Trying this right now. It’s a Malvasia from Istria in Croatia, and it’s quite compelling. I’ve tried a few of these Kozlović wines, and I’ve been impressed by them. I’m not sure of the packaging (the bottle shape is a bit odd – a tall Bordeaux shape with a skinny neck), but the contents are good.
Kozlović Santa Lucia Malvazija 2015 Istria, Croatia
14.7% alcohol. From a single vineyard planted 55 years ago at an altitude of 240 m with limestone and clay soils. Skin contact at cool temperatures for 5 days, followed by fermentation in 5000 litre casks, followed by 3 months in stainless steel tanks. TA is 5.2 and there’s 5.5 g/l of residual sugar, so these grapes must have been harvested ripe. The result is really interesting, though. It’s bold, rich, mouthfilling and spicy with beautiful aromas of fennel, white pepper, honey and quince. The palate is dense and spicy with a lovely mineral core to the boldly textured, warmly textural, subtly nutty citrus fruits. For a rich, boldly flavoured wine with high alcohol, this is just lovely and has a real harmony to it. 93/100 (Ex-cellars this is about €13)
Over the course of four days of vintage, I was exposed to a number of the stages of making wine. I spent the second evening at the sorting table. Pinot Noir was coming in from two different vineyards, and our job was to work on the vibrating table which the grapes pass along on their way to the crusher/destemmer. The grapes are brought to the sorting table in the same one-ton plastic bins used for fermenting, which are then lifted up by forklift. They are gently dumped on the vibrating table, which passes the grapes along at a speed at which it’s possible to sort them.
Sour rot in a bunch of Pinot Noir
In sorting this fruit we were looking to eliminate underripe fruit and rotten fruit. There are two main rotten characters we were looking out for. The first was sour rot, which is very distinctive: the berries are an orange/yellow colour and smell very acetic and unpleasant (if you suspect this, a quick sniff will confirm the diagnosis). The second is botrytis, which turns the berries mouldy. You really don’t want either in your ferment.
Pumping over a Pinot Noir ferment
Fruit doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. Some very high end wineries use expensive optical sorters to try to make sure that only perfect berries go into the ferment. But it’s not clear that these ‘perfect’ berries make better wine, although theoretically they should. Also, if picking decisions are made for the right reasons (and the decision of when to pick is a crucial decision), then it’s possible that a lot of fruit could be arriving all at the same time. And that fruit needs to be processed quickly. So a sorting process that is too slow could be a bottleneck that actually ends up costing quality.
Like many winemaking tasks, working on the sorting table is very satisfying (especially for the first hour or so), but if you were to spend two days doing it without a break you might go mad. Ideally, during vintage the team shifts around tasks so they don’t get bored. Winemaking is quite physical. Certainly, at the scale that Norman Hardie is operating at, you are close to the wine all the way through the process.
Here, the Pinot Noir is destemmed and crushed before fermentation. Norm is from South Africa, and he did a vintage with Bouchard Finlayson. Peter Finlayson likes to work with whole berries, which involves using the destemmer but not the crusher. On one of their Pinot Noir lots someone forgot to turn the crusher off and Peter was furious, blaming Norm for it. But several years later, in a vertical tasting of the Pinots at which both Norm and Peter were present, the wine of the night was the one made from crushed fruit. So, unlike many others, Norm likes to crush his Pinot a bit. He destems pretty much everything, although he is doing some experiments with whole bunch where he layers crushed fruit, whole bunch, crushed fruit, whole bunch in a lasagne-like arrangement.
Another very satisfying process is pressing. I showed a video of the pressing process in a recent blog post. To recap: the fermentation has finished in the one ton bins, and it’s time to get the Pinot Noir to barrel. The juice is drained off using a hose that’s placed within a grill, preventing the grape skins and seeds from being sucked up. This juice goes to another bin, leaving a wet mass of skins, seeds and juice.
These are tipped into a basket, and this is then wheeled under a press (the whole thing is known as a basket press): conveniently the skins from one bin fit exactly into one basket. For the next 10 minutes these skins are squeezed so the juice comes out, which is then pumped into the bin containing the already drained off juice. The pressing process is stopped when the juice coming out of the skins begins to look murky. This leaves a cake of semi-dry skins once the basket is removed.
After pressing, the juice is settled overnight in the bin, and is then taken to barrel. It will stay in this barrel for the next 10 months or so. Once the Pinot is in barrel, most of the hard work is over. Then it’s a question of monitoring things and topping up the barrel from time to time.
Chardonnay is a big focus at Norman Hardie. In yesterdays’ post from vintage here, I described the way the grapes are received at the winery in plastic bins. If the fruit is in good condition, there’s no need to sort (the best sorting is done in the vineyard, picking only healthy fruit). Otherwise, they pass along the sorting table and then go to the press. The press here takes up to five tons at a time, and pressing usually takes around 2 hours. The resulting juice is allowed to oxidise a bit: there’s a relatively fast enzymatic oxidation that turns it brown. The idea is to oxidise the easily oxidisable elements in the wine (certain phenolics) which then makes the wine more stable later in its life.
Chardonnay being pumped from tank to barrel
This juice usually doesn’t have anything added to it (sometimes a bit of tartaric acid might be added), and goes to tank. There, fermentation is left to begin naturally. This is monitored pretty closely, and if nothing is happening after a few days then Norm is quite happy to inoculate, either with a pied de cuve (a small natural fermentation started in a demijohn), or with a cultured yeast. If the ferment gets too stinky early on, then he might rack and return to give it some oxygen, or add some nutrients (Fermaid).
Measuring the Brix of fermenting Chardonnay
The idea is to get these natural ferments going strongly before taking the wine to barrel. One of my jobs here was to help Claude with tracking all the white wine ferments. She’d fetch samples, and I’d measure the Brix by looking at specific gravity, and then correcting for the temperature. This way, it’s possible to track the progress of each tank and barrel.
At the right stage, the Chardonnays are transferred to barrels in the barrel hall. First, it’s necessary to put the barrels into place: here they are stacked two high. These 500 litre barrels are heavy, and it takes two people to lift and roll them when they are empty: there’s no way you can move them when they are full. Norm checks each barrel before it is filled, and if it smells too much of sulphur dioxide, it needs to be rewashed, or the fermentation could be affected. The once the barrels are in place, they are filled from the tanks via a hose trailing through the winery and entering the barrel cellar via an improvised hole drilled in the concrete wall.
For those barrels that are actively fermenting, some battonage is used. This is the process where a metal pole is used to stir the wine, mixing up all the yeast lees at the bottom of the barrel and keeping everything mixed up nicely. I spent about an hour doing this, and it was quite therapeutic.
Those Chardonnays will stay in barrel for almost a year, and they’ll be topped up and monitored at regular intervals. Tasting the fermenting wine now, it’s hard to extrapolate to the finished product, but this is something that experienced winemakers are good at. Making great wine certainly starts in the vineyard, but it also requires great skill and attention if you are to be able to do it on a consistent basis. Winemaking itself is lots of little details, and fortunately the vintage crew here all really care and don’t cut corners, even though this would make their life a lot easier.
Two short videos illustrating the red winemaking process here at Norm Hardie’s in Prince Edward County, Canada. This is Pinot Noir being processed. The first video shows the punching down of Pinot Noir ferments. The grapes are crushed into one-ton plastic bins. These are a nice scale to work at.
In the short clip, Norm is taking us through the bins one by one. The skins float to the top and form a cap. The job here is to understand where they are in their fermentation. Initially these caps need to be punched down to submerge them and keep them wet: this also helps with extraction. Later on they just need submerging by hand, much more gently.
Then, as fermentation slows and stops, it’s time to press. Initially, the juice is taken off and placed into a fresh bin. Then the remaining skins are dumped (carefully) into a basket press. This is an old technology, but it’s really well suited to making red wines, because of the quality of the pressings you get off. Once the pressing is finished, you end up with a cake of skins and seeds. The press juice is combined with the juice that’s been taken off, and the combination is allowed to settle before going to barrel.
Norman Hardie is one of Canada’s most celebrated winegrowers. Since his first vintage in 2004, his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – elegant, light in alcohol and very old world in style – have caught the attention of the press both in Canada and also further afield. Norm is based in Prince Edward County in Ontario, but also makes wine from Niagara. [Here's my report on a visit in 2013.]
A couple of months ago, Norm got in touch with me. ‘Would you like to come out and spend some time with us at harvest?’ Fortunately, I had a gap in the diary, so here I am. For four days, I’ll be immersing myself in vintage here.
Perfect looking Chardonnay clusters. So much flavour. Good acid. Low potential alcohol.
Visiting a winery during vintage is exciting. The downside can be that it’s busy and you don’t really want to be a burden to everyone who’s working flat out at the busiest time of year. But the positive is that you catch the energy and see the key moments in the journey of a new wine. You also get to sense the tension that harvest time creates: everything is happening fast, and a bit of adverse weather or a piece of equipment breaking down can really throw things. So much is at stake.
Pinot Noir, a day from picking
I arrived last night. The winery was busy: Pinot Noir had come in from Niagara, and was being processed. The one-ton bins of grapes were being unloaded onto a vibrating sorting table. This gets rid of little bugs and small pieces of unwanted material, and allows the people operating the sorting table to look at the bunches and eliminate any that don’t look ripe, or are rotten. Then the grapes enter the crusher destemmer, which spits out the stems on one side and the crushed grapes and juice into a plastic fermentation bin. As these are filled up they are taken away and replaced with empty ones. At one point there was a disaster, when the destemmer failed because a key part hadn’t been greased properly. But Mark, who is from a farming background and can repair anything, fixed it, and the work continued.
This process went on past midnight, and then it was time to sit down for a quick dinner, share a glass of wine, and off to bed.
This morning Norm was up at 5 am. He was taking the fermentation bins and drawing off as much juice as possible into a dairy tank, where it was chilled down and then returned to the bin. The idea is to stop fermentation from starting, and have what’s known as a cold soak, where the extraction of colour and flavour from the skins takes place in an aqueous (less extractive) environment. Everyone else began work at the more civilized time of 7 am.
I was up at 7 too, and my first assigned task was to follow Norm going through the fermenting bins of Pinot Noir. Norm explained how some would need punching down (where a special rod is used to submerge the floating cap of skins), while others would just need the cap submerging gently by hand. So along with one of the team, I spent an hour or so lifting the lids of the fermenters, working the cap of skins, cleaning around the rim, then replacing the lids.
Then it was off with Norm to look at some vineyards. One of the reasons that Prince Edward County is so exciting as a wine region is the soils. These are classic clay/limestone. The hitch? It can be brutally cold in the winter, and the only way to ensure the vines survive is to have a very low head, and then tie down canes at the end of the season and cover them all in earth. This earthing-up means that the vines even survive when temperatures dip below -30 C. Aside from the winter cold, the climate is still quite marginal, though: in 2015 there was very little wine from the County because of a brutal late May frost. Norm only made 9 tons from 50 acres of vineyard. This year, fortunately, things have been much better and it’s a bumper crop.
After this, it was time to process some Chardonnay that had come in from Niagara. I was at the sorting table as seven bins were tipped on here, and into the press. There was a near disaster: after five bins had gone into the press it was rotated a few times to make room for the rest, but the doors hadn’t been secured properly. They burst open and jammed. Mark came to the rescue with a hammer and a block of wood, but for a while it looked like the press might be out of action for a day, which would have been terrible. The result of sorting grapes is that you end up very sticky, and covered in wasps who suddenly find you irresistible.
Loading the press with Chardonnay
Then I joined Norm to look at the progress of the Chardonnays. Norm likes to get fermentation going in tank before he takes the wine to barrel, especially considering that almost all his ferments are with indigenous yeast (although he has no objections to using cultured yeast or fermentation aids such as Fermaid if they are needed). If you go straight to barrel, some might go stinky, and it’s always the barrels tucked away in the corner at the bottom that decide to do this, which is a real pain for the crew. So the Chardonnay goes into large stainless steel milk tanks to start out with.
Checking a Chardonnay ferment
Norm began using these milk tanks for two reasons. First of all, they are horizontal (which means more lees contact, although this means they take up more space). Second, this is dairy farming country, so they are plentiful and affordable. After fermentation is underway, then the wine can go to barrels, the vast majority of which are 500 litres. Two were starting very slowly, so we inoculated them with a pied de cuve, which is a starter fermentation that is begun in a carboy.
There’s already quite a bit of wine in barrel, and these need checking on too. Norm’s very happy with this vintage so far, but he’s complaining that the wines are just a bit too clean. His favoured style is to toy a bit with reduction, which frames the wine beautifully when it’s done well, adding complexity and setting it up for a long life.
It was my first time in Nova Scotia. This is on the Atlantic coast of Canada, and it’s the youngest of Canada’s cool climate wine regions. I was here to visit Benjamin Bridge, the sparkling wine producer that’s making waves, and has the reputation of being Canada’s finest sparkling winery.
I was travelling with three sommeliers from Toronoto: Krysta Oben, Jay Whitely and Jake Skakun, and our merry tour guide was Nicole Campbell of Lifford, who represent Benjamin Bridge in Canada.
Our first evening was spent exploring Halifax, in the company of Chris Campbell and Jean Benoit Deslauriers, the winemaking team of Benjamin Bridge. We began in the Stillwell Beer Garden, which is a lovely outdoor space, and then progressed for some dinner at Little Oak, which has a really good wine list. Gimonnet’s Cuis went down well, as did a Tempier Bandol Rosé and the Lapierre Morgon 2015. We then headed off to Obladee, Heather Rankin’s place, which also has a really good wine list and some nice beer. Overnight was in the lovey, grand Lord Nelson hotel.
Then it was off to the Gaspereau Valley, about an hour’s drive. This is where Benjamin Bridge is located, and it has a unique microclimate that enables Vitis vinifera to ripen perfectly to create sparkling base wines.
New high-density plantings
The valley looks pretty stunning, although we had a day of solid, heavy rain for our visit. This was welcomed, though, because the previous few months had been really dry, and the vines needed this extra drink to set themselves up for the last push to ripeness.
Harvest was underway for some of the hybrids, such as L’Acadie Blanc. Until recently hybrids were the rule here, because the cool climate and winter low temperatures make growing vinifera varieties properly marginal.
Benjamin Bridge is the vision of Gerry McConnell. He has an interesting story. Growing up in a humble background in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he worked hard to put himself through law school, getting a scholarship. When he began practising law in the 1970s he saw that a lot of large companies had moved manufacturing plants to Nova Scotia because of the lack of labour laws, which meant that they could save money by exploiting the workers. So his focus was on labour law and he helped unionise the work force and campaign for better rights for the exploited workforce. Then he decided to go into business, and saw an opportunity for gold mining. His NovaGold operation became huge, and he sold it, remaining on the board.
In the late 1990s he and his wife were looking for the next thing and they witnessed the Gasperau vineyards being established. ‘I was captivated by the symmetry of the vines,’ he recalls, ‘so we thought we should find a place here.’ He identified what is now Benjamin Bridge as probably the best farm in the valley, but it took some manoeuvring to persuade the owners to sell. Many of the family farms here have been in the same hands for many generations, and so people are reluctant to be the ones who broke the chain by selling. In the end, Gerry convinced the Westcotts to sell by offering to allow Chris Westcott to stay on as vineyard manager. ‘He takes tremendous pride in seeing what we’ve done.’
When the current batch of plantings is complete, there will be close to 90 acres under vine here. Scott Savoy, the viticulturist here came on board in 2015 and he’s been looking to remodel the vineyards, planting at a higher density and getting each vine to do less work, moving from 3 kg per vine to 1.5 kg.
‘This was an experiment,’ says Gerry. His view was that if he couldn’t make internationally acclaimed wines, he’d abort the project. So he looked to hire the best consultants he could. He began with Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling, who had a lot of experience (and are still involved in the project), but they didn’t have experience with sparkling wine. So when they recommended to Gerry that there was potential here for world class sparkling, Gerry realized he’d have to find a consultant from Champagne to supplement this team. He spoke with Tom Stevenson, one of the world’s top Champagne writers, who gave him a short list of three names. Top of the list was Raphaël Brisbois of Piper Heidsieck, who initially was a terrible sceptic. He eventually joined when Gerry convinced him that there’s be no risk to his reputation. Brisbois oversaw the development of sparkling wines here, and loved coming to Nova Scotia, and getting his hands dirty. Sadly, in 2013 he was diagnosed with cancer and died a month later. ‘But his legacy is here,’ says Gerry. The new hire as consultant is Pascal Agrapart, who has just begun working with Benjamin Bridge. ‘Pascal is absolutely connected to the vineyard,’ says Gerry. ‘We’re looking forward to receiving some good advice.’
The advantage of this region is the final stages of ripening taking place in very cool conditions. ‘The proximity to the bay stretches the growing season,’ says Jean Benoit ‘It allows us to pick at low sugar and high acidity two-and-a-half months after they pick for sparkling wine in Sonoma.’ [He was working in Sonoma before he was hired here.] A typical vintage here for vinifera would be first week of November, while Sonoma would begin in the second week in July. ‘It’s the foundation of everything,’ says Jean Benoit. ‘Phenolic maturity that’s through the roof with modest sugar and acidity unspoiled. There’s no substitute for time when it comes to skin and seed ripeness.’
The typical analysis here would be 10.5% potential alcohol (18 Brix), pH of 3 and 9.5 g/litre acidity, but with brown seeds and a tremendous amount of phenolic ripeness. ‘It’s the gateway stylistically for doing what great traditional method sparklings are supposed to do. It allows freshness and richness to emerge at an elevated level but not one at the expense of the other.’
‘There will always be a foundation of freshness in these wines,’ says Jean Benoit. ‘We always have electricity and tension, but not all the wines have a richness. We have to work at getting inherent richness from within, rather than relying on hefty dosage.’
‘When you scratch and claw your way to ripeness and get there at the 11th hour, that’s the territory for greatness,’ declares Jean Benoit. Chris Campbell adds, ‘you are still pushing for it at the very end, and that’s where the magic happens.’
L’Acadie Blanc with its distinctive red stems
There are perils here, chief of which is winter cold. ‘Twice we’ve seen -24 C,’ says Scott. ‘This is the challenge for bringing vinifera to fruition.’ To this end they hill up the graft union in the winter, as this is the most vulnerable part of the vine. In good winters they’ll have snow deep enough to help protect against the lows, too. But vine balance is critical in helping the vines go dormant at the end of the season. Another challenge is downy mildew, but again, balanced vines with well adjusted crop loads seem to be much more resistant to this.
The wines? They’re quite lovely. There’s a precision and freshness here, but it’s allied to real depth of flavour.
Benjamin Bridge Brut 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada
This was the last traditional method sparkling Benjamin Bridge made containing hybrid varieties. It’s 10% each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 80% L’Acadie and Vidal. There’s a beautiful balance here, with ripe pear and white peach fruit, a bit of richness but a lot of fresh acidity. There are also hints of apples and honey, with linearity and finesse. 91/100
Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blancs 2009 Nova Scotia, Canada
This small production wine was made from a vineyard with limestone soils in Bear River. So linear and focused with lovely reductive hints, some mineral notes and lovely precision. Lemon and subtle toast notes, showing amazing precision and finesse. 93/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008 Nova Scotia, Canada
60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, low yields of 0.8 kg per vine and a dry extract twice the level of Dom Perignon. Concentrated and intense with real power. Tightwound citrus fruits with some pithy notes and well integrated acidity. Intense, pure, lemony and focused with amazing intensity. Has a really long finish. 94/100
Benjamin Bridge Rosé 2011 Nova Scotia, Canada
43% Pinot Meunier, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay. Lively, linear and bright with fresh raspberry and cherry notes. Lovely supple green herbiness, showing nice freshness and focus. 91/100
Benjamin Bridge Rosé 2012 Nova Scotia, Canada
70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Nice purity with lively, pithy, bright fruit. Cherry and plum notes. Fresh and vivid with lemony acidity. Fine, delicate and pure. 92/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut NV Nova Scotia, Canada
This is a blend of hybrid and vinifera varieties, with 2010 as the base. Very fresh, linear and fruity. Direct and lemony with nice fruit quality and a bit pf pithiness. 90/100
Benjamin Bridge Blanc de Blancs 2004 Nova Scotia, Canada
This was the wine that caused the world to sit up and take notes of Benjamin Bridge. It’s from Dr Al McIntyre’s Kingsport property. There’s a bit of toasty development, but it’s still pretty youthful with nice lemony fruit. Really linear and rounded with a faint (nice) hint of cheese, and some ripe apple notes. 92/100
Each year, one of the most anticipated events in the South African calendar is the Cape Winemakers Guild annual auction. Ad it’s coming up next weekend. Special lots of wines made by the Guild’s members are sold off, badged with the famous CWG auction label. These represent some of the Cape’s finest wines, and they fetch high prices.
Back in 1981, when the Cape Winemakers’ Guild was first formed, the South African wine scene was very different to how it is today. One of the founder members of the CWG, Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate, recalls how the organization began as a way for isolated winemakers in the Cape to share knowledge and taste more widely. The inaugural meeting consisted of just five winemakers tasting through all Bordeaux five first growths. Since then, the CWG has grown, the South African wine industry has matured, and it is now a multifaceted winemakers’ association. As well as the high profile auction of CWG wines held each year, there are monthly meetings where the members get together and taste and discuss. And there’s also a mentoring aspect where young winemakers are helped along their journey by more experienced colleagues.
The auction wines are chosen in a blind-tasting format. Winemakers enter small, exclusive lots of wine and these are then entered. Once they have been accepted, they can only be sold at the auction, and the maximum quantity for the auction is 100 cases.
Particular strengths this year were Chardonnay and Shiraz. ‘For me collectively it is the best grouping of Chardonnays I have seen in the Auction,’ says Arnold. Boela Gerber thinks the strength of Shiraz is that it responds so well to the diversity of growing conditions found in the Cape.
I tasted through many of the auction wines, and these are my notes.
Graham Beck Wines Non Plus Ultra MCC 2008 Western Cape, South Africa
81% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir. Lovely depth here: has some toast and spice too. Very fine with ripe apple, peach and citrus as well as a nice spiciness. Generous but focused. 91/100
Ntida Swan Song Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Durbanville, South Africa
From Benhard Veller. Elegant grassy, pure, focused nose. Wild ferment with a portion in French oak. Lovely elegance and concentration here with real finesse and lovely subtle grassy green notes. It’s a beautiful grassy green, complemented by grapefruit and passionfruit. A lovely wine. 92/100
Cederberg Ghost Corner Semillon 2015 Elim, South Africa
From David Nieuwoudt. 13.5% alcohol. 8 h skin contact and 50% barrel fermented in one year old oak. Such a distinctive wine with a striking grassy, green nose and palate. Hints of blackcurrant and spice with citrus and herbs. So fresh and grassy with an almost saline edge. It’s a remarkable wine that some people will hate, but I really like it. 91/100
Mullineux Clairette Blanche 2015 Swartland, South Africa
From Andrea Mullineux. 40 year old dry farmed vineyard on Paardeberg granite. Delicate, lemony and pure with a hint of pear richness. Nice weight on the palate: quite refined and primary at the moment with hints of toast and wax. Pretty. Give it time. 91/100
Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Johan Malan makes this. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Seasoned French oak for fermentation. Complex, fresh and nutty with some ripe apple, some pear and nectarine with a rich texture and a bit of cedary oak, but it meshes really well with the flavours working in harmony. 90/100
Beaumont Family Wines ‘Morse Moer’ Chening Blanc 2015 Bot River, South Africa From Sebastian Beaumont. Made from bulk-filtered solids, barrel fermented, naturally fermented. Amazing matchstick flintiness here, with a lovely mineral acidity. Fantastic precision and detail, with beautifully managed reduction alongside the spice, apples and pears with a lively citrus kick. So delightful and complex. 94/100
Waterford Estate ’88 Kept Aside Chardonnay 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a vineyard selection from a corner on granite soil with no irrigation, almost 30 year old vines. Very fresh with complex notes of wax, grapefruit and herbs. Lovely texture here with some apple and pear character. Has lovely breadth and some understated minerality and power. Such good acidity. This is lovely. 93/100
Tokara Siberia Chardonnay 2015 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
Wild ferment, barrel-fermented (one third new). Unfiltered and unfined, and picked early with higher acidity. Full malolactic. Decomposed sandstone soils, giving perfume and vibrancy. Supple and focused with pear and white peach. Lovely texture with mineral undercurrents to the fruit. Textured and appealing with lovely precision here. 93/100
Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Seadragon Pinot Noir 2015 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
One hectare block that normally goes into the Family Pinot Noir, with no sulphur dioxide in the winemaking. From broken claystone in the granitic soil – a specific subplot of the vineyard. Fine, expressive, elegant slightly spicy refined red cherry and plum fruit. Has finesse, detail and texture. So delicious and pure with real refinement and a delicious sappy green edge. Such finesse. 95/100
Gottfried Mocke Wine Projects Pinot Noir 2015 Coastal Region, South Africa
Wild ferment, 15% whole bunch, 50% new oak. A unique inland site at high altitude, between Villiersdorp and Worcester. In a small valley, Kaimansgaat. Incredibly aromatic spicy nose with ginger and herbs. Powerful, pure, grippy and youthful with a slight mintiness. Very tight and focused with some elegance but also bold, vivid red fruit character. Distinctive. 94/100
Groot Constantia Auction Shiraz 2014 Constantia, South Africa
Boela Gerber. This is from a gravel ridge. The focus is on perfume and elegance, says Boela. Aromatic, fresh and quite expressive with lovely blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Grippy and a bit minty on the palate with nice purity and balance. 91/100
Saronsberg Sneeusig Shiraz 2012 Tulbagh, South Africa
From Dewaldt Heyns. Sweet and intense with rich, spicy black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nice freshness allied to the ripeness, with lovely bold flavours and oak meshing well with the ripe fruit. Generous but balanced.
Strydom Family Wines The Expatriate Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Shiraz. Slopes of the Helderberg. Lovely pure aromatics on the nose of sleek black fruits. Lovely elegant, supple black fruit on the palate with a bit of grip and sleek ripe fruit complemented by some spicy oak, which hides in the background. There’s lovely freshness to this wine, and fruit purity. Ripe but elegant. 93/100
Rust En Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. From Coenie Snyman. This is 100% new oak, and you can taste it: it’s spicy and cedary with ripe black fruits. Bold, with a bit of heat from the 15% alcohol. Dense and spicy with a modern feel to it. Has a bit of freshness but it’s too international for me. 89/100
Jordan Sophia 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc. From Gary Jordan. Supple and elegant with a lovely roundness to the blackcurrant and plum fruit. Ripe but balanced with a nice fine-grained, chalky tannic structure under the generous fruit. Lovely depth here; this should age nicely. 93/100
Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Abrie Breeslar, this comes from 28 year old vines in the Simonsberg. It’s 69% Cabernet Sauvignon with 17% Cabernet Franc and 14% Merlot. Fine, herb tinged raspberry and blackcurrant fruit nose. Has a lovely liqueur-like edge to the fruit. The palate is really pure with sleek red and black fruits backed up by good acidity and tannic structure. This should really age well. Juicy and grippy with lovely focus. 95/100
Etienne Le Riche Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Stellenbosch, South Africa
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Jonkershuik, aged in new oak. 14.7% alcohol. Generous, pure and silky with lovely ripe blackcurrant fruit. It’s ripe but has lovely balance with some grainy, chalky notes hiding under the ripe black fruits. Great concentration here and it ageing really nicely with the oak swallowed up by the fruit. 94/100
Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Carl Schultz. 70% new and 30% used oak for 21 months. Generous with a strong core of bright blackcurrant fruit. Tight and quite structured with lovely pure fruit. Great concentration and depth here. Hints of olive and herbs, too. Grippy finish suggests this has a way to go. 92/100
Beyerskloof Traildust Pinotage 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Beyers Truter. 14.7% alcohol, 20 months in new French oak. Powerful, grippy and spicy with firm tannins, good acidity and sweet, cedary new oak. A concentrated, tight wine of real intensity that’s primary and intense and need lots of time. 90/100
Boplaas Cape Auction Reserve 2009 Western Cape, South Africa
From Carel Nel. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Sousão. Made in lagares. Ripe, sweet and concentrated with nice fresh blackberry and cherry fruit and some grip. There’s a warm spiciness here, and a hint of raisin. Quite delicious. 92/100
Paul Cluver Auction Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 Elgin, South Africa
From Andries Burger. Sweet, juicy cherry and plum fruit with some cedary notes. Grippy and structured with nice precision and some peppery characters. 91/100
Neil Ellis Insignium 2013 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Neil Ellis. Supple, textured and juicy with nice sweet berry and black fruits with some grip and fine pepper characters. An elegant style. 90/100
Mullineux Trifecta Syrah 2013 Swartland, South Africa
Lovely meat and olive savouriness with some olive tapenade character alongside the ripe fruit. Raspberry and cherry with some mint. Fresh and elegant. 93/100
Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Reserve 2014 Western Cape, South Africa
From Marc Kent. Supple, fresh and focused. This is a very elegant style with some floral raspberry and black cherry fruit. Subtle meatiness and real finesse with some nice pepper notes. An elegant style. 94/100
Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2014 Stellenbosch, South Africa
From Jacques Boorman. Sweet liqueur-like cherry fruit nose. Ripe, supple and balanced with brightness to the raspberry and cherry fruit. A lovely wine in an elegant style. 93/100
It was a real pleasure to spend a few days at Quinta do Nápoles with one of my favourite people in the world of wine, Dirk Niepoort. Dirk picks early, so when we visited harvest, this year a little later in the Douro, was well underway, with the bulk of the grapes about to arrive.
Quinta do Carril
During our time at Nápoles we tried quite a few Niepoort wines, as well as many non Niepoort wines. Here are notes on the Niepoort Douro wines.
Niepoort Diálogo Branco 2015 Douro, Portugal 20% oak, 80% stainless. The oaked portion is wine that doesn’t make Redoma. Very fresh and pithy with bright lemons and herbs. Vivid and brisk with good acidity. Linear and refreshing with nice presence. 89/100
Niepoort Redoma Branco 2015 Douro, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Linear, pithy and quite focused with lovely bright pithy, slightly herb-tinged fruit. It’s lemony with some white peach, fennel and a hint of mint, as well as a bit of spicy cedary oak in the background. Tight-wound and quite dense, this needs some time to open out. 92/100
Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2015 Douro, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Nutty, linear and vital with tightwound citrussy fruit. There’s a lovely lemon oil note here lurking above with some minerals and herbs. Lovely citrus core to the wine. Has great concentration and presence with good acidity, and it should age beautifully. There’s some cedary spicy oak here, too. 94/100
Niepoort Coche 2014 Douro, Portugal
Concentrated, linear, fresh and citrussy. Fine with incredible acidity and an amazing linear personality. Very fine and expressive with lovely mineral notes. There’s a touch of sweet pear and white peach fruit, together with lovely mineral framing. Such an expressive wine. 95/100
Niepoort Coche 2015 Douro, Portugal (cask sample)
Very fresh with lemons, and a pure intense mineral character. Has some ripe pear and white peach notes but there’s a lovely citrus drive and a hint of nuttiness around the edges. Lovely precision here and a bit of pithiness, too. 94-96/100
Niepoort Redoma Rosé 2015 Douro, Portugal
12% alcohol. Pale salmon pink in colour. Fresh with nice acidity and clean, slightly creamy, spicy, vanilla-edged fresh cherry and pear fruit. Nice spiciness. Very fresh and detailed with lovely personality. Fine and gastronomic. 89/100
Niepoort Redoma Tinto 2014 Douro, Portugal
Pure, focused raspberry and cherry fruit. Has freshness and grip. Structured and quite fine with red cherries and raspberries. Fresh and delicious. 94/100
Niepoort Redoma Tinto 1991 Douro, Portugal
Another chance to look at the first official Redoma. Spicy, vivid red fruits and herbs on the nose. The palate is vivid, fresh, peppery and juicy with detailed red fruits, and raspberries and cherries. Nicely linear and focused with some elegance. 94/100
Niepoort Redoma Tinto 1996 Douro, Portugal
Fine, spicy and expressive with red cherries, spices and herbs. Lovely raspberry and redcurrants here. Juicy and focused with good acidity. So fresh in style with some grip still. 93/100\
Charme fermenting in barrel
Niepoort Charme 2014 Douro, Portugal The majority of the grapes for this come from Vale Mendiz, and there’s a lot of Tinta Roriz here. Sweet, supple and expressive with lovely red cherries, some redcurrants and herbs. So expressive and textured. Lovely balance to the red fruits with some spicy oak in the background. Youthful and primary with lovely personality and great potential for development. 94/100
Niepoort Vertente 2014 Douro, Portugal
Mainly from Covas de Douro. 40% our vineyards. Mix of different varieties. Vinified in stainless steel with a long maceration of around 3-4 weeks. Aged in French barrels, mainly Francois Freres for around 20 months. 30% new oak. Fresh and vivid with a bit of spiciness. Juicy and focused with good acidity, and fresh, bright raspberry and blackberry fruit. Some cherries too, with a spicy finish. Fruity and easy with nice structure, and a hint of new oak. 92/100
Niepoort Redoma 2014 Douro, Portugal
The vineyards are always the left side of the Douro river. Carril goes mostly to Robustus, but when it doesn’t it goes to Redoma. Old vines, around 100 years old. Blends of different varieties. Vinified in lagars, mainly, with stems. This wine isn’t a fresh, elegant wine, but something that is more Douro. Aged in big foudres of 5 or 10 000 litres for 22 months. Robust, dense, spicy and vivid with lovely black cherries and firm tannic structure. Powerful and intense with lovely richness allied to spicy freshness. Grippy and a bit wild. Lovely. 94/100
Niepoort Batuta 2014 Douro, Portugal
Right side of the river. Mainly Tinta Amarela and Rufete. Very old vineyards, up to 130 years old. Fermented in stainless steel with a long (two month) maceration with very little extraction, and then 22 months in Francois Freres French oak, 20% new. Refined, structured, fresh and precise with lovely black cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice cedary structure here. Refined with good acidity and nice focus. Fresh and concentrated with lovely precision. This is tightwound and refined, and needs some time. But it’s really serious. 95/100
Niepoort Batuta 2013 Douro, Portugal
Focused and fresh with lovely bright cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice acidity. Powerful but balanced with lovely freshness and focus. 94/100
Niepoort Batuta 2011 Douro, Portugal
Brooding, intense black fruits nose. Complex, rich, tightwound blackberry and black cherry fruit with some tannic grip. Grippy and dense with richness and structure. Needs time. 93/100
Niepoort Clos du Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal Remarkable stuff. There’s some spicy reduction here but it’s nicely integrated into the smooth, quite elegant juicy red cherry fruit. Very interesting and detailed with some grip on the finish. 93/100
Niepoort Robustus 2009 Douro, Portugal
Comes from old vineyards, mainly Carril. ‘It’s not easy to make Robustus,’ says Carlos. ‘It’s difficult to keep the wine so long in old oak.’ This is the next release, and the one after this will be the 2012 or 2013. Vinified in oak and lagares, aged four years in big foudres. A warm vintage, but a big selection allowed them to keep the style. Brooding slightly earthy black fruits with some undergrowth and spice notes. Smoke, spices, blood and herbs. Some pepper, too. Concentrated palate has a hint of mint and spice. Dense and peppery with real intensity and structure. Lovely spicy wildness and a core of black fruits. It’s the essence of the Douro. 96/100
Niepoort Robustus 2008 Douro, Portugal
Complex, dense, focused and brooding with a hint of mint and lovely definition. Complex tightwound blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with a dry, tannic, slightly salty finish. This has a slightly Barolo-like character with lots of fruit but also firm structure and good acidity. 96/100
Niepoort Turris 2013 Douro, Portugal
The first edition was 2012. ‘This is the top of the top,’ says Carlos Raposa. ‘It comes from the oldest vineyard we know in the Douro that’s 130 years old.’ Some of this wine becomes Turris and the rest is going to Batuta. It’s on the right side of the river. Vinified Batuta style in a foudre of 1000 litres. Old foudres from the Mosel. Amazingly fresh and elegant with lovely pure black cherry fruit with some vital, iron, blood and mineral notes. This has such amazing elegance and presence with lovely sanguine character. The acidity is well integrated and there’s a lovely compactness, purity and floral quality to the red fruits. There’s a real spicy, tamed-wild character. Thrilling. 97/100
I have a thing for Kiwi Chardonnay. Its day will come. It doesn’t currently get the respect it deserves, but with wines like these from Neudorf, and the stunning wines of Kumeu River and others, things will change.
Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2015 Nelson, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Complex, intense lemon and grapefruit with some rich pear notes, as well as subtle mealiness. There’s spicy, mineral notes as well as freshness, with a lemony core. This wine walks the tightrope between richness and precision really well. It’s so pure with a vital tension, and a bit of spice on the finish. Lots of potential for development here. 94/100
Corlea Fourie is the winemaker behind Bosman Family Vineyards, based in the Wellington region of South Africa. I caught up with her to taste some interesting new releases, including the fabulous Optenhorst Chenin Blanc, made from vines planted in 1952.
Bosman Fides 2013 Wellington, South Africa
This is a skin-fermented Grenache Blanc. This particular vintage had 8 weeks skin contact, but this differs with the year. 30% is then aged in Russian oak; the rest is unoaked. Yellow in colour. Fresh, with a distinctive nose of mint and fennel, and nice mineral notes. Very pretty and expressive with freshness and grip, and a nice savoury twist. 92/100
Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2014 Wellington, South Africa
This is a single vineyard, planted in 1952, with bush vines. This year it has been repackaged, and also a portion is fermented in concrete tanks (previously, it had all been oak aged). ‘We’ve always wanted to say more about the vineyard than about the oak,’ says Corlea Fourie. This has lovely textured pear and lemon fruit with real elegance and a subtle creamy hint. It’s mineral with freshness and purity. So textural. 94/100
Bosman Twyfeling 2015 Wellington, South Africa
Juicy and fresh with fine, expressive raspberry and red cherry fruit. Textural and direct with fresh fruit and an expressive personality. Fine-grained tannins. Bright and elegant at the same time. 93/100