Rocking with Thorne & Daughters

 It is quite a while since I tasted through John Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters’ range; yesterday’s opportunity to catch up with what now totals eight wines, was very welcome.

John Seccombe with new Menagerie Chardonnay

Again, we’re in 2021 territory, apart from a new wine, 2020 Menagerie Chardonnay, a Piekenierskloof and Ceres Plateau WO. First, my overall impression is that the wines have become more refined since John’s maiden 2013 vintage (can he already have completed 10 harvests?) and the first two wines, Rocking Horse and Tin Soldier.

Before I enthuse about these, the chardonnay is the first John has made since Zoetrope. He admits it’s difficult to find top quality chardonnay; his determination has paid rewards. Koelfontein in the Warm Bokkeveld is one source. Chardonnay from the Conradie’s farm sticks in my memory as the wine made by Eben Sadie when he was at the then Romansrivier Co-op in the 1990s, a wine that alerted John Platter to his talents. His talents but also the quality of the fruit, which John describes as linear, more mineral and is harvested three weeks earlier than Tierhoek in Piekenierskloof, the other source of Menagerie Chardonnay, with a softer, more spicy profile.

As with the rest of his wines, this chardonnay is naturally fermented and aged in older oak only (there’s one new exception, see below). The butterscotch aromatic and textural note with contrasting linearity and notably acidity still need to achieve full integration; this should be achieved over the next year. The attractive label owes much to John’s artistic wife, Tasha.

The original pair are still important members of the range. The roussanne-fronted (with semillon) Rocking Horse is rightly regarded in the top tier of Cape white blends. Chardonnay, chenin and clairette blanche drawn from across the winelands, forge a most compelling unison; ’21 is balanced, ripe but not heavy, has texture with a light feel and freshness at its core. It will delight as always.

Tin Soldier is likely unique in that it comes from a 100% gris vineyard, the vines carefully selected from Franziska Wickens’ mixed semillon vineyard on the Paardeberg, which itself produces Paper Kite. The seven to 10 days’ skin contact on Tin Soldier yields a bright honey orange hue, a ruby grapefruit, pomegranate fragrance and not so much tannin but textured squeeze, its savoury length ensuring an authentic yet unintimidating orange wine. I find this and Paper Kite have gained the most refinement over the years.

The original 2015 Paper Kite fruit came from the late Basil Landau’s farm; various factors meant the following year it was no longer available and this is when John, thanks to a producer who couldn’t take his allocation, tied up with Franziska Wickens and her mixed Paardeberg semillon vineyard. In ’21 Paper Kite there is only 5% semillon gris and, a first for John, a portion of new oak (all his other wines see older oak only), just 40% and 600 litre barrels, where, over its three-month sojourn, a whisper of oak spice complements semillon’s more usual lemony lanolin features; these accompany a flowing fluidity and upbeat, finishing zest.

Both these semillons are distinctly different, choice is down to personal preference; their balance and refinement ensure enjoyable drinking now, but should gain interest over three or four years.

John Seccombe with his distributor, David Clarke of Ex Animo,

I’m fairly new to both Cat’s Cradle Old vine Chenin off Swartland granite and Snakes & Ladders Sauvignon Blanc from Citrusdal Mountain. The chenin has that typical old vine concentrated aromatic generosity, think ripe red apples, with a taut energy. This will definitely benefit from a year or few.

Can there be a tamed sauvignon? If so, this is it. Snakes has energy but wrapped in a waxy, diffuse veil, which cuts through the often overly sauvage nature of the variety. On the other hand, the aromatic herbs do lend a slightly wild touch.

Copper Port Pinot Noir is trendy in its alcoholic lightness, John admits it was difficult to get sugar ripeness with none of the grapes – from Elgin, Overberg and Hemel en Aarde – coming in over 13.1% potential alcohol. Some whole bunch ferment and extended 35-40 days on skins develops a light-bodied, elegantly firm wine, with aromatic dark fruit and full flavours.

Wanderer’s Heart Cape Red illustrates how well we do Côtes du Rhône style blends. John threw out cinsaut from the original blend; syrah (almost 50% in ’21, all whole bunch ferment), grenache, mourvèdre and a barrel of carignan create an aromatic, delicious, velvety textured wine, both ripe and firm.

The difficulty is which to buy, but how delightful to be able to recommend each and every wine in this distinctive range.

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