This is a superb, affordable Spanish white, made from a centenarian high-altitude (900 m) vineyard just outside (to the north east of) the Ribera del Duero DO. It’s made from the rare-ish Albillo Mayor grape variety, which is thought to be one of the parents of Tempranillo.
Ermita del Conde is a relatively new vineyard, established in 2006 by Marta Gomendio. Altogether, she has 23 hectares of vineyards, the bulk of which are very old. They are farmed organically, and this wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts in foudres.
Ermita del Conde Albillo Centenario 2013 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain
13% alcohol.This is made from a 100 year old Albillo Mayor vineyard. It’s bright, pure and mineral with citrus and pear fruit, and a hint of struck match character that adds interest. There are also some richer, nutty notes. Detailed and lovely. 92/100 (£10.95 The Wine Society)
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Gatinois, based in Aÿ, have 7.5 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards spread across 29 plots. They sell half their grapes to Bollinger and other grand marques, but father and son team Pierre and Louis Cheval-Gatinois also make their own wine, including this NV, which is 90% Pinot Noir with the balance Chardonnay. This spends at least three years on the lees, and as with many grower Champagnes, it’s superb value.
Champagne Gatinois Aÿ Grand Cru Brut Tradition NV France
12% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Aromatic nose with ripe apples and herbs, showing lovely richness but not sacrificing refinement. The palate has apples, cherries and some lemons, with subtle nuts and toast, too. Lovely complexity and depth here. A refined, slightly oxidative style of real appeal. 93/100 (£28.20 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)
I had a conversation with a beer brewer recently. I asked him whether size was an advantage in brewing, in that having lots of shiny new kit might help you make better beer. His response was that it buys you consistency. He then went on a semi-rant about small London breweries in railway arches and how their beers were inconsistent. What’s the use of making a great beer if you can’t reproduce it every time?
The big brewers with their shiny kit make consistent beer, but my experience is that they are almost always playing it too safe. They don’t want too much flavour that the punters might find objectionable. They don’t want to use too many expensive ingredients. So they make consistently average or just above average beers that I can’t really be bothered to drink.
In the meantime, the brewers under the railway arches turn out beers that get me really excited. If inconsistency is the price paid for these great beers, then I can live with that. Of course, we’d like consistency and greatness. But if both aren’t on offer, I don’t want to trade greatness for consistency. I’ll live with the odd sub-par bottle.
Is the same true for wine? To a degree, yes. Great wines are often made in marginal regions, by people taking risks, where the weather gods don’t always play fair. Of course, this isn’t a good way to make cheap wine. For inexpensive wine, a warm climate, irrigation, and no risk of harvest rain is just the ticket. Consistency is great. But it’s really hard to make consistent, great wine.
This was a new discovery at Cape Wine. It’s the Rêverie Chenin Blanc 2014 from an old vineyard (1978 plantings) in the Swartland. The soils? Pure granite, no irrigation, picked early (19 Balling), fermented in old barrels. It’s made by Jacques de Klerk whose day job is with Radford Dale. Interestingly, even though this is a warm region, he’s avoiding acidification. ‘Over the years we’ve started to strip everything down a bit,’ he says.
‘I’m exploring the influence of tannin and the sourness and bitterness you get from it. You don’t always need to have massive acidity to get freshness. But you have to have low alcohol.’
De Klerk Family Wines Rêverie Chenin Blanc 2014 Swartland, South Africa
11.5% alcohol. pH 3.56, 4.4 g/l acidity. Very fine and expressive with lovely textured pear and ripe apple fruit. So delicate and fine with a bit of richness to the texture, and such purity. Light but concentrated, this is quite stunning. 94/100
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Continuing my exploration of well priced and delicious grower Champagnes, here’s another, from Michel Arnould. They have 12 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in Verzenay. It’s Pinot Noir: although I’m at heart a Blanc de Blancs fan, there are times when some Pinot character is welcome.
Champagne Michel Arnould Grand Cru Brut Réserve NV France
From Verzenay, this is a delicious, well priced grower Champagne that’s 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay (the regular brut is a varietal Pinot Noir). 12% alcohol. It’s taut and focused with nicely dense citrus and ripe apple fruit. This has some spicy warmth and a subtly savoury edge. There are notes of cherries and herbs with just a hint of sweetness, as well as apricot richness. Showing nice complexity, this is quite serious. 92/100 (£24.60 Tanners)
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One thing that my tastings at Cape Wine has reinforced, is something that I have believed for a while. It’s that it is possible – even in quite warm climates – to make wines with moderate alcohol levels. I tried many lovely wines that had alcohol levels in the range of 12-13.5%, and one or two even lower.
Of course, alcohol isn’t everything, and it is possible to have balanced table wines at 14.5% alcohol. But this isn’t all that common. In the absence of other information about a wine, the alcohol level is a useful surrogate guide to balance and freshness.
As I tasted around the show, I found many beautiful red wines that were fully ripe, weren’t unpleasantly green, and had freshness with no added acidity. They were joyful, giving and drinkable: not austere and thin. I found the same for whites, but it was with the reds that this was most marked.
I even found reds at 12% alcohol and below that weren’t unripe. Freshness, balance, drinkability and detail – from warm climate wines with no acid additions. This is exciting, and there are now more of these wines than ever.
It’s as if a small movement has started where people have had the courage to pick earlier, taken the risk, and then have loved the results. They have no fear of competitions or critics who might punish them for their style choice (and this does happen). They have travelled and tasted, and they are no longer making wines they think the market demands, but have instead grown their own market for the sorts of wines they believe in.
In the recent past, winemakers worldwide have been obsessed with a concept known as physiological ripeness. This is about tasting grapes, looking for ripe flavours, brown seeds, pimpled skins – resulting in picking later and later. One South African winemaker I spoke to dubbed this ‘psychological ripeness’. The consequence of this approach was lots of tartaric acid and nutrient additions in the winery, trying to nurse the yeasts over the line as they poisoned themselves on the excessive alcohol they produced. Now the talk is of farming for acidity, looking to preserve natural acidity by picking at the right time rather than adding it later.
The other thing that seems to be happening – and, as with new ideas about ripeness, this isn’t restricted to South Africa among new world wine countries – is a growing appreciation of lighter red wines. Extraction is gentler, and whole bunches are frequently used. The new Cape star red grape is the once-lowly Cinsault, a grape that makes lighter, fresher reds in warm climates, either alone, or as a blending component.
Looking elsewhere in the New World, so many of the older Australian wines I have tried that have aged well showed lower alcohol levels than their current counterparts. The same is true of great old Californian wines. Global warming has been cited as a cause of this upward trend in harvest ripeness. But Cape Wine this year showed that even in warm climates – and the Swartland is properly warm – you can farm in such a way that picking earlier is possible, and the wines are just so much better and more interesting for it.
My view? Picking too late is one of the collective insanities of the world of wine over recent decades.
These are some of the highlights from the Chenin Blanc beach party at Cape Wine, which I caught on Monday afternoon.
It’s great that Chenin Blanc is now fully recognized as one of South Africa’s strongpoints. I guess this isn’t anything new, but the change over recent years is the gain of momentum behind this variety. It’s so adaptable, and this stylistic variation is a source of interest, whether the variation is through soils, aspects, climates or even wine making choices. Interesting fact: Stellenbosch has more old vine Chenin Blanc vineyards than the Swartland. Steadily, this resource of old vines is being translated into interesting vines.
Ken Forrester FMC 2005 Stellenbosch, South Africa (from magnum)
Very rich, spicy and warm. Intense and bold, yet quite nuanced with apricot and spice notes. This is textured and deep, with nice fig and spice notes. 92/100
Ken Forrester FMC 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh and vivid, with citrus, pear and spice fruit. Quite rich with lovely tangy marmalade and apricot notes. Very rich, with some sweetness, but has balance and freshness. 92/100
Jean Daneel Signature Chenin Blanc 2014 Western Cape, South Africa
This is sourced from the Swartland, from old bush vines. Fermented and aged in French oak for 12 months, 25% new. Broad and stylish with nice depth and texture, showing pear and white peach fruit and some subtle toastiness. Has a lovely delicacy to it despite the richness. Very fine. 93/100
Jean Daneel Directors Signature Chenin Blanc 2014 Western Cape, South Africa
This is a barrel selection of the signature Chenin from old bush vines, and it’s fermented and aged in 100% new French oak. Direct, complex white peach and pear fruit. Very supple and fine with nice spiciness that swallows the oak really well. Fresh and detailed. 94/100
Leeuwenkuil Chenin Blanc 2013 Swartland, South Africa
Harvested at 18-22 Balling, whole bunch pressed, natural ferment in the barrel. Complex, broad, fresh and multidimensional. Some nuts and wax, with fine spiciness. There’s a lovely brightness to this wine, with real depth. 93/100
Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Old Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2014 South Africa
From estate fruit and fermented in second and third use barrels. Nice freshness here with some pear and peach fruit, as well as citrus brightness. Nice precision. Textured and fresh. 91/100
Mulderbosch W Chenin Blanc 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is one of the single vineyard Chenins from Mulderbosch, and its from the vineyard site closest to the ocean. Fine, expressive and fresh with nice pure pear fruit and some spice. Expressive on the nose. Textured and rich but still fresh with a lemony edge to the bold fruit. Lively and powerful. 94/100
Radford Dale The Renaissance of Chenin Blanc 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa (barrel sample)
Uninoculated with no added acid, whole-bunch pressed. Pure, nuanced and quite fine with lovely apple and pear fruit, as well as subtle fennel notes. This has lovely weight and purity, and flavours of ripe apples. 93/100
The Fledge & Co Hoeksteen Chenin Blanc 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From 30 year old bush vines, unwooded, 9 months on lees. Fine, bright and expressive with nicely textured citrus and pear fruit. Subtle apple notes, too. This is stylish and distinctive with lovely fruit character. 93/100
Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Rich, spicy and stylish with nice richness. Notes of mandarin, honey and toast. The full palate is powerful yet fresh with nice concentration and brightness along with depth of flavour. 92/100
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Urban winery LDN CRU (London Cru) are just about to release their 2014s. It’s the second vintage at this exciting project, based near Earl’s Court in West London, and I’m pleased to say that the wines are even better than the 2013s, which were already very good. I caught up with winemaker Gavin Monery at the winery to taste through.
‘I want these wines to be true to their variety,’ says Gavin. ‘Just because we move the grapes, it doesn’t mean we trample over the terroir or variety.’
His goal? ‘I want to make wines that shock people because they are so good.’ I think with these releases, Gavin has achieved this. Production has gone up from 1300 cases to 2200 with this 2014 vintage, and the plan is to increase this to 2800 in 2015, which is currently being harvested, including an Albariño from Rias Baixas. Gavin was going to do a Slovenian Pinot Noir, but the grower wasn’t prepared to drop crop to get the required quality. He’s also got some new concrete tanks from Vasche in Italy to play with.
Prices vary a little, but are around £18 per bottle in 2014.
London Cru Bacchus 2014 England
Gavin managed to get hold of three tons of grapes from Sandhurst Vineyards, and has produced 1900 bottles of this wine: a new venture for London Cru. It has a lovely perfumed nose of elderflower and citrus, with gentle herbal notes. The palate is fresh, focused and pure, and it’s bright but not harsh. A lovely crisp, focused wine. 90/100
London Cru Chardonnay 2014
This is from the same vineyard as in 2013 in the Roussillon. It’s a cool site in a warm region, 3 km from the ocean. The grapes are harvested early, and will all of London Cru’s wines, there is no acidification. Lovely complex nose of toast, spice and citrus, with some creaminess in the mouth, as well as nuts and toast. Broad and focused at the same time, this is a lovely wine. 92/100
London Cru Barbera 2014
This would be DOC Barbera d’Alba if it wasn’t made in London. It’s from a Cordera family vineyard, but this year Gavin has been upgraded. 5 tons harvested, 3 day cold soak, 10 day ferment and then pressed off to barrel. 15% new oak, 30% tank. Sweet wild brambly fruit on the nose. Sweet and perfumed with a hint of chocolate. Lovely sweet fruit on the palate. Rich yet balanced with sharp raspberry acidity on the finish. 93/100
London Cru Grenache 2014
From Calatayud in Spain. ‘When I think of Grenache I think of Rayas,’ says Gavin. ‘I don’t want power.’ This is from high altitude vineyards and is 20% whole bunch. Lovely sweet, juicy and focused with ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit. Sweet with nice texture and lovely freshness. There’s amazing raspberry intensity on the palate with some grip and nice acidity (pH 3.3). Pure and vibrant. 92/100
London Cru Syrah 2014
From a 900 m vineyard in Catalayud, Spain, with decomposed granite soils. Because of the altitude the growing season is long, and this was picked on the 11 October. 6 tons were harvested and split into three: 100% destemmed, 20% whole bunch and 40% whole bunch. These were aged separately. Sweet, lush, chocolatey black fruits nose that’s floral and appealing. The palate has a really silky, lush texture, but it shows restraint and freshness. Direct, pure and seductive with lovely precision and some fine spiciness. Still very primary but with great potential. 93/100
London Cru Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
This is from a vineyard owned by Jeff Coutelou in the Languedoc. Jeff doesn’t use Cabernet so London Cru can buy it, and the soils are red clay and limestone. This wine is to my palate, the best of these very good new releases, and it’s a world class expression of Cabernet. Beautiful, concentrated essence of Cabernet with pure spice-framed blackcurrant fruit and a bit of gravel. Amazing concentration and power with pure blackcurrant fruit and good structure. 94/100
I woke up on Sunday early but excited. A few lucky people, including me, had been invited to Robertson by three producers: Graham Beck, Springfield and De Wetshof. And we were to fly there on a small plane (a Beechcraft – from looking on the website, I’m pretty sure this was a King Air 350). And then afterwards, we were to head to the little Karoo to stay overnight at the Sanbona wildlife reserve, in the Godwana lodge. This was all rather exciting.
Roberston is an interesting wine region, and one that is not given enough credit. It’s thought to be a hot region, not suited to fine wine production. This is clearly nonsense, as Robertson makes some of the country’s best Chardonnay and Methode Cap Classique. ‘I think Robertson is one of the most interesting regions for producing the flavour profiles for Chardonnay,’ says Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck. He points out that although it’s warm, if you manage your vineyards the right way, you can get great grapes. And its the region with the highest natural limestone. He never has to acidify for his sparkling base wines.
We started off at Graham Beck, and these sparkling wines are just lovely. Try the Blanc de Blancs 2010, the Brut Zero 2010 or the Cuvee Clive 2009 – these are serious wines.
We then walked the vineyards at Springfield with Abrie and Jeannette Bruwer. Here the biggest vineyard pest is snails, who – because of the limestone in the soils – can achieve a rapid generation time. These snails multiply fast and early in the season destroy new buds. On a large vineyard, there are very few solutions that aren’t chemical. Ducks can manage a few rows, but not 100 hectares. They’re famous for their Sauvignon Blanc, but I really liked their Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2013 and their Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
Lesca de Wet
Danie de Wet
Finally, Lesca de Wet took us up to see the Bon Vallon vineyard, which is quite stunning. We returned to the farm to meet Danie De Wet, who couldn’t join us in the vineyard because his ankle was in a huge cast. Their sons Peter and Johann are also involved (winemaker and marketing, respectively). It’s such a nice, authentic family making some very smart wines, with Chardonnay a real speciality. Danie was one of the pioneers of this variety in the Cape and helped smuggle in vines back in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
I’m in South Africa, again. No great hardship: I love this country. I arrived on Saturday, and as usual, I’ve found little time to write blog posts, so this will be a brief update from day 1.
I headed to the pretty Stellenbosch Kloof, which is not yet an official subdistrict of this large region, but which is home to some very interesting producers. I visited three of them – and, for me, this was the first time for all.
Kathy and Gary Jordan
I started at Jordan. Gary and Kathy are doing some really good things (they’ve been making wine here since 1993, and have expanded the farm four times with purchases from neighbours.
They are very well known for excellent Chardonnay, but I also liked their 2015 Riesling, and the two reds I tasted: the Prospector Syrah 2013 and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is not just a white wine farm. We lunched at the restaurant, which was superb.
Wendy and Carl
Then it was off to De Morgenzon, one of the rising stars of Stellenbosch. Carl Van de Merwe is making some superb wines here, specializing largely (but not exclusively) in whites, which do really well on these (mainly) south facing slopes. Owner Wendy Appelbaum was there as well. We tasted a lot of wines from barrel, looking at the effect of differences in soil and aspect on the same varieties.
Then, the final visit of the day was Mulderbosch, with winemakers Adam Mason and Mick Craven. They showed me the range from Mulderbosch, including the 2014 releases of the single-site Chenin Blancs (a really exciting project) , and also wines from Adam’s own projects Marvelous and Yardstick. I was very impressed.