Catching up

Please do not mistake a break for a holiday. What I’ve enjoyed the past two weeks has been a break from writing; instead I’ve undertaken major domestic chores interspersed with several wine events (more below). It was also, sadly, necessary to stare at my PC screen rather too often. Now that’s hardly a holiday.

Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show
As a longtime judge on this show until 2013 and even a stand-in on the chenin panel this year, I can confirm that prior to the start of judging, Show Chairman, Michael Fridjhon exhorts the judges to look for elegance and understatement. Whilst we were always mindful of this brief, it wasn’t easy to pass over some of the more demonstrative entries. But this year the team appear to have really looked for less showy wines,  if the Trophy line up is an example of the other medal winners.

I tasted these Trophy winners at the Masterclass, as the public tasting where the other gold and silver medalists were on offer, clashed with another event.

Franschhoek Vineyards Semillon 2014, a pure, restrained wine from a 75-year old vineyard; the now famous Secret Cellar Chenin Blanc No 235 2015, with presence and depth, plus some ageing potential;  Zonnebloem Shiraz Mourvèdre Viognier 2014, elegantly ripe; Gabrielskloof The Blend 2013 (a second label of this property), understated and tasty;  Vrede en Lust Artisan Cabernet Franc 2014 expressive, not overly ‘leafy’ and Brampton Pinotage 2014  ‘juicy and quaffable’, were my summaries.

While I appreciate their modest bearing  (and most offer ridiculous value), the two trophy winners one might more readily associate with this accolade are Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2013 and Delaire Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013. Both are grand, classic wines, neither vulgar or showy,  comfortable in their own skin and with excellent ageing potential.

Pitching wines at just the right level is never easy and with new varieties coming on stream or re-discovery of those already in our vineyards, winemakers need to completely re-focus their approach. Cinsaut requires a different philosophy from cabernet, etc.

David and Nadia Sadie launch
If an object lesson were needed in pitching wines at the right level, David and Nadia Sadie

Labels on the new David and Nadia Semillon and Pinotage depict the cartography of the Swartland.
Labels on the new David and Nadia Semillon and Pinotage depict the cartography of the Swartland.

illustrate it with breathtaking style in their new vintages, including two new wines. These are a semillon 2015 from a vineyard dating from 1965 and employing skin contact, and a pinotage from 25 year old vines perched on the highest point of the Paardebosch farm, on the Paardeberg. The latter throws a whole new light on pinotage, one which so much reflects its source. Convincing without being flashy, it has spice and a savoury profile rather than the sweetness often associated with the grape, grainy yet fruit-filled ripe tannins and an almost wild vibrancy that makes one nod in acknowledgement that it could originate only from the Paardeberg.

Of regulars in the range, the David Chenin Blanc 2015 shows the strength of both the variety and the vintage; so far, the hype about 2015 has not been overstated. From six vineyards, this is a chenin of purity with a fine line of tension and tangy length. Anchored by enriching lees, it promises a glorious future. My favourite red, David Grenache 2015 is intriguingly different from his 2014, enjoying well-tuned muscle with a silky feel plus greater depth of the wild strawberry and spice mix that’s so bright and vibrant in the older wine.

In truth, there’s no poor wine in the David and Nadia range; the only downside is limited quantity. The good news there is the pair want to start a 100 000 bottle range selling for under R100; bring it on!

Thorne and Daughters launch
Paper Kite 2015 labelThe bad news is that quantities are even more limited here, Rocking Horse 2015 being the most generous with an 11 000 bottle production. Tin Soldier 2015 runs to just 1200 bottles and Paper Kite 2015 1700 bottles. That paucity is a double-edge sword; as difficult as they are to come by, fight for every last bottle you can find, they are that good. I believe a large part of John Seccombe’s success is that he first has an idea in his head of the style of wine, then goes looking for a suitable vineyard, rather than the other way around.

Rocking Horse 2015 is much the same composition as 2014 but with roussanne rather than chenin leading. It’s much tighter than the older wine, has good energy and vinosity. Give it time.

Some white wines with skin contact tend to be less fruity, more austere and an acquired taste – in their early stages. But I wager Tin Soldier, a semillon blanc/semillon gris blend from Swartland and Franschhoek vineyards, will reward a few years and be worth the wait. A bit of lemony scent, saline acid and savoury conclusion might not sound so attractive now, but while austere, it’s not mean; there’s substance waiting to emerge. I love the wine.

As I do Paper Kite; well it is from the oldest semillon vineyard in Franschhoek, basket pressed and fermented/aged in old oak for nine months. Suave, with mouthcoating silky viscosity and a bright line of acid which adds to its overall refinement. As with so many old vine wines, there is effortless concentration. I confidentially predict majestic maturity here.

Vondeling Babiana vertical
As with verticals generally, tasting every vintage from 2005 to 2015 was a great experience. How many realise Babiana is one of the earliest of the Cape’s now highly-regarded white blends? My guess is few.

Vondeling Babiana 2014The first three vintages were made by Callie Louw (now at Porseleinberg), with the 07 blended and all subsequent vintages vinified by the extremely capable Matthew Copeland. Chenin from a 30-year plus vineyard known as the Graveyard Block has always formed the backbone, in one year only dipping below 50% of the blend. Since 07, its regular partners, in varying proportions, have been chardonnay, grenache blanc and viognier. Perhaps it’s a Vondeling thing (the blend is made at the crusher), but even at double figures, viognier is never blowsy. Amazing too are the bright, still palish colours right back to the first vintage.

The greatest point of interest for me, seeing that 2012 and 2015 were my wines of the evening, has been the introduction of skin contact. Not to the extent of lending an austerity as in the Seccombe’s Tin Soldier, but here bracing, framing the fruit, adding too a freshness and spice. Residual sugar in the 12 sits at 4.3 g/l (subsequent years are 3 g/l and under), yet thanks to that grip and freshness, it tastes much drier than earlier years at the same level. The aromatics too are more marked as they are in 2015, a vintage with so much potential and ridiculously priced at R118.

Skin contact on white wines is still at an early, trial and error stage; coarseness can be a problem, but used with understanding and competence, I believe it’ll take our already excellent wines to a new level, not reached elsewhere.

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