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.
Among 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.
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.
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.