Saturday morning in Stellenbosch, in pictures

stellenbosch

Had a lovely Saturday in Stellenbosch. Such a pretty town. At the heart of South Africa’s winelands, it’s an easy place to hang. These are some street pics.

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All you need to know about Bordeaux 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon on the vine, October 2016, St Estephe: 96-98 points!

Cabernet Sauvignon on the vine, October 2016, St Estephe: 96-98 points!

So this week it’s Bordeaux primeurs.

Unfortunately, for the 15th vintage in a row, I’m unable to attend. But I am a generous soul and I will tell you all you need to know about the 2016 Primeurs.

First of all, all the very important people – Neal Martin, Suckling, the famous French dudes such as Bettane and Desseauve (not sure, do Galloni/Tanzer and Robinson also do primeurs?) – will have gone earlier than everyone else. So this week, instead of tasting with their colleagues, they will be on social media telling everyone that they’ve already been.

Second, it’s a very good vintage. 2014 was very good and typical, 2015 was late but very good indeed, and 2016 was very good, possibly even better. That’s what most people agree on. So, what else do you need to know?

Ignore the reports on the primeur samples. Thousands of people will be tasting cask samples this week, and because they have the labels of famous Chateaux on them, these tasters will forget that they are just cask samples. ‘Drinking Petrus for breakfast!’ ‘A cheeky Lafite before lunch!’ Social media will be unbearable over the next few days. Remember: no one is drinking or tasting Lafite, Latour, Mouton or Haut Brion. They are tasting barrel samples. There’s a world of difference.

But the massed tasters will forget this, and will scribble down earnest notes, together with scores. Thousands of words will be written, and gazillions of points will be awarded, and no one really cares. Because all the information you really need to know is how good the vintage is, roughly, and then the name of the Chateau.

That is enough. With all the noise and uncertainty of cask samples of fetal wines, that’s probably just as a reliable buying cue as an earnest tasting note and a score out of 100. None of the top Chateaux screw up these days. They know what they are doing. So if you have a Chateau you like and respect, buy their wine if you think you’ll like the vintage and the price is agreeable.

Yes: prices. Soon there will be the agonisingly slow release of prices, merchants will fill our in boxes with offers, and Tim Atkin will write an article saying that primeurs is broken and dying, and then the dust will settle and all will return to normal.

I’m looking forward to the 2017 vintage in Bordeaux. It has every chance of being an excellent one.

Incredible sweet wines, from Mullineux and Klein Constantia, including the 1875

vin de constance

In the space of one day I had the chance to try some mind blowing sweet wines, new and old. The first experience was at Klein Constantia. Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Constantia estate made world renowned sweet wines. The estate was later split into three, but by this stage the production of the Constantia sweet wine had ceased, because of phylloxera, oidium and conflict.

Then in 1986, Klein Constantia revived the style, after some historical research of how it would originally have been made. They decided that it was a natural sweet wine made of Muscat, and since the first commercial release in 1987 they have made the wine, and refined the style. Groot Constantia also began making a version in 2003, and since then others have joined. It’s such an interesting wine style with an amazing history, I reckon it should have its own WO (Wine of Origin).

We tasted the 2013, which is the latest release. It’s remarkable.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2013 Constantia, South Africa
beautifully perfumed with sweet citrus, marmalade, grapes and honey. Spicy and intense with great freshness, sweetness and complexity. Nice spicy, raisiny notes with lovely focus and complexity. So fine, pure and complex. Has great acidity, and some tannin, balancing the sweetness beautifully. So fine. 97/100

Then we had an amazing treat. We got to try the 1875, which is one of the last wines of the old era of Constantia sweet wine. The analysis on this wine showed that it was a natural sweet, not fortified: it had 14.7% alcohol and 220 g/l sugar, and from the bottle, it was probably bottled in Europe from a barrel that was shipped.

1875 Constantia

Constantia Sweet Wine 1875
Aromatics of leather, spices, old furniture. Raisins and table groups with some honey, too. Lovely aromatics: sweetly smelling and quite pristine. Honeyed and smooth on the palate with real harmony, and notes of barley sugar, grapes, stewed raisins, bread pudding and smooth honeyed harmony. There’s lovely weight here. Such a treat to drink this. 96/100 (it seems silly to rate this)

Then we tried two exceptional sweet wines with Andrea Mullineux. The Mullineuxs have achieved a lot of success with their Straw Wine and the solera version, Olerasay. They now have a new wine, Essence, which is quite remarkable. It will be released in 250 ml bottles, and will be rather expensive. But it is unique, and brilliant. Because it has only partially fermented it has less upfront complexity, but it will be immortal.

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Mullineux Straw Wine 2016 Swartland, South Africa
100% Chenin from two vineyards, picked at 22 Balling, then put in the shade of some trees. Takes a few weeks to dry out, which is judged visually. ‘It takes 2 days to press, and it drips out like honey,’ says Andrea, who says that it needs two bars for two days. ‘You need to pull phenolics out of it: it’s important to get complexity out as well as sugar,’ she says. It doesn’t go through malolactic at all because of the concentration. 360 g/l sugar, which is very high. Acids 11.5 and alcohol is 8. Powerful and complex with lovely acidity: very lively with some marmalade and apricot, as well as sweet raisins and lemons. Some orange peel, too. This has amazing complexity with great acidity and spicy structure. This takes between 8 and 10 months to finish fermenting. Super complex and viscous and very fresh indeed. 97/100

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Mullineux Essence 2012
‘We have been fermenting this since 2012,’ says Andrea. It’s the hard press of the straw wine, which came out as drops with 80 Balling. The analysis is amazing: 4% alcohol, 15 g/l acid, and residual sugar is 680 g/l, bottled in 250 ml bottles. Single barrel, not topped at all, will sell for over 1000 R a bottle. Complex baked apple and raisin with incredible sweetness and balancing acidity. Has a viscous, intense character with some marmalade and spice. Astonishingly intense and powerful. Crystalline fruits, grapes, raisins. 95/100

 

Leeu Passant: exciting new wines from Chris and Andrea Mullineux

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One of the most anticipated South African releases of recent years: the Leeu Passant wines from Chris and Andrea Mullineux. After a sneaky preview with Chris at ProWein last week, we got to taste them at the Franschhoek tasting room on the Leeu Estates.

Andrea and Chris Mullineux

Andrea and Chris Mullineux

There are three wines in the range: two single site Chardonnays, and a red blend, which is perhaps the most interesting story. ‘We’d wanted to do something uniquely South African,’ says Chris. ‘We tasted the old wines from the 1950s and 1960s that were blends of Cabernet and Cinsualt,’ he says. ‘We researched how they were made and kept the best elements.’

Andrea adds, ‘The initial plan was to focus on heritage. There’s a new wave of winemakers trying to make authentically south African wines, and people were starting to drink old Libertas wines again. We wanted to pay homage to the old South African wines.’

And the Chardonnays? ‘We are trying to honour the pioneers of Chardonnay, such as Peter Finlayson and Danie de Wet, who had to smuggle Chardonnay into the country.’

One of the inspirations behind this project was Rosa Kruger, the renowned viticulturist. She’d identified several vineyards that she thought were perfect for Chris and Andrea, but they couldn’t use them because Mullineux was a Swartland-only project. They then began experimenting with lots of vineyards, until they identified the ones that fitted together best. These wines are really exceptional, and the red especially is a really great concept. It’s made with ageing in mind, and is also made quite conventionally, in the sense that there’s some oak in the mix, and it’s very pure and linear. ‘We’re not trying to make a hipster wine,’ says Chris. ‘The temptation is to make something big,’ he adds, but they have avoided this.

The packaging of the wine also pays homage to the older South African wines, with fonts from wines such as Rustenberg and Libertas. Retail on these wines will be in the 800 Rand range.

Leeu passant

Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015 WO Elandskloof, South Africa
14% alcohol. Very linear and stony with nice acidity under pure, mineral-laced citrus fruit with some peach and mealy richness. There’s nice freshness but also good concentration and richness here. Lovely freshness and weight here with a delicious, focused personality. 95/100

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2015 South Africa
14% alcohol. Helderberg. Lovely freshness here: very keen with good lemony acidity. There’s a hint of matchstick reduction that adds interest, with a really mineral core to the tight, fresh lemony fruit. Finished with a TA of 8, through malolactic. Such a powerful, tight wine. 96/100

leeu passant red

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2015 Western Cape, South Africa
36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cinsault. Cinsault comes from the two oldest registered red wine vineyards: Wellington (117 years old) and Franschooek (91 years old), while the Cabernet Franc comes from high up in the Helderberg and the Cabernet Sauvignon from bush vines lower down the Helderberg. The new oak portion was fermented in upturned 500 litre barrels to achieve better integration. Floral, perfumed and beautifully aromatic. Very fine, a bit peppery and juicy, slightly grippy red cherry and raspberry fruit with some nice spiciness. Juicy, pure and fine with lovely precision. 95/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Exploring Hemel-en-Aarde

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Spent a few days in Hemel-en-Aarde, looking around. This is a cool-ish climate wine region in a valley that meets the coast right by the lovely town of Hermanus, about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. [Tip: if you drive from Cape Town, allow an extra 20 minutes and drive along the coast road, which is spectacular. Alternatively, the more direct route along the N2 takes you over a pass into Elgin then over another pass and out again, so it's a great chance to have a look around South Africa's coolest wine region of all.]

Craig Wessels, Restless River

Craig Wessels, Restless River

Hemel-En-Aarde is a great place to grow wine grapes, and has a particular talent for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although you can also grow other varieties very successfully here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the latter grape that Anne and Craig Wessels have made a name for themselves with, with their Restless River wines (excellent Chardonnay, too). We began our visits with a lovely morning here. Craig is self taught, and wine is a second life, after he established a very successful animation/design company, which he’s still involved with. He’s an extremely thoughtful winemaker and his wines deserve the excellent reputation they’ve established.

Gordon Newton-Johnson

Gordon Newton-Johnson

One of the stars of the valley is Newton Johnson. We met with Gordie, and tasted through the new releases. The Pinots here are excellent, as is the Chardonnay, and his 2015 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinot is one of the very best new world Pinots that I’ve tasted. High praise, but deserved.

JC and Carolyn Martin, Creation

JC and Carolyn Martin, Creation

JC Martin at Creation is a very clever winemaker, and with his wife Carolyn has established a very smart operation, with a really good restaurant and some very clean, pristine wines, including excellent Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah. Vintage here is a long one, simply because they can grow so many different varieties successfully up on the ridge. They’ve worked really hard to get their vineyards virus free, which is a massive thing in this part of the world. If you have virus, it spreads, and then you have to replant your vineyards just as they are hitting their sweetspot at around 15 years of age.

Peter Allan Finlayson

Peter Allan Finlayson

We also visited Gabrielskloof, and caught up with Peter-Allan Finlayson, to taste through some Crystallum wines. Some of these come from Hemel-en-Aarde, but we also took a drive up to the spectacular Kaimansgaat vineyard in Elandskloof. This is where the lovely Malabel Pinot Noir comes from, and we drank it in situ. Cool thing to do.

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John Seccombe

John Seccombe

At Gabrielskloof we also met with John Seccombe, and had a look at his lovely Thorne & Daughters 2016s. Such good wines, including a red for the first time.

Chris Alheit and assistant winemaker Franco Lourens

Chris Alheit and assistant winemaker Franco Lourens

Finally, a great appointment at Hemelrand, in Hemel-en-Aarde. This is where Chris and Suzaan Alheit make their wines, and we tried through the 2015s and 2016s. Quite amazing: natural winemaking at its best. The Magnetic North is an amazing wine, from Skurfberg, high up on the west coast. The La Colline Semillon is also amazing. But, really, all these wines are incredible, and if you can get them, you should buy them. The really smart buy is the new Flotsam & Jetsam Chenin, which is underpriced. We also tried the wines of assistant winemaker Franco Lourens: look out for these.

Full write ups to follow.

 

 

A great wine shop in Hermanus, and why we need to support good wine shops

wine & co

I love shopping for wine.

If you are a wine journalist and you don’t love shopping for wine, then find a new job. I don’t want to read what you have to say. If you are no longer in love with wine, step aside and let someone else have the floor.

On Saturday we were in Hermanus and saw a flyer for a wine shop in town, just a few minutes walk away. So we popped in. It’s Wine & Company, and it has an amazing selection of South African wines.

We spent about 40 minutes browsing, and bought 11 bottles. It was very exciting. These are bottles for tasting and drinking, of interesting things, none of which were very expensive. If you are a wine journalist and you expect everything to be sampled, then you need to go shop.

When you are spending your own money on wine, then you begin to think more like your readers, and you can put yourself in their shoes. That’s what normal people do: spend their own money on wine. So good writers will do this too from time to time.

The selection included a Roussanne (Hermit on the Hill), a Pinotage (made by Jurgen Gouws and David Clarke), Force Majeure Chenin, Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault, Filia fizz, Genevieve MCC, Testalonga Bandito and Craven Clairette, plus a couple of others.

It made me think: we need to use good wine shops. We need to spend our money in them. We mustn’t be afraid to pay a little more than the cheapest online source, because it costs money to run a shop. And I’d really miss wine shops.

It’s so satisfying to walk into a good shop and pluck some bottles off the shelves, take them home, and drink them. It’s one of the most fun things. And unless we go into good shops and buy wines, then they won’t stay in business.

Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault, tasted on camera

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Another Cinsault! This time, it’s from Chris and Suzaan Alheit. This is an honest wine, made for drinking, and it’s lovely. South Africa is producing quite a few of these wines, and I think that’s a good thing.

Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
12% alcohol. Lovely juicy, bright cherry and berry fruits are at the core of this wine, which is so fresh and juicy, but also has lovely grainy structure and a bit of pepper and ginger spice. It’s juicy and smashable, but there’s also some elegance and a hint of seriousness about it. Fine, fruity and peppery on the finish, with fine herbal notes. I really like this. 92/100

So you don't like natural wine? I sense your pain, and I am here for you

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So you don’t like natural wine?

I sense your pain, and I am here for you. Here to help.

I can understand how distressing it must be to see other people enjoying wines that you don’t like. It is imperative that you take every chance to tell them that they are simply wrong. They may not listen, but there’s a slender chance, if you repeat yourself often, that the message will get through.

Don’t waste too much time, though, researching or fact checking any articles you might write. Who really cares about details, such as which natural wine fair came first?

It’s clearly a fringe movement of lunatics. Like a religious cult. You have been wise not to try too many of the wines. You only really need to try half a dozen or so to realise that this niche movement of, say 1000 producers globally, are all making bad wines. Besides, most of your friends are of the same opinion. So you are definitely in the right.

I certainly understand how upsetting these fairs must be for you. All those bad wines! So many of them! I know you haven’t been to any, and I strongly recommend that you don’t bother. It would distress you greatly to see so many young people attending, and enjoying the wines. After all, a few years ago you predicted that natural wine was on the way out. Just a fad.

And, now, these faulty, despicable wines made by fraudsters who have no knowledge of proper winemaking, are more popular than ever. It sickens me to think of so many people having fun drinking wines that you and I don’t like, and don’t approve of.

I know how alarming this is. People who simply don’t get that these wines aren’t proper. I’ve seen your blood pressure rise when you’ve visited the cellar of a producer who you considered sound, only to see a concrete egg or an amphora or two hiding in the corner, and then they start telling you about a skin-contact white that they’ve made. All this corrupt winemaking must be stopped!

You must promise me that you’ll keep on writing these articles telling the world about how bad natural wine is, and how it’s wrong for people to like wines that you don’t approve of. I’m here to support you. It’s all going to be OK.

The Mount Abora Saffraan Cinsault: bright and luminous

mount abora saffraan

This was a delicious and smashable wine, and it didn’t cost very much. It’s a naturally made Swartland Cinsault, and on the back label it says, ‘this wine harks back to the times of bright and luminous wines.’ Indeed, this is bright and luminous. [By way of interest, here's my note on the previous vintage.]

Mount Abora Saffraan Cinsault 2015 Swartland, South Africa
12% alcohol. Aromatic and floral with lovely red cherries and raspberries, as well as hints of tar, herbs and spices. The palate is supple and juicy with lovely red fruits and a bright, fresh, spicy personality. Nice acidity, floral fruit and fine spicy structure make this utterly smash able, and I quite like the faintly rustic hints, too. 92/100

Here’s a video of me tasting it:

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Video: day 3 of ProWein 2017

Some highlights from the third and final day of ProWein 2017. I should add that these highlight films are not meant to be representative of the fair. Most people are there to do huge deals and very serious business. I’m there to earn money from seminars (something I’m quite good at – doing the seminars, that is, not necessarily earning the money), and then in the time I have left, to find interesting things. Most of the wine at ProWein is desperately dull and a bit depressing: but this only reflects the fact that 90% of all wine is crap. But the world needs a lot of very cheap, bad wine, because that’s what the market demands, and ProWein is a big showcase for these. Personally, I find nothing to say about most wines of this kind, which is why I don’t feature them here. There are good, cheap wines, and I do feature those, but you have to look hard for them. My focus is on the interesting wines, that have something to say, and which speak of a place. Fortunately there are more of these than there used to be, and their number is growing.