Going back to South Africa

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

Related – Around the Cape in 50 wines

On my way to one of those events I was in the car and listening to the CBC. The DJ began talking about Handel as being the composer who could have become a hip hop artist. I’ll explain what he meant in a minute. When I think about South African wines it’s almost impossible to put your finger down to think of it as one thing, one style, or one type of music. You can apply this just about anywhere but in the Capelands there is so much diversity; there are rock n’ roll stars in the Swartland, R & B, soul & Motown in Stellenbosch, Jazz in Elgin, Classical music wherever you want to hear it. But what there is everywhere is flow. Reggae flow, soulful Stevie Wonder flow, hip-hop flow.  What the DJ was trying to say is that a composer who writes with this ease of ability, with an unconscious penning of notes coming from a place that was always there from the beginning, with a creativity that comes out of effortless ease, it just flows. South African wines, collectively, have flow.

Great soils, weather and a Mediterranean climate

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

Related – Once upon a time in the Western Cape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

A few wines from the PIWOSA visit, June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven producers, seven varietal wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

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On tasting blind and VINTAGES April 30th

"Every time I look at you I go blind." #timetotaste @WineAlign

“Every time I look at you I go blind.” #timetotaste @WineAlign

Saturday will bring forth yet another LCBO Ontario VINTAGES release. Every other Friday (and most Tuesdays) I taste through them, along with my colleagues at WineAlign (David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S. and Sara d’Amato), as well as a dozen or more multifarious and multi-motley wine writers. The wines and spirits are laid out with Warsaw Pact jibing intendment and we plod through, free as birds, privy with full disclosure for what we are assembled to inspect.

Related – Heading out for the west coast

At WineAlign David, John, Sara, Steve Thurlow and I spend quality time with LCBO and/or VINTAGES destined products but we do so with wine-apprisement obliquity. When we arrive at the office and sit down to taste we are met with bottles covered with aluminum foil. We taste blind. Not completely mind you. A spreadsheet tells us the varietal(s) and region/country of origin. I too wonder if this can be truly be considered tasting blind.

The debate chases down critics and systems of evaluation with dogged persistence. Should wine be judged without any prior knowledge or preconceived notion about what’s in the glass? Must a tasting be conducted blind for a critic to objectively dispense an unbiased, unswayed and uninfluenced assessment of a wine?

The short answer is yes. Wine competitions are conducted blind, with only the varietal and perhaps place of origin as the sole bits of information with which to go on. The understanding is that if there are medals to be doled out, picking winners must be done with prejudice and favouritism set deliberately aside. But the wringer runs deeper. By definition, should any information be available at all?

Blinds

To blind or not to blind, that is the question

As for grapes, a Gamay should be judged against other Gamays and so a critic may as well know that the flight is filled with nothing but Gamay. Mixing varietals within a flight distorts the playing field and skews the results. Place of origin is more complicated. While it is helpful to know where a wine hails from so that it may get a fair shake against competitors or peers composed of the same grape, that seemingly insignificant bit of information adds bias to the process. At the WineAlign Wine Awards of Canada the region is not pre-disclosed, except that the judges know that all the wines come from Canada. In competitions involving wines from around the world the regions are also excluded. Only the grape and price range is mentioned. Shouldn’t we do the same for all blind tastings? In fact, the bias of price might also be avoided.

I don’t know what it is

Something in me just won’t give it a chance

I think it’s just that I feel more confused by the deal

The tougher question is whether we as critics should be tasting all wines blind, all the time, or at least whenever possible. That is to say, whenever investigations are being processed for the purpose of publishing tasting notes and perhaps more importantly, assigning scores or ratings. Who does not believe that wine must be tasted without any assistance from marketing, pedigree and prior experience? The devil’s advocate approach would declare it unfair to so many honest wines to not be given credit for many years of hard work and success. Why should a wine with a longstanding reputation for excellence have to begin again in every vintage just to prove itself? The rub I feel, is there.

I think it’s that because I have seen all the fuss

And it’s no big deal

The following 11 recommendations from the VINTAGES April 30th release were not tasted blind. They succeed because they are honest, well-made and accurate representations of varietal and place. I am confident they would all fare just as well had they been assessed without knowing what they were. Good wine has a habit of finding its way into a taster’s heart, blind, or not.

Mcguigan Bin 9000 Semillon 2015, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia (444554, $14.95, WineAlign)

Distinguishes itself for the Hunter Valley oeuvre with impossibly pale yet rich and stark-dressed fruit. More fruity than most and so nearly, just on the cusp of getable at such a young age. A terrific example to gain entry into the valley’s great white varietal hope while waiting for the serious crew to open the doors to their longevity-accrued perceptions. Takes one for the team with bells ringing and whistles blowing. It will drink well for five years and just develop a bit of that aged Semillon character near the end of the fruit line. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @mcguiganwines  @Wine_Australia  @ChartonHobbs

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (80234, $16.95, WineAlign)

Impressively expressive early to market 2015 Riesling, off-dry, partially pungent and markedly concentrated. The Black Sheep always smells and tastes like this; fifty-fifty fruit to mineral, concentrated and sweet from ripe extract and tannin. Whether you are an expert or a newbie to Niagara Peninsula Riesling, the Black Sheep is guaranteed. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @featherstonewne

El Maestro Sierra Pedro Ximénez Sherry, Do Jerez, Spain (451468, $17.95, WineAlign)

Now. We. Are. Talking. Vino dulce natural of quite reasonably low alcohol and extreme elevated unction. Nutty and full of dried apricots, sweeter than some but really well balanced. Dessert all by itself with just enough acidity. Tart and tight, nuts again, spice and marzipan. Really tricks the tongue and pricks the senses. Sweet. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @MaestroSierra  @TFBrands

Montes Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc Zapallar Vineyard 2015, Aconcagua Valley, Chile (389643, $19.95, WineAlign)

This is an exciting hyperbole of Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc from the coast with wild flavours and singing aromatics. An inwardly deliciousness SB filled from within by a lactic streak and an exceptionally reserved tartness. Great length. So different, so new, so exciting. If it’s a bit warm and perhaps higher than alcohol than it notes, so be it. It has real vitality. Job well done with this newly directed Montes. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted April 2016  @MontesWines  @WinesofChile  @DrinkChile  @ProfileWineGrp

Wildass

Stratus Vineyards Wildass Red 2012, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (86363, $19.95, WineAlign)

It would be hard to figure any sub-$20 red Ontario blend showing a deeper sense of ripeness, wood intent, sinew, cure, triturate resin and dry barbecue rub – than this Stratus ’12. It’s a bit of a head scratching, game-changing meritage, altering the course for $20 red blends forever. At the risk of forming comparisons, it puts me in mind of other places, like Roussillon, Campania and Navarra. It has coal running through its arteries and tonic spewing out of its fountains. Wild my ass? Yes. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015  @StratusWines

13th Street Gamay Noir 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (177824, $19.95, WineAlign)

Four months has upped the funk for ’13, with tar and bitters still and thick as summer air. Rich and ripe, notable for its black cherry aroma and that J.P. Colas natural truncation. Unique, as always and very Gamay. Drink 2015-2019.

From my earlier note of December 2014:

Fruit was sourced from both the Sandstone and Whitty Vineyards for 13th Street’s Gamay Noir, a focused and gritty adjunct in ode to the Cru Beaujolais approach. This ’13 raises the aromatic and texture bar and just may be the most striking from a 13th Street estate mix. All the important berries are there, as are the mineral quandaries. In a Gamay moment this will lead you to gulp and giggle with #GoGamayGo delight.

Last tasted April and Sepetember 2015, April 2016  @13thStreetWines  @Noble_Estates

Chianti

Tenuta Di Capraia Chianti Classico 2013, Docg Tuscany, Italy (135277, $21.95, WineAlign)

Extreme freshness, ripe red fruit and ripping acidity in such a young Chianti Classico. Possessive of an underlying mineral and dry tannic structure with such correct use of older oak and kept clean under the threshold of over-modernising alcohol. This reeks of some whole cluster work and tastes of the soil though never in any funky way. It’s extreme purity and cleanliness is second to none. This will last for longer than imagined. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted April 2016    @chianticlassico  @ProfileWineGrp

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Jeremy Dineen of Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania

Josef Chromy Chardonnay ‘Pepik’ 2014, Tasmania, Australia (378240, $22.95, WineAlign)

Combines beauty and bitters for a streak of natural selection through a field of texture. Heads for the cream risen to the top of rich, pulls over and steps aside to allow for a crunch of green apple. The bite is real, lit by match and cut with spice. Great length. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted July 2015  @JosefChromy  @bwwines

Grendel

De Grendel Shiraz 2013, Wo Coastal Region, Durbanville, Coastal Region, South Africa (174557, $24.95, WineAlign)

Strapping, youthful, dark as night Cape of Good Hope Shiraz, full of rich beginnings, soil reduction and barrel imaging. Vivid off the charts, rich red fruit, mineral undercurrent, wreaths of floral tethering and a rip tide riding rolling waves of cape intensity. Quite wow. Crazy good value. Drink 2018-2025.  Tasted April 2016  @degrendelwines  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  @imbibersreport

Vincent Mothe Chablis 2014, Ac Burgundy, France (390468, $26.95, WineAlign)

Perfectly pretty little village Chablis, flinty, lemon piercing and pouring like crystal clear, tiny drops of rain. Chardonnay on needles and pins, a white scintillant with tart berries, tannin and extra layers of dry extract. Terrific for so many reasons and with every reason to pair and to believe. While others moan “I been meek and hard like an oak,” with a glass of the Mothe I am blessed with “buckets of moonbeams in my hand.” If this were $20 it would be right up there with best ever. Close enough. This is a perfect example of why everyone should drink Chablis. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted April 2016    @BIVBChablis  @bourgognespress  @BourgogneWines

Crawford

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Corner 50 Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet 2013, Hawkes Bay, North Island, Marlborough, New Zealand (447433, $29.95, WineAlign)

Made from fruit grown in the Corner 50 vineyard located in the Bridge Pa Triangle wine district on the western side of the Heretaunga Plains of Hawke’s Bay. Diverse soils of Ngatarawa Gravels, Takapau Silty-loam (free draining red metal of mixed alluvial and volcanic origin) work towards a Bordeaux kind of varietal character and charm. Red recreational fruit and ripe, ropey acidity interact together in this very spirited North Island red. A Hawke’s Bay beauty with vivid and spirited energy. The oak is still very much in play but in no way on top. The cake factor is very low, the lushness happening in texture though not on the level of plush. Really good effort. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted April 2016  @kimcrawfordwine @CBrandsCareers  @nzwine  @NZwineCanada

Norman Hardie Niagara Unfiltered Chardonnay 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (184432, $39.00, WineAlign)

It’s hard not to compare Norman Hardie’s Niagara Chardonnay side by side with his County-grown and produced estate counterpart but also with other top end Niagara bottles. The fruit he sources from Duarte Oliveira’s Beamsville Bench farm offers the first leg up. The reductive and minimalist handling style is the second piece of the impossibility puzzle. Though not as closed as some in the past, freshness has never been so bright. The slow Hardie Chard evolution and painstaking road to malolactic could result in perdition but miraculously never does. The cumulative culled from out of patience leads to a reward in near perfect textural deference and defiance. The 12.2 per cent declaration of alcohol is exemplary though it could hardly cross the 11.5 threshold if it wanted to or tried. Chardonnay left alone, to find its way, fend for itself, unstirred, unassailed and deft above or beyond reproach. Enjoy a Hardie Niagara Chardonnay in its early youth. They are not meant to be stashed away forever. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted April 2016  @normhardie

Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Ambrosia 2010, Single Vineyard, Mendoza, Argentina (402941, $39.95, WineAlign)

The pitchiest Malbec of dark black fruit, weight and substance. Really ambrosial, a thick swath of berry, wood and tannin. This Malbec can run with the players any day of the week. Structurally sound and massive, fully, completely accomplished and offering much reward. There is a resinous, cedar and briar note of amalgamation and complexity. It will take three or more years to bring all the exceptional components together. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2016  @TrapicheWines  @winesofarg  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

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