Lunch at St John today. A special time with Francis Percival, Dan Keeling and Jeremy Seysses. The company, the wines, the food: all were on sparkling form. I haven’t been to St John in a while. I will be back soon, for sure. Highlights included a wonderful crispy pig skin salad, and decadently rich devilled kidneys.
Bérêche et fils Les Beaux Regards Chardonnay 2010 Champagne, France
Disgorged January 2014. Lovely precision here: fine and toasty with lively lemony fruit and subtle creamy notes. Some toastiness in the background, as well as a bit of spice. Really refined. 94/100
Niero Côte Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône, France
Soft, perfumed and quite elegant with lovely red cherry and pepper notes as well as subtle earthiness and an agreeable maturity. An elegant style that’s now drinking perfectly. 93/100
Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes 1993 Burgundy, France
Fresh and a bit bloody with nice finesse to the bright red cherry and plum fruit, offset with some peppery spiciness. Lovely purity and direction here with precision to the fruit. Beautiful. 95/100
Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche 1993 Burgundy, France
Thrilling: pure, sanguine, with some savoury iodine notes and elegant, mature black cherry and plum fruit with some citrus characters. Lovely herb and spice notes. So fine and expressive with finesse and elegance, and in a really good place for current drinking. 95/100
Gamay is a grape that intrigues me. And I reckon that Beaujolais is getting better. It’s high time I did a proper visit to the region. Here are a couple of nice, inexpensive Beaujolais Villages that I tried.
Louis Jadot Combes aux Jacques 2013 Beaujolais Villages, France
12.5% alcohol. Vibrant, fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. Expressive with a damson bitterness that works well. Juicy and focused, and perhaps a touch reductive, this is worth a decant to help it show at its juicy, vivid best. 89/100 (£10.99 Tesco, £8.24 Waitrose)
Chateau de la Terriere Vielles Vignes 2012 Beaujolais Villages, France
12.5% alcohol. This comes from the village of Cercie, facing Mount Brouilly. Rounded, smooth raspberry fruit with some red cherry notes. Nice fine-grained structure. A subtle, elegant, pretty wine. 89/100 (£9.99 Majestic but £8.49 each if you buy 2)
These three lovely wines were brought round by guests. The best sort of guests. The Leflaive Pucelles was served blind, and in a stroke of lucky intuition, I guessed it as very fine white Burgundy, a Leflaive, and Pucelles. But I got the vintage wrong: I called it 2002. This sort of guesswork looks great and everyone forgets the time you get it wildly wrong. It’s like the occasional good golf shot – it’s all you need to keep you going. I loved the Wetzer. And the 80 year old white Port was just an amazing treat. I do like wine.
Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2000 Burgundy, France
Tasted blind. Very fine with notes of toast, citrus and pear fruit with a distinct mineral dimension. Some smooth white peach fruit. Very broad but with amazing focus and fine, bready, toasty notes. Real finesse, with just a hint of mineral reduction. Sensational stuff. 96/100
Wetzer Kékfrankos 2012 Sopron, Hungary
Fresh, pure, bright raspberry and black cherry fruit. A vivid, vital wine with lovely purity to the fruit, as well as a bit of tannic grip. Lovely acidity here. 93/100
Kopke White Colheita Port 1935 Douro, Portugal
21.5% alcohol. Amazing stuff. Powerful, spicy citrus fruits, orange peel and spice. Nuts and lemons, with iodine and hazelnut characters. Wonderfully complex and fresh with the sweetness perfectly balanced by keen acidity. 96/100
My wine trade buddy Greg Sherwood brought this wine around to dinner, and served it blind. It was a real treat. I reckoned it was properly old, and new world, but didn’t spot Australia. It’s back in the era when top Aussie wines had moderate alcohol levels – this was just 12.5%. These day, the Block 6 is still a modest 13.5% or so, while many of its peers will be 14.5% or higher. Interestingly, this was closed with an inexpensive twin top-style technical cork. But it had done its job: the wine had developed really nicely.
As to the ripeness/alcohol issue? Yes, global warming has had an effect on warm-climate Aussie wines, but I think that most of the high alcohol, super-ripe wines reflect winegrower intent as much as anything.
Kays Amery Vineyards Block 6 Shiraz 1989 McLaren Vale, Australia
From a vineyard planted in 1892. Sweet, rich and spicy with notes of iodine, herbs, black cherry and some tar. Warm with a hint of bovril alongside the raspberry and cherry notes. Lovely focus here: this has developed really nicely, and there’s a hint of the Rhône here s well as a bit of maturity. 93/100
While I was in Franschhoek, Rob Armstrong of Haut Espoir introduced me to two gins, both from local producer Inverroche. Included in the list of botanicals is wild Cape fynbos. They were quite lovely.
Inverroche Amber Gin
Gold/amber colour. Lovely spicy, tangy, pithy notes with marmalade and mint. Some oily, spicy notes, too. This has a big contribution from Buchu and Helichrysiums – distinctive fynbos that add a lot of character. I like the oily, spicy notes and the slight medicinal edge. 8.5/10
Inverroche Verdant Gin
So pretty and lovely. Fine, expressive, spicy and vivid with some sweet floral notes and a bit of juniper and aniseed. So lovely. 8.5/10
I remember first tasting the Tio Pepe Fino en rama. It was a great experience: an unfiltered, unclarified Fino sherry taken straight from the cask and bottled, just when the flor (the layer of yeast cells at the top of the wine in the barrel) is the thickest. This is in spring, and the thicker the flor layer the more tangy, vibrant and intense the wine.
Now we are up to the sixth release (2015), and although I’m comparing with my memory only, I reckon this is the best yet. And the good news is that the price of this wine, which has the complexity of a great white Burgundy, is still reasonable. You should probably buy a bottle or two. I tried this next to a commercial Manzanilla and it blew it out of the water.
My previous notes on this wine can be found here. You can also read about my epic experiences in the bodegas and vineyards of Gonzalez Byass blending the Las Palmas sherries last October. The rules say drink this within three months, but I really enjoyed the 2014 release tasted back in October, so it’s not a sin if you can’t finish your stocks immediately.
Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino En Rama NV
The 2015 release. Amazing stuff: vivid and spicy and intense with a lively, salty tang on the nose, as well as nice citrus freshness. The palate is lively, vinous and bright with a warm underlying spiciness and lovely complexity, finishing salty, waxy and nutty. Balances richness so well with freshness and presence. 93/100 (The Wine Society, Tanners £14.50; Majestic may also have some; and check your local independent – this will sell out quite quickly)
The last day in the valley. It began with another run with Kevin and Gary. The same 6.5 km route taking us out to the monument, then round past Mr Branson’s new purchase (Mont Rochelle), and the new developments on the extensive properties owned by Analjit Singh (who purchased the three adjoining estates of Dassenberg, Von Ortloff and Dieu Donné).
After this it was off foraging with Chris Erasmus, chef/owner of the fabulous Foliage restaurant where we’d eaten the night before. He took Gary and I with him on one of his daily foraging trips in the valley. Chris knows his stuff, and finds all sorts of things on his ventures which he can then use in the kitchen. Previously he was the chef at Pierneef at La Motte, before setting out on his own.
Back at Black Elephant, where I was staying, a number of local winegrowers had gathered for a feedback session. After my visits, they wanted to know what I thought. Where should Franschhoek be going as a wine valley? What insights did I have from all the trips to other wine regions worldwide? Should the Franschhoek WO be expanded to include the Paarl Simonsberg? Was the Franschhoek AGP a good idea? What was my honest view on the wines that I had tried? This was, of course, all off the record.
Afterwards, lunch. We headed to Ryan’s Kitchen, which is a South African themed small plates restaurant, and it’s really good. Gary, Kevin, Jacques and I were joined by Ludwig Maske, owner of the La Cotte wine shop, and who probably knows more about Franschhoek wine than anyone. It was a great chance to learn from him. The food? Superb. I liked everything. Smoked Brinjal dumplings, baked spiced yellowtail with a coconut sauce, pork jowl, and baboutie pancake. Four great dishes.
Then it was off to the airport, and the long journey home, made that little bit longer by having a middle seat sitting next to someone else’s young child where the parent didn’t want to sit next to them and took the aisle. Odd behaviour.
Coming soon: full write-ups of all the visits and notes on all the wines tasted.
Day four in Franschhoek started a little sluggishly. It was raining hard at Glenwood, where I’d been staying, so a 3 am bedtime plus the precipitation put paid to rather ambitious plans to run a 10 k in beautiful settings.
I had an interesting day ahead. I started off with breakfast in town, followed by a tasting and lunch at La Petite Ferme, which in addition to being one of the best restaurants in the valley, is also a beautifully situated wine farm. Mark Dendy-Young (top) was a great host, and I enjoyed his Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked Chardonnay (a Robertson wine): they are also beautifully packaged, with labels designed by his wife.
The afternoon was spent with the AGP guys. AGP stands for Appellation Grand Prestige, and it’s a new attempt to define the best wines of the Franschhoek Valley. It’s long and somewhat controversial story that I’ll need to save for another day, but I had a lot of fun with Craig (Stony Brook), Clayton (Môreson) and Rob (Haut Espoir), as we visited each of their farms tasting the top AGP wines and also some of their own. There was some drinking, too. It was a memorable afternoon.
This was then capped by a brilliant dinner at Foliage. Such an impressive restaurant. After a quick one at the pub, I went home happy.
So, my third day in the paradise that is the Franschhoek valley. I began at La Bri, with Irene Waller (above), who has been making wine here for a while. It’s a lovely spot, and the wines are really good. Viognier impressed, as did the superb 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release. There’s a lovely freshness to her wines.
It was another gorgeous day. Irene also showed me her debut MCC, which is pretty serious.
Then it was off to see DP Burger at Glenwood. DP has been here for 25 years, man and boy, and planted the vines here originally – it was his first job out of Elsenberg.
Chardonnay is his thing, and the wines here are rich, generous, but balanced.
He took me up to the top of the hill. It was a scary ride, and very bumpy, but the views were worth it.
Then, in the evening, we had a technical tasting with around 20 winemakers. I had chosen the wines – 16 of them – a mixture of local and international, around the theme Rhone -style Syrah. It was a super-interesting tasting, helped by the fact we did it blind. DP cooked some snook that he’d caught over the weekend. The night went on, and it ended up a 3 am special at a pub in town.
Yesterday exceeded my expectations. Just two visits, but they were in depth, and super interesting.
The first was at Lynx, with Dieter Sellmeyer. He and his wife Diana moved here after a rather nomadic existence hopping around the world. He’s an engineer by training, and they bought a lovely property which Dieter planted with engineering-like precision, and which now produces some very smart wines.
The soils here are very sandy, and although sandy soils don’t have a great reputation, you can’t argue with the results. The wines here are fresh and vital, with lovely Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and Grenache, as well as a Bordeaux blend called Xanache. Dieter is even making a convincing Pinot Noir, although this hasn’t yet been released.
Then it was off to see Basil Landau. After an interesting career, Basil moved to Franschhoek in 1986 with his young wife Jane to start a family. They bought an old 18th century house on a farm dating back to 1689, and renovated both house and vineyard, with the exception of a 6 hectare block of old Semillon that was planted in 1905. Fortunately, they left this old vineyard alone, and it is now the oldest producing block in the country.
The Landau du Val Semillon is remarkable wine. It’s now made by Wynand Grobler (below) at Rickety Bridge, and we tried a vertical. The 2004 was the stand-out, but each vintage was superb – this is one of South Africa’s classics, I reckon.
And the vineyard? It’s truly beautiful. The old bush vines strugggle, and the yields are tiny. But the wine is special.