Carpineta Fontalpino: In a cru direction

Montaperti, Carpineta Fontalpino, Castelnuovo Berardenga

Gioia e Filippo Cresti have embarked upon a new Castelnuovo Berardenga project, moving towards a cru system to define their sangiovese and their Chianti Classico. Truly, entirely and for essential reason. Montaperto, Fontalpino, Dofana. This organic vineyard is a micro-terroir, an idyllic knoll in the territory that just seems suspended inside an invisible demure, like the estate is hidden safe and secure inside a bubble. Time stops and stands still in this place and it’s hard to describe. What is not difficult to render is the passion and the confidence of Gioia and Filippo, two Chianti Classico souls who simply inuit what they must do.

Related – Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream

Filippo e Gioia Cresti

“Lo strazio e il grande scempio che fece l’Arbia colorata in rosso”

Carpineta Fontalpino, due east from Siena, separated by the river Arbia. Carpineta, from “Hornbeams,” hardwood trees in the flowering plant genus Carpinus in the birch family BetulaceaeFontalpino, of the pine, Montaperti. At Carpineta Fontalpino the battlefield was the theatre of the mythical battle between Siena and Florence on September 4, 1260, where the Sienese who, with pride, still today recall the victory over his rival Florence. History also shows that it was remembered by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy. “The agony and the great slaughter that made the Arbia colored in red.”

Fresh harvested truffles at Carpineta Fontalpino ~ #ohmy #meraviglioso

We had a quick, efficient and epiphanic tasting at Fontalpino. In the end we understood the focus, clarity and the direction, into cru, because it has to be. More and more you will begin to see this frazioni within frazioni in the territory, of menzione geografica, to mention and to exult the places within the places within the larger framework of the region.

The cru designations are not so much a replacing of the Annata, Riserva and Gran Selezione hierarchy as much as they are a reinventing or a restructuring of the pyramid. Or perhaps a deconstructing. In the end the wines speak for themselves and these are the seven tasted with an important emphasis on not just comparing but also contrasting 2015 and 2016.

In a cru direction ~ the Cresti single frazioni focus @carpinetafontalpino ~ finesse and fineness for @chianticlassico ~ grazie Gioia e Filippo ~ #fontalpino #montaperto #dofana

Carpineta Fontalpino

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (275859, $24.95, WineAlign)

From Castelnuovo Berardenga in the hands of Filippo and Gioia Cresti. Their new direction is moving towards a cru project, truly and entirely. The Fontalpino Annata is sangiovese of the broadest expression and it’s a very fully rendered red fruit. So much promised, especially from 2015 and so much delivered. The wisdom and the understanding are wholly realized, recognized and welcomed. Sets us up for the cru 15s and 16s to come. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted November 2018  carpinetafontalpino  gioiacresti  filippocresti  grape_brands    @CarpinetaFontalpino  Gioia Cresti  Filippo Cresti  

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy (275859, $24.95, WineAlign)

This Fontalpino is the best of both worlds Chianti Classico for the estate and here it comes smiling along with the biggest vintage breath of sigh, calm and release. It’s a bigger wine than ’15, felt in part that way because of its youth. Still the generosity and the confidence but certainly the wisdom. This broad estate expression is meant to be consumed early and as far as looking for early drinking Annata pleasure is concerned, Gioia and Filippo Cresti’s 2016 is one to make as much use of as is humanly possible. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted November 2018

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG Montaperto 2015, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The cru that is Montaperto is higher in elevation and marked by a fit of pure Galestro on the edgy limestone side of soil. And so it’s a lightning red fruit red, of a style that is both place and grace. There is a certain way of it being so effusive and in its own way elegant. The finessed one of the three cru in an obvious display of itself. Pure, pretty and delicate. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG Montaperto 2016, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

In Montaperto the finessed one you will note with great immediacy that 2016 is a perfectly ripened vintage, both for sweet fruit and more so from specialized cru-heady phenolics. All might be for naught were it not accompanied by the finest up reach in acidity. Here sangiovese is preached with utmost structure and ability. The accomplishment attains a level of clarity and transparency despite or perhaps in spite of the tactile habituation and architectural conditioning in its bones. Conclusion? Just gorgeous sangiovese juice of pure limestone expression. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted November 2018

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG Dofana 2015, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

Comes from a combination of many soils; limestone, clay and tufo. There is a prevalence of all the Chianti Classico stones; Galestro and Alberese but it’s just the greatest confluence that makes for their grippiest sangiovese. And that said it’s magically delicate. The red berries darken but only because the framework of organized Castelnuovo design insists on taking the fruit deeper, into the fabric of the earth and it speaks to one word; cru. Such a structured sangiovese. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted November 2018

Fontalpino Chianti Classico DOCG Dofana 2016, Tuscany, Italy (AgentWineAlign)

The variegation of soils; sand, clay, stone and tuff will have great effect on any sangiovese but see what delivers when you pull grapes from the Dofana cru and out of 2016. It’s a confluence of everything that matters, for tradition, land and the people who make the wine. The fruit is here right from the start and although the tannins are strong and sharp they are so refined and come equipped with fruit made available from the very beginning. Really direct sangiovese. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted November 2018

Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino Do Ut Des 2013, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

What “do they give” from this one-third each combination of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot? As compared to the DOCG sangiovese there is more height, aerified nature and just plain attitude to the IGT. Sources are various vineyards around the estate which sit on the border between Chianti Classico and the Chianti Colli Senesi. In subsequent vintages the sangiovese will be dropped and replaced by petit verdot. Partly because it’s too important to take it away from the cru CCs but also because this IGT is and needs to be separated. It’s just different, darker, more of a liqueur, with less finesse and more ferric depth. The answer? “”I give and give.” Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018

Good to go!

Godello

Montaperti, Carpineta Fontalpino, Castelnuovo Berardenga

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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A perfect day in Chianti Classico

Casavecchia alla Piazza, Castellina in Chianti

Spending quality time at Buondonno, Villa Pomona and Villa di Geggiano

Back in September 2018 I spent a pitch perfect day in Chianti Classico. A 15-hour stretch drawn across a triangle connecting three estates, an ideal number for one day’s work split between focus and play. The starting and ending point was Tavarnelle Val di Pesa though in between the lines were drawn transverse, moving in circularly polarized waves, to Castellina in Chianti, through Panzano, back into Castellina, down to Castelnuovo Berardenga and finally, back to Tavarnelle Val di Pesa.

Related – Chianti Classico’s Canadian dream

A perfect #chianticlassico day spent with these wonderful humans, Monica Raspi and Gabriele Buondonno ~ @fattoria_pomona #casavecchiaallapiazza

The day was one of the more important ones on the Chianti Classico calendar. The annual riding of the Granfondo del Chianti Classico takes place during the final stretches of the harvest. While it may be a roadblock and a hinderance to some it is a showcase for the territory in many positive and also exciting ways. Driving around is tricky on this day what with a few thousand eager cyclists climbing and descending the switchbacks of the many long and winding roads. Gabriele Buondonno crossed through the bike traffic to pick me up and as we arrived he showed me the lay of his hilltop Casavecchia alla Piazza in Castellina land. Some of the oldest vineyards live here and their terraces rise above the western edge of the Conca d’Oro, with the town of Panzano in the distance off to the east. We tasted through Gabriele’s wines and then set off for Villa Pomona.

Not the antithesis of #fattoamano in @chianticlassico ~ caponata, prosciutto, Annata, Riserva and … @ravinevineyard #interloper with Gabriele, Monica and Mama #fattoriapomona

The afternoon was spent with Monica Raspi, her mother Inge and husband Enrico. A lunch for the ages, all composed in the home, traditional and familial, unparalleled, comforting and memorable. A tasting of Raspi’s deeply personal Pomona wines. A walk through the heritage Fattoria, reeking of history and change. A stroll through the vineyards, rows lined with wild herbs and perhaps a whisper in the ear from Papa Enzo. All in the glow of an afternoon, of a paradisiacal September in Chianti Classico sunlight.

Sangiovese, Fattoria Pomona

One of life’s great pleasures was walking the Pomona vineyards with its passionate custodian meets Veterinarian turned winemaker. Truly. Raspi showed me the site where her “Number One” vineyard will be coming soon while we tasted soon to be picked sangiovese, assessed aspect and slope, thinking about porcini and juniper.

Monica drove me in to the outskirts of Siena where I transferred to take the next leg shotgun to Alessandro Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, destination Geggiano. Home away from home for Godello, al poggio with the towers of Siena so visible southwest in the distance, where some of the area’s finest Galestro and most specific micro-climate intertwine. Soulful retreat and Castelnuovo Berardenga BBQ with Alessandro, Mama and Andrea Boscu Bianchi Bandinelli, who I have known for 23 years.

BBQ, brothers Bianchi-Bandinelli style

Between these three exceptional estates I tasted 14 wines. My notes are here, exactly four months to the day. A perfect day in Chianti Classico.

Nothing to see here. Just an 82 year-old sangiovese bush vine growing with a Tuscan maple tree at #buondonno

Buondonno

Buondonno is a member of the Italian “Triple A” family of producers – Agricoltori-Artigiani-Artisti. “I grandi vini, i vini emozionanti, sono frutto di un lavoro agricolo ormai quasi scomparso e di una vinificazione la meno interventista possibile. Il vigneto coltivato come un orto. Il manifesto dei produttori Triple A indica i criteri di selezione fondamentali che accomunano gli ultimi superstiti che producono vini degni di essere un mito come è sempre stato nella storia dell’uomo.”

In other words, these are producers making wines through the practice of lost agricultural work and least possible interventionist winemaking. “The vineyard cultivated as a vegetable garden.” Gabriele Buondonno is one such winemaker and his vineyards stand as exemplar temples where both myth and history are kept alive. Gabriele’s daughter Marta is making her own history as a caseificio from goat’s milk, crafting capra as yet another example of the Buondonno soul.

Buondonno Rosato Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2017, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Early picked, high acidity and surprisingly good phenolic Rosato with the highest level of tang albeit within balance. Full of red citrus, lime and grapefruit. Crazy good to drink. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  #buondonno    #casavecchiaallapiazza

Buondonno Lèmme Lèmme, da Vecchie Viti Maritate 2016, Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From an old bush vine vineyard planted in 1936 to many varieties; sangiovese, canaiolo, colorino, malvasia, trebbiano and many others forgotten, misplaced and unknown. Even the older folks are not entirely sure, if they ever were, and who today still refer to them as uva di rignano. Approximately 1000 bottles are made from this place in a wine that is tart, tight, tannic and high in ancient wisdom. A true blue field blend of acidity that wraps up exceptionally wise and naturally resonant black fruit and olive tapenade. It’s the Tuscan equivalent of old field blends, especially Californians like Ridge Vineyards but like an Etruscan version of such an idea. Goes into a ceramic tank, with porosity like oak but to preserve the fruit and not hinder it with spice. Just the grapes and nothing but the grapes. Piano, piano, lèmme, lèmme. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Chianti Classico DOCG 2016Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Virtually sangiovese, perhaps a few points of canaiolo, maybe not. From what Gabriele considers a strange vintage because it’s 6.7 per cent acidity is something that hasn’t been seen in 25 years. But it’s also 15 per cent alcohol and so for this day and climate warming age, it emerges beautifully balanced. You’d never know it, the fruit standing firm upright and supremely confident. Sees time in a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, none of the vessels new. Brightest of cherries, linear direction, dry but sweet tannins. Purity of fruit is in the elite company of the territory, within the style. This will age for 20 years and become something calm, demurred and extraordinary. Drink 2020-2032.  Last tasted September 2018

Gabriele Buondonno and Valeria Sodano bought the Castellina in Chianti farm known as Casavecchia alla Piazza in 1988, a plot that clearly appeared on the maps of the “Capitani di Parte Guelfa” in 1549 and is marked as the “place of Lionardo Buonarroti,” nephew to Michelangelo. Their Chianti Classico is 90 per cent sangiovese, plus merlot and syrah from a place Michelangelo once wrote to his uncle “I would rather have two barrels of Trebbiano than eight shirts.” Clearly pulled of of a special terroir, Buondonno’s organic Annata is pretty and purposed, with fresh tart strawberry and an intensity of acidity. It’s very long, unrelenting, showing some focus above and beyond. Drink 2019-2023. Tasted  February 2018  #buondonno  #buondonno

cabernet franc comparative where you’d least expect it ~ Toscana vs Niagara ~ #buondonno vs #interloper ~ #castellina vs #niagaraonthelake ~ @ravinevineyard

Buondonno Cabernet Franc Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2016, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Planted in 1999 in the Vigna di Sotto, the lower vineyard, from Guillaume, because merlot was ordered and they also sent 400 plants of cabernet franc. First vintage was 2015, here now in number two it’s beginning to express itself, however small the batch. It really is cabernet franc, a bit verdant, spicy, more spiced really, completely unlike sangiovese but clearly from this property, in Castellina but on the far western side of the Panzano Conca d’Oro. It’s chewy, chalky (in liquid form) and tannic. Needs a few years to come together. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2015Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Sangiovese with a small amount of canaiolo, 25 days outdoors fermentation and then into a mix of botti, tonneaux and barriques, 10 per cent new. From the estate vineyards of Casavecchia, Sicelle and Sicellino. The latter planted in the 1970s with exposure to the North-East. This fruit from a cooler site will be essential to the assemblage going forward. Such an accomplished Riserva out of 2015, clearly designed to tell the Castellina-Panzano straddling story, with rich, structured fruit and a intention to travel far. Full, wise, stratified, variegated and weighty, in at 15.5 per cent. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted September 2018

Buondonno Bianco Alla Marta Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza 2016, IGT Toscana, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Marta is Gabriele’s daughter and hers is essentially a skin-contact white, orange or amber wine if you prefer the nomenclature. The concept stems from Podere Casavecchia Alla Piazza’s goat cheese and the Buondonno goat cheese making master. Hers is clean as a whistle, with more trebbiano than malvasia, 10 days on the skins, qualifying as skin-contact so let’s keep it there and resist the temptation to call it orange. It’s beautifully and mildly tannic, full of acidity and dry as the desert. Light on the oxidation and volatile acidity. From vines planted in 1974, then 42 and now almost 45 years old. So proper and just right, really, truly, honestly, humbly and born of a person’s tremendous work ethic. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted September 2018

With Monica Raspi, Fattoria Pomona

Fattoria Pomona

The farm was originally named “Fattoria Ricceri” and dates back to the second half of the XVIII century. It was was purchased in 1899 by ancestor Bandino Bandini, producer of olive oil and wine, sold to the restaurateurs of Siena. The new name Pomona stressed newfound prosperity and the success of its kiln, expanding the number of farm buildings and an oil mill was used for pressing the olives grown at Pomona, as well as on the other neighbouring farms. After the mezzadria period came to an end there was a long period of decline and abandonment, until Bandino’s grandson, Enzo Raspi, began the road top modernization, carried on by Monica and family today.

Fattoria Pomona Piero Rosso IGT Toscana 2016, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The work of Monica Raspi, veterinarian transformed into winemaker, her mother Inga, on a property housing an abandoned brick factory deserted after the owner lost money to horses. The founder was Bandini, great grandfather who purchased the estate after it sat empty between the 50s and 80s. The work is rounded out by Monica’s husband Enrico, Rheumatologist and cook, he of a palate extraordinaire. Here in Castellina in Chianti where fruit from the lowest part and youngest section of the vineyard offers its pure, raspy, bright red cherry sangiovese, richer than you might expect and of “hair combed just right.” It’s IGT that “came out with its soul untouched.” One day it will finish growin’ up and become Chianti Classico. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2018  fattoria_pomona    @fattoriapomona

Fattoria Pomona Chianti Classico DOCG 2016, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Essentially 100 per cent sangiovese, from the better and higher part of the vineyards planted in 2004 and 1998. From hot days, cold nights and eight months in barrel. Beautiful. Fruit, fruit and more fruit. Calcareous marl and Alberese stone interchangeable for the make up the vineyard and the house, with pietraforte, quartz, everything all in, together in conglomerate. In the end, combined with organic farming and low pH, there is a salty vein running through the deeply rendered red fruit. Sapidity unique to this vineyard. Perfect with caponata, carpione and pecorino. This Annata needs to be drawn from every part of the estate because it’s terroir is one of the most variegated in all of the territory. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted September 2018

Fattoria Pomona Chianti Classico Riserva Bandini DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

From the last of the vineyard planted in 1987, now ripped out in 2018 mainly because of it having grown older and tired and having come into a time of lowest of the low production. ’Twas the Vignavecchia. This takes the conglomerate of soil and intensifies the sangiovese, by way of 15 months in grandi botti, then transferred to concrete for nine months before bottling. “Needs to be more elegant, not heavier,” insists Monica Raspi. That it is, in balance, far from dense and weighty, pretty, in pulchritude, with not a whisper noted by the wood. Wonderfully, respectively and gently rendered Riserva. In 2016 it becomes just Pomona. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

“Number One” Vineyard, Fattoria Pomona

Fattoria Pomona Cabernet Sauvignon IGT Toscana 2015, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

This is delicious cabernet sauvignon. It should not be called light or delicate but it is what you might call ethereal for the grape variety. Profumo, delicasse, richesse and uniquely, unusually lovely, still with varietal strength but supple. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Villa di Geggiano

Villa di Geggiano has been the family home and winery of the Bianchi Bandinelli family since 1527. Just six kilometres north-east of Siena, Geggiano’s Castelnuovo Berardenga Chianti Classico vineyards are located just up the hill from Ponte e Bozzone, on a terroir composed of clay, river silt and Galestro. Originally built in the 14th century, the Villa di Geggiano, its gardens and 18th-century decorations have been carefully renovated and restored. Bernardo Bertolucci filmed Stealing Beauty (1996) at Geggiano in 1995 (I can attest to this – I was there) and in the historical restored wing there is the room that was once home to Pope Alexander III. Pope from 1159-81, Rolando Bandinelli’s papacy covered the murder of Thomas Becket (for which he humbled Henry II), and he held the Third Council of the Lateran, an important Catholic Synod. More recently then ancestry includes Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, descended from ancient aristocracy in Siena. Ranuccio became a world renowned and well respected art historian and archaeologist. His early research focused on the Etruscan centres close to his family lands, Clusium (1925) and Suana (1929).

Villa Di Geggiano Bandinello 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

A 60/20/20 sangiovese/syrah/ciliegiolo mix, two weeks in stainless and a few months in old wood. The concept of design is to create fruity and ask to be consumed when young. Beautiful acidity from a southern, warmer clime possessive of necessary ventilation and a micro-climate where frosts and hail seem to pass on by. A tiny micro conca d’oro climate within a larger area typified by a great variegation in the soil; Alberese, schisty Galestro, limestone and clay with some sand. An extra level of interest is piqued by a rhubarb and black cherry meeting. Only 15,000 bottles were produced in 2017. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted September 2018  villadigeggiano  andreaboscu  barrelselect  @VilladiGeggiano  @BarrelSelect  @villadigeggianowinery  @barrelselect

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico DOCG 2015, Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)

It is noted that Geggiano’s terroir delivers a dark hue and deep profile but not the weight and thick constitution that might be thought to accompany or expect. It’s 100 per cent sangiovese and it does clock in at 15 per cent, though not surprising considering the vintage and the southerly location. A bit of new French tonneaux but mostly older, for 12-14 months. High acidity and elasticity takes this into balance. Delicious sangiovese comes from place and respect and Geggiano’s carries forth with tonality and depth. First wholly varietal wine in this vintage.  Last tasted September 2018

Geggiano’s particular corner of Castelnuovo Berardenga delivers the gift of calm and collected, deeply fruity and sneaky, streaky, stony sangiovese. It gets neither more subtle nor more appreciable than these wines and in 2015 there is warmth indeed but also a cool sliver of mineral truth. This Chianti Classico does not guess at its ways and intentions, it commits to them with implicit and intuitive, life affirming strength. Great length, really great length. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted February 2018

This is how dinner is done at Villa di Geggiano

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2012, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

The 2012 is the current release because they (Geggiano and sangiovese) need time in the bottle. They simply keep a firm grip on their youth for quite an extended period of time. Riserva for the Bianchi-Bandinelli brothers is a matter of the best vines and the better barrel samples. Creosote and graphite really come from this nose, with tapenade, blood orange and violets. It’s almost more red fruit than the Annata “but that’s alchemy,” says Alessandro BB. This is a great example of work done alongside sangiovese oenologist Paolo Vagaggini, to transfer the variegate of the vineyard, through the conduit of time, into the glass. Still so young with great chains of stretched tannins, to be better in three more years. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted September 2018

Four words for you babe- Mi-cro Cli-mate ~ #castelnuovoberardenga ~ Riserva ’09 by @villadigeggiano ~ #initforthelonghall

Villa Di Geggiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2009, Tuscany, Italy (WineryWineAlign)

Tasted alongside the 2012 there is a marked humidity and warmth of vintage and now three years on the balsamico and chocolate are really beginning to emerge. Certainly more strength and depth, the chains of tannin and command are breaking down and the wine is entering its next stage of life. Warm, silky smooth and soothing. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted September 2018

Good to go!

Godello

Casavecchia alla Piazza, Castellina in Chianti

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Searching for great heart in South Africa

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink Live in Kalmandi Township

Heritage and diversity in South Africa

as seen on WineAlign

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

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

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

A deeper understanding

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

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

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

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

So much to think about

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

Performers at Amazink Live

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

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

Sundowners, Sanbona Game Reserve

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

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

Chef Gregory Henderson, Wildekrans Wilde Forage, Bot Rivier

New age of diversity: Bot Rivier

Bot Rivier is south-east from Cape Town, sandwiched from south to north between Hermanus and Stellenbosch. “From the top of the Houw Hoek Pass, one gets the first glimpse of the vast, rolling hills and big sky of the Bot River area, where real people make real wine.” This is the credo of the family of wineries that farm and produce in the area. There are 12 members of the wine-growing association, all within a 10km radius of one another. At Wildekrans we participated in a ground foraging experience alongside Chef Gregory Henderson. Beaumont Wines, Gabriëlskloof, Paardenkloof, Villion and Luddite Wines led us through a blending process to make a wine from samples supplied by all six. Four groups attempted the exercise to mixed reviews. Said Luddite’s Niels Verburg. “We gave you six beautiful wines and you gave us four bad ones back.” Their wines were significantly better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chardonnay vineyard in Robertson

Regional spotlight: Robertson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

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

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

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

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

Wildekrans Wine Estate

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

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

Graham Beck Winery, Robertson

Méthode Cap Classique

Plain and simple, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is a South African term indicating a sparkling wine made in the traditional method (the same way Champagne is made), by which a secondary fermentation takes place inside the bottle. That said, there is nothing simple about MCC and who would argue that as a category it produces some of the finest, most complex and diverse sparkling wines in the world. It’s also very much a wine about terroir. As it stands, MCC has to age on the lees for a minimum nine months to be labelled as such. “We’re making wines that develop too quickly,” insists Paul Gerber of Le Lude. Gerber believes the minimum should be raised to 15. “Sparkling wine is not a terroir wine? Please. This is completely untrue.” As for sugar dosage he’s like a cook in the kitchen. “Dosage is like seasoning. If you do it properly you don’t taste it.” It is Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira that has put in the time and the research over 20-plus years to really understand the category but more importantly the potential. “You are always looking to express terroir,” he says. “For Brut we have to extend (the less aging time) to 60 months. So there is no lipstick or eye shadow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage vines

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

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

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

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

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

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark-skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon.  Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Post revolution Swartland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donovan Rall

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

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

Verticals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1980s called. They want their culture back.

Wot varietal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink in

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

High altitude heliophiles in Argentina

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

As seen on WineAlign – A masterclass across Argentina

For the malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, criolla, torrontés and chardonnay of Argentina the present day vernacular promoted by the party line tells us “altitude defines a singular type of wine.” Most of the country’s wine lands are located on soils perched at impressive heights, at least with respect to sea level. To the naked eye the vineyards of Mendoza are of a perfect design to act as a collective poster child for a flat earth society manifesto, but looks are deceiving. The gentle climb from that province’s eponymous city centre at 750 meters above sea level to the rain shadow wall of the Andes Mountains is a subtle gradation that transfers vineyard elevations up to and exceeding well over 1,000 further metres. Say what you will about Mendoza’s absence of switchback ridges tracking rolling or angled foothills. Solar radiation is very real here and the effect of elevation on grape growing is a highly critical component of viticultural matters.

Joaquin Superman @hidalgojoaquin offers #CndsInArg a dissertation on high altitude terroir @winesofarg ~ @aldosvinoteca

It was only weeks ago that I had the favourable and fortuitous opportunity to travel around with the team at Wines of Argentina. Ontario’s WOFA representative Liz Luzza introduced me to her Quebec counterpart Marilyne Demandre. Together we were joined by Mark Bradbury, Bar Manager at The Bicycle Thief, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Yann Janvier, Le Sommelier Moderne in Montreal, Michael Mizzi, Co-Owner and Alexander Raphael, Bar Manager AMA Always, Toronto and Paul Madden, Director of Purchasing, Crowfoot Wines & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta for a group traverse across the South American country. We were led with the guidance of WOFA’s exceptional on the ground team; Soledad Juncosa, Sofia Brazzolotto, Paula Valle, Analia Lucero and Romina Ruiz. We did not make Lionel Messi’s acquaintance but we did experience first hand in Caminito and at the Buenos Aires Aeroparque Jorge Newbery the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final. I can only begin to explain the cacophony of roars when goals were scored during the intense rivalry between Boca Juniors and River Plate. The November trip took in Buenos Aires (including Recoleta Cemetery), Mendoza City, Luján de Cuyo (Agrelo), the Uco Valley (Gualtallary and Tupungato) and Salta Province (Cafayate and Calchaqui Valley). The journey will always be considered as a masterclass across Argentina because that is precisely what it was.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

It began at a Buenos Aires institution, Aldos Restorán & Vinoteca for a dissertation on high altitude terroir through the savant Argentine eyes of Joaquin “Superman” Hidalgo. Joaquin did more than merely explain the effect of altitude and solar radiation, he also poured an extraordinary cross-section of the country’s malbec from Jujuy to Patagonia, Tucuman-Catamarca to Gualtallary-Tupungato, Uco Valley.  In the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires we convened at that city’s most coveted mecca for beef consumption, the exulted Don Julio Parilla, where we were schooled on the wines of Familia Schroeder and Patagonia. Later that night it was a wholly unexpected, antithetical and epiphanic tasting of white, pink and orange in Mendoza at Azafrán Resto with principals from Chakana Wines, Alpamanta and Ernesto Catena’s Domaine Alma Negra.

#tastingroom writing #tastingnotes @bodegadiamandes ~ #valledeuco #cdnsinarg @winesofarg

A visit to Finca Decero opened the window to the Agrelo advantage along with the wines tasted belonging to Alta Vista, Altos Los HormigasArgento, Susana Balbo and Trapiche. This was followed by a stop at Vicentin/Sottano. At Bodega Luigi Bosca it was head winemaker Pablo Cúneo who unlocked some secrets hidden inside the soils of Luján de Cuyo, with help from pours by Bodega CasarenaBodegas Navarro CorreasFinca Las MorasMascota Vineyards, Pascual Toso and Vina Cobos. Then we entered the Tupungato, Uco Valley portal at Domaine Bousquet along with the wines of Bodega Andeluna, Bodega Atamisque, Bodegas Bianchi, Familia Zuccardi and Finca Sophenia. The incomprehensible wall of beauty provided by the snow-covered Andes acted as the backdrop to the al fresco tasting room at Bodega Diam Andes. It was here that we gained a deeper understanding of the mountain connection to Clos de los Siete and Vista Flores-Valle de Uco wines. The wines of Bodega Piedra NegraCasa de Uco, Masi Tupungato and Bodega Salentein helped usher these sub-appellative Mendoza wines into the light.

Salads in Argentina are exceptional

Before heading north we were met at our Mendoza hotel by Viña Cobos winemkaer Andres Vignoni for a seminar and tasting of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. As a general rule cabernet franc is planted in dry Argentine climates, in Winkler Zones 11 and 111. It has nicely adapted to high altitudes (900m+) and its prominence began spreading after 1990, especially in Luján de Cuyo where 34 per cent of the country’s vines are grown. The varietal boom has really swelled in the last 18 years. Studies show that its best maturity is at 1000-1200m, with hot spots being at Los Arboles, San Pablo, Gualtallary, Agrelo, La Consulta and Paraje Altamira. The country’s third most planted red grape variety is cabernet sauvignon, historically raised in a “Bordeaux meets Rioja school,” with long barrel aging and traditionally grown in Maipu and Luján de Cuyo. The varietal has migrated to cooler spots, where greater freshness is being chosen ahead of over maturation, not to mention less/smaller use of new barrels. Sub-zone favourites are Las Compuertas, Perdriel, Agrelo, Cruz de Piedra, Gualtallary, La Consulta, Paraje Altamira, Cafayate and Santa Maria.

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

From Ciudad de Mendoza Airpark we shuffled off to Salta, destination Cafayate. The drive took us though the desert monuments of Quebrada de las Conchas. The next day there was a fast, furious and fascinating look at Cafayate and Valle Calchaqui high altitude terroirs through the Donald Hess Bodega Colome and Bodega Amalaya lens. At Bodega El Esteco was walked beneath the 70 year-old criolla and torrontés vines. In the afternoon heat of Cafayate’s 30-plus degree early Spring sun we walked the limestone rocky desert moonscape of Piattelli Vineyards with proprietor John Malinski. A visit to Cafayate and the Valles Calchaquies would have been incomplete without a Bad Brothers Wine Experience. My understanding of Argentina’s fringe, edgy and extreme high altitude wines was confused until I met Agustín Linús and his Sunal malbec. Terruños de extrema indeed.

Snowy Andes backdrop makes Godello happy ~ snap (c) @marylinedemandre

One of the highest vineyards in Argentina is in Salta Province, 1,200 kms north of Mendoza. It is called Altura Máxima and it sits perched at 3,100 meters above sea level. Whaaat? It is one of the most extreme vineyards in the country, but not the only one. There are 20 or more, carved out of desert sand and rock where terroir is made up of climate, soil and in these extreme locations, the machinations of man. Climate is highly variable so rainfall and heliophany (the energy of the sun reaching the soil) and temperature are the most important factors. So when we speak of climate in Argentina we have to attach the altitude to the problem. The equation is always modified by the effects of altitude. Not to mention atmospheric pressure. Altitude in relation to temperature. For every 155m of linear rise, in temperate zones the average temperature of a point on the map drops by one degree. This effect is called vertical thermal gradient and the cause is due to atmospheric pressure. And then, with every 1,000m of linear rise, solar radiation increases by 15 per cent. In order to be more resistant to light, the plants produce more polyphenols. There is a proven relationship between UVB and a higher concentration of polyphenols and abdisic acid. In the end it’s a matter of cool climates with a great intensity of sun. Stress conditions at 1,500m or higher results in lower yields, high polyphenols, higher acidity and ultimately a marked variance of character. Explains Joaquin Hidalgo, “mastering the terroir is a challenge that involves another way of managing the vineyard.”

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

The production and consumption of wine in Argentina dates back to over four hundred years ago when the first specimens of Vitis Vinifera were brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonizers in the early 16th century. Early in the 1900’s, the vineyard area had reached 519,800 acres but between 1982 and 1992 extensive uprooting of vineyards was undertaken and 36 per cent of the existing vineyards were removed. In the early 1990s a new era began for the Argentine wine industry. The arrival of Neoliberalism in the national economy led to the implementation of a model of adjustment and the incorporation of Argentina into the global market. With a population of 42 million inhabitants and a territory that is four times larger than France, Argentina is one of the world’s nature reserves. Privileged with outstanding natural richness and extraordinarily diverse landscapes, Argentina boasts high mountains and plains, lush vegetation and extreme deserts, forests and steppes, glaciers and waterfalls.

Stunning #cafayate morning in the 60-70 year-old #criolla and #torrontes vines @bodegaelesteco in Salta

This wealth of natural ecosystems includes vast, highly productive grape growing regions stretching at the foot of the Andean strip, to the West of the country, from latitude 22° south to latitude 42° south. The cultivated area covers more than 538,071 acres. The vineyard area of Argentina covers 545.737,99 acres (2017). From the total area just 502.895,78 acres are able to vinify. The breakdown is 56 per cent red, 19 white and 25 Rosé. The leading red varieties are malbec (36), bonarda (16), cabernet sauvignon (13) and syrah (10). For whites it is torrontés (25), chardonnay (16), sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc each (5).

Canadians in Argentina at the Devil’s Throat in Salta Province ~ #quebradadelasconchas

Today, despite a skyrocketing national inflation rate, the wine industry continues to thrive. While certainly not immune to the economic crisis, exports are growing and the wines from Argentina are evolving to meet global demands. I tasted upwards of 150 wines in my week spent in Argentina. This report covers 37 wines from 37 producers. These are 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.

Mendoza shuffle with some fine examples and cross section of terroirs to represent #winesofargentina ~

Malbec

Bodega Amanecer Andino Malbec Reserva Quebrada De Humahuaca 2017, Tumbaya, Jujuy, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From a new location for growing grapes, at 2,200 metres of altitude, very close to Bolivia. Even if malbec is not necessarily the most interesting varietal to grow at this altitude, it is the most elastic variety and will always work. The pH (3.77), the acidity (6.6 g/L) and the alcohol are all set to high but it does not come across like any other malbec any of us have ever tasted. Full bodied and very fresh, really salty, a malbec so affected by altitude. So bloody interesting. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted November 2018  amanecer.andino  @BodegaAmanecer 

Agustín Lanús Wines Malbec Sunal Ilógico 2017, Tucuman Catamarca, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

The wine is drawn from vineyards in Pucará Salta, Lucaratao Salta, Amaicha del Valle Tucumán and Hualfin Catamarca. Real body and richness, savour and verdancy. The touch is delicately salty, with medium acidity and a constrained power. Really fine balance. The length is forever, a fact proven by an opened bottle showing exemplary freshness a full eight days later. Everything in Argentina might claim to be drawn away from high altitude but this from Agustín Lanús at 2,800m plus is the real deal. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted twice, November and December 2018  agustinlanuswines  @agustin_lanus  Agustín Lanús  

Tinto Negro Vineyard 1955 Malbec 2013, La Consulta, San Carlos, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, B.C. $81.99, WineAlign)

The most important factor in Altamira is not the altitude but the soil. It’s at 1000m but from the cooler, southern part of the Uco Valley. Very high pH (3.8) and well-managing acidity. This wine has it all; great fruit, savour, sweet viscosity, freshness, acidity and structure. Not to mention fine tannins and polyphenolic textural beauty. A high altitude and a place that keeps its cold air. Forget about how much oak and what the alcohol may be. The clay and the cool factor keep it all real. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegatintonegro  thewinesyndicate    @winesyndicate  @thewinesyndicate

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

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

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  bodegaluigibosca  fwmcan  @LuigiBoscaBodeg  @FWMCan  @BodegaLuigiBosca  @FWMCan

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

Trapiche Malbec Terroir Series Finca Orellana de Escobar Single Vineyard 2012, La Consulta, San Carlos, Mendoza, Argentina (178145, $39.95, WineAlign)

One of several malbecs in the Trapiche portfolio here the collaboration with the grower is exulted in this the 10th years of the Terroir Series. Every year the best three combinations of fruit and grower are chosen to represent the range. Sixty-one year old vineyards deliver minty herbal savour and a chalky liquidity in surround of spicy cherry fruit. Plummy too with ferric purity and big, big structure. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  trapichearg  trapichewines  philippedandurandwines  @TrapicheWines  @Dandurandwines   @TrapicheArgentinaInt  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Rocio Campoy Morist with Alta Vista’s Alazarine

Alta Vista Malbec Single Vineyard Alizarine 2013, La Compuertas, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Of three Alta Vista single-vineyard wines this is 100 per cent malbec and one of the richest, deeply textured and chocolate driven examples. From a warm vintage it’s not quite mature, even drying a bit though the fruit seems to just get more dense, intense and leathery. Justified elevation extrapolation makes for a classic malbec with some idiosyncratic Compuertas moments. Smooth, fully rendered and giving everything at this very stage. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaaltavista  hhdwines  @bodegaaltavista  @HHDImports_Wine  @BodegaAltaVista  @HHDImportsInc

Argento Malbec Single Vineyard 2016, Paraje Altamira, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $24.00, WineAlign)

Argento terroir exploration is from Finca Las Cerezas, “the cherries” and lo and behold, it’s really that fruit incarnate. A reductive malbec to be sure and so very fresh, from a soil rich in limestone which tells us something about the speciality of this nook in Paraje Altamira. The red fruit receives a lightning strike from the cool stone touch and there is a salty vein that lifts the cherry up and into a whole other realm. Really quite beautiful this charming little number. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaargento  profilewinegroup  @BodegaArgento  @ProfileWineGrp  @bodegaargento  @ProfileWineGroup

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir 2016, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (366005, $22.95, WineAlign)

Three quarters of the terroir malbec is aged in concrete with the fourth in 3000L French foudres. The total aging time is 24 months, the last six of which were in bottle before release. Here is the smooth malbec with balancing and defining sour acids on edge and uplifting. The fruit is nicely integrated into this structure with a fine set of tannins to grant some pretty good potential. Wait a year and let the magic happen. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  altoslashormigas  @ALHmalbec  @ALTOSLASHORMIGASWINERY

Casa De Uco Malbec Vineyard Selection 2015, Los Chacayes, Tunuyán, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

Considered their top expression from calcareous rocky soils this is the third incarnation of a malbec with some differences, turns and twists. Winemaking choices of 20-30 per cent whole bunch and partial carbonic macerations are extended to most of the chosen lots. You can feel the firm grip of the layered tannins on fresh, reductive and candy shell fruit. Concrete initiates the balance, there is no new oak to distract and enough acidity to keep it vibrant. There is a combination of energy and finesse on this malbec standing up to be noticed and counted. It’s both solid and expressive, real, emotive and truly curious. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  casadeuco  @CasadeUco  @CasadeUco

Extreme altitude malbec of Bodega Colomé

Bodega Colomé Malbec Lote Especial Colomé 2016, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)

Takes what is established by brother La Brava (and then El Arenal) and amplifies ideal. Now up to an altitude of 2,300m the dichotomous relationship between thermal amplitude and diurnal variegation is magnified, which can only mean more hyperbole. More concentration of fruit in equal extraction but with the extra 600 meters of altitude the tones are higher, the fruit more variegated and with a dried component out of the idea of some desiccation at harvest. It also seems saltier and the structure different, tighter and strung like a racket with ready to fray tension. One of the wildest malbec rides on the planet. Drink 2020-2028.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacolome  liffordgram  @BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @bodegacolome  @liffordwineandspirits

A flock of producers gather to educate on the multiplicity of munificent Mendoza ~

Syrah and Red Blends

Bodega Finca las Moras Gran Syrah 2015, San Juan, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the three main valleys of San Juan; Tulum, Zonda and Pedernal at altitudes of 650, 800 and 1300 meters above sea level. Ripeness from the lower valleys meets peppery spice and herbology of the highest, with freshness lying somewhere in between. The effects of diurnal temperature swings and thermal radiation pile one on top of another for a highly variegated yet mostly seamless syrah. The queen mother of San Juan syrahs with plenty of swagger. It shouts floral rose then switches into bohemian rhapsodies of musky, ferrous and hematic waves. Really meaty and intense with major chord, mood and tempo swings. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  fincalasmoras  @FincaLasMoras  @fincalasmoraswineryCA

Finca Decero The Owl & The Dust Devil Remolinos Vineyard 2015, Agrelo, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $36.95, WineAlign)

The multi-level, purposed and floral flight of fancy red blend. A mix of real facts and a story; near equal parts malbec and cabernet sauvignon, with petit verdot and tannat. Must contain at least 30 per cent of the last two outlier varietals and in the end this completes the estate style, of big, smooth, polished reds that are completed through micro-vinifications of many single-vineyard blocks. More tannin and grip here. Drink 2019-2023.  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  bodegadiamandes  maitredechai_ca    @maitredechai  @diamandes  Francis Dubé  

Salentein Numina Spirit Vineyard Gran Corte 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (543405, $35.00, WineAlign)

The goal for Salentein’s Gran Corte “is to produce a wine with the grapes from the first vineyards planted in 1996” and so only these find there way into the Numina line. The blend in 2015 is malbec (68 per cent), cabernet sauvignon (12), cabernet franc (8), merlot (7) and petit verdot (5). It’s a true Bordelais five varietal ideal albeit with malbec at the fore. It see 16 months in total though 10 are go it alone and then six all housed all together. This quintuples down on the rich liqueur, all in spice and hyperbole of violet florals. Though currently liquid chalky and slightly gritty you can imagine the integration especially because the oak use is not new. A really nice wine on the road to becoming something fine. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  salenteinbodega  azureau  @BodegaSalentein  @azureau  @BodegasSalentein  @BodegasSalentein

Bodega Atamisque Assemblage 2015, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (483032, $45.95, WineAlign)

The blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot is fruit drawn from sites between 1,100 ands 1,300m and sees 14 months in 100 per cent new French oak. This being a wine made by forcing square pegs into one round hole in what amounts to an all for nothing, all in one treatment. It’s really something to note that despite all this the fact remains that red fruit abounds, fresh and pure with an accent of spice but no real overdo of make-up. There is elongated grace and generosity, like a Rhône blend with charming warmth and a fine smoulder. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaatamisque  #MCOwines    Bodega Atamisque

Masi Tupungato Corbec 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (AgentWineAlign)

A blend of 70 per cent corvina with malbec treated to upwards of 25 per cent appassimento for 20 days. Spends 18 months in French oak. All about the baking spices, the unbounded limits of glycerin texture and specifically cinnamon all over the back pages. So rich and a ringer like no other for the Veneto motherland. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted November 2018  masitupungato  masicanada  @MrAmaroneMasi  @MasiWineExperience  

Clos De Los Siete 2015, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (622571, $23.95, WineAlign)

This was tasted side by side by each with the 2013 and the 2006 so quite fortuitous in terms of relativity and imagination. The blend in ’15 is high in malbec predominance (68 per cent), with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Four wineries made contributions to this vintage (of a possible seven) and as per the dictum it’s a blend of blends created by Michel Rolland. It’s Rolland’s inceptive imagination that brought this special project into the Uco Valley landscape and though the assemblage can be up to seven-fold the possibility to age for a value-priced wine is quite impressive. This ’15 is richly endowed and structured, chalky and just plain excellent. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted November 2018  closdelossiete  philippedandurandwines  @closdelossiete  @Dandurandwines   @closdelossiete  @VinsPhilippeDandurand

Tasting through the Uco Valley

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

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 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaandeluna  stemwinegroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @StemWineGroup  @BodegaAndeluna  @stemwine

Zuccardi, Andeluna, Sophenia and Bianchi

Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

Masterclasses on cabernet sauvignon and franc with Viña Cobos winemaker Andreas Vignoni

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

Bodega Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard 2015, Luján De Cuyo, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina (578062, $44.95, WineAlign)

Casarena’s Owen’s Vineyard is their special place, the key piece to this sector of the Luján De Cuyo puzzle. It’s importance is quite particular for the Napa Valley like repositioning of (Bourgogne) chardonnay and (Bordeaux) cabernet sauvignon. It’s a dry micro-climate with intense solar exposure and though not “mountain” fruit per se the wines draw upon matters of heliophany dictated by elevation. The Italian pergola-styled planted vines are old, some laid down as far back as 85 years in time. This approximately $30 US wine is a stunner, bloody beautiful in the darkest of Morello cherry red fruit that seems to macerate in its own liqueur. It is indeed reductive which only accentuates its freshness and there is a bountiful amount of acidity in support. Honest, apasionado, vehemente and intenso. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted November 2018  bodegacasarena  noble_estates  @BodegaCasarena  @Noble_Estates  @BodegaCasarena  @NobleEstates

Filete at Luigi Bosca

Pascual Toso Cabernet Sauvignon Alta Barrancas Vineyards 2016, Mendoza, Argentina (441907, $32.95, WineAlign)

Alta is a huge cabernet sauvignon needing air, still very reductive in a hard protective shell sort of intense way. There can be no argument about these aggressive or rustic tannins needing time to integrate and settle. All the structural components are part of the note taking and note to self to add to the Mendoza cabernet sauvignon discussion. This example may not be the first but it does sit at the lead in terms of showing a real cool, minty herbal streak and a distinct amaro finish. Big, big wine with plenty of upside. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted November 2018  pascualtoso  eurovintage  @PascualToso  @Eurovintage  @pascualtosowinesargentina  @Eurovintage

The next @winesofarg is naturally skin-contact orange, rosé and white. Pure, nervy, crystal examples of great interest from @chakanawines @alpamanta and @domainealmanegra

White, Orange and Rosé

Domaine Alma Negra Blanco Producción Limitada 2017, Vino Argentino, Bebida Nacional, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From Ernesto Catena this is the second secret blend, a naranja vintage of the hide and seek, now you see a vino blanco, now an orange wine behind the mask. Maximum 500 cases are produced of this truly flexible white-ish orange, as it should be, as anyone’s guess and at the winemaker’s whimsy. “This comes from a place where you move away from knowing everything before you ever made a wine” explains Josefina Alessio on Ernesto’s behalf.  It’s meant to shake foundations and commit to things with blind and innocent intent. It’s a precocious orange, clean, pure, crisp and matter of fact. Smells like honey the drizzled over a tart slice of peach. The telling of varietal is kept hush but my money is on the likes of chardonnay, perhaps pinot gris and/or some torrontés. Nine months on skins, six in old barrels. Clarity and dumb luck precision with a pineapple dole of citrus, always in balance. Can’t believe it’s neither reductive nor oxidative and virtually tannin free. A 15 euro ex-cellar beauty. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  domainealmanegra  noble_estates    @Noble_Estates   @ernestocatenavineyards  @NobleEstates

Chakana Estate Selection Torrontés Naranja Edicion Limitada 2018, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, WineAlign)

This literal orange torrontés from only free run juice spent seven months on skins in 500L barrels. No additions, including sulphur but “we’re not interested in saying this is a natural wine,” insists winemaker Gabriel Bloise. “Because we’re not interested in the natural movement, but it is our pleasure.” Floral spice is a factor of “maceratión prolongada” as is the green melon, pomello and caviar. Takes torrontés to an entirely new level, in so many positive ways, with a salve, plenty of tannin and notice me character. Kudos for the exploration, for a team that’s clearly on to something and a winemaker acting on techniques that clearly float his boat. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  chakanawines  oeno2  @chakanawines  @oenophilia1  @bodegachakana  

Alpamanta Rosé Syrah Breva 2018, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (Agent, $42.95, WineAlign)

To call this a Rosé is to miss the point methinks. “In 2017 we decided to approach a new philosophy of wines,” explains Ukranian/Austrian/Dane/Argentine Managing Partner & CEO Andrej Razumovsky. It’s a perfectly lithe red wine made through the use of syrah picked real early direct to ferment in cement eggs for 11 months. The complete absence of second pressed grapes speaks not only to the method but also the teacher. “It goes well with intestines and seafood,” says Andrej. Now at a whopping 1,600 bottles made, which is in fact a great increase from the first vintage. Number two was a rainy one so six or seven months was not a sufficient amount of time to get this to its happy place. Pear, lemon and grapefruit are anti-red fruit notes but give it a good agitation to stave off reduction and then the wine just bursts with strawberry, fine bitters and endless aromatics imagined. It’s destined for danger and deliciousness because you really feel that you are drinking something that is alive. Not just from acidity, but like power breakfast juice that you would die for every morning. Killer stuff. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted November 2018  alpamanta  rogersandcompanywines  @Alpamanta  @rogcowines   @alpamanta  @rogcowines

Navarro Correas Chardonnay Gran Reserva Alegoria 2015, Agrelo, Mendoza, Argentina (WineryWineAlign)

From Agrelo the Alegoria is chardonnay with true blue reduction and real apple bite. Spent six months in first and second use oak, now nicely aged with lemon-lime and orange zestiness. Toasty and quite wild from an ambient yeast ferment and shockingly crazy good. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodeganavarrocorreas  @BodegaNavarroCorreas

Bodega Piedra Negra Pinot Gris Reserve Vino Organico 2017, Los Chacayes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

New to the François Lurton portfolio and for the market is this pinot gris in classic older world mode. It’s really fine, spirited and with a creaminess that is suggestive of experimentation. There is some oak treatment but also some time spent in concrete egg. With no compromise to acidity there is a lieu-dit specificity and completeness so that it expresses fruit in a wholly different way than grigio and all other white wines in Argentina. Kudos to Lurton for going the distance and spending some cash on a product to separate itself from the pack. It’s a pinot gris we want to drink but also one to watch for not too distant sidesteps into something changed. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted November 2018  bodegapiedranegra  @BgaPiedraNegra  @BPNvdu

Bodega El Esteco Torrontés Old Vines 1945 2018, Valle De Calchaquí, Salta, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

From the original plantings of torrontés, as far back as 1945 but mostly vines in the 60-70 year old range. As saline and diamond sandy as it is floral but just as expressive as any. Very direct, linear, again that salty component which you could call mineral but also full-fleshy like Rhône varietal wines in new world climes. Could pass for high acidity driven whites from California or Washington state. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  bodegaelesteco  #mondiaalliance  @ElEstecoWines  @Mondia_Alliance  @elestecowines  @mondiaalliance

Piattelli Vineyards Reserve Torrontés 2018, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina (Agent, $14.95, WineAlign)

Trained at Piattelli in Pergola, the ancient Mediterranean varietal is protected from direct sunlight and thrives in this desert where herbs of every imaginable kind grow wild and the aridity meets elevation and solar radiation. Piattelli’s is quite high in dry extract and concentration, ripeness and a maintained necessary acidity. This is the icon wine of the estate and few equal its magic in this vintage. It’s fresh, crunchy, crisp and explodes with tropical fruit. Bodes well for the ’18 reds. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2018  piattellivineyardsarg  piattellivineyardsusa  @piattelliusa  @PiattelliVineyardsARG  @PiattelliVineyardsUSA

La Mascota Chardonnay Unánime 2017, Maipu, Mendoza, Argentina (Winery, WineAlign)

Grown at 1,300m “the pet” chardonnay is given a name meaning “unanimous” meaning it’s a wine from and for people who all feel the same way. The wine was raised 50/50 in concrete egg and large (500-1000m) oak foudres. It’s a very tannic chardonnay, with a salve texture, spice and lemon-vanilla molten creaminess. Plenty of texture and bite, not over the top but certainly ambitious to quite successful. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted November 2018  mascotavineyards  univinscanada  @UNIVINS  @MascotaVineyards  @UnivinsCanada

Good to go!

godello

Bodega DiamAndes, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Eighteen mind-blowing wines of 2018

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

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

Related – Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon.  Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018  chrisalheit  gsoleil123  @ChrisAlheit  @GroupeSoleilTO  Chris Alheit  Groupe Soleil Fine Wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisabetta Foradori

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

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

Benvenuto Brunello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

godello

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

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

The Man of Madiran

Alain Brumont

In the southwest corner of France less than 100 kilometres east and inland from the Atlantic Ocean lay the wine lands of the Côtes de Gascogne, of Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh and of Madiran. It is here where the soils of argileux, galets stones and calcaire are of course found in a climate where it can get very warm, but there is this influence from the Pyrenees Mountains that bring drying winds, keeping temperatures down at night and making for dry conditions in the fall. There is also that Atlantic oceanic influence for the greater region of Gascogne, even if the sea lies 96 kilometres away, The waters are responsible for bringing fresh air and freshness into the wines of Madiran and are perhaps the greatest single key to the phenolic ripeness factor. All together the mitigating and micro-climate agglomerate conditions allow for longer grape hanging time deep into the season.

Tasting at WineAlign with Laurence Brumont, Alain Brumont and John Szabo M.S.

THE man of Madiran is a man known not just to his peers and colleagues nearby but to winemakers all over the world. Vineland Estate’s Brian Schmidt wrote, “this man has had a profound impact on wine all around the world.” Decanter’s Andrew Jefford has referred to them as “France’s most undervalued fine wines.” Indeed it is Alain Brumont’s pioneering work, with noble oak and barrels for making wine. “Elegance, freshness and apogée for a wine come with time, patience no acceleration of elements with an artifice like micro oxygénation,” says Laurence Brumont. “It’s the philosophy of Alain to give the time and the respect of environment, respect of grapes, respect of terroir.” Brumont is the dominant producer in his region and that he has found the way to teach and to tame the deepest and darkest of grapes is the stuff of legend. Monsieur Brumont and his wife Laurence brought their Château Montus and Château Bouscassé wines to the WineAlign offices just two weeks ago. They sat down with John Szabo and I to taste through a magnificent Pacherenc and a few examples of their exemplary Madiran. Here are the notes.

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

Château Montus Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh 2013, Pacherenc Du Vic Bilh, Southwest, France (Agent, $30.99, WineAlign)

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, from the regional-dialectal word “paisheradas,” translated roughly as “vineyard rows” and Vic-Bilh, meaning “old country.” The small appellation is adjacent to and roughly the same size as Madiran, as part of Gascogne in far southwestern France. The appellation specializes in sweet whites, can be and often is a 100 per cent varietal wine and in Alain Brumont’s case it’s truly Vin de Garde, made solely from petit courbu, aged in a variety of barrel shapes and sizes. The varietal gathering can include petit courbu, petit manseng, gros manseng, courbu blanc and arrufiac but Brumont uses essentially only the first, with just a few points of petit manseng. It’s a subtle smokiness and a seriously honeyed late harvest white with the most exceptional golden hue. Apricots come from the nose, with candied lemon peel and then this acidity that preps your buds before you’ve even taking a sip. From a vintage in France that may have confounded but it only works to develop and accentuate complexities. Caramelizations inclusive of a sentimental awareness of burnt orange come through and the length is dramatic, variegate and extended. It’s never sweet or cloying in fact it almost makes you think that’s it’s vinified nearly dry. This makes it most fascinating and only aids in abetting the dialectic. Has been made since 1991/1992. Drink 2018-2026.  Tasted October 2018   vinsdemadiran  montusbouscasse  markanthonyon  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine  Marine Madiran  @MontusBouscasse  @MarkAnthonyWine

Brumont Tour Bouscassé Madiran 2012, Southwest, France (414615, $17.95, WineAlign)

From a terroir with much variegation in the argileux; white, red, grey and black. Mostly tannat with some cabernet sauvignon. You do in fact need to taste this wine on repeat because at times it will surprise you with great freshness. Like now, at this moment, with bright (dark) black cherry fruit and striking acidity. There is still this brooding and structure with side snaps of brewed umami. Can’t help but be, what with tannat and wood. And yet, get your nose deep into this glass and the multifarious argileux will get right up into you. Drink 2018-2022.  Last tasted October 2018

There is always some pleasure to be derived from pre-aged Madiran at such a price, regardless of how polarizing a bottle can be. Brumont’s ’12 is lean, mean and more than touched by wood. There is chocolate and balsamic, soy and tar. Pre micro-oxidative work now sits comfortably at six years on and with many more to go. Good interest at $18. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted August 2018

Château Montus Madiran 2013, AC Madiran, Southwest, France (Agent, $33.76, WineAlign)

From the man Alain Brumont and at the lead for and with his neighbours who basically invented the by now highly strategized and in many cases essential practice of micro-oxidation. This is how and why Brumont’s tannat from southwestern France is able to move ever so slowly in bottle through the slow-developing evolutionary stages of life. The Montus is clearly structured to keep its character intact, through the hard shell of tannin and the pyramid built by barrels that teased oxygen early and now keep all important aspects locked up safe and tight. It’s a boozy feeling and yet high-toned, with the darkest of fruits and the sharpest of tacky edging. You can imagine this resting as is for a decade and then slowly revealing what secondary personality can only be coaxed when the tenets of tannin have begun to melt away. That said, the chocolate never will. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted October 2018

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

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

Good to go!

godello

Alain Brumont

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Important and impromptu study session at Stratus

It was planned as a big chill weekend, set aside months before because if you don’t dot the calendar you will never find the time. It was a meeting of old friends who rarely see one another, coming from different cities and countries to gather in Niagara for reasons unknown. It was more than an important impromptu tasting at Stratus Vineyards on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

I pack my case, I check my face
I look a little bit older
I look a little bit colder
With one deep breath, and one big step
I move a little bit closer, I move a little bit closer
For reasons unknown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG5X4kOjEX8

Related – Chase food pairings with Stratus

I’ve written about Stratus Vineyards before, about Yoda of assemblage and varietal maître winemaker J-L Groux. Ben Nicks is the winery’s hospitality master, mentor and guiding light. It’s no coincidence that Ben set us up with six current releases in the tasting board room with a tease of three local cheeses and a morsel of Mario Pingue’s salumi. A subtle arrangement this micro-pairing, seemingly inconsequential but oh so very poignant and perfect. 

The Ozonator

Related – The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Ben leads us through the inner workings of Stratus and you should know that this behind-the scenes tour is no ordinary junket nor is what goes on back there any accident. Sustainability is key, planned to a T, in particular with respect to water use. We pass by the hydrosieve, a simple stainless box used to aerate wines during fermentation and Ben explains the great ozonator, to clean and preserve sterility in the winery. When ozone gas is introduced to an environment with bacteria, mold or any other organic material, it readily donates one of the oxygen atoms to oxidize or destroy that material. The ozonator is highly effective in controlling Brettanomyces populations.

More than an important impromptu tasting @stratuswines on a blustery October Sunday. Thanks so much Ben, for the hospitality and new revelations.

Related – Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

In the boardroom we set about tasting with the saturated vineyards as our backdrop. Grapes continue to hang though there is no surprise in that. Stratus is known to wait out the rest of the Peninsula in search of more phenolic ripeness and infinite aromatic possibilities. Here are the seven wines tasted on Sunday, October 28th.

Stratus Vineyards White 2014, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario (660704, $38.00, WineAlign)

So what is White ’14’s status in late October 2018? Still pronouncing struck flinty with a capital F and elevated into the air on a pillow of fine smoulder. What is duly noted at this stage is the pause, at calm, unaffected by gravity and then, the length. In other words, a perfectly drinkable state.  Last tasted October 2018

White assemblage under the Stratus label is not like spinning a single record, it’s like Rock ‘n Roll radio. Opening a bottle brings great excitement and anticipation, with a sense of wonder. What songs am I going to hear or more to the point, which grape varieties am I going to taste, in which percentages and in what order? In 2014 it’s a medley of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, sémillon and gewürztraminer. The blend spent 21 months in (15 per cent) new oak. The fruits are varied and each one (or mélange of several) represented a hit in their own right. Tutti frutti, orange blossom special, little green apples, the lemon song, kiwi, peach, tangerine and forbidden fruit. In the end I heard it through the grapevine, by way of a conduit provided by great and necessary acidity. A top quality Stratus White, worthy of repeat plays. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted twice, May and June 2018

Stratus Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

This Stratus is the year of the utmost natural chardonnay, the one where knuckling down and waiting with great patience leads to the most ambient of varietal wines. Not that the indigenous yeast plan is new (it dates back to ’09) but it is unfiltered and the aromatics are wonderfully nostalgic. This too (like the White) has that uncanny and unmistakeable flinty smokiness but in the realm of chardonnay it’s surprisingly delicate and finessed. ’Twas a warm vintage and so there must be an initialization of richness and the lush contextual accession will continue to develop but for now its tighter and sitting in a pool of quietude. Revisits in two and three years will tell the wine’s story. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Gewürztraminer 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

The plantings are Clone 47, one of two from Alsace (along with 48) that are often used in Ontario. There are few regional equals like this one of subtle floral expression in lemon waxy spray, yellow rose fragrance and citrus oil incumbency. The acidity is buoyant, unaggressive and supportive and so the residual sugar number is probably higher than expected, perhaps in the mid to upper teens. Works the derivative volatile aroma compounds drawn from flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems to great aromatic effect. In any case it’s a health affirming gewürztraminer by essential oil and through the act of sumptuous behaviour. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Red 2015, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (131037, $48.00, WineAlign)

Harvested over a week’s time in mid to late November from a warm if unremarkable vintage that followed a polar vortex winter, the just released 2015 Red is the five-headed Bordelais made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. If indeed perception is conceived to occur through five senses then all are needed to feel the fingers and toes of this assemblage. It’s also a matter of mathematical relevance, especially if you’ve tasted a few vintages of this most consistent appellative blend. And so standard deviation is relevant in assessment. From one Stratus Red to another we are looking at two sets of five different numbers that have the same mean but different standard deviations and it can be argued (because of the methodology), the same standard deviation but different means. If only J-L Groux knows the answer to the mean and standard of each Red set we can still look at this ’15 and note how it’s quite dusty and high-toned in its youth, with a richness that will eventually bring it all down to earth. It’s a chewy Red with some dried, leathery fruit, as per the mean, equal and opposing to the fresh and friendly, as per the standard deviation. As a matter of assemblage it’s as classic and recognizable as any in the accumulative history and also reminiscent of the past, like ’07, ’10 and ’12, to name just a few. With cabernet sauvignon at the head it tells us that ripeness is the virtue and comfort the result. By the way, the varietal breakdown of 40, 24, 23, 11 and 2 equates to a mean of 20 and a standard deviation of 14.40. For what it’s worth. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (412759, $38.65, WineAlign)

The 2015 cabernet franc of warmth and layering is wise in the ways of fruit. It’s an overt and resolute varietal wine picked at intervals and in succession with on the fly intent. The endeavour is worthy of the ideal and in turn, every moment of our consideration. Here is where you can begin any one of your carefully thought on handful of cabernet franc explorations, not just any mind you but from those that start at the top of the pyramid, from the top down. What is striking about 2015 is the sweet herbal quality, with a bushy tisane in place of hard to ascertain, high-toned pyrazine. What you will find is actually quite simple; cabernet franc grown, raised and fashioned by winemaker J-L Groux at Stratus. I just love this fruit. These chips have fallen where they may. Drink 2020-2038.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Syrah 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

Stratus turns back time and into varietal subtleties so that sniffs and sips of this ’14 are met with pauses. This iambic syrah is indeed something other, with dusty peppery notes and an unforced extraction that does little (at first) to challenge or demand that you work for your sips. The floral aromas form the crux of the unstressed syllables and are followed by strong flavours, a.k.a. the stressed syllables. The poetic feel is one of clause, pause and punctuation, with acidity strong but also fine and the even ripening from the grapes is a matter of obvious clarity. I suggest that the winemaking is more hands off than before and the wine needed little to no clutter to reach this goal. The richness is subdued and the balance as bountiful as it is beautiful. The drinker must read-render this syrah stanza so that it is both comprehended and appreciated. There may be some potential tension in doing so because you need to know how to seek out the stressors but also where to find the metrical pauses. Unearthing all the elements will help to pair with food that reads the same, like a seared duck breast, rare and sliced, or a lean piece of beef, carved tagliata style. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted October 2018

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

One of the most unique dessert wines in Ontario this is neither late-harvest nor Icewine in origin. Only the third time it has been made, the 2016 sémillon launches with a smoky beginning, as expected and yet, is always appreciated. Some of the fruit is harvested early, but other bunches in the same vineyard are some of the last to be harvested. This low alcohol anti-sticky is from the warm vintage and from the same spot in the vineyard, vintage in vintage out. Most interesting is how these pristine botrytis affected grapes are picked ahead of the rest of the clean fruit used for the dry sémillon. It’s a very vinous sém with distinct apricot and longan notes. Great acids in 2016. Has still retained some waxiness and found some tropical fruit despite the early pick. All of the counterintuitive ideals tell us that the warm vintages can make for top quality dessert wine. This is the masquerade party wine made by the Way Outs band. “That’s where the fun is, way out, WAY OUT!” Drink 2019-2028. Tasted October 2018

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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