Red whites addendum

When I was writing the previous article on tannins in white varieties, one aspect I couldn’t track down with any ease is the relative thickness of the skins and the quality of tannin in each variety.

It was a question I went back and asked Thorne & Daughters’ John Seccombe, to which he gave me the following interesting answer:

‘I think it’s a great question about the grape skins. One of my original motivations in producing the 2013 Tin Soldier was the quality of tannin in the semillon skins that we were looking at picking. Semillon in particular (and the semillon blanc especially) has a very thick skin, and as the tannins ripen, I can only describe them as ‘fine and creamy’ in texture. It’s precisely this character that I was looking to extract in the wine.

I’ve played around with chardonnay fermented on skins in my previous jobs, but I must admit that the tannin character is rather neutral. It lends great texture to the wine, but it is not particularly characterful. I’ve been quite taken with the character of Clairette blanche’s tannins, something that I saw on the Craven wines early on in tank. They have a wonderful texture that I describe as ‘talcum powder’ and this will start to form part of the Rocking Horse 2015 wine along with the semillon.

So going back to thickness of skins, I don’t think it is the sole criterion for choosing a grape variety that will work well with skin contact. Another factor to consider is leaf-roll virus which does have an impact on grape berry development. Andrea Mullineux made the comment that we are not always sure what the manifestation of virus will be for a given variety. All of the semillon blocks that I buy from are heavily virused, so it may be this is where this particular character of tannin is derived. I’m basing this on an article I read by an Italian vigneron (I can’t remember who), who said that we are not always sure how these viruses express themselves, so we cannot be certain that they always have a negative influence. Certainly all of the red semillon I have seen is virused.

I think that what I am trying to say is that there is no clear answer, and we are really on the doorstep of all these discoveries. For me, it has been extremely gratifying to find so many die-hard fans of more texturally rich wines, and I think that is a great start in being able to produce these wines.

I place a lot of importance in tasting the raw ingredients (a chef friend of mine taught me this), and using this sensorial library to build into a vision of what can be produced. I think much of the industrial winemaking we are looking to move away from sought to shoe-horn grapes into products. It’s always been my intention to respond to the produce of the vineyard, and use my skills (such as they are) to show these characteristics to best effect.’

This is an intriguing subject that will undoubtedly receive more attention as our adventurous winemakers experiment further with our excellent white wines.

ThorneDaught_RockHrse13_lrg

Red whites

Tannin in white wines. I guess this isn’t something many of us consider often if at all. Tannins are a red wine issue, the thinking goes; yet white grapes also have tannins and more wines are being made to reveal their grippy little teeth. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised as many winemakers are now focusing more on texture – a welcome trend if ever there was.

Every wine has texture, of course, but in the main, everyday unwooded whites, still in the majority, offer little more than fresh, fruity acids. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a straightforward style to be enjoyed in youth rather than aged, dissected and contemplated.

Texture doesn’t derive just from grape tannins: lees contact, malo-lactic fermentation and oak are other sources, maybe there are more.

Where the tannins in white grapes differ from those in red is in the absence or lesser amounts of anthocyanins, which provide the red colour, although skin contact on varieties including pinot gris, semillon gris and gewürztraminer can leave a pinkish-beige hue. This is certainly true of Mick & Janine Craven’s Pinot Gris 2015. This spent between eight and 10 days on skins, subsequently being transferred to older oak. Tasting it a while ago, I noted it is almost light pinot noir in colour, gently fragrant but much more emphatic when it comes to flavour and dry, grippy finish. Elegant – yes; wimpish, like most local pinot gris – most definitely not.

Testalonga El Bandito

Not all skin contact whites take on a distinctive colour. Craig Hawkins’ Testalonga El Bandito 2015 from chenin spent even longer on the skins – four weeks, but this is water white with a green tinge. Pretty much like a white that’s been immediately removed from its skins, as is the fruit which shines through with great purity and freshness. Despite its great delicacy, the tannic grip is evident.

As with tannic reds, skin contact whites show at their best with food, especially those where the fruit is less obvious.

John & Natasha Seccombe’s Tin Soldier is a good example. Made from semillons blanc and gris, the fruit sourced from both Franschhoek and the Swartland, the 2015, which I tasted as a barrel sample recently, has a definite orange hue. In this unfinished state, I found it savoury, densely textured and bone dry. It may gain more aromatics once bottled.

Currently, neither skin-contact whites nor orange wines are official categories, so have yet to be defined. That doesn’t stop them finding their way onto labels; for instance, Bosman Family Vineyards Fides from grenache blanc has the possibly confusing Orange white wine on the front label. Delicious it is too.

LavenircheninsnglblockOlder vines too seem to produce more structured wines even without skin contact. The latest L’Avenir Single Block Chenin Blanc 2014 draws fruit from a vineyard planted in 1972. Partially fermented in French and Acacia oak, which does impart some tannin, there’s a textural density from the concentrated fruit but also delightful chenin purity.

So far so much tannin, but lees contact also adds to texture, enchancing flavour at the same time. Weight, mouthfeel, richness – take your pick – these all accrue from time on the lees. With too much stirring or battonage, the wine can become soupy, spoiling the fruit.

This is certainly not the problem with the Seccombe’s Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2014. A multi-regional blend of chenin, roussanne, semillon and chardonnay, it has it all in the texture department: freshness, lees richness and tannic grip (only the semillon was fermented on skins), each beautifully harmonised with the others. A wine well worth putting aside for a few years.

ThorneDaught_RockHrse13_lrgWe tasted the previous vintage as well; it was blended from the same varieties but in different proportions with roussanne taking the lead. Much more oxidative and richly savoury, for me it lacks the textural layers of the currently available 2014. I was left feeling that this white wine is much more like a red wine in structure.

A colleague told me about a recent red wine tasting in which all the most expensive labels were lined up; his face told me before he did that the tasting proved a disappointment. Over ripe fruit, over oaking, lack of complexity and little likelihood of the wines ageing were among his comments.

We put so much store and high price tags on our red wines, only to be so often disappointed for these very exaggerations.

It leaves me wondering is white the new red?

Searching for identity

One of the major moans of wine writers – South African ones at least, though I’ve heard the same from UK colleagues – concerns the ubiquitous number of what are known as ‘international’ wines, those which could come from pretty well anywhere. Identifying them in a blind tasting can come down to a thumb suck. While many are well-made, they are formulaic rather than wines of personality, the latter revealing more about where they come from than the winemaker’s own handiwork in the cellar. Once one has experienced wines with real personality and a sense of origin, it’s difficult to get excited about the others.

That doesn’t mean wines with a sense of place are always easy to nail in a blind tasting; it takes experience to get a grip on their distinctive features. It’s one thing to be able to correctly say this pinot is from Burgundy, Côtes de Nuits, quite another to add it’s a Dujac Bonnes Mares (perhaps incidental to its sheer beauty!).

The pinots we tasted last Sunday, courtesy of Rosa Kruger, were somewhat more modest as compared with Bonnes Mares though well-regarded (and highly priced) in their home region of the Sonoma Coast. This Californian West Coast, cool-climate area is apparently now the ‘in’ area for pinot, having taken over that mantle from Oregon.

The vineyards, mostly tiny and planted in the middle of forests, lie at high altitude and in view of the sea, where cooling fog blows in from the Pacific. The soils, much younger than ours, are stony, volcanic, friable and vigorous. The pinot clones grown are the familiar 115, 667 and 777 as well as the less-known to us, 828. Apart from vines, Rosa says marijuana is another popular crop!

Although the wines were unknown to us, we tasted blind. It would be interesting to know whether any are familiar to readers. Having discussed each and unveiled them, Kruger asked each of us to describe in one sentence the region’s overall distinguishing features that we’d noted from this small sample; it proved an interesting exercise (not least for those who find a single sentence problematic!)

Ingrid Motteux offered: ripe, dense, ambitious. Adding, Aussie and New Zealand pinots are pretty but less ambitious. Gottfried Mocke: their style is the result of a cool climate area. ‘Well crafted’, was Francois Haasbroek’s succinct input . Chris Williams’s view slightly disagreed with Ingrid’s, describing the wines as ‘not glossy but happy in their own skins.’ David Clarke couldn’t resist comparison with Burgundy, suggesting these Sonoma Coast pinots are riper, more muscular Gevrey type; Côtes de Nuits rather than Côtes de Beaune. Adding they’re well thought through. Our MW, Cathy van Zyl felt they reflect too long a hang time, something she had experienced at a pinot tasting in Californian ten years ago. My own impressions are that the wines are ripe but soundly dry (unlike South African reds which might be technically dry, but still have a residual sweetness), dense but with a fine inherent and balanced freshness.

On paper (screen?) this might not sound as though we agreed much with each other but overall we did feel there’s a common thread linking the five wines, despite varying quality.
Would I next time recognise a Sonoma Coast pinot tasted blind? I’d like to think I have sufficient pointers to get as far as cool climate California (I’m covering my bets here), but more to the point as vines age and winemakers become more understanding of the fruit they’re dealing with, the wines will gain further distinction both in difference and excellence. Such attributes will surely lend value to the region and indicate a bright future.

There’s a lesson here for South African wine producers. If a variety or style has proved its aptitude in your region, it might be easier to make commercially popular wines, but in the longer term those with points of difference, points which become more marked over the years, will prove the more profitable route.

A not-very-sharp photo of our Sonoma Coast pinots
A not-very-sharp photo of our Sonoma Coast pinots

The Californian pinots tasted: Gros Ventre, Campbell Branch Vineyard 2012; Camp Meeting Ridge, Flowers Vineyard 2012; Rivers Marie, Gioa Vineyard 2013 (the overall favourite); Vivier, Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2012; Sojourn, Gap’s Crown Vineyard 2013

Personality – an important marketing tool

Let’s face it, marketing never has been and, mainly, still isn’t a strong point of the South African wine industry.

But even with smart marketing people, who do everything as it should be, not all have the personality to lift their wines from the depths of the vast array of just South African wines available today and place them in the forefront of consumers’ minds when they choose wines from the retail shelves. I believe the value of personality is under-rated within the marketing sphere.

If asked to think of the personalities within the industry, I guess most would head to the younger set, those who are always out there and creating a storm in person or on social media.

But they’re not the only ones with the ability to engage an audience, as was proved earlier this week at the launch of Basil and Jane Landau’s Landau du Val Semillon. Basil, for those who aren’t well-versed in the business world, has held such positions as CE of Toyota and Gencor, was a partner in a Japanese Consultancy firm, as well as being Chairman or on the board of many other companies – and so on. The right personality as well as capability is surely required for such success in business.

He and Jane purchased La Brie in 1986 and undertook restoration of the beautiful homestead and vineyards. The Landau du Val name was adopted for the wines due to the late Michael Trull then owner of nearby La Bri taking that name for his wines.

In the early years both a sauvignon blanc and a semillon were produced. Today, just semillon takes centre stage. No ordinary semillon either but one produced from a five-hectare vineyard planted in 1905 on its own roots. The accompanying photo, taken around three years ago, shows off well the character of these venerable vines.

If the wine has been off the general radar, it’s because there’s so little of it; the yield never exceeds 1.5 tons/hectare and, until 2012 there were several changes in winemaker: the late John Goschen, Jean-Luc Sweerts, Karl Lambour, Jean Daneel and Anina Guelpa have been followed since 2012 by Wynand Grobler, winemaker at Rickety Bridge, himself a lover of semillon and well-versed in cajoling the best out of it.

The Landau du Val team left - right: Jane Landau, Wynand Grobler, Basil Landau
The Landau du Val team left – right: Jane Landau, Wynand Grobler, Basil Landau

The semillon we had come to taste, enjoy with Chris Erasmus’s perfectly paired dishes at Foliage (simply a must-visit restaurant if you’re in Franschhoek and looking for a spectacular meal), and to send off into the world, was Grobler’s second vintage, 2013.

Harvested in two tranches to capture freshness and the variety’s trademark silky spread, the grapes were pressed as whole bunches, the juice allowed to undergo spontaneous fermentation in small French oak, just 25% new, whereafter it spent a year in barrel with occasional lees-stirring before a dose of sulphur was added before bottling. It couldn’t get much more straightforward a process, with the result that the wine sings of old vine concentration, with its citrusy joie de vivre and just a peep of the silky viscosity that will emerge with time. Anyone who insists on opening it now, Yellow Fin Tuna tartar à la Foliage will do it justice.

To ensure we understood just how the wine does transform with time, the Landaus kindly brought along older vintages: 2012, more evolved in colour and texture, but still with plenty of life left and a magic match with Erasmus’s Dukkah-crusted Karoo lamb shank; a fabulously elegant 2009 still way off its best, a stage the 2003 was reaching in its luminous greeny gold colour, mushroomy-toned bouquet, silky waves and extensive savoury tail. Sadly the bottle of 2002 was shot, but we’d had sufficient evidence of the calibre of vineyard and wine in the others.

To complete the marketing/personality circle. We were a very small group at the lunch, just six media plus the Landaus, Grobler and three others. This allowed for shared conversation across the table and there was no escaping when Basil Landau, in his always charming but determined manner (he’s a businessman, remember), requested each of us to offer an honest comment about where the wine could be improved; to date we’d been politely but honestly, complimentary. Now, how many hosts would dare to do that, expecting each guest to put their thoughts on the line?

There was talk of making more of the vineyard’s heritage, while my point was that due to the limited quantity of the Landaus’ wine, and as there are other semillons from old vineyards in Franschhoek, there should be a joint effort to promote these wines. Price is also an issue; only Boekenhoutskloof (R333 in the mixed case of 12) and Landau du Val (R250 ex-farm) are anywhere near properly priced. Both might appear high and leave the wines well outside the possibility of every-day drinking, but given the quality as well as rarity, the Landau du Val especially deserves more.

Landau du Val's semillon vineyard, now 105 years old.
Landau du Val’s semillon vineyard, now 105 years old.

 

I hope the others got the same impression as I did that our comments were taken to heart, will be considered by both Basil and Jane, re-jigged where necessary and enacted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and, by appointment, the Landaus welcome visitors to their farm and to see the famous old semillon vineyard. It’s something I’d urge anyone visiting Franschhoek to do; they’ll doubtless come away with Landau du Val Semillon very much to the front of mind when a special bottle of wine is required.

Basil Landau doesn't forget his time as a 'car salesman'!
Basil Landau doesn’t forget his time as a ‘car salesman’!

Authenticity

Should your soul require nourishment, there can be little more inspiring than a drive to the Swartland on a crystal clear, windless winter’s day (my photo should give some idea just how inspirational an experience this can be ).

Swartland in mid-winter
Swartland in mid-winter

The expansive views, gentle silhouette of the distant mountains contrasted by the vivid green of the rolling wheatlands, interrupted here and there by a few farm buildings; all are breathtaking but at the same time they have a calming sense of harmony. All has an aura of authenticity.

 

 

 

Of course, neither the wheat fields nor vineyards are authentic in terms of history; the original landscape then boasted a great deal more renosterveld. But let’s allow for a little historical licence, as authenticity in wine is something that deserves more consideration than it’s currently being given.

The reason for my visit to the Swartland was the launch of David and Nadia Sadie’s new vintages as well as an introduction to their cellar’s new home on Paardebosch. The farm, just down the berg from Adi Badenhorst, was purchased by lawyer, Des Kruger and South African wine exporter, Wiggo Anderson in 2011.

Paardebosch farm with the Perdeberg behind.
Paardebosch farm with the Perdeberg behind.

Sadie is also responsible for making the Paardebosch wines. Paardebosch is an authentic ‘plaas’ with dogs, horses (of course), white-washed walls and is reached via an obligatory bumpy dirt track. The bucolic setting and Sadie’s perpetual laid-back manner when presenting the wines perfectly complemented the venue.

 

 

DNSadiePaardeboschrose

 

Welcoming us on arrival was a delightful , seriously-priced Paardebosch Rosé (R120 ex cellar), a blend of syrah, carignan, grenache, pinotage and cinsaut, naturally fermented in old oak and with a moderate alcohol and freshness that felt so right with the sparkling sunny day. It’s a delight to drink solo or with any number of suitable dishes.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed it, though some of my colleagues were a tad dismissive, either because it’s rosé or because it lacks in profundity, as they put it. A view they and others have taken on the growing number of varietal cinsauts on the market. ‘Nice, but not profound.’ ‘No one in the world has made a profound cinsaut.’ And so on.

It was the same when David Sadie’s 2014 Grenache (R280) was poured, but who would not be charmed by its glinting ruby clarity, expressive warm raspberry and spice fragrance, fullsome ripe flavours, harmonious freshness and it’s so satisfyingly dry. I much prefer it to the 2013, which I did find a little light. But again, like the Paardebosch Rosé, its real appeal lies in its charming authenticity. It’s no Chateau Rayas, but it has no pretentions to that level.

 

David Sadie presenting his wines. Our lunch table was where the old road used to run through the farm.
David Sadie presenting his wines. Our lunch table was where the old road used to run through the farm.

I don’t disagree with their assessment but think we need to realise that what these new-wave cinsauts and grenaches like David Sadie’s are creating is at different level of quality. They are neither at the simple, commercial and sometimes contrived lower end of the scale, nor at the ambitious – sometime over-ambitious – top end, often lacking in profundity themselves; if they lack great depth, they’re not facile or dishonest. Call them what you will: genuine, legitimate or authentic, they are wines of purity and naturalness, the best with moderate alcohols, freshness and with no unnecessary residual sugar cover up. For those who score, this is an incredibly difficult task; one that deserves a written note rather than a number.

There’s no doubt the Sadie’s flagship white Aristagos (R260), a chenin, roussanne, clairette, viognier and semillon blend from 12 different blocks, and flagship red, Elpidios (R305), a syrah, carignan, grenache, cinsaut and pinotage ensemble from seven different blocks have the potential to mature with more complexity than the varietal grenache – as such a wide selection of sites and David’s increasing understanding of them and their vinification – should suggest, but that’s no reason not to appreciate the positive charms and quality of his grenache, or others equally legitimate cinsauts.

Let’s enjoy them for what they are, not for what they are not.

Judging the judges

It’s been deliciously liberating to be away from my laptop, emails and social media for two weeks.

The downside of such a luxury was facing the backlog once I lifted the lid and logged on! But I still so thoroughly enjoy what I do that I could look to the end of this tiresome task with eagerness.

For someone who writes about wine, it’s important to keep up to date with news, trends and generally how wine is faring out there in the world for one’s own scribbles to remain relevant. This is much more demanding than it used to be, but thanks to social media such as Twitter (yes, it can be an incredibly useful source), Facebook, the odd newsletter and chat among friends, the wheat is not so difficult to separate from the chaff.

Relevance cannot rely on the written word alone; tasting is equally important. How can you write about wine credibly without having some idea of what it tastes like? This is particularly so here in South Africa, given the roller-coaster developments in styles and ‘renaissance’ of old neglected varieties.

In his 11th May Decanter column, highly-regarded UK wine writer, Andrew Jefford expresses some wise thoughts. ‘Experience in wine tasting is vital, since most of wine’s interest is predicated on difference, but it is not acquired mathematically, by gross accumulation. It is, rather, the use you make of your experiences that counts. … It’s how your tasting faculties are wired to your brain which makes experience valuable …’
In other words, it’s important to taste as widely as possible, but at the same time learn from the experience; it doesn’t necessarily lead to being a better taster. I agree.

I like the further advice Jefford offers, lest one thinks wine is the only thing from which you can learn about smell and taste: ‘Don’t just taste wine; taste everything in exactly the same sort of way in which you taste wine. Smell the air, the flowers, the washing, your children’s hair. Taste different teas, coffees, sauces or soups as if they were wine. Take a break from wine, but never switch your palate off; exercise slows the loss of every faculty.’

Nothing lasts for ever, including taste and smell. Whatever our level of palate acuity, or insight – and it’s different for each of us – maximum level is reached around 11 years old; I doubt many of us would be deep into wine tasting at that age, more likely still pushing spinach to the side of our plate! Our sense of smell also diminishes with age, though at the opposite end of the age spectrum, as this especially happens after reaching 70.

Turning from the theory to the practical in the local context; are local competition organisers getting the balance right between experience and age of judges?

The composition of local judging panels frequently features people who’ve been involved with wine for many decades, and so with years’ of experience. But how much of that experience involves current trends? Are these judges familiar with Orange wines for example, the growing number and styles of cinsaut solo and in blends or Verdelho? This, of course, applies to all judges, not just the older generation.

Veritas bannerI’m not aware of criteria applied when judges are selected for the majority of the numerous local shows but to qualify ad infinitum as a judge on Veritas requires passing a single test. In theory, this means I could still judge on that show, having passed in 1991. Whether I (who don’t participate), or the tens of others, from all backgrounds in the industry, who do form the panels, are still competent to do so, is another matter.

Michael Fridjhon takes a progressive and strict approach to judges on the Trophy Wine Show, selecting top tasters from his annual Wine Academy to serve initially as associate judges, with the goal of eventually elevating the deserving to full judge status.

OMTWSlogoWithin his policy of rotating his core of local judges, he keeps a balance of experience and youth/new blood. And this leads to another point I believe needs to be borne in mind.

The profile of today’s wine drinkers is changing; there are many younger people now interested in and drinking wine. Educators such as Cathy Marston with her WSET courses and the SA Sommeliers Association are attracting younger people to learn about wine and not be intimidated by it. The young, hip winemakers are also very much drawcards in themselves.

If all these shows (not to mention other, individual opinions) are to be relevant to these younger, new and informed winelovers, surely the judges will need to be equally, if not more informed and on the ball.

Taking a break

It’s two years since I last had a holiday; it’s now time to re-fuel and refresh – I’m taking a much needed break for a couple of weeks.

I look forward to reading – books rather than wine magazines, possibly seeing some films, exploring some new food shops, and generally doing things I don’t get the chance to do during my usual daily routine.

Normal (erratic!) service will be resumed thereafter.

TVtestsignal

Reunions, reverence & a little rowdiness

Get together with a few folk you haven’t seen in years and it’s amazing how everyone looks the same and it feels like yesterday you saw each other!

Some of the well-known old-timers at the tasting. Gary Baumgarten (l), Dave Hughes (r)
Some of the well-known old-timers at the tasting. Gary Baumgarten (l), Dave Hughes (r)

It’s just as pleasant a surprise when the wines – the youngest a 40 year old 1975 KWV Muscadel Jerepigo – still taste sprightly and full of life.

Both were happy experiences at a tasting of old (and I mean old) KWV Port styles, Muscadels and Hanepoots, kindly arranged by Kanonkop’s Johann Krige; the wines those he’d purchased during his time as Marketing Manager for KWV.

Fortified wines are hardly the flavour of the month, Muscadels even less so than Port styles, the latter recognised as some of the best in the world after those from the Douro Valley. How sad can this be, especially when many are readily available – 2004 Wood Matured Muscadel and 1996 Tawny from Monis are two examples. KWV themselves possibly also have some of their older gems for sale.

Krige told his guests that according to the late Fanie Malan of Allesverloren, air conditioners and TV accounted for the decline in consumption. I can think of many other reasons today: the preference for lighter, fresher wines and drink/driving issues. It’s also true these wines tend to be poured at the end of the meal, when everyone’s had sufficient white and red wines.

But marketing is an issue too; the Muscadel Association keeps its annual competition so low-key to be almost a non-event. More song and dance generally, please producers!

Old & comforting KWV Port-styles & a 20 year old Grahams Tawny
Old & comforting KWV Port-styles & a 20 year old Grahams Tawny

Background info to the Port-styles – seven with one Port, Grahams 20 year old Tawny, a good sighter for the locals – was provided by Charl Theron (Gary Baumgarten did the same for the Muscadels; both men had worked at the KWV from 1980 to 1995, so are pretty well informed about these wines).

Actual vinification, according to a strict recipe, took place on farms such as Allesverloren and Bredells. The main varieties, souzão, tinta roriz, tinta francisca and cinsaut, were harvested around 24 to 28 Balling, had a good dose of sulphur added, fermented down to 13 Balling when the maximum colour had been extracted, before being fortified with brandy spirits or eau de vie. Residual sugar would be around 120 to 130 grams/litre.
It’s only since 1985, when South African producers visited Portugal, that we’ve seen drier wines with higher alcohols.

Four wines labelled Crusted Vintage were poured first: 1966, 1965, 1964 and 1963, all would have been aged in bottle. The oldest and youngest were still very much alive; deep, dark walnut in colour with high-toned nutty, dried fruit, earthy notes; rich in texture but also having good spirit attack.

Colours in these oldies are a thing of wonder: brilliant mahogany with a halo of glowing green, especially on the 1956 Tawny. Just as invigorating was a note of boot polish (not unpleasant!) on that and the vintage 1960. Can you believe the Tawny sold for R17 a bottle on release, something that was in doubt as Baumgarten sat down to blend it.

An off-spin of the last wine up cost a great deal more than R17. What didn’t make the KWV 1948 bottling was, so Theron told us, sold in bulk to then Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, making its way into the famous Monis Collectors Port. On the 2011 Nederburg Auction, six bottles sold for R68 000! Our KWV now is rich, viscous and comforting. Comforting is, I think, a good description for these wines: they suggest a happy state of mind when accompanied by a good book and good music.

After some reverential sipping – with not much spitting involved – we took a break before turning to the Muscadels – actually five of those plus two Hanepoots.

Seven great KWV Muscadels & Hanepoots
Seven great KWV Muscadels & Hanepoots

The muscadels, Baumgarten informed us, were all made from the red version of muscat blanc a petit grains, while both muscats were harvested between 24 – 28 Balling, sulphur and tartaric acid (160 grams/ton) added and just six hours of skin contact from crush to fortification with 96% brandy spirits.

Of course, muscadels have a history of prompting stories; Baumgarten didn’t disappoint with one that featured a ‘dry’ matric dance and a handy bootful of samples! Cue much laughter.

How gorgeous was that whispy muscat fragrance, freshness, intensity and harmony in the pair of 1975 Muscadels, one WO Robertson, the other WO Breederivier Valley, but both aged in 10 000 litre stukvats (like those in the Cathedral Cellar). The hanepoot seemed quiet by comparison.

The wine I was longing to try again was the famous 1953 Muscadel Jerepigo, voted the best South African entry on the infamous 1995 SAA Shield (more about that later this year). It was made in a different way from other muscadels being left overnight to ferment on the skins, which made it less sweet, though more viscous and complex with more structure than the others. It’ll last for ever!

If asked to choose between the 1953 and 1930 Muscadel Late Bottled, the last wine in our line up and made by Prof Perold of pinotage fame, I couldn’t. ‘It was like syrup when removed from the stukvat,’ commented Baumgarten, ‘and was freshened with some of that 1975.’

By now we were into the really naughty tales Duimpie Bayly relating how one of the shorter guys on the Wine & Spirit Board tasting panel always pressed the blue button indicating ‘superior’, simply because that was the only one he could reach!

This memorable treat was followed by a traditional Kanonkop snoek braai, some of their older wines and, no doubt, many more rowdy-inducing stories!

Spotted in the Kanonkop fermentation cellar. NB day before the Stormers played the Rebels!
Spotted in the Kanonkop fermentation cellar. NB day before the Stormers played the Rebels!

Stylistic diversity

My favourite food? Tuna would rate high on the list, but as much as I love this tasty fish, I wouldn’t want to eat it every day, nor prepared in just one way. So it is with wine; just imagine how boring it would be if wine were limited to one style – or variety. Diversity is the spice of life and it was certainly in evidence among the winners of Christian Eedes

King cab
King cab

Cabernet Report 2015.

As in past events, Eedes chose 60 of the Cape’s top cabs with a track record before sitting down to taste with his colleagues, Wine Cellar’s Roland Peens and James Pietersen. The format changed a little this year: ratings were out of 100 rather than 20 and there was no top 10; instead, all wines scoring more than 90/100 were deemed winners. This could have been embarrassing should only a handful have made the cut, but as Eedes pointed out, the majority entered were from the excellent 2012 vintage and this provided 10 of the 13 scoring 90/100 or more. (The less than stellar 2014s will be awaited with bated breath!)

In his report, Eedes writes: ‘The best wine, or at least the wines this panel is inclined to reward, combine luscious fruit and textual (sic) generosity without sacrificing freshness .’ After tasting through all the wines, I find that aesthetic is rather widely interpreted, although not always with negative results. The full report can be read here.

My own taste is for a classic style in cabernet and in wine generally, so the three cabernets that most pleased me were Waterford 2012, Le Riche 2012 and Stark-Conde 2012, all with under 40% new oak and only Le Riche a straight cabernet (this is the Regular, the Reserve, with presumably more new oak scored 84). They, the Stark-Condé in particular, are what I’d call ‘proper cabernets’. While both Waterford and Le Riche were the top two rated wines, Stark-Condé was number 12 on the list, something I found puzzling, given the very different styles that filled the other spots. But I guess that’s the way it goes with competitions, so if your taste is also for a more restrained, classic style, don’t be put off by that number 12 rating.

As for those in between, there was over-ripeness, notably in Oldenburg 2012 with its porty tail and the Spier Woolworths Reserve 2012, just under 14% declared alcohol, but with jammy sweet fruit.

Before you deem my judgement too subjective, let me hasten to say how much I admire Rust en Vrede’s Single Vineyard 2012, 100% cabernet and new oak. Yes, it’s big, but it’s also balanced, the fruit well able to handle the oak and of a ripeness to ensure varietal recognition rather than a soupy mess. Anyone willing and able to fork out its R850 asking price, who is out to impress or who enjoys that more modern style, will not be disappointed. Personally, I couldn’t do more than fiddle with a glass, but that doesn’t stop me recognising it’s a really good wine.

The following day, Tim James and I held one of our regular tastings of new releases and other wines submitted for our opinion. We were coincidentally faced with the same situation: a wine whose style neither of us particularly care for but which we recognise for its quality. Impressive is the word that most readily comes to mind about Spier or rather Frans K Smit’s 2009, as it should for the R745 price tag. Cabernet-based with merlot, shiraz and pinotage, this is a mouthful of luxurious vinosity. So seamless – after 31 months in all new French oak – that if a wrinkle were to be found, you’d imagine it’s been photo shopped out. And that’s part of the problem, it’s one dimensional, without nuance. Like the Rust en Vrede I’d soon get bored and exhausted by even half a glass – even if its 15.12% alcohol isn’t apparent on first sip, the effects would soon make themselves known.

Quickly on to a couple of wines that offered much more enjoyment and would tempt opening more than one bottle.

At last Basil and Jane Landau’s fabulous, now 110 year old semillon vineyard, has found a sympathetic and understanding winemaker to reveal its concentrated glory. Wynand Grobler, Rickety Bridge winemaker, is well-versed in coaxing the best from Franschhoek semillon, producing some under the Rickety Bridge label. Since 2012, the Landau’s have entrusted him with their fruit. The results are encouragingly authentic; the latest 2013 immediately engages with a waxy note, so evocative of Franschhoek, but lifted out of dourness by a subtle lemon balm freshness. Suavely silky, concentrated yet unshowy, it holds all the promise of growing with age, as delicious as it is now. Worth every cent of R225 asking price.

Dramatic label for the red 2014 Sequillo, the last ever.
Dramatic label for the red 2014 Sequillo, the last ever.

Of the two new 2014 and last Sequillo’s, both Tim and I find the red more exciting than the white, with layers of flavour and a suppleness that leaves it readily enjoyable now and probably for a further a year or two. Both sell for around R169.

The latest Mullineux Syrah 2013 (R275) will need time, though it’s not as sturdy as the previous vintage. Tasting it over a day or so brought out more of the red earth character I associate with so many Swartland red wines and flesh with that sense of being alive that for me equates to minerality.

Enough for now. Rejoice in diversity!

WO shenanigans

As appellation systems go, our Wine of Origin has pretty good, if not perfect credibility.  How a recent review left Tulbagh in the Coastal Region beggars belief. As well as the legalities which dictate the system there are Wine Routes which do the job of marketing the various demarcated areas, mainly Districts, some Wards which are not part of a District and even some Regions.

Some of these areas are viewed as being more sexy than others but there’s plenty of competition between them. Paarl, or poor old Paarl as some say, is one of the less sexy; it’s never had the image of Stellenbosch, Constantia, Robertson or Franschhoek.
Franschhoek was originally a Ward within Paarl, but eventually escaped the association by being re-demarcated as a District. It was sometime around then that Allée Bleue and Solms-Delta squeezed their way into Franschhoek WO when the boundaries were extended. Wellington too has been elevated from a Paarl Ward to a District, which leaves just Voor-Paardeberg and Simonsberg-Paarl as official enclaves within the Paarl District (Am I correct in thinking Voor-Paardeberg is probably viewed more as an extension of Swartland than Paarl?).

Long ago the good wine farmers of Simonsberg-Paarl (then many fewer than now) realised that Franschhoek had a much sexier image than Paarl and so approached Franschhoek’s marketing body, the Vignerons de Franschhoek with a view to falling under their marketing umbrella. This probably suited Franschhoek from a commercial point of view, as it brought in much-needed revenue from the Simonsberg-Paarl producers, who sold more wine than the guys down the valley.

Then some young guns from the genuine Franschhoek Valley WO determined to show that their area could grow grapes that made distinctive wines. So was born Appellation Grande Prestige – a less silly name would have lent greater gravitas – with semillon, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon chosen as three varieties historically producing such distinctive wines; in other words it’s an exercise in terroir. The first of an annual competition to find the best wines from each of these three was held last year, all entries, of course, had to carry WO Franschhoek Valley.

I know the initiative wasn’t universally popular with Franschhoekers, particularly among owners but it did focus on Franschhoek fruit rather than the valley’s image of gaining ‘terroir by truck’ as bringing in fruit from other areas is called.

What the good wine producers of Simonsberg-Paarl WO think of AGP and this competition remains un-noted but they surely recognise it can grow into a positive marketing move.
Given Franschhoek producers’ apparent need for more financial help and the Simonsberg-Paarl producers fervent wish to cast unsexy Paarl out of their name, there must’ve been a fairly easy meeting of minds when the decision was made to apply for yet another extension to Franschhoek Valley WO boundaries.

I should point out that all I’ve heard officially, from Hugo van der Merwe, Secretary of the Wine & Spirit Board, is that Jacques Roux, on behalf of the Vignerons de Franschhoek made application on 23rd April 2015 to increase the boundaries of the Franschhoek district. No mention was made of exactly where they wish those boundaries to be re-set, but it’s not rocket science to believe they take in the Paarl side of the Simonsberg.

Does marketing supersede terroir? Can you buy terroir in this way? Does Franschhoek really need to do this at all? There are an increasing number of wineries using home-grown fruit receiving acclaim: apart from high-profile Chamonix and Boekenhoutskloof, there’s Rickety Bridge, Landau du Val (the Landau’s old, old vine semillon now made by Rickety’s Wynand Grobler), Moreson, La Motte, Stonybrook and Grande Provence (this last producer’s chenin, viognier blend a 5* rating in the latest Decanter). All make wines from at least some Franschhoek fruit.

If the application for extended boundaries does include Simonsberg-Paarl WO, one only has to look at this Ward to recognise it’s emphatically a stand-alone area with its own terroir. For the least knowledgeable consumer, the Helshoogte Road clearly divides it from Franschhoek.

How are the Franschhoek Vignerons going to justify increasing their boundaries, which are already stretched to the limit and wherever they intend setting them?
I find this move desperately cynical; it makes a mockery of the Wine of Origin system and frankly will make Franschhoek something of a laughing stock.

I sincerely hope the Demarcation Board makes them see sense and turns down the application. If not, I shall be one who raises an official objection.