Video: harvest at Gabrielskloof part 2, making reds

Here’s part 2 of the three short films I shot during my 10 days at Gabrielskloof. Here I’m showing red winemaking.


In case you missed it, here’s part 1: in the vineyard:

Harvest at Gabrielskloof:

Interesting Marlborough: Two Rivers with David Clouston

The Brookby Hill vineyard of Two Rivers

Dave Clouston’s Two Rivers is a great example of a boutique-sized Marlborough winery focusing on making interesting wines from good vineyard sites, while at the same time keeping a savvy commercial hat on. He’s a sole owner and built the business up gradually, starting with no land in 2004. He now has two vineyards of his own and sources from 15 growers. The Two Rivers label is used for the more elaborate wines (15 000 case production), while there’s also the more affordable Black Cottage range (35 000 cases).

Dave Clouston

Dave grew up in the Awatere, and moved to the Wairau aged 15 when his folks sold the family Dashwood Farm to Oyster Bay in 1993.

As well as Two Rivers, he also runs the Winos shop in Blenheim, which is one of the two places you can buy really interesting wine in the region (along with Scotch Bar).

I tasted with him in the Brookby Hill Vineyard in the Southern Valleys. It’s a beautiful hillside vineyard with clay/loess soils, planted in 2000 at a density of 5000 vines per hectare. It’s 10 hectares, with 7 hectares planted, and Dave bought it in 2014. These hillside vineyards can give great quality, but they need careful management. One of the issues is soil movement:when people establish them, they can get a bit carried away with bulldozers, and in an attempt to make pretty contours, move large volumes of soil. The vines in the bit where the soil has moved can really struggle with very low vigour.

I was impressed by these wines. They are all really interesting, and they aren’t expensive.

Two Rivers Isle of Beauty Rosé 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Four months on lees. A blend of several red and white varieties, this is really convincing. Very fine and textural with fresh red cherry and citrus fruit. Delicately aromatic with nice purity and finesse. 90/100

Two Rivers Juliet Riesling 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is from the Brookby Hill vineyard. Two picks. The first block is picked early for freshness, while the second is picked two weeks later and is soaked on its skins for 24 hours. Very pretty, textured and floral with a hint of sweetness. Some Turkish delight and melon, and a bit of phenolic grip. Very attractive. 92/100

Two Rivers Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Single cane, shoot thinned with one bunch per shoot, and then fermented half in old hogshead half in concrete egg. Textural but also fresh with some subtle creamy hints. Broad and textural with nice fine spicy notes. Very subtle green hints, and quite elegant and mineral on the finish. 92/100

Two Rivers Clos des Pierres Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Chardonnay was Dave’s favourite variety, but he wasn’t keen on what he tasted from Marlborough. But in 2010 he found a block of 20+ year old Mendoza Chardonnay on the Rapaura Road on very stony soils. This forms 80% of this blend, and the balance is from Brookby Hill. The grapes are hand picked and are pressed to barrel with no sulfur dioxide. 20% new oak. This is toasty, bready, tight and focused with brisk grapefruit and lemon meshing well with the richer, toastier, more creamy flavours. 92/100

Two Rivers Tributary Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Hand picked and wild ferment, 50% whole bunch and 20% new oak. This has a bit of Brookby fruit, quite a bit from Auntsfield, an also a lot from the Awatere, including some from Ward. So textural with sweet cherry and berry fruits. Nice fine spiciness here with lovely freshness and a bit of grip, but also a silky smooth mouthfeel. Very fine grained. 94/100

Two Rivers Altitude Pinot Noir 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
Awatere. This is mostly from Francis in Ward, but also has a bit of Delta Heights in it. 80% whole bunch, 40% new oak. Very attractive with a fine sappy, green edge to the nose we well as some floral fruit. Really spicy and a bit gamy on the palate with fresh spicy tannic structure and an appealing savouriness. There are also some darker fruit notes here. Really compelling. 95/100

Two Rivers Brookby Hill Syrah 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
First vintage from young vines, picked at 23 Brix, with a bit of Viognier too. 100% whole bunch. Very perfumed and floral with sweet cherry fruit and a bit of pepper. Fine, fresh and elegant with some smashability. 92/100

Do Parker points matter any more?

Do Parker points matter any more? This was the question that started a big thread on facebook today, and it got me thinking.

Points, points, points. It’s such a complicated and polarized discussion. I can see a good reason for not using points to score wine (how can a score even pretend to be a useful summary of the properties of a wine?), but I also understand that wine is very complex and variable, and quite expensive, so it’s a useful shortcut for consumers who don’t get to try before they buy. In many segments of the market, practical guidance is really needed because there are just so many wines out there, and everything changes every vintage.

Points can have a positive effect, too. If you are a young winery starting out and a critic gives your wines high scores, it can really help establish your brand. If you know and trust a critic’s palate, then a good score from them shows you which wines you should be trying first. It’s a really useful shortcut.

But there are real problems with points, and they aren’t as important as they once were.

When Robert Parker started out they really mattered. He used to score with quite a spread, and the range of scoring he used meant that anything 90 or above was really worth seeking out. Look at one of his old books: even at famous domains, there were lots of scores in the 80s. Then, scores sold wine.

This has changed. Many more critics are operating in this space, and it has led to substantial score inflation. The Australian and (some of the) New Zealand critics are the worst, with lots of scores in the high 90s for good but not world class wines. For the very top wines, scores are pretty meaningless because there’s just no differentiative power left. The ability of scores to separate the very good from the great has vanished.

Look at the first growths in a good vintage: they are all scored sighted, and how many critics will not give a score of 97-100? And plucky the Australian judge who doesn’t give new release Penfolds Grange less than 97. I was recently at Charles Fox, a very good sparkling wine producer in South Africa’s Elgin Valley. His top wine was recently awarded 96/100 by a well known critic. 96? It’s good, but 96 is a stellar score – what happens when that critic hits Champagne and starts tasting the good stuff? There’s no room on the scale left. It’s bonkers. Getting a good score from a critic makes you feel valued and special, until you realise that you are just one of very many! It’s like the teenager going home from the disco pumped that a pretty girl has snogged him, only to find out she snogged his mates too. It kind of takes the gloss off it.

So do Parker points matter? Less than they did, and in some segments of the market, in some countries, not at all. In the USA, scores are still important in retail across all segments. But in the UK they have never been used in supermarkets, where normal consumers buy most of their wine. Partly that’s because a lot of the market is for private label or soft brands, which critics never get to try. But even at the higher end of the UK market, points are less important than they are in the USA. Some independent wine shops might have points on a shelf talker, but this is relatively rare. Where points might matter is with Bordeaux en primeur, and for private customer sales to wine collectors. My experience in New Zealand and Australia is that points and medals are used to sell wines quite widely, but these tend to be from local judges and competitions, not Parker.

Among the set of wine trade people and wine geeks that I hang out with, you’d be laughed at if you quoted a critic score. And if you brought a Parker 100 point wine to dinner, it might well remain undrunk. No one cares because they know that most of the critic business is a bit silly. When you are dealing with really interesting, authentic/natural wines, scores don’t seem to work.

I’m guilty of using scores, but I hope I qualify them enough: it’s a shorthand for how much I liked the wine at that moment. It’s a universal measure (I think it’s patronising to make a score relative to other wines from that country or region). And it’s not a property of the bottle. I wish I could use a wider range of scores than I do, but I have to score along the lines of the accepted norms, trying to avoid some of the silly score inflation. There’s no clear answer here. As scores creep ever higher, they’ll just begin meaning even less than they do now.

Video: vintage at Gabrielskloof part 1

While I was taking part in vintage at Gabrielskloof a couple of weeks ago, I did quite a bit of filming. So I’ll be making three films, and this is the first, focusing on the vineyards. Picking decisions, picking grapes, then picking up the picked grapes.

Harvest at Gabrielskloof:

António Madeira: a new star from Dão, Portugal

Antonio Madeira is a new superstar of the Dão with his amazingly elegant wines

António Madeira began making wines in Dão while he was still living in Paris (he’s French, of Portuguese descent). In 2010 he found a 50 year old vineyard and began his project, but because the one-hectare plot hadn’t been pruned for three years, there was no wine made in that first year. Instead, his debut vintage was 2011.

His goal has been to identify the Grand Cru sites in the Dão, manage the vineyards manually without herbicides to get life into the soil, and to make the wines naturally. Many of the great old vineyards in the region have been pulled out, sadly, and it’s not always easy persuading owners to rent them out. But he has persevered.

Since July 2017 he’s moved full-time to Portugal to pursue his vinous destiny. He’s now cultivating 23 vineyard plots in 6 villages (though he says that some of these ‘villages’ are just a row of houses on either side of the road), totalling 6 hectares of vines. This is Burgundy scale parcellation! Most are located in the foothills of the Serra d’Estrela, but some are actually more in the mountains. As well as his own production, he also buys in a fifth of what he needs.

António is currently building a winery: so far the wines have been made in his garage. This is one of Portugal’s most exciting wine producers, in my view. But really he’s just unlocking the potential of great vineyard sites, so expect to see more wines like this if the market will support people working at this level.

António Madeira Liberdade Branco 2017 Dão, Portugal
This has no sulfites until bottling (and then just 15-20 mg/litre). It’s complex, mineral, spicy and reductive on the nose, while on the palate it is lively and intense with pear, citrus and spice. Amazing presence and complexity. 95/100

António Madeira Vinhas Velhas Branco 2016 Dão, Portugal
This isn’t bottled yet – his policy is to bottle two winters after harvest. Really mineral and expressive on the nose. Complex and detailed with citrus, apple, pear. Very refined and expressive with lovely with lovely weight. 95/100

António Madeira Rosé 2017 Dão, Portugal
From two old north-facing vineyards with 50 different varieties, this is vinified without sulfur dioxide. Not bottled yet. Pale-ish pink red with some sappy cherry fruit. Unfortunately this is also mousy. Let’s hope the final wine isn’t.

António Madeira Colheita 2015 Dão, Portugal
From old vineyards vinified separately and then blended later. Supple but structured with lovely pure raspberry and cherry fruit. This has a nice stony grip to it. Very fine with some structure. 93/100

António Madeira Vinhas Velhas 2015 Dão, Portugal
Vines 50-100 years old. Supple and fresh with a bit of sappiness and some sanguine quality. Raspberry fruit with some crunchy tannins. Really nice structure and acidity here with great intensity and elegance. 94/100

António Madeira A Centenária 2017 Dão, Portugal
From a 120 year old vineyard. So distinctive with some fennel and liquorice on the nose as well as blood, meat and fine cherry fruit. Some blackcurrant, too. Really elegant and supple with nice acidity. Has the structure to age. 95/100

UK agent: Indigo Wines

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A vertical of Château Pichon Baron, 2001-2014

Second-growth Château Pichon Baron is one of the great vineyard terroirs in Bordeaux. Located in Pauillac, just opposite Latour, it boasts three of the five Médoc first growths as near neighbours.

Christian Seely was in London to present an extensive vertical of the modern era of Pichon Baron. ‘Pichon is capable of making wines that are among the greatest in the world,’ he declared enthusiastically. Previously resident of the Douro, where he looked after the AXA-owned Quinta do Noval (having turned it around from its dismal underperformance of the 1980s into one of the top properties in the Douro), Seely was invited to come to Bordeaux to head up all of AXA’s vineyard interests in 2000. Previous boss Jean Michel Cazes had done a good job with Pichon since AXA’s purchase in 1987, but Seely wanted to take it next level. And the market was ready to pay more for the very top wines: Seely was smart enough to see that by reducing quantity and raising quality, Pichon had the potential to be one of the elite group, rather than an also-ran. But he’s also aware that perceptions take time to change. I once asked him: if you start making first-growth quality wines, how long will it take for the market to realise it? His reply: a generation.

Christian Seely

Seedy believes that Pichon shares some of the world’s greatest terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon with its near neighbours Latour and Las Cases. The vineyards are undulating, not flat, and there are some deep beds of gravel under these undulations: perfect for old vine Cabernet to thrive. When he arrived Pichon were using the entire Pichon vineyard area for Grand Vin, and made 395 000 bottles. Seely’s proposal to the board was to make Grand Vin only from the best vineyard block: the terroir shared with these illustrious neighbours. By not diluting this terroir, he believed he could take Pichon to its full potential. But this comes at a cost in terms of volume. Now the Grand Vin production is less than half what it was, with around 175 000 bottles each year.

A note on names: here I’m using the name the Château has been using since the 2012 vintage: simply, Pichon Baron. Before then, it was referred to as Château Pichon Longueville Baron. This led to some confusion with Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.

Chateau Pichon Baron 2014 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is a perfect example of the best that Bordeaux can do in a cooler year. June, July and August saw lower than average sunshine and temperatures. But September and October were wonderful and so Seely could wait quite late to pick. They started Merlot on 20 September, then interrupted harvest in October for 8 days before picking the rest of the grapes. This is fine, fresh and expressive with a sweet core of floral blackcurrant fruit. It’s very fresh with good concentration and great finesse. Really lovely freshenss and mouthfeel here. It’s full and generous yet still has precision. 96/100

Château Pichon Baron 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Not part of the vertical, but I thought I’d include it here, tasted the same week. Widely regarded as one of the weakest recent Bordeaux vintages, but still a nice wine. This is really fresh and balanced. Lovely blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry freshness, and savoury notes of gravel and spice. It’s definitely a lighter expression of Pichon, but it’s perfectly proportioned and drinking very well now, and will carry on drinking well for a decade, I reckon. Lovely focus and definition here. Classic Claret with nice structure and acidity. 93/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2012 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This was a cooler year with a nice September, but it doesn’t have the richness of 2014. Elegant and supple with fresh, gravelly blackcurrant fruit. Quite elegant with nice finesse. Lovely gravel and chalk notes and some tannic structure. Has elegance and purity. 94/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2010 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘Concerning the great duo of 2010 and 2009, the jury is still out as to which of these is the greater, but they are two very good examples of great Bordeaux,’ says Christian Seely. ‘They are both years when we didn’t have too much to complain about. They are both years when we had all the sunshine we wanted, but average temperatures in 2009 were 2 C higher, and rainfall in 2010 was on the low side resulting in smaller grapes.’ This is very fine and concentrated with ripe, sweetly fruited blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, as well as a hint of raspberry. Pure and structured with lovely tannins and some warmth on the finish. Straight and fine. 97/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2009 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Ripe, sweet, pure and dense with rounded sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, and just a hint of olive and even tar. Some fine herbal notes, too. Lovely ripeness and density are coupled with good structure and some generosity as well as finesse. 95/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2008 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Quite a poor summer but a lovely end of season, with a wonderful September and October. ‘We were quite euphoric,’ recalls Seely. ‘It enabled us to get the grapes right.’ This is lovely: there’s great structure with some tar and cedar notes under the sleek blackcurrant fruit. Olives, tar and herbs lurk under the fruit, and there’s nice structure and fruit. Just starting to develop nicely. 94/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2007 Pauillac, Bordeaux
2007 and 2008 were both years with poor summers, but 2008 was saved more by a warm end of season than 2007 was. There wasn’t quite enough sunshine to make the wine as ripe as it should have been. Gravelly, chalky nose with some developments: savoury, stony notes and nice balance. Blackcurrant fruit with some iodine/earth hints. Drinking beautifully now and for the next few years; showing maturity but also freshness. 93/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2006 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Christian Seely thinks it’s wrong to think of 2006 as not a good vintage. ‘The best 2006s are great wines,’ he says. ‘Pichon was bad tempered when we tried to show it as a baby, with high acidity, and it was tannic and reserved. But I have always believed in it enormously.’ This is lovely: taut with nice focus to the blackcurrant fruit. Structured with real finesse and good acidity. Some dry tannins on the finish, but this really has lovely purity and finesse. 94/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2005 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This has a reputation for being a great year. ‘I believe this was one of the very great years of Pichon,’ says Christian Seely. ‘It was important for me because it got me off the ejector seat.’ Refined nose with sweet herbs and brooding blackcurrant fruit. This has dense structure and fruit. It’s all perfectly proportioned. There’s a hint of mint and some iodine but the core is silky sweet blackcurrant fruit meshing with lovely structure. 96/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2004 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This is another cooler year that was saved by a fine September. Still tightwound with lovely purity of fruit. Quite sleek and silky with primary blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. This shows freshness and purity coupled with subtle hints of olive, chalk and gravel. Lovely finesse and brightness. 95/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2003 Pauillac, Bordeaux
A year famed for being incredibly hot and dry. ‘This was a deeply worrying year for us,’ recalls Christian Seely. ‘I’ve seen drought in the Douro, but that is with varieties selected to deal with it.’ But on the grand plateau in Pichon the leaves stayed green: an illustration of the importance of terroir. Consultant winemaker Jacques Boissenot advised them against acidifying: don’t think about acidifying, he said, this wine is balanced, you will see. This is concentrated, fresh and structured with raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. Linear and ripe with nice freshness. Very pure: it doesn’t taste too ripe. The terroir has asserted itself over the vintage. 94/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2002 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘I love this vintage,’ says Christian Seely. ‘Unfortunately, peoples’ perception of this year is not good, for good reasons. It was an irregular vintage.’ Smoky, gravelly and a bit tarry and ashy. Nice dense blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Juicy with a savoury, earthy twist. Supple. 93/100

Chateau Pichon Baron 2001 Pauillac, Bordeaux
The 2000 was the first vintage made with more selection in the cellar, but 2001 was the first made with lower yields. This is showing lovely development with cedar, tar and fine herbs. Nice grip under the ripe but balanced blackcurrant fruit. Nice weight and focus to this wine. 94/100

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Marelise Niemann's Momento wines, Bot River, South Africa

Marelise Niemann

Marelise Niemann is a champion of Grenache. Her label, Momento, began officially in 2013, when she was still working at Beaumont in the Bot River region of South Africa. Beaumont was her first proper job as a winemaker, although after university she did 8 months in California in 2007. She began at Beaumont in January 2007, and stayed there for 8 months.

But it was in 2011 the she bought her first parcel of grapes: she shared the grapes from a vineyard in the north of the Swartland with Donovan Rall. So she made wine, but it was only in 2013 that she realised she wanted to do her own thing, and released it under the Momento label. Unfortunately, this wine wasn’t to be repeated: the farmer ripped the grapes out because the old vines were yielding less than a ton a hectare.

Sampling Grenache in the Anysbos vineyard, Bot River

So there was no Grenache in 2012 and 2013 because Marelise couldn’t get the right grapes. But since 2014 she has been working with the same vineyards, and adding others as they come available. The desire to work with Grenache – not a widely planted grape in South Africa – stemmed from working a vintage with Eben Sadie in Priorat in 2010. ‘After this, I wanted to get old Grenache,’ she says. ‘While I was working there I said I had to go back to South Africa and look for old Grenache.’

The wine came first, then the label and then the business model. The first vintage was only 780 bottles: one 400 litre and one 225 litre barrel. The label is based on a drawing by Hennie Niemann, Marelise’s husband: it’s an old vine with various people incorporated into it.

All the Momento reds are made in the same style: one third whole-bunch, natural yeast, gently plunged down. Marelise uses plastic bins and two of the big (6 ton) tanks. ‘I would do everything in small bins if it was practical,’ she says. The first two vintages were made at Beaumont, but the last four have been made at Gabrielskloof, also in Bot River.

The barrels she uses are all older: the youngest is a fourth-year barrel. ‘The idea is to keep the barrel as a vessel,’ says Marelise. She ages the wine 12 months in barrel and then it goes into tank for four to six months before bottling. ‘For me, for Grenache – in the style I make it – the key factors are aroma and elegance on the nose. I don’t like that over-matured dead character. I always pick a bit earlier.’ This year, the first portion came in at 22.8 Brix, and at the longest she leaves it to is 24 Brix. ‘The more portions the better: if you can work with portions from different soils and different regions you can make something with more elements than you would have from one vineyard. ‘

Her plans? ‘The brand is already established but I need to grow a bit more. Next year I would like to do different Grenache bottlings if the vineyards allow this.’

Marelise is a champion of Grenache, which in her hands makes elegant, Pinot-like wines. It thrives in dry years, and it’s a low maintenance variety, especially when grown as a bush vine. ‘For me this is one of the grapes of the future for South Africa: it will work well here,’ she says. ‘It’s a light-coloured, gentle flavoured grape. In past years people overworked it, picking too ripe and extracting too much to get richer, darker, thicker flavours. We can do the opposite and produce something that is fresher and finer in style. When people think of Grenache they think of something thick and big but I see something completely opposite.’ I think she’s right.

Momento Grenache 2011 Swartland
Supple and fresh with sweet cherries and plums, and a fine spiciness. Really fine grained and with a fresh spicy edge. There are notes of dried herbs and black tea with lovely elegance and finesse. Such a delicious wine that’s light on its feet but which has lovely flavour and a savoury twist. Has held out nicely. 93/100 (02/18)

Momento Grenache 2014 Swartland
This is from Langkloof in the Swartland: bush vines on decomposed granite. The farmer is Scholtz Rossouw. They were getting half of the price they are being paid now (about 13 000 Rand a ton). 2500 bottles made. So supple, fresh and elegant with delicate, sappy red cherry and raspberry fruit. Fresh with nice tannin structure and a really elegant mouthfeel. Silky and juicy with nice brightness: quite Pinot like. Fresh and bright red fruit personality. 94/100 (02/18)

Momento Grenache 2015 Swartland
Langkloof, but also with some fruit with a new vineyard on the property grown from cuttings of the best old vines. Picked a little riper and did more whole bunch this year. Perfumed and quite intense on the nose with spice-infused raspberry fruit and some peppery savouriness. Lovely weight in the mouth. Concentrated but still really elegant with a peppery grip to the juicy raspberry and red cherry fruit. This is quite structured and has potential for further development. This has substance to it. 95/100 (02/18)

Momento Grenache 2016 Western Cape
Some voor Paarderberg grapes plus two barrels from Bot River (La Motte’s farm there). Really aromatic and perfumed with lovely fragrant cherry and berry fruits. The palate is supple and elegant with real finesse. Such a lovely wine with sweet fruit, brightness and a bit of green sappiness in the background. Enticing and elegant, with enough structure to suggest this could age beautifully. 95/100 (02/18)

Momento Grenache 2017 Western Cape
The Bot River portion is from Anysbos this year. There’s a ripe portion in here from Scholtz’ vineyard at 24/25 Brix because of a picking issue. Taken out of barrel in January and will be bottled in May after harvest. Lovely finesse here with supple, sappy sweet red cherry fruit and a fine-grained tannic structure. Lots going on here. Still a baby, but seductive with sweet cherries and plums and nice structure. A really elegant style. 94-96/100 (02/18)

Momento Chardonnay Verdelho 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Fine herbal notes here, with some citrus and green tea, as well as bright grainy pear fruit. The palate is fresh and supple with lovely brightness. Really expressive with a nice mineral twist to the fruit, and a delicate tangerine and grapefruit twist. 93/100 (02/18)

Momento Chenin Blanc Verdelho 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
This vintage has 22% Verdelho from the Swartland in the blend. Fresh and spicy with ripe apple and citrus, as well as a tint hint of nuttiness. Rounded but fresh with a citrus edge and a long finish. 93/100 (03/17)

Momento Chenin Blanc Verdelho 2015 Bot River, South Africa
This has 9% Verdelho in the blend. Fresh, lively and transparent with juicy lemons and tangerines. There’s an appealing stony freshness to this wine which also has some pear skin character. Very pure. 94/100 (03/17)

Here’s a video interview with Marelise:

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A world without mirrors, and the importance of receiving criticism well

Imagine living in a world without mirrors (and, of course, cameras and smart phones sort of count here, too). How would you see yourself?

To catch a reflection of yourself in any sort of reflective surface, such as still water, would have been intriguing, because we cannot see ourselves. So that’s what I look like! Is that really me?

The observer seeing themselves in the reflected image has been an important cultural theme, from the wicked queen in Snow White to Narcissus staring at his own reflection until he died. Now we have the iPhone selfie addicts, anxious for external affirmation of their attractiveness.

But even in an age where mirrors are everywhere, we tend to have an image of ourselves that is often at odds with how others see us. And this isn’t just about our physical appearance; it also concerns our personalities and the way we behave.

In effect, for many of us, we are living without emotional, psychological and spiritual mirrors. We find it very hard to have a true sense of how we appear to others. In the pre-mirror age, presumably we would have allowed others to alert us if our hair was badly out of place, or we had a streak of mud across our forehead, or bits of lunch on our chins.

So, where do we find mirrors that tell us how we are emotionally, or psychologically? The best we can do is to listen to others. We need to attempt to step outside ourselves and take a look in, and to do this we need some help.

This is where criticism comes in. Honest, constructive criticism is one of the most precious things we can receive. Usually, though, we are terrible at receiving it.

The natural tendency of the ego is to defend itself, and this is never more true than when we feel we are being criticised. Some are so acutely sensitive to criticism that they receive it very badly indeed. Most of us smart a bit when we receive it, and our initial instinct is to become a bit defensive and justify ourselves. If we were wise, we would welcome it humbly.

This even applies to hostile criticism. Most things in life are never black and white, and this is true of criticism. Motives are never entirely pure, and constructive criticism often has a bit of something else in it. Occasionally I receive hostile criticism: social media makes this particularly easy for people to dish out because it doesn’t have to be delivered face to face.

I’ve learned in these situations not to respond: never complain, never explain (I got this from Disraeli via my buddy Sam Harrop). I don’t need to defend myself. Even if people make untrue allegations, the best thing is to let these pass and not to respond defensively. They evaporate quickly. But I have also learned (and this is easier said than done) to try to listen. Does this person, hostile as they are, have a point? Is there something I can learn from them? Sometimes, perhaps often, the answer is no. But it is healthy to ask the question, because sometimes they mean ill but are actually providing something valuable. They may be a flawed mirror, but they are a mirror none the less.

Generally, we shy away from criticism, whether it is receiving it, or delivering it. In both instances, we do ourselves and our friends a disservice. There must be a correct balance, though: a magical ratio of praise to criticism. Clearly, there exist some hypercritical individuals who feel the need to complain and nit pick at everything. Living in a palace of mirrors (especially distorted ones) is probably worse than not having any at all. But most of us err the other way.

As a wine journalist, my job is to be constructively critical about the wines that I taste or drink. It is much more comfortable just to say nice things about wines, and not to risk upset by trying to explain why you gave a low rating to a particular bottle. This sort of task has to be done with humility, though. I think winegrowers appreciate honesty when it is delivered in the right spirit, and with the acknowledgement of the uncertainty that surrounds aesthetic appraisal of wine. It’s still difficult to delver and hear, but I think it is appreciated by many. In a world of ever-escalating scores, we need a bit of honesty and tough love.

How do you respond to criticism? When someone has the courage to take the considerable risk of being very honest to you, do you become defensive and attack back? Are you able to step outside of yourself and take a look in, or do you want to smash the mirror? And when it comes to hostile criticism, are you so busy defending yourself or taking affront that you fail to see the pearl in the middle of the poo?

Crystallum: some of South Africa's most compelling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Crystallum is the wine label of Peter-Allan Finlayson (above), who set up in partnership with his brother (Andrew, a Hermanus-based architect) and his Dad (Peter, who was the first winemaker in Hemel-en-Arde with Hamilton Russel, and who for a long time now has been cellar master at Bouchard Finlayson).

Peter-Allan, though, is the main dude here, and he makes the wines. He started out in 2007 with just one wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, but since then the focus has been firmly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from top vineyards sites in the Overberg, with an emphasis on Hemel-En-Aarde. Until very recently, the vineyard sources were all from growers, but more recently Crystallum has begun to get involved in vineyard ownership, which helps to protect grape supply for the future.

The wines are made at Gabrielskloof, where Peter-Allan is cellar master. Previously they were made at Hemelrand in Hemel-en-Aarde, a cellar shared with Chris Alheit and others (now Chris has grown to the point where he needs all the space). Winemaking is appropriate: low intervention, usually with no adds until fermentation is complete except for some organic nutrients during the middle of the Chardonnay fermentations or occasionally a bit of sulfur dioxide in the larger ferments, and with a high proportion of stem use in the Pinot Noir.

These are some of the (if not the) best expressions of the Burgundy grapes being produced in South Africa at the moment.

Crystallum The Agnes Chardonnay 2009 Western Cape, South Africa
The first vintage of The Agnes, drawing on three vineyard sources. Lovely toast and nut on the nose with some hazelnut and honeycomb. Lovely weight with fine spiciness and some pure pear and peach fruit. Nicely balanced, this has developed really well into this toasty maturity. 92/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2016 Hemel en Aarde, South Africa
Made in a 2600 litre foudre, this is a lovely, textured Chardonnay. Pear and citrus fruit with a bit of depth, some silkiness in the mouth, and pretty tangerine detail. Subtle, elegant and lovely. 94/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2017 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Stony and mineral with a lovely spicy, lemony twist. Textural and fresh with a hint of pineapple richness. Really detailed and spicy with lovely weight. This is bright and precise with citrus and pear, and a hint of apple. A profound Chardonnay. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Blend of the four different vineyards: three in Hemel en Aarde and Elandskloof. Nice density here: textured and sweetly fruited with a fine, sappy green hint to the fleshy, ripe raspberry and red cherry fruit. It’s really fine and elegant with nice sweetness and gentle extraction. Such a satisfying, elegant wine. 94/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2015 South Africa
30% whole cluster. Pure floral aromatic nose with sweet cherries and plums. Elegant and supple with lovely purity and finesse on the palate. Red cherry, red currant and lovely silkiness and weight. 95/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir 2014 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
There’s a leafy, sappy edge to this wine, with some fine herb and undergrowth notes. It’s showing some maturity, but it’s really elegant and fine with a lovely graininess. It’s more advanced than it should be, but it may be a vintage thing. Drinking really nicely now but don’t keep it. 93/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Supple and epressive with fine red cherries and nice raspberry bite. Has some sappiness. Very textural and freshwith nice graininess. Good definition and purity. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Supple, fresh and elegant with fine spices and a bit of savoury grip with sleek cherry fruit. Serious but with lots of pleasure. 50% whole cluster, 4-5 weeks on skins. The whole bunch adds nice structure. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel en Aarde, South Africa
Fresh and vital with lovely red cherries and plums. Lovely finesse to this wine, which is juicy and lively but also has a silkiness to it. 94/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Same vineyard as Cuvée Cinéma, but 100% whole cluster. First release and  just two barrels made. Sweetly aromatic with lovely fine spices and supple greenness. The palate has elegance but also grip. Firm and with lovely spiciness. Has a warmth to it, with nice savoury complexity. Some mint on the finish. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Bona Fide Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
From a vineyard next door to Bouchard-Finlayson. Supple and bright with a sour cherry edge to the focused fruit. Sweetly fruited with a nice spiciness and some structure. This has freshness, depth and elegance. After a while it opens up with sappy floral aromatics. 94/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Malabel Pinot Noir 2015 Overberg, South Africa
Supple, juicy and fine with lovely cherry fruit. Fine grained with freshness and detail to the elegant cherry fruit. 95/100 (08/16)

Crystallum Mabalel Pinot Noir 2016 Kaimansgaat, South Africa
115 clone. Sappy with nice integrated greenness and fine red cherry fruit. Supple and detailed with real finesse and purity. There’s a balance between richness and freshness here. 94/100 (03/17)

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Video: Simplesmente Vinho, an artisanal wine fair in Porto


I’m in Porto for the sixth edition of Simplesmente Vinho, a fair showcasing the best authentic and natural wines from Portugal and Spain. There are 101 producers here, covering a range of styles and wine growing areas, and it’s a happy hunting ground for geeks like me.

The venue is a spectacular old building on the river, called Casa de Cais Novo. This used to be an extensive warehouse for Port wine, before the taxes were raised too far and all the Port shipping moved over to Gaia, over the river from Porto. Had this happened earlier, Port wine would no doubt be Gaia wine. Cais Novo is spacious and atmospheric, and perfect for this tasting.

The idea behind this event was prompted by visits to off-salons that accompany the major wine fairs in France and Italy. There, smaller producers who typically found big fairs a bad match for them, banded together to form off-site salons of their own where they would show their wines. So Simplesmente developed as an off-salon for Essencia, a bigger wine fair that is taking place now in Porto.

I’ve tasted extensively and found some real gems. These are just a few: plenty more to follow.

One of the revelations of the show was Laura Lorenzo’s wines from Ribeira Sacra under the Daterra label: so elegant and fine

Vitor Claro was one of Portugal’s top chefs; now he’s making exceptional, elegant, fresh wines from the Alentejo

Antonio Madeira is a new superstar of the Dão with his amazingly elegant wines

Luis Seabra is making very correct, but also quite serious wines from the Douro and Vinho Verde, and has just rented a vineyard in Dão

Vasco Croft of Aphros in Vinho Verde: he’s really getting the hang of working with old Portuguese amphorae

Pedro Marques of Vale de Capucha in Lisboa, making some stunning whites from interesting limestone-rich soils