Had a great lunch at the Glasshouse, Kew on Monday, with Brian Smith, a now-biodynamic winegrower in Elgin, South Africa. I first met Brian and his wife Marion at the same restaurant just over a year ago (so my blog tells me), and they’ve now got to the point where they have their first Pinot Noir bottled. Plans are afoot to produce a Chardonnay-based MCC (sparkling wine), but this won’t be ready for a while.
It’s interesting that Brian and Marion have adopted biodynamics so enthusiastically, to the point that they are now certified fully. Marion has been the driver behind this: Brian says that initially he’d have been quite happy to spray chemicals everywhere, but now he has converted too. They now have a Percheron horse that he’s very proud of, as well as 11 cows and some sheep. ‘The Percheron is the most beautiful horse,’ says Brian. ‘It’s 16 1/2 hand, and weighs 1100 kg.’
‘The tough thing is to get organic certification. Once you get this you are part of the way there,’ says Brian. ‘The soil samples on the farm showed arsenic because the apple farmers before used it to kill pests.’ He adds, ‘when you think of all the horrible things farmers used to use, it’s a wonder that the land is living at all.’
Brian and Marion are gaining confidence. For example, with the Sauvignon, the 2012 is the first where they felt able to do 100% natural ferment. In the previous vintages they did the small tanks natural, and the large inoculated, for safety reasons. Now they leave the wine on lees until December (the harvest is early March). In 2012 Brian says he made 90% of the wine (with help from Niels Verberg); in 2013 he made 100%.
Elgin Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely aromatics: expressive, bright, beautiful fruit – white peach, pear, citrus with subtle green notes. The palate is so well balanced with ripe fruit and lovely weight and precision. There’s real presence here, a proper Sauvignon. 92/100
Brian says that he planted Pinot Noir because he’s ‘a red wine drinker trapped on a white wine farm.’ The 2012, first release, won’t be out for a while, but it’s looking very promising.
Elgin Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Natural ferment (done on the spur of the moment when the destemmed grapes were in the tank), 10 months in oak (20% new, the rest very old). This is South Africa’s only organic Pinot. There’s a bit of spice from the new oak but the dominant theme is the lovely pure, focused red cherry and berry fruit. Amazing finesse and purity. Still primary with potential for development. 92/100
The Glasshouse is a fabulous restaurant. I started off with a creative baby squid dish.
Then it was fresh tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, asparagus, summer truffles and parmesan. This was just superbly executed: one of the tastiest things I have eaten this year.
And there was also a really creative dessert: calvados and caramel doughnuts with green apple purée and crème fraîche ice cream. This really is a top restaurant; I have never been disappointed here.
Sommelier Sara Bachiorri served us two wines, blind. Great choices.
Ettore Germano Riesling ‘Herzu’ 2010 Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Very fresh and citrussy with some white peach notes and grapefruit freshness. Rich textured and lively with delicacy. Beginning to develop some petrol notes. 90/100
G Descombes Regnie Vieilles Vignes 2009 Beaujolais, France
Meaty, spicy and vivid with fine black fruits and a hint of pepper. Fresh vivid berry fruit dominates. Like a fresh Syrah, even though it’s Gamay, and tastes quite natural. Real finesse as well as plenty of ripeness. 93/100