I had one of my meals of the year at O Gaveto in Porto, a couple of weeks ago.
It’s a traditional Portuguese seafood restaurant in Matosinhos, the port area of Porto. It’s run by brothers João and Jose Silva, and the restaurant was started by their father.
The food is superb, and the service fabulous. The wine list is also one of the best Portuguese lists I have seen.
Specific dishes that thrilled included Bequeirão (above), which is anchovies that have been marinated in vinegar and salt for a week. Then they are taken off and put into olive oil and salt.
And then there’s Petinga (above), which is sardines marinated in olive oil with hot sauce. 50 years ago the district O Gaveto was located in was dominated by sardine processing factories. Now there are just four or five left.
We also had percebes (goose barnacles), oysters, and the freshest sea bass you can imagine.
We had some lovely wines to accompany:
Soalheiro Alvarino Bruto Vinho Espumante 2015 Vinho Verde, Portugal
This sparkling Vinho Verde has a smoky, mineral pear and citrus nose with a hint of melon. Lively, vivid and intense with bright, expressive grapefruit pith and orange pip notes. Very lemony with a hint of sherbet. 89/100
Niepoort Olo Branco 2015 VR Minho, Portugal
11.5% alcohol. Mineral, slightly salty, stony nose. Stony palate with grapefruit, lemon and mandarin. Really fine and expressive with lovely fruit and also precision. 93/100
Niepoort Bical Maria Gomes Vinhas Velhas 2013 Bairrada, Portugal
Pears, nuts, ripe apples and spice here with a lovely citrussy core and some stony mineral notes. Stony and intense on the palate with fine lemon and herb flavours as well as a touch of matchstick alongside the textured fruit. Focused and lively with grapefruit and lanolin hints. It’s not all about the fruit. There’s a base of fine lees here, and the wine has volume and richness lurking cloaked, but it’s trying its best to be slim. 94/100
I met Ian Corder (above) at Almenkerk, where his wines are made. [As an aside, he kindly offered to take me up in his autogyro to see the Elgin Valley from the air. You can read about this, and watch the video here.] The vineyard that is now Corder Wines was originally an apple farm when it was purchased by Ian and Annette Corder in 2003. At the time, there were lots of apple farms on the market, and this is the era when Elgin was growing as a wine region.
They planted the first of their 14 hectares of vineyard in 2004, and their original vision was to make top quality Sauvignon Blanc. ‘Everyone came here to do Sauvignon,’ explains Ian Corder. ‘People didn’t think they could ripen red grapes.’ So they have since planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Viticultural assistance is provided by consultant Kevin Watt.
Ian sells a lot of his grapes to out-of-valley producers such as Boschendal and Eikendal. ‘The guys outside are looking for acidity.’
Corder Cool Climate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Ripe, textured and fresh. Quite rich with nice pear and citrus fruit. Generous and broad with a bit of passionfruit richness. 89/100
Corder Cool Climate Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Lively and textural with some pith, sweet pear and apple fruit. There’s a touch of nuttiness here. Clean and precise with nice fruit character. Very appealing. 91/100
Corder Cool Climate Pinot Noir 2013 Elgin, South Africa
Clones 667 and 777. 8 year old vines, 2 hectares. Lively and spicy with cherries and plums, as well as ginger and pepper notes. Supple and spicy with nice focus. Lively stuff. 87/100
Corder Cool Climate Syrah 2013 Elgin, South Africa
Juicy and fresh with red cherry and plum character. Supple and berryish with some herbal hints. Juicy and fresh. 87/100
A quick post from the road. For the last few days I have been in Provence, trying to understand more about rosé. The popular conception about rosé is that it’s not a serious wine. It’s all about marketing, people say.
Jean-Francois Ott of Domaines Ott
To a degree, Provence rosé is a tremendous wine marketing success story. But when you see the soils, you realise that there are some serious terroirs here. There are diverse soil types, with the two main themes clay/limestone and schist, depending on where you are. And there’s a wide range of climatic zones. The two together create terroirs that mark their imprint on the wine if the winemaking will allow it.
Rosé is also quite a technological wine. Making good rosé requires skill in the cellar, just as making good Champagne relies on skilled winemaking. But, as with Champagne, terroir is intrinsic to the final product. Anyone who claims that terroir is irrelevant in Champagne or rosé, or that these wine styles are all about marketing, needs to open their mind, read a little, and go to visit the regions.
Barrel cooling mechanism at Esclans
Over the next few days, I’ll be writing some in depth reports of the visits. I have learned a lot over the last few days.
This is a special cuvée from the hero of the limestone-based soils of the southern Beaujolais, Jean-Paul Brun. His wines are excellent, and also very fairly priced (this was retail €15 in Paris). His Beaujolais Blanc wines are really good: they’re not showy, but refined and mineral. I really like this wine, although the internets aren’t helping me much find out what the difference is between this Vinification Bourguignonne and the regular blanc cuvée.
Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc Vinification Bourguignonne Chardonnay 2014 Beaujolais, France
12.5% alcohol. Subtly honeyed, slightly creamy, lemony fruit with a lovely mineral core to it. There’s a real completeness to this wine: stony with pear, lemons and nice precision allied to some richer notes. Lovely pear and citrus fruit with a subtle almond nuttiness. 92/100
Spent a day in Paris on the way to Provence. Drank some wine, ate oysters, and generally walked around. Paris is unique. One of my favourite films is Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen. Watch the opening scenes: it’s basically just a three-minute string of scenes from the city, accompanied by Sidney Bechet’s Si tu vois ma mère. To quote one of the characters in the film, ‘That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.’ It rained on me, and it didn’t matter. There’s something about Paris in the rain.
This is a lovely wine: a 21 year old Alsace Riesling that’s in a perfect place right now. It’s all about the terroir, and this wine transmits place beautifully. Note: Altenberg de Bergbieten is not related to Altenberg de Bergheim.
Cellier Interprofessional des Vins d’Alsace Colmar Riesling Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergbieten 1995 Alsace, France
Rich yellow colour. Complex and aromatic with honey, spice, lemons, lanolin and fine toasty nuts, with lovely tingly acidity that’s high and yet also beautifully integrated into the wine. It tastes quite dry but there seems to be some sugar here too. Lovely complexity here, with nice maturity. Just delicious, with some marmalade and apricot hints adding richness. You can taste the limestone of the Bergbeiten soils here. Just amazing. 95/100
Almenkerk began when Joep van Almenkerk moved out to South Africa from Belgium in 2002 and bought a 32 hectare apple farm. He wanted to turn it into a wine farm – apples were bad business at the time and the region was looking very promising for grapes – and he asked his son, Joris, to run it. The farm is currently run by Joris and his wife Natalie, and they’re a dynamic couple, doing a really good job here. I had great fun hanging out with them over the weekend.
The view from the winery
Elgin is the only wine region in South Africa completely surrounded by mountains. The mountain ranges that fringe it like the rim on a saucer are made of table mountain sandstone, while inside the valley it’s mostly decomposed shale. There are 7000 hectares of farming land in the valley, with 6000 hectares of orchards (mostly apples, some pears), which at the moment are making good money. There are just 800 hectares of vineyards, with vines disappearing. ‘If we weren’t passionate about what we do, we’d just rip out vines and plant orchards,’ says Joris.
‘For every cultivar, there’s a distinct Elgin style,’ says Joris. ‘A large aspect of this is the high natural acidity from the large diurnal variations.’
He points out that while there are 28 producers making Elgin wines, there are only 9 cellars in Elgin. A lot of the grapes leave the valley. Almenkerk has 15 hectares of vineyards, plus four more of apples and pears, and they’ve just planted some more apples.`
While Chardonnay is important, other varieties are too. ‘I don’t think Elgin should be a one-trick pony,’ says Joris. ‘The styles of our wines are so distinctive restaurants don’t need to bump a wine off a list to put an Elgin wine on.’
Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Elgin, South Africa
This is made from a single vineyard at 305 m altitude, and it’s made reductively, with oxygen excluded at pressing and lees stirring by means of dry ice chunks. Nice texture here, with a hint of fig and some pear, with lovely citrus fruits. Some nuttiness, too. 89/100
Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Very pure and slightly saline with taut, compact, pure fruit, a bit of passionfruit, and lovely acidity. There’s pear, ripe apple and a hint of pithiness adding an extra dimension. Quite limey. 92/100
Almenkerk Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Complex and broad with nut, honey and pears. Ripe apples with some sweet vanilla notes, too. Attractive hints of fennel. 88/100
Almenkerk Chardonnay 2013 Elgin, South Africa (magnum)
Tight and lemony with nice spiciness. Really nice reductive framing with textured apple and pear fruit. Lovely focus to this wine. 92/100
Almenkerk Chardonnay 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Tight, fresh and pithy. Nutty but still linear and bright with pure citrus fruit. Pear and white peach richer notes, with some oak hints. 90/100
Almenkerk Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely complex, mealy, spicy nose. Detailed citrus fruit palate with good acidity. Fresh and vital with high acidity. Spicy, lemony finish. 92/100
Almenkerk Syrah 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Lively and fresh with nice black cherry and pepper. Bright and vivid with juicy black fruits and some good structure and weight. Grippy stuff with good acidity. 90/100
Almenkerk Merlot 2013 Elgin, South Africa
The shoulders are removed from all the bunches and the canopies are opened out in order to get these grapes ripe. Lovely sweet, supple black fruits here with some herb and undergrowth notes. Supple palate has sweet black fruits. Really attractive with some gravel and grip. 90/100
Iona is one of the leading wineries in Elgin. Currently, there are 60 hectares under vine here on two sites, and 400 tons pass through the winery, which on my visit was lacking a roof. Owner Andrew Gunn took it off so he can make the winery a bit taller.
Andrew Gunn, Iona
Winemaking here has been led by Werner Muller, who joined from Chamonix in 2011, after previous winemaker John Seccombe had left just a month before vintage.
Andrew had bought the property in 1998, originally intending to keep it as an apple orchard. But it was a terrible orchard, and so after he’d carried out his own climate survey of the site, decided it would be perfect for vines. Perched high up on a ridge at the top of the valley, this is a cool site with poor soils, and it makes superb wine. ‘It’s a unique site,’ says Werner. You can even see the sea from some parts of the property.
Andrew and his wife Rozy would like to work organically, but find weed control the big obstacle. They do just one herbicide treatment a year and use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. They’re also trying to get rid of copper and sulphur as fungicides, and are working with microbial products such as Bacillus.
Chardonnay is a big focus. They have 6 hectares in three blocks, and they’ve just planed another 3 hectares. It’s whole bunch pressed, and some goes straight to barrel. ‘We are all serious about Chardonnay in Elgin,’ says Werner. ‘It’s the place in South Africa to plant this variety.’
The currently roofless winery
A new Willmes press
Iona is also very well known for its Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the very best examples of this variety in the Cape. The regular Sauvignon is very pure and precise. I tried some barrel samples of the 2016 Sauvignon and also some Semillon, which were really impressive. This barrel-fermented stuff goes into the excellent one man band. ‘For me, how we could improve Sauvignon Blanc is through texture,’ says Werner. ‘Time in oak gives One Man Band a bit of fatness and develops flavour, without it being clumsy or overdone.’
Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Elgin, South Africa
Intense and lively with grapefruit and herb on the nose. Pristine with lovely precision on the intense palate which shows tight, crisp fruit and a touch of herbiness, as well as some salinity. Very driven and focused. Pure. 91/100
Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2003 Elgin, South Africa
You wouldn’t expect unoaked Sauvignon to age, but this has really nicely. Fresh and lively with some herby noes and nice apple and lemon notes. There’s bright grapefruit character, too, as well as a hint of cabbage. Smoky hints. 91/100
Iona One Man Band white 2015 Elgin, South Africa This is 60% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon, pressed whole bunch to old 500 litre barrels, wild ferment. Really complex, taut and detailed with grapefruit, aniseed and lemon notes. Compact and pure with great acidity. So fine and pure. 94/100
Iona Chardonnay 2006 Elgin, Chardonnay
Made by Niels Verburg. Lovely textured pear and peach fruit with some nice spiciness and a bit of quince. Some nutty cashew and peach skin depth, with a bit of mineral. Has aged really well. 92/100
Iona Chardonnay 2007 Elgin, South Africa
Mushroom hints on the nose with spice, pear, peach and melon richness. Bold and richly textured with sweet fruit characters. 90/100
Iona Chardonnay 2008 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and intense with nice smooth white peach and pear fruit. Lovely textural wine showing smooth fruit and fine spiciness, with a mineral edge. Very fine. 93/100
Iona Chardonnay 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Complex, tight and toasty with nice citrus, white peach and pear fruit. Bold and balanced with lovely pear and spice notes. Has depth but also freshness. 94/100
Iona Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely cabbage, spice and pear fruit. Nice weight. Fine spiciness complements some peach fruit on the palate. Bold yet focused with real precision. 93/100
Iona Chardonnay 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and detailed with lovely pear, citrus and mandarin characters. Shows real precision and delicacy. 94/100
Iona Chardonnay 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely pear and white peach fruit with nice citrus focus. Lively with pith and nut complexity and direct fruit at its core. Real finesse to this wine. 94/100
Iona Chardonnay 2015 Elgin, South Africa
Tightly focused with a slightly mealy nose and nice citrus fruits. Tight citrus and pear fruit palate with apple and lemon characters. Linear and focused with lovely clean fruit and precise flavours. 92/100
Iona Solace Syrah 2014 Elgin, South Africa
Just 500 cases made of this elegant Syrah. Lovely floral, peppery red fruits nose. Juicy, appley palate with freshness and structure, showing cherries, plums and spice. Expressive and balanced with a savoury twist. 94/100
Iona One Man Band Red 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Mainly Shiraz but with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre in the blend. 16 months in 500 litre oak. Brooding blackcurrant and blackberry nose. Very fresh with lively, focused fruit and a bit of grippiness. Firm, spicy and gravelly. 91/100
Here’s a short film and some pictures from my gyrocopter flight over Elgin with Ian Corder. It was an amazing experience. But gyrocopters are tiny and it was a little bit scary. Thankfully Ian is a safe pilot.
I’m in South Africa’s Elgin Valley. The reason for my visit is this weekend’s Chardonnay Colloquium, but I’m spending five days here, aiming to get under the skin of the region and understand what’s going on. I previously visited back in 2010, just for one day.
I’m not trying to visit all the producers or try all the wines. I think there’s a place for being thorough and working hard like this, but there’s also a place for just hanging out with the people, driving around, trying to get a feel for the region, and then putting the wines into this context.
Elgin is the coolest wine growing region in the Western Cape. It’s hemmed in on all sides by mountains, and there are just four roads into the valley, all of which are passes. The best way to think of it is, as Richard Kershaw said in his talk at yesterday’s session, as a saucer. It’s an elevated plateau, with mountains forming the rim of the saucer.
Within the valley, there are all sorts of exposures: lots of little hills, with very little completely flat ground. This makes for a range of microclimates, and so deciding where to put a vineyard and what to grow is a complex choice.
Apple orchards in bloom, Elgin
Elgin is an apple growing district with vineyards. The region was first delineated as recently as 1990, and became established when apple growing was going through a tough time. Lots of farmers planted vineyards because they thought it was a way to make money. Things have changed, and now apple growing is vastly more profitable than farming grapes. So quite a few vineyards have been ripped out and replanted with apples.
This is quite a small region, but it’s capable of high quality wines. The most widely grown variety here is Sauvignon Blanc, but the most excitement is about Chardonnay – hence the colloquium. Pinot Noir is also making good progress, and there’s some fine Syrah.
Brina Smith, vineyard manager Taurai Matunbwa and Marion Smith, Elgin Ridge
I’m staying with Brian and Marion Smith of Elgin Ridge. It’s been great fun to hang out with them. Elgin Ridge is one of the few wine farms in South Africa that is certified biodynamic (along with Reyneke and Waterkloof), and their property is really lovely.
Anyway, I’ve learned a great deal over the last few days, and there’s a lot to write about. In subsequent posts, I’ll tell more.