Making tracks in Argentina

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Deeper varietal discussion about Argentina’s terroir diversity, 128 images and 118 more wines reviewed

As first seen on WineAlign

Old torrontés vineyards at El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta

A November 2018 journey to Argentina did so much more than simply introduce me to that great country’s wines. That trip was a bold reminder that travelling to the source is precisely how we leave our preconceptions behind and allow for new education to change and alter our thoughts. The people behind the product are the real story and meeting so many of Argentina’s amazing people has transubstantiated my personal Wines of Argentina psyche. I hope for your wine sake you all will find the opportunity to experience what I have, but failing that many have taken part in a short term solution. 

The author in Cafayate, Salta, Argentina

Related – High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Not too long ago I published that article about a trip that was indeed exactly what the title says. A Masterclass across Argentina. Visits to Mendoza and Salta helped me to gain a deeper understanding of solar radiation and high altitude wines. WineAlign has now finalized the WineAlign Exchange Argentine Wine Masterclass 12-pack. Those who have not made immediate plans to travel to Argentina they have instead signed up to have that country’s remarkable wines come to them instead.

Baby pork, apple, pineapple, Azafrán, Mendoza

In November I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina and now WineAlign has teamed up with WOFA to bring 12 carefully curated wines to the Ontario consumer. The box holds 12 archetypal examples (malbec and much more), selected in unanimous accord by the WineAlign crü of critics, through tastings in Argentina and at our offices. Quality in all regions of Argentina has never been higher so the pool from which to pick was deep and wide. This is the invitation to taste the diversity of high-altitude vineyards.

El Esteco, Cafayate Valley, Salta Province

For those who see Argentina as a unilateral place of malbec, malbec and more malbec, think again. New plantations from 1200m to 2200m have characterized the need to qualify the variegate and highly diverse terroirs of Mendoza. There are now more than 1,000 hectares of cabernet franc and 18,000-plus of cabernet sauvignon. Yes there are 42,000 of malbec but that’s two-thirds and not necessarily increasing. Wouldn’t you have thought that number to be much greater? I certainly did. WOFA Educator Joaquin Hidalgo calls it “big noise from some nuts,” which loosely translates to “don’t believe everything you read or hear.” In fact 85 per cent of malbec is grown in Mendoza and there are great ulterior terroirs out there. The key is to seek and create new styles of malbec. Notes Hidalgo, “if we use the variety to create terroir diversity it will be a great benefit.”

Canadians, Tupungato and the Andes

Only 2,249 of 21,000 plantable hectares in Guatallary are full with vines. Huge potential is still out there but water/irrigation is a limiting factor.  As are ants (again, who knew?) and the foxes who chew through irrigation lines. So farmers put out water to satiate them. They must also deal with the Zonda, hot and dry winds that often come off of the eastern slopes of the Andes. Through all these challenges there is more and more talk about moving to an elegant way of producing wines. “Argentina can produce better wine. The more you talk about oak not being the thing to notice the more its shows how oaky the wines really are. The idea is to offer fruity, not so oaky wines.”

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Conversations with winemakers, agriculturalists, estate directors and export managers bred a consistency of attitude and expectation across the country. And yet each encounter meant and led to something different. Dinner with Winemaker Gabriel Bloise of Chakana, Josefina Alessio of Ernesto Catena and Andrej Razumovsky of Alpamanta focused on alternative varietals, new, innovative and alternative winemaking styles. Razumovsky talked about the rains of 2016 and how harvest was three full weeks late. “Everyone was nervous,” tells Andrej, “with so much rot but the yields were so low and yet the grapes we picked were so healthy.” Strike another notch for organic and biodynamic grape growing.

Enjoying a Salta in Salta

In Agrelo Finca Decero has predicated it’s success on a massive single vineyard called Remolinos but smaller production projects are the new norm. It has lead to growing cabernet franc (plus tannat and syrah) and the recent addition of larger barrels is leading to wines of more florals ands overall complexities. “We’re trying to separate what we perceive is different,” explains CEO Juan Marcó. “This means increased micro-vinifications of specific blocks and plots as part of the larger single-vineyard.” Decero “from nothing” also has 15 hectares of planted petit verdot, which accounts for at least five if not close to 10 per cent of the total in Argentina.

Ani Lucero and Marilyn Demandre, WOFA

In Cafayate, Salta Province it is the Amalaya/Colomé agriculturalists, winemakers and oenologists, (including Jorge Noguera. Thibaut Delmotte, Rafael Racedo and Javier Grané) who know about the “expectation of a miracle,” especially with respect to finding water, but for here, the miracle is to be able to grow grapes and make wine. The prized vineyard El Adrenal literally means “sunny place.” and its altitude brings the sun direct to the vines. El Esteco’s Agriculturalist Rosario and Winemaker Alejandro Pepa showed us sun-kissed criolla and torrontés vines vines of 70 years or more. The moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards is where John and Arlene Malinski’s team produces exceptionally concentrated wines out of the desert; Agriculturalist Santiago Acosta, Winemakers Valeria Antolín and Javier Saldaño, Consulting Oenologist Roberto de la Mota.

With the Women of WOFA in Mendoza

I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. That first report covered 37 wines from 37 producers. They were the 37 that struck me as being exceptional, ahead of the curve or simply the perfect sort of examples to speak about climate, soil and of course, altitude. The following 118 tasting notes expand on so much of what Argentina does best. Crafting quality wines at high altitudes, from Patagonia to Mendoza and Salta.

Melon soup, prawns, cucumber, Azafrán, Mendoza

Sparkling Wines

Chakana Vino Espumante Nuna Vineyard NV, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This biodynamic Brut is a chardonnay-sauvignon, 60-40 split of ambient yeasts and natural acidities. A dry Brut at 4 g/L dosage made in the Charmat Method. Full and I mean full mousse effect, light on the sweet sweats and a nectarine, peach and pear profile. Creamy character and so good alongside melon soup with cucumber and prawns. It seems so perfectly arid and right in balance. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2   @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  @ConnexionOenophilia

Josefina Alessio, Alma Negra and Ernesto Catena Wines

Domaine Alma Negra Brut Nature NV, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A traditional method Rosé and while Josefina Alessio insists “we don’t confess on grape varieties,” this is in fact a pinot noir and malbec sparkler of eight to as much as 16 months on lees. The grapes comes from uncertified biodynamic vineyards in the production zones of Vistaflores, Tunuyán, Mendoza (3,608 feet) and Gualtallary, Tupungato, Mendoza (4,265 feet). An implosive bubble, all about energy and a side-step, two-step into texture. Raspberry is everywhere, as if it could be nerello mascalese sidling up to malbec. Low pH and just about dry adds up to red fruit, lime and overall zest. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra   Alma Negra  Ernesto Catena Vineyards

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Brut Nature, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A charmat method sparkling wine made from riesling (80 per cent) plus torrontés. A fizz of cloudy demure and a leesy funk directed by the warm climate at 1,750m in sand near La Mercedes. Also smells of lime doused guava and orange blossoms from the torrontés. Simple with notable sweetness, creamy and just tart enough to offer balanced fun. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaamalaya  hesscollection  liffordgram  @AmalayaBodega  @HessCollection  @LiffordON  @bodegaamalaya @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Canadians in Tupungato

Whites

Familia Schroeder Alpataco Chardonnay 2018, Patagonia, Argentina (629428, $16.95, WineAlign)

No oak, only stainless steel and all cool, southern Argentina climate in this Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost chardonnay. Fresh and green apple delicious, simple and crisp. Really crisp. Like a bite into an edgy tart nectarine with slight green note. Beautifully salty and grippy, like Petit Chablis. Would be just perfect to kick back with a half dozen oysters. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines   @SchroederWines  Familia Schroeder

Andrej Razumovsky, Alpamanta

Alpamanta Breva Estate Chardonnay 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This is biodynamic produced chardonnay that saw 13 months in oak foudres after a slow fermentation, no malo and then, no filtration. “Typical of the  area,” says Austrian born Andrej Razumovsky and yet his run is a mere 2,000 bottles. From a vintage where “it rained like Europe,” 1200mm, six times the norm. High acidity is the result, very dramatic but all the while propping up and celebrating fruit. Rich, viscous and forward, full of pulse and energy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines  @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Chardonnay Costa & Pampa 2016, Chapadmal, Buenos Aires, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Costa & Pampa is Trapiche’s south Atlantic foray into a new appellation down on the coast southeast of Buenos Aires. Their chardonnay is a rich, youthful, precocious and grippy one, crisp and guaranteed to sell you on quality and possibility. Terrific first look. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Fish at Luigi Bosca

Casarena Chardonnay Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From Agrelo down south of Luján de Cuyo and next to Casarena’s other single vineyards, Lauren and Naoki. Owen’s is named after a grandchild, one of four. Nice and properly reductive, the work her from winemaker Leandro Azin shows a learned ambition, a nod to Bourgogne and a grounding in greater Mendoza chardonnay need. It’s a tart, angular and yet fleshy chardonnay, urgent and delicious, welling in grape tannin, extract and acidity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Federico Landrone, Andeluna and Damian Rubin, Bodega Bianchi

Andeluna 1300 Chardonnay 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $16.99, WineAlign)

Represents and sets the imagination free to accept the Andean rain shadow, masl manifesto “vines touching the sky.” An fresh, crisp, clean and cool unoaked chardonnay of exceptional clarity and superb value. Apple bite with a similar note by pear from a soil-climate-altitude driven white with purity and finally, acidity. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks at Domaine Bousquet

Familia Zuccardi Q Chardonnay 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (232702, $18.95, WineAlign)

Zuccardi’s Tupungato chardonnay is a best of both worlds effort, from Gualtallary and El Peral, one giving the sun and the other layering over with freshness. Ferments done up all in concrete then the usage of some older (third and fourth use) barrels. Feel the fruit and the acidity as interchangeable parts plus a true sense of varietal purity. Very orchard apple, taut and pretty, polished and petit, as in Chablis. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Snacks

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2017, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina (1461, $18.95, WineAlign)

A 50-50 stainless steel-barrel raised chardonnay with as much bite as any. Reductive and creamy with bitters and crackling acidity. The oak is very present, not so much in texture but certainly in palate character. Tart and finishing with further bitters. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Boys at Finca Decero

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (384339, $19.95, WineAlign)

Sees four to six months of barrel and plenty of lees stirring. Tells the truth to say it’s all about texture so that it separates itself from a sea full of achromatic torrontés. The idea is to tame and temper both the terpenes and the florals. It succeeds in this regard and is in delivery of a very viscous wine. Still floral but very textural. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Estate Torrontés 2018, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

There is no substitution for altitude and temperature fluctuations to manage the balance in torrontés. Yes it’s floral but also driven by tonic, white fruit and acidity. It’s also fleshy and creamy from fruit like guava and peach but the aridity and altitude dry this into a fierce creature home from a hot climate. Better than ever, with more concentration from the vintage. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  hesscollection  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @HessCollection  @LiffordON @bodegacolome  @hesscollection  @liffordwineandspirits

Winemaker Ramiro Balliro, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Viognier 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (SAQ 11963806, $23.35, WineAlign)

Thirty percent of the French oak used is new on fruit from the foothills of the Andes at 1100m. Warm alcohol on the nose and the intensity of a white flower distillate. Very vanilla, a minor heed of oak spice and more dry extract than many, viognier or otherwise. “Blue girls come in every size, some are wise and some otherwise, they got pretty blue eyes.” The genesis of Uco Valley viognier in solar radiated ripples and minor bitters rippling effect. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé

Domaine Bousquet

Atamisque Serbal Viognier 2018, Tupungato, Valle Du Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A viognier high on citrus and notable for tangerine though curiously more about flavour than aromatics. Sharp, tangy and calcareously salty with proper sour edging and plenty of energy at the entry level. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Crudo, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Particularly fresh and vibrant expression with some energy created by residual CO2 still pulsing in the bottle. Quality acidity encapsulates a wealth of fruit from apples through peaches. Mild pungency and ultimately a right proper way of expressing sauvignon blanc. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Bousquet, Tupungato

Salentein Sauvignon Blanc Portillo 2018, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Described as fashioned through the matter of “nieve carbonica,” carbonic snow, to prevent oxidation, like using dry ice on garganega to protect and preserve freshness. Quite fresh in fact right here, pure and precise. Somewhat stoic even for a wine that believe it or not was first produced in 2009. Where is this in our market? Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Empanadas at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Del Alma White Blend 2018, Wine of Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“From the soul,” which is a base of chardonnay (30 per cent) blended with sauvignon blanc (30) viognier (20) and riesling (20). Some carbonic pulse to this metallic and simple blend of extreme freshness. Really good acids, melon flavours and a true tang at the finish. Citrus tablet and pears too. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

Empanada, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Blanco De Corte 2013, Valle De Cafayate, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The signature, entry-level white blend is torrontés (85 per cent) with riesling. When you think about torrontés as being one of the most floral white grapes this is exactly what you expect. The riesling manages the potpourri with a splash of stone, acidity and ultimately freshness. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Fincas Las Moras Sea Creatures Lady Blanc (De Blancs) 2018, San Juan, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A curious concoction of trebbiano, chenin blanc and viognier from Tulum in the lower valley of San Juan. White flowers and white fruit fill the air while citrus and grape spirit flavour bring high favour to the fresh and crunchy spirit. Also some verdancy and in the end really likeable. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

A toast in Cafayate

Casa De Uco El Salvaje Blend De Blancs 2017, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A three-pronged blend and élévage from sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and torrontés raised with concrete, oak and steel ferments. Sweet fruit in layers, quite floral and triply aromatic, easy, balanced and with resdiual sugar mitigated by near equal acidity. The new appellative Uco Valley blend. Peak effect. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Snacks at Bodega DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Blanco 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The connective tissue is altitude at 1,100m to tie pinot gris (60 per cent) with torrontés done up with some dried grape appassimento styling. High ion dry extract, creeping up there in glycerin and though low in acidity it’s quite rich, stylish and persistent. Drink 2018-2019. Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Jamon at Bosca

Luigi Bosca A Rosé Is A Rosé Is A Rosé 2018, Wine of Argentina (553032, $19.95, WineAlign)

Drawn from Maipu, 60 per cent pinot noir with (40) pinot gris. Lithe, rusty, low in alcohol, tangy and fresh. Very citrus, very vin gris, very serviceable and lovely in its saltiness. Solid. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

BBQ at El Esteco

El Esteco Blanc de Noirs 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

A table wine raised 50-50 in concrete eggs and stainless steel, Rosé by nature, freshness wholly preserved and tannins very much apart of the mix. Ever bearing for strawberries and with a real lemon citrus bend. The dry extract-tannic effort is more than notable. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Malbec

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Malbec 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (379313, $34.95, WineAlign)

A malbec from which only the highly concentrated dry-skin maceration is sent straight to 225L barrels for fermentation. The time was a precise one, eight months plus one week and taken out on November 22nd. The Hobbsian obsession of full out expression is on full display, with fruit bombing the senses in hyper-real layers of bright intensity. Locked in, big, bountiful and moving. Gets in and attacks the olfactory nerves with purpose, like smelling salts, as only Patagonian malbec can do. A truly polished wine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

With Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista and Carla Castorina, Trapiche

Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (547869, $17.00, WineAlign)

This grippy middle tier Uco malbec is rich in chocolate and spice supplied by generous oak and 40-plus year-old vines. Earth is the catalyst for character a bit scorched and also lending a particular brand of Mendoza funk. Certainly malbec of a combined wisdom and personality to separate itself from other high-volume lots. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Fuego Blanco Malbec Flintstone 2016, Do Valle Del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

More or less at 1,500m and 800 kms south of Salta from the extreme climate of San Juan, here’s a brooding, able-bodied and highly hematic malbec. The glass is a bit reductive-effluent so work with it but it’s really quite stubborn and an earthy-worthy malbec with a bit of green meets paratrophic funk. Lower alcohol, pH and acidity, higher learning and curiosity.Then again it’s 70 per cent fermented in concrete egg so that explains quite a bit. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fuegoblancowines  Fuego Blanco

Don Julio, Buenos Aires

Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo Reserva Malbec 2017, San Patricio Del Chañar, Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

A warm location, even in Patagonia, low in altitude. At 350m and a wine that explains why malbec is planted everywhere, because it’s one that matches latitude and altitude to climate. Moderate alcohol and acidity comes explosively out of high pH and the overall feeling of sweet fruit, more fruit and all fruit. A very familiar and comforting red. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  findelmundowines  @BodFinDelMundo  Bodega Del Fin del Mundo

Caminito, Buenos Aires

Lamadrid Single Vineyard Gran Reserva Malbec 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (375485, $25.95, WineAlign)

Middle of the numbers road in every way, alcohol, acidity and pH. MOR in so many stylistic and emotional response respects. It’s sweetly fruity, somewhat salty, full, rich, thick and perched comfortably in balance right on the median line. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  lamadridwines  @LamadridEstate  Lamadrid Estate Wines

Beef tartar, egg yolk, pickles, soy, Azafrán, Mendoza

Hector Durigutti HD Reserva Malbec 2016, Paraje Altamira, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (322735, $34.95, WineAlign)

From a 1955 planted vineyard at 1,150m. Rich but also salty, really giving you the feeling of ripeness and elasticity. It’s made in just a minor reductive way that supports the fruit and then in terms of tannin goes through this chalky texture influx for structure. So very interesting. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  hectordurigutti  duriguttiwinemakers  @HectorDurigutti  @DuriguttiWines  Hector Durigutti  DURIGUTTI Winemakers 

The boys of Ama Always, Michael Mizzi and Alexander Raphael

Finca Decero Malbec Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $25.99, WineAlign)

From the vineyard of mini whirlwinds that twirl on a site where many of these little gusts of air stir up the bare earth into dancing spiral forms. More floral than both the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. Violets certainly come to mind. Smooth and the flavour is almost candied rose petal with oak integration providing a finishing spice. Very smooth wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Classico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The idea of this line of varietal wines is drinkability, to maintain freshness and fruitiness,” explains Christian Magnenat. Sottano’s is simple, correct malbec, of dark red fruit, balanced, drawn from many disparate, moving and amalgamated vineyard parts. From here, Agrelo, Uco Valey and others. Slightly astringent finish. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Roasted rabbit, bacon, black radish, Azafrán, Mendoza

Vicentin Blend de Malbecs 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (299735, $19.95, WineAlign)

The core wine of Vicentin, it’s dark, hematic and so very sheathed in many barrels of all shapes, sizes and origins. Full and completely structured malbec constructed out of 60 per cent (on average) new barrels. Again the palate takes it to a better place, namely because of texture and then the concentration takes over with some bitters on the finish. Yes it surely is a power pumped wine. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury

Vicentin Colosso V 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This 100 per cent malbec is all resinous oak, soupy umami aromas and syrupy flavours. Cedar, rosemary, tobacco and really high toned acidity. It’s kind of akin to a Chuck Wagner meets Rioja with plenty of residual sugar. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Malbec Judas 2015, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A blend of malbecs that was a single-vineyard wine. Quite resinous and sinewy, of great depth, some violet florality and much ado about high-toned acidity meeting deep woody notes. Once again more astringency but balanced by the smooth consistency. Clearly a step up in ambition and quality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef at Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Old Vines Malbec 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The PS or Private Selection puts a focus on young wines of fresh fruit character. From the oldest vines (35 years-old) in La Linda, the highest area of Luján de Cuyo. A smoky, charred, grilled herbs and garriga multiplicity in character. It’s true Criolla plant garrique, bushy and fragrant with dark raspberry fruit, juicy acidity and spicy bite. All in balance. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bosca Empanadas

Luigi Bosca Malbec DOC 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (452672, $18.95, WineAlign)

The DOC was established in 1989 and this icon of a malbec was first produced in 1991. From Luján de Cuyo fruit, remarkably rich and emblematic for the whole of Mendoza Province. Just what you expect, need and could ever want without an ounce of pretence or ambition. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Tortilla at Bosca

Luigi Bosca Terroir Los Miradores Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (132340, $32.95, WineAlign)

From 70 year-old vines in Valle de Uco with lowest of low yields so that one vine does not even function to produce a whole bottle. From the same genetic cutting materials, massal selection of the DOC malbec, but with obvious concentration and specificity. So much more floral, of a baking spice and a fruit intensity that truly is the bomb. An implosive wine with modesty, purity and a 40 per cent oak housing. Big and balanced with great structure and tannins that invoke seven senses. Put some aside and we’ll have some further discussions in 10 years. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Domaine Bousquet Malbec 2018, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (160952, $13.95, WineAlign)

Draws fruit from Paraje Altamira and Gualtallary, no oak, simply in stainless. Fresh and equally savoury, relative concentration and simple in effusive red fruit. Really negligible tannins and a sweet as opposed to astringent finish. Perhaps the best vintage ever for this entry-level malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018   domainebousquet  @domaineBousquet  @DomaineBousquetUSA

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Grande Reserve Vino Orgánico 2015, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The top tier malbec is a full barrel seasoned one though no new oak, with five per cent each cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blended in. Reduction and spice are dominant but true blue black fruit layers, lingers and lurks. High-toned overview above and beyond the cimmerian aspect so it’s just a matter of time before the slope adjusts and the fruit takes control. Violets meet deep savour with mid-term age probability a real opportunity. Quite taut and spicy, a true testament to mixing fruit from Tupungato and Guatallary. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Julianne Pons, Bodega DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Malbec 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (404145, $23.25, WineAlign)

Harvested between March 18th and April 16th, this style of malbec is certainly gone for broke in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months. There is less savour and more sweetness in both the fruit and the tannins and while it’s certainly the typical and the archetypal for the Uco Valley, it’s not quite as complex as the cabernet. It’s splitting hairs to say so but to be honest this is the wine to drink now and for three to five years while the cabernet and its great structure will go longer. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Beef, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Amalaya Malbec 2017, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $19.99, WineAlign)

The flagship red in the Amalaya/Donald Hess property in Salta from high altitude in the northern Calchaquí Valley is a rich and concentrated wine heading towards these eastern foothills of the Andes mountain range. Dominated by malbec with cabernet sauvignon (10 per cent) and (5) petit verdot. Rich, succinct and driven by solar radiated concentration. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

With Marilyne Demandre, WOFA Canada in Salta Province

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial La Brava 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.99, WineAlign)

From a mainly sandy soil with small gravel pebbles at 1,700m and one of three site specific Colomé malbec investigations. The combination of flavour concentration and saltiness is exceptional in a wine fully equipped with solar radiation, acidity preserving temperature fluctuations and altitude enlivening libido. The combination of fruit layering and tannic structure is nothing short of remarkable. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Smelling the Garrigue at Amalaya

Colomé Malbec Lote Especial El Arenal 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (575290, $29.95, WineAlign)

The vineyard here is at 2,600m and the first vineyard purchased by Donald Hess, in a place and at an altitude that did not yet exist in Argentina. So the question is what does an added 300m (and 900 as compared to La Brava) bring to malbec? The answer is simply more of everything but especially concentration. This is smoother and more silk-textured, with less high-tonality and more Napa like consistency. It’s certainly the richest and most consumer friendly. Drink 2019-2024.  Last tasted November 2018

El Arenal is the pinpointed location for Colomé’s deep, dark and delicious malbec, especially for the Calchaquí-Salta locale. A warmth by vintage and richness by extraction has matched the saltiness of the air and the aridity of the place. The lengthy finish is notable and fruit persevering. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Colomé Estate Malbec 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (477315, $24.95, WineAlign)

The Estate gathering draws from all three Lote Especial vineyards (La Brava, Colomé and El Arenal) plus fruit from Altura Maxima at 3,100. Bring them all together and the broadest expression with the middle ground concentration and the fullest texture is realized. It’s a cooler, more savoury malbec with a balance of richness and high tonality. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Canadians at Tres Cruces

Bodega Colomé Malbec Autentico 2017, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This malbec is drawn from 2,300m of altitude and the vineyard of oldest vineyards raised with no oak, only stainless steel. The idea is “the typical malbec from the Valle de Calchaquí.” The vineyards are pre-phylloxera and the wine is naked to the world, fresh and floral, salty, tangy, tart and quite intense. It’s even more rugged and rustic than expected but rich and full of possibilities. Peppery too in a reductive meets carbonic way. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Steaks at Don Julio

Colomé Malbec Altura Maxima 2015, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the Donald Hess farm purchased in 2005, with plantings between 3,000 and 3,200m of altitude. The extreme nature of this (and some of Argentina’s) highest of estate vineyards means frost and hail are very much apart of the challenge. And when you taste it side by each with the three Lote Especial malbecs you see that it is something very different indeed. The floral aspect is dramatic and the flavours the most intense. The saltiness and high tonality are off the charts. This will age for two decades without pause. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Malbec 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From two terroirs, Punco and Cafayate, aged in second and third passage oak barrels. Like blackberries and Yerba Seca, a native savoury brushy herb that grows in this cactus populated desert. So reminds of sage pointed reds from the Okanagan Valley, albeit with more brine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  philippedandurandwines  @ElEstecoWines  @Dandurandwines  @elestecowines  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

With John Malinski, Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec at 6,000 feet on a gentle rising slope in Cafayate is aged for nine months in only American barrels. Few malbec are clothed with as much barrel class in a Rioja way as this and no French is used, namely because of cost in a much larger production wine. The oak is done to bury the pyrazines and it works like a charm. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

New Piattelli Vineyards planting in the high altitude desert of the Calchaqui Valley

Piattelli Vineyards Gran Reserve Malbec 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In this version of Piatelli’s high altitude malbec the components are all bigger, stringer, faster and of specs where pH, alcohol, glycerin and also acidity are all elevated. The Grand Reserve sees both American and French oak and for 13 months time. The Spanish connection, whether it be Ribera del Duero or Montsant is evident in polish, silky texture, vanilla and liquid graphite. Very sweet black cherry, pencil shavings and even a note of cigar. Chalky, earthy finish. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Approximately 20 per cent of the fruit comes from the Uco Valley with the yeoman’s work provided by vines grown in Luján de Cuyo. What the house considers as a good vintage with a great 2018 looming on the horizon. At present a bit peppery-rubber stamped reductive so truly a baby with grip and concentrated liqueur. Strange in how it reminds of Western Cape syrah and ultimately solicits an expression of wow. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

At Luigi Bosca

Navarro Correas Reserva Malbec Selección Del Parcelas 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The reserve malbec story is a three-fold one, from three blocks each no bigger than two hectares; La Consulta (San Carlos, Uco Valley), Los Árboles (Tunuyán, Uco Valley) and Agrelo (Luján de Cuyo). Each adds their own piece into the puzzle, from florals through red fruit to cool savour. Adds up to a layered malbec big in fruit, acidity and bones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

An excited Yann Janvier eyeing dinner at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (35170, $14.25, WineAlign)

If you are looking for a malbec on the spectrum that is brighter and lighter with properly and wisely integrated wood into that effulgent fruit, here is your $14 best bet. The Mendoza malbec tenets of smoky and spicy are quite subtle and fruit stands out, ushered along by a calming and supportive energy. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March and November 2018

Fritters at Bosca

Viña Cobos Felino Malbec 2017, Mendoza, Argentina (118067, $19.95, WineAlign)

A blend of several properties’ fruit though 70-80 per cent comes from vines growing in 40 vineyards situated in Luján de Cuyo. A big sweet fruit and high acidity bomb meeting at the intersection of grip and freshness. The blend of sites amalgamates and mediates to spread great malbec love for all to share. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Salad at Luigi Bosca

Viña Cobos Bramare Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza (123729, $39.95, WineAlign)

Not the easiest vintage to deal with but the low quantity of fruit availability surely means quality of the highest order and a malbec here that could never be accused of flat, peppery or fat. The Luján de Cuyo fruit from four farmed estate vineyards is 100 per cent all in for a true to terroir malbec that even Paul Hobbs can’t override, no matter how hard he and his team might try. The accessibility playing field is levelled by an intensity built by alternating stratifying layers of acidity and structure. Smoke, smoulder, spice and then patience move from availability through need. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury and Marilyne Demandre, Buenos Aires

Bodegas Bianchi Finca Los Primos Malbec 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (572123, $12.40, WineAlign)

Made from 100 per cent San Raphael fruit on alluvial soils with clay. Leads to great malbec depth plus surely hematic pulse and strength. It’s red fruit albeit highly concentrated, extracted, intense, spicy, smoky and full. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Andeluna Malbec Altitud 2016, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $25.99, WineAlign)

Fruit is 100 per cent Gualtallary and yes Altitud is a factor of a rise towards the Andean wall. More than altitude this malbec carries attitude, in good solid grip and firm intensity. A very meaty malbec, pitchy and sure of itself in every respect. These Tupungato soils give way top some pretty heady and deeply satisfying red fruit, especially malbec. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Malbec 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (444737, $15.95, WineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Zuccardi Polígonos 2016, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (568915 $29.95, WineAlign)

The Vinos de Montaña line from Zuccardi employs the name Poigomnos to refer to the many sides of a vineyard, also mimicked by Seb Zuccardi in his drive to celebrate micro-vinifications and the new diversity of Mendoza terroirs. The soils are alluvial and very stony, an elemental-mineral transference fact that needs to be contemplated and copnsidered within the context of a malbec effect and from this place in San Pablo, Uco Valley. This is in fact a different sort, from pyrazine to pepperoncino, dry, tannic and unique in its new spark of dark fruit. Quite remarkable for its ulterior motive and unique way of speaking for both the specific place and the estate. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018   zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Cecilia Carrasco, Zuccardi and Julia Halupczok, Finca Sophenia

Zuccardi Concreto Malbec 2017, Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (455774 $39.95, WineAlign)

Concreto as noted and understood is a malbec raised only in concrete and not a barrel, stave or chip to be found anywhere near the purity of this fruit. Paraje Altamira is the pinpointed location and one of the Uco Valleys great new frontiers at 1,100masl. The spot is a spectacular alluvial fan laid out beneath the Andes and a certain depth meets richness of red fruit abounds, accented or rather accentuated by Zuccardi’s use of concrete vats. A very fine liqueur is the result and if the ’16 was thought to be luxe, this next step (and warmer, more nurturing vintage) brings malbec into luxury, bordering on hedonism. But it’s pure, exacting and transparent. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Malbec 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

All estate fruit from vineyards at 1,200masl surrounding the winery in Gualtallary. Winemaker Julia Halupczok brings out the sweetest red fruit of simple purity and pleasure, augmented with mild oak spice. Gracious, generous and in the end, grateful for such a malbec. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Salentein Reserve Malbec 2017, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (640854, $17.95, WineAlign)

Located at one of Mendoza’s highest altitude terroirs at upwards of 1,300m in the Uco Valley. Mostly older (third use) barrels bring a combination of peppery reduction and oak accented spice. Actually a bit quiet to begin and then the fits, jolts and sparks begin to announce the presence of pent up energy and near aggression. This will take a couple of years to settle, unfold and allow the protected fruit to speak up. That it will, with good grip and even better structure. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Cabernet Franc

Zuccardi Cabernet Franc Polígonos 2017, San Pablo, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Polígonos exploration is a many vineyard sided affair and the altitude is significant at 1,300m from San Pablo in Valle de Uco, Mendoza. A relatively early pick preserves nigh high acidity and the alcohol is beautifully restrained. Just a hint of dusty, pyrazine edgy fruitiness drives the machine and keeps this pulsing with terrific energy. Both food amenability and aging potential here are excellent. If it’s verdant that’s a compliment to local character. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  zuccardivalledeuco  szuccardi  dionysuswines  @ZuccardiWines  @FamiliaZuccardi  @SebaZuccardi  @ZuccardiValleDeUco  @DionysusWinesTO

Rocío Campoy Morist, Alta Vista

Alta Vista Premium Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (609081 $17.95, WineAlign)

The estate’s highest vineyards are the source for this beautifully pungent cabernet franc and strike another notch on the varietal card for growing this is in the right spots in Mendoza. It’s a dark fruit expression with high and mighty acidity to find equitable footing. The tangy, tart and intense acidulated liquidity really drives the point even if the woody aspects are just a bit up and above what would make this nearly complete. So drinkable and offering up great interest nonetheless and completely understandable for its style. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October and November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Trivento Cabernet Franc Golden Reserve Black Edition 2017, Altamira, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Made by winemaker Germán Di Césare there is a respect for land (alluvial, sand and some lime) but also for varietal. It’s well-endowed, juicy, plummy and full flavoured though it’s oaky tendencies are quietly respectful as well. The tone of the wine hums and resonates with ambience in complete control. It’s really quite fine and just about to enter its perfectly integrated, resolved and balanced window. High acidity example and wouldn’t hurt to settle for just a few more months. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  triventoarg  triventoarg  #escaladewines  @Trivento   @TriventoArg  @TriventoCanada

Bodega Andeluna Cabernet Franc Pasionado 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $54.99, WineAlign)

Classic Uco terroir at high altitude (1,300m) that mixes alluvial soils with sand, limestone and here loam make for a pretty subtle rendition in terms of cabernet franc. That’s especially true when you consider the small vessels used (225L barrels) and much of it new. You feel the wood in vanilla and berry coulis, a bit of spice and liquified graphite. Quite a molten flow this cabernet franc and with demanding quality in its tannins. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018 bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Escorihuela Gascón Pequeñas Producciones Cabernet Franc 2016, San José De Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,100m this from Matias Ciciani is Mendoza tradition in a varietal glass. There is a later picked, well-extracted feel to the fruit, with a dried component, though plenty of freshness is maintained. It feels like oxygen was introduced to this at the correct time and so it’s developed, ready but also protected from advancing too quickly. Lovely wine with some firm grip and tension inits structure. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  escorihuelag  @Escorihuelag  Escorihuela Gascón

Godello post masterclass on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemkaer Andreas Vignoni

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Franc Chañares Estate 2016, Los árboles, Tunuyán, Valle De Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At just under 1,200m, off of well-drained alluvial soils with a good presence of larger stones and pebbles. From an El Niño season of extra rainfall, this is still certainly polished and endowed with a fully rendered liqueur. The varietal character is there though early on it’s behind the veil of wood. Big structure, concrete architecture and timeless really. The Chañares Estate in Los Árboles is clearly capable of delivering one of Argentina’s great cabernet franc terroirs. While this is surely an impressive Uco Valley red the story of varietal and place is yet to truly be told. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Filet Mignon, pumpkin and white chocolate purée, criolla sauce with black olives, pan-seared potato and sea asparagus, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Franc Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2017, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

The simple and emotional response to this special effort is more cabernet franc, in Remolinos, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo please. Varietal notability for sure with more than ample barrel smoothing and gentle spice character. Tannins are bigger and more grippy than you might think. Plenty of age potential here. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018

Vicentin Dorado Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Labeled the “Tiger of the Rivers” it reeks of American oak, welling with vanilla, lavender and graphite. Couldn’t pick this out as a cabernet franc blind because all varietal notes, Loire, Mendoza or anywhere are hidden behind the Silver Oak meets Rioja sheathing. The palate is an improvement with good savoury flavours, even a squeeze of fresh pomegranate but the acidity is a conundrum. Where are the realities of place? Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  vicentinfw  @carotizio ‏ Vicentin Wines

Vicentin Banda de Los Tres Sucios Se Busca Vino/Sin Tomar El Tramposo Cabernet Franc Peligroso E Imparable 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Now 18 months in barrel, the name is the Cheater and the band of three; cheater, smuggler and renegade. It’s all oak and more oak with almost no cabernet franc character. It’s red fruit with green, tobacco and concentrated variabilities. Mostly French and some (20 per cent) American oak. Not much linger or staying power in terms of the finish. Whimsy without equitable substance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Carrot at Decero

Argento Reserva Cabernet Franc 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $18.99, WineAlign)

A beautiful freshness here without too much barrel sheathing, in and out of second and third passage wood. A gainfully employed and effective franc, true to varietal, crunchy and quite serious for value. Incidentally Argento is from the owners of Uruguay’s Bodega Garzón, Chianti Classico’s Dievole and Montalcino’s Podere Brizio. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Cabernet Sauvignon

Familia Schroeder Saurus Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

After tasting a few examples of the Paul Hobbs influence on these Patagonian wines it is quite clear just how evident there is this smooth consistency of style. Big time ripe fruit, darkening as per varietal and here a sense of cured salumi, all in, no holds barred and also fully developed and rendered texture. That factor times purity allows this to lean linear almost into elegant. Warm, comforting and then with rendered spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (261958, $33.95, WineAlign)

How deep is the impact from the altitude out of this part of Mendoza? Deep as it is wide, from every corner abutting and always facing the wall of the Andes. Even at a low steppe like Maipú. Plenty of barrel style here, mixed with a cool vintage and so the pH is low in such a tricky year. Acidity is high and it’s pretty darn fresh considering the oak. From 700-800m, very floral and so all the parts are somewhat confounding yet also remind of Rioja tempranillo. This needs a few years to settle down. Drink 2020-2026. Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

Aldo’s, Buenos Aires

Familia Schroeder Cabernet Sauvignon Saurus 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

Schroeder is a Paul Hobbs Patagonia outpost and across the board they are truly smooth, cool and polished wines. Tasted after the pinot noir and malbec we see by now the consistency of style and with great evidence. Big time ripe and dark varietal fruit, salumi accents, all in, no holds barred and a cool factor with texture times purity. It finds its way through the ooze to act linear and come out quite elegant. In the end it warms and brings much comfort, finishing with a rendering and lingering spice. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  schroederwines  @SchroederWines  @stemaren  @BodegaFamiliaSchroeder

Tasting at Sottano

Sottano Reserva De Familia Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (324707, $24.95, WineAlign)

Sottano’s cabernet sauvignon exhibits less of an oak influence or exaggeration, especially not a hinderance or a matter of make up. Smells like cabernet sauvignon with loads of ribena and black currant on top of each other and then the oak really takes over. Half of the grapes are estate and the other half Altamira in Uco Valley. Not so much a terroir investigation as it is a thing of Mendozan assemblage. It’s far from elegant but it is creamy smooth and velvety, if not the best wine thus far in the portfolio. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  bodegasottano  @bodegasottano  @bodega.sottano

Dessert at Decero

Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon Signature 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (260919, $19.95, WineAlign)

From a wet year but locales with good exposure and drainage fared quite well. Regardless here is a rich, grippy and powerful cabernet sauvignon (with five per cent franc), of high natural acidity and cumulative depth. The parcels are Uco Valley and Los Arboles just below Gaultallary. Chocolate is cut by a rocky streak from fruit grown over a dry river bed with stones, quite the opposite from Agrelo. It’s a veritable expression of a unique set of alluvial and stony soils. Excellent work to bring out a sense of place. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  susanabalbowines  profilewinegroup  @sbalbowines  @ProfileWineGrp  @SusanaBalboWines  Susana Balbo  @ProfileWineGroup

With Soledad Juncosa, WOFA

Sophenia Cabernet Sauvignon Synthesis 2014, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A wine made by Julia Hulupczok and Matiás Michelini. From a wild vineyard upwards of 1,300m where ripening is a challenge and tannins can be formidable. There’s a greenness to be sure and yet also a subtle grace about it. A different structure, impossibly dichotic and surely one you would not have found in Argentina just 10 years ago. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted November 2018  fincasophenia  @FincaSophenia  @Juliahilux  @FincaSopheniaWines  Julia Halupczok

Viña Cobos Bramare Cabernet Sauvignon Marchiori Estate 2015Perdriel, Luján de Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $119.00, WineAlign)

At 1,000m few other cabernet wines out of Valle de Uco will deliver such concentration and polish. It’s also huge in acidity, grippy tannin and overall structure. Almost two-thirds new oak is used and the fortunate thing is really the highest quality fruit able to withstand this woody onslaught. Deep soils work hard for vines less than 25 years old, the upper strata built of clay-loam to sandy-loam and the substrata of river-washed cobbles and round stones. It was an early ripening vintage with harvest temperatures above the historical record. Not surprising to receive such a massive, not so much brooding but more like a swagger of attitude in a cabernet that can go the distance. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  vina.cobos  awsmwest  @VinaCobos  @AuthenticWineON  @vinacobos  @awsmon

Lunch, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

In addition to a more “generalized” cabernet sauvignon, which is so odd to say when you consider the extreme altitude as its source, nevertheless this is the other one from El Esteco and Peñaflor. A single-vineyard draw from an “Alturas” block at 1,700m in the Valles Calchaquíes from winemaker Alejandro Pepa, the lowest of yields, off of deep loamy and sandy soil. Very tart, tight, taut, almost reductive, peppery and really herbal cabernet sauvignon. A true mildly sweet liqueur bitters red, of dark fruit and iodine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Finca El Origen Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (128991, $15.95, WineAlign)

Grapes are taken from La Esperanza in Vista Flores at 1,200m. Very spicy cabernet sauvignon, with some verdant pyrazine and also high toned, smoky bites and lots of chocolate. Very different winemaking style and from notable pH into edgy, volatile acidity with some dried fruit, raisin character. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincaelorigen  chartonhobbs  @Fincaelorigen  @ChartonHobbs  @fincaelorigen  Charton Hobbs Canada

snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir Series Editíon Limitada Finca Laborde 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

At nearly 1,000m and a very high-toned cabernet with grippy acidity and still raging tannins. The 18 months in barrel will take at least three times that amount to integrate, settle and slip into a balanced state of grace. So I’d look to 2020 or so before imagining that transformation to have really begun. Chocolate is all over the finish, in fact it begins deep in the recesses of the mid palate. Drink 2020-2027.   Tasted November 2018  trapichewines  trapichearg  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines  @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand  

Juan E. Marcó CEO, Finca Decero

Finca Decero Cabernet Sauvignon Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (195677, $23.99, WineAlign)

Deep fruit meets savour and takes the time to enjoy a cup of coffee. In cabernet sauvignon you get a sense of the barrel but also the shrubs that grew here before the vineyard was planted. It’s a very transparent varietal wine that acts like a window to the terroir. A bit chewy and yet also soft for a very pleasant mouthfeel. Perfectly lengthy in the grown at altitude varietal way. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Marilyn Demandre, DiamAndes

Bodega DiamAndes de Uco Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Harvested on April 22nd. A gone for it style of cabernet sauvignon in 30 per cent new French oak for 12 months, fully purposed alcohol and ripeness at the threshold of the Andes’ foothills. Big wine, full malo, extracted and concentrated. This is cabernet sauvignon for real, in the big league, time and place. It could only be Valle de Uco. Truly. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

With Yann Janvier, El Esteco

Bodega El Esteco Finca Notables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The pyrazine factor runs high though in red bell pepper as opposed to green and the sweet fruit is very cherry, tangy, tart and in hard candy form. The closest comparison would be Australian, namely Langhorne Creek or Adelaide Hills, with a bit of Coonawarra in its rosa feel. Deeply savoury. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

From the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged in both French and American barrels. It’s a polished and highly correct cabernet from the most arid of world climates, where at up to 2,000m solar radiation is the real deal. Ripe, savoury and adjustable in every way. The savoury verdancy is the complexity that raises the bar for this particular varietal wine. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (164764, $18.95, WineAlign)

Like the cabernet franc the treatment is a stainless ferment followed by a three-quarter aging in older (two and three year-old barrels) plus one-quarter kept in steel. Luján de Cuyo and Ugarteche are the sources for this reductive, hematic and highly savoury cabernet sauvignon. There’s a depth in its character and an ability of mildly if notably structured tannins. Trades the sister franc’s freshness for grip. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Paul Madden

Navarro Correas Alegoría Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

From Agrelo’s rising flats in the 900m range and a true varietal wine of Cassis and Ribena with plenty of brushy savour. Plenty of spice, tobacco smoulder and freshly ground peppery jolts from a winemaker who really likes wood and knows how to use it. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

La Mascota Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Cruz De Piedra, Mendoza, Argentina (292110, $15.50, WineAlign)

From Maipú a cabernet notched into stainless steel followed by 50-50 French and American wood of second and third passage. Delicate red fruit is treated to a shift towards reduction, of graphite and vanilla, spice and red liquorice. Sweetly fruity and silky smooth. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Sophenia Estate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Transparently varietal wine and yet just like the malbec; 100 per cent estate vines in Gualtallary, sweet red fruit, gerenous and gracious. The conclusion quickly ascertained is of a winemaker asking for the terroir to be given its due. This 1,200m place talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s lightning struck red fruit, tart, with currants and a liquid chalky feel. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Other Reds and Blends

Familia Schroeder Saurus Select Pinot Noir 2017, Patagonia, Argentina (55442, $23.95, WineAlign)

Sauras makes reference to fossilized dinosaur bones found at the winery right at the surface of the Patagonian terroir. Schroeder’s is effusive pinot noir with a cured salumi character, from a dry and windy place where rainfall is curiously scarce. It has that lack of watering, needing to struggle personality. There is a lovely bit of dusty volatility and an acidity-tension pull. Sweet red fruit, indicative of strawberry and a maritime moment of ripeness make for a perfect entry into the regional ideal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bodega Atamisque Serbal Pinot Noir 2018, Tupungato, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Simply stated pinot noir of strawberry red fruit, a fluff of spice and ultimately easy to comprehend. Highly drinkable stuff that speaks a varietal language with obviousness and without complication. Nothing more needs top be said. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Finca Decero Syrah Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

Remolinos Vineyard is the place of the “tiny whirlwinds,” grown on bare land where only wild shrubs grew. At 3,500 feet (1,050 meters) it is Agrelo’s highest plateau and its syrah is round, full and welling with some iodine and a hematoma of dark fruit. Soft actually with a proper balance in acidity and unaggressive tannins. An absence of meaty, charred or cured character is noted. Quite a pure expression of the vineyard, in a Hobbsian style, at least in terms of syrah. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  fincadecero  liffordgram  @FincaDecero  @LiffordON  Finca Decero  Lifford Wine and Spirits

Yann Janvier

Finca Decero Petit Verdot Mini Ediciones Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $44.99, WineAlign)

The fruit is different here, almost tropical and certainly developed. Plum, pomegranate, apricot and quince, even persimmon, hung to dry and allowed to turn intensely fruity-tangy-leathery with time. Great acidity, big time grip and lots of forward thinking purpose. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tourists in BA, with Paul Madden and Marilyn Demandre

Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Clasica 2018, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Vines are grown in the Pergola method to protect the vulnerable bonarda from direct sunlight. Organic (though label certification will begin on the 2019 label). Early ripening and in fact was picked on February 23rd for a deeply rendered and pitchy red with briny acidity and subtle, if fine and supple tannin. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Finca Decero Amano Remolinos Vineyard 2014, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (270975, $79.99, WineAlign)

The top wine of the estate, the great blend driven by malbec (approx. 66 per cent), with (25) cabernet savignon and smaller percentages of petit verdot and tannat. Lots of clonal material from B1 and B2 malbec blocks in one of the biggest, broadest and most hematic wines around. Smooth, polished and clearly the hedonistic one of the line-up. For the owner, the owner’s cronies and every restaurant list that sells iconic, big bottles. Big, bold flavours as king of the hill at the top of the heap. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Bodegas Sottano Reserva Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

“The influence of oak is meritorious,” it is said at the tasting table, in this case 12 months in new and second use barrels, plus several months more in bottle before release. All three oaks are employed; 60-70 per cent French plus American and Hungarian. Includes up to 20 per cent cabernet sauvignon and franc. Also contains malbec from Vista Flores. The aromas are violets, all berries, bitters and simple syrup. Polished and built as a liqueur of a red blend that solves the business equation of supply and demand, in fads and through trends, for what the average consumer is out to buy. A go large red for big box upscale restos, i.e. Milestones and Keg. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Pablo Cúneo, Head Winemaker, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca La Linda Private Selection Smart Blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Tannat 2016, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

This Private Selection blend is deeply rendered, hematic with unaggressive pyrazine and pepper purée, so much pepper in every shade and crunchiness. Black fruit everywhere with capsicum bite. Smoky again and the tannat shrinks away in no way at all. Grippy tannins and in the end, a variegated amaro meets roasted bell pepper liqueur. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018

With Gabriela Millan, Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Gala 2 DOC, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (542647, $36.95, WineAlign)

A Bordeaux blend of two cabernets and merlot, a wine that was first made in 2001. From Vistalba Carodilla y Las Compuertas in Luján de Cuyo. There is a wild berry and peppery aspect, as Bosca wines are always want to be and do. Bountiful and hedonistic but in a very different way than the old vines malbec, now more liqueur and satin texture, with caressing tannins at the iron hand wearing a velvet glove. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet-Bouschet “Field Blend” 2013Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

A field blend that combines cabernet sauvignon with bouschet which is considered an ancient clone of cabernet franc. The smokiness and spice are now joined by a Dry Creek Valley like dried fruit and bramble character. It’s so rich and the oak is really felt. Needs time though it will go umami-oxidative before these fine but demanding tannins fully settle in. It remains to be seen if that perfect optimum balancing point is really possible but it would be so much fun to wait one out and try. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Beef Tenderloin at Luigi Bosca

Luigi Bosca Icono 2011, Las Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The blend is malbec (57 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon, in push-pull, touch and go, ying and yang, fraternal twin relationship struggle. The most liqueur, fructose-pectin personality is how this rolls with texture and viscosity. Once again here is the Bosca peppery character and with more structure meets age probability than any wine in the portfolio. With two years further (than the Field Blend) it is beginning to show its settling but there are at least three more to go before the window will really be open. Will travel in to balsamic and other savoury-umami notes when it does. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Flank Steak, Domaine Bousquet

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red Blend Vino Orgánico 2017, Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

The earth is a malbec (50 per cent), syrah (45) and cabernet sauvignon blend. The syrah brings pepper, clove and further edgy baking spice to the red-black fruit malbec. Quite concentrated and while the wood is not over the top it is tipping a bit ahead of all else in a wine trying hard in striving for balance. Juicy and hot at the same time, with high pH and just enough acidity to make it work well with anything pulled from the grill. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  

DiamAndes Gran Reserve Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (295063, $32.95, WineAlign)

The signature red of the estate this is three quarters malbec to one quarter cabernet sauvignon set for 18 months in 100 per cent French oak, 50 per cent new. To say this is lush and ambitious would be an understatement but there is no questioning the quality of the agriculture, the fruit and the use of deep pockets technology. There is also humility within this classic modernism though not yet a true indication of soul. The fineness and the precision are so apparent which leads to believe that the human element noted will mean the epiphanies are coming soon. So much potential to become one of Argentina’s great red blends. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Quebrada de las Conchas

Amalaya Gran Corte 2016, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Malbec is blended with cabernet franc for a most concentrated red of high solar intersection and arid climate where latitude brings ripeness and altitude brings balance. This is the more raisin and dried fruit red in the portfolio. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Pork Steak, Restaurante El Rancho, Cafayate

Colomé Lote Especial Tannat 2016, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (575308, $28.95, WineAlign)

As noted in the last vintage tannat is the Calchaquí Valley unicorn. What Colomé seeks is something different and on its own tannat acts with deeper rock salt intent. It’s such a concentrated and severely tannic wine, even more so than in 2015. And that is its trump card and speciality. Needs five years to play nice. Drink 2022-2027.  Tasted November 2018

El Esteco

El Esteco Merlot Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Also from the same 1,700m of altitude in the Calchaquí Valley here merlot takes on the land and arid climate with tomato leaf and red pepper purée. Also quite briny in a southern French, overlooking the Mediterranean way. Quite evolved and a bit oxidative though with high acidity. Unique and ulterior look at merlot. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Lunch at El Esteco

El Esteco Tannat Fincas Notables 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Then there is the tannat effect, tannic effect and the way in which this winery has figured it out. High temperatures, sunshine and altitude can lead this varietal to great heights provided the farming is done right. The freshness is miraculously preserved and though the spice and the tannins are off the charts there is some early noted blackberry and white chocolate grace to its character. These parts will help it stay palatable through its evolutionary processes. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted November 2018

Under the Criolla, El Esteco, Cafayate

El Esteco Altimus Icon Wine 2015, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Altimus “the highest” is a matter of both altitude and the best selection of a harvest’s grapes. Malbec always leads with cabernet sauvignon in support though the other constituents may come from a myriad of other varieties, including and in no particular order cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot, syrah, tannat and bonarda. Meticulous is the operative word for Altimus, the rolled into one icon, flagship and signature wine of the estate, a Salta blend that speaks to heights, solar radiated intensity and the hand to voice experience of winemaker Alejandro Pepa. Ripe, polished and ultimately no expense spared. Argentina’s other hedonism expressed, apposite to Mendoza in every respect, untamed, without reins and unlimited in potential. The pace may need to change but the power here will simply not be denied, like love lying bleeding in hand. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers Wine Experience, Cafayate

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Malbec/Tannat 2017, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Equal parts malbec and tannat from the high altitude vineyards in Cafayate aged for six months in both French and American barrels. The oak takes no time to announce its presence and the fruit is bold, firm, strong and solid as the granite rock beneath its vines. Big bones and components, of pH, in alcohol, some glycerin and all the necessary adjustments. Strong but fine-grain tannins make for a long finish. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Piattelli Vineyards

Piattelli Vineyards Arlene Series Blend 2016, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

The flagship wine of the estate and named in honour or proprietor John Malinski’s wife, the blend is dominated by malbec (70 per cent), accentuated by (20) cabernet franc and (10) cabernet sauvignon. It’s both ambitious and scarce, spending 18 months in French and American oaks after some concrete egg fermentation. It’s the best of the best, hand picked berry by berry, painstakingly so by a team of daybreak to dusk workers. Again the dials are set on high, with generous pectic-glycerin and generous acidity. Napa Valley in a Chuck Wagner vein is the ideal but the profile couldn’t be further from that proprietor’s blend  truth. Only 560 cases were produced of this flashy malbec blend with its skin pulled taut and mid-section laced tighter than an impenetrable corset. Plastic surgery in a bottle. Drink 2020-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Tupungato

Susana Balbo Brioso 2016, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

Brioso might mean enérgico or spirited and this ideal is magnified by “what you can do in a difficult vintage.” Estate single vineyards bring cabernet sauvignon (53 per cent), cabernet franc (24), malbec (16) and petit verdot (13) together for a serious blend. It’s not the round and velvety vintage but rather one so linear, vertical, direct and grippy. Big and structured though quite in balance. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted November 2018

Caminito

Navarro Correas Juan De Dios Gran Vino De Corte 2013, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

An ode to a pioneer whose work dates back to the year 1798, when Juan de Dios Correas planted the first vines in the land of Mendoza. This is the estate’s icon/flaghship wine, blending cabernet sauvignon (82 per cent) with malbec and lending a woodworker’s hand for 18 months in barrel. Spice runs linear and long, flavours stretch elastic and acidity points the fruit towards a far away horizon. With low pH and moderately generous alcohol this is a wine from which the winemaker (Gaspar Roby) needs to have paid great attention ion the vineyard. And he does, that much is clear, as witnessed by pitch perfect ripeness. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018

Mark Bradbury – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Viña Cobos Cocodrilo Corte 2016Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This Paul Hobbs Mendoza foray began in 1999 and the crocodile is a cabernet sauvignon based blend (76 per cent) from estates and vineyards in Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco. The former terroir is fed by the snow-melt of the Andes through the Mendoza River at altitudes ranging from 945-1,100m. The latter’s soils are alluvial, with a subsoil of clay, sand, silt and rock. The supporting varieties are malbec (10 per cent), merlot (nine) plus bits of petit verdot and cabernet franc. Cocodrilo is all Cassis, rich and concentrated, meant to showcase place, grape and the great possibility/potential of the relationship. As the kingpin in a proprietary blend the cabernet brings blunt smoky and spicy accents, with black currants running through. Meet the new big boss blend, same as the old boss, won’t get fooled again. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018

Bad Brothers, Cafayate

Fincas Las Moras Paz Malbec 2016, San Juan, Argentina (520486, $18.95, WineAlign)

Paz is a 50-50 two cabernets joint from Tulum in San Juan at 650m. A multitude of peppers abounds, red fresh and dried mixed with red berry fruit. Savoury, rich and cool, nearly interchangeable with a similar style on the other side of the Andes. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018 and March 2019  fincalasmoras  univinsetspiritueux  @FincaLasMoras  @UNIVINS  @fincalasmoraswineryCA  

Alexander Raphael in Tupungato

Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2014, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (466938, $29.95, WineAlign)

The unanimous winemaking decisions about beguiling fruit drawn off Uco Valley sites makes this malbec (60 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (25) and cabernet franc (15) blend a big and generous proposition. That and the heavy times spent in oak for twenty months add up to some serious girth, grip and density. I can’t see this thick and lush concoction moving even an inch in the next few years and it may need seven or more to begin its earliest settling period. Dramatic foreshadowing at its best makes us think there will be interesting times ahead. Drink 2021-2027. Tasted October and November 2018

Outdoor Tasting, Domaine Bousquet

Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2015, San Raphael, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

In San Raphael (and including Las Paredes) off of soils of sandy loam and a 50-50 varietal split. Hematic and ferric at the same time, of tar and ripe cherries. Again the extractive factor is not shy, nor is the resulting concentration. Finishes full and downy, with weight and warmth. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted November 2018

Yann Janvier and Godello – snap (c) @marylinedemandre

Andeluna Pasionado Quatro Cepas 2015, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $59.99, WineAlign)

The four-poster blend from Gualtallary is led by malbec with support by cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It’s a big wine filled with extractive liqueur, generously oaked in both French and American wood. Acidity keeps it humming even while it smokes in its cooking ways. Polished and elevated by altitude-driven freshness to mitigate the concentrated fruit and spice welling away in syrupy constitution. While formidable now it will soften and turn into something velvety smooth and rich in chocolate. As for now you’d better locate some salty protein and a decanter. Drink 2020-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Andes, DiamAndes

Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Malbec Corvina 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (620880, $14.95, WineAlign)

Malbec (85 per cent) plus appassimento augmented corvina spent nine months in French oak. So the question begs, why the methodology and Tupungato? The first answer is easy. Masi. The second is about mountains and weather, the Andes and dry heat. The best substitute for Veronese hills are here in the Uco Valley and the result in 2016 (a cool and wet year) means more savour than raisin and more freshness than aridity. If warmer vintages were carefully crafted to mimic 2016 it would all be smooth sailing. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Clos de Los Siete

Clos De Los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

Three years further and the skies have now opened to retrospectively reveal a fresher vintage. There is a transference now into some dried fruit with sour edging but spoken with that renewed sense of freshness. The ’13 blend is 53/23/12/8/4 for malbec, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Th elevation of vineyards with their Andean backdrop is noted bow, if not before and so proof that the Clos is a wine of structure and needed patience. Five years is now the harbinger, 10 the ultimate goal.  Last tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Big and bigger, as always, wholly ripe, rich and raging with acidity. Yet somehow the Clos de los Siete finds a way to charm its way through the dark forest and into hearts. Flavour abounds, firmness rules and the finish lasts. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2016

Good to go!

godello

Where there’s smoke there’s Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Sparkling Cape Wine crawl through Méthode Cap Classique

Charcuterie and cheese with Méthode Cap Classique at Gondwana Family Lodge

At the present time there are three, count ’em, three Méthode Cap Classique available in the LCBO and/or VINTAGES stores. Three. For and from one of the world’s most complex/best value bubbles and from a country where exceedingly high levels are coming into focus due to research, trials, experimentation and just plain passion for making traditional method sparkling wines. This Ontario situation my dear readers, is a travesty.

My return engagement with South Africa for a tour included a three-day tasting marathon at Cape Wine 2018 and I’ve since published articles on the whole experience plus more intensive looks at regional associations (Bot Rivier), varietal explorations (Pinotage) and producer portfolios (Rall and Alheit). It’s time to expand upon an important and fast growing category: Méthode Cap Classique.

Related – Searching for great heart in South Africa

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 now age on the lees for a minimum twelve 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.”

In Champagne the annual production is somewhere in the vicinity of 350 million bottles so compare this to South Africa where a fraction of that amount is released to the tune of seven or eight million Méthode Cap Classique bottles made by 100-odd producers, 73 of which are listed on the website for the Cap Classique Producers Association (CCPA), an organization established in 1992. The name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced at the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle).

Grapes are selected from a diversity of regions in the Cape with only specific white and red grape varieties considered worthy “to ensure delicate fruit and rich complexity.” In this report I’ve tasted and reported on MCCs from Robertson, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Bot Rivier, Paarl, Prieska Noord Kaap and the Western Cape. This diverse regional cross-section of Cap Classique sparkling wine shows just how malleable and functional the range of styles are adaptable to many different South African growing areas.

Whole bunch pressing is at the heart of the winemaking process, with only the first pressing used to make the various base wines destined to be called Cap Classique. Individual base wines and blends are tasted annually by the Association’s own members to ensure that the final wine is of a high quality. A minimum of twelve months is required under the rules of the road and indeed there are members who ensure much longer yeast contact time, depending on the style and vintage.

On my first morning at Cape Wine in September 2018, my wine-négoce partner Scott Zebarth and I made a conscious decision to walk the congress floor and taste as many examples of MCC as we could before the lunch bell struck. Zebarth was duly impressed with Le Lude’s Cuvée Agrafé, Charles Fox Prestige Cuvée Cipher and Graham Beck’s Brut Rosé. Said Scott, “let’s do this.” And do this we did, to the effect of a sparkling wine crawl across Cape Wine that took us through 23 examples of MCC made by 14 producers. These are my notes on the wines.

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

Boschendal Grand Cuvée Brut 2013 Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

Time always delivers for Boschendal’s pinot noir and chardonnay split from fruit ripeness out of Stellenbosch with some specific vintage help by the Elgin Valley. Disgorged a while back in 2018, the Grand Cuvée has had its bottle settling after having made the most of 36 months on lees. Dosage is elevated in this styling and worthy of the distinction when you consider the richness, nuttiness and toasty sensations. Plenty of citrus and looking for crudo, bivalves or scallops. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  boschendal  boschendalwines  liffordgram  @BoschendalWines  @LiffordON @boschendal  @liffordwineandspirits

Bocca, Cape Town

De Grendel Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2015, Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

De Grendel’s is a straightforward, creamy, highly pleasurable and vouchsafed Méthode Cap Classique of low pH and equanimity in residual sugar meeting total acidity. In fact it’s assemblage is done with such precision that it is in fact acidity that strikes its parts as being very pronounced. Mouth-watering with persistent mousse and length. Nothing particularly shocking or complex mind you, but certainly serviceable for all basic needs. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  degrendelwines  churchillcellars  @degrendelwines  @imbibersreport  @degrendelwines  Churchill Cellars Ltd.

De Wetshof Méthode Cap Classique 2009, WO Robertson, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

As rich as it gets for the category, made by Pieter de Wet from estate chardonnay off of limestone Robertson soils.The low pH, generous yet proper dosage and high acidity all add up to a distinct, herbal and fine pettilant MCC of great distraction, complexity and at this stage, near-complete evolution. Plenty of citrus comes in every possible way. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  dewetshofwines  @DeWetshofWines  @dewetshofwines

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  

Genevieve Brut Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Bot Rivier, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

From proprietor Melissa Genevieve Nelsen this chardonnay spent four years on the lees and is what she calls “my soldier, it stands up right, expresses itself very cleanly.” Tasted two years after she gave us that assessment of the vintage it’s now even more Cap Classique than ever, feathery oxidative, gingery and toasty. It’s classic really and perched on the richer end of the spectrum, evolving with some haste and more than ready to go. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018

Graham Beck wines and a rare moment when Pieter Ferreira isn’t smiling

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique NV, WO Western Cape, South Africa (175588, $19.95, WineAlign)

The ripeness is expressly up front in Beck’s 50-50 pinot noir-chardonnay joint and we’d all be hard-pressed to find its MCC equal in terms of focus, integrated and polished. Drink 2018-2021.  Last tasted September 2018

An ode and an adherence to the magic of Cap Classique style, always with that sage feeling of evolution in age. Made pretty with its skin pink depth though I must admit to nosing and tasting the inimitable South African soil. Still, it is clearly and decisively Pinot Noir that floats the boat and rights the ship. This has noirs in its psyche and the Western Cape in its soul. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted January 2016

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

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 Peter 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

Graham Beck Premier Cuvée Brut Blanc de Blanc 2013, Méthode Cap Classique, Robertson, South Africa (907568, $26.95, WineAlign)

Beck’s Roberston chardonnay is just one of those wines that settles seamlessly into that beautifully integrated dyadic realm where mousse persistence, acidity and texture meet at the vertices of balance and blessed. Always that minor hint of reductive lemon pith and toasted almond. Persistent and consistently fine, affordable and celebratory worthy bubbles. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

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

Jacaranda Wine Estate “Q” Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Jacaranda is on it’s way towards establishing itself as one of the Western Cape’s Méthode Cap Classique specialists and this new cuvée is called “Q” for quality. The organic estate invests heavily in their agriculture and this just disgorged specimen saw 24 months on lees and a base wine in oak for a few months. It’s 100 per cent chenin blanc, from old vines in 80, 60 and 40 year-old blocks. They work with low sulphur and in spite of the minimal interventionist and risk-taking program this is quite toasty bubbles, yet also rich, creamy and palate swarming. Lingers as one does, long and properly, leaving you with a feeling of it being just lovely. Surely the beginning of a great relationship all around. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  jacaranda_wine  @jacarandawines

Jacaranda Wine Estate Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Wellington, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Reserve is actually a Blanc de Blancs, from 100 per cent chardonnay with higher elevations of sugar (11 g/L rS) and conversely acidity. It comes across dried than it is with richness in posit tug by citrus and cream, like lemon curd with a toasty edge. Once again an MCC of good persistence and length and will develop an extra layer of oxidative complexity at three years of age. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Lanzerac Wine Estate Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique, WO Stellenbosch, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

A most traditional Cape sparkling wine with aromas of yellow citrus, wet concrete and cold rooms with hanging and curing meats. It’s on the oxidative MCC side though acidity brings tension and balance. As a chardonnay bubble it does what is asked of it and treads well top age a few years. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  lanzeracwineestate  @LanzeracWines @LanzeracWineEstate

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

Le Lude Vintage Brut Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The Brut Rosé is a chardonnay and pinot noir split of 5.5 g/L dosage, just slightly drier than the MCC Reserve Brut. It’s beautifully pale, pure, fresh and regaling in high acidity. All about nervousness which is so engaging for pink fizz, pulling finesse and pushing tension. Raspberry and currants are fruit indicators for amazing work in Rosé MCC. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2018  leludemcc  @LeLudeMCC  @LeLudeMCC

Paul Gerber – Le Lude

Le Lude Vintage Brut Reserve Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

The blend is with pinot noir but in this sister cuvée to the Brut Rosé it’s really about what chardonnay is going to bring to the MCC table. The dosage is just slightly higher than the Rosé, here at 6.5 g/L and 24 months on its lees. Here the shift is towards more richness, almost counterintuitive when you think about blanc vs. rose but Paul Gerber is on to something big. There is a plum compote luxe note stirred into the citrus and so both ends of the fruit spectrum are involved and incredible. “You must taste the sun in the fruit,” insists Gerber, sparkling wine or not and so with verve, intensity and balance this travels to terrific and back. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

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

Le Lude Reserve Agrafé Tirage Liége Méthode Cap Classique 2012, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Agrafé translates literally as “staple,” from the French term and how a metal clip or clasp is used to secure the cork in a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. Le Lude’s Tirage Liége, or “cork draw” is packaged as such and is a blend of 54 per cent chardonnay with pinot noir. It undergoes traditional cork fermentation and maturation on (premium) cork 36 months. The methodology takes this beyond intensity and into texture with creamy preserved lemon mousse persistence. As a whole it strikes as riper in ode to vintage and almost into something akin with Limoncello. Though it’s a most complex specimen of sparkling wine you might almost forget its highly accomplished nature and simply drink it up. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted September 2018

Le Lude Brut Méthode Cap Classique 2013, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Recently disgorged and not yet labelled but actually goes back two years further in terms of lees aging than the 2012. Expressive of riper fruit and the effect of the vintage skins. Still the creamy mousse and texture in great persistence though not as much tension. Both oxidative and reductive in the MCC way, from fruit pulled off of various blocks and picked at various times. Real attention to detail and towards crafting an estate signature style from a specific vintage. Fleshes without any need for real dosage by finding its way from ripeness forward. Lime is the dominant flavour and balance is struck by masterful blending. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Lowerland Brut Méthode Cap Classique, WO Prieska Noord Kaap, Orange River, South Africa (WineryWineAlign)

Lowerland is the small if far northern outpost work from Bertie Coetzee and Alette de Beer in Orange River, Prieska Noord Kaap. Time to re-adjust the set, for South Africa and Méthode Cap Classique and approach the game with eyes, nose, ears and palate wine open. Take a trip 1000 kms north of Cape Town to discover fields 1000m above sea level, where the summers are hot and winters see temperatures of -10 celsius. Now take this first estate kick at the MCC can, of 11 months on lees for fruit grown on the warmest spot. Carries an uncanny nose of orange creamsicle mixed with lemon pith, turning over to more things completely other. So persistent in aromas and bubble, with extraordinary acids and a healthy dosage in search of and gaining balance. Shows off a deft and gentle touch with capable grip. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018 bioboertie  vanloggerenbergwines  alette.waterboer  lowerland_wines  @CoetzeeBertie  @AletteWaterboer  Bertie Coetzee  @LowerlandFarm  Alette De Beer

Môreson Solitaire Blanc De Blancs Méthode Cap Classique, WO Franschhoek, South Africa (Winery, WineAlign)

Solitaire is an estate-grown, clonal driven chardonnay in blanc de blanc dress. It’s both Franschhoek notable with its earthy soil construct but also “C455” clonal from an estate with a deep-rooted drive to advocate for this type of work for Méthode Cap Classique. It’s mainly fruit drawn from the 2016 vintage and while the house looks for consistency the vintage plays a dramatic role in terms of the social grace, aspect and communication. Saw some malolactic fermentation as well as some large format older oak, to bring some clarity out of the realm of authentic reductiveness. Normally sees 18-24 months on yeasts and this one was disgorged as far back as March 2018. The bottle time is a positive thing for an MCC with some anxiety and what the house might call a penchant to get “frazzled.” Can’t help but recall Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die, the psychic in the employ of Dr. Kananga. Might as well use this MCC for the Bond moments in your life. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  moresonwinefarm @moreson  @moreson

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

Good to go!

Godello

Charcuterie and cheese with Méthode Cap Classique at Gondwana Family Lodge

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

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