Twenty-two mind-blowing wines of 2022

Godello in the Stellenbosch heather, Reyneke Wine Estate

We are who we are and we choose to live in a world according to wine. Within its walls are endless permutations and revelations, of the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and the failures. We witness cycles of passion, highs and lows, endless accounts of quirky little episodes that reveal how grapes really live under the circumstances of a vintage. How they survive and thrive, eventually turning into the wine they become. A wine’s history is a lovely aside accompanied by a recorded and constructed account through the lens of someone who observes its transformations. We are messengers who take the land, plant and maker into consideration and always abide, recounting the story to those who would choose to listen. According to WineAlign I reviewed more than 3,000 wines in 2022, which means I tasted at least 3,500, if not more. In order to surmise this final list from a shortlist of more than 100 mind-blowing wines it meant another 2,900 are not even in the running and yet surely no less than a quarter are exceptional wines in their own right. That is how difficult, personal and stringent an exercise this annual choosing has become. I find it near impossible these days and yet somehow feel compelled to continue the drill. 

Godello in Chianti Classico

Related – Twenty-one mind-blowing wines of 2021

The year 2022 afforded multiple opportunities to get back on the road in search of great wines in places across the ponds and beyond. To Tuscany in both February and March, for the for the Chianti Classico Collection and also as chaperone to La Squadra Canadese for a week of exploration throughout the 11 UGAs of the territory. Forever in Chianti Classico included a masterclass presented by Italian wine expert Filippo Bartolotta and Consorzio President Giovanni Manetti titled Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi. This year-end summary includes one of those Chianti Classico wines dating back to 1949 but a few more could been here as well, including the fascinating Badia A Coltibuono Chianti Classico 1958. At Laura Bianchi’s estate the Castello Di Monsanto Sangioveto 1986 was one to blow my mind, as did Luca Martini di Cigala’s San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo 2018 and VinSanto del Chianti Classico 1998. As a proud, card-carrying Ambasciatore there are dozens upon dozens of Classico and affiliate sangiovese that move me each and every calendar year. Il Molino Di Grace Gratius 2018 is an example and just one of many.

Related – Twenty mind-blowing wines of 2020

After that Tuscan adventure I moved on to Sicily for a five day exploration of The five estates of Planeta earth and my stay turned into two weeks. Covid-19 had caught me and yet the humanity of Alessio Planeta, Patricia Tòth and several winemakers aboard L’Etna turned a challenging test result into many days of discovery and deeper volcanic understanding. In fact L’Etna and Parco Statella saved my Sicilian quarantine. So many producers’ wines could and should be on this list: Azienda Agricola Sofia, Calcagno, Donnafugata, Eduardo Torres, Feudo Pignatone, Girolamo Russo, Graci, Scirto, Tascante, and Vigneti Vecchio. Oddly this was not a year for nebbiolo with likely the least amount of opportunities made available and yet a month from now I will spend 10 days in Piemonte to make up for the absence in 2022. That said there can be no forgetting Réva Barolo Cannubi 2018, from which impartiality is off the table because if you do not fall in love with this Barolo then you are not setting your palate free.

Travels in June and Abruzzo in four-part harmony included a bucket list visit with Emidio Pepe where I found that an unwavering commitment to land is everything that matters in making exceptional and memorable wine. It’s not only what you do but also who you are. Ahead of that trip I had tasted La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Bellovedere Riserva Terre Dei Vestini 2017, and there can be little doubt that it is a wine that resides at the top of the montepulciano food chain because this Riserva hails from a most specific and important terroir. After Abruzzo and then Rome I moved on to attend the first ever Anteprima for Simply Red: Rosso di Montalcino where the Brunello were set aside for one day only and the 2020 vintage of Rosso got directly under my skin, including Lorenzo Magnelli’s mind bending Le Chiuse Rosso Di Montalcino DOC 2020. Dieci Anni di Rosso di Montalcino (Ten Years of Rosso di Montalcino) and Selezione di Rosso di Montalcino (Rosso di Montalcino Selection) showed wines of age-ability and purpose; my if Alessandro Mori’s Il Marroneto Rosso Di Montalcino DOC Jacopo 2019 did not blow my mind. A visit with Violante Gardini Cinelli Colombini meant a pour of Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG Io Sono Donatella 2015 for the most profound barrel expression of Le Donne’s Brunelli. 

Menfi

Related – Nineteen mind-blowing wines of 2019

In October the Cape Wine congress resumed after a four year absence and now more than ever this is what I have to say. South Africa is the most exciting and mind-expanding wine universe alive today. There are no less than 40 Western Cape wines from two dozen or so producers tasted in 2022 that could have made this list: A.A. Badenhorst, Alheit, Beaumont, Boekenhoutskloof, Crystallum, David and Nadia Sadie, Hamiilton Russell, Huis van Chevallerie, Kanonkop, Ken Forrester, La Motte, Leeu Passant, Klein Contsantia, Meerlust, Momento, Mullineux, Old Road Wine Company, Porseleinberg, Raal, Raats, Radford Dale, Restless River, Reyneke, Savage, Sijnn, Storm and The Sadie Family. To name but a few. Other southern hemisphere wines were killer in 2022, namely Torbreck Grenache Hillside Vineyard 2019, a special Barossa block to be sure.

With John Szabo MS and Rosa Kruger at the Old Vines Project tasting

In November a return to Montalcino for Benvenuto Brunello 2022 meant a look at the 2018 vintage but also the Riserva of 2017. At Col d’Orcia the Conte Francesco Cinzano Marone and his son Santiago led yet another vertical tasting, this time on the 8s and it was Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Poggio Al Vento 1988 that stood both out and also the test of time. From Montalcino it was on to Vienna and then a Wagram-Traisental discovery tour that was both too short and mind-expanding – A return must and will happen soon. Meanwhile a tasting at home in the WineAlign office showed this Rheingau gem to the crü. Leitz Berg Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs Riesling Trocken 2019 is grand Rüdesheim indeed. 

These are the wines that blew my mind in 2022

Most of all 2022 was a year when associates, colleagues, wine professionals and especially friends reunited to break bread and taste great wines together. At a birthday party I had the opportunity to taste the following in one evening; Château Lafitte 1986, Château Mouton-Rothschild 1986, Chave Hermitage 2010, Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque 1999, Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, Dom Perignon 2000, Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame 1995 to name just seven of 20-plus icons. Bordeaux made several prominent appearances in ’22; Château Margaux 1989 (and 2004), Château Haut-Brion 2012 and Château La Mission Haut-Brion 2012. More importantly in 2022 we shared bottles of all ilk, pedigree and origin, not only the expensive and famous labels but all the great wines, big and small. Thank you to every person who poured, for every sip and taste, with heartfelt thanks. These are Godello’s 22 mind-blowing wines of 2022.

Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Berg 1ÖTW 2021, Traisental, Austria

Highest and coolest vineyard of the Traisental Erste Lage because by three or four pm the forest casts shade over the vineyard. Limestone based soil as well, upwards of 380m and the only portion that has iron rich red elements in the earth. Actually finding a richness in this, surely vintage related and that is unexpected but it’s also the most savoury, minty cool, eucalyptus accented, or the like. Curious by comparison to Alte Zetsen and Zwirch, in what is assessed as almost dark, smoky, spicy volcanic-simulate stuff. Brings whole and utter meaning to grüner veltliner at the Grand Cru level. Drink 2023-2028.  Tasted November 2022

Godello with Charla Bosman

Sijnn White 2019, WO Malgas, South Africa

Up above the Breede River there are vines of chenin blanc, viognier, roussanne and verdelho, varieties that have been working towards a common goal, to eventuate at something great. Then 2019 comes along and the world changes. This is the vintage from which David Trafford, Sijnn and winemaker Charla (Hassbroek) Bosman take full reign of their collective charge. To be truthful the agriculture, winemaking and face of the brand is Bosman and were I in the market to hire someone of her passion, ability and professionalism I could not help but remunerate her like a top European footballer. But lucky we all are that she and Sijnn are together because she is at one with this impossible yet absurdly beautiful environment where wines like this White Blend are made and will blow your proverbial mind. They attach themselves and get so close to that personal part of you. Imagine Châteauneuf though I’d much rather consider Malgas because that is what this is. Rich and perfectly viscous, spicy, structured and fine. Drink 2024-2030.  Tasted October 2022

Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco DOC San Lorenzo 2020, Sicily, Italy

From the single vineyard at 730-740m of elevation and vinified in tonneaux. The 2009 was the first vintage of San Lorenzo Bianco for a wine that leads amongst the 80-90 thousand total bottles made by Giuseppe Russo from 18 hectares. A strong selection from the plants of carricante with cattaratto and grecanico. The carricante are the oldest and they provide the breadth in the mouth, the texture in unction and the presence that really makes you feel the vineyard. The difference between it and Nerina is really in the selection of the grapes. Giuseppe wants his whites to speak for his territory, here to be a bit more generous and 2020 obliges first because it was easier and second because it is such a vintage specific to the white wines. Such beauty and emotion is purity and life. No stress and a wine you want to drink. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted March 2022

David And Nadia Sadie Wines Plat’Bos Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, South Africa

At a tasting where everything is Old Vines Project certified there must be something extraordinary about a wine to stand out from a crowd of greats. David and Nadia Sadie are in fact turning heritage vines chenin blanc (amongst other varietal explorations) into content born of context harboured though never paraded. They are rhythmic and scientific with just enough fantasy and romanticism, but never too much. Plat’Bos stands above Skaliekop and Hoë Steen because 2021 asks it to do so, not because it is better or more important, but it is surely chenin blanc profound. The 1981 Swartland planting is in the steady zone, shed of the mercurial and in ’21 so very linear yet salty of the earth in its sombre-sepulchral tone. There is reduction here because the poor soil nutrients demand that this chenin begins this way. The levels of tension and intensity are most elevated, sufficing to say as high as any from the Western Cape. Attention is paid unwavering to detail, sequencing is in order, purity incarnate, grape and place together pristinely kept. In Plat’Bos 2021 the palate is taken down to the whipping post by a wine built to endure. Given time there will be calm, healing and reward in the end. Drink 2024-2036.  Tasted October 2022

The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks Mev. Kirsten Wyn Van Oorsprong Stellenbosch Die Sadie Familie Wyne 2021, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The vines that supply Mev. Kirsten Wyn are the oldest chenin blanc in the country, out of Stellenbosch and planted in 1905. In 1947 every second row was pulled out to make room for tractors and the configuration still exists this way. “If South Africa has a true apex white Grand Cru vineyard then this is it” insists Eben Sadie. Facts are facts are you just can’t accede these levels of power, concentration, extract and tannin anywhere else. The nose communicates as an intoxicant of sublime forces and these grapes bestow chenin blanc 2021 are those that transcend fruit, deliver ethereality and a heightened sense of awareness. An awakening from necessary tension, crisis and personal freedoms, existential off the charts, poetic and epic. One hundred and sixteen stanzas recorded, in the books and the finest verse written right here in the most recent vintage. If enlightenment is to be gained from chenin blanc in the Western Cape, Mev. Kirsten would provide the fodder. “The grail. End of fucking story” concludes Sadie. All hail. Long live the queen. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted October 2022

Iconic Bourgogne

Domaine De Bellene Vosne Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots 2020, AC Bourgogne, France

“Suchots” originates from “souches,” the name given to the woods before the land was prepared to house these vines. Les Suchots is but a small 13 hectare part of the larger 220 in total for Vosne Romanée and was first planted in 1937. La Romanée and Saint Vivant are the closest plots, south of Echezeaux, north or Richebourg and though just six per cent of the appellation it is actually the largest Premier Cru Climat therein. The vineyard is divided in two by a road. The eastern part below lays just above the cemetery and the village terroir called Hautes Maizieres. The top part is located below Les Beaux-Monts. The 2019 was a dream, crème de la crème and yet 2020 seems to embrace the powerful vintage with a most extraordinary level of perfume. That and fruit concentrated to a maximum degree without falling into any of the trappings associated with hyperbole. The concept of pinot noir reaching regional levels like this seems counterintuitive to the variety-appellation contract but the balance and harmony at the top is something the likes almost never seen. This will surely be one of the wines that explain with hyper clarity what 2020 is as a vintage. Drink 2026-2040.  Tasted May 2022

Graci Etna Rosso DOC Arcurìa Sopra Il Pozzo 2017, Sicily, Italy

Sopra il Pozzo describes a special portion of the signature Arcurìa vineyard (and contrada of the same name), a block “above the well,” 100 per cent nerello mascalese picked in the last week of October. Treated to the same maceration and elévage as the Rosso for the same spontaneous style and time as Feudo di Mezzo. However Sopra il Pozzo’s “refuse” soil composition is different and requires patience in the name of time, due to its alternating layers of decomposed volcanics in stone and coarse sand. This is a section of recast material and the corresponding mascalese is both emasculated and chivalrous. The degree to which layers of fruit, mineral and umami incorporare and completare is finite and contiguous yet also lengthy, scorrevole and endless. There is rare Etna glycerin texture and perfectly timed acid tang. Tempismo perfetto. Grande. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted April 2022

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori Granato Teroldego 2019, IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Granato from Elisabetta Foradori resides at or near the peak of the Trentino-Alto Adige wine chain, a Dolomite force of varietal nature, richness incarnate and cragged to gain your full attention. Fruit comes at a great premium, not by absence of the heart but because so much site, land and space speak louder than words. A static red stuck in a state of cryogenic freeze, immovable and surely able to handle immobility and also time. Will drink beautifully for a decade and a half, or possibly more. Drink 2024-2034.  Tasted February 2022

Garage Wine Co. Truquilemu Vineyard Lot 97 Dry Farmed Old Vines Field Blend Carignan 2018, DO Maule Valley, Chile

The eastern facing side of the Coastal Range where the old vines grow, in places where you had to make wines for the Catholic Church, “to save souls.” The most aromatic of Derek’s wines, a true field blend with a je ne sais quoi of varieties bursting off of dry farmed bush vines. Showy with that combination of outright juiciness juxtaposed against iron-fisted structure. A wine that comes from a place where the farmer worked to break up the “los camellones”, strange diagonal lines drawn and a framer who shows how to separate the land so that making great wine is easier. This is a remarkable example of old, bush and real. Drink 2024-2030. Tasted July 2022

Barone Ricasoli Castello Di Brolio Chianti Classico 1949, Tuscany, Italy

Tasted as part of “Il Chianti Classico in 9 Decadi” led by Filippo Bartolotta with Giovanni Manetti at Stazione Leopolda in Florence at the Chianti Classico Collection. The oldest wine in the flight. apropos and just when you consider the Ricasoli heritage and lineage. A mineral layering which instinctively mimics the compaction of argiloso, macigno and calcari from Brolio’s soils, no longer feeling the separation or mille-feuille effect but now just all morphed into one and the same. There were surely some white wines in this mix, as per the formula written decades earlier by Bettino Ricasoli. Probably helped keep the freshness for some time and while this is now all earth and stone the wine is very much alive. There’s even some sweetness and citrus showing, indicative of blood orange some 73 years later, finishing with a trebbiano and malvasia Vinsanto tang.  Tasted March 2022

Isole E Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

“I did not like Gran Selezione, I did not have anything against Gran Selezione but the discussion about UGA (sub-zones) was already underway so why not wait for this next change to the appellation?” The thinking for Paolo de Marchi was more about the wines that did not qualify for the appellation becoming wines that now qualified, the issue being a new rule could not apply to only 30 or so producers. So what is needed for that to happen? “All grapes born here should be able to travel with a passport.” If it is more complicated than that then there is much more to discuss. A Chianti Classico from a long, linear and fortifying vintage delivers equally appropriate and extending tannins, gripping the composition while proposing to become elegant and fine. The seamlessness and never wavering focus keeps on keeping on, in the ways of emotion in motion. Will remain in bottle one year more before being released to the market. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted February 2022

Great anticipation to taste La Casaccia and Montosoli side by each from a vintage carrying no option but to act out the passion play through the glaring clarity of a sense of place. There are facts involved and there is no hiding the truth formed by these plots of sangiovese in this vintage. By now it is understood how 2018 exists on its own accord at one with nature though Francesco Ripaccioli will tell you there are similarities with 2013, if only because that vintage was greatly ignored and is drinking well at this time. La Casaccia in the località of Canalicchio is the wildcard of Montalcino and tasting several wines from the frazione reveals a collective affinity supplied by the year’s gifts. Nothing was portioned or taken away from the ’18 Annata and yet this Vigna sings with even more range and depth than that wine. The acids are simply out of this proverbial world, the linear aspects drawn with precise architectural or even, in Old English speak, a Cutter’s line. Remarkable reserve in concentration and forward slicing finesse. Forever long. Forever young. Drink 2025-2038.  Tasted November 2022

Biondi Santi Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy

Riserva 2016 is the 42nd such vintage since 1888 from estate vineyards and the oldest parcels therein. Meanwhile olive trees and other compatible local species grow in those places and there always seems to be lower pH and higher bright acidity coming off the grapes. The Federico Radi team seeks to broaden biodiversity with unlimited scope and more vineyards would benefit by following such a plan. When Biondi-Santi gets to their next position we can expect even more refined and higher quality wines. Meanwhile the harmony and extant abilities in this ’16 Riserva are almost impossible to believe. A Riserva of fruit termed as the locus of the points drawn at an equidistant from the centre. Sangiovese of no stops and starts existing on a special kind of ellipse in which the eccentricity is zero and the two foci are coincident. Simple descriptors like crunch, chew or crust are not in the lexicon nor do service to speak about the texture of this remarkable sangiovese. Subtlety and strength, a dappling of early morning light, patterning and shimmering as if on water. The phenolics are spot on, coherent and the connection with both palate and tannins perform as an unbreakable bond. A canvas flooded with colour and while there is a level of transparency there are no white spots. Everything is filled in. Clocks in at 14 per cent abv. Drink 2025-2040.  Tasted November 2022

Fontodi Flaccianello Della Pieve 2001, IGT Toscana Centrale, Tuscany, Italy

Youthful is the proverbial understatement, zesty and full of Panzano life the other. A sangiovese in strike of ideal accord, freshness captured in bottle and development low, easy and slow accrued. Just like the season, stress-free, never too hot, never too wet. Stellar autumn of warm days and retentive cool nights. A late harvest and full phenolic character. It all shows in this 20-plus year-old Flaccianello, singing a ballad, verse after verse, refrain post refrain. After 20 minutes a sweet porcini perfume emits and one wishes for a 50 day dry-aged Chianina Fiorentina. What fortune! Along with the special effects of smoky rosmarino and wild fennochio. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted February 2022

Sassicaia 2019, DOC Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

Priscilla Incisa’s Tenuta San Guido is located one hour south of Pisa, going back many generations. The surface area covers 2,500 hectares in a “classic Tuscan agricultural estate, of vines, olive oil, cereals including wheat and feed for thoroughbred horses. There are 500 hectares towards the seashore dedicated to a wild life refuge “paradise” free from hunting and for migrating birds coming from northern Europe and heading to Africa, especially because a good part of the land is covered by water during the winter. Before 1994 the appellation was Vino da Tavola. The grand vin Sassicaia is always a minimum 80 per cent cabernet sauvignon (as per the appellation) with cabernet franc. The youthful perfume of Sassicaia is really something other, an invitation to the plume of a great and mighty bird that will soon migrate or not be seen or heard from until another season. The fruit is both wound taut and also layered, a mix of liquids, gasses and decomposed mineral, turning on its axes, literally the earth itself. The effort put in speaks volumes about the quality and yet the seamless transitions are as if there are no transitions at all, only one contiguous entity. Will release in Ontario as an Online Exclusive by lottery on October 20th. Drink 2025-2034.  Tasted September 2022

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2002, Abruzzo, Italy

The subtle and gentle elegance of 2002 is almost mystifying, if at least a surprise that kinda hypnotizes. Memory serves up a case of conflict and adversity, if also vintage envy for the bookends of 2001 and 2003. And yet the cool of the night prevails to elongate a montepulciano for our pleasure and make it sing 20 years later. It was also decanted to reduce the lees sediment and then re-corked for our benefit. Words cannot express what a beautiful place this 2002 EP is found to be. It is a treat to taste and also behold, exactly as of right now. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Planeta Santa Cecilia 2005, DOC Noto, Sicily, Italy

Finding oneself in a state of utter disbelief upon nosing an older Santa Cecilia has just happened with thanks to this 2005 and the unthinkable aromatics it possesses. There have been some older examples like 2007, 2008 and 2011 which all showed morphological magic but this, this is something other. The state of perfumed preservation is impossible, the floral emanations and fruit continuance implausible and in suspension of belief. The 2005 is almost perfect, dark berries and red citrus alive, acids in perfect condition, wood dissolved, resolved and walked straight out the door. The life and vitality reside in the arena of the flawless, faultless and achievable. This is what nero d’avola, Santa Cecilia, Noto and Planeta can be, at its collective finest. Will drink this way (and also that) for five more years and with ease. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted April 2022

Château Cheval Blanc 1998, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux, France

The 24 year-old 1998 has been argued and predominantly defended as a Right Bank vintage, especially for merlot based wines, which the 1998 Cheval Blanc happens to be. Clocks in at 65 percent plus (35) cabernet franc and the two combine for hypnotic aromatics to put mind and palate in an immediately dizzying and gratifying tizzy. Dark, dark fruit of the “cimmérienne” kind yet of a grace and genteel manner shared by other profoundly distinguished red wines. Thoughts can wander and wonder as a result of tasting this blind and considering the depth it is nebbiolo that is imagined. Only for a moment because the numerous dual-toned vibrations direct towards knowing this to be a blend and so Right Bank combinations lead by their impression. Both of ’98 Cheval Blanc’s are blessed of ripenesses, acids and structural bones all having peaked at a shared summit. The conclusion can only be a two-part perception, of balance and beauty. Drink 2022-2042.  Tasted November 2022

Mullineux Schist Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, South Africa

Vines planted in 1999, mature if still 12 years away from being classified as “Old Vines.” Schist is the home Brownstone Vineyard, shallow and rocky of less than 20 cm of soil. An extreme site in which vines attempt to grow, but so much comes down to the where and how. Rows are close together and planted in an almost race track configuration within an amphitheatre. The roots spread and dig deep within the stripes of schist interspersed with iron and the grapes are harvested plant by plant to create two apposite cuvées. Visually these are small vines with smaller leaves and an airiness – physically speaking. The skeletal backbone here is upright, towering and commanding, the juiciest of varietal fruit hanging as flesh, taut and muscular upon these bones. Unyielding yet never brooding nor astringent, but bountiful and beautiful. Drink 2024-2032.  Tasted July 2022

Penfolds Grange 1981, South Australia

Poured blind and easily recognized as a wine of great depth with at least two decades of maturity. Either older or hastily advanced but there are indicators to the former, namely high tones, substantial crunchy acids and full on perfume. There is a touch of Brettanomyces but only a feathery tickle and the wine still has something left to give and also to prove. Great depth is provided by wood notes, of soy, balsamic, wild fennel and all together now a reduction keeping its form, a foxy liqueur, once Cassis but now Amaro, finishing with flavours bloody and gamy. The reveal as Grange 1981 explains that while shiraz is always the game and king it had been a season for which the cabernet sauvignon portion exceeded 10 percent. Winemaker John Duval felt that ’81 was a tannic one but they left the building long ago. Both Barossa and McLaren Vale were involved and so this look back at blending expertise matters in the context of all Aussie blends being tasted today. Being present to be poured a taste of Grange represents good fortune and from 1981 there abides a full and fair suck of the sauce bottle.  Drink 2022-2025. Tasted November 2022

Donnafugata Ben Ryé 2019, Passito Di Pantelleria DOC, Sicily, Italy

Ben, as in “son of” and Ryé, a Sicilian riff on the concept of making strong mocker from the wheat grass. Think of grapes instead, in this case zibibbo (muscat of Alexandria) grown off the southwestern coast of Sicily on the Island of Pantelleria. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is one of the world’s great sweet wines, found only on this windswept promontory where the grapes concentrate, drink in the sea and express a view to which only this place commits. The warmest of vintages develops and comprises these particular sugars into something surreal. Extraordinary orange-ginger crème brûlée, perfectly embittered and made viscous in the most natural of ways. Layers of dedication and spice, health affirming herbs, respiratory fixing drops and sweetness captured, effortlessly and to gift plaisir. Apricots ripe and glazed, zen zero limone, giusto intenso. Nearly perfect. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted April 2022

Vintage Port (c) Sarah Goddard/WineAlign

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019, DOP Douro, Portugal

Expect top concentration in Vintage Port from what Niepoort calls a “return to balance in the vineyard” type of season. Summer was unseasonably cool and the timely rainfall on the 26/27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit maturity to go to completion. A recall to 2008, of natural, acid driven, balanced musts. Foot trodden in circular granite lagares with 100 per cent stems, racked soon after harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. Acid vintage indeed, fruit caught by circumfuse so as to be surrounded, ignited and eventually dispersed for decades of slow release power. The liquid chalkiness of tannin is so fine-grained you swirl and mull over just how hypnotizing it is. Truly great Vintage Port will act out this passion play. Drink 2025-2048.  Tasted October 2022

Good to go!

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What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

A deep dive into the wine regions of the Western Cape, chenin blanc, and a Buyers’ Guide to South African wines

This feature was commissioned by Wines of South Africa, as seen on WineAlign

 

Several years back I commented that “the act of intense immersion into any important wine-producing nation and its diverse regional expressions can only leave a lasting impression if the follow-up takes a long, cool sip of its meaning.”

That was just the beginning of what I hoped to be a life-lasting fascination with South African wine and, seven years later, I can safely say the journey is going very well, if still only in the early stages of deep understanding. Just about exactly two months from today I will return to the Western Cape to rekindle, reconnect and extend my relationship with South African winemakers and their fascinating wines. Curiosity, anticipation and excitement have never been greater and so the questions is worth asking: What comes next for the wines of South Africa? At current the only answer forthcoming is how Cape Wine 2022 will be the most lekker experience of the year.

In all their combined iterations, the wines of South Africa are exciting communicators of heritage, history, emotions and declarative attacks. Collectively they spread with ripples like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. They are the beneficiary of effects created by two oceans and the great ancient, preeminent, decomposed and weathered soils found anywhere on this planet. Maturity is breathed into every phrase these wines are wont to play.

Growing regions of the Western Cape

South Africa is a medium-sized country that would fit into Canada eight times. It has a diverse population of 58 million people and is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Nation,’ a phrase aptly coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wine growing is limited to the southwestern region of South Africa, in the Western Cape Province, which is an area roughly the size of Greece. South Africa has been making wine for more than 360 years. The first grapes were pressed in 1659. The wines reflect the best of the old and the new; they present fruit-forward styles with elegance and finesse. The South African wine industry is one of the most technically advanced in the world of wine. There is an extremely rigorous Wine of Origin Certification Scheme, introduced in 1973, which guarantees that the wine is what it is designated or described. Each bottle carries a certification seal to guarantee that the claims regarding vintage, variety and origin on the packaging are true. South Africa has more certified Fairtrade wines than any other country. That is to say their products “guarantee a minimum price to cover the costs of sustainable production, as well as a premium to invest in social and economic initiatives in their communities.”

There are five officially demarcated regions of production — they are delineated based on the massive variations in soil, climate and location. The regions are: Breede River Valley, Coastal, Klein Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg. There is a commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production and wines can be certified by Sustainable Wine South Africa, which is part of the Wine and Spirit Board. The designation refers to grapes which are produced in harmony with nature, which allows vineyards to flourish alongside their natural habitat. The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a unique partnership between conservation bodies and the wine industry.

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

More than 95 percent of the wine is produced in the Cape Floral Kingdom, where there are more than 10,000 indigenous plant species, more than reside in the entire Northern Hemisphere. This Kingdom has been created by a diversity of soils, produced from granite, sandstone and shale; as well as a diversity of climates and geography. This, in turn, has created a treasure trove of winemaking possibilities. As a result, South African wines have a huge array of flavour and aroma profiles, which lead to wines with intriguing character and drinkability.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

While so many grape varieties take hold with utmost promise in the Western Cape, there is but one that persists, unwavering and timeless. Yes, it is true that grape varieties such as grenache, cinsault, syrah, pinotage, sémillon and many others are apt at aligning with covenant to their old vine sources but there can be little argument against chenin blanc residing at the top of that list, Chenin is the greatest beneficiary of age, fortitude and focus as provided by the old vine experience. The list of Western Cape chenin sites from Stellenbosch, Swartland, Citrusdal Mountains, Darling, Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Breedekloof, Bot Rivier, Walker Bay, Cederberg, Paarl and Robertson, reads like a biblical scroll; Bottelary Hills, Granite Hill, Helderberg, Kapteinskloof, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg, Perdeberg, Riebeek-Kasteel and Skurfberg. The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, and can perform well in warm and dry conditions. The signature grape variety is South Africa’s golden ticket to global recognition and success. No other varietal message speaks with as much clarity and consistency than that of chenin blanc.

Stellenbosch vines and heritage vines planted in the 1970s and before are now performing at their best. Johan Reyneke speaks of the illness that had been running through South African soils and how he sought to build immunity and disease resistance through a holistic farming approach. Things did not transform overnight, so fathers and neighbours may have doubted the long, arduous and yet understood process. But it is that organic and sustainable approach for which today’s health and prosperity can be thanked. When it comes to searching for chenin blanc plant material, vineyard sourcing can be quite broad, of multifarious soil types and elevations, 40 to 50 year blocks on average, sometimes also including old vine sémillon. The distance from the first to the last vineyard in a chenin blanc cuvée might be 200 kilometres or more but, when brought together well, magic often happens.

Windy places help in so many respects, allowing a larger canopy to remain in place and exaggerate the dappling effect which chenin blanc so dearly loves. Reyneke’s is South Africa’s oldest Demeter-certified biodynamic winery, with vineyards on the top of an ancient granite mound and on less weathered soils lower in the valley floors. The vine struggle is real, a positive one for the wines and ultimately for wine lovers. Granite soils further up the Stellenbosch hills are less colluvial, really old and weathered, predating microbial life. The vines produce lower yields and the weathered earth gives life to chenin blanc. For Mullineux Wines and a Cape chenin blanc assemblage, it gives meaning to the gathered idea, like an AOC Chablis made by a houses in names of Fèvre, Drouhin, Moreau or La Chablisienne. Mullineux’s twist is the back blending with some old barrel ferments to balance new and “other” fruit components. A chenin blanc may be bottled the same year it was picked though that’s easier to do so in the southern hemisphere, where harvest happens in the first quarter months. The reasons are simple. Intense investigations through schist, granite and old vines floats the boat and raises the bar for more professional and accessible chenin blanc cuvées. With older heritage vines involved, as is the case for Chris and Suzaan Alheit, the concentration and density of the vines is inherent. The use of heritage material is the South African version of Atticism; that is a return to classical methods and rhythms in making really old chenin, but also the likes of sémillon.

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

One of the sparkling wine world’s most important and impressive categories in origin is no longer called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), but now Cap Classique. This South African term indicates a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. As it stands, Cap Classique must age on the lees for a minimum 12 months to be labelled as such, though this number will surely extend once the realization sets in that more is better. Cap Classique produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million. Méthode Cap Classique bottles are made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

It’s also very much a wine about terroir. In Stellenbosch the sparkling is often made from early picked, old vines chenin blanc grown on Duplex soils, colluvial decomposed granite overlapping gravelly clay. Ask Ken Forrester and he will tell you the gravels allow for good draining and the clays deliver a time release of water. All this helps during drought and the restriction of water creates texture on the palate. There are pioneers like Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira who are attacking with Brut Zero style “based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne.” For others, like For Christa Von La Chevallerie, it’s a matter of “how far I can go with [the combination of] chenin and lees.”

“We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum time on lees should be raised to 15 months. As for sugar dosage, he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” Ferreira has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but, more importantly, the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. As for Gerber, he will say “sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” “For Brut we have to extend [the lees aging time] to 60 months,” explains Ferreira. “So there is no lipstick or eye shadow. ”For a deeper dive into Cap Classique please read my article post Cape Wine 2018.

Bot Rivier 

Bot Rivier lies southeast of Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10 kilometre radius of one another. Here chenin blanc might be crafted with just a hint of residual sugar (at just above 5 g/L), to balance the effects of a long, slow, ocean-proximate Bot Rivier growing season.

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

There is so much diversity in the Capelands. There are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal, Dexter Gordon flow. Elgin also has layering, in riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay. The wines glide with cool climate ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless style.

Elgin’s Paul Cluver seems to be the first to label his chardonnay with the Bourgogne “Villages” idea. This tells us much about what we need to know — that Elgin vineyards are the fruit source if not site specific or singularly focused. But he also finds precision with his Seven Flags and Close Encounter wines. The wines of Thelema (and Sutherland) do the same, curating classic Elgin cool savour running linear like a beam through the joist of structure.

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch in undoubtedly South Africa’s most well-known region and home to the eponymous town that is the country’s second-oldest town. It sits a mere 50 kilometres southeast of Cape Town, capital of the Western Cape. Stellenbosch is the lushest of the Cape’s valleys, home to more than 200 wine producers and surrounded by the Drakenstein and Stellenbosch mountains. False Bay acts as the mitigator of this Mediterranean climate, creating ideal wine-growing conditions where just about any sort of grape variety can achieve ripeness. The reds of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz predominate on the granite-based soils farther west, while chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc thrive in the sandstone soils of the east.

Swartland Independents

Swartland

The Swartland is Afrikaans for “Black Land,” so named because of the dark grey endemic renosterbos (rhinoceros bush) that covers the landscape and turns black after the rains. The region of the Western Cape begins some 50 kms north of Cape Town and consists of the area between the towns of Malmesbury to the south, Darling in the west and Piketberg in the north. Home to the Cape’s greatest of wine revolutions, followed by a swinging era — and what comes next is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that the Swartland’s decomposed shales and granites provide some of the most existential and powerful growing sites in all of South Africa.

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

Over the past two months there have been several opportunities to taste a wide range of wines from South Africa. Andrea Mullineux came through Toronto to give a seminar on chenin blanc, VINTAGES has seen releases with a dozen various examples and the WineAlign team recently tasted a box of stunning values. Just last week I taught a seminar on South Africa and poured five seminal wines. Here is a Buyers’ Guide that includes chenin blanc, Cap Classique, Bot Rivier, Elgin, Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Western Cape.

Western Cape

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Hard to knock the consistency but even more so the varietal representation and transparency of this perennial steal of a chenin blanc. Fruit that sings, bones that stand upright and just textural enough to make you feel like chenin can do no wrong.

Spier Signature Chardonnay 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$13.35, Sylvestre Wines & Spirits
Michael Godel – Labeled as Western Cape though kind of essentially Stellenbsoch from Spier in a chardonnay of green apple, dried herbs and lime. A hint of reduction and then bitters and while not fleshy this is surely satisfying.

Franschhoek Cellar Statue De Femme Sauvignon Blanc 2020, W.O. Western Cape
$16.99, Perigon Beverage Group
Michael Godel – Franschhoek does sauvignon very well, not as cool as say Elgin but surely (on average) more complex than Stellenbosch. Note the elongated phenols and terpenes in this most stimulating and succulent sauvignon blanc. Steal of a deal.

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2019, W.O. Western Cape
$59.95, Groupe Soleil
Michael Godel –  Soil excellency layers in oscillations, waves and variegation in one of South Africa’s most curious to crafty blends in which chenin blanc is the focus to the core. You feel the sémillon, indeed you do because it streaks through the chenin, but not as a sprinter or a shooting star. Cartology is a correlated, traced and tabulated white blend that stands up to be counted.

Fairview Goats Do Roam Red 2021, W.O. Western Cape
$14.00, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Rhône blend based on syrah and the stylistic departure from the past to be über rich and dark is now more a matter of bright and effusive. Black fruit is now red, tar and tension given way to open and generous. Loving the modern acids, clarity, purity and simplicity.

Bot Rivier 

Beaumont Wines Chenin Blanc 2021, W.O. Bot Rivier
$29.95, The Small Winemakers Collection
Michael Godel – Hard to conceive and thus receive more aridity on the aromatics, surely flinty, part gun and part struck granite stone. Stretches this chenin blanc like the pull of elastics or fior di latte. Also herbal, sweetly so, with a chanterelle apricot note in the freshest of fungi specimens. Acids take over, spit and shine over this wise and elongated wine.

Elgin

Paul Cluver Village Elgin Chardonnay 2020, W.O. Elgin
$25.00, Buyers + Cellars Wine Purveyors
Michael Godel – Taut and tight, nicely reductive, orchard fruit focused with some bite and then a little bit of barrel smoulder. Not a smoky or toasty chardonnay but a balanced one with plenty of local, savour, savoir faire and flavour.

Stellenbosch

Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Cap Classique 2018, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Noble Estates Wines & Spirits Inc.
Michael Godel –  This may just be Ken’s most phenolic sparkling wine to date, emitting as a combination of blanched nuts and precious metals. Spent eight months in fermentation followed by 28 further on lees, in bottle. Creates orchard fruit flavours and textures while acidity retention keeps the groove and the balance.

Radford Dale Vinum Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – There is a feeling of warmth in Radford Dale’s 2020, not boozy per se yet the feeling is like cold sake going down. Then it’s all roundness and creamy fruit, ease and utter culpability.

Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$29.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Johan Reyneke’s chenin blanc is his and his alone, of South Africa’s first biodynamic winery and a level of say it as it is passion that can’t be touched. More like do as I do and Reyneke’s takes no liberties, asks no favours, gives and gives again. Spices and textural meanderings are concentrated and greater. An exotic notion as well, like ripe longan fruit and then a compound flavour profile going on forever.

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$49.00, Family Wine Merchants
Michael Godel – A barrel fermented style that shows in a flinty, caramel and pineapple way, part Burgundy plus California yet all South Africa. Heeds the Reserve moniker well with buttery brioche richness and full sun gathered consciousness. This one is all in with an effect to invite a wide ranging if specific consumer response.

Boschendal 1685 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – Big, dark, brooding, as much about place as it is about grape variety.What’s special is the equally grippy and forceful fruit, exaggerated because the acidity is like a reduction of black currant syrup. Sharp and soil rich this is a serious mouthful of cabernet, firm, tannic and in charge. Roasted herbs and grilled vegetable notes, and a ferric-sanguine quality that brings the BBQ braai to mind.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, W.O. Stellenbosch
$19.95, NAVBEV INC
Michael Godel – Six grapes get together in Pitch Black, mostly made with cabernets with (13 per cent) cinsault, (10) merlot and then bits of malbec and petit verdot. Inky in feel if not pitch, tarry by natural nature if not by hue and also more Rhône meatiness then Bordeaux savour. A big, ferric and hematic example with strong bones and flesh all over.

Jordan Jardin The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, W.O. Stellenbosch
$30.00, Kolonaki Group
Michael Godel – Straight faced and matter of fact, all things being true in a cabernet sauvignon that reeks of variety and subtlety in spite of the violence required to excavate and plant a vineyard. Don’t sleep on the tension and the structure in a wine of meaning, profound as it gets for Stellenbosch.

Aslina By Ntskiki Biyela Umsasane 2020, W.O. Stellenbosch
$35.00, Gradwell Wine Agency
Michael Godel – Ntsiki Biyela is officially recognized as South Africa’s first black female winemaker and the meaning in her Bordeaux styled Umsasane blend is local vernacular for the umbrella acacia tree. The brand is called Aslina, tribute to Ntsiki’s grandmother and one can feel the love in this richly styled, boozy in relative balance blend.

Swartland

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020, W.O. Swartland
$19.95, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – Essentially chenin blanc and an example that pulls the full blessings and richness of the sun into a generous and gracious wine. Kloof Street is chenin blanc of feel, touch and “tekstuur.” The old vines concentration and density is inherent, the “frâiche, agréable and couvert de rosée” all over the palate with license and privilege.

A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, W.O. Swartland
$57.99, Lifford Wine & Spirits (Select Wine Merchants)
Michael Godel – The adage bears repeating as recited by Adi Badenhorst. “Fantastic grapes from old vineyards,” in a jazz mixtronic blend of chenin blanc, roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, viognier, verdehlo, grenache gris, clairette blanche, sémillon and palomino. Yet another paradigm shift in Cape white appellative white blends that seduces with its steely veneer, vine experience and turbulent soul to deliver in every way imaginable.

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Granite 2019, W.O. Swartland
$79.00, Nicholas Pearce Wines Inc.
Michael Godel – All barrel fermented in only neutral oak, full malo and with the intention to truly experience and taste chenin blanc grown on granite soils. A wine kickstarted by natural stabilization, equally expressive of tart acidity and freshness, fully reasoned by sunshine yet also seasoned with effortless and variegate ease.  Such an experienced and robust wine without solicitation, nor swagger neither. The ability, presence and precision are tops. There’s no question.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2021, W.O. Swartland
$16.95, Univins (Ontario)
Michael Godel – Unmistakable syrah from the Boekenhoutskloof clan, always the meatiest and meat fats dripping example for the price. That and a profile more Swartland than what comes from say Stellenbosch syrah.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Nine from Alheit Vineyards

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

At last September’s Cape Wine 2018 Chris and Suzaan Alheit poured me nine unique wines of clear South African identity. Their old vines attitude moves well beyond keen and into the realm of earnest insistence. Says Chris, “Cape heritage wine must make use of old vineyards” and that is precisely where and how these wines gain their mannerisms and habits. Chenin Blanc is at the core but Alheit’s work is not confined or delimited by a single varietal play. Point of fact, at the behest of site specific markers detected by the chosen and the gainfully employed, truths are spoken in the litmus voice of dry bushland vines. These notes are the collective messenger for the nine.

Varietal and single-vineyard wines are great but #cartology is forever ~ so pleased to get a chance at this today ~ another laser from @chrisalheit

Alheit Vineyards Cartology Bush Vines 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)

Cartology exists in a vacuum without peers, in part because it charted and mapped a course ahead of the curve. The 2017 refuses to rest on laurels and pushes the destination even further away so that the journey still remains the thing. Chris and Suzaan Alheit employ 11 dryland bush (30-80) year-old parcels and the whole addition proposes an adage of place and not idea. This is Cartology, a snapshot of time and place. The smaller amount of eighty year-old sémillon is from La Colline in Franschhoek, while the 30+ year old chenin blanc is grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. If Cartology was this rich before I cannot say and only Chris, Suzaan and the Cape can make this wine. Only them and in these places. Best to date. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Radio Lazarus 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The site is Bottelary Hills where two of the highest and gnarliest hilltop shale vineyards were planted in 1978 and 1971, both at 450m. So very dry now through the years of drought, hopefully to be revived but it remains to be seen. Chris fermented this chenin blanc in large clay pots to auspicate more dry extract, calculated to ensure prosperity and good luck. There just seems to be this atypical, direct and massive accumulation of tannin that seems pissed off. Wait for it, even at this infant stage and even at this very moment in glass. Its convincing fruit will emerge, despite the introvert nature and retention tension because for one thing it resides on the salty side of life. The possibilities are endless as witnessed in the auguring of signs and portents. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Nautical Dawn 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The reference cares to the very first light, with stars to navigate and light to get where you want to go. Nautical dawn marks the start of nautical twilight, which lasts until civil dawn. The fruit source is 1978 planted Granite Hill on False Bay, by the sea. An entirely new grape tannin, phenomenal really, likely caused by the granite shales, with yellow fruit, more sweet and sour, almost an underripe pineapple. Unctuous and different for Chris Alheit. Not a nautical disaster, “but only a fool would complain.” Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Fire by Night 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The fruit source for the aptly named Fire by Night is the Paardeberg, a 1978 planting. The references could be many, first from Exodus 13:21-22 and the Pillar of Night. Or a Canadian connection, however it may be viewed 78 years later (or 118 to this point), at the site of that army’s aid in handing Britain its first significant victory in the South African War. As for chenin blanc this one by Chris and Suzaan Alheit is rocky pristine, with memories, tension and elements brought up from that soil, purity and silky smooth texture. That’s the Paardeberg right there, again for 100 per cent chenin though in a way you “eliminate the wine the grape and just look at the place.” This couple is very focused and their wines in turn are perfectly concise. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Huilkrans 2017, WO Skurfberg, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Into the Skurfberg we go, where at 450m deep red sand and red clay abound and from that we note how there is no chenin blanc tang like this one. From fruit grown by the Visser family on Oudam farm Chris and Suzaan pay tribute to Kallie Visser who passed last year, lekker and friend, now respectively immortalized on the label. The reference is to the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains. The diffidence of growing north and making better chenin blanc is the thing that defines the wonder of the Skurfberg, where serious power by natural acids do the yeoman work and carry the wine. And it was Kallie who played an essential role in raising this 2017 fruit. In that sense this wine will always be a one off and a legacy defining varietal Cape white but it will be carried on. Another deferential chenin blanc, so new yet integral for the Western lands with this transformative reality into new territory. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

Alheit Vineyards Chenin Blanc Magnetic North 2017, WO Citrusdal Mountains, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Also from the Citrusdal Mountains SAVA, a.k.a the viticultural area also known as the Skurfberg, a 10 minute drive away at 550m, again red sand and clay. The vines are ungrafted chenin blanc on its own roots but the soil here is an even deeper red, more so than Huilkrans and so now that white hematic thing is happening. Like red blood cells carrying elements, nutrients, ferrous unction and a pulse of power as opposed to the calm in the white of Huilkrans. This is the tenor to the baritone, rich in its crazy depth of fruit and always seared, marked and injected with trace elements. Does it all on its own. There is no winemaking going on here, only a moving target, of intensity and mystery. The vineyard lies a few degrees off true north from the Alheit cellar, poetically licensed as their “Magnetic North.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Sémillon La Colline Vineyard 2017, Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon.  Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Hemerland Vine Garden 2017, WO Hemel & Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Neither one of five chenin blanc explorations nor the consistent and specific Cartology assemblage this is the Alheit five grape dream of fields blend. “As it grows in the field we pick it and blend it,” says Chris. It comes through the as it stands process with richness and intensity as a true Western Cape appellative blend, made in the fields. The five are chenin blanc, verdelho, roussanne, chardonnay and muscat, “a weird one, a cépage wine, a concept wine, a style wine.” The glebe is at 360m, a windy windswept place, stark and beautiful. The wine concurs. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Alheit Vineyards Vote For Pedro 2017, Uncertfiable Wine, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Not sure what to make of this. Either it’s a skit performed in the guise of a wine or it’s a protest vote, one way or another. Perhaps a write in ballot as comment on a 2016 election far away or maybe a wink-wink, nudge-nudge on the state of government here at home, both in the appellative Cape and the larger authority as a whole. Or maybe it’s just good plain fun. Franschhoek is the source but it can’t be labeled as such because the rare Portuguese-Galician grape galego dourado is not not recognized, i.e. not on the “list.” The planting is of a mere 100 vines at the bottom of La Colline Vineyard. The concoction it forms is rich and syrupy, though also dry and floral. This unusual varietal style what with its natural acidity could be a star, if it were more than just a quirky indie film. For now it’s just a bit of fun for whimsy and for the sake of the love of wine. “Mooi. Baie baie mooi.” Right Chris? Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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