A Chenin Blanc seminar at Texsom

chenin blanc

Patrick Cappiello and Pascaline Lepeltier presented this Chenin tasting at Texsom.

‘I deeply believe that Chenin is the best white grape in the world,’ says Pascaline, a very highly regarded sommelier. She’s been working in New York for the last eight years, but she grew up in the Loire, and is a keen evangelist for Loire Valley wines.

‘Loire is where you can understand the diversity of the grape better than anywhere else,’ she says. ‘The grape has an amazing potential and we should drink more Chenin.’

In New York, Chenin is becoming more popular. ‘In 2001 in wine lists in NYC there was virtually no Chenin Blanc,’ says Patrick. ‘Baumard and Huet were the only two you could get. When I started buying wines myself a lot of these producers weren’t even available. Pascaline has got everyone excited about it.’

But this masks a global decline in the plantings of Chenin. It’s really a grape that’s experiencing a tough time. In the Loire it’s really experienced a lot of problems. In the past, Loire Chenin was mostly sweet, and the increasing mechanization and industrialization of wine that took place in the 1950s-1970s resulted in lots of poor quality Loire Chenin, which in turn let to a decline in its fortunes.

Back in 1990 there were 65 000 hectares of Chenin, worldwide, but by 2014 this had fallen to 37000 ha. The current breakdown is 17933 ha in South Africa, 9728 ha in France (95% in Loire), 2630 ha in the USA and 2320 ha in Argentina.

Pascaline gave us a brief background to the variety. It was first mentioned by Rabelais in Gargantua in 1534, and its name is said to come from the monastery of Mont-Chenin, near Comery in Touraine. One of its parents is Savagnin. It is easy to grow and gives good yields. There were early migrations to the south west, Holland and South Africa, but it hasn’t spread all that much since then.

You can make every style of wine with this grape: very few grapes can manage this spectrum. High level bubbles, dry, off dry, sweet, very sweet. Riesling is the only other variety that can do this sort of variety.

Chenin produces great sweet wines because it takes botrytis well, and that’s one of the reasons it thrived and persisted. The history of Chenin in the Loire is mostly one of making sweet wines, and dry wines are a relatively recent development.

The Loire is cool climate, but the grape migrated to warm climates such as South Africa is warm climate. Chenin is good because it can keep its acidity, but it was popular because it could make large quantities of wine and keep its acid. It can be a solid workhorse. It can deliver heroic yields. 45-60 hl/ha would be a typical range for quality dry wines, but this can go up to 150 hl/ha for table wines. You can do 400 hl/ha for Chenin if you want, such as in brandy production! There is no mystery about good Chenin: you need to control yields. If you go too high you can’t have a terroir-driven Chenin.

Chenin gets a lot of its character in the last two weeks before harvest in the Loire. It can be quite neutral when it’s not ripe, but it picks up a lot of aromatics late in its cycle. You have to wait, and botrytis is therefore a big risk.

It buds really early and so there’s a risk of frost: this is why you rarely see it in cooler climates outside the Loire.

‘Germany should kick out Riesling and plant Chenin,’ suggested Pascaline, but I don’t think she was completely serious. Maybe, though…

She described the aromas of Chenin:

  • Fruit
    Bittersweet citrus, heirloom apples, rhubarb, quince, orchard skin and pith, tart
  • Floral
    Herbal, vegetal, acacia, honeysuckle, linden, chamomile, hay
  • Spices
    Ginger, cinnamon, celery salt, oatmeal, marmalade
  • Others
    Honey, candlewax, flint, wool, lanolin


We looked at a range of wines:

Domaine Huet H Brut Vouvray Petillant 2012 Loire, France
Rich with ripe apples and pears, and a hint of nut and honey as well as subtle waxy notes. Has nice weight with a bit of fizziness. Lovely fruit here: it’s ripe and quite full. 90/100

Sadie Family Skurfberg 2014 Olifants River, South Africa
Lovely taut, fresh ripe apple and lemon fruit with nice concentration. Shows restraint with a touch of pithiness and good acidity. Very pure and linear with lovely precision. So much potential for development here. 93/100

Domaine Guiberteau Saumur 2014 Loire, France
Open and appley with lovely ripe citrus and red apple characters. Some cherry even and a bit of rhubarb. Dry with high acidity underpinning the fruit. Has some real intensity of flavour here. The acid is remarkable. 92/100

Domaine Vincent Carême Le Clos 2014 Vouvray, Loire, France
Linear, stony nose. Linear, tight citrussy palate with some green apple and keen acidity. Very linear and taut. Stony and mineral on the palate, with great precision. So bright, very dry, showing a lovely herb-tinged, grapefruit pith and lemon character. Potential for ageing here. 92/100


Domaine de la Garrelière Marquis de C 2013 Loire, France
Stony and mineral with nice compact citrus fruits. Harmonious and focused with juicy fruit and a bit of lime, as well as subtle wax and nuts. Attractive but a little primary. Tastes quite ripe, but it’s dry. Has potential. 91/100

Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos 2013 Savennières, Loire, France
Deep yellow colour. Nose of ripe apple and some honey. Nutty and lively with nice lemony acidity keeping things lively. Long stony, mineral finish. Oxidative with some brightness. 90/100

Domaine Patrick Baudouin Les Bruandières 2004 Coteaux du Layon, Loire, France
Honeyed, appley, nutty nose. Very rich and grapey with sweet raisin and pear fruit. Concentrated and powerful with baked apple and spice. Rich and very sweet, but with nice acid. 92/100

Domaine Patrick Baudouin Les Zersilles 2011 Quarts de Chaume, Loire, France
Ripe, honeyed and spicy with intense baked apple and spice. Great concentration and depth with lovely richness. Very sweet but with nice acidity. 93/100

Chappellet ‘Molly Chappellet’ 2009 Napa, California
Very rich and intense with a creamy, dairy edge to the bold, smooth, ripe peachy fruit. Lots of ripe apple, too. Nutty and buttery. Unusual. 87/100

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Grower Champagne Focus: Selosse Initial

Selosse Initial

I really liked this Champagne. Selosse’s Initial. Thrilling.

Champagne Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV France
This is the March 2013 disgorgement. It’s a thrillingly rich and complex Champagne with lovely toast, ripe apple and bright lemon fruit. Lovely complex spiciness here with concentration and depth and attractive grapefruit, pear and melon notes. Crystalline. 96/100

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The history of coffee: a seminar with Ian Picco


Coffee is interesting and I don’t know all that much about it. So it was really interesting to attend a seminar on the history of coffee at Texsom, presented by Ian Picco.

The Arabica coffee shrub, an evergreen, originates from the western islands of Ethiopia, and the first written account of coffee drinking dates back to the 9th century BC, although it’s likely that it was drunk for quite a while before this. A lot of the old ways of preparing and consuming coffee are still present.

The first use of coffee was medicinal, and it was used for the stimulant effect. People picked the cherries from the trees, mashed them up with ghee and made an old school energy bar. Different tribes had, and still have different preparation methods. One method was stewing unripe cherries over a number of days in butter. At this stage it was common to dry the coffee and steep it, producing a tea. Roasting and brewing didn’t come until much later.

The next step in the journey is Yemen in the 14th century. There are written accounts of the Sufi monks cultivating coffee for medicinal and spiritual use. The caffeine would probably help them stay awake through long hours of prayer. Their preparation method was to take cherries, dry them, then steep them in boiling water. This is still done today: an infusion of skin, leaves and seeds.

As trade routes were established through the next century people became familiarized with this beverage. Where Islam spread, so did coffee. It became the preferred drug of choice through the Arab world, which was against the consumption of alcohol.

Constantinople, 15th Century AD. Coffee shows up and the Turks are quick to make this beverage their own. Istanbul is the crossroads of the world at this time. The Turks’ word for this brewed beverage is Kahve. There are a few ways it is prepared here: there’s a tea infusion, then there is the brewing of roasted beans, and probably also some fermenting, turning it into alcoholic drink.

In 1615 coffee shows up in Venice. The Vatican were initially against it, and described it as the black bitter liquor of satan. But Pope Clement VIII was open to it. He ended up liking it so much he was quoted as saying it would be a pity to let the infidels to have exclusive consumption of this divine beverage. Why don’t we cheat satan and bless it ourselves? This opened the doors of the western world to coffee.

The next stage was that the Dutch were building up the East India company. Up to this point the Arabs had complete control of the trade. In 1616 the Dutch smuggled a plant out and propagated it. In 1690 they realized their long term plan, smuggled plants out and took them to their colonies in Java and planted them there.

By the mid 16th century coffee became popular in London with what were known as the ‘penny universities’ – for a penny you could get coffee and drink with influencers and thinkers. This was the beginning of the coffee shop.

In the late 16th Century Vienna became an important place for coffee. They were the first to filter the beverage. This improved the cleanliness and the body. They were also the first to add cream and sugar.

In 1717 the Dutch gave a plant to Louis XIV. The French then propogated it and planted it in Martinique.

In Brazil in 1720, Franciscode Meio Palheita was the first to plant coffee. This became a big thing. By 2007 Brazil accounted for 97% of the world’s coffee production (they reached 40% by middle of the 18th century, with the help of slave labour). They were pioneers in mechanical agriculture.

The first wave of coffee was helped by brazil’s ability to supply people on a global scale. The dawn of the industrial age and Brazil’s initiative helped commoditize coffee in the early 20th century.

So what about coffee in the USA? In 1773, the Boston tea party event solidified the American preference for coffee over tea, and drinking coffee became a patriotic act. The two great wars of the 20th century also had an impact on coffee drinking. The troops needed to be caffeinated, and when they got back to the states they were full-fledged addicts. Then there’s the diner culture. America preferred the lighter style brewed and filtered coffee.

In the 1960s the counter culture movement involved the rejection of everything from the past and the establishment. This included coffee. By the summer of 1969 the youth of America had a lot of other drugs to choose from, and in the 1970s there was a decline in coffee consumption in the USA.

At this time, there was a consolidation in the coffee market, and large roasters started cutting corners, which equated to bad coffee.

Meanwhile, a few people began planting the seeds for speciality coffee. In came the second wave of coffee. It began in the 1960s with Pete’s Coffee and Tea in Berkeley, California. Then Starbucks began in Seattle in the 1970s. These two companies introduced the idea of speciality coffee, and the European culture of coffee: espresso-based, served in coffee shops.

Then marketing became the main driving force with Starbucks opening a store every work day from 1987. They were marketing to the youth, generation X at the time. Once again coffee is a cool think and the coffee shop culture takes off.

The third wave is the turn of the millennium, reacting against bad coffee and Starbucks-style marketing. The big three here were Intelligentsia, Counter Culture and Stumptown, in Portland. The emphasis was on getting really good quality coffee direct from producer, with a focus on sustainability through direct rade. Factors such as transparency, fairness and education became cornerstones of this third wave.

The coffee industry is now starting to grow up, and coffee is now a culinary experience, with highly trained industry professionals. This type of professionalism was the result of industry education, which leads to consumer education. The only way that this can be done is by being inclusive, without pretence. The third wave was a rebellion against Starbucks, and that sometimes led to a pretence that alienates people. Now the industry has so much innovation, and it’s inclusive. There are multiple ways to brew a cup of coffee. The scene is now much more customized and the consumer has a lot of choices.

What does coffee taste like? There is now a coffee flavour wheel. It was developed using sensory panels who tasted all different kinds of coffees and came up with a lexicon of 1000 words, which was then whittled down to 99. UC Davis figured out how to structure it into a wheel.

The factors influencing flavour:

  • Cultivar (arabica and robusta; the former is more interesting but harder to grow)
  • Altitude (largest impact on quality: more soluble material in high altitude coffee)
  • Soil
  • Environment
  • Processing (has a huge effect)
  • Blending
  • Roasting
  • Brewing

We looked at six coffees, investigating the impact of processing and also the influence of roasting.

To look at the impact of post-harvesting processing, we tried three examples of the same coffee. It was red Bourbon, grown in El Salvador on volcanic soil at 1300 m

Cherry is picked from tree. For quality you pick only ripe fruit: every cherry ripens at individual rates, so you pick the average tree three to five times over a four month harvest period. Most coffees will end up at a station to be washed. This involves removing the skins. The seeds have a layer of mucilage around the parchment that surrounds the see.

For a washed coffee the seed is soaked in water for 12-36 h. Fermentation begins and this releases enzymes to metabolize the pectin. Then the coffee seed is then washed and dried. You want to achieve clean flavours from the seed, not the process. You lose sugars in the mucilage. It will be lighter, cleaner.

Washed: smoky, spicy, roasted notes. Nuts and caramels. Nice lemony acid.

For pulped coffee, the cherries are pulped but the mucilage is left on to dry onto the parchment, which can increase sweetness and body.

Pulped: richer, some sweet floral notes. Earth, spice, toffee and some appley acidity. More fruity.

Then there’s the natural process, also referred to as the dried process. The cherry is dried intact. You get more fruit, with more pronounced and complex acidic structure, with some acetic acid.

Natural: rich, some sweetness, nice acidity and some structure. There’s more fruit here with a hint of marzipan.

Then we looked at the effect of Roasting. In the raw bean there are more than 300 flavour compounds. When coffee is roasted it can create 650 new flavour molecules. This is primarily through Maillard reactions, hydrolysis, browning, caramelization and so on. You can develop flavours with roasting, and overdevelop them too. With low grade coffee dark roast is most common: burn out bad flavours or mould. Medium roast is the middle range: on the shelf, grocery store premium coffee.

We looked at three examples of the same coffee: Kenya, high altitude (>2000 m, black clay-like soil), pea berry coffee (only produce one seed per berry rather than the normal two). SL-28/34 and Riuri 11 varieties.

Light roasting. Third wave roasters like this, because it highlights the unique flavours of the coffee’s terroir.

Light roast: aromatic, roasted nose, lovely appley acidity. Complex and really fruity. Some grapefruit and a bit of structure. High acid.

Medium roast. as you continue to caramelize the sugars, you get more flavours from this process.

Medium roast: smoky, dark chocolate, roasted nose. Nutty and intense with rich flavours and some sweetness, and some astringency.

If you continue to roast you start burning things. In a dark roast, the flavours are more a result of charring. Aromas associated with dry distillation: spicy, resinous and burnt.

Dark roast: bonfire, spice, astringent, less fruity. Savoury and intense with lots of burnt aromatics and a bitter finish.

In Texas, for Texsom


I’m in Texas. First time for me. I’m here for Texsom, which is a really important conference in the north American wine scene. I’m here to conduct a 3 hour tasting of aged South African wines, which will be taking place in just over an hour’s time. I’ve been up since 4 am working on my presentation, and now it’s time to get a bit of a feed and some coffee.

I flew in yesterday, but the weather here is weird. It’s like 100 degrees (100 always sounds better than the Centigrade equivalent, which I’m guessing is about 40?), yet it’s cloudy and stormy, and humid as hell (or would hell be dry heat, with all that burning sulfur?). As we approached Dallas, we were forced to divert by apocalyptic thunderstorms. We landed at Houston, then headed back to Dallas an hour later, only to circle and circle waiting for a gap in the BIG WEATHER. Eventually we landed. Too much drama.

Everything is big here. The weather. The cars. My room at the Four Seasons. Portion sizes.

I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of new people over the next few days. I’ve signed up for lots of seminars: tomorrow I have sparkling wines, the history of coffee, and comparing and contrasting Pfalz and Alsace. Then on Monday I go to sessions on Chenin Blanc, the lineage of the Pilsner (beer), and coastal qualities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There will also be lunches and dinners.

I love that the organisers have made it clear to speakers that you are to mingle, muck in, and generally be super available to all attendees. Truth is, I’m going to get a lot more from this than any attendees will. I’m just a dude who loves wine, loves to travel, asks too many questions and is a bit geeky. I’m thrilled to be here.

Rootstock (Sydney), a natural wine fair, focuses more on the vineyard in 2016

Late last year I had a lovely time attending Rootsock Sydney. It’s a lovely not-for-profit wine fair focusing on natural wines. One of the very best.

I really enjoyed it, but I was a bit worried by the obsession with winemaking processes in defining ‘natural’, and in particular with the fixation on sulfur dioxide levels. In a blog post, I suggested it needed to return to he vineyard.

This year, they’ve shifted the emphasis. It’s now not just about what you do or don’t do to your wine. There’s a welcome emphasis on farming well, too. To quote from the guidelines to the producers:

In 2016, we are focusing more strongly than ever on the vineyard and fruit sources – this festival we will only admit wines coming from organic (as Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products, AS 6000-2009 or organic / biodynamic certification) farming – if you have mixed sources for farming, we understand, but wines to be shown must be from sustainably farmed vineyards.

For the sake of transparency, we will indicate producers using mixed sources (organic and other) as ‘in transition’, but only wines coming from organic fruit sources and 100% hand harvest only can be shown at RS16.

From 2019 RS will exclusively invite producers 100% natural farming (as Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products, AS 6000-2009 or organic / biodynamic certification).

This is a smart and sensible step. The natural wine movement should be focusing more on the vineyard. And good natural winemaking preserves the characters of the vineyards, capturing them somehow in the wine. Bad natural winemaking results in wines that taste more of the process: ‘natural’. Sometimes, effective use of SO2, particularly at bottling, can help with this.

These are the winemaking guidelines for participation at Rootstock:

Only indigenous yeasts on all production.
No additions such as enzymes, acids, sugars and tannins.
No heavy manipulation or winemaking technology (reverse osmosis, spinning cones, etc)
No fruit concentration, or raising alcohol levels
Minimal use of oak. No wood chips.
No clarification or fining through additions.
Filtration kept at minimal and must be noted.
We encourage producers to add as little sulphur as possible where no wines on show at RS2016 can be more than 50ppm total sulphur.

This looks like as sensible definition of natural wine that I have seen. It could be a model for other natural wine fairs to follow.

Dinner with Dan at Noble Rot: Raveneau, Lynch Bages and Dervieux Thaize

raven eau chablis

Had a lovely dinner with Dan Keeling at Noble Rot last night. The food was as good as ever, and the wines were just thrilling. I’ve rarely drunk as well, or as much.

Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 1992 Burgundy, France
This is such a beautiful wine, although it faded a bit over the course of drinking it. It has a thrilling nose of toast, marmalade, lemon zest and nuts. The palate is pure, precise and lemony with a spicy edge to the citrus peel and hazelnut characters. Intense with a really long finish, and subtle waxy notes. 95/100

Dervieux Thaize Côte Rôtie La Vallière 1989 Northern Rhône, France
This was the last vintage of Albert Dervieux before he retired and leased all his vines to Rene Rostaing. This, his top cuvée, comes from the top of the Côte Brune, and it has aged beautifully. Long elevage in large old oak. Pristine and pure with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, as well as some plumminess. Very expressive and detailed with lovely fruit expression and fine-grained tannins. There’s some pepper and even a hint of olive. So elegant: quite Burgundian in style. This is a really lovely wine. 95/100

lynch bages 1981

Château Lynch Bages 1981 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
This is truly thrilling. Forget about 1982: on the evidence of this bottle I’m going to be seeking out 1981s Fresh, elegant and aromatic with lovely blackcurrant and black cherry fruit along with some pine and herb characters. Really elegant palate with supple, sappy black fruits. Such a fine wine, with floral black cherry notes and potential for further development. I love the hints of pine, and the slight saltiness on the palate. This is thrilling. 97/100

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Wolf Blass Black Label Vertical, 1974-2012

Chris Hatcher, Wolf Blass winemaker

Chris Hatcher, Wolf Blass winemaker

This is the 50th year of Wolf Blass as a wine company, and it’s also the 40th vintage of the Wolf Blass Black Label. So winemaker Chris Hatcher was in town to present a vertical of this wine back to 1974.

Wolf made his first wine in 1967, when he produced his Grey Label Cabernet Shiraz from the Langhorne Creek. He later purchased wine to release the 1966 Yellow Label, but the 1967 was the first wine he made. The Black Label saw its debut in 1973. There are only two bottles of this left, so we started our vertical with the 1974. 1973, 1974 and 1975 all won the celebrated Jimmy Watson tropy, the only time this hattrick has been achieved.


‘If you go back through the show records,’ says Hatcher, ‘you’ll say it’s the most awarded red wine in Australia. The 1994 is the only vintage not to win a gold medal, and it averages 7 gold medals a vintage.

This is a blended wine. It’s based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with a bit of Malbec, these days (since 2002). The proportion varies each year. Volumes also vary. ‘We can blend for consistency of style,’ says Hatcher. ‘There’s no recipe here. The terroirs make the wine. Each of the terroirs brings the quality to the components in the blend.’

The Wolf Blass house style is for a plush mid palate with soft tannins: the feeling is that a wine should be read to drink when it is sold. The wines today have more fruit character and less oak. ‘Back in the early 1970s Wolf used a lot of new American oak to get sweetness on the palate,’ explained Hatcher. ‘Today we get it from the fruit. There’s also a much higher use of French oak.’

Hatcher says that the big change through the years is in the shift in emphasis from the winery to the vineyard. ‘I came into the industry in 1974, and we didn’t know anything about viticulture. The biggest change in the industry is now we have professional viticulturists. We used to think we could fix everything in the vineyard.’

One other change was the shift from cork to screwcap. Wolf Blass used screwcap for the first time in 2001 for the Platinum Label. In 2002 they bottled half the Black Label with screwcap and half with cork, and the screwcap wine sold out fastest. Since 2003 it’s all been screwcap, with the exception of some cork used for the Chinese market, which isn’t ready for screwcaps on top red wines.

wolf class black label

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1974 South Australia
There were two bottles of this opened. My note is from the fresher of the two. Some sweet cherries and plums on the nose. Quite rich with some cedar spiciness. Has a mellow maturity but still plenty of fruit. There’s a slight trace of mint with lovely soft tannins. Mellow and elegant. 92/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1979 South Australia
Ripe, rich and broad. Mellow with sweet cherry and plum fruit. Really expressive and harmonious. Restrained and quite pure with hints of cedar and earth, and sleek ripe fruit. Elegant and mature but still has life to it. 94/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1982 South Australia
Ripe, malty and quite porty with lush sweet tarry black fruits. Some fudge and toffee notes under the fruit. Mint and cedar, too. It’s slightly disjointed and fully mature and perhaps a bit tired. 88/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 1984 South Australia
Aromatic black fruits nose with herbs, earth and mint. Ripe, sweet palate still has plenty of stuffing, and there’s a rich, tarry, cedary core. Spicy and lively with a minty freshness. Developed and fully mature so drink now. 91/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1992 South Australia
Sweet, ripe and a bit earthy with nice depth and richness. Soft, earthy, tarry herby notes under the fruit. A bit spicy and drying on the finish. Herbs, earth, spice and tar here. Grippy. 90/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 South Australia
89% Cabernet this vintage, the most ever. Pure, enticing, vivid blackcurrant and cedar nose. Very appealing. Dense and ripe. Structured and cedary on the palate with some tarry, gravelly notes. Has richness and lushness to the fruit. A big wine with real impact that has developed nicely. 93/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2002 South Australia
The first vintage in screwcap. Minty blackcurrant fruit nose. Firm, grippy structure on the palate, under the sleek, sweet blackcurrant fruit. Quite firm and unyielding with a youthful personality and a bit of alcoholic heat. Finish is a touch bitter. Will this ever develop? 91/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2004 South Australia
Pure, intense, lush black fruit here. Very youthful with some spiciness and good structure. Ripe but has freshness and a juicy edge to the slightly salty black fruits. Still very primary. Well made. 92/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 South Australia
Pure, sweet floral blackcurrant and black cherry aromatics. Dense, sweet, supple palate is very ripe and polished, with a salty edge to the sweet primary black fruits. Pure with no rough edges. Satisfying stuff in a ripe, friendly style. 92/100

Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2012 South Australia
Aromatic, floral, pure blackcurrant and blackberry fruit nose. Ripe, sweet, lush black fruits to the fore with a hint of spiciness. Lush, pure and easy with nice density. This is a real crowd pleaser. Still very primary. 91/100

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Mother Rock and Force Majeure: brilliant wines from Stompie Meyer

Johan Meyer

Johan Meyer

Johan ‘Stompie’ Meyer is one of the most highly regarded of South Africa’s new wave winegrowers. He makes the wines for Mount Abora (as a consultant), and has his own project, JH Meyer Wines. And this is a new venture for him: Mother Rock/Force Majeure, a joint venture with his UK agent Indigo Wines.


Mother Rock is a new label, with Force Majeure a more affordable pair of wines that have been made for a few years now. Meyer farms organically, and makes the wines naturally. ‘I make more natural wines, but I’m trying to be clean rather than funky,’ he explains. The only addition is a bit of SO2 at bottling. ‘I’ve been working the vines for a while now,’ he explains. ‘It takes a few years to get the vineyard into balance.’ Typically he will do three picks: one to get acid, and then two subsequent ones. He doesn’t acidify. ‘You have to be so clean in the cellars,’ he says.

‘I want to make honest, clean natural wines showing the terroir rather than a style,’ says Meyer. He’s succeeding very well.


Force Majeure Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland, South Africa
80% stainless steel, 20% barrel. Unirrigated bush vines from decomposed granite. Starts off oxidative and the juice goes brown before fermentation starts. Really bright and lively with citrus, pear, spice and tangerine. Very lively and focused with ripe apple and lemon characters. Mineral and intense. 92/100


Mother Rock White 2015 Swartland, South Africa
61% Chenin Blanc, 16% Viognier, 11% Grenache Blanc, 8% Semillon, 4% Harslevelu. The idea here is to take an overview of the Swartland with different varieties and different soils. Lovely fresh citrus, pear, apricot and tangerine notes, with some ripe apple. Fresh, detailed and fine with nice precision. 94/100


Mother Rock Liquid Skin 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This spends 9 weeks on skins, whole bunch, with pigeage once a day until fermentation finishes. It’s from a dry grown bush vine vineyard planted in 1975 on decomposed granite. Yellow/orange in colour it has a lovely perfume and fine texture on the palate, showing quince and apricot with real finesse. Grippy but not aggressive, it is so expressive. 94/100

Force Majeure Rosé 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This is a Cinsault from kofeeklip soils. Pale pink in colour, it was picked at 18 Brix when some of the grapes were still green, and already had a pH of 3.5. Very lively, fresh and quite textural with zippy, juicy cherry fruit and a hint of citrus and herb. 90/100

Force Majeure Red 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This is 70% Syrah made carbonically, combined with press juice from the other reds. Beautiful fresh, floral aromatics with some meaty notes. Lovely raspberry fruit. Juicy, focused and a bit gripp with nice vibrant red fruits and some peppery hints. 93/100


Mother Rock Carignan Cinsault 2015 Swartland, South Africa
11.5% alcohol. An equal parts blend of Carignan from granite and Cinsault from koffeeklip soils, both old vine. 100% whole bunch, some crushed with the feet. Very fresh and vivid with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit. Pure, grippy and structured with nice acidity. Very lively with purity and vibrancy. 94/100


Mother Rock Grenache 2015 Swartland, South Africa
11.8% alcohol. Decomposed granite with some Malmesbury shale. 100% whole bunch, 8 weeks on skins. Very fine, perfumed and expressive with a slightly herby nose or red cherries with tea leaf detail. Vibrant, juicy, pure red cherry fruit palate is so expressive. Complex, pure and beautiful. Haunting. 96/100

Mother Rock Syrah 2015 Swartland, South Africa
Granite with some shale, picked in three stages. Floral perfumed nose of raspberries and red cherries with subtle meatiness. Very pure, vital palate with fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. Juicy and linear with nice acidity. Real potential here. 94/100

Mother Rock Mourvèdre 2015 Swartland, South Africa
25 year old vines with sandy topsoil over granite. Expressive, perfumed, with a red apple edge to the fine tea, spice, tar and black cherry fruit. Grippy black fruits on the palate with some smooth cherry fruit. Unusual but nice. 92/100

UK agent: Indigo Wines

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Craft Dark Milk Chocolate tasting with Cocoa Runners


A while back I went to my first ever chocolate tasting. It was held at the Winemakers Club under the arches at Farringdon, with Spencer Hyman of Cocoa Runners. The theme was dark milk chocolate.

I know practically nothing about chocolate, so this was an interesting educational experience. It also gave me insight as to how normal people might feel approaching wine for the first time.

Spencer began by explaining quality tiers in chocolate in terms of coffee quality.

  • There’s the chocolate equivalent of instant coffee: confectionary such as toblerone and dairy milk.
  • Then there’s filter coffee, whose chocolate equivalent would be Lindt or Green and Black.
  • Finally, we have geek coffee, such as Monmouth or Square Mile. This would be the high-end artisan or craft chocolate that was until recently quite hard to get, made from great beans and great fruit: Duffy and Pump Street.

The cost of making chocolate has gone down with the invention of new machines. There are now extraordinary chocolate makers who have been able to establish themselves without huge capital cost.


So how is chocolate made? Of interest to wine lovers is the fact that chocolate is a fermented product, and the fermentation process can alter its flavour. The starting point is the cacao tree, Thebroma cacao. The pods are harvested, cut open and the pulp, containing the beans, is scooped out. This mass is allowed to ferment for several days, and then the beans are dried. This is the bit the farmer does.

The next stage takes place in the chocolate-making facility. The beans are cracked and winnowed to remove their papery shells, leaving what are called ‘nibs’. These are ground into a paste called the chocolate liquor. It consists of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

A hydraulic press is then used to separate the solids and the butter, in a process known as slamming. The cocoa butter can be saved to be recombined with the solids at a later stage, or – as occurs in some cheaper chocolates – it is sold off and then replaced with vegetable fats in the final chocolate. But the purpose of separating out the solids is so they can be further refined, in a process known as conching. This uses a container filled with metal beads that grind the particles very finely.

The solids are then recombined with the butter and this is the stage where flavourings can be added. It’s followed by a process called tempering, which is a controlled crystallization of the chocolate using a series of heating and cooling steps.

The chocolates

Bonnat, Javan Dark Milk
Cocoa content, 65%; Bean origin, Indonesia; Maker country; France. Creamy and a bit spicy, with a nice smoothness in the mouth. Textural with a bit of spiciness. Very smooth. 6/10

Bonnat, Surabaya Dark Milk
65%, Indonesia, France. Lively, spicy, creamy and delicious. Not very chocolatey – more creamy. Some fruity notes. 5.5/10

Tcho, Serious Milk
53%, Ecuador/Peru, USA. Smooth with nice caramel notes and some spice. Very easy but with a bit of bite. Sweet but has some cacao flavour. 6.5/10

Duffy, Mayan Red Milk
61%, Honduras, UK. Grainy and a bit spicy with lovely black savoury notes. Grainy and earthy with some nice chalkiness and some spice. Some biscuit too. 6.5/10


Fruition, Dark Milk With Flor du Sal
56%, Peru, USA. So attractive and fruity with nice spiciness and a salty edge. This brings out the fruit, and there’s also some spice here. Textural and delicious. 8.5/10

Zotter, Milk Chocolate Dark Style
70%, Nicaragua, Austria. This has no added sugar. Dry, savoury and a bit grippy. Textural with some depth of flavour. Very complex and full of interest: you miss the sugar at first but then it entices. 8/10

Original Beans, Femmes de Virunga
55%, Virunga National Park Congo, Switzerland. Very smooth and textured, but with a lovely fruity quality. Has freshness. Very creamy and textural. 8/10

Mast Brothers, Sheep Milk
60% Peru, USA. Quite broad and fat. Smooth with a sheepy edge, and some grainy notes. Very interesting with a distinctive flavour. 7/10

Mast Brothers, Goat Milk
60%, Peru, USA. Very cheesy and goaty. Distinctive flavour here with a pungent finish. Farmyardy and odd. 6/10


Zotter, Labooko Brazil
35%, Brazil, UK. Very creamy with a coconut edge and lovely smooth texture. Sweet and delicious: tastes like a white chocolate. This has more cocoa butter than solids. 7.5/10

For future tastings see cocoarunners.com/events

Stolpman Vineyards: Syrah and Roussanne from limestone soils in California

Pete Stolpman

Pete Stolpman

Website: Stolpman Vineyards

Back in the 1970s, Tom Stolpman, who was then in his late teens, was running a valet car parking service in the Hollywood Hills to help him through his studies at UCLA. This is when he caught the wine bug. He got married, and took his wife Marilyn to Napa for a honeymoon in 1974. Stolpman went on to become a lawyer (he still practices), but by the time he decided he’d really like a vineyard in the late 1980s, Napa had become overvalued, so he started looking at the central coast. Inspired by Josh Jensen and his obsession with limestone, Stolpman decided that he wanted to find potential vineyard land with some limestone.

He found a site. There were big limestone boulders on the surface, and he found that under the loamy clay top soil, this was just pure limestone: potentially a perfect site. But along came the Perrins, who were also looking for limestone, and they spilled the beans to the cattle rancher who owned the site that this was ideal vineyard land. The cattle rancher tried to get a bidding war started. Stolpman’s bravado, however, scared off the Perrins who went and discovered what is now Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. This all delayed things by a couple of years, but Stolpman eventually got the land he wanted in 1990. This is Ballard Canyon, and back then there were no other vineyards here. It’s a 220 acre property, with 153 acres of vines.

stolpman vineyards

Since 2013, Ballard Canyon has been an AVA, and there are now 17 vineyards here. It’s a 7000 acre AVA with 550 acres planted, and it’s a sub AVA of Santa Ynez Valley, which is 70 000 acres. Syrah is the main grape variety planted.

The climate here is that the day starts off with cool fogs, then gets warm in the afternoon. There’s a huge diurnal shift of 40 F in the growing season. The distinctive thing about this vineyard is that it is dry grown. The vines are irrigated for the first five years, and then weaned off. They reach a natural balance and produce small crops of high quality grapes. The clay in the soil is critical in making dry farming possible in such a dry region.

Peter Stolpman, Tom’s son, took over here in 2009. Until then the majority of the grapes had been sold, but since then production of the Stolpman wines has risen three-fold from 5000 to 15 000 cases. The wines are made by Sashi Moorman, of Domaine de la Côte, Sandhi and Evening Land. Sashi has been on board since 2001 when Tom hired him – at the time he was just 27 and was the assistant winemaker for Adam Tolmach. Another very important figure here is vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, who has been here since 1994 and lives on the property. Peter is proud of the fact that everyone who works on the vineyard is employed full time.



Stolpman Roussanne 2013 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
15-18 months in 500 litre new oak puncheons. This is a late ripening variety that’s picked in late October or early November. It’s rich but still has freshness with bold, spicy flavours of pear and peach along with some toast and nut characters. It’s quite oily and there’s some new wood evident, but also some freshness. 92/100

Stolpman L’Avion Roussanne 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
This is a cherry-picked selection of the Roussanne. Highly aromatic showing rich, nuanced aromas of pear, peach and spice. The palate is rich but has fine notes of melon and pear. Very stylish and pure with lovely depth. Fine, showing nice focus and weight. 94/100

Stolpman Carbonic Sangiovese 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Picked early, carbonic maceration. Pale cherry red colour. Fresh and juicy with lovely red cherries and plums. Juicy, pure and drinkable. So pretty with a bit of grip. 92/100

Stolpman Syrah Para Maria de los Fecobles 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Fresh, meaty and a bit spicy with ripe, generous, sweet black fruits. It has a fresh grainy, peppery structure. Lovely juicy sweet black fruits here. Generous, ripe and structured. 92/100

Stolpman Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
50% whole bunch, aged in concrete. Floral and enticing with red and black cherries plus notes of mint and medicine. Vivid, peppery undertones here. Spicy and vivid with nice grip and real freshness to the ripe fruit. A very precise wine. 94/100

Stolpman Originals Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Powerfully perfumed with a nose of pepper, spice, dried herbs and meat. Generous black cherry fruit on the palate along with spice. Sweetly fruited but with a grainy, chalky structure and real finesse. This has lovely focus and freshness. 95/100

UK agent Flint Wines

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