Spent a few days in Hemel-en-Aarde, looking around. This is a cool-ish climate wine region in a valley that meets the coast right by the lovely town of Hermanus, about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. [Tip: if you drive from Cape Town, allow an extra 20 minutes and drive along the coast road, which is spectacular. Alternatively, the more direct route along the N2 takes you over a pass into Elgin then over another pass and out again, so it's a great chance to have a look around South Africa's coolest wine region of all.]
Craig Wessels, Restless River
Hemel-En-Aarde is a great place to grow wine grapes, and has a particular talent for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although you can also grow other varieties very successfully here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the latter grape that Anne and Craig Wessels have made a name for themselves with, with their Restless River wines (excellent Chardonnay, too). We began our visits with a lovely morning here. Craig is self taught, and wine is a second life, after he established a very successful animation/design company, which he’s still involved with. He’s an extremely thoughtful winemaker and his wines deserve the excellent reputation they’ve established.
One of the stars of the valley is Newton Johnson. We met with Gordie, and tasted through the new releases. The Pinots here are excellent, as is the Chardonnay, and his 2015 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinot is one of the very best new world Pinots that I’ve tasted. High praise, but deserved.
JC and Carolyn Martin, Creation
JC Martin at Creation is a very clever winemaker, and with his wife Carolyn has established a very smart operation, with a really good restaurant and some very clean, pristine wines, including excellent Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah. Vintage here is a long one, simply because they can grow so many different varieties successfully up on the ridge. They’ve worked really hard to get their vineyards virus free, which is a massive thing in this part of the world. If you have virus, it spreads, and then you have to replant your vineyards just as they are hitting their sweetspot at around 15 years of age.
Peter Allan Finlayson
We also visited Gabrielskloof, and caught up with Peter-Allan Finlayson, to taste through some Crystallum wines. Some of these come from Hemel-en-Aarde, but we also took a drive up to the spectacular Kaimansgaat vineyard in Elandskloof. This is where the lovely Malabel Pinot Noir comes from, and we drank it in situ. Cool thing to do.
At Gabrielskloof we also met with John Seccombe, and had a look at his lovely Thorne & Daughters 2016s. Such good wines, including a red for the first time.
Chris Alheit and assistant winemaker Franco Lourens
Finally, a great appointment at Hemelrand, in Hemel-en-Aarde. This is where Chris and Suzaan Alheit make their wines, and we tried through the 2015s and 2016s. Quite amazing: natural winemaking at its best. The Magnetic North is an amazing wine, from Skurfberg, high up on the west coast. The La Colline Semillon is also amazing. But, really, all these wines are incredible, and if you can get them, you should buy them. The really smart buy is the new Flotsam & Jetsam Chenin, which is underpriced. We also tried the wines of assistant winemaker Franco Lourens: look out for these.
If you are a wine journalist and you don’t love shopping for wine, then find a new job. I don’t want to read what you have to say. If you are no longer in love with wine, step aside and let someone else have the floor.
On Saturday we were in Hermanus and saw a flyer for a wine shop in town, just a few minutes walk away. So we popped in. It’s Wine & Company, and it has an amazing selection of South African wines.
We spent about 40 minutes browsing, and bought 11 bottles. It was very exciting. These are bottles for tasting and drinking, of interesting things, none of which were very expensive. If you are a wine journalist and you expect everything to be sampled, then you need to go shop.
When you are spending your own money on wine, then you begin to think more like your readers, and you can put yourself in their shoes. That’s what normal people do: spend their own money on wine. So good writers will do this too from time to time.
The selection included a Roussanne (Hermit on the Hill), a Pinotage (made by Jurgen Gouws and David Clarke), Force Majeure Chenin, Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault, Filia fizz, Genevieve MCC, Testalonga Bandito and Craven Clairette, plus a couple of others.
It made me think: we need to use good wine shops. We need to spend our money in them. We mustn’t be afraid to pay a little more than the cheapest online source, because it costs money to run a shop. And I’d really miss wine shops.
It’s so satisfying to walk into a good shop and pluck some bottles off the shelves, take them home, and drink them. It’s one of the most fun things. And unless we go into good shops and buy wines, then they won’t stay in business.
Another Cinsault! This time, it’s from Chris and Suzaan Alheit. This is an honest wine, made for drinking, and it’s lovely. South Africa is producing quite a few of these wines, and I think that’s a good thing.
Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
12% alcohol. Lovely juicy, bright cherry and berry fruits are at the core of this wine, which is so fresh and juicy, but also has lovely grainy structure and a bit of pepper and ginger spice. It’s juicy and smashable, but there’s also some elegance and a hint of seriousness about it. Fine, fruity and peppery on the finish, with fine herbal notes. I really like this. 92/100
I sense your pain, and I am here for you. Here to help.
I can understand how distressing it must be to see other people enjoying wines that you don’t like. It is imperative that you take every chance to tell them that they are simply wrong. They may not listen, but there’s a slender chance, if you repeat yourself often, that the message will get through.
Don’t waste too much time, though, researching or fact checking any articles you might write. Who really cares about details, such as which natural wine fair came first?
It’s clearly a fringe movement of lunatics. Like a religious cult. You have been wise not to try too many of the wines. You only really need to try half a dozen or so to realise that this niche movement of, say 1000 producers globally, are all making bad wines. Besides, most of your friends are of the same opinion. So you are definitely in the right.
I certainly understand how upsetting these fairs must be for you. All those bad wines! So many of them! I know you haven’t been to any, and I strongly recommend that you don’t bother. It would distress you greatly to see so many young people attending, and enjoying the wines. After all, a few years ago you predicted that natural wine was on the way out. Just a fad.
And, now, these faulty, despicable wines made by fraudsters who have no knowledge of proper winemaking, are more popular than ever. It sickens me to think of so many people having fun drinking wines that you and I don’t like, and don’t approve of.
I know how alarming this is. People who simply don’t get that these wines aren’t proper. I’ve seen your blood pressure rise when you’ve visited the cellar of a producer who you considered sound, only to see a concrete egg or an amphora or two hiding in the corner, and then they start telling you about a skin-contact white that they’ve made. All this corrupt winemaking must be stopped!
You must promise me that you’ll keep on writing these articles telling the world about how bad natural wine is, and how it’s wrong for people to like wines that you don’t approve of. I’m here to support you. It’s all going to be OK.
This was a delicious and smashable wine, and it didn’t cost very much. It’s a naturally made Swartland Cinsault, and on the back label it says, ‘this wine harks back to the times of bright and luminous wines.’ Indeed, this is bright and luminous. [By way of interest, here's my note on the previous vintage.]
Mount Abora Saffraan Cinsault 2015 Swartland, South Africa
12% alcohol. Aromatic and floral with lovely red cherries and raspberries, as well as hints of tar, herbs and spices. The palate is supple and juicy with lovely red fruits and a bright, fresh, spicy personality. Nice acidity, floral fruit and fine spicy structure make this utterly smash able, and I quite like the faintly rustic hints, too. 92/100
Some highlights from the third and final day of ProWein 2017. I should add that these highlight films are not meant to be representative of the fair. Most people are there to do huge deals and very serious business. I’m there to earn money from seminars (something I’m quite good at – doing the seminars, that is, not necessarily earning the money), and then in the time I have left, to find interesting things. Most of the wine at ProWein is desperately dull and a bit depressing: but this only reflects the fact that 90% of all wine is crap. But the world needs a lot of very cheap, bad wine, because that’s what the market demands, and ProWein is a big showcase for these. Personally, I find nothing to say about most wines of this kind, which is why I don’t feature them here. There are good, cheap wines, and I do feature those, but you have to look hard for them. My focus is on the interesting wines, that have something to say, and which speak of a place. Fortunately there are more of these than there used to be, and their number is growing.
So here’s a quick film from the second day of ProWein 2017, the global wine fair held each year in Düsseldorf, Germany. I spent quite a bit of the day doing seminars, which aren’t featured here. The scale of ProWein is hard to grasp unless you’ve actually been there, and walked 15 km in a single day between various appointments. There’s also going to be a video of the third and final day.
Canadian wine journalist Treve Ring and I have been doing some filming each day at ProWein, 2017. With 58 000 visitors this year, it’s a huge wine trade fair, and it would be impossible to catch all of it. So this film just highlights a few wines and winemakers, as well as giving you a feel for the ProWein experience. More to come from days 2 and 3 shortly.
Day 1 at ProWein was a busy one. This wine trade fair, with 55 000 attendees, is huge. It’s daunting in scale, so you have to have quite a good plan about what you are going to do next, or else you can end up walking aimlessly through the cavernous halls, and gradually lose the will to live. I had three seminars: two for New Zealand and one for Canada. The rest of the time I did some tasting of interesting things. Today, day 2, will be busier – four seminars to do – and so for now I’ll just post some pictures of the highlights of day 1.
On the eve of ProWein, Wine Australia put on a tasting of some really interesting Australian wines. Here are my notes on some of my favourites.
Bellwether Vermentino 2014 Heathcote, Australia This is a distinctive white wine that’s mineral, stony and lemony with nice delicacy and hints of juniper. Lots of interest here. 92/100
Soumah Single Vineyard Hesham Chardonnay 2016 Yarra Valley, Australia
Complex, taut, spicy and nutty with lovely pear and peach fruit. There’s some richness here but also a lovely mineral core. Really fine. 94/100
Patrick Sullivan Fruit of the Sky Pinot Noir 2016 Yarra Valley, Australia
So pure with floral aroamtics. This is elegant with red cherries, spice, a little bit of lift and some lemony freshness on the finish. Quite beautiful with detail and delicacy. 94/100
Patrick Sullivan Amazon Pinot Noir 2016 Yarra Valley, Australia
So fine and elegant: floral, with fine spices. Supple and rounded with a silky texture. Amazing finesse and purity here. 95/100
Luke Lambert Nebbiolo 2015 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is quite special. Pure, with fine, floral red berry and cherry fruit. Structured palate with real finesse, showing spices, cherries, plums and herbs. 95/100
Jamsheed Ma Petite Francine Cabernet Franc 2016 Yarra Valley, Australia
Grippy and vivid with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, and nice spiciness. Has focus and grip, showing nice texture but also some structure. 93/100
Bill Downie ‘Bio Dynamic’ Petit Verdot 2015 Murray River, Australia
Grippy and meaty with some spiciness and delicious plump black fruits. Has density and power, but it’s not without some elegance, too. Very attractive. 92/100
Soumah Single Vineyard Hexham Syrah 2015 Yarra Valley, Australia
Grippy and structured with ripe black cherry fruit and some richer blackberry character, with a spicy, tarry, peppery edge. 93/100
Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2 2010 Yarra Valley, Australia
Shiraz and Mataro with a bit of Viognier and Marsanne. Sweet, soft blackberries and black cherries here with some nice weight. Textural, soft and broad in the mouth with fruit sweetness. 93/100
Ruggabellus Fluus 2015 Barossa Valley, Australia
This is a blend of Grenache, Mataro, Syrah and Cinsault. It has real energy, with supple, fresh cherry and plum fruit with some nice detail. There’s a bit of a natural edge but it’s really elegant and drinkable. 94/100
Chaffey Bros Pax Antenna Grenache 2016 Barossa, Australia
Pale cherry red in colour with supple, elegant, fine red cherries and spices. Sweetly fruited and elegant with hints of herbs and ginger. 93/100
Schwarz Meta Grenache 2016 Barossa, Australia
86% whole bunch, natural ferment. Sweet, elegant, fine and smooth with fine-grained structure. Pretty and pure with elegant, supple red fruits and some silkiness. Such elegance here: Pinot’s warm climate cousin. 94/100
Schwarz Meta Mataro 2016 Barossa, Australia
Perfumed, aromatic and expressive on the nose. Pretty with lively, pure red cherries, plums and blackberries. Juicy and pure, this is real finesse and purity. 93/100
Gentle Folk Ashton Tansley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Fine, supple and elegant with expressive, juicy cherry and plum fruit. Lovey balance and structure here with nice purity and fine-grained tannic structure. 94/100
Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Highly aromatic with sweet sour cherry and undergrowth. Textured, warm and spicy with a rounded character and somefine spiciness, as well as some herbs. 93/100
Jauma Wines Like Rain Drops Grenache 2016 McLaren Vale, Australia
Supple and rounded with sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice warmth, showing rounded blackberry richness. Pure, with a liqueur-like quality to the fruit, but balanced. 93/100
Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2016 McLaren Vale, Australia
Supple raspberry and red cherry fruit with nice spiciness. Grippy and elegant at the same time with pure, sleek fruit. Lovely weight here. 94/100
Cloudburst Chardonnay 2016 Margaret River, Australia
Combines rich nutty peach and pear fruit with nice mineral, spicy freshness and some lemony acidity. Lots of interest here: full flavoured but balanced. 93/100
Harewood Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014 Great Southern, Australia
Lively and bright with linear citrus fruit and some pear and spice notes. Lively and detailed with great acidity. 93/100
Larry Cherubino Laissez Faire Chardonnay 2015 Great Southern, Australia
Mineral, finely spiced nose is really fresh and expressive. Lively and bright with crisp citrus fruits and fresh intensity. Such a lovely linear wine. 94/100
Ferngrove Cossack Riesling 2016 Frankland River, Australia
Pure and lemony with a delicate floral nose. Linear and focused on the palate with intensity and finesse combined. 93/100
Rieslingfreak No 3 Riesling 2016 Clare Valley, Australia
Beautifully perfumed and aromatic with lemon and tangerine notes. Fresh, balanced palate with a linear, lemony intensity. So pretty. 92/100
Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay 2015 Tasmania, Australia
Fresh and expressive with lemons and Satsuma on the nose. Sophisticated, detailed lemony palate with purity and lovely lemony, mineral undertones. Brilliant wine. 94/100
Margan Aged Release Semillon 2009 Hunter Valley, Australia
Fresh, stony and linear with a lemony core and also some pear and ripe apple notes. There’s a subtle hint of cabbage in the background, but this is a lovely harmonious citrussy white that’s developing really nicely. 93/100