Had three interesting South African wines last night. Here are my notes. Two were served blind (Cartology and Blank Bottle).
Cartology 2013 Western Cape, South Africa
A blend of Chenin Blanc plus a bit of Semillon, from old bush vines. This is richly textured with a bit of spice and lovely bold pear fruit. It’s a generous yet fresh white with pear and ripe apple, showing good definition of flavour. Will develop nicely. 93/100
Pieter Walser is making some very interesting wines under the Blank Bottle label. Currently he harvests 50 tons from 35 different vineyards, producing a bewildering array of wines with unique and distinct labels. This wine is a blend of Carignan, Grenache noir and Mourvedre from the west side of the Swartland. It’s just 97 Rand in South Africa, which is about 6 of our English pounds!
Blank Bottle The Original Spaniard 2013 Swartland, South Africa
Bright, sweet and juicy with cherries, plums and berry fruits. Quite smooth and has some silky elegance, as well as a bit of fine leafy sappiness. Lovely focus here. 93/100
Kershaw Elgin Syrah 2012 South Africa
Sweet, bright and juicy with cherry and berry fruit, as well as some spiciness. It’s quite warm and spicy with a reductive edge to the cherry fruit. Supple and vivid with nice freshness and a bit of grip. Give it more time to harmonize? 91/100
Here’s a film from the recent Cockburn’s Port Bicentenary tasting, held in London. It involved a range of Ports from Cockburn’s glory days to the present day, including a couple of rare pre-phylloxera bottles. The Symingtons purchased Cockburn’s in 2006 and their aim is to restore this Port house – which for a long time produced the most expensive and sought after Vintage Ports of all – to its former glories. A full write up, including notes on all the wines, can be found here. Because of the rarity of these wines, a tasting of this scale and depth will never happen again. It was an honour to be part of it.
A lovely tasting this afternoon at Philglas & Swiggot in Battersea. It was an interesting set of Barossa wines, presented by James March of the Barossa Wine and Grape Association, spanning the 1960s to the current day.
This tasting reminded me why I fell in love with the Barossa when I first discovered wine in the early 1990s (here’s my first ever wine region visit report, back in 1996, the early days of the internet). These are proper wines, with real interest and complexity.
Shobbrook Didier Grenache 2014 Barossa, Australia
Pale-ish colour. This has a truly beautiful nose that’s warm, floral and peppery with notes of red cherries and rose hip, with a hint of herbs. The palate is sweet, silky and enticing with lovely red cherries. So supple and sweet with finesse and elegance. 94/100
Ruggabellus Archaeus 2009 Barossa, Australia
Debut vintage from Abel Gibson, and it’s showing so well. Fresh and elegant with hints of tar and spice. Nice dense blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with a bit of grip. So fresh and stylish with lovely balance. 94/100
Cirillo Estate 1850 Grenache 2010 Barossa, Australia
Produced from the oldest Grenache vines in the world, which records indicate may have been planted in 1848. The label claims 1850. This is in Vine Vale, on soils as sandy as a beach. Warm, spicy and slightly peppery red fruits nose. Sweet, supple, detailed palate with nice spiciness and some pepper notes. There’s also a subtle hint of mint. This has structure and focus and it’s lovely. 93/100
Cirillo Estate Mataro 2012 Barossa, Australia
Old vine Mourvèdre (aka Mataro). Fresh, supple and bright with nice red cherry and plum fruit with subtle spices. Very fresh, elegant and well balanced with pure, juicy, direct fruit and real finesse. 94/100
Spinifex Bête Noir Shiraz 2013 Barossa, Australia
Superbly confident with silky, pure blackberry and black cherry fruit. Supple and fleshy with generosity and also focus. Great definition to this ripe wine. 93/100
Rockford Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Barossa, Australia
Super-impressed with this. Refined blackcurrant nose with some spicy, gravelly freshness. Very pure and textured with fresh blackcurrant fruit on the palate and great definition. 94/100
Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2006 Barossa, Australia
Sweet, warm, spicy and subtly tarry, with some floral notes on the nose. The palate has a leathery edge to the sweet, generous, nicely framed blackberry and black cherry fruit with some red berry notes. Open and stylish. 94/100
Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 1996 Barossa, Australia
Warm, sweet, open and slightly herby. Open and interesting with hints of tar and mint. Concentrated and sweetly fruited on the palate with lovely spicy detail. Lovely stuff. 95/100
Charles Melton Nine Popes 1998 Barossa, Australia
Leather, herbs, black cherries and spice on the nose with some warm fudgey notes. Linear, pure and direct blackberry and black cherry fruit with some spiciness. This wine has developed really nicely and shows beautiful complexity. 95/100
Charles Melton Nine Popes 1999 Barossa, Australia
Warm, open spicy nose is sweet and earthy. The palate is warm, herby and spicy with lovely detailed peppery, herby, spicy notes. Has evolved well. 93/100
St Hallett Old Block Shiraz 1992 Barossa, Australia
13.5% alcohol. Supple, warm and elegant with fine red cherry fruit and a bit of dusty spiciness. Nice peppery notes here to this elegant wine. This is very fine and has evolved beautifully. 95/100
Saltram Marme Brook Cabernet Shiraz 1967 Barossa, Australia
Hints of mint, spice and dried herbs on the nose, with some red cherries, too. The palate is fresh and detailed, showing lovely purity for an old wine and a bit of spiciness, as well as pepper notes. There’s a sort of weightlessness to this wine – it’s so elegant. 95/100
Saltram Bin 51 ‘Claret’ 1968 Barossa, Australia
This is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Tokay. Minty, spicy hints to the nose. Sweet and vivid with some spicy presence on the palate. Juicy and quite delicious, with a bit of structure to the berry fruits that remain, this is really stylish. Has angles. 94/100
Saltram Bin 54 ‘Burgundy’ 1969 Barossa, Australia
Pale-ish colour with a hint of brown. Sweet, slightly malty nose with a bit of herb and earth. But it is on the palate that this wine shines. It has lovely texture with a pure, warm, smooth mouthfeel, and it still has some red fruit character. Amazing spicy finesse: this is quite ethereal and really beautiful. 96/100
Played wine trade cricket today. First game of the season, versus Fullers, at Chiswick Park. It’s such a pretty ground, quintessentially English and fringed with trees. The only problem: retrieving balls that have been dispatched past the boundary. Most significantly, this was veteran Wine Trade and Fullers cricketer Mark Dally’s final game before retirement. A Fullers man, he turns captains their team in this fixture, even though he’s more regularly turning out for us, so it’s a nice chance to play against him for a change. I hope we gave him a good send-off!
Our team were batting first, and for someone who bowls and bats down the order (no 11 today), that means quite a bit of sitting around engaging in banter with teammates.
We did OK, putting on 219 runs from 38 of our 40 overs. That we didn’t use up the allocation is partly my fault. I came in with four overs to play, biffed a couple of twos and then got bowled. I felt for Dave Bowley, guest player over from South Australia. His wine label is Vinteloper. He is a good player who hasn’t played for a decade. He dispatched his first ball for 4, and then was run out: he called the batsman at the other end through, but said batsman changed his mind and ran Dave out. Poor show! And he only got to bowl once the game was pretty much decided.
David Bowley, Vinteloper
Normally Fullers beat us, so we reckoned this was just a par score. It was the our turn to bowl. I took second over, and both Murray (opening at the other end, a proper opening bowler, unlike me) and I were a little wayward and our first couple of overs each were expensive. But then I began finding my length, and moving the ball a bit, and it just clicked. From my eight overs I dismissed five of the top six batsmen, 3 bowled 2 caught, and finished with figures of 8-0-43-5. The first five-for I have had. Thrilling! Possibly the moment of the game, however, was a remarkable one-handed caught and bowled by Christo Elliot-Lockhart, who just plucked a rapidly moving ball from above his head.
We ended up winning by just over 100 runs, and then enjoyed a quick drink. Dave had brought along one of his wines: a blend of Touriga Nacional plus a bit if Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Barbera. It was delicious.
Vinteloper A/13 Adelo 2013 Langhorne Creek McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Australia
Sweet rich dense and powerful, with a lovely core of raspberry, blackberry and black cherry fruit, as well as some fine creamy notes. Very rich but well defined with fine spicy notes. Showing lovely intensity and balance, this is bold, juicy and delicious. 91/100 (£17.99 Red Squirrel Wine)
I am almost overwhelmed. Since Thursday, I have been tasting almost continually. And two events in particular – the RAW fair on Sunday (above) and Monday, and the London Wine Fair on Monday through to today (below) – have been particularly intensive.
There is just so much wine in the world. That’s clearly a good thing. But the complicating thing is that the scale of wine production is quite small. Wine is best made by families, working on small, manageable properties of a few to several dozen hectares. Beyond this, it’s difficult to make great wine.
Adi Badenhorst and Duncan Savage (I think he’s kneeling)
This is because wine is complicated. It relies on the right grapes, planted in the right place, tended with care, then – after picking at the perfect moment – being guided through the winemaking process skilfully. There is no recipe. Great wine is the product of a place, interpreted well by the right people.
Susan and Michael Grant of La Petraia, Tuscany
The result? Thousands – or tens of thousands – of different wines in the market place. A bewildering array, ill suited to modern channels of distribution. As a wine writer, I can’t hope to know everything. I just have to content myself with telling some of the stories, and covering some of the wines.
Above all, this diversity of wine teaches us all to be humble in the face of wine. We are all students. There is no room for ‘experts’.
The RAW fair was quite remarkable, with an amazing array of wines. The subset I tried led to many surprises, and I came away energized. Yes, this is why I fell in love with wine!
The London Wine Fair is clearly more commercial in its scope, but it has brilliantly reinvented itself over the last couple of years. In the lovely setting of Olympia, it has lots to interest the wine geek these days – something that wasn’t always true in the past. There’s the great Esoterica selection, the undiscovered Wines Unearthed, and the high-end View Tastings. These are great innovations.
I found lots of stories in my 2.5 days spent here, and I could have found more, I am sure. It’s so exciting to be exposed to so many great wines, but there’s also a sense of regret that in this sort of timescale you can only really scratch the surface.
This is super cool. O-Port-Unidade is a charity Port, organized by Axel Probst, German fighter pilot and Port lover (his website is World of Port). 24 Port producers (with one famous absentee, I guessed correctly who this was) joined in, donating old vine grapes (average age 35 years) to the project from the 2013 vintage. In all, 20 tons of grapes arrived at the Niepoort winery on 22 September 2013, and they were foot trodden by the contributing producers, plus Axel.
It’s going to be bottled in June this year, and I tried a cask sample of it. I haven’t got detailed notes, but I can say that it is rich, intense, bold, vivid and powerful. But it’s also beautifully balanced, with a lovely freshness. This is a serious young vintage Port of the highest quality, with a good back story.
Dirk Niepoort is in town, so yesterday we arranged to have lunch at Kitchen W8. It’s been a while since I caught up with Mr Niepoort, who is one of my top wine heroes. He brought along his new Bairrada wine, Poeirinho, and also a small bottle containing a mystery wine: it turned out to be a Madeira from 1795, which is by some distance (20 years) the oldest wine I have consumed.
As an aside, Kitchen W8 is an exceptional restaurant. It was my first time here, and the food was superb. The wine list is good but not great and could do with a bit of work. Service was spot on. It’s owned by Philip Howard, the chef and co-owner (with Nigel Platts Martin) of The Square. It has a Michelin star, but it could, I reckon, get two on yesterday’s showing.
Poeirinho Baga 2012 Bairrada, Portugal
It says 12% on the label, but this is actually 11.6% alcohol. It’s made from Dirk Niepoort’s two vineyards in the region, plus bought in grapes. The Niepoort vineyards are over 80 years old, and the youngest brought in grapes are from 100 year old vines. Half is made in lagares with an average of about 60% stems, and the other half has longer maceration with around 15% stems. The wine is aged in old barrels of 2500 litres, and 15 000 litres were made, of which only half has been bottled so far. Amazingly fresh and lively with intense, vibrant red cherry and blackberry fruit. Really focused with nice tannic structure, as you’d expect from Baga. Pure, linear and super fine, a wine that speaks of its terroirs. Dirk reckons that Bairrada has the best terroirs in Portugal. He says this wine is ‘exactly what my dream was about, except it is a lot better than I expected.’ 95/100
In this glass, an unnamed Madeira from the 1795 vintage! Amazingly intense, spicy and powerful with great acidity. Complex notes of raisins, citrus peel, some herbs, leather and earth. Profound and multidimensional, this doesn’t have any of the slightly deviant flavours that extremely old wines sometimes do. Scoring it is silly, but I’d give it 98/100. Remarkable.
Some more Canadian highlights. They might be tough to locate, but they are worth the chase.
Bachelder Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
Thomas Bachelder is one of Canada’s winemaking heroes. This Chardonnay has a wonderful matschstick/mineral and spice edge to the nutty nose. Very fine and expressive palate with pear, peach, spice and lovely depth. This is serious. 94/100
Domaine Queylus Merlot Cabernet Franc Grande Reserve 2012 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Stylish and fine with nice blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Sweet with a savoury, spicy edge. Generous and fleshy and quite delicious. 93/100
Southbrook Vineyards Poetica Chardonnay 2011 Four Mile Creek, Niagara, Canada
Refined and slightly mineral pear and peach nose. Lovely texture here: spicy and mealy in the mouth with nice density and a hint of creaminess. A lovely broad yet refined Chardonnay. 93/100
Westcott Reserve Chardonnay 2013 Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Chardonnay
A rich but delicious Chardonnay from a Niagara newcomer (first vintage was 2012). Rich, creamy and toasty with pear and white peach fruit. Bold but refined with smooth textured fruit and nice personality. 93/100
Church & State Quintessential 2011 Okanagan Valley, Canada
A Bordeaux-style blend. Fresh, pure and direct with a gravelly, spicy edge to the black fruits. Superb effort showing lovely balance and focus, offering structure and purity. 93/100
Painted Rock Merlot 2009 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very attractive supple blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with hints of tar and gravel. There’s a fleshy, fresh fruity core to this wine but it also has plenty of complexity, too. Sophisticated stuff. 92/100
Thursday’s Canadian wine tasting and seminar at Canada House was a great success. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, great people, and some lovely wines. Here are some of my favourites, that you should try if you get a chance.
Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvee L 2012 Ontario, Canada
This is a blend of Prince Edward County and Niagara fruit. It has an amazing nose that’s super-refined with toast, nuts and minerals. The palate shows broad pear, ripe apple and spice notes with lovely peach and toast complexity and a mineral/citrus core. Quite profound. 94/100
Tawse Estate Chardonnay 2011 Niagara Peninsula, Canada
With a taut, mineral nose and a fresh lemony palate this is a really impressive, linear Chardonnay with amazing finesse and some good reduction supporting the fruit. Stunning effort. 94/100
Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve 2008 Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fine, expressive and creamy with some toasty notes and keen acidity. Fresh and lemony with a hint of nuts and cream. Impressive. 92/100
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 Vancouver Island, Canada
Leafy, fresh and appealing with juicy red cherry fruit and lovely poise. Really pretty with a fine, leafy, sappy edge to the elegant, light, red cherry fruit. 93/100
Le Vieux Pin Cuvee Violette Syrah 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Violet, pepper and olive nose is really appealing. Fine, expressive, meaty black fruits palate with a sweet core of fruit wrapped in bright peppery notes. Very elegant style. 93/100
Hidden Bench Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2011 Beamsville Bench, Niagara
I really like this. It has a fresh, nicely defined cherry and raspberry nose. The palate shows supple plums and cherries with a slight waxiness and some faint meaty notes as well as focused pure fruit and some grippy structure. This is already lovely but has potential for further development. 93/100
Spent the day today driving round English vineyards with two Canadian wine peeps, Andrew and Nicole. We visited three of the finest English producers, and each visit was quite special in its own way. Full write ups to come (of course), but for now some quick notes and a few pictures.
First visit was Nyetimber. Probably the most famous English sparkling wine producer, and rightly so. Brad Greatrix showed us around the home vineyard (above) and took us through an extensive tasting. Nyetimber have 150 hectares now, in 8 sites in Sussex (on greensand soils) and two newer sites in Hampshire (on chalk). The wines released so far have all come from greensand, and they show lovely delicacy and detail of fruit. The chalk soils will add structure and acidity to the wines, Brad reckons (they’ve only made wine from them since the 2013 vintage, and these aren’t in the blends yet).
Highlights? The 2010 Classic Cuvee, just released, is every bit as good as the fabulous 2009. The rose is quite special. The 2009 Tillington is profound, and it was nice to have a vertical of both the Blanc de Blancs and Classic Cuvee. In general, the wines here are getting better every year so go for the more recent vintages.
After a lovely pub lunch in Tillington, we headed to Hambledon. Ian Kellett has ambitious plans here, and his focus is on chalk soils and Chardonnay. The wines are pretty spectacular. We looked at the base wine blends from 2014 and they are just lovely. The current releases of the Premiere Cuvee and Classic Cuvee are quite special. Ian reckons that the goal for the English wineries should be for them to take 25% of Champagne’s market share in the UK (currently 33 million bottles) within a decade. He’s amazed that the Champenois aren’t paying more attention to the UK sparkling wine scene, because it is set to become a very serious competitor for this, the leading export market for Champagne, in a relatively short time.
The chalk soils give a lovely acid structure. Kellett’s approach is to take a non-vintage model, which makes a lot of sense.
We had a look at the gravity flow winery, together with its two ultra-cool Cocquard presses, which give an incredible level of control over the pressing stage, which is one of the critical points in fizz production.
The final stop was at Coates & Seely. Nicholas and Virginia Coates allowed us to invade their spectacular home in order for us to hear the story of Coates & Seely and taste their wine. Like Hambledon, these are wines made from grapes grown on chalk, and this gives them a keen acid structure and linearity. Coates & Seely are also aiming at a non-vintage model, and both the regular and rose NV are seriously good wines. Nicholas is very excited about the impending release of the Blanc de Blancs and the Perfide vintage Blanc de Blancs, which he thinks are very special. The pink Perfide is certainly a special wine.
It was a good way to end a really lovely day. I never thought I’d be taking foreign visitors round England’s top wineries like this. How far the English wine scene has come in such a short time, because all three of these producers are making world class wines in my opinion, and they aren’t alone.