The fab 2015s and 2016s from Alheit, one of South Africa's star producers

Chris Alheit and Franco Lourens

Chris Alheit and Franco Lourens

Chris and Suzaan Alheit’s story is one of discovering great vineyards, and then making wine from them, very simply (see my article from a visit three years ago, when they were just starting out). ‘I’ve spent innumerable hours looking on google earth and driving around, looking for the best sites,’ says Chris. His first wine, the Cartology, was incredibly well received when it was first released, and subsequent releases from single sites have gone from strength to strength. Perfectionism and attention to detail are what makes these wines so special: there’s no winemaking trickery involved, and they would qualify as natural wines by any sensible definition of the term.

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Canadian journalist Treve Ring and I visited Chris, along with his assistant winemaker Franco Laurens, at his Hemelrand winery, in Hemel-en-Aarde. He says that with the 2017 vintage, which we tasted from barrel, there will be some new Stellenbosch releases, although he’s not revealing more just yet.

Here’s an interview with Chris:

These are our notes on the 2015s and 2016s.

Alheit Cartology 2015
14% Semillon. ‘The idea was to make a very Cape wine from very Cape vineyards,’ says Chris Alheit. ‘This is the same set of vineyards we have been working with since 2013. The initial growth of 20 to 40 then to 80 barrels is because we just bought more of the vineyards that we knew worked.’ There are 9 parcels in this. Complex and detailed with lovely spicy structure to the pear and ripe apple fruit, with some citrus peel freshness. Lovely acid structure sitting under the complex fruit, with a structured finish. Has some pear skin on the finish, and a hint of green tea. Just lovely. 94/100 (JG)

Alheit Cartology 2015
The terrific 2015 shines here in this lauded chenin, splashed with 14 percent sémillon. The goal of Cartology, the study of maps, according to Alheit was “to make a very Cape wine from very Cape vineyards.” This vintage was up to 80 barrels, but will be drawn back most likely to 60 barrels to make more single site wines in future. Wild ferment, bush vines from nine parcels in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary, False Bay and Botrivier. The Semillon comes from the old La Colline block in Franschhoek (still the same building blocks since the initial Cartology). Lovely pear, orange blossoms glide on creamy silkiness on the palate, with fine spicing and herbal lees on the finish. There’s an interesting mint flick that appears now and again. Complex and youthful still, this has a way to go. 93/100 (TR)

Alheit Radio Lazarus 2015
There’s a lovely dry, dusty, stony edge to the taut pear and ripe apple fruit. There’s an orange peel character, too. So structured and fine with great definition. Feels lovely in the mouth with nice grip. Though-provoking and detailed. 95/100 (JG)

Alheit Radio Lazarus 2015
Stellenbosch chenin blanc, one third in old barrel and the rest in amphora. Radio Lazarus is taken from two sloping sites in Bottlerary, facing each other, and named as such because radios disseminate an idea (plus the top of the two hills have radio towers on top). Pure and linear, with spices, pear, herbal lined pear skin drawn along a vibrating backbone of acidity. Dusty herbal spice and saline closes out the lingering finish. 93/100 (TR)

Alheit Magnetic North 2015
Ungrafted Chenin vineyards from up the west coast. Powerful, very fresh and complex with a slightly salty edge to the grippy lemon and mandarin fruit. Has real focus and great acidity with a pure, linear personality. Lovely salty, mineral finish. So fine and detailed. 96/100 (JG)

Alheit Magnetic North Makstok 2015
This is ungrafted chenin, from a high, north-facing ridge in the Skurfberg/Citrusdal Mountain region. Quite round and generous, but with a linearity driven through with a defining laser lemon acidity cut. Tightly wound still, this will go very far. A stunner. 94/100 (TR)

Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2015 Franschhoek
Semillon Blanc with some Semillon Gris, planted 1936. Beautiful aromatics with some green tea and seaweed hints. Saline and detailed with lovely herbs and citrus. So complex and with lovely savoury dimension to the fruit. This has complexity and finesse. Stunning. 96/100 (JG)

Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2015
Old vine Franschhhoek sémillon from 1936 – a pre-clonal, 16th C massale selection) with 10 percent sémillon gris tipped in. Savoury throughout (reductive in the very best way) with wild and alluring herbal, a touch of brown butter to open the fuller palate, one with the waxy sémillon hue, but with a tight focus. Precise fine spicing and acidity frames and carries to the lingering end. Beauty mineral salts ring on the finish. Stunner. 95/100 (TR)

Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015 Hemel-en-Aarde
14.5% alcohol. Predominantly Rousanne with Chenin, Chardonnay and Verdelho. 360 m on the ridge. Very fruity and aromatic with lovely delicacy allied to fruity richness. Pears, yellow plums and peaches with some grapey richness. Nicely fruity and expressive with a friendly personality, but also some seriousness. Ripe and rich. 93/100 (JG)

Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2015
A field blend of roussanne, chenin blanc, chardonnay and verdelho sees time in old barrels (the roussanne in cement egg) in this fuller bodied white. Perfumed gooseberry, pear blossoms, fleshy pear and orange blossom fill a deep, fully cushioned core. A wave of gentle acidities swells this still youthful, richer wine. 92/100 (TR)

The 2016 vintage was a tricky one, but the Alheit releases are very strong. ‘2016 was a year when everyone struggled with acidity,’ says Chris. ‘There was extreme drought and unevenness so we had to pick early on all the parcels. We got to pick most of our important parcels early: we were trying to be vigilant with our picking.’ Chris absolutely refuses to add acid, even though this is a year when many simply had to or they couldn’t make wine. ‘We sold a lot of bulk wine, because many parcels didn’t make the grade. We have less wine but we have maintained our standards.’

Alheit Cartology 2016
Fresh and detailed with nice precision and weight. Lively citrus with some tangerine and grapefruit. Still tight and linear, this has wonderful potential for development. Lively and stony on the finish. 94/100 (JG)

Alheit Cartology 2016
Ten percent sémillon is tipped into this chenin blanc. Wild ferment, bush vines from nine parcels (still the same building blocks since the initial Cartology). The 2016 is young and eager still. Solid pear, apple, tight and firm, with a fine eraser grip and great lees lined palate. The 2016 will still go a long way, through lacking the structure of the exemplary 2015. 91/100 (TR)

Alheit Radio Lazarus 2016
There’s some lovely pear and tangerine richness here. There’s some generosity to the fruity palate which shows brightness and also depth, with a dusty, chalky edge to the pear and lemon fruit. Lovely weight here. 95/100 (JG)

Alheit Radio Lazarus 2016
Stellenbosch chenin blanc from two facing sloping vineyards, the 2016 was 100 percent aged in amphora. Prickly pear, wild herbs, lemon thistle, pear skin shine through the grippy tannins. Citrus peel, lemon, and fine, pointed tangerine on the lengthy finish. Lovely completeness and complexities; will age beautifully. 93/100 (TR)

Alheit Magnetic North 2016
All amphora this vintage. Beautiful fresh aromatics here with some stone and mineral, a touch of green tea and lovely citrus. The palate is so vivid, fresh and vital with a fine spiciness and salinity under the herb, lemon and grapefruit characters. Multidimensional with a beautifully precise personality. 97/100 (JG)

Alheit Magnetic North Makstok 2016
Hilltop, north-facing ungrafted chenin blanc. Shining. Bright orange, tangerine pith, crispy, singing acidity with a cut of acidity and a riff of tannins. Exceptional length and salted finish. Drinking beautifully now, but has a while to go. 94/100 (TR)

Alheit La Colline 2016
Beautiful aromatics with green tea and kelp as well as some herby citrus notes. There’s a delicious salinity on the palate with some stone and herb characters. There’s a tiny hint of mushroom, and overall this has a lovely savouriness, and there’s a bit of creaminess on the midpalate. Such detail, with a hint of toastiness on the finish. Lovely. 95/100 (KJG)

Alheit La Colline Vineyard 2016
Old vine Franschhoek sémillon from 1936 – a pre-clonal, 16th C massale selection. Primary, earthy pear, herbal meadow rules this youthful, savoury wine. A hint of browning butter, flake salts and earthy lees seasons the whole. This is not about the grape. Beauty now, and will age. 93/100 (TR)

Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2016
There’s some Muscat here, and it really takes over, even though it is just 2.5%! Beautifully aromatic with some peach and orange peel, as well as some grapiness. Aromatic. The palate has lovely rich fruit: it’s a bit stony but also very fruity with an exotic grape, pear and peach character. Finishes fresh. Such a distinctive fruity style with lovely balance. 93/100 (JG)

Alheit Hemelrand Vine Garden 2016
Highly perfumed field blend of roussanne, chardonnay, chenin blanc, verdelho and muscat, this carries soapy, soft peach, pear blossoms. Limey acidity details the finely laced finish. Fuller and rounder, with the weight to carry richer pairings. 90/100 (TR)

Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam Heirloom Chenin Blanc 2016
Barrels that didn’t make Cartology, plus new parcels. Supple, bright and fresh with lovely stony notes, and also some supple citrus and pear fruit. Balanced and delicious with nice clean fruit and a supple personality. Lovely. 93/100 (JG)

Flotsam & Jetsam Heirloom Chenin Blanc 2016
Dry farmed, very old bush vines from sites that didn’t quite fit into the Alheit blend. Round on the palate, crisped with salted popcorn, this is far too easily drinkable. 13.5%. 91/100 (TR)

Alheit Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016
Juicy and bright with lovely supple cherry fruit with some peppery detail. Fresh and smashable with good acidity and a beautiful floral personality. Very fresh and detailed with nice brightness. Very fine and expressive. 92/100 (JG)

Flotsam & Jetsam Stalwart Cinsault 2016
Fresh, young and eager cinsault, this shows a slightly darker hue to the grape, drawing fresh black currant and black plum along a sapid, grippy palate. Thorns and black raspberry rules the finish. This is a grown up, fresh and youthful Cinsault. 91/100 (TR)

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