in contact with air and fortified to a higher degree to prevent the flor developing, enjoy a richer, nutty character complementing cooler weather.

PedroXiminezJerezLike all Sherries, an Oloroso starts life dry but may be slightly sweetened with Pedro Ximinez, a variety whose juice is fortified, leaving it a full-sweet jerepigo type. Some old ones are so concentrated, you can stand up a spoon in them. I bought the PX in the photo in Jerez when I attended the fantastic international dessert and fortified wine show, Vinoble held in the beautiful old Alcazar.

Even with its powerful 20.5% alcohol and roast nut richness, Equipo Navazos La Bota 46 Oloroso has delicacy thanks to its poise and balance. The addition of PX has merely enhanced the flavours rather than obviously sweetening.

Equipo Navazos is a negociant headed by law professor (and co-author of a recent book on Sherry) , Jesus Barquin and Valdespino cellarmaster, Eduardo Ojeda. The wines, limited in quantity, command impressively high prices, so we’re unlikely to see them in South Africa (this was one of Jean-Baptiste’s offerings). But thanks to this negociant and some newish, quality and marketing oriented Bodegas, new life is being breathed into Sherry. In the UK the opening of Tapas bars is driving renewed interest.

Similar bars, serving Sherry with small dishes, could stimulate interest here, encourage our brave importers to widen the range and brave sommeliers to introduce them on their wine list.

As Nessun Dorma is opera, so Sherry is wine; both have something for every taste. Well done to SASA, an increasingly important group, for organising this tasting and opening at least a few eyes to the great wine that is Sherry.

Well-known Sherry house, Gonzalez-Byass, Jerez
Well-known Sherry house, Gonzalez-Byass, Jerez
Alcazar, Jerez where Vinoble is held
Alcazar, Jerez where Vinoble is held

Villiera re-visited

As far as Wine of Origin demarcations are concerned, Villiera might appear to be in limbo. It was, until around 2002, at the extreme southern edge of Paarl, after which it was incorporated into Stellenbosch, where it lies at the extreme western edge of the district.

Such Origin musical chairs have not deterred winelovers; Villiera was buzzing with a constant stream of visitors during my – long overdue – visit there last week.

I had intended to catch up with Jeff Grier, whose family have owned the farm since the early 1980s, for their 30th vintage, but somehow two further vintages slipped by without commemoration. ‘We actually didn’t do anything to mark that milestone ourselves,’ Jeff admitted.

The clinic on Villiera, available to staff at all Pebbles' members.
The clinic on Villiera, available to staff at all Pebbles’ members.

My visit starts with a walk around the clinic and new Pebbles Project offices. (Pebbles was started in 2004 by Sophie Warner for children with special needs but focusing on those with foetal alcohol syndrome, sadly far too prevalent throughout the Cape winelands.) Much of the funds raised to start the clinic came from Jeff’s cousin, David Grier and his well-publicised Cipla MilesforSmiles Foundation runs. Within its ‘E’ shape container construction, there are individual consulting rooms where help for everything from ordinary bumps and bruises to oncology and psychiatric disorders may be sought. There’s even a learning centre, where workers are told about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

Strolling back to the tasting room, Jeff shows me the huge store ‘hangar’ with its 900-and-something solar panels, so effective ‘we could sell electricity back to the grid,’; and, a little further on, the crèche for their workers’ children; a happy, noisy bunch they are! I remember shortly after Pebbles started, Sophie Warner taking me around several farm crèches; Villiera’s was, even back then, held up as a model.

Good worker relationships are an inherent part of the Grier family ethic. Their success can be gauged by the number of workers who have clocked up 20 years’ service. This milestone is acknowledged annually at the farm’s St Vincent’s Day celebration; so far, 15 have received the Long Service Award, with another four due to pick up the same next January.

Monro Brut 08 (l) & super 09 (r), Bottle in background has yet to be finally dressed.
Monro Brut 08 (l) & super 09 (r), Bottle in background has yet to be finally dressed.

There has been similar long service and pride from Villiera’s side with Woolworths and sister company in the UK, Marks & Spencer. They have supplied wines to Woolies since wines were introduced in 1985 and are their largest supplier of bubblies. Giving an idea of importance of sparkling wine to Villiera, it accounts for 40% of production and 50% of turnover.

Their loyalty is acknowledged by long-time Woolworths wine selector, Allan Mullins, who tells me Villiera held to their word on allocations and prices when other producers chased more lucrative markets or asked for higher prices in good times.

Wine growing in the 1980s meant having to produce wines for every taste, as South Africa’s pariah status then meant exports were difficult. It might also seem difficult to create a large and varied range yet also specialise; somehow Jeff and his cellar team do.

Frenchman and Champenois, Jean-Louis Denois has played a big role in both Villiera’s success with Cap Classique bubblies and the Grier’s venture in the South of France. He met Jeff whilst working at Boschendal, persuaded him to go into production of MCC and established a 10-year royalty agreement with Villiera. Some years ago he moved to the Limoux area. By the mid-2000s, Jeff felt the need for rejuvenation and the challenge of somewhere new. That ‘somewhere’ was originally going to be Elim, but Jean-Louis found an economically viable plot with many old vines in Roussillon. Beyond being a new challenge, Jeff sees the venture as a hedge against global warming, giving the possibility for his and Lyn’s two children to work on their own and helping with traditional winemaking ideas on Villiera. Happily, it’s also proved a profitable venture since 2012.

French Domaine Grier label. The design represents Africa & S France, with the red dots, Cape Town & St Paul in Agly.
French Domaine Grier label. The design represents Africa & S France, with the red dots, Cape Town & St Paul in Agly.

The wines have also become more assured since the early vintages; ‘A benefit of getting to know our vineyards,’ Jeff acknowledges, pointing out the ex-owner looks after the vines and they have a good winemaker. Domaine Grier Chardonnay 2011, Grenache 2011, Odyssea a grenache, carignan, syrah blend and the shiraz-grenache blend, Olympus 2009 are individuals with character, balance and natural freshness; ‘We’ve never had acid in the cellar’ Jeff confirms. They, like the Villiera wines, offer value for money, an unchanging Grier objective.

If value is a constant, the Griers are alert to consumer trends, listening to both journalists and winemakers as well. Sauvignon Blanc Bush Vine for instance now includes 15% oaked portion to add interest and temper the green pepper – the latter a style that won Jeff Diners Club Winemaker of the Year with his 1997 Bush Vine Sauvignon Blanc.

New Villiera labels; the colour suggests their green approach, the name that it is growing out of the ground.
New Villiera labels; the colour suggests their green approach, the name that it is growing out of the ground.

On the bubbly side, Jeff is trimming Tradition NV to a lighter, fresher style in tune with the trend for wines such as Prosecco. No fiddling, except to push for better quality, with top-of-the range, Monro Brut, a regular major award winner both locally and internationally. A taste of 2009, a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and a little pinot meunier (‘included in cooler vintages only for extra dimension’), suggests the Griers will have another big winner on their hands after its early 2015 release.

The Grier family were in the chicken business; Jeff’s original intention was to study poultry, but, thankfully soon changed to wine; cousin Simon Grier, Villiera’s engaging viticulturist, followed him a year later. Jeff’s sister, Cathy Brewer with her husband, Julian are also part of the hard-working team, who ensure they really understand the business they’re in.

It’s a team that prefers to make its presence felt through the success of their wines, rather than seeking the spotlight.

Far from being in the ‘indeterminate state’ that is limbo, visitors to Villiera will actually find themselves at one of the Cape’s most forward-thinking producers.

Telling a story attracts winelovers; these back labels point tol the Villiera sustainability story with links to them on the website.
Telling a story attracts winelovers; these back labels point tol the Villiera sustainability story with links to them on the website.

 

A typical value for money wine from the Griers, this excellent touriga nacional-shiraz blend sells for around R40
A typical value for money wine from the Griers, this excellent touriga nacional-shiraz blend sells for around R40

Seeking site

Anything but chardonnay > absolutely brilliant chardonnay. Was it so long ago numerous winelovers belonged to the former group? Many wines that went under the varietal name bore little resemblance to it, let alone reflected any sense of where the vines were grown.

Ripening chardonnay
Ripening chardonnay

There may be a few winelovers who continue to like those former heavy, rich wines, dressed in lashings of heavy toasted oak but I’m sure more find freshness, less oak and also less alcohol, make for much easier, more interesting drinking.

Pleasant drinking is one thing, character is quite another: character derived from site. Site may be a single vineyard or a number of blocks which make up a single vineyard but can also be used more generally about the general characteristics of a specific area.
Two events last week focused on site specific wines.

The first was the inaugural Franschhoek Appellation Grand Prestige awards. This event was initiated a year ago, when a large group of local winemakers and media got together

Bunches of semillon
Bunches of semillon

to taste various vintages of three varieties – semillon, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon – bearing the Franschhoek Wine of Origin. These three were chosen as the valley’s historical best performers and the tasting aimed to identify aromas, flavours and general style common to each variety and Franschhoek. Despite the District’s different aspects, altitudes and soils, tasters managed to pinpoint features each variety had in common to a surprising degree.

franschhoek-vineyard_semillonThis exercise led to the recent tasting by a panel of around 17 local winemakers and retailers of 57 entries, across all three varieties, with ten being adjudged to carry the varietal and Franschhoek thumbprint as defined in the initial tasting but also of top quality. These were: Semillons from Haut Espoir (2009) and Franschhoek Vineyards (2012, 2013); Chardonnays from Chamonix (2013 Reserve), Moreson (Mercator Premium 2013 and Knoputibak 2012), Maison (2013) and Rickety Bridge (2013); Cabernets from Stony Brook (Ghost Gum 2009) and Rickety Bridge (Paulinas Reserve 2011).

More important than the awarding of these wines, will be to see how they perform in future. The ultimate point of this exercise is to identify those sites which consistently produce typicity with quality. If this does happen, it will not only benefit Franschhoek as a wine producing area but South Africa as a whole.

The bi-annual Chardonnay Celebration, a generous and informative event organised by the De Wet family of De Wetshof, also put site specificity under the spotlight.
In the past, various media were asked to nominate their top ten, with the most-often mentioned being selected. That rarely covered the wide spread of the Cape winelands where chardonnay is now successfully grown.

To correct this anomaly, samples from a wide range of origins were blind tasted to select a pair from each of eight listed below.

Chardonnay’s very versatility both in where it will put down roots and its sympathetic response to the winemakers’ fashioning in the cellar has led to difficulty in pinpointing origin, but given winemakers’ present attention to reflecting what happens in the ground rather than the cellar, it could be imagined an exercise such as this year’s Chardonnay Celebration would help to shed some rays of light on general characteristics of each origin, limited number of samples nothwithstanding.

The tasting was preceded by guest-speaker, the ever-eloquent Andrew Jefford, who, in his introduction, drew an apposite analogy between the piano and chardonnay. Comparing grape varieties with musical instruments, he said: ‘There’s little music that cannot be played on the piano, and no instrument which interprets a wider range of musical thought with more expressive grace and profundity than the piano does. And wine’s piano, for me, is Chardonnay.’

Among the six Stellenbosch chardonnays – Helderberg (Vergelegen, Vriesenhof), Simonsberg (Rustenberg, Tokara) and Bottelary (Hartenberg, Jordan), there was just a general sense of greater ripeness and breadth of fruit flavours, but also greater focus on freshness, especially in the last pair.

The home team of Robertson, represented by Kranskop and De Wetshof Bateleur, illustrated the area’s defining pronounced limey/citrus vigour. (De Wetshof The Site chardonnay, served at lunch, is even more expressive of Robertson.)

Of the cooler areas, perhaps a purity and natural freshness of fruit could be appropriated to the Cape Peninsula pair of Groot Constantia and Cape Point Vineyards, despite lying on opposite sides of the peninsula mountain spine.

Tension and concentration typified the Hemel en Aarde pair; Ataraxia and Hamilton Russell, even though they originate from opposite ends of the valley.

Elgin, surprisingly, was a disappointment. Obvious residual sugar in both Richard Kershaw 2012 (2013 is spot on Elgin) and KWV Mentors obscured the area’s usual thrilling vibrant mineral liveliness.

CapeofGoodHopeChardThe biggest thrill was left to the Anthonij Rupert Wines Cape of Good Hope Serruria Chardonnay 2012. (Its unlikely partner was the always excellent and ageworthy Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve from Franschhoek.) Grown at around 670 metres on the Stettyn mountains outside Villiersdorp in the Elandskloof Ward, the Rupert wine has the throbbing intensity and tension of wine grown in an area surrounded by winter snow and marked diurnal summer temperatures. I really hope to try it again in a few years.

The move from style-driven to site-driven wines has been made; the journey is underway. It won’t always be a smooth one, but much of interest lies in store.

Celebrating 35 years of Platter

Platter publisher, JP Rossouw announcing 5* winners
Platter publisher, JP Rossouw announcing 5* winners

With the launch of the 2015 edition of Platters South African Wine Guide, a new era begins as Jean-Pierre Rossouw (JP) completes his first year as publisher.

There are changes too in the guide itself: no longer are the four-star and above wines highlighted in red and for many wines below four stars, only the ratings are listed with no tasting notes. These will be incorporated on the website.

It’s a pity that the red print has disappeared altogether; I’ve long mooted for the five and four-and-a-half stars only to be printed in red, which was on the cards at one stage, before the decision was taken for entirely black print (a question of cost?). It might make all wines look equal but it also makes the text appear more dense and unfriendly to read. Time will tell whether this was the right move.

But these are incidentals as compared with what everyone wants to know at the launch of a new edition: the five star wines, white and red wines of the year and, at the top of the ladder, the winery of the year.

Eben Sadie making his accceptance speech as Sadie Family Wines winery of the year.
Eben Sadie making his accceptance speech as Sadie Family Wines winery of the year.

A word on the last of those, which has been won for a second time by Sadie Family Wines. The choice of winery of the year is the editor, Phil van Zyl’s prerogative, but in previous years the choice was made easier, since different wineries received more five stars than any other. Not that this criteria is the defining one; a few years ago, Kanonkop won the award when other wineries had more five star wines. This year, none outperformed Eben Sadie’s trio; the award is well deserved, not least for Sadie’s consistency.

 

 

 

I can’t think of any other winery that has received the white wine of the year two years in a row; DeMorgenzon’s success is also achieved with the first vintage of their Reserve Chardonnay, a noteworthy feat.

Hylton & Wendy Appelbaum, Carl & Kathryn v d Merwe of DeMorgenzon
Hylton & Wendy Appelbaum, Carl & Kathryn v d Merwe of DeMorgenzon

 

This year, the five star tasting was a much longer affair, the teams of three encouraged to take their time deliberating over their allocated wines, a maximum of 60. To help out in divisive situations, Michael Fridjhon and Cathy van Zyl MW acted as roving palates. While there was plenty of discussion before giving a final score – between 90 and 100, with those scoring 95 and over receiving five stars – there were inevitably, unlucky losers, wines which really deserve five stars. Blind tasting, however carefully carried out, is not a perfect science.

David Sadie, Chris Alheit & Paul Nichols (Fable)
David Sadie, Chris Alheit & Paul Nichols (Fable)

As might be expected, white blends captured the most five stars with eight. Then it was over to the reds, with cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and red blends receiving five apiece.
Of greater surprise is that the smaller pinot noir category produced four five-star wines. A few weeks’ ago, I wrote here how pinot has enjoyed considerable success in the five star stakes and asked whether we’re deluding ourselves that we can produce so many pinots of such quality. Well according to that panel, we can to the extent that this guide includes the most five star pinots ever. The jury’s out on how they’d all bank up in an international line up (perhaps the topic for an interesting tasting), but kudos and congratulations to Nadia and Gordon Newton Johnson (and the whole NJ family), whose Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 chalks up a sixth successive five star rating.

On that topic, it’s sad to see two wines which have also enjoyed numerous successive five stars – Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest (seven) and Nederburg Ingenuity White (six) – not make it this year.

At the other end of the scale, nine wineries won their maiden five stars: Creation Wines, Crystallum, Diners Club Bartho Eksteen Academy, Fram, Iona, Oldenburg, Porseleinberg, Stellenbosch Vineyards/Flagship and Sumaridge.

The Hemel en Aarde pinot noir 5* winners
The Hemel en Aarde pinot noir 5* winners

Brandies were introduced last year but of their nature were not re-assessed. The KWV 12 Year Old Barrel Select is a new member of the range, so eligible for rating.

Little publicity is given to the back-room people during the tasting period; they are the ones who keep the whole dynamic moving – chasing wineries, sorting wines, querying missing wines/name changes, liaising with tasters, updating the database and much more. It’s a task that demands stamina, attention to detail and a calm temperament plus a dose of good humour. Christina Harvett and her band of ‘eleves’ (mainly university students) do a remarkably efficient job; without them, Platter tastings wouldn’t function and be completed within the time frame. They deserve as much acknowledgement as anyone else involved.

Swartland Revolutionaries: Eben & Maria Sadie 2015 Winery of the Year, Chris & Andrea Mullineux 2014 Winery of the Year
Swartland Revolutionaries: Eben & Maria Sadie 2015 Winery of the Year, Chris & Andrea Mullineux 2014 Winery of the Year

WINERY OF THE YEAR
Sadie Family Wines

WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR
DeMorgenzon Chardonnay Reserve 2013

RED WINE OF THE YEAR
De Trafford Blueprint Syrah 2012

FIVE STAR WINES

Cabernet Franc
Warwick Estate Cabernet Franc 2011

Cabernet Sauvignon
Groot Constantia Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Le Riche Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011
Nederburg Wines II Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Stark-Condé Wines Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cinsaut
Sadie Family Wines Pofadder 2013

Petit Verdot
Stellenbosch Vineyards Flagship Petit Verdot 2010

Pinotage
Flagstone Winery Time Manner Place Pinotage 2012
Kanonkop Estate Black Label Pinotage 2012

Pinot Noir
Creation Wines Reserve Pinot Noir 2013
Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir 2013
Newton Johnson Vineyards Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013
Sumaridge Wines Pinot Noir 2012

Shiraz/Syrah
Boekenhoutskloof Winery Syrah 2012
Boschendal Wines Cecil John Reserve Shiraz 2012
De Trafford Wines Blueprint Syrah 2012
Fable Mountain Vineyards Syrah 2012
Porseleinberg Porseleinberg 2012

Red Blends
Delaire Graff Estate Botmaskop 2012
Ernie Els Wines CWG Auction Reserve 2012
Hartenberg Estate The Mackenzie 2011
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2010
Vilafonté Series C 2011

Chardonnay
DeMorgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2013
Iona Vineyards Chardonnay 2013
Richard Kershaw Wines Elgin Chardonnay 2013
Sterhuis Barrel Selection Chardonnay 2012

Chenin Blanc
Alheit Vineyards Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2013
Fram Wines Chenin Blanc 2013
Kaapzicht Wine Estate The 1947 Chenin Blanc 2013

Grenache Blanc
The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2013

Sauvignon Blanc
Buitenverwachting Husseys Vlei Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Diners Club Bartho Eksteen Academy CWG Auction Reserve Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Reyneke Wines Reserve White 2013

Semillon
Vergelegen Wines Reserve Semillon 2013

White Blends
Constantia Uitsig Constantia White 2013
David & Nadia Sadie Aristargos 2013
DeMorgenzon Maestro White 2013
Flagstone Winery Treaty Tree Reserve White Blend 2013
Miles Mossop Wines Saskia 2012
Oak Valley Wines Mountain Reserve White Blend 2010
Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2012
Sadie Family Wines Skerpioen 2013

Méthode Cap Classique
Graham Beck Wines Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009

Dessert Wine, Unfortified
Delheim Wines Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest 2013
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Straw Wine 2013

Dessert Wine, Fortified
Nuy Wine Cellar White Muscadel 2013

Port-Style
Boplaas Family Vineyards Cape Tawny Vintners Reserve NV
De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2012

Brandy
KWV 12 Year Old Barrel Select Brandy

A pair of beauties

Most days I’m lucky enough to drink a wine that pleases me, sometimes a wine that leaves me feeling content; the thrilling, exciting ones are more rare (but probably the more thrilling/exciting for that), so to taste not one but two such exciting rarities in one day left me feeling – well, pretty happy.

Raats Bruwer 05 cheninThe first, Bruwer Raats 2005 Original Chenin Blanc, wasn’t so old at around nine and three-quarter years, but as the first wine to be closed under screwcap in a South African produced bottle, it was also unique.

Screwcap closures was the theme of the event hosted jointly at George Jardine’s restaurant on Jordan winery by the European Aluminium Foil Association, whose members represent around 75% of global aluminium closure production, local aluminium producer, Hulamin and Guala Closures South Africa, local subsidiary of the Italian founded international closures group.

Of the many facts and figures put forward to persuade both producers and consumers to use/buy wine and other produce where aluminium closures are used, I liked that around 75% of aluminium ever produced is still in use today thanks to its recyclability.

I get as annoyed as the next person when an old or one-off bottle of special wine is cork tainted, though thankfully, it rarely occurs in bottles from our cellar. I’m equally relaxed with screwcaps, especially as they look so much smarter these days. They do have their own annoyance factor when the top refuses to part from the capsule, sending the whole thing round and round without opening. Attacking it with a knife often results in serious damage to self.

Frankly, the competition between the closures has benefitted both and, of course, consumers. Screwcaps’ popularity has taken the heat off corks and allowed the industry to sort out much of its problems, while the aluminium closure industry has been forced to upgrade aesthetically to improve the image of screwcaps.

Bruwer Raats Original Chenin Blanc, 2005 left, 2012 right
Bruwer Raats Original Chenin Blanc, 2005 left, 2012 right

The one on Bruwer’s old bottle had done its job admirably. As you can see from the photo (it’s the one on the left; the other is 2012), the colour has remained youthful and bright. The wine’s still enticingly fresh but the flavours have mellowed; it was this contrast with harmony that made for a much more interesting experience than mere ageing and there’s plenty of life in it yet.

Bruwer did say this was one bottle from a case he’d forgotten about and found recently. A vertical sounds a very good idea.

The other piece of happy sipping came later in the day when the Joubert family brought themselves and boxes of bottles to town from Barrydale for a tasting of some new wines and one that’s new but very old.

Try as I might, I cannot work out how many Jouberts there are but there are many (and all

Meyer Joubert with Sue-Anderson, Joubert-Tradauw representative in Cape Town
Meyer Joubert with Sue-Anderson, Joubert-Tradauw representative in Cape Town

helluva good looking!). Winemaker at Joubert-Tradauw, Meyer, introduced the new wines; market and sales guru, Cobus spoke about the new but very old, while Schalk-Willem (GM at Rupert & Rothschild) and youngest brother, Andries – I didn’t catch what he does – lent support, as did their parents. Maybe I’ve missed others.

Their farm on the famous Route 62 enjoys ‘a continental climate, with no sea view,’ commented Meyer. The vineyards, mainly on shale, were planted by Meyer’s father, Jacobus just over 30 years’ ago in 1982 but it was only in 1999 they started making their own wine.

Chardonnay is the sole white and an elegant, balanced and characterful wine the 2012 is; all that’s positive about today’s Cape chardonnays.

Pinot noir and cabernet franc followed. The 2013 pinot is Meyer’s third attempt and the first he feels happy enough to bottle. Made solely from Clone 115, with a few stalks added, it has a different and intriguing suggestion of fynbos/garrigue, a pleasant savouriness and full, supple mouthfeel. Maturation in older oak has provided certain harmony and focus though it’ll benefit from further ageing. As will the tempestuous cab franc, a wild spicy beast at present, the spice further boosted by its year in new oak.

Cobus Joubert telling the story of Jaubert Family Muscat
Cobus Joubert telling the story of Jaubert Family Muscat

But we had come to honour grandfather Schalk-Willem Joubert, who, in the early 1950s, had upped from his property in Wellington and taken his family to live in the beautiful Tradauw valley. He also took with him a tiny but precious 115 litre French oak barrel, first filled with Muscat d’Alexandrie around 1800 and never entirely emptied since. Occasionally the Jouberts have drawn small amounts from it, occasionally Meyer has thrown in a bottle of Barrydale Muscat brandy to sustain it, at times the family have even forgotten it, but now they have bottled just six 375ml bottles. How to sell it is now under discussion with Nederburg Auction an idea: very d e e p pockets will be needed.

This sort of solera system leaves a deep, wine dark aged colour but the strands of pure, grapey fragrance introduce a more youthful freshness to the almost fathomless depths of molasses, dried naartjie peel, nutmeg and cinnamon spice. Viscosity is there but never does the wine feel over-rich or heavy thanks to its riveting acidity. If a sip alone was magic, a sip with goats’ cheese studied with cranberries was paradise. Like the wine, the memory will be never-ending.

Jaubert Famly Muscat from a barrel never emptied since 1800. The bottles were especially made in Swaziland.
Jaubert Famly Muscat from a barrel never emptied since 1800. The bottles were especially made in Swaziland.

 

Style, integrity and chardonnay

Later this month I’ll be attending Danie de Wet’s bi-annual Chardonnay Celebration. Danie was a chardonnay pioneer – before it even was chardonnay! – and much more so when the real thing happily put down roots in his Robertson vineyards. That was over 40 years ago now, but more on that event in due course.

Chardonnay has wound down many stylistic paths since those early days. Initially more oak than fruit due to young vines and a just-started barrel programme meaning all were new; used, less flavour-dominant barrels would take a few years to find a place in the cellar. And even then didn’t, as many winelovers had come to enjoy the vanilla flavours. Then there was also the ‘Breakfast’ style, less pleasant than one might imagine, the wine’s simple buttery flavours and texture augmented by heavily toasted oak. And I haven’t even touched on the over-enthusiastic stirrers of the lees. At the opposite end  of the spectrum, some attempted what they called ‘Chablis’ style, either totally or mainly unoaked but bearing little or no resemblance to the genuine thing.

In more recent years, chardonnay has blossomed, in part thanks to expanding its footprint. Robertson is home to around a quarter of all the Cape’s chardonnay, doing well in both bubbly and as a distinctive, limey table wine. Hemel en Aarde valley and, particularly, Elgin have thrust quality chardonnay further into the international limelight. In fact, I’ve long been convinced Elgin’s fame will rest on chardonnay.

The Top Ten chardonnays in Christian Eedes 2014 Chardonnay Report
The Top Ten chardonnays in Christian Eedes 2014 Chardonnay Report

It was something of a surprise then that only one Elgin chardonnay, the Paul Cluver 2013 and one from Hemel en Aarde, Newton Johnson Southend 2013, were acknowledged in the top ten of Christian Eedes’ fourth annual Chardonnay Report, sponsored by Sanlam Private Wealth. The full report can be read here.

Eedes with his colleagues James Pietersen and Roland Peens, taste 60 selected wines, awarding a top ten with a certificate (and kudos). Those invited have performed well in competitions or are from highly regarded producers. It was clear tasting those 10 that the judges have a specific stylistic aesthetic, best summarised in two words: freshness, purity. Oak is still evident in a few but it’s more a question of harmonising over time than an inherent lack of balance, not a result one could have been confident of way back when.

If that fresh, pure style shouldn’t come as a surprise in wines originating from the cool highlands of Elgin or southerly, sea-influenced Hemel en Aarde, some might wonder that the majority of the ten – seven in fact – come from Stellenbosch. Closer inspection of that group will show altitude plays an important role, with proximity to False Bay also a factor

The view from Uva Mira, one of the highest lying farms on the Helderberg. Table Mountain & False Bay are visible in the background.
The view from Uva Mira, one of the highest lying farms on the Helderberg. Table Mountain & False Bay are visible in the background.

in the case of Uva Mira 2013, Eikendal 2013, Longridge 2013 and, I guess to some extent, Haskell Anvil 2012: all being on the Helderberg . Attentive readers will also note the predominant vintage: 2013 is turning out to be a great one for chardonnay. Even in what might be thought of as a warmer area, the Bottelary Hills, the high-lying vineyards of Hartenberg and Stellenrust (the latter based on the Helderberg) provide the freshness and purity (as well as the intelligent winemaking) which secured them a place in the top ten. The only successful Stellenbosch chardonnay I struggle to attribute to altitude is Glenelly Gran Vin but then it is a 2013!

The one winner from Franschhoek, Chamonix Reserve 2013, arguably is one of less than a handful of chardonnays enjoying the most integrity of any in South Africa,  another being Hamilton Russell, which, for the first time, didn’t make the top ten this year. (I have enormous respect for Jordan Chardonnay, but I think even Gary & Kathy have slightly changed their style – to one that’s beneficially slightly fresher.)

I see integrity deriving from three factors. Firstly, the vines being planted where they feel at home; secondly, the winemaker’s understanding of what nature is giving him or her (a lengthy process and so often the tripping block here, given the musical chairs that goes on between winemakers and cellars) and thirdly, established, mature vines.

I got to thinking about integrity this week after tweeting an article about the need to re-calibrate after those who score, mainly on the 100-point scale were ratcheting up to a level that leaves little leeway to reflect better wines in future vintages.

I believe it is unwise even unhelpful to rate over-generously before such integrity has been established; the swings and roundabouts of vintage, winemaking experiments and less than compatible relationship between site and vine can often lead to a less than consistent result in the wine, leading to confusion among consumers. It may also call the scorer’s own integrity into question.

Viognier – the Constantia factor

Constantia has all of 4.5 hectares of viognier; 2.7 are shared between Beau Constantia (.9ha) and neighbour, Eagles’ Nest. As much as Constantia is recognised for sauvignon blanc, these two producers have shown the area’s reputation needn’t rest on that one white variety.

It was Eagles’ Nest second consecutive double gold on this year’s Six Nations competition that prompted a deeper inspection into what makes viognier from this northern end of the Constantia Valley special.

The oldest block of viognier on Beau Constantia, planted 2003
The oldest block of viognier on Beau Constantia, planted 2003

My first visit was to Beau Constantia, the newer farm of the pair, and like its neighbour, a phoenix which rose from the ashes of the devastating 2000 fires. Justin van Wyk’s wine has also received acclaim from both Neal Martin and Tim Atkin MW; as their Platter taster, I’ve also long been an admirer.

The first of Beau Constantia’s three blocks was planted in 2003. All are on high, north-east facing slopes with stark exposure to the south easter, one determinant when it comes to yield. ‘Viognier is anyway a shy bearer,’ van Wyk advises; ‘A vintage will deliver anything between three and five tons per hectare, or an average of 2500 bottles.’

Full ripeness occurs early to mid March at around 24 to 25° Balling, when the berries are orangey gold, with floral, white peach and orange blossom notes and concentrated flavours. ‘Apricot and oiliness due to low acid,’ he says, ‘are associated with warmer climates, which is where it should be grown for production rather than quality, or so we were told at University. I pick with a pH of 3.5 and acid of 6.5, that’ll give 5.5 in the wine.’

Just planted - tiny viognier 'stokkies' on Beau Constantia
Just planted – tiny viognier ‘stokkies’ on Beau Constantia

Canopy management plays an important part in achieving van Wyk’s ripeness goals. Once the berries have reach pea berry size, leaves on the morning sun side are stripped to expose the grapes. In spots where there’s more vigorous growth, leaves are stripped on the afternoon sun side as well. Answering my concern about sunburn, van Wyk assures that the skins are thick and get used to the sun when exposed at such an early stage.

Thick skins means a lot of unwanted phenolics, something Van Wyk avoids by whole-bunch pressing. Fermentation ensues from a cold start, in barrel, lasting around two weeks until the wine is bone dry. Of the normal 10 barrel production, two will be new (light-toasted Taransaud and Francois Frères barriques), the balance back to fourth fill. ‘I like to age the wine on its lees for five to six months,’ says van Wyk, ‘it keeps the wine healthy.’ Battonage is applied once a week for four weeks, then once a month. Sulphur is added to inhibit malo-lactic after the first month.

Prior to bottling, under screwcap, the wine is racked, fined and cold stabilised.
So much attention to detail, now to take the taste test on the newly-bottled 2014. ‘Yes, it was a challenging vintage with lots of botrytis,’ admits van Wyk, ‘even thick-skinned viognier got some. I was hoping to make a Noble Late Harvest, but it turned sour.’
Taking into account the Beau Constantia 2014 Cecily (named for the farm’s owner) still needs to settle and lose youthful estery notes, there is already enticement in its blossom, orange peel aromas. With age too it will gain a lees-enriched dimension to balance the alcohol. ‘Here’s another old idea,’ van Wyk sighs, ‘that viognier needs to be drunk within three years. Our first vintage was 2010, so there’s not that much history, but I’ve had a superb 2006 from Eagles’ Nest.’

Viognier & proteas at Beau Constantia
Viognier & proteas at Beau Constantia

It’s to Eagles’ Nest I go. Winemaker, Stuart Botha, drives me around the farm, pointing out the two blocks planted in 2001 and 2002, the latter on a higher, more exposed site. A third, recently planted vineyard brings up their 1.7 hectares of viognier. Yields are eight or nine tons per hectare, translating to an average 8000 to 9000 bottles, ‘But it depends on wind during flowering,’ Botha admits. That said, he views the wind as a massive pro, cutting the crop but keeping the vines cool. Both winemakers suggest the best viognier vintages are cool years with lots of sunshine.

(Foreground) The higher of the two bearing blocks of viognier on Eagles' Nest.
(Foreground) The higher of the two bearing blocks of viognier on Eagles’ Nest.

Like his neighbour, Botha breaks out leaves on the morning sun side of the row at pea size, and the afternoon sun side a few days prior to harvesting; this provides his desired ‘rosy cheeks’ colour. ‘There is a three-day window when the acid/flavour profile is as I want it,’ he explains. ‘Managing the acid is half the battle.’

Viognier is the first variety to be harvested on Eagles’ Nest around mid-March. The portion of the lower block under permanent cover crop is picked early, at 22° Balling and tank fermented ‘for backbone’. The balance will come in between 23.5 and 24° Balling.

Lower block of viognier on Eagles' Nest. Vines closest to the camera provide the tank-fermented portion.
Lower block of viognier on Eagles’ Nest. Vines closest to the camera provide the tank-fermented portion.

The chilled grapes are whole bunch pressed, the juice taken to tank, inoculated and allowed to ferment a couple of degrees to ensure homogeneity before being transferred to barrel. Botha’s choice is a mix of blonde or light toasted French and Hungarian barriques, between 15% and 25% new. Once dry, the barrels are filled, sulphured after a month and then battonaged every two weeks. The decision whether to leave the wine on its gross or fine lees and for how long is dependent on vintage, structure especially ‘the development of palate weight’. The two components are blended and may be returned to oak before fining, cold stabilisation a coarse filtration and bottling, also under screwcap.

Botha, like van Wyk, is enthusiastic about viognier’s ageing potential, offering the 2008 is super now. He believes its popularity is due to the wine’s integrity; using wood for effect not flavour, lower alcohols (around 13% on Eagles’ Nest), fruit and freshness. A style which does well both with and without food.

Neither of these viogniers is blowsy, oily or oaky, negatives which have turned off many from this Northern Rhône variety. Rather they show freshness and subtlety, positives which sees both rapidly sell out to enthusiastic fans.

Eagles' Nest viognier 2015 in embryo!
Eagles’ Nest viognier 2015 in embryo!