Is Pinotage South Africa’s most famous wine?

Pizza and Pinotage?
The Paul Roos (biltong, feta and mushrooms) at Volkskombuis, Stellenbosch

An excerpt of this pinotage assessment appeared in my larger and more comprehensive South African profile, “Heritage and diversity in South Africa.”

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

With Sebastian Beaumont at L’Avenir Wine Estate

What do we know about pinotage?

Here are some essential facts about the grape variety. The year was 1925 when Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University exorcized a Shelleyan right to marry cinsault with pinot noir in a successful attempt at creating a new varietal for the ages. Pinotage was born at the hands of a grafter with exceptional foresight. We’re not so far away from the 100th birthday and if you ask any one of the producers profiled here I’d wager most would agree. Pinotage is South Africa’s heritage meets signature red grape.

We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again, no no

To be clear there is a great chasm and worlds apart difference between most important and most famous. Research be denied or not, the distinction we are trying to establish concerns the latter, at least for the time being. Pinotage is indeed famous for being bad, insidious and effluent. It’s much maligned reputation and status is a concern borne from bad farming practices, misappropriated oak make-up and hands-on winemaking gone out of control. The mistakes are no longer rampant and there is a new game being played in Western Cape towns, in many ways same as the old ones established well before a generation of fools and horses took over the scene. Today and going forward the next generation of Pinotage young guns (and some older ones) are simply saying “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

Heritage in South Africa is not just reserved for chenin blanc. “You know what old vines can give you,” says L’Avenir’s winemaker Dirk Coetzee. “We’re here to discuss a pinotage revolution. We’re here to discuss the next generation of pinotage.” Stellenbosch is host to the greatest concentration of Western Cape plantings and over the last ten years it has grown by 52 per cent. “Once we start making authentic product people will start thinking and the product will speak for itself.” In fact it has moved from being the sixth to the third most planted grape varieties. Beyerskloof winemaker Ani Truter adds, “what I tasted in the 80s was not pinotage, it was sabotage. It took 2,000 years for Burgundy to be successful. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long in South Africa.” Only a Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe winemaker could pay a compliment with such direct proposition.

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

David Sadie continued the analysis with his take on soil and cellar as being the reasons for making good and bad pinotage. “If you look at a bad pinotage today you can look at the cellar and not at the cultivar.” This in explanation for how pinotage has improved and is moving on from rubbery, toasted and burnt flavour profiles. “It’s about site selection, planting in the right areas.” It’s also about pH levels. “Your attention to hygiene is really important, it’s pH driven.” And finally, Jacques de Klerk of Radford Dale.” They used to be made at high alcohol levels and the margin for error was very precarious. It comes down to over extraction and over use of oak.” The times they are a-changin’.

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

I tasted 23 examples of pinotage this past September and was impressed by the right, proper and forward thinking presence of them all. The future is already cemented in quality but more than that, in a culture that feels this direction of clarity and transparency is the right one to follow. The followers are coming, now quicker than ever, to get a glimpse and a taste of these dry-farmed, terroir-driven pinotage.

L’Avenir Glen Rosé 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This dry Rosé is made from pinotage and it carries an amber, skin-contact styled notable tannin and orange skin scrape. Also enough fruit to call it a julep on the aromatic front. Not a major proboscis mind you but one that is classically herbal, never pointed and sweetness is just a faint idea. It’s a bit dangerous in how there is great ease in the knock it back department. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018 lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

L’Avenir Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to pinotage there are few producers capable of delivering the triumvirate of quality, honesty and ignoring of sickly trends. There is no mocha in L’Avenir’s take on the mistaken identity grape. In this case it’s like you’d expect pinotage to be but also completely unexpected because it takes classic relief, alters the perspective and turns the architectural rendering on its head. Pinotage needs to keep you on your toes, confuse with trompe l’oeuil drawn trickery and offer up great surprise. That’s what makes it special. Here richness is met head on by tannin, dusty fruit by bold acidity and spice mix at the gate of intensity. Just imagine the possibilities in the estate’s single block. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

L’Avenir Pinotage Single Block 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Taken from dry-farmed vineyards and put to fourth/fifth passage barrels. Only 4,000L make up this single focused lot out of which both the depth and volume have been turned up. Extract talks in fruit density tannic decibel counts but even higher by acidity so all falls into place. Or will. Eventually. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage 2009, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The vines would have been just past their 30th birthday and Sebastian remembers the vintage with fond memory, as he would considering he chose to pour this nine years later at a large pinotage tasting. Wood as it was and still is now wholly integrated though both acidity and length are still thriving so structure is the constant and the given. The tang afforded the fruit is spot on with legs stretching, the whole outfit breathing and now with a salty note to ties it all together. Much time remains for pure pinotage pleasure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018  beaumontwines  @Beauwine  @Smallwinemakers  @beaumontfamilywine  @smallwinemakerscollection

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage Sixty Barrels 2015, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

So interesting to taste this seminal pinotage by Sebastian Beaumont side by each with his 2009 “normale.” The same 1970s planted vineyard is employed, here from two blocks, one 44 years of age and the other being a spritely 21. The salty note on the aromatic top is faint, hidden beneath massive fruit ability, but it depends (of course it depends), on vintage. This one is full of wealthy possibilities and stealth opportunity, especially when the salt rises to the surface in thew clay. That clay effect is a fulsome one, really notable from 2015 to claim fruit, stash it away in reserve and wait for structure to build, crest and relent. Many years will pass as a result of this pinotage process. This is how you build varietal wealth and worth. One of South Africa’s finest. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Kaapzicht Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

Winemaker Danie Steytler says “we think pinotage is like grenache, or cinsault” and he would be correct in that if you allow it to speaks its own very specific language it will be readily identifiable. And enjoyable. As here, with perhaps the highest level of glycerin content found anywhere in Stellenbosch. Intensely viscous, not as syrup but certainly living the silky dream. From a warm vintage the alcohol is noted and the youth as well, from 19 year-old bush vines planted in weathered granite soil. It may be counter intuitive but the wood is also stronger than the Steytler, having seen 33 per cent new French oak barrels for 18 months. The vintage is even stronger and so the combination makes for a pretty powerful wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  kaapzichtwines  @KaapzichtWines  Kaapzicht Wine Estate

Kaapzicht Pinotage Steytler 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

This is a pure pinotage, a generational wine that carries the family name and the current varietal centrepiece for winemaker Danie Steytler. Low yielding vines are planted in weathered granite topsoil on a layer of gravel, above a crumbly clay sub-soil. The terroir plus a warm fermentation make for pinotage of high glycerin, ethereal texture, generous alcohol ann general warmth in abound all around. Plenty of fresh red fruit and a dry constitution in a structured pinotage pays great homage to George Steytler who farmed Kaapzicht for 33 years. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Tasted with winemaker Anri Truter, the Reserve is aged in 20 per cent new barrels with the remainder second through fourth passage wood. Quite rich and full in terms of pinotage fruit without any mocha make-up though there is quite a level of smoulder. Both the acidity and the tannin are set quite high so overall this presents a structured gambit worthy of the designation. Long and lasting seals the deal. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  beyerskloof  churchillcellars  @Beyerskloof_  @imbibersreport  @Beyerskloof  @imbibersreport

Beyerskloof Pinotage Diesel 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The bush vines are in the 20 year range on gravelly Oakleaf and Klapmuts soil for this highly credible example of what is possible with pinotage, especially in Stellenbosch. This is nothing but a structured red, housed in 100 per cent new French oak barrels for 20 months. After maturation, only 20 barrels were selected out of a possible 300. The fruit is richer, the texture denser and the extraction at the top end of the ideal. There is more of everything here, including savour and it’s anything but reductive or ball bouncy. Big, roasting, boasting and blasting with an exceptional level of quality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

Two oceans facing granitic soils at 250m are the impetus to raise this Cape dialectical, Atlantic meets Indian pinotage. It’s also a whole bunch matter, something that in increasingly important in the varietal lexicon. The plantings are east-west in orientation to avoid overbearing sun exposure, which is really a thing in pinotage and often the culprit for its unwanted “thickening.” Baking spice is all over the notes and fruit purity is duly counted. A very characterful red, spicy, smoky and just plain pleasurable, if on the confident side of all things being equal. Nice work between cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  raatsfamilywines  liffordgram  @RaatsWines  @LiffordON  Raats Family Wines  @liffordwineandspirits

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

From the cousins Raats and an ode to Cape of Good Hope heritage for pinotage. There is some (20 per cent) modernizing whole bunch maceration giving more lift and chalky texture. Quite a variegation from ’16, with grit and grip, not exactly powerful but there is some tannic structure to be sure. Very floral and so it sure seems like the intention and the goal was centred around and expressly focused on lifted aromatics. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Radford Dale Pinotage Frankenstein 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

It took a few decades for someone to give Shelleyan props to Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University, 1925 grafter of cinsault and pinot noir to create pinotage. It’s a literary sidestep of a stretch to compare the science to Mary Shelley’s creature created by mismatched donors, but more than that it’s a cheeky shout out for a varietal often mistaken for a monster. Winemaker Jacques de Klerk grabs fruit from the white marl at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain for a pinotage troika of intention, ability and expectation. Three properties born of terroir, house and winemaker. All are on the same page written by an unspoken agreement to not abuse or confuse this grape. Frankenstein is smoky, curative, red raspberry ripe, right proper and built to last. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  radford_dale  reveriechenin  noble_estates  @Radforddale  @deklerkjacques  @Noble_Estates  @RadfordDaleWine  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage Kadette 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (630756, $19.95, WineAlign)

Before penning this review of 2015 there was a taste of the next level ’16 four months later. The two way-street perspective is more than educational because when pinotage is made with this sort of clarity you can really see the glaring differences in vintages. In 2015 the replay of old-school, earthy and chalky is readily recognizable, unavoidable and properly exulted. This send label spends time in second and third fill barrels, for red fruit charm, mildly tannic structure and proper finality. Spice, spirit and warmth define the Kadette in salute to pinotage and Stellenbosch. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018  kanonkopwineestate  noble_estates  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates  @Kanonkop  @NobleEstates

Kanonkop Pinotage 2015, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Vines are between 30 and 60 years of age for this prototypical ode to how things were and going forward can almost certainly be in the world of pinotage. Wrinkled, gnarled, grizzled old veteran vines, the Gordie Howe of the genre, Mr. pinotage if you will. Trees of a vinous sort, able to shake of draughts and new wave mochafied drafts, with a hat trick of checks, balances and grit. These vines are the past but more importantly are the future, typified and exemplified in this kind of pinotage, a modern classic made from a place by a maker who knows what’s what. Smoky red fruit with this uncanny variegation of hue, cloudy transparency and complexity of character. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Diemersdal Pinotage 2017, WO Durbanville, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Diemersdal is a sauvignon blanc specialist (don’t miss their eight rows) making pinotage. Sixth generation winemaker Thys Louw has coaxed as much site specific terroir into pinotage as any in the Western Cape. True their is one of exoticism in the aromatics, like the smell of Javanese Mubarak banana pancake drizzled with chocolate condensed milk but there is also the magical and unbelievable nose of spearmint. It’s the local fynbos and dry-farmed agriculture talking, inconceivably coherent and followed by so much far-eastern spice. This is fun stuff, wildly aromatic , with great pulse and intensity. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  diemersdalwines  @diemersdalwines  Diemersdal Wine Estate

David And Nadia Pinotage 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

David and Nadia Sadie’s pinotage is quite possibly and purposefully the lightest there is, clocking in at an impossibly low 12 per cent. It is both the next and other tier for the varietal reconnaissance with vanguard clarity and an honesty to speak of wine made under serious drought conditions. Bright red fruit and that low alcohol make it at once crushable but then sneaky structured. A maturity of vine, maker and grape conspire for such a dichotomy of bemusement though to be fair you could blindly be convinced that you were tasting lithe and ethereal northern Rhône syrah. The mixed magical condition certainly makes you take a step back and a seat to think. It’s a good conundrum and an excellent way to be drinking pinotage. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

David And Nadia Pinotage 2015, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Siebritskloof is the origin for David and Nadia’s ’15 pinotage, a wine from the early stage of drought conditions taken off of dry land bush vines planted in the early 1990’s in the granite mountains of the Paardeberg on the Paardebosch farm. This is layered and symbolic pinotage as aged salumi or pâté en croûte. The spice variegate runs high while the acumen of working with fruit to craft something so regionally specific treads a gastronomic line so fine. You and I could try to make this wine and fail miserably while David and Nadia just have the touch. Their’s discusses the days and the times with great precision and persistence. The tannins are so accomplished and resurrecting, leading to believe that this will drink at peak 10 years from vintage. That speaks to all of the above. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Stellenbosch Vineyards Credo Pinotage Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Vineyard source is 23-year-old bushvines in the Helderberg basin on decomposed granite, seven kms from and facing False Bay. From winemakers Bernard Claassen and Petri de Beer who deliver a pinotage that straddles the line between the old days and the new generation. From richness comes a meeting with salty oceanic influence towards a cleaner look at a brighter, not so tangy and tight future. The window is opening, the light is streaming in and the credo is on a correct path.  Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  stellenboschvineyards  @StbVineyards  Stellenbosch Vineyards

Stellenbosch Vineyards Pinotage Bushvine 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Bushvine is also a Heldeberg basin pinotage though it’s more forward, modern and also weightier, carrying 20 per cent new oak plus six to eight months further aging. It’s a Bordeaux sentiment in a pinotage bottle, still with an eye and a nod to the past and yet despite the wood it expresses a real purity of red fruit. Tobacco smoulder shrouds that fruit with the resulting complexity standing to be noticed. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Elmie Pinotage Rosé 2018, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

This is really upscale, chic and perhaps even transformative Rosé, of a collaboration between ex-Delheim winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. The level of dry extract is exulted by fine tannin in a grape must meets pure strawberry distillate pinotage that feeds the imagination with place, varietal, execution and friendship. It’s a whole bunch, free-run, four month on lees exceptionality for Rosé, pinotage and Stellenbosch. So good straight out of a bottle just filled the week before. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  terblanche.etienne  Etienne Terblanche  

Pinotage Dorper 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The name refers to a black sheep in the family and a South African breed of domestic sheep developed by crossing Dorset Horn and the Blackhead Persian. The wink-wink connective tissue is because pinotage, as we all know is a crossing of pinot noir and cinsault and this Dorpman’s Afrikaans collaboration is between winemaker Reg Holder and viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche. This inaugural release from the virtual Stellenbosch winery is a truly satisfying pinotage, of red raspberry and other sundry red fruits. Blocks of 53 year-old and other 50-plus aged vines adds up to smoky and with just a bit of beneficial reduction. Important tracks put down and a solid future lays ahead. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Southern Right Pinotage 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $27.95, WineAlign)

As for pinotage, Anthony Hamilton Russell is dead serious about thinking about the varietal future and never furthermore to dwell on its past. So is winemaker Emul Ross who pours this ’17 like he means business. It should be remembered that in 1996, Anthony made a bet with Jancis Robinson saying, “one day South Africa’s most famous wine will be a pinotage or a pinotage-based wine.” It may be argued that in 2018 that prophecy came true and we have yet to see the highest potential from the grape and certainly not yet from the HR bookend properties that make Ashbourne and Southern Right. This comes from the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards behind Hermanus and it benefits from cold currents rising up from Antartica. The alcohol is handled with best yet ease and the fruit oozes from every pore. There is a tonic gelling with spice, faintly bitter cocoa and acidity to remind us of everything it is. In the end it opens up quickly with minimal tannin and wood in terms of overall structure. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July and September 2018

Good to go!

godello

With Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at L’Avenir Wine Estate

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Searching for great heart in South Africa

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink Live in Kalmandi Township

Heritage and diversity in South Africa

as seen on WineAlign

Takeaways from Cape Wine 2018: Bot Rivier, new generation pinotage, regional spotlight on Robertson, Méthode Cap Classique, heritage vines, post revolution Swartland, wot varietal? and kuier

The last time I travelled across the Atlantic and down to the southern tip of Africa was in the warm days of September when I took in the three days of Cape Wine 2015. Beyond the Cape Town commotion of the triennial wine fair there was the added bonus of an expansive, wayfaring wine-lands itinerary. A deep understanding of the Western Cape’s wine landscape came to light, though at the time it seemed like being caught up in some kind of cultural and constitutional revolution. A return engagement with South Africa this past September changes but also cements the notions considered and the lessons learned. South Africa’s scene has now found itself comfortably cast in a post-revolution, full on republic state of wine. Allow me to expand.

I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart
Under African sky

A deeper understanding

After my return three years ago I suggested that “what separates South African vignerons from the rest of the world is a playground mentality and their confident executions in consummation of those ideals. The soils and the weather are nothing short of perfect…the place is a veritable garden of viticulture eden…a certain kind of comparison presents South Africa as the wine equivalent of the wild west. In the Western Cape, anything goes. The landscape of South African wine is demarcated by ancient geology and by the geographical diversity of its regions, sub-regions and micro-plots. Varietal placement is the key to success. As I mentioned, South African winemakers can grow anything they want, to both their discretion and their whimsy. The choice of what grows best and where will determine the successes of the future.”

It’s satisfying to note that three years later the adages, analytics and perspectives remain constant with that initial intuition and yet the changes in mentality meeting execution are far greater than such a short passage of time could normally afford. Winemakers in South Africa are learning everything there is to know about making wine and from every corner of the world. Some are travelling to the sources for the knowledge while others are simply experimenting at home every day to get there. There is no style of wine that isn’t being attempted. I’ll say it again. “Natural fermentation, skin contact and carbonic maceration have infiltrated the winemaker’s psyche. Fresh, natural, orange, amber, caliginous and tenebrous have established Cape footholds with enzymatic force.”

The year 2018 will be remembered for many things but at the top of that list are resilience and tradition. After months and months on end of near catastrophic drought the country and in turn the wine producers have found a way to survive and to thrive. Thanks must be afforded the pioneers and those with the most experience, in other words, the people who have been through and seen it all. As a result it is the icons and archetypes of South African wine that stole much of this year’s spotlight. Though they are the antithesis of the young and free-spirited, the lines have begun to blur, or at least overlap in terms of who is who in the winemaking mise en scene. Three years ago these pirates with pirate eyes and pirate smiles made some good wines but a good deal of them were dirty, funky and flawed. Wine geeks gushed because of the cool, natural and revolutionary factor. It was a time of protest and free spirit. Once upon a time in the wild Western Cape. As the boomers have grown older their winemaking has matured and become wiser. There is no abandoning the call for uprising, subversion and experimentation but there is a concerted effort to fashion wines that are a pleasure to drink. Isn’t that the point? In 2018 it seems that everyone has it figured out. South African wines are cleaner by ‘n landmyl, with more purity, transparency and honesty than ever before. Their epiphany is now ours as together we synchronically enter this new world of deeper understanding.

No one does a media package like @wosa_za for @wosacanada peeps. thank you for getting me very ready to tackle @capewine2018

So much to think about

It began at the Spier Hotel in Stellenbosch, home to Spier Wine Farm and Vineyards. It was unseasonably cold with the kind of crisp night air that just makes you think about acidity. The vines were infants at this time in the southern hemisphere vineyards but I could not help but imagine the 2019 harvest possibilities as having forged their beginnings with these early spring conditions. Next stop was Bot Rivier, first with a farm to table experience at Wildekrans Wine Estate. A quick stop to hang with the baboons at Sir Lowry’s Pass and a move to Kalmandi Township.

Performers at Amazink Live

This was a truly South African experience of ‘Ubunti’ at Amazink Live‘s township braai with the local entertainment troupe and a big bottle format of Smiley, Silvervis and Terracura with Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons. The fifth season of performance took place in what is called “a place of unity,” a safe space for all guests and groups. Amazink’s manager Zinthle explained that this club offers “a change in the perception of townships, the name alone means “it’s a nice home.” Kunandi Umalaba indeed. “It’s nice to be here.”

On to Roberston for three quick visits with Graham Beck Wines, Springfield Estate and De Wetshof Estate Wines. Then a night under the African sky, a 24-hour out-of-body experience at Sanbona Game Reserve and over to L’Avenir Farm for Pino Pistols – the next generation of pinotage young guns. The next morning at the Cape Town International Convention Centre for the start of three jam-packed days of Cape Wine 2018. An evening that can never be forgotten covered the classics – a regional four-decade vertical tasting with eight iconic producers. The trip culminated with lawn bowls in Malmesbury with the Swartland Swingers, artists formerly known as The Swartland Revolution.

Sundowners, Sanbona Game Reserve

Three years after that 2015 Cape Wine experience it’s duly noted how both flow and focus mean that the game is changing. The notion of planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel it just because it will ripen is evolving. Specialization, especially with respect to varietals like chenin blanc, cinsault, grenache and pinotage is the wave of the future and with this furthered isolation of micro-plots and terroir for these very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. The heritage seekers and protectors know what’s what. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

Were South Africa not so far away from the rest of the wine-consuming world I truly believe it would blow every other wine region out of the proverbial water of supply and demand. South Africa’s wines represent the finest quality to price ratios in the world and there is plenty of product to go around. Lying a continent (and an ocean) away from both Europe and North America is an obstacle that will always be too distant to overcome but the global economy’s ability to coalesce and encourage trading of goods from the furthest of poles is only going to increase. If this upwards and positive trend is to continue the current wave of nationalist political tendencies must be curtailed, if only so that we as consumers can continue to enjoy the wealth of extraordinary wines that need to be exported out of South Africa.

Chef Gregory Henderson, Wildekrans Wilde Forage, Bot Rivier

New age of diversity: Bot Rivier

Bot Rivier is south-east from 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 10km radius of one another. At Wildekrans we participated in a ground foraging experience alongside Chef Gregory Henderson. Beaumont Wines, Gabriëlskloof, Paardenkloof, Villion and Luddite Wines led us through a blending process to make a wine from samples supplied by all six. Four groups attempted the exercise to mixed reviews. Said Luddite’s Niels Verburg. “We gave you six beautiful wines and you gave us four bad ones back.” Their wines were significantly better.

Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2017, WO Bot Rivier-Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)

The vintage clarity speaks to an unbelievable old vines imperative and in this case a stage presence imperative to scrape, zest and juice all the lemons, tangerines and peaches in the world. The fruit quality and integrity conjures a continuum where distant memory fast forwards to present day reality. ‘Tis an extraordinary time to taste chenin blanc in its modern vernacular, of so many styles with Sebastian Beaumont’s so high on the pyramid. The The 2017 accomplishment includes further complex compliments, dried pineapple, lemon peel and an herbal wonder powder. This is the sauce. “This is the day, your life will surely change. This is the day, when things fall into place.” Soul mining for chenin blanc. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018

Villion Family Wines Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

A moment’s pause to consider the aromatics is unavoidable because the mid-palate complex notions swirl dramatically out of glass, through the mouth and straight into the mind. This with thanks in kind to more than half of the juice having matured for eight months in (36 per cent new) 300 and 400L French barrels. The fruit was not lost in fact it’s uncanny how mandarin orange it is, plus this old vine (30 years and older) mineral-flint strike to round out the third and most expected aspect of the total oeuvre. Rich, unctuous and structured is a great way for chenin blanc to go through life. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  villionwines  @VillionWines  @VillionWines

Wildekrans Wine Estate Chenin Blanc Barrel Select Reserve 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From winemaker Braam Gerricke his chenin blanc layers and variegates richness and spice. There is nothing simple about the designation or the result, very much in the vein of old vines and barrel licked chenin with great expectation. The ceiling climbs high for this type of execution and with some age for this, followed by some adjustments for the rest the future looks very bright. These are wines poised to climb into another Cape echelon. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  wildekrans  @WildekransWines  @Wildekrans

Gabriëlskloof Syrah The Landscape Series on Shale 2016, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

On Shale is forged of a single-vineyard, Bokkeveld site on the Gabriëlskloof property that makes for a stand apart syrah without comparison. A wild ferment encourages idiosyncratic, ferric and hematic tendencies of what can happen on this section of Western Cape geology. The theoretical possibilities from such shale do for syrah what Cape granite and Malmesbury shale won’t, making abstract connections liquid chalk bled through mudstone in the form of herbal amaro syrup. You notice it in the consistency too, so pure, so sappy oozing and in its very intuitive way, extroverted fine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  gabrielskloof_  @Gabrielskloof  @donniewine  @Gabrielskloof

Luddite Shiraz 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Just a few years offers up so many more clues as to what is going on in Niels Verburg’s shiraz world. First of all the 24 months in barrel and the 24 months in bottle are structure building and basically tell us to stay away for an equally further amount of time. Not that you wouldn’t want to taste one or two along the way but time is the necessity. This is shiraz held back to “gain a balanced potential.” Meanwhile, no other Cape shiraz smells like this. Niels talks about the mattress of curry the khoi bushmen used to lie upon to raise them up above the ground and away from the insects. The plants known as “kerrie” have a very particular herbal-savoury scent, certainly present in Luddite’s shiraz and even more pronounced with a few years of time gone by. It’s exotic, an herbal-spice line trod with floral undertone and in part certainly a cause to that vineyard presence of the curry bush. Texture is fine spun silk, integrated and then comes exquisite acidity to complete the picture. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  luddite_wines  @LudditeWines  @ludditewines

Paardenkloof Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Planted in 2002, it was 2006 that proprietor Mohseen Moosa first produced this cabernet sauvignon on the mountain that separates Bot Rivier from the Hemel-en-Aarde, three to four kms from the sea, as the crow flies. The cooling breezes help to coax, coddle and accentuate the varietal tendencies, “to promote the primary fruit of the vineyard,” tells Moosa. Beneficial balance and restrained intensity define this wine, from pockets of spice through ultra-violet floral rays. Pleasing fruit meets designate structure for the most solid of South African cabernets. Fine chalky tannins and all in all, really accomplished. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018  paardenkloof  @PaardenKloof  @PaardenKloofEstate

Chardonnay vineyard in Robertson

Regional spotlight: Robertson

The Robertson Valley is a singular and vast South African landscape, a place of wide open spaces and skies. It’s the ideal location for many things, including growing chardonnay and pinot noir for Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines. It’s also possessive of the finest limestone soils in the Capelands which means chardonnay thrives and the ceiling for pinot noir can only raise higher. Pockets of sand and clay are also ideal for Bordeaux varietals; cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The history, meticulousness and confidence of Robertson’s winemakers is more than evident. Springfield’s Abrie Bruwer was quick to remind us all “we’ve revolutionized (winemaking) three times over already and nobody’s noticed.” Robertson remains under the radar but know this. Old world defines the collective oeuvre.

Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc Life From Stone 2018, WO Robertson, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

What a jolt in how there’s a quick flash of Sancerre and then bam, straight back into a Robertson reality from the rockiest of parcels. The juice is kept at negative three degrees celsius to preserve the sheer freshness of the fruit. It’s not so radical but it’s also not done. What is does is prevent the flavours from disappearing into the enzymatic wind. They’ve been at this process for 11-12 years, seven of them with the entire crop. It’s about keeping the entirety of the lees suspended to buoy and ready the fruit for fermentation, at 13-16 degrees. The fruit is so variegated, at first mostly stone and the towards tropical tendencies, on the back of acidity wise and mature.  Drink 2018-2023. Tasted September 2018  springfieldestate  @springfieldwine  @springfieldestate

De Wetshof Estate Unwooded Chardonnay Bon Vallon 2018, WO Robertson, South Africa (403675, $22.95, WineAlign)

The unwooded chardonnay from de Wetshof is a fascinating wine because it’s one of the very few in the style that needs some time to settle down and in. From the good valley at the lowest point between slopes there is more searing orchard and citrus fruit meeting pure, unaffected by wood nuttiness than a list that includes all of Robertson and perhaps the entire Western Cape. What is pulled from this limestone terroir and without any barrel time is almost impossible but wholly remarkable. It’s also consistently constructed vintage after vintage by the commitment to craft by the family de Wet. Drink 20189-2022.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Graham Beck Prestige Collection Cuvée Clive 2012, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

Clive is Graham Beck’s most prestigious and important cuvée, what méthode cap classique cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira calls “a respect to Champagne. While previous incarnations were wines of “best selection” the 2012 chardonnay and pinot noir are drawn from a single-vineyard for the first time. Stand in the tasting room and there it spreads out below, on soil riddled with limestone to equip this crisp and arid sparkling wine with all the necessary attributes. Bronze-parched apple and dried quince are noted. Sentiment and data from a 10 year study project of varietal, lees and aging are collected and come to this; a toast demure, a love divine, a wild control. Brilliant sparkling wine and undoubtedly a South African gem. Drink 20189-2027.  Tasted September 2018  grahambeckbubbly  vinexxperts  @GrahamBeckSA  @Vinexxpert  @grahambeckmcc  @Vinexx

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

Heritage in South Africa is not just reserved for chenin blanc. “You know what old vines can give you,” says L’Avenir’s winemaker Dirk Coetzee. “We’re here to discuss a pinotage revolution. We’re here to discuss the next generation of pinotage.” Stellenbosch is host to the greatest concentration of Western Cape plantings and over the last ten years it has grown by 52 per cent. “Once we start making authentic product people will start thinking and the product will speak for itself.” In fact it has moved from being the sixth to the third most planted grape varieties. Beyerskloof winemaker Ani Truter adds, “what I tasted in the 80s was not pinotage, it was sabotage. It took 2,000 years for Burgundy to be successful. Don’t worry, it won’t take that long in South Africa.” Only a Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe winemaker could pay a compliment with such direct proposition.

David Sadie continued the analysis with his take on soil and cellar as being the reasons for making good and bad pinotage. “If you look at a bad pinotage today you can look at the cellar and not at the cultivar.” This in explanation for how pinotage has improved and is moving on from rubbery, toasted and burnt flavour profiles. “It’s about site selection, planting in the right areas.” It’s also about pH levels. “Your attention to hygiene is really important, it’s pH driven.” And finally, Jacques de Klerk of Radford Dale.” They used to be made at high alcohol levels and the margin for error was very precarious. It comes down to over extraction and over use of oak.” The times they are a-changin’.

Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage Sixty Barrels 2015, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

So interesting to taste this seminal pinotage by Sebastian Beaumont side by each with his 2009 “normale.” The same 1970s planted vineyard is employed, here from two blocks, one 44 years of age and the other being a spritely 21. The salty note on the aromatic top is faint, hidden beneath massive fruit ability, but it depends (of course it depends), on vintage. This one is full of wealthy possibilities and stealth opportunity, especially when the salt rises to the surface in thew clay. That clay effect is a fulsome one, really notable from 2015 to claim fruit, stash it away in reserve and wait for structure to build, crest and relent. Many years will pass as a result of this pinotage process. This is how you build varietal wealth and worth. One of South Africa’s finest. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  beaumontwines  @Beauwine  @Smallwinemakers  @beaumontfamilywine  @smallwinemakerscollection

L’Avenir Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

When it comes to pinotage there are few producers capable of delivering the triumvirate of quality, honesty and ignoring of sickly trends. There is no mocha in L’Avenir’s take on the mistaken identity grape. In this case it’s like you’d expect pinotage to be but also completely unexpected because it takes classic relief, alters the perspective and turns the architectural rendering on its head. Pinotage needs to keep you on your toes, confuse with trompe l’oeuil drawn trickery and offer up great surprise. That’s what makes it special. Here richness is met head on by tannin, dusty fruit by bold acidity and spice mix at the gate of intensity. Just imagine the possibilities in the estate’s single block. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada

Beyerskloof Pinotage Diesel 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The bush vines are in the 20 year range on gravelly Oakleaf and Klapmuts soil for this highly credible example of what is possible with pinotage, especially in Stellenbosch. This is nothing but a structured red, housed in 100 per cent new French oak barrels for 20 months. After maturation, only 20 barrels were selected out of a possible 300. The fruit is richer, the texture denser and the extraction at the top end of the ideal. There is more of everything here, including savour and it’s anything but reductive or ball bouncy. Big, roasting, boasting and blasting with an exceptional level of quality. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018  beyerskloof  churchillcellars  @Beyerskloof_  @imbibersreport  @Beyerskloof  @imbibersreport

B. Vintners Pinotage Liberté 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $41.99, WineAlign)

Two oceans facing granitic soils at 250m are the impetus to raise this Cape dialectical, Atlantic meets Indian pinotage. It’s also a whole bunch matter, something that in increasingly important in the varietal lexicon. The plantings are east-west in orientation to avoid overbearing sun exposure, which is really a thing in pinotage and often the culprit for its unwanted “thickening.” Baking spice is all over the notes and fruit purity is duly counted. A very characterful red, spicy, smoky and just plain pleasurable, if on the confident side of all things being equal. Nice work between cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted September 2018  raatsfamilywines  liffordgram  @RaatsWines  @LiffordON  Raats Family Wines  @liffordwineandspirits

Radford Dale Pinotage Frankenstein 2015, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

It took a few decades for someone to give Shelleyan props to Dr. Abraham Penold of Stellenbosch University,1925 grafter of cinsault and pinot noir to create pinotage. It’s a literary sidestep of a stretch to compare the science to Mary Shelley’s creature created by mismatched donors, but more than that it’s a cheeky shout out for a varietal often mistaken for a monster. Winemaker Jacques de Klerk grabs fruit from the white marl at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain for a pinotage troika of intention, ability and expectation. Three properties born of terroir, house and winemaker. All are on the same page written by an unspoken agreement to not abuse or confuse this grape. Frankenstein is smoky, curative, red raspberry ripe, right proper and built to last. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  radford_dale  reveriechenin  noble_estates  @Radforddale  @deklerkjacques  @Noble_Estates  @RadfordDaleWine  @NobleEstates

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

Kanonkop Pinotage 2015, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

Vines are between 30 and 60 years of age for this prototypical ode to how things were and going forward can almost certainly be in the world of pinotage. Wrinkled, gnarled, grizzled old veteran vines, the Gordie Howe of the genre, Mr. pinotage if you will. Trees of a vinous sort, able to shake of draughts and new wave mochafied drafts, with a hat trick of checks, balances and grit. These vines are the past but more importantly are the future, typified and exemplified in this kind of pinotage, a modern classic made from a place by a maker who knows what’s what. Smoky red fruit with this uncanny variegation of hue, cloudy transparency and complexity of character. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  kanonkopwineestate  noble_estates  @KanonkopEstate  @Noble_Estates  @Kanonkop  @NobleEstates

David And Nadia Pinotage 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

David and Nadia Sadie’s pinotage is quite possibly and purposefully the lightest there is, clocking in at an impossibly low 12 per cent. It is both the next and other tier for the varietal reconnaissance with vanguard clarity and an honesty to speak of wine made under serious drought conditions. Bright red fruit and that low alcohol make it at once crushable but then sneaky structured. A maturity of vine, maker and grape conspire for such a dichotomy of bemusement though to be fair you could blindly be convinced that you were tasting lithe and ethereal northern Rhône syrah. The mixed magical condition certainly makes you take a step back and a seat to think. It’s a good conundrum and an excellent way to be drinking pinotage. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

Wildekrans Wine Estate

Wildekrans Wine Estate Pinotage 2017, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

A cooler, herbal and uniquely floral pinotage from Braam Gerricke. Bush vines grow on a shady site of small acreage and at altitude for the valley. Pinotage of chalky liquidity from you which you feel the oak and a real sour-sorrel tang. Was in barrel for 15 months and it will need a year or two to fully integrate, than drink well for four or five more years after that. Terrific persistence and length.  Drink 2019-2023. Tasted September 2018  wildekrans  @WildekransWines  @Wildekrans

Graham Beck Winery, Robertson

Méthode Cap Classique

Plain and simple, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. That said, there is nothing simple about MCC and who would argue that as a category it produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. It’s also very much a wine about terroir. As it stands, MCC has to age on the lees for a minimum nine months to be labelled as such. “We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum should be raised to 15. “Sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” 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.” It is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira that 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. “For Brut we have to extend (the less aging time) to 60 months. So there is no lipstick or eye shadow.”

Le Lude Vintage Cuvée Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Le Lude’s winemaker Paul Gerber assembles two non-vintage Bruts, blended each vintage for a house style. The fruit is primarily Robertson with some addendum out of Franschhoek. The first vintage was indeed 2012 and this chardonnay (80 per cent) plus pinot noir comes sweet herbal straight out of the riddle with a sultry, piqued spiciness. Already showing a hint of secondary notation by way of a honeyed nougat melted into the soft and delicate mousse. Still plenty of intensity and drive with citrus in whole represent by lime, fresh and juicy. Less red fruit (much, much less) and more white flower with the idea of yellow and green fruit. Stylish, persevering and precise. At 2.6 g/L it’s perfectly albeit sparsely seasoned and mature with Champagne confidence. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018  leludemcc  @LeLudeMCC  @LeLudeMCC

L’Avenir Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

L’Avenir Estate’s Méthode Cap Classique is mainly pinotage with some chardonnay and arrives in the glass as a light and nearly delicate bubble. It’s a succulent, sweet rusty, lively enzymatic sparkling wine with an opinion and a plan of action. Pleasurable to sip from a definite MCC teachable moment. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  lavenir_wine_estate  selectwinemoments  @LAvenirWines  @SelectWinesTO  @LAvenirEstate  @SelectWinesCanada 

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2014, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Genevieve is Cap Classique made by Melissa Nelsen and was first made in 2008, released in 2010. Now with 2014 the lees aging time is 48 months with total output in the 12,00-13,000 bottle range, up from the 5,000 of that first vintage. The goal is 20,000 in the very near future. It’s essentially blanc de blancs, 100 per cent chardonnay as a wise, calm, mature and elegant traditional method sparkling. Just lovely. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  #melissagenevievenelsen  @Genevieve_mcc  

Graham Beck Brut Zero 2012, Méthode Cap Classique,Robertson, South Africa (435453, $23.95, WineAlign)

Slanghoek pinot noir (77 per cent) meets limestone-Robertson chardonnay for a driest of the dry sparkling wine that spent 60 months on the lees. Beck’s attack for the Brut Zero “is based on the philosophy of grower’s Champagne,” notes Pieter Ferreira and as such it surely ranks as one of the more mineral-toasty bubbles in the entire Cap Classique category. No sugar added during dosage allows the land to speak. There is a deeper intuition beyond flint-struck, something categorically chalky while delicate and flavour wise it’s simply limon-delicieux. The fineness is noted and the vintage too, from which the team saw enough to make use of the highest quality juice for a tête de cuvée wine. High ceiling for aging here. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Wildehurst Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Sheree Nothangel’s sparkling Cap Classique is composed of chenin blanc and chardonnay (56/44), at 4 g/L dosage after 24 months on the lees. This is the third year of the program and the first stage speaks to a style that acts in delicasse incarnate. Just lovely and creamy in which lemon billows with elastic solids as curd and there is a real feel of fine lees. Though downy it too is lifted but not explosive by acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  wildehurst  @WildehurstW  @wildehurst

Avondale Wines Armilla Blanc De Blanc 2011, Méthode Cap Classique, WO Paarl, South Africa (451930, $34.95, WineAlign)

The first vintage was 2003 for the Armilla blanc de blanc, now out of 2011 and having spent six years lees post whole bunch pressing. It’s a naturally fermented chardonnay of which two per cent saw some older barrel. After two years of coarse lees aging there began this formidable bringing of citrus and sharp apple bite. The following four on fine lees delivered the integration of acidity ahead of the gainful accumulation of toasted brioche. Richness at its best for this Méthode Cap Classique, of preserved lemon, fine aridity (under 5 g/L RS) and high acidulation (over 9 TA). Terrific MCC. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018   avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

Godello with André “The Giant” Morgenthal, Old Vines Project and Scott Zebarth in Stellenbosch

Heritage vines

It may be argued that South Africa’s most important work is being done through the Old Vines Project. “Old vines make wines with a unique character. Wines that reflect the vastness of our South African landscape – our harsh climate, our old and sometimes fragile soils, and our complex culture. They reflect the decades of growing in one place, in the unyielding sun, the cold winter rain, the storms and winds, on a mountain, on a plain somewhere and then producing these delicate but powerful wines.

The Old Vine Project wants to preserve vines older than 35 years by creating an awareness of the heritage of old vines. Winemakers can certify their wines as ‘Old Vine’ and the public will knowingly buy wines that are made from the many ancient and sometimes forgotten patches of vineyards. Through membership the wine drinker will be able to follow the history of these wines and see where they come from – the exact slope or site, the winemaker, the soils and the stories of each.”

It begins with Rosa Kruger, viticulturalist and long time champion of the Cape’s oldest plantings. Using funding from businessman and winery proprietor Johann Rupert, Kruger founded the project in 2016, cementing formal something that had been in the works since 2002. In 2018, the OVP launched its plaques, held tastings and developed certification seals. Kruger has tirelessly promoted the qualities of the Cape’s 2618 hA of old vines. Today the larger than life André Morgenthal instructs, educates and directs on behalf of the Old Vines Project.

Chris Alheit makes an archetypal wine from the poster child vineyard for this intense old block by block pre-occupation, called La Colline in Franschhoek. So what do heritage vines mean to the makers of wines that carry this luggage? “For a clear South African identity you must use old vineyards to call it Cape heritage wine,” insists Alheit. He and more than 40 producers are making wines from a dozen regions housing further dozens of heritage blocks. These are the history and lifeline of South African varietals. It’s not just about keeping old things alive. The Western (and Northern) Cape is one of the few places in the world where old vines continue to produce extraordinary fruit to make beautiful wines. It’s not just about where you come from, it’s also about where you are going. These are just a few of these examples.

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  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

gentle humans, givers, terroiristes, magical wine purveyors ~ suzaan and @chrisalheit ~ thank you for the enlightenment ~ #capewine2018 #zoocrew

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

 

Mullineux Old Vines White 2017, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (556597, $37.95, WineAlign)

Predominately chenin blanc with grenache blanc, sémillon gris, clairette and viognier, ushered by natural yeasts and encouraged through malolactic fermentation. The new age textured acidity is accessed without a stir and a highly textured affair it is. The composure rests in seamless mille-feuille layering while vested in slow-developed, all you could dream about in a cape effect white wine. Welcome to the cumulative in Andrea Mullineux’s Old Vines bottling. While Granite and Quartz make pinpointed investigations this is the one to educate us all on what Western Cape and more specifically Swartland chenin blanc blends are capable of discerning. The weight is powerful and weightless, the effort strong and effortless. Amazing really. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018 and January 2019  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce

Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut Nature Kap Klaissque NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Filia is the daughter of the Paardeberg, a self-described and cheeky Swartland Kap Klassique chenin blanc made by Christa Von La Chevallerie, dogter to Juergen and the Nuwedam Farm just off the R45 outside Malmesbury. Not just any sparkling wine mind you. Although the early stages of this old vines project from the (mainly) 2015 vintage only gives 18 months on the lees it also provides 1974 planted chenin blanc, for shits, giggles and shut the front door attitude. For Christa it’s a matter of “how far I can go with (the combination of) chenin and lees.” Clearly just the entry point here, with an announced mix of richness and tension, not yet knowing what can and will happen. The coast is clear, the chenin blanc is ready, willing, able and the winemaker will stop at nothing to make this bubble in her own image and way. Look out sparkling world. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  christalachevallerie  @HuisChevallerie  @ChevallerieZA  Christa Von La Chevallerie

Natte Valleij Cinsault 2017, WO Darling, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Malmesbury formation is the ground beneath the feet of these 1978ish planted bush vines. Milner calls them “the most isolated block in our collective…on a lonely hill surrounded by wheat fields and too many gates to remember.” The élevage is back into concrete egg here because the Darling fruit asks or even demands it. Alex is wanting the florality of violets to be celebrated and “put into a time capsule,” from one amazing environment to another. The egg is asked to capture that. It also brings texture and salve in the form of orange pastille, warmed and lingering. Of the four single investigative cinsault this is the most accomplished, with tannin and structure. Die koppie. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted September 2018  nattevalleij  @nattevalleij  @nattevalleij

Savage Wines Red 2015, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

The kitchen sink is nearly full with syrah, grenache, cinsault and touriga nacional in a back to the farthing future beginning that was the first and now reminds of the regional ideal. While all of Duncan Savage’s other wines will already have evolved, in ’17 this will become a 100 per cent varietal syrah, in the name of fine tuning and a furthering of regional identity. The Red is the most perfumed, also elegant and delicate with a sneaky beauty in its phantom power. Really clocks in and knocks you upside like powerful. Like modern nebbiolo though you’d never really know it unless you were unafraid to ask. Who are you? Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  #savagewines    #savagewines

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Post revolution Swartland

They are no longer the Swartland Revolution but now the Swartland Swingers, a free and easy collective of South African winemakers who have this winemaking thing figured out. There is a swagger about these women and men who make wine from dry-farmed bush vines set into some of this planet’s craziest antediluvian soils. Their wines collectively have a very purposed focus but what they have more than anything else is flow.

Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $23.00, WineAlign)

While Adi Badenhorst also produces some über fascinating and ultra-expensive chenin blanc (Klip Klop, Golden Slopes and Piet Bok se) the Secateurs, also known as pruning shears or “snoeiskêr” is the glue and the rock in his entire portfolio. It’s one of the original upscale chenin blanc to crack the North American market and open the portal to the rest of South Africa’s bush vine world. Some great old vines help usher this into its echelon and while it strikes with leaner and more direct lines than (especially) the textured Golden Slopes, it still exhibits its own palate wealth. A little bit of this, a little bit of vat, skin-contact, stainless and concrete ushers along the variegation so that feeling balances the fresh spirit of this steen. Salty rock and sweet basil come through at the finish. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  aabadenhorst  hannekebotha  wynbefok  noble_estates  @AABadenhorst  @Noble_Estates  Adi Badenhorst  @aabadenhorst  @NobleEstates

David And Nadia Grenache 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

For grenache the focus David and Nadia exert is on the red-brown schistous soils of the Kasteelberg, masculine terroir if you like (or will) as a brother to the Paardeberg where they make chenin blanc the order. About half the ferment is whole bunch, plenty enough for grenache and also six amazing weeks on skins. I can only imagine what the room began to smell like with this triumvirate of soil, varietal and execution happening. No other grenache anywhere in the world shows this type of terroir purity, or at least with such unequivocal and parochial relevance. The raspberry notes are uncanny and the transparency of transference is both light and in total control. Who knew so much character and structure could be coaxed from something desperately delicate. It’s like a spider’s web with bonds unbroken, capable of snaring the physical and the emotional while always remaining inherently meta. Aragon nor Rhône this is not, ethereal it is. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted September 2018  davidandnadia  @DavidandNadia  @DavidandNadia

Porseleinberg Syrah 2012, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

If you would like to explore the pinnacle of richest restraint where South African syrah goes out to concrete then look to this off of Porcelain Mountain made by the phantom himself Callie Louw. A Riebeek Kasteel phenomenon was born out of a Boekenhoutskloof drive and it is the magical glycerin texture that behooves us to think, feel and linger with this top quality example. It’s also reticent, of great humility, needing no attention or introduction. It may be syrah of a certain aloof quality and yet the intensity unparalleled deserves all the accolades it may and will receive. Remembered, remarkable, stoic, unchanged and unchained. Drink 2019-2033.  Tasted September 2018  #porseleinberg #callielouw  #porseleinberg

Terracura Wines Red 2016, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Contributions are solicited, paid for and received from five different vineyards on three different terroirs in the Swartland; two on Riebeek schist, two on Paardeberg granite and one on Malmesbury ferrous clay. What does is all mean or add least add up to? It’s not Jamet dammit though it may be the most Cornas like because of the deep liqueur in this fruit. Also due in part to the Rhônish funk which gets into the mind of assessment in ahead of Western Cape terroir. It’s a combination of absolute perfection and downright absurdity. The olive brine and meaty cure are there, as is the tannin, like deep, dark sunken eyes. Ryan and Samantha don gothic costumes and zombie make-up, “with white lipstick and one thing on their minds.” Full moon syrah fever. Make a wine like this and you are no longer innocent winemakers. Nothing petty about that. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018  terracura  ryanthewinegeek  vinevenom  @RyanTheWineGeek  @Sammelier  Samantha Suddons  Ryan Mostert  @terracurawines

Mullineux Syrah Granite 2016, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $152.95, WineAlign)

Moving in a muy from the seven vineyard syrah and into a Swartland side site committed to granite this is one of three Mullineux syrah specificities, the other being Schist and Iron. Granite is drawn of a single parcel of 19 year-old dry land, bush vines grown in the decomposed granite of the Paardeberg. Andrea Mullineux makes use of a 100 per cent whole cluster ferment and moves into larger (500L) barrels, all aimed at freshness and aromatics. Granite provides a flavour profile that is juicier, fuller, spicier and more provocative than the others but oh to be smitten by tannins so exceptional. There is a taste of blackberry incarnate, a fluidity of seamless transitions and length for Paardeberg days. Brilliant vintage for one of South Africa’s most important red wines. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted September 2018  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  wosa_ca  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  @WOSACanada  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce  @WOSACA

Donovan Rall

Rall Wines AVA 2017, Swartland, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The red blend carrying his daughter’s name is Donovan Rall’s 2.5 hectares sourcing from the schistose section of 18 year-old planted vines. This is consistent with many of the vineyards he works with, from dry land conditions, cause he’s the Schist Man. It’s varietal syrah of 1000 bottles, a true cimmerian beast, from struggling vines, between 50-60 whole bunch (as opposed to 100 in the RED). Pure ferric initiative, real hematic following. The glycerin, candied flower and aged balsamico is almost IGT, of Cortona but really more so in a mind’s eye memory of Cornas. Freshness is preserved and structure is infinite. Great, great acidity. One of the Cape’s greatest achievements in syrah. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Verticals

Anyone who chose not to attend Cape Wine’s eight wineries, four decades retrospective missed out on a tasting of a lifetime. Time was tight and so the ability to taste all eight and take proper notes in a walk-around format was challenging so here are five of the eight represented. Regrets to Vilafonté, Kanonkop and Warwick for the miss and here’s to hoping another opportunity will be afforded again someday.

How to have an epiphany. Taste 25-30 year-old #southafrican white wines. Case in point @kleinconstantia sauvignon blanc

Klein Constantia Blanc De Blanc 1987, Constantia, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside 1994 and 2009. Planted in 1979, the inaugural vintage and the first South African sauvignon blanc was 1986. The 1987 was not labelled as sauvignon blanc but rather as B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. Honeyed but not in the way you might expect, not pushed by a petrol-fuelled sweetness but instead as the action of an old world inspired mash-up. Like Loire Jolivet Sancerre meeting Huet Demi-Sec chenin blanc head on. The collision explodes into a smoky smoulder with textural consequences. It’s a bees-waxy ethereal treading of chaotic spaces between worlds. The astral travel must have twisted through three decades of nether to arrive at this place, with the low pH vineyard soils to thank. And the magic, despite or perhaps in ode to the ’87 botrytis. In the end aridity wins and the wine drinks so proper, perfect and fine. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  kleinconstantia  halpernwine  wosa_za  @KleinConstantia  @HalpernWine  @hansverbier  @WOSA_ZA  @KleinConstantia  @halpernwine

Hamilton Russell Vineyard Pinot Noir 1986, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (999516, AgentWineAlign)

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell went above and beyond in their interpretation of what is means to pour at a varietal tasting by including not only this first HR vintage but also sharing one of only three remaining bottles left in this world. Were the 1997 and 2000 perhaps better structured wines? Likely and even probably yes, but there’s something magical about a first effort. The innocence, hopes and dreams are all in there, along with the honesty and the sincerity. Believe it or not the acidity is still in full flight even if the fruit has vacated the premises and turned to duff. If you’ve ever reached your hands into the Hermanus earth, inhaled in the sense of place and perhaps a lick of stone then you might imagine what this ’86 is like. A combination of plant oils, geosmin and petrichor preserved just long enough before it’s too late. Anthony and Olive timed the opening of the bottles produced to last just long enough. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018  olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir Seven Flags 2008, WO Elgin, South Africa (AgentWineAlign)

In a word meraviglioso, or as they say in Afrikaans, wonderlike. Paul Cluver’s 10 year-old Elgin whispering pinot noir is one to prove something very important. The get together of place, varietal and producer reaches a tri-point of agreement, all vintages being equal, at the 10 year mark. Here from this 2008 we intuit the apex, of tessellate beat and three points where two lines meet. We’ll allow for a give or take of one to two years, duly noted in this vertical that includes 2009, 2013 and 2015 but for 2008 the number 10 finds itself at a pinnacle of evolution. If you appreciate aged reds, developed pinot noir and wise South African wine than here you are. A glass of plum pudding elastic, textured and exemplary in entanglement; notable fruit, fine acidity and tannin of “streel.” An earthy intensity sprinkles over the finale. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted September 2018  paulcluver  paulcluverwines  @paulcluver  @paulcluverwines  Paul Cluver

Meerlust Rubicon 1991, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, 64329, WineAlign)

Some vintage are surely more special than others and while Meerlust has blessed many of them with a speciality of Bordeaux inspired wine dissertation it is this 1991 that stands erect in a critical test of time. This was tasted during the second of two estate verticals afforded in one calendar year, the first having being drawn from 2010-2003, 1996 and 1984, with this second string consisting of 2015, 2009, 2001, 1991 and 1984. The fruit is both in original form and yet also dehydrated; rusty raspberry, bokser and orange peel. Still a tightness and a faint ramification of tannin but plenty of staying power. A top quality vintage no doubt. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  meerlustwine  liffordgram    @LiffordON  MEERLUST ESTATE  @liffordwineandspirits

Sadie Family Palladius 2011, WO Swartland, South Africa (SAQ 13098449, $88.00, WineAlign)

Though the upstart 2016 may well go on to become the best of the lot in a vertical that includes 2005, 2009 and 2014 there is no denying the way this 2011 draws you into its lair of fineness. “An incredible year,” says Eben Sadie and one during which the move was made to aging in foudres. Made for an instant alteration into the new texture and what Sadie notes as “starting to dial in.” This is by now one of the Western Cape’s most accomplished and paradigmatic appellative white blends and while certainly dogmatic it has earned the right to be so. A blend of 33 per cent chenin blanc, (16) roussanne, (11 each) grenache blanc and sémillon blanc plus sémillion gris and palomino, (6 each) viognier, clairette blanche and verdellho. What’s it all add up to? Layers and layers of stratified South African geology, history and potential. The ’05 and the ’09 show what was possible and this 2011 shows what is. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted September 2018  sadiefamilywines  @SadieFamilyWine  The Sadie Family Wines

The 1980s called. They want their culture back.

Wot varietal?

“We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter,” noted Chris Mullineux. “The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well.” No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of chenin blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality. That said the wines now being made in South Africa do not solely rely on the current chenin fashion and instead offers up a diverse lot of varietal, region and style.

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

Rall Wines Cinsault Blanc 2017, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

The fruit comes from a 32 year-old, tiny 0.2 hectares of certified vines and the only remaining vineyard planted to the varietal. Like red cinsault this thing drops acid as fast as anything else. What you will taste is only the grape, on the skins three days for phenolic pulling and then straight into the clay. Seven months only, not too far and so freshness is preserved. Not just spirit but mouthfeel with the lightest frame and 10.5 per cent alcohol, with nice dry tannins. It’s like a shout out louds very loud matter of “nothing is hard cause something always comes out.” Lemon like you’ve never experienced before, leaning lime, like clairette and grenache blanc, but then again no. It’s just this. Donovan Rall managed 1005 bottles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  #Rallwines    @RallWines

Smiley Chenin Blanc NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured from magnum as one does with a non-vintage, Swartland chenin blanc inspired by the white Rioja of Tondonia and the idiosyncratic whites of the Jura. Although these originals are most obvious as Ryan Mostert’s first loves of oxidative sensitivity and specificity his Smiley stylistic has surely changed him so that the point in space is in constant flux. And so his is now the precedent because the revolutionary pioneering (along with several of his peers) has established South Africa, which includes Smiley at the forefront as the new reference point. We qualify this by saying that its own way Smiley is a fixed point that stays still and does not move. Drawing on four or five vintages the chenin blanc is blended on the flor, of skin-contact and it’s really all about layers of texture, not to mention “no holds barred.” It’s not nearly as far out there as you’d expect in fact it used to be and is now so much closer to centre. Some might argue against such a compromise but it’s not one at all. It’s made clean, with focus and determination to vinify something bloody great to drink. It’s a Champagne supernova cuvée. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  ryanthewinegeek  vinevenom  @Silwervis  @RyanTheWineGeek  @Sammelier  Samantha Suddons  Ryan Mostert

Blackwater Wines Palomino Pleasure Garden 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Francois Haasbroek goes retro with his first try at varietal palomino, turning it out ambient and atmospheric, tasted here like listening to the Big Thing exactly thirty years on. The Duran Duran of chenin blanc for Swartland is also known as fransdruif or vaalblaar, meaning “White French.” Haasbroek sources his fruit by way of vines grown on shale with Table Mountain sandstone. Clocks in at a light radio’s just over 12 per cent alcohol and there was no fining. It’s a micro-terroir 0.85 hectare block and this 2016 as mentioned is the first kick at the can. Textured, natural, talc silky, with notes of orange zest, kelp, algae and sea spray. Gets creamy with lovely lemon preserve. Palomino is not chenin blanc but it can be coaxed into charm and “if there’s secrets, she has to be party, to every one of them.” We too are listening in. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  shot_of_time  @Blackwaterwine   @BlackwaterWine

Lowerland Colombard Vaalkameel 2017, WO Prieska Noord Kaap, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Lowerland is the small northern exposure from Alette de Beer and Bertie Coetzee. Forget just about everything you think you know about wines from South Africa and settle in for something completely other. Drive 1000 kms north to a place 1000m above sea level, where the summers are hot and winters see temperatures of -10 celsius. Vaalkameel, the “pale camel” is not a reference to the wine’s hue but a note to mimic the local flora. Comes through in the most unique herbal way and so the thickets of horny bushes must have their garrigue say. Some natural grasses (no cover crops) line the rows of this arid and wild viticultural frontier where late summer rainfall and the Orange River supply all that is required. Lime citrus and moments of pith are coaxed into the cool, almost gelid but certainly textured fruit by whole bunch master winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg. Only 1,000 bottles were made of this trés cool white. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  bioboertie  vanloggerenbergwines  alette.waterboer  lowerland_wines  @CoetzeeBertie  @AletteWaterboer  Bertie Coetzee  @LowerlandFarm  Alette De Beer

Avondale Wines Cyclus 2014, WO Paarl, South Africa (295220, $29.95, WineAlign)

The blend is one-third roussanne with smaller parts of chenin blanc, chardonnay, viognier and sémillon. Barrel fermented in bigger barrels plus 20 per cent in amphora with the whole bunch component. Toasty, first from the roussanne and then what the sémillon brings. Texture is quite silky and the acidity primps, prompts then lifts the richness of fruit. Such a smart mastering of the South African art of Cape assemblage. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018  avondalewinesa  @Avondalewine  @RareEarth_Wines  @AvondaleWines  Rare Earth Wines & Spirits

De Wetshof Estate Pinot Noir Nature in Concert 2017, WO Robertson, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

For a chardonnay focused estate the question posed to Johannes de Wet is why pinot noir? “Because my father loves pinot,” is the straight answer. The brothers grow it on the rockiest soils up the slope seven kms from the winery above and beyond the limestone blocks where the whites thrive. It’s truly uncharted territory, away from the clay and into the hard Robertson granite. “Quite ideal for a variety that is so hard to get right,” muses de Wet. This is beautiful purity of fruit taken from vines that really only see the morning sun. A direct wind and afternoon shadows supply the acidity from what may be the coolest spot and also the steepest. “It’s one of the best/worst decisions we’ve ever made,” continues de Wet. “We don’t make any money but we love doing it.” Clean, linear, striking and in the end, just because. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

Momento Wines Tinta Barocca 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

In 2017 there are three equal sources for Momento’s tinto barocca; one-third each Swartland, Stellenbosch and Bot Rivier, all old, dry-farmed bush vineyards. The vintage saw 26 barrels made with 20 per cent whole bunch in the mix. “A tribute to old vines in South Africa explains Marelise Niemann.” Surely not the only one, but certainly the unique gatherer of the grape variety off of three distinct soils. Like making an estate Brunello or highest quality Bourgogne AOC, drawing from three apposite yet complimentary micro-terroirs to provide fruit, acidity and structure. The tannin accumulation submits to the possibilities of that structure and in turn, age ability. Brilliant. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018  momento_wines  @momentowines  Marelise Niemann

Savage Wines Cinsault Follow The Line 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $50.99, WineAlign)

Follow the Line investigates, celebrates and extrapolates the unbridled intensity of cinsualt defined, vital, incarnate. A small, seven points of Darling syrah is blended in for pure, spicy and red ropey fruit forward freedom. The full on fruit front is a pulsing current of currants and dried herbs but it’s also sneaky tannic. A creeping, seemingly idle ne’er-do-well this one but do not be fooled. Picked early and ready to explode. Wait for it, follow the line to the blood red shoes, “dancing with the lights on.” Wait for the fire like this cinsault of total excitement. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted September 2018  #savagewines    #savagewines

Craven Wines Syrah The Faure Vineyard 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Like the sister Firs this Faure Vineyard site is also 21 years of age, east facing towards the Heldeberg, with rocks in the soils. The name is more than familiar to Jeanine Craven, who was a Faure before she merged with Mick. What really separates this place is the marine air, three kilometres from the sea, as far as the African Black Oystercatcher flies. Again the planning involves whole cluster pressing and on skins seven days, to make pure syrah. Separated by 15 kms the Faure is antithetical to the Firs, salted by the sea and of a furthered intensity in a different form. It’s near searing, linear, grippy and with acidity lifting everything. Really juicy, pushed by a wow factor, clean, no funk and so much spice. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018   cravenwines  @cravenwines  Jeanine Craven  Mick Craven

Lismore Syrah Estate Reserve 2017, WO Greyton, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Samatha O’Keefe’s excellent work with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier and pinot noir using Elgin, Walker Bay and 2003 planted estate fruit is one thing but this first go it alone syrah from the home vineyard takes a breath, blows a mind and melts a heart away. The Cape’s south coast at Greyton is the new frontier and as O’Keefe admits, “I drove down a dusty road and the rest is history.” While the ’16 syrah made use of half Elgin fruit it is this next wonder of cool-climate South Africa where you need to simply open your eyes and do the math. Steep slopes, prevalent shale and diurnal temperature fluctuations egress to varietal necessity and bring the proverbial Hermitage house down. A wine where together winemaker and taster share a moment of epiphany, for her one of many, for me my first. “All I did was learned to let the terroir speak for itself and to stop making South African shiraz.” Purity, transparency, honesty and paradigm shift all wrapped into one enigmatic yet emblematic syrah. Pay great attention to Greyton. This is South African syrah. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted September 2018  lismorewine  greytontourism  @lismorewine  @LoveGreyton  @LismoreWine  Samantha O’Keefe  @GreytonTourism

Van Loggerenberg Wines Graft 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Lukas van Loggerenberg remembers his oupa with this tongue in cheek reference for a red blend of cinsault and syrah (55/45) sourced from granitic soils on in the Polkadraai Hills. Grafting, whether it be vines or winemakers is what keeps tradition, hard work ethic and biological diversity alive. Lukas is a larger than life pragmatist methinks and he’s all about putting things together, in place, with the best fit possible. Not so much a master of assemblage as much as one of oversized zen. The two varietal vineyards are 800m apart and separated by 200m of elevation. They are Lenny and George, two parcels joined at the whole bunch hip and for 11 months in French oak. They only add up to 660 bottles. The Mediterranean styling is evident, in black olive, garrigue (or fynbos), pepperoncino and cimmerian darkness. Richness is met by an earthbound ropiness though it’s ripeness is belied by pique, punch and peppery klip. A big and wow tannic finish, but it’s a sweet one. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018  vanloggerenbergwines  @LukasvLogg  Lukas van Loggerenberg  

Ken Forrester Grenache-Syrah 1999, WO Stellelenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

There ain’t a whole helluva lot of precedence from which to go on in deciding what’s going on here save for sitting next to Ken himself and taking in that devilish smile. What an honour to have him pour a spot of this 19 year-old tea into your glass. I suppose it could be considered the older sibling to the Gypsy and elder to Renegade but really it’s just a Rhône blend from another era and mother. Smoke, pepper, spice and mild meanderings remind us of innocent but also difficult times for making wine in the Western Cape. This just feels like sundown in Stellenbosch, of a demurred and soft glowing light, a breeze that picks up and falls away, a stillness in the air. No man made light, at night very bright. A good feeling this wine doth give. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted September 2018  kenforrestervineyards  fmcwine noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  @KFwines  @NobleEstates

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink in

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WineAlign

Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

Godello, Museo civico e diocesano d’arte sacra di Montalcino

Welcome to Godello’s annual list of the most memorable, game-changing and mind-altering moments, also known as his 18 mind-blowing wines of 2018. Godello started this year-end assessment first in 2012 though first blessed the list with the moniker for the 14 mind-blowing wines of 2014. Whether it’s the fifth or the seventh incarnation matters little to negligible because in the end it’s all about the who, what and where.

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

With thanks to the winemakers, friends, colleagues and pirates I welcome you to read on. Godello’s 18 mind-blowing wines of 2018.

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Vintage Brut Champagne 2006, Champagne, France (55277, $205.95, WineAlign)

Rarities are special for many reasons but in the case of the Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs it’s a matter of chardonnay incarnate. Some details must be kept in the pocket of assessment. Only exceptional vintages lead to its production, fruit is drawn from the finest Côte des Blancs parcels of chardonnay and only the first press juice is used. So what? So the gathering might lead one to think of words like purity, elegance, refinement, finesse and delicasse. In actuality there is the finest wisp of smoke and smoulder, a bite from a perfectly ripe apple and the zen golden taste of honeyed Japanese toast. Who could not be overjoyed to zen out with the Comtes B de B, anytime, anywhere. Drink 2018-2030.  Tasted January 2018  champagnetaittinger  fwmcan  champagne_officiel  @TaittingerUK  @FWMCan  @Champagne_UK  Champagne Taittinger  @FWMCan

Dr. H. Thanisch Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2014, Prädikatswein, Mosel, Germany (298182, $40.95, WineAlign)

In a word, thank you, well two, to say how important, generous, fortuitous, philanthropic and poignant it is to taste Spätlese from this combination of producer, vineyard and alcohol. At 7.5 per cent proper and out of arrested necessity the frame on which the ultra-clean fruit and fineness of acidity hang is kevlar light and built to last. The poise and integrity in exhibition toasts lithely from stones warmed and earth cooled by night through excitable seasonal fluctuations. If this does not soothe the savage while wooing the unaware then few German rieslings will. This can’t be missed nor will it pass lips without eliciting a response set passionately in the ethereal and the sublime. Amazing. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted April 2018  #braunebergerjuffer  awsmwest  germanwine_ca    @AuthenticWineON   @germanwineca  #braunebergerjuffer  @awsmon  @germanwinecanada

Into the South African mystic ~ A formidable line-up led by @mullineuxwines with thanks to Chris, LK @WOSACanada JG @lbstoronto @wosa_za @NicholasPearce_

Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Schist is a 100-120 case production (though only 72 in 2014), from schist, of course, not granite, which adds mid-palate weight and texture. Also from older (36 and 40 years) vines based from soils of the Kasteelberg. It’s a heartfelt message and cerebral pulling string from the 2014 density gifting vintage. Older barrels wrap like a blanket for fruit richer than you’d ever imagine, full-bodied, beautiful and robed in petticoat unction. It’s also dry as the farmland desert. Truly one of the finest chenin blancs from South Africa and beyond. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted May 2018  mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  wosa_ca  @MullineuxWines   @Nicholaspearce_   @MullineuxWines  @WOSACanada  Andrea Mullineux  Chris Mullineux  Nicholas Pearce  @WOSACA

How to have an epiphany. Taste 25-30 year-old #southafrican white wines. Case in point @kleinconstantia sauvignon blanc

Klein Constantia Blanc De Blanc 1987, Constantia, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Poured by Managing Director Hans Astrom in Cape Town alongside 1994 and 2009. Planted in 1979, the inaugural vintage and the first South African sauvignon blanc was 1986. The 1987 was not labelled as sauvignon blanc but rather as B de B because of the botrytis-affected vintage. Honeyed but not in the way you might expect, not pushed by a petrol-fuelled sweetness but instead as the action of an old world inspired mash up. Like Loire Jolivet Sancerre meeting Huet Demi-Sec chenin blanc head on. The collision explodes into a smoky smoulder with textural consequences. It’s a bees-waxy ethereal treading of chaotic spaces between worlds. The astral travel must have twisted through three decades of nether to arrive at this place, with the low pH vineyard soils to thank. And the magic, despite or perhaps in ode to the ’87 botrytis. In the end aridity wins and the wine drinks so proper, perfect and fine. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  kleinconstantia  halpernwine  wosa_za  @KleinConstantia  @HalpernWine  @hansverbier  @WOSA_ZA  @KleinConstantia  @halpernwine

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

“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  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Chablis Grand Cru can be found in the commune of Chablis on the right bank of the Serein River and the appellation comprises seven climats; Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur, and Vaudésir. “The terroirs, formed in the Upper Jurassic era, 150 million years ago, are composed of limestone and marl with Exogyra virgula, tiny oyster fossils. Chablis Grand Cru is one of the rare French AOC wines to make reference to its geology, notably the Kimmeridgean age.”

Christian Moreau Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos 2015, Bourgogne, France (Agent, $82.00, WineAlign)

Who has not waited for the sovereign Grand Cru to get together with the 2015 vintage? I’m quite sure Christian Moreau was one of those who looked at the alliance with all his acumen and experience to craft a high point of Chablis benevolence. Christian’s ’15 is beautifully fruity, ultra fresh, richly endowed and reductive perforce. So young and precocious but begging for our patience, his is a model of Les Clos richesse. Resides on the cocotte or chouette side of Chablis with notes of white flowers and fresh herbs. Also layered of fruit over stone upon fruit, of peach, persimmon, citrus and wet stone. Implosive intensity reminds of Chablis Grand Cru structure though Moreau’s is more elastic than many, of a subtle and sultry liquidity. Great potential here. Drink 2021-2031.  Tasted May 2018  @christian_moreau_pere_et_fils  rogersandcompanywines  vinsdechablis  vinsdebourgogne  @ChristianMoreau  @rogcowines   @vinsdechablis  @GrandCruChablis  @purechablis  @VinsdeBourgogne  @BourgogneWines  Christian Moreau  @rogcowines

Makers’ cool pinot noir warmth from regional @wineaustralia as explained by the man, @vintagemarkdavo

Bindi Pinot Noir Dixon 2015, Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia (Winery, $85.00, WineAlign)

The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028.   Tasted June 2018  bindiwines  wineaustralia  @Bindiwines  @wine_australia  @WineAustralia

50 years ago this #chianticlassico entered the world. Suffices to say 1968 was a pretty good year ~ @castellomonsanto

Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG Il Poggio 1968, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

“A good, not an outstanding vintage, with some vines affected by botrytis,” explains Laura Bianchi, though truth be told she’s relating the information from stories and legends. You can taste it, in a sweetness that reminds of quince and apricot. Plums are dusted with white pepper, sherry drizzles over sugar plums and in the end, acidity continues to shine. It’s still a dramatic drop of sangiovese, with longevity preservation going back to the era (1962-1969) when the wines were aged in chestnut barrels. This at 50 years of age is so alive, time encapsulated, dew sweetened, ethereal. Drink 2018.  Tasted September 2018  castellomonsanto  @castelmonsanto   @castello.dimonsanto  Laura Bianchi  Carpe Vinum  

Castello Di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 1987, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

Chianti Classico Riserva 1987 is habituated and living life to the fullest in a state of complete and utter sound body and mind. It is sangiovese made at a time when it could it not have been known how impressive it would show 30 years later. Volpaia ’87 is from way back in the cold, pre-climate change days, the acid-washed, roaring 80s, now umami-earthy, cherry-plum fruit with some celery and a real salty-sandstone vein. Still blessed by a healthy, rhythmic pulse of acidity and finally, pure pleasure. Chalk it to bottle luck or a vintage that just had an inkling of greatness that would surely come but this is truly a special and memorable moment to taste. It needs saying with a thank you in words to Giovannella Stianti for sharing, but that will never be enough. Grazie infinite. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  castellodivolpaia  rogersandcompanywines  chianticlassico  @volpaia  @rogcowines   @chianticlassico  @volpaia  @rogcowines  @ChiantiClassicoUSA

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori Granato 2013, IGT Vigneti Delle Dolomiti, Trentino, Italy (Agent, $74.95, WineAlign)

At the pinnacle of Elisabetta and Emilio Foradori’s mysterio teroldego pyramid is this Granato, theoretically or perhaps spiritually interchangeable with the world’s most fascinating and complex fruit, the pomegranate. There are many theories on separating the edible seeds from the pith and skin but those who know do it the right way. Foradori knows teroldego and raises this singular expression the right way. The roots dig deep into the Campo Rotaliano and Mezzolombardo stony alluvial soils with pebbles and gravel for an alternative-indie northern Italian red wine. Raised in large 20 and 30hL casks it’s still reductive, seriously internal and yet to shed layers, open up and externalize. The red fruit is alone and incredible, sweet and tonic-amended at the same time. It’s both retro and timeless. “And the world fell down, when the moon was blue, and you wore a crown and the word was true.” Like a pomegranate. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted May 2018  eforadori  thelivingvine  @AzAgrForadori  @TheLivingVine  @elisabettaforadori  @thelivingvineinc

Benvenuto Brunello

Talenti Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva DOCG Pian Di Conte 2012, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $120.00, WineAlign)

Two of the 20 estate hectares in Castelnuovo dell’Abate are dedicated to the the vineyard Paretaio, planted to a sangiovese clone selected by Pierluigi Talenti. Pian di Conte is only made in years deemed worthy of carefully selected grapes from 20-plus year-old vines out of this highly specific, 400m of altitude micro-climate block. It’s a wow Riserva from 2012, perfumed with classic extra time in barrel that Annata Brunello only seems to reach. Notes like dark berries, pipe smoulder and rich ganache, the 2012 is already showing some maturity signs of integration. It’s a fineness of tart dark citrus styled-sangiovese wrapped so tightly around the structure’s finger, indelibly inked, modern and with all parts fine-tuned in synchronicity. Riservas will often sting until they pass at least a ten-year mark but Talenti’s croons romantically with stand-up base note ease. For Montalcino it’s a hit of the vintage and to it I can safely say “I can see the destiny you sold turned into a shining band of gold.” Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  talentiriccardo  brixandmortarwineco  brunellodimontalcino  @brixandmortar  @ConsBrunello  Riccardo Talenti  @brixandmortarwineco  BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO

Feudo Montoni Nero D’avola Sicilia DOC Vrucara 2008, Sicily, Italy (Agent, WineAlign)

The answers are so simple and yet unanswered because magic is involved. You can understand the old vines and the way their fruit turns into wines that begin with ancient wisdom but move so little in the first seven years. What happens at 10 is the turning outward, to express the place and speak the dialect of the cru. The acidity is still high but is now in lift, with fruit at the height and en anergy that flows, really flows, moving across your palate with grace, grab and attention. A contiguous wine from start to finish, with intensity, impression and precision. The structure is come cavallo domato, like a trained horse. Dramatic nd’A but with no drama at all. Tamed and in respect of ancient vine, where it grows and what it wants to give. Ma zitto, a wine to keep you silent. Drink 2018-2029.  Tasted May 2018  feudo_montoni  wineofsiciliadoc  winesofsicily  @FABIOSIRECI  @WinesOfSicily Fabio Sireci Feudo Montoni (Fabio Sireci)  @feudomontoni  @WinesOfSicily

Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.

Sottimano Barbaresco DOCG Cottà 2010, Piedmont, Italy (Agent, $234.95, WineAlign)

While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted April 2018  az.agr.sottimano ElenaSottimano  @AzAgrSottimano  @LeSommelierWine  @AziendaAgricolaSottimano  Elena Sottimano  @LeSommelierWine<

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2001, Rioja, Spain (Agent, $65.00, WineAlign)

I am convinced the Reserva 904 is just one of those wines that must be held for 15 years before any deep understanding can be resolved. It beats down the adage that says if the fruit is not gorgeous from the beginning it will never be. At 17 years of age this Rioja of 90 per cent tempranillo and graciano remembers with a hyper-sensitive vividness the 40 year-old vines and the four year-old American oak barrels. The memories are crystal clear and it remembers the comfort, protection, protraction and the possibilities. The power is edifying, stabilizing and eventually but without great haste, emollient. La Rioja Alta has produced the 21st century purpose for what it is to mean Rioja. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted June 2018  lariojaaltasa  riojawine_es  @LaRiojaAltaSA  @RiojaWine  La Rioja Alta  

And @winealign we tasted the greatest of #madiran terroir with the Man himself, #alainbrumont of @montusbouscasse

Château Montus La Tyre 2009, Madiran, Southwest, France (Agent, $135.27, WineAlign)

La Tyre, literally “the tire” is the pinnacle of Alain Brumont’s tannat from Madiran. It’s a wine that needs a decade to even begin to relent and open up for viewing, nosing and tasting. Pitchy to the nth cimmerian degree it would be hard not to see this wine as THE Madiran, the epitome of a red wine from Gascogne. The nose is über-umami and in fact in character it reminds so much more of Brunello Riserva meets sagrantino from Montefalco combined with Taurasi aglianico than it does Bordeaux. Not that Toscana, Umbria or Campania are the reference points but old school meets micro-oxidative winemaking surely is. The formidable acidity and the way in which the expense of barriques inject major influence is similar to what happens when sangiovese is subjected to said same sort of winemaking. The underbrush, garrigue and intensely concentrated argileux all combine, along with toasted wood to make this one of the most intense and structured red wines on the planet. Should seek and realize its best at some point in its late teens or early twenties. Drink 2025-2039.  Tasted October 2018  vinsdemadiran  montusbouscasse  markanthonyon  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine  Marine Madiran  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec River Stones 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $95.59, WineAlign)

In a line up that includes malbec from all walks of Mendoza life as well as some extreme altitude northern examples this is the first wine with a somewhat reductive quality, locked in freshness and very high acidity. It’s a wine of exceptional qualities. There is a highly intellectual and sensory balance executed through perfectly ripe fruit, that fine acidity and even more fineness in tannins. A beautifully linear wine that can come full circle if need be. This is a malbec that creates moisture in your mouth, never drying or taking anything away. A wine that is changing the way we are dealing with the idea of different terroirs in Argentina. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  lauracatenamd  catenawines  winesofarg  noble_estates  @LauraCatena   @CatenaMalbec  @ArgentinaWineCA  @Noble_Estates  @winesofarg  @bodegacatenazapata  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits  @winesofargentina

Roche De Bellene Clos De La Roche Grand Cru “Collection Bellenum” 2006, AC Bourgogne, France (Agent, $279.95, WineAlign)

The great Cru and the magnificent vintage conspiracy is a tour de force, even by the standards of Grand Bourgogne. I’m a bit surprised by the ascension to secondary life but it is Clos de la Roche that goes there early because of wisdom, curative indiscretion and life as it always was, right from the word character. Only this Cru delivers such soulful funk, perfectly classified and ethereal volatility and fully gathered expressions. It’s like a face that flashes a thousand looks in the span of a few seconds, there is that much going on. I am blown away by this. Still needs another year to settle, gather and explain itself. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted May 2018  domaine_de_bellene  domaine_de_bellene  vinsdebourgogne  @Nicholaspearce_   @VinsdeBourgogne  @BourgogneWines  @BourgogneWines  @VinsdeBourgogneofficiel

Château Margaux 1989, AC Margaux, Bordeaux, France (176057,$1,645.00, WineAlign)

You never want to say that a vintage was perfect but in this case, the vintage was perfect. It seems impossible but the tannins are both present and even a bit drying so at least for this bottle there will be so much residual fruit at the end of the tunnel. Only those tannins seem altered from four years ago because the fruit and the flowers are exactly the same. What rises above, around and in darts between is the fineness and intensity of implosive acidity. Structure in this 1989 is forged by bars of steel as reinforced spikes in the concrete. It may never truly break down. Drink 2018-2044.  Last tasted March 2018  chateaumargaux  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates  @NobleEstates

The 1989 Château Margaux wears the response to a mondo Bordeaux axiom on its sleeve. Are First Growth wines made for people who want darts of instant pleasure?” Twenty years earlier and now like the 2009, here is a quintessential and exemplary vintage, from day one of bud break to the last day of harvest. Its appraisal as anything but incredible is to assassinate it as if it were the Franz Ferdinand of Bordeaux. The examination 25 years later sees a mellow funk meet a peerless and sublime perfume. A wine cast in utmost density, complexity and length. It noses strength, warmth verging on heat but only for a fleeting moment, to gain attention. The iconic wine has reached the first major peak, up a ways from base camp. In this second phase of young adulthood it looks with conceit to the top of the mountain, seeing 25 to 50 more years on the climb. Mr. Pontallier regrets he won’t be around to taste this wine at full maturity. Moi aussi. The fruit lingers in its full, original state, from the moment it passes lips and for minutes onward. Violets trump roses. Château Margaux 1989 is from a vintage that offers the blessing of ethereal balance. Hear her sing, “Ich heisse Superfantastisch!”  Tasted April 2014

Good to go!

godello

Godello, Museo civico e diocesano d’arte sacra di Montalcino

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

On a Rall in South Africa

Donovan Rall

When I returned from South Africa two months ago people immediately began to ask. What’s it like? What’s new, what’s changed, what’s hot? I asked myself the same questions and the most obvious answers forthcoming were charged with the notions of quality and especially confidence. Case in point, fact and controlled emotion regarding the man, the winemaker and the wines of Donovan Rall.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

Three years ago I had the opportunity to taste two of Rall’s wines at Cape Wine 2015. I was impressed with the quiet swagger of the Rall White and Rall Red. The former was from old Swartland (Paardeberg) and Stellenbosch (Bottelary and Helderberg) fruit I noted as “pure white stone groove.” The latter of Swartland schist to cure what troubles and saps. This sourcing, grabbing and snapping up grapes from vineyards, blocks and plots spread across the Western Cape is the humanistic phenomena of an independent South African winemaker’s condition. It’s what they do and yet Donovan Rall has taken the art form to a whole new level.

For one thing he has found the last Mohican of Wellington cinsault blanc and kept it alive for a very small portion of the world to enjoy. He’s mainly a Swartland guy but he also climbs high into the Piekenierskloof and dips into the depths of Darling cinsault. Mostly Donovan Rall is a Schistosier, a man of the Schist, El Schistorino, the Schister. He likes vines grown in the coarse-grained metamorphic rock, especially syrah and it is his latest varietal effort that blew my mind. It is truly one of South Africa’s most impressive varietal syrah.

Rall wines was established in 2008 after Donovan graduated with a Viticulture and Oenology degree from Stellenbosch University in 2005. He set out to travel and then returned to South Africa in 2007 for a Swartland vintage. Mediterranean varietals under his own label from scattered old Cape vineyards was the natural next step. Cape Wine 2018 marked the release of his 10th and 11th vintages in bottle, quite significant to mark the inaugural culmination of his early life’s work.

Donovan and I made eye contact at this most recent Cape Wine and I was flattered that he remembered tasting with me three years before. And so he went out of his way to pull seven bottles, disappear behind a partition and away from the mayhem of the Swartland booth and taste these seven South African beauties with me. The quantities are small but the hearts so very big. Here are my notes.

Rall Wines Cinsault Blanc 2017, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The fruit comes from a 32 year-old, tiny 0.2 hectares of certified vines and the only remaining vineyard planted to the varietal. Like red cinsault this thing drops acid as fast as anything else. What you will taste is only the grape, on the skins three days for phenolic pulling and then straight into the clay. Seven months only, not too far and so freshness is preserved. Not just spirit but mouthfeel with the lightest frame and 10.5 per cent alcohol, with nice dry tannins. It’s like a shout out louds very loud matter of “nothing is hard cause something always comes out.” Lemon like you’ve never experienced before, leaning lime, like clairette and grenache blanc, but then again no. It’s just this. Donovan Rall managed 1005 bottles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018  #Rallwines    @RallWines

Rall Wines Grenache Blanc 2017, Piekenierskloof, Western Cape, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

It would be hard to argue with Donovan Rall that in the Western Cape grenache blanc needs to be made in the freshest, anti-oxidative, anti-leesy way. Zippy, salty, driven by minerals and acidity. In the Piekenierskloof, at 650m plus, done in concrete egg after early-picked fruit, but some skin-contact (like red wine, done in open top vessels constantly punched down) for texture because it’s approached with early-picked acidity preservation. Has the texture but no melon flavours. Love the unique epsom saltiness, low pH and generous spicing. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines White 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Leaving out the chardonnay component, the signature Rall White is now chenin blanc (60ish per cent), verdelho (30ish) and viognier. Mostly old oak, five years being the youngest, with various sizes. Other than the chard omission it’s the earlier picking that makes the difference to…lets say three years ago. That and the increase of the verdelho, which brings acidity. Whatever Donovan thought he might have been looking for and doing then, well he’s really doing it now. This shows how proper wine is being made out of necessity, not from a recipe, but most importantly out of adaptation. Great saltiness, bite, drive and instruction. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Chenin Blanc AVA 2017, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

AVA is named after Donovan’s daughter. From an adjuvant site close to Riebeek-Kasteel off of 20 year-old vines that deliver great concentration by the impetus of decomposed shale, schist and quartz. There are two unique vineyards with rocks galore in the soil. Richly textured and so layered. The concentration delivered is ridiculous. It’s somehow stretched elastic and makes for this viscous, saline, briny and beautiful wine. Malo was done in a week, the pH low and then, nine months of beautiful fluidity and suppleness. While not exactly dry, the minor tough of sugar will help it go petrol, glück and oily over time. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Cinsault 2017, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

From two vineyards, one in Swartland and one in Darling. A direct, lithe and purposed red looking for freshness and the Darling light transparency this varietal storm has created. Really pure berry fruit. Delightful, chalky, traversing the new South African ethos into a realm occupied by the ethereal. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines Red 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Four poster blend, Rhône-related, deeply rendered with great transparency but also major tannins. The syrah is 18 months in barrels, the cinsault and carignan are 15 per cent 2017 vintage, allowed under Swartland regulations. They bring back freshness and nervousness into the wine. It helps to manage that tannin and injects some life and spirit into their grainy weight. The red fruit also balances the purple profile of the syrah. Good glycerin and length. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Rall Wines AVA 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The red blend carrying his daughter’s name is Donovan Rall’s 2.5 hectares sourcing from the schistose section of 18 year-old planted vines. This is consistent with with many of the vineyards he works with, from dry land conditions, cause he’s the Schist Man. It’s varietal syrah of 1000 bottles, a true cimmerian beast, from struggling vines, between 50-60 whole bunch (as opposed to 100 in the RED). Pure ferric initiative, real hematic following. The glycerin, candied flower and aged balsamico is almost IGT, of Cortona but really more so in a mind’s eye memory of Cornas. Freshness is preserved and structure is infinite. Great, great acidity. One of the Cape’s greatest achievements in syrah. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018

Donovan Rall

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Going back to South Africa

In just a few more sleeps I’ll be back in South Africa. Since attending Cape Wine in 2015 I have had the great fortune to spend many mornings, evenings and excursions with several groups of South African producers here in Ontario. In the past year we entertained visits from the Premium Independent Winemakers (PIWOSA) and most recently this May Chris Mullineux led a masterclass on mostly Chenin Blanc at lbs. Restaurant. Chabrol Restaurant also held a tasting and lunch with representatives from seven outstanding South African wineries.

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

On my way to one of those events I was in the car and listening to the CBC. The DJ began talking about Handel as being the composer who could have become a hip hop artist. I’ll explain what he meant in a minute. When I think about South African wines it’s almost impossible to put your finger down to think of it as one thing, one style, or one type of music. You can apply this just about anywhere but in the Capelands there is so much diversity; 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.  What the DJ was trying to say is that a composer who writes with this 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 ease, it just flows. South African wines, collectively, have flow.

Great soils, weather and a Mediterranean climate

When I returned from that 2015 Cape Wine congress I said that South African wine is not what we thought it was. This mantra can’t be repeated often enough. Introduce me to a winemaker who is not in tune with his or her terroir and I’ll show you a winemaker who is either faking it or blindly towing a company line. That breed is few and far between. In South Africa I met exactly none of that ilk.

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

LK @wosa_ca introducing Chris @mullineuxwines for what will be a wild ride through the Western Cape ~ #winesofsouthafrica

I don’t feel the same way, not quite exactly the same way, three years later. Now I see the necessity of not planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel like, but specializing, picking out micro-plots of terroir for very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. I am also inclined to agree with the heritage seekers and protectors. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

At the lbs gathering Chris Mullineux noted there was a time when chenin blanc tasted like sauvignon blanc, green and sharp, or creamy like chardonnay and sweet. There have been so many styles. Mullineux explained. “We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter.” The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well. No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of Chenin Blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality. Sixteen wines were presented that morning, including eight by Andrea and Chris Mullineux.

Into the South African mystic ~ A formidable line-up led by @mullineuxwines with thanks to Chris, LK @WOSACanada JG @lbstoronto @wosa_za @NicholasPearce_

Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (981167, $13.95, WineAlign)

From Stellenbosch, the pride and joy, the rainmaker, hay-maker, large volume wine. Decomposed shale provides perfume to chenin, picked over three passes, early acidity, middle palate savour and later harvest tropical fruit, namely guava. There is texture, something firm in its structure and a clear-cut ripeness of acidity. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted twice, May 2018   simonsigwines  azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureau  @SimonsigWines  @azureauwinesandspirits

MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc Essay 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

‘Essay’ is MAN’s chenin blanc with more more stone and citrus fruit, crisp, almost crunchy, getting into texture and would really elevate the fish game. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Deetlefs Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa (465443, $16.95, WineAlign)

The youngest wine route in South Africa and just 90 km outside of Cape Town, the Breedekloof wine route lies in the Breede River Valley, which stretches from Gouda in the west, McGregor in the south, Montagu in the east and the Tankwa-Karoo National Park in the north. “We call it over the mountains,” explains Chris Mullineux, “around that bend from Cape Town.” It’s an area with a long history of chenin by the river bed. A place of fertile soils, where young vines have great vigour and then when they reach 35 years plus, deliver great concentration. Some green pepper and pyrazine here, a throwback to the sauvignon blanc ringer days and also more weight and laced up tightness. It’s a savoury but quite cool expression. Gets crunchy and chewy, one and then the other, like Napolitano pizza dough, in a way. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   deetlefswineestate  nicholaspearcewines  @Deetlefs_Wine  @Nicholaspearce_   @DeetlefsWineEstate  Nicholas Pearce

May 23rd, 2018 #lobsterroll by @lbstoronto ~ #lostinamoment ~ pairs beautifully with South African #cheninblanc

Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc Old Vine/Wild Ferment 2017, Clear Mountain, Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $22.99, WineAlign)

The next chapter in the Nicholas Pearce-Will Predhomme chenin blanc joint is the richest to date, as a matter of unction without presumption. The great blended barrel and tank amalgamation dishes an orchard tone citrus smoothie with rigour, tension and then perhaps, yes, a posit tug of confident Stellenbosch belief. Presumption even, knowing that you will adore it. And you will. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018   pearcepredhomme  nicholaspearcewines  willpredhomme  @PearcePredhomme  @Nicholaspearce_   @WillPredhomme  Nicholas Pearce  willpredhomme

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Texture from old plants can never be underestimated and this number two of four tiers in the Forrester stable digs so much deeper. It’s more passionately meets seriously defined out of a labour of love so you have to pause and stay with it.  Last tasted May 2018

Reserve is a funny term for wines like this because it speaks to the idea that it should be put aside for further use. I don’t think that is Ken Forrester’s plan and here he once again raises his old vines game with the 2016 chenin blanc. Fruit and mineral are entrenched in this great posit tug of war, each shredding the twain and meeting at the trenchant median. Stellenbosch continues to dole out some of the planet’s most striking and finest whites with chenin blanc at the centre of it’s value universe. With major thanks to Ken Forrester. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted March 2017   fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

I want to eat the dishes chef wants to cook ~ @jwillcook killed it last night @lbstoronto with the wines of South Africa

Survivor Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $17.95, WineAlign)

Survivor is richer, deeper, creamier, the chardonnay chenin, in a way, with round and mild acidity. Very tropical, from guava and papaya to mango and ultimately, simple like a banana, with coconut and cream. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   survivorwines  kirkwooddiamondcanada  @SurvivorWines  @KDC_NATIONAL  @SurvivorWines  @KirkwoodDiamondCanada

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2017, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $27.26, WineAlign)

Still in the middle of drought, the 100 per cent chenin is so youthful right at this stage. Part Paardeberg, ancient granite decomposed into sand, plus rocky, shallow slate, better in the blend out of cooler years. Still a flint strike but also something verdant, smouldering too, like white tobacco, if there is such a thing.  Last tasted May 2018

You would think this came straight from the vines and into the glass because fresh was never this new, exciting and getable. In fact when thinking about tasting 2015, 2016 and now this 2017 there is no doubt this is the most immediate and gratification guaranteeing Kloof Street yet. It’s already in delivery of ripe citrus, orchard and tropical fruit, all three, fleshy, unctuous and divine. So juicy, unconsciously so and as drinkable as any chenin blanc on the planet. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted January 2018   mullineuxwines  nicholaspearcewines  @MullineuxWines  @Nicholaspearce_  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines  @MullineuxWines

Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2016, WO Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

From the very dry year this 100 per cent chenin is from 36 and 38 year old vines in two vineyards, so considered old vines because its certified (above 35, a labelling law that came into place this year). Natural ferment, freshness meets a terrific sense of place, with downy texture by one third barrel. Aging nicely.  Last tasted May 2018

Some older vines (in the 40 year range) combed off of variegated soil types from several Swartland vineyards combine for definitive Western Cape effect. Kloof Street is the poster child for the way in which Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s are taking South African by storm. Though they spend so much effort concentrating on specific soils with über specific wines, this chenin blanc is the multi-purpose white to teach a thing or two about the rest of their work. It’s exemplary of ripe and perfectly extracted, multi-sensory fruit and personality. Though this 2016 is a bit warmer and deeper than previous vintages (and the portion of barrel ferment is further felt), it continues the thread of honesty, decency and consumer educational necessity for the Cape wine oeuvre. It will also develop some peaches, herbs and honey with time. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017

Mullineux Old Vines White 2016, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The old vines are between 36 and 65 years old and the 60-65 per cent chenin blanc is blended with grenache blanc, clairette blanc and viognier. There is also a smidgen of sémillon gris, unique to sémillon, then mutated after 45-50 years, becoming like gewürztraminer. Really flinty, lightning across the sky moving with strikes through the glass, but somehow rich and grippy, then elastic, slippery, moving like an glacial ooze. Extraordinary really. Cryptic white blend, in the end.  Tasted again, May 2018

From French water mill to Swartland bread basket the Old Vines White continues to woo and sooth savages with its exceptional quality. From winemaker Andrea Mullineux this is equation building by chenin blanc (62 per cent) plus grenache blanc (15), viognier (11), clairette blanc (8) and sémillon. It may as well be Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières or Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc transposed into the body of chenin-plus in South Africa. The combination of flinty strike and sun-fleshy body is perfectly tugged with posit force, stretching, flexing and relaxing with each effortless sway. The tease of lemon curd, sweet herbal pesto and creamy warm climate fruit never submit to the realities of ambition or extension. All remains calm, purposed and transfixed. As am I. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Old Vines White 2015, Unfiltered & Unfined, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The Old Vine White 2015 is a revelation, built by 36-65 year-old vines, of 60ish per cent chenin blanc mixed with grenache blanch, clairette blanc, viognier and the mutated sémillon gris. A year adds almost nothing to the development save for a minor magnification of the flinty feeling but the linger, oh the linger. This is length unparalleled for South African white wine and how it is left to breathe in its broad expression is there forever. You can walk around the block and these old vines will be with you, by your side, in mind, body, spirit and never-ending flavour. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc The FMC 2016, Stellenbosch, South Africa (37291, $64.95, WineAlign)

The straight-lined FMC is chenin blanc on a path of the shortest distance between two points from straight-shooting Ken Forrester. It’s ambitious and righteously so, a statement wine, no longer (if ever) Loire but now indelibly Stellenbosch stamped,. Not an off-dry, botrytis copying style but now from larger barrel and so minor oak and lack of noble rot addendum. It’s simply older vines from the same old vineyard and so comfortable in its own skin. Yes it has a honeyed note but it’s from the bees replete with a sexy, waxy feeling. The aging possibilities are long to endless. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted May 2018

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 Bushvine Chenin Blanc Sémillon 2016, Western Cape, South Africa (Agent, $46.95, WineAlign)

Chris and SuzaanGroupe Soleil Fine WinesAlheit’s Cartology ’16 exhibits a citrus layering that separates it from other Western Cape white blends and an implosive intensity that is simply stunning, but also frightening. As a reminder the blend is a smaller amount of eighty year-old La Colline sémillon from Franschhoek running ambagious with 30-40 year old chenin blanc grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. Few white wines anywhere in the world are even remotely positioned in this field where energy and light spin with infinite speed in the centrifuge of life. That doesn’t even speak to texture for a wine that is the topographical depiction of these nooks of the Western Cape. Needs two years to flesh out, evolve just a hair and bring another level of interest to the glass. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Suzaan Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $89.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Schist is a 100-120 case production (though only 72 in 2014), from schist, of course, not granite, which adds mid-palate weight and texture. Also from older (36 and 40 years) vines based from soils of the Kasteelberg. It’s a heartfelt message and cerebral pulling string from the 2014 density gifting vintage. Older barrels wrap like a blanket for fruit richer than you’d ever imagine, full-bodied, beautiful and robed in petticoat unction. It’s also dry as the farmland desert. Truly one of the finest chenin blancs from South Africa and beyond. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted May 2018

Mullinuex Olerasay Straw Wine NV, WO Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s non-vintage Straw Wine is fashioned from grapes hung in trees for three weeks. The key is to concentrate the acidity which doubles from the pressing number, plus sweetness that is off the charts. No rain in the picking season means no fear of rot. The use is of chenin blanc from the same vineyard as Kloof Street and it’s amazing how the same grapes can deliver such a different expression from the same place but with the simplest adjustment of winemaking methodology. An amazing look from a healthy 14 barrels made, so distinct as a dessert wine, with pineapple, lemon preserve and apple purée. Bold and delicious. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted May 2018

A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A little bit of schist, a little bit of granite. Amazing vintage variation, from ethereal to powerful. Singular @mullineuxwines

Mullineux Syrah 2016, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

The first drought vintage for the Swartland syrah and so the extract, concentration and density are all in compression mode. The change is felt with palpable impression, meatier, more char, even tar, and a little bit of dogma was necessary to bring in more granite-raised syrah to keep things swimmingly cool and savoury along. It’s a hematic one in 2016. To some this would be the bomb, the massive reason to believe and to others it might seem an impossible wall to scale. With a combination of love and patience the ’16 will please them all. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted May 2018

Mullineux Syrah 2015, Swartland, South Africa (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

Mullineux’s Syrah is sourced from several different vineyards around the Swartland, from granite, schisty slate (structure and tannin), plus the mid-palate giver, from lighter, porous soil suited to arenicolous vines. Here is a complex weave of geology, barrel usage and ultimately textures. There is a meaty char but also a floral, violet potpourri. A wine with a lot of integrity and generosity. From a vintage widely considered fantastic everywhere, moderate in every respect; cool, rain, sun, wide picking window. Easy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted May 2018

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

A few wines from the PIWOSA visit, June 2017

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2015, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, $23.99, WineAlign)

Paul Cluver’s Close Encounter is a matter of remarkable contrast elevated by texture so that sugar and acidity are seamlessly meshed, gathering both apple orchard and mango grove into one sweet and sour package. Channels its inner Rheinhessen like no other southern hemisphere riesling but does so with pure Elgin elegance and individuality. Most excellent riesling.  Last Tasted June 2017

A more serious effort than the sibling ‘Dry Encounter’ because this riesling knows what it wants to be. On its left may be Alsace and on its right the Mosel but in truth this speaks to a Kabinett reasoning, with Elgin layering. At nine per cent alcohol, 36 g/L RS and 8.2 g/L TA it knows the difference and speaks the truth about off-dry riesling, with elevated and yet balancing acidity. It pretends to be nothing but what is of and for itself. Flint and an attainable stratosphere (between 300-500m above sea level) accept the airy drifts of oceans and the gathering returns to earth with the weight of wax and glade. If you think South African riesling is “a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” taste Elgin and think again. The skeptical Nowhere man is ignorant to the new frontier for riesling and to him I say “please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing.” Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted September 2015  paulcluverwines  hobbsandcompany  @paulcluverwines  @amargarethobbs  @paulcluver  @HobbsandCo

De Grendel Op Die Berg Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin Valley, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

“The Latch” in Dutch it means, where once settlers used the hill as a beacon for navigation. A crunchy, chewy and soil driven pinot noir, so bloody terroir driven, as if the bleed of the earth wells in the bottle and glass. There is fineness to the tannin but more than this acidity that defines the structure, or drives it and leaves you sipping on repeat. Cool summer nights do the savoury, spicy accents. Clearly this piece of Elgin was meant to raise pinot noir. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted June 2017   degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport   @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport

Exceptional lads of South African wine take Toronto @chabrolto led by fearless leader Will ~ @WOSACanada @WOSA_Za

Seven producers, seven varietal wines

This tasting was led by master South African messenger Will Predhomme at Chabrol, Toronto’s smallest space and largest kept secret in the hands of Niall McCotter and Chef Doug Penfold.

First up was Sean Griffiths introducing Mulderbosch, based in Stellenbosch, “the centre of the universe,” He spoke of how South Africa has a long history of winemaking and Mulderbosch started in 1659. Looking forward to 2019 that is 360 years, a perfectly symmetrical number, of degrees, coming around full circle.

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2017, WO Western Cape, South Africa (933424, $17.95, WineAlign)

The 2017 is the 25th vintage and “we’re always looking for cool-climate fruit.” notes Sean Griffiths. Fermented with its lees in the search for a fuller, richer style. It is surely round, rich and finish-able. A wine of great heritage, for itself and South Africa as a bigger entity but it’s not a replica of anything, least of all “old world.” Hints at a subtlety of weight, pungency, citrus, thiols, vegetation and flint. It’s 100 per cent sauvignon blanc, more passion than pamplemousse, more fruit than mousse. Touched but not bound by tradition. Maritime salinity finishes the spirit. Everything is under control. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   mulderboschvineyards  abconwine  @MulderboschV  @AbconWine  @Mulderbosch  Abcon Wine

Next up, Johannes De Wet from pioneering chardonnay specialist De Wetshof in Roberston, an area of limestone presence and the context of that rock is important. All estate work; farming, winemaking and bottling. First regional planting of chardonnay was in the late 1970s and then in the early 1980s. Johannes’ dad was a chardonnay smuggler.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2017, WO Robertson, South Africa (419622, $16.95, WineAlign)

From four vineyards on clay with high limestone content, and high pH soils. Citrus abounds, all around, first lemon peel, and then grapefruit. Lots of lees (110 days) but unoaked with the end result being a desired weight. The source is 80 kms from the sea, a place of wind and cold nights, not surprisingly a great area for bubbly. Limestone Hill is a ridge, a step up to the mountain. This chardonnay is striking, sharp, full of energy and then calm, so drinkable. Crunchy and pure, honest, transparent and in its way, just perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018  dewetshofwines  glencairnwines    @glencairnwines  @dewetshofwines  @GCwines

Marthinus van der Vyver is Country Manager, North America, Ken Forrester Wines. Ken began with five restaurants in Stellenbosch and one day he saw an auction sign and three hours later, boom he walked away with a winery. If you have met or just heard of Ken Forrester, you know he is a force not just in wine, but a figure larger than life and hugely responsible for putting South African wines on the world’s stage. Partly because of his work to establish a premium level Chenin Blanc but also because of a tireless ethic, an entrepreneurial spirit and certainly his ambassadorial work. Forrester is a team player in the way a Football or Rugby captain rallies his teammates, his club and his country. I’ve had the pleasure of a four-hour tasting session with Ken in Stellenbosch and that interaction is indelibly stamped in my memory forever. Great guy whom Marthinus has the pleasure of calling Dad. He is Ken’s son-in-law and is responsible for taking care of the most important treasures in his life.

Ken Forrester Roussanne 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Agent, WineAlign)

The 2016 is the third vintage of this wine, from 39 year-old vines. ‘Tis a risk-reward white held at bay, away from the safety of blending, of barref fermentation, and time spent in 80 per cent used 400L barrels. The vineyard is on the second last farm before you reach the Heldeberg, where hot days give way to late afternoon sea breezes. These are 15 of 60 roussanne hectares in Stellenbosch. Striking aromatics, a flinty, saline and pulsating white with presence and a stand up demand to be noticed. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted May 2018  fmcwine  noble_estates  @KFwines  @Noble_Estates  Ken Forrester  Ken Forrester  @NobleEstates

Stephen Joubert is viticulturalist at DGB. “My passion is to understand South African terroir and to figure out what grows best and where.” Ocean is the thing, heavy soils, cold winters, dry summers, sea breeze influence, to keep acidity and freshness. We happened to have been in Sicily at the same time back in May. I’m curious to see what grape varieties gave him ideas for what to do back home in The Cape.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (12724, $29.95, WineAlign)

This Bellingham Estate chenin blanc from old vines watched over by viticulturist Stephen Joubert carries an indelible stamp of richness, from that vine age and the leesy style. From granite and weathered shales, a minor note of reduction climbs over top of the rich, chic, stylish and full fruit and while it seems like the wood is very much in play it’s really more lees than anything that terms the texture and renders the weight. Old vines provide the density and structure to allow wood to take part in an ambitious attempt to create longevity. The locked in    spirit will go a long way to seeing some developed fruition but there may be a bit too much extraction so an oxidative quality might creep in before the wood has fully settled and integrated. Should work out well in the mid-term. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted May 2018   bellingham_wines  dionysuswines  @Bellinghamwines  @DionysusWines   @bellinghamwines  @DionysusWinesTO

Danie de Kock presents Spier from Stellenbosch, going strong since 1692, always family owned, most recently purchased in 1993 and since 1996 Johannes Smith is the viticulturalist. Using the word “Signature” on their labels infers or might be what the chef wants to be known for. You should recognize varietal and get what you expect from that name on the bottle. In Spier’s case merlot should be a grape that gives you a great big hug.

Spier Signature Merlot 2016, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (454827, $15.95, WineAlign)

Spier’s Signature Merlot 2016 is raised on alluvial soils, some estate, some purchased. “We’re trying to show a good solid wine.” Receives seven to eight months of dance floor wood for the fruit to express its moves, of 3rd and 4th passage. The best selling South African merlot in the LCBO happens to be the only one. Acidity and tartness at good height and level while reduction is lower than low. Breadth is a matter that is chalky, in chocolate guise and far from reduced, cooked out, even with just a touch of honest pyrazine. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted May 2018   spierwinefarm  @SpierWineFarm  @SylvestreWSON  @spierwinefarm  Stephen Marentette

Francois Bezuidenhout from MAN family wines explains how the estate’s seven varietal wines are each equipped with an Afrikaans name. The vintner started out with three friends looking to make everyday varietal wines in 2001, as an anagram after their wives, Marie, Annette and Nicky. MAN. Chenin is the signature white.

Man Vintners Shiraz Skaapveld 2016, WO Coastal Region, South Africa (71332, $14.95, WineAlign)

Named Skaapveld, meaning “sheep’s field” this shiraz is a spicy, deep plum and raspberry red fruit red, a touch reductive and rusty-firm-grippy-transparent. Fruit is essentially from Paarl (with also some out of Stellenbosch), on decomposed granite and clay, dry-farmed and not the usual irrigation because of water retentive soils. Liquid chalky, talcy, oozing of chocolate and a shot of espresso but always returns to the red fruit. Mediterranean, black olive mixed with the chocolate. Peppery rotundo and lovely really. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted May 2018   manfamilywines  vonterra  @MANVintners  @vonterrabev  @MANFamilyWines  @vonterra

Murray Barlow manages the winemaking at the 880 hectare property, larger than Pomerol, from an estate who’s first wine was made in 1692. In the early 1800s it was split in two, one purchased by John X Merriman. Rustenberg was one of the first to re-plant vineyards after phylloxera. The pioneer owned it until 1926 and was also the last Prime Minister previous to modern day South Africa. In 1941 Peter and Pamela Barlow bought the estate. Their son Simon took over the running of the farm in 1987. Winemaker Barlow represents the third generation of his family to make wine at Rustenberg wines on the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Murray is the vini, father Simon is the viti. The Barlows have been at Rustenberg for 77 years: the longest period any one family has owned the farm during its well over 300 years old term. It’s a new world estate and like many others is  much older than the Boredelaise.”

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2014, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, South Africa (707323, $24.95, WineAlign)

This is from altitudes between 250-500m, of deep rich red granite, high iron soils at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains. Always 100 per cent estate fruit, merlot on south facing slopes which are cooler spots and then cabernet from those leading west (for afternoon sun). Fruit that thrives on cooling influences but no frost or hail and including beneficial breezes. A wet season preceding three successive drought vintages. Wow in that it’s so very Bordeaux and that’s saying alot because so many varietal or regional ode South African blends are not like their old world ancestors. Here all five Bordelais varieties work together, see plenty of barrel (20 months) and bottle time (one year) for it all to come together. Tobacco, olive, chocolate, classic Bordeaux stylistically and in the hands of a true South African pioneer, right along with the Meerlust Rubicon. Best at 10-15 years but can go 30. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted May 2018   rustenbergwines  woodmanws  @RustenbergWines  @WoodmanWS  Rustenberg Wine Estate  @WoodmanWS

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Hamilton Russell three ways

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are tireless wanderers of this earth. When you consider the amount of time they spend travelling in support of one, their eponymous winery, two, their Hermanus friends and colleagues and three, Wines of South Africa, it’s amazing that they are able to find time to produce high quality wines. That they do with great consistency and though they are responsible for interpreting the Hemel-en-Aarde in three ways, in each case they do one or two things and they do it really well.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards works three appellations. The WO of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a geological wonder akin to Burgundian soils of 35-50 per cent top soil clay layered with exposed shale, closest to Walker Bay. It is here that Anthony and Olive pioneered the raising of chardonnay and pinot noir. Ashbourne red and white blends are fashioned in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, built of decomposed granite, with freer draining soils and more diurnal temperature fluctuations then the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The property is named after Anthony’s great, great-grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s. Southern Right is the line of pinotage and sauvignon blanc raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, on a 448 hectare property just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus.

In 1991 Hamilton Russell was the only one producing wines. Now there are 22 in the valley. They began running in 1991 and made full purchase in 1994. A cold current rises up from Antartica into the tip of South Africa’s (Western Cape) “making quality winemaking possible,” explains Anthony. “Our soils have been on the surface for more than 300,000,000 years. I like that you can taste ancient soils in every glass.” Hamilton Russell is what he refers to as their “immediate family.” Southern Right and Ashbourne are close relatives.”

As for varietal choices, there is little doubt that pinotage is (once again) booming while others are dropping. The plantings are very much on the rise. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” insists Hamilton Russell. We like to control what’s happening on both borders of Hamilton Russell.” So Southern Right (1994) and Ashbourne (1996) are more than just passion projects. “We also want to change people’s perception of pinotage,” he adds. There were no releases between 2011 and 2014, instead it was used as a re-thinking period and a chance to reflect on vineyard/agricultural culture, followed by the new age. “I don’t have a beard, I’m in my 50’s (plus) and I’m doing some pretty hipster stuff. We just don’t look the part.”

I have had numerous opportunities to taste, track, re-taste and follow the chardonnay and pinot noir over the past five years. I often add to my notes because theirs are highly organized, Burgundian powered structures that demand re-visits and respect. The Ashbourne and especially the Southern Right varietals and blends have seen less exposure but the notions of longevity (Ashbourne) and drink-ability (Southern Right) are fast gaining attention.

A few weeks back and post i4C Cool Chardonnay conference I sat down with Wines of South Africa’s Laurel Keenan, Angela Aiello and the South African Wine Society to listen in on Anthony Hamilton Russell’s dissertation and a tasting of eight wines. Here are the notes, plus two for their recently released ’17 chardonnay and pinot noir.

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (512277, $21.95, WineAlign)

The Southern Right whale is a frequent visitor to Walker Bay and this sauvignon blanc should be a frequent visitor to your glass. It’s a white wine that acts as a messenger to its proximate location to a cold body of water. It’s a pure Western Cape fresh, flinty and smouldering sauvignon blanc so akin to a Bordeaux White. You could close your eyes and imagine Pessac-Leognan (perhaps even hoping for Sancerre or Chavignol) but there really isn’t any need. Six clones and six yeasts, multiple ripeness levels and some clay-grown vines deliver fat fruit to meet the linearity and tension of other shale grown fruit. In the end it’s a complex and rare chance to taste this kind of value. Drink 2018-2020.  Last tasted July 2018

The pungent nature of this sauvignon blanc brings a vigor sight and taste unseen. Classic herbal meets gooseberry and passionate notes are berry-derived and very floral. The palate confirms the notion and makes one a true believer in Walker Bay. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted July 2017   olive_hamilton_russell  noble_estates wosa_za  wosa_ca  @OliveHR  @Noble_Estates  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  Olive Hamilton Russell  @NobleEstates  @WOSACA

Southern Right Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $26.95, WineAlign)

Tasting ’15 while ’17 is already sold out back home. From an opulent and wide open vintage, the wine offers just those expressive attributes. Smokiness meets curative meaty notes and an umami sort of South African garrigue. From a vintage where phenolic ripeness occurred at a higher level of alcohol so it carries a 15 per cent volume, but does so with marked ease. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2009, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

The Ashbourne ’09 includes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and syrah blended in, “which brings nothing really to the party,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, “but at least it doesn’t compete with Southern Right.” It’s deeply savoury and smoky, continues to smell like chocolate and will always show its wood. The single-vineyard heavy clay block was always in delivery of fruit ripe but never over that edge, all the while telling its shepherds when to pick so that balance and structure can be had. The linger and length are exceptional. “The variety doesn’t suck.” Truth that. Drink 2018-2024.  Last tasted July 2018

Ashbourne is a 25 barrel cuvée and the outlier in the Hamilton Russell pinot noir-chardonnay stable. With more than enough time behind at eight years on it is essentially evolved and resolved, now a downy blanket of Bordeaux fibres woven, seamless and soft. The fruit dries a bit but like all great aging South African reds the candidly curated acidity is years from relinquishing its grip. Ashbourne is not a matter to blow one’s mind but it teaches some vinous life lessons about Hemel-en-Aarde and the greater good of aged South African reds. It can be enjoyed right now and left for another decade. Like Meerlust’s Rubicon it’s an easy on the pocketbook gift in kind to Ontario from proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)

“We wanted to work with an unoaked pinotage, to mix with a lighter and brighter cinsault.” In fact the cinsault really shines with (by now) classic Western Cape lithe ability because the pinotage allows it to. Add to that a verdant, pyrazine and currant streak and in the end you get perfume but no impenetrability that an overly green and wooded forest would demand. Beautiful (1972 planted) Paardeberg on decomposed granite gifts a chic and classy, perfectly correct blend of these two made for each other varietals. Will settle into one another so effortlessly and with sleepy grace in another year or so. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2018, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

There can be no more fruit in a white blend than what bursts from this sauvignon blanc-chardonnay scene. Just released in South Africa and carried by Anthony and Olive (Hamilton Russell) on the plane. Chavignol is the reference point, with lightly structured sandstone soils bringing lightness, airiness and delicate fruit. Or think Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat out of Santa Barbara. It’s democratically priced (a Hamilton Russell first) without gratuitous sugar and still dry, tart and direct. Also the first screw-cap for the company. Bottled just three weeks ago. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

A Hamilton Russell chardonnay must have its nuts, butter and über direct acidity. It just may remind of Bâtard perhaps because depth, richness and a ridges-straddling connection to the valley it comes from all work in this way. But what else brings that connection? In 2017 it’s elegance for sure, but also intensity. This 36th vintage is “a reflection, always of the same piece of ground, even if we are always insecure and trying to improve, it’s a far bigger thing than we are. We feel justice to serve it. We feel we have a duty to this.” This is what Anthony Hamilton Russell told me last year and it perfectly applies to this 2017. Back then he noted that “god made the 15s and winemakers watched. In ’16 winemakers made the wine.” So what about ’17? With heady attention paid to its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, it’s really a matter of both. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted twice, July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)

Says Anthony Hamilton Russell. “It took the French to teach me not to care about the colour of chardonnay, but to only worry about flavour and texture.” Fermented with a healthy amount of solids and introduced to oxidation in its youth. This helps and results in a chardonnay well-adjusted to adult life and to adults. “You cannot measure an aesthetic with a number,” meaning you can’t learn from a measured response. Literally speaking. The balance is as good as this archetype of an HR white has ever been. It is after all, the HR white.  Last tasted July 2018

No stone is left unturned in the Hamilton Russell 2016 chardonnay because it speaks with utmost Hemel-en-Aarde Valley clarity. There is less make-up in 2016 so the fruit, acidity and subtle salty quality all must have begun to speak from the word go. The first pressed, non-clarified must would have done nothing but made the maker’s smile, mimicking a foggy morning over Walker Bay and so they have allowed the wine to speak for itself. This is a beautifully restrained and go it alone rendered to be measured chardonnay, with beauty and grace. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted September 2017

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

’m not sure it can be stated often enough that when you continually do one thing well, without compromise or mutation, than you’re more likely to do it very well. This is the case with a Hamilton Russell pinot noir, the only one that is produced. From the best fruit available and swinging in the direction of the vintage, either into or away from the winds of vineyard or winemaking. The 2017 is like the chardonnay in that it’s a best of both worlds seasonal and acumen-focused display, neither one or the other dominant and in the end, so balanced. The fruit depth is exceptional, the acidity deeper still and the intensity wound around it all. It’s so precise and layered, like a pinot noir prism, like staring far inside the intricate and symmetrically patterned angles in a diamond. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted July 2018

Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)

“We believe in wines of consequence.” How pinot noir is capable of performing in South Africa can be defined right here, with a wink and a nod to Gevrey-Chambertin. Pure unbridled Hamilton Russell cerebral joy, nothing taken for granted and all possibilities celebrated.  Last tasted July 2018

This welcome ethereal return of Hamilton Russell’s Hermanus benchmark pinot noir follows on the heels of the early-picked, dense, muscular and compressed 2015. Comfortable alcohol meets optimum phenolic ripeness so lets think on it in terms of ’08 burgundy, though perhaps not as tight and classic. This is the second fully organic vintage, not certified but with no systemic use of chemicals. Young (just last year turned 30) winemaker Emul Ross from Chamonix and viticulturist Johan Montgomery have reverted to gentler pressing and travelled further away from hyper-reduction. Open fermenters handle the entire pinot noir harvest at once so there is nary a posit tug of war or movement at shock times. Thus the elegance and as mentioned, the ethereal. It should always be noted that all the HR grapes go into these wines, with no tactical moves and philosophical aberrations (any more), no reserve wines, no single-vineyard, no divergence from monopole, always staying the broad expression course. “We committed to this in 1981 and other than experiments, we’ve stayed this way,” says Anthony Hamilton-Russell. There is simply no plot, block, aspect, top, middle or bottom slope separation. It’s pinot all in for one purpose, fully conjoined and conspiring to make the Hamilton Russell expression. This expression, of pure fruit, no drudgery, clarity and exceptional length. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted October 2017

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

No, wines do not have to be old to blow your mind but there is just something so mysterious, magical and hypnotizing about the experience of age in preservation. When we use the cliché “tasting history” it distracts from what is most poignant about tasting older wines. It’s the humbling and how wisdom, acumen and meteorological circumstance conspire to take us away from our troubles, to forget about life for a while and to realize that forces greater than us are truly in charge.

There are also young wines so precocious and wise beyond their years that they somehow intuit the future. These too can blow our minds, addle us as if lovestruck and disoriented so that only this confluence of smell, taste, texture and structure are what we know. It takes all kinds to populate a list that separates greatness from the rest, but that does not means only 17 wines were tasted to be extraordinary in 2017.  It means that some struck a vein while others grazed on the skin. Most important is that all were experienced because someone chose to share them. Thank you to the producers and the benefactors for bringing these bottles to light.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Honourable Mentions

Château Haut-Brion 1986, Saffredi 2004, Brokenwood Sémillon 2007, Domaine Gros Frères Clos Voguent Musigni 2013, M. Lapierre Morgon 2010, Domaine G. Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1996, Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2006, Coppo Barbera d’Asti Nizza Riserva della Famiglia 2009, Le Fraghe Bardolino 2015, Sordo Barolo Riserva Gabutti 2006, Carobbio Chianti Classico 1990, J & J Eger Kékfrankos 2006, Château Léoville Las Cases 2001, François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé 2009, Domaine La Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pâpe La Crau 2005, D’Arie Syrah 2012, Julia Bertram Handwerk Spätburgunder 2015, Planeta Carricante Eruzione 1614 2015, Dominus 1994, Château Lafite Rothschild 1998 and Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques 1993.

Several times a years I gather with groups of like-minded, wine-spirited folks, to break bread and to pop established icons, singular archetypes, varietal rarities and supernumerary misfits. Many of the wines on this 2017 list are a result of having been fortunate enough to be included in repeated repasts with pirates on picnics and doctors at dinner.  Most of the rest are travel related, in fact this year alone I tasted approximately 700 sangiovese, 200 barbera, 200 corvina and 100 nebbiolo. So many more of those praiseworthy reds and rosés deserved spots on this docket but alas, the list is short. I do not fulminate them, nor you neither. Here are Godello’s 17 mind-blowing wines of 2017.

It began like this and I got 15 dollars hid above the stove.

Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (280461, AgentWineAlign)

Tasted blind the hue immediately leads the mind in one of two directions; hot vintage or decades of age. I’m tempted to consider a combination of the two, so the decision is warm vintage and a minimum of twenty years age. Further introspection takes me back to 1990 and when the reveal confirms this and in the abide of Dom Pérignon it means one thing. Start the process of thinking again. This wine has done its work, having accumulated a diverse set of developmental traits and processed them so that the language it now speaks is clear and pure. At 27 years of age it’s delicate, smooth, soft-spoken and settled. The finest golden toast (again in hue and more importantly in aroma) glows into the creamy texture, like preserved lemon transformed into gelid curd. The mouthfeel is exceptional with baking bread rising, puffy and satiny glazed across the palate. The seamlessness of this Champagne seeks, solicits and makes rendezvous with no peer or challenger its equivalent, not should any comparison be made. Kudos to a wine that stands on its own and makes you feel this good. It will continue to do so up to and perhaps beyond its 40th birthday. Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted March 2017  moetchandon  @chartonhobbs  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  Moët & Chandon  Charton Hobbs Canada  Champagne

Famille Picard Saint Aubin Premier Cru Le Charmois 2014, AOC Bourgogne (522078, $57.95, WineAlign)

This is a chardonnay to place the village of Saint Aubin in a remarkable light if only because it’s the most stony, flinty and tightly wound example just about ever. The Charmois is the elevator that carries the appellation into a purity of climat for Bourgogne Premier Cru. In this case terroir delivers the idea of Climat but it is the interaction of the maker that defines the notion simply because there is no mess and no fuss. It just feels like drinking straight from a bleed of the calcareous land, as might happen in a limestone goblet filled with Montrachet. You have no idea how good a deal this is from the most excellent 2014 vintage. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2017  domainesfamillepicard  profilewinegroup  #bourgognewines #FamillePicard  @ProfileWineGrp  @BourgogneWines  Domaines Famille Picard  Profile Wine Group  Bourgogne Wines

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2015, AOC Bourgogne (Agent, $480.00 WineAlign)

Chevalier-Montrachet is a matter of aromatics, of the finest of the finest, preserved, reserved, impressionable and of quietly powerful impression. The deistic and the parrhesiastic are reached in this Grand Cru, “one who speaks the truth to power.” Elysium in chardonnay is captured for the perfectly ripe orchard and crushed stones. The young palate is almost severe but takes its first steps down the most ethereal path, with the finest drawn lines and rendered streaks of energy lit, sparked and smouldering. This is Bourgogne of intrinsic value, slowly rising to a crescendo where a flame flickers but within the sheltered lamp of a hurricane. How is such harnessed power even possible? Only like this, in Chevalier-Montrachet . Drink 2021-2037.  Tasted April 2017  bouchardpereetfils  woodmanws  vinsdebourgogne  @BouchardPere  @WoodmanWS  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bouchard Père & Fils  Woodman Wines & Spirits  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros 2015, Santorini, Greece (SAQ 11814421WineAlign)

I’ve not yet tasted the Kavalieros 2014, so this single-vineyard, 18 months on lees done in stainless steel Kavalieros 2015 made by “Mr. George” is the benchmark for Santorini, assrytiko and salty white wines everywhere. The first release was 2009. Straight up and turning the world on its head, like the old man on the label and upside down against Apollo’s Aegean Cyclades. This ’15 richer still, more than the seven villages wines and a hyperbole as compared to the entry-level assyrtiko, of deeper mineral, compressed, layered and fantastic. Crushed rocks permeate in aggregate, it’s quixotically saline and textured, of intense presence and finally, structured. For 15 years at least. A late shot of natural Santorini tonic swirls in centrifuge with assyrtiko so wound up. This will need 10 years to unwind and allow for cracks to form in the mineral shell, followed by the birth of its fruit. It should never be forgotten that assyrtiko can and will show fruit but with Kavalieros you’ll have to be patient. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @DomaineSigalas  @MajesticWineInc  winesofgreece  domainesigalas  @MajesticWineInc  @DrinkGreekWine  @DomaineSigalas  Panayiota Kalogeropoulou  Wines of Greece

Penfolds Grange 2011, South Australia (356121, $750.00, WineAlign)

There is just something about cool, rainy and irreconcilably regarded vintages that brings out the best in wines made by winemakers of elite acumen. Deliver your best from the greatest of harvests but also “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Leave the middle of the road to someone else. This Grange faced adversity and won. The yields and output may only be 50 per cent of normal but what gives is the silky texture of Grand Cru Bourgogne. This chosen one of singular vision to represent the multi-tiered and faceted Penfolds Estate tells us about the world inhabited by the instinctual and the ethereal. It combines tannin, structure and aesthetic deeply engrossed in the shadow of its own looming destruction, but is designed from the first with an eye to its later existence as a ruin, forever preserved. If a perfect plum and a magical olive were crossed they would welcome this collective spice of no equal. The quality of bite and chew lead to rumination and the savour rests on a chart clearly defined but in high contrast and only to itself. An analgeisc meets hypnotic cooling is mentholated though if not specific in origin it is only and highly natural. Legendary vintage? Why not. This calm, cool and collected 2011 may just outlast some of the more recently considered top vintages of ’06, ’08 and ’10. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017  penfolds  markanthonyon  wineaustralia  @penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Wine_Australia  Penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  Wine Australia

A deep #eredichiappone vertical delve with Daniele for perspective and a release of endorphins @ilNizza possibilities #progrettovini #collisionimonferrato

Erede Di Chiappone Armando Barbera D’asti Superiore Nizza DOC RU 2006, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

RU by Daniele Chiappone is this, at first something altogether inexplicable but when tasted alongside his 2005, 2010 and 2011 it makes such perfect sense. Sense in where this fits in his evolution and to speak on behalf of the age-worthy ability of Nizza barbera. In a world where barbera perfume so often performs with perfunctory brevity this goes on and on. It is a unique combination of fennel frond, incense, hibiscus and violet to create an intoxicant and an anaesthetic. Yet another exceptional vintage is revealed, traditional and so alive, spun from earth crusting over cherry and then this smooth leather. The portal backwards 10 years allows for looks forward 10 more, especially into what’s coming from 2015 and 2016. To say the match with a prodigiously spiced in aromatic ragu over linguine was agreeable would be the understatement of the Monferrato century. Perfectly timed acidity seals the deal. This is barbera folks, of wit, age and history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  erededi  ilnizza  @erededi  @ilNizza  Erede Di Chiappone Armando  IlNizza

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017  robertmondavi  @RobertMondavi  Robert Mondavi Winery

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Columbia Valley, Washington (Agent, WineAlign)

A truly remarkable nose, notably violets and peregrine species of spices. There is so much perfume and beauty, an Aishwarya Rai Bachchan nose and then there is the fruit. Blackberry, Cassis then into vanilla, scented happiness like ruby red grapefruit and bergamot. If it should have aged I can’t say but it’s still a voluminous and voluptuous thing to sip. It blinds like first Growth Bordeaux with its perfect extraction. Thoughts keep at it, to blueberries, cigar box and Kirsch. The tannins are sweet and gritty, not fully resolved and imagine Margaux. You could consider taking out a mortgage on yours and your neighbour’s house for this one. It was one of many great reds tonight but I’ve just tasted this. And I wept. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2017  @QuilCreekWinery  @thevineagency  winesofwashington  wa_state_wine  @QuilCreekWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh  Quilceda Creek Vintners  @WINESofWA  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  Washington State Wine

A great honour to taste this 1995 #carobbio #leone and in memory of #carlonovarese Thank you Dario and Silvia. Would like the chance to do it again in 22 years #toscana #sangiovese

Tenuta Carobbio Leone 1995, IGT Toscana, Italy (WineAlign)

Leone 1995 was made under the auspices of the Vittorio Fiore-Gabriella Tani oenology stylistic for Carlo Novarese. To say that this single-vineyard sangiovese is youthful would be the biggest IGT understatement of the century. From vines that at the time were 25 years-old, Leone is not just a survivor of a universally-declared incredible vintage, it is a singular expression from 1990’s Tuscany, in Chianti Classico and for Panzano. The violets, dried espresso and plum-amaretti semifreddo (savoury, not sweet) mixes with fennel frond, fresh rosemary and the 20-plus years lingering Carobbio tobacco. The acidity is fully intact, still travelling up and down the sides of the tongue, repeatedly and soliciting so much savour, sapidity, a desire for a mouthful of hematic, rare sear of Claudia’s beef filet and then more and more sipping. After 20 minutes the aromatics deliver a raspberry purée and even a black olive and mineral-saline, short of briny caper into the fray by stroke of some aromatic brush and bush in the light afternoon wind. That’s enough. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Time for Vin Santo. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted February 2017  carobbio_wine  chianticlassico  @Tenuta_Carobbio  @chianticlassico  Tenuta Carobbio  Chianti Classico

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 1986, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Flaccianello in 1986 is actually though not surprisingly so different from Vigna del Sorbo, more than any other reason because of the cabernet sauvignon, but in a more philosophical way, because they have built a paradox, from the Super Tuscan ideal in revolution. Now the sangiovese going forward will be the most important and also the best wine, like looking back at this 1986, OK, not better than Sorbo but purer, honest, a clearer picture from which to learn from and ultimately a model for the future. Beautiful power, restraint, structure and yes, the kind of wine that deserves to be praised with the term elegance, overused, or not. Perfectly rustic, earthy and full of fruit with its accompanying complimentary, enervating and necessary acidity. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017  Fontodi  chianticlassico    @chianticlassico  Chianti Classico  Az. Agr. Fontodi

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $202.95, WineAlign)

There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017  marcora85  nicholaspearcewines  brunellodimontalcino  @LaMannella  @Nicholaspearce_  @ConsBrunello  Tommaso Cortonesi  Nicholas Pearce  Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 1998, AOC Bourgogne, France (Agent, $364.95, WineAlign)

Clos de La Roche 1998 may be 19 years old but you have to swirl the britches out of this Grand Cru because reduction persists in its make-up. Once you work your way over the wall a field of wildflowers and a roses bouquet lays out as far as the nose can mind’s eye. This is pure candy in its most arid, blessed and gout de terroir way. It is as charming as Burgundy can be and yet so fine of tannin, tight and duplicitously-grained in clone upon itself. One of those wines so difficult to put to words because it teaches and you can do nothing but listen. I’d still want to wait two more years, maybe more, before knowing I’ve waited long enough. Close de la Roche speaks to me but to answer with any real credibility and respect I will need to think some more. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2017  domaine_de_bellene  nicholaspearcewines  vinsdebourgogne  @RochedeBellene  @Nicholaspearce_  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bellene  Nicholas Pearce  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017  meerlustwine  wosa_za  wosa_ca  liffordgram  @MeerlustWine  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  MEERLUST ESTATE  Lifford Wine and Spirits  Wines of South Africa

Boscarelli Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 1982, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The Boscarelli acts like a much younger Nobile, from an exceptional vintage and a producer way ahead of its time. The key is to decide which side of the evolutionary fence we’re on, closer to that 1967 from Contucci or to what is happening today. This may actually be the turning point for Vino Nobile because it really has one foot entrenched in each world. Very much in the mushroom and truffle aromatic atmosphere, where sangiovese should feel free and comfortable to travel in the twilight of its golden years. This is beautiful, with some dark fruit persisting and acidity still in charge. You can imagine the old tannins but they no longer make any demands. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #PoderiBoscarelli  lucadeferrarildf  artisanal_wine_imports  consorzionobile  #poderiboscarelli  Nicolò De Ferrari   Luca De Ferrari  @artisanalwineimports

Antichi Poderi Dei Marchesi Di Barolo Gia’ Opera Pia Barolo 1958, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

Poured by Ernesto Abbona on his wife Anna’s birthday, a ’58 at the ripe old age of 58 (though it will turn 59 later this year). Simply, in the words of the Abbona family, “a special evening, special friends, special vintage,” with a cork that looks as good as new, though Ernesto takes great time and care in its extraction. The aromas are blessed of a collective umami but would better be served by a new descriptor because they are antediluvian and impossibly preserved. Forget mushrooms and truffles. These scents are brand new, with no truly identifiable frame of reference, as if plucked from some guise of Eden where never before tasted dark berries fall effortlessly into the hand off of gariga savoury-scented bushes, brambly and crawling intertwined with nasturtium on a composting forest floor. The 1958 was and still is a nebbiolo of struttura, of a fibra morale that tells a story of consistency and longevity. With air it became more complex if deeper and turbido. That this magical nebbiolo from another era hovered in the lasting air of a 30 minute long ethereal says that you could open a few more but perhaps not much beyond its 60th birthday. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  marchesibarolo  majesticwinesinc  @MarchesiBarolo  @MajesticWineInc  @marchesibarolo  Majestic Wine Cellars

The mythology of #thorle #riesling in Beerenauslese and Trockenbetenauslese #weingutthörle #gabsheim #rheinhessen #holle

Thörle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Hölle TBA 2011 is a minuscule 180 bottle single-vineyard production and the vintage was simply perfect for the effort. The process involved the collection of a few berries at a time over the course of three weeks, started in the fridge and was then pressed when the amount of approximately 100L could be obtained. “This is the king’s discipline for creating such a riesling” explains Christoph Thörle. Thick like honey, full of unctuousness and viscosity. It is expressly noticed how the colour and the development have not advanced considering the six year mean. The exoticism is what separates this, with fruits far east, creamy and perfectly easy to assimilate, in flavour, consistency and understanding. Sweet herbology, of thai basil and thyme and candied mandarin rind. Here, a piece of history and legacy from Christoph and Johannes. Drink 2021-2041.  Tasted March 2017  thorle_c  thorleestatewinery  univinscanada  @thoerle  @UNIVINS  @germanwineca  @gen_riesling

Will be a top ’17 from 2017 #louisguntrum #1976 @weininstitut #rieslingauslese #niersteiner #heiligen #nierstein #niersteinamrhein #roterhang

Weingut Louis Guntrum Riesling Auslese Niersteiner Heilibengaum 1976, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

“Roter Hang is a geological statement” says Louis Konstantin Guntrum. If you want to hang around and try to understand its red soils and friable limestone fettle it requires a focused state of mind. Guntrum introduces this 1976 by saying “it’s a young guy, 40 years old,” the same thing he could have said years ago about a 1917 Roter Hang Riesling. The comparative studies is a matter of perspective, a theory of relativity, in reduction, colour, drama, florality and fabulousness. While certain vintages and specific wines will blow you away more than others there is something to be said about older just being more interesting, whether 1917, 1976 or whatever back vintage you want to try your luck with. It’s simply remarkable and crazy how sugar and acidity can preserve riesling like this, especially and/or truly withstanding the Roter Hang. The honey and candied orange blossom are so prevalent but it almost seems dry (relatively speaking) even though 100 grams or more of sugar have driven this wine. Beauty from bitter phenols blend with lanolin, paraffin, ginger and ginseng. Keep returning for 15 more years. Drink 2017-2031.  Tasted March 2017  #louisguntrum  @weininstitut  wines_of_germany  @LouisGuntrum  @WinesofGermany  Weingut Louis Guntrum  German Wine Institute i.e. Wines of Germany

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Good to go!

Godello

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