What comes next for the wines of South Africa?

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

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

 

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

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

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

Growing regions of the Western Cape

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

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

Cape Floral Kingdom – A World Heritage Site

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

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc

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

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

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

Chardonnay vineyards in Robertson

Cap Classique

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

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

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

Bot Rivier 

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

Paul Cluver with Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc

Elgin

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

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

The Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Western Cape

Stellenbosch

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

Swartland Independents

Swartland

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

Bush vines, Groot Drakenstein Mountains, Franschhoek, South Africa

Buyers’ Guide to Wines of South Africa

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

Western Cape

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

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

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

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

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

Bot Rivier 

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

Elgin

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

Stellenbosch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swartland

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

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

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

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

Good to go!

godello

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WineAlign

Always tasting Italian wines, doin’ allright

Toscana

Back in the summer of 1987 I attended the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia. This was considered “the benchmark year for Umbria Jazz in terms of the Festival’s appeal, its quality, its ability to combine popularity with exclusivity, with mass concerts in the football stadium and the fantastic evenings inside St. Francis’ church.” The memories of that July 16th to 18th weekend are strong, persistently vivid and what happened there was clearly transformational in my life. Sting had played the weekend previous and though my crew could not stay long enough to see Miles Davis on Sunday the 18th still there were grand moments indelibly stamped upon our lives. Walking the Piazza IV Novembre up to Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s Fontana Maggiore, drinking in the cafés, Sly and Robbie sitting at the next table. But the highlight happened at the Stadio Renato Curi where Dexter Gordon blew his horn and our minds. The saxophonist was fresh off of a revivalist’s record and hit movie. He was Doin’ Allright, as were we.

 

Jazz and wine. Two inextricably linked subjects and emotions in the summer of 1987. Now 35 years later I’m listening to Gordon’s seminal record and tasting wine. Time spent Far Niente. Tasting Italian wines from a wide ranging group of producers while paraphrasing from thoughts about the music of the OG big man, with no disrespect intended to Clarence Clemons. Dexter’s life and this group of wines are representative of that kind of size. Their rhythm section plays for the grape, seeming to sense what it wants, following the varietal lead and never falling out of balance. Full toned manner of wines, loping in medium tempo, solos unhurried, logical, warming and full of Italian melodies.

Umbria, July 1987

There are white wines that play beautifully and pensively while others pick up the mood by spinning out solos, staying texturally relaxed and thoughtful, ending with some perfumed chords. There are short bits and interludes but ultimately the way these wines handle their ballads is an indication of their length and depth. They know what it’s all about. The reds are at times wines of catchy and contrasting themes but they truly know how to build a solo. In today’s warming climate they climb up in temperature, chorus after chorus, until finally they satisfy at their apex. There are moments when the reds seem to be skipping and marching, alternating between funky riffs, leaping rhythmic figures and brightly lit burning flames of fruit and acidities. They build more slowly to climax while expanding in tones and for longer periods of time. There are chordal explorations in reds, blacks and of course blues. What connects them all is underlying substance in waves and weaves throughout each ensemble. Tasted consecutively or together theses wines all prove to be mutually significant. Thank you to Ira Gitler for the inspirational notes, to Stefania Tacconi and the prodcuers for sharing their wines.

Inama Vin Soave Classico DOC 2020, Veneto

Anything but entry-level from the grape garganega once known as Graecanicum grown in the basaltic lava, volcanic tuffs and orizzonti rossi. About as correct and defining as it gets for Soave, yellow and green floral, fruit recall more of the same and then the volcanic rock alterations that give the mineral-salty feel. While there might be a wish for a little bit more complexity and grape spirit there is some gelid to viscous texture in this 2020. In any case Inama’s is well made, educational and right on the varietal money. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Favorita DOC 2020, Piedmont

As for white wines from Italy’s northern climes there are those that speak to many and then there is the “favorita” of others, the varietal Piedmontese white for the dreamers and the romantics. This from Abrigo out of Diano d’Alba avoids the bitters, pith and boozy thiol moments to instead capture all the white flowers and more. The scents are fruity over metallic and clean instead of waxy. There is precision and most importantly a toothsome grace over the palate that brings you back for more and more. A picnic in the hills, a chilled glass after the day’s movement and the scent of dusk. That is favorita when it’s right. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted March 2022

Terra Costantino Etna Bianco DOC Deaetna 2019, Sicily

Terra Costantino’s is from Contrada Blandano in the Comune Viagrande, on soils sabbie di matrice vulcanica, a blend of carricante and catarratto, three to one, at 500m, part bush vine and part spurred cordon. Were the flinty smoulder the only beautiful thing going for this Etna Bianco it might almost be enough but the gelid and sweetly ripened fruit takes every moment to a higher caste and level. The thought of these wines being honeyed is not all that common and yet he we are, aromatically speaking, lemon meringue and curd, angel food cake, with the barrel impart knowable in vanilla and light caramel terms. A metallic feel as well, pure platinum gold, texture and some age already put behind. Not so typical but curious and highly enjoyable nonetheless. A drink now chardonnay or chenin blanc alternative that will begin to oxidize in a couple of years time. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted May 2022

Poggio Argentiera Morellino Di Scansano DOCG Bellamarsilia 2020, Tuscany

High-toned in 2020 with a marked level of volatile acidity and good if not maximum ripeness from sangiovese grown either in a (relatively) cooler year near the (Maremma) Tuscan coast. It would seem the winemaker is also looking for restraint and maintaining positive acidity because at this low level (13.5 per cent) of alcohol the resinous and stemmy nature of sangiovese is duly noted, if also accentuated. Texture is a bit chalky, almost grainy and the tannins throw a touch of green. Drink 2022-2023.  Tasted May 2022

Usiglian Del Vescovo Il Barbiglione 2015, Terre Di Pisa DOC, Tuscany

From estate grapes in the Pisa DOC and from a winery also producing wines both coastal and in Chianti appellations. Centred around syrah with small percentages of cabernet grown in greyish, dry, shallow, sandy soil with some clay, lime and fossils. A bright, currants and other red fruit syrah with notable tang and wood resins. A touch pectin sappy while satisfying and complete. Held back to tame its wild side and drink upon purchase. Drink 2022-2024.  Tasted June 2022

La Regola 2018, Toscana Rosso IGT

A place of Etruscan origin just five kms from the Tyrrhenian Sea at Riparbella in the Cecina Valley. The vineyard lays within the Montescudaio DOC at 150-200m with soils described as Mediterranean with an abundance of stones. La Regola’s (the rule) is varietal cabernet franc, abundant, heady and as compared to the blended reds, so unfettered and uncluttered. The varietal purity is expressly coastal, of saltiness, algae, seaweed, tar and fruit so much more than a plenty. This is truly a stylistic and a place that makes wines just like this here screaming with clarity and truth. There seems to be little doubt that cabernet franc fits, unlike sangiovese, syrah or cabernet sauvignon. Franc is the signature red and 2018 announces its success. The structure, unimpeded drive and length confirm the pronouncement. Drink 2024-2029.  Tasted June 2022

Boscarelli Vino Nobile De Montepulciano DOCG 2019, Tuscany

Boscarelli is a name to conjure with, a producer from Montepulciano as direct and exciting as a communicator of sangiovese emotion as any, consistently declarative in attack. Case in point this 2019 though with the added advantage of a most generous and unselfish vintage. Fruit comes from estate vineyards in the parish or pieve of Cervognano, one of 12 newly minted UGAs, a.k.a. unità geografiche aggiuntive. These additional mentions for the overall appellation give us the consumer a more pinpointed sense of place and in Boscarelli’s world the vines were planted in the late 1990s. Depth burrows in an endless seeking of mineral wealth while highlights rise unencumbered, defying gravity and setting this local sangiovese free. When sangiovese does both it’s a bit of a revelation and in Montepulciano the truth is not always easy to come by. The wines can make you work for your pleasure and this 2019 gifts it freely. Drink now and for the next 10 years. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted May 2022

Il Bocale Montefalco Rosso DOC 2018, Umbria

The Umbrian work of i famiglia Valentini based around sangiovese accented by the local sagrantino, then merlot and colorino. Unequivocally balanced if not quite the increasingly generous vintage that will follow in 2019. The succulence and juiciness of the Montefalco Rosso appellation is captured with precise and succinct advantage and done so without any due stress or adversity. The fruit spreads with ripples into fine acidity and supple tannins like a large rock dropped into a pool of water. The rock disappears but the fluidity and gentle set of wakes linger on, ever so slowly decreasing their size and intensity. Bocale’s ’18 is an effortless Rosso, aromatic, flavourful and elastic. This is just what a top producer knows how to do. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Il Bocale Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2016, Umbria

From the Valentini family dating back to 2002 and a varietal sagrantino of the highest selection. “Bocale is the dialect word that indicates the two litre mug of wine or oil, but, above all, the name with which this family from Montefalco has always been identified.” From the most democratic of Montefalco vintages, long, studious and just, indeed a wine giusto e completo, time having settled the once formidable tannin and connecting the early unconnected parts. A wholly unique profile, indicative of tar, dark chocolate and espresso yet subtly so, with an allowance of many complexities to join the parade. Quite special in so many regards. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted April 2022

Il Palio, Siena, July 1987

Riecine Chianti Classico DOCG 2019, Tuscany

Grande Gaiole compass, cinch and girth in naturally swarthy sangiovese from Riecine in 2019, crunchy and tart. Inching up towards the volatile but such is the word in pace for the vintage. The fruit can handle the stark reality and veritable truth, equipped with grip and ready for the inevitable circumstance. Maybe wait a year for further resolution. Drink 2023-2027.  Tasted February 2022

Villa Di Capezzana Carmignano DOCG 2017, Tuscany

Consistently presents with an evolved aromatic tendency as it breathes maturity into every phrase it plays. The jazzy mix of violet, spice cupboard and freshly baked earthenware speaks in open and knowable truth for a wine so upwardly representative of a DOCG with roots dating back to 1716. That is when Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany granted exclusive status to Carmignano at the same time he did so for the Classico territory of Chianti. Was not the easiest vintage to deal with and yet this is one of the Tuscan stars what with the piquant yet elastic spice condition rolling off of the palate with sage, fresh tobacco, finnocchi and tartufo. Deals with 14.5 per cent alcohol without adversity while modelling symbiosis between sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. Hard to do much better with the aridity and warmth, breathe life and plan for five-plus more years of pleasure. Drink 2022-2026.  Tasted June 2022

Azienda Agricola Reassi Sparviere 2018, Colli Euganei Cabernet DOC, Veneto

Reassi’s two-thirds cabernet sauvignon and one-third cabernet franc comes from the Padova area in the Veneto, famously home to some of Giotto’s most profound and important 13th/14th century frescoes housed in the Cappella degli Scrovegni. The estate’s 1997 planted wines are located in the zone of Carbonara di Rovolon, harvested near the end of September and only 3,500 bottles are produced. This is a cheeky cabernet at the lead for the Colli Euganei DOC, full of sweet tar and tobacco, petrol in cars, wood resins, fruit from pods that grown on trees and really quite bright in disposition. How can you not adore the vitality and low alcohol proposition (12.5 per cent) plus this genteel pectin and glycerol feel. “Oh, it’s magic, Uh oh, it’s magic. Just a little magic, you know it’s true.” Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted May 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Barbera d’Alba DOC Marminela 2019, Piedmont

At the DOC Barbera level it would be hard to find another example so open, forthright, up front, bright, getable and delicious than this Marminela by Abrigo. Classic interpretation indeed yet without rustic strings tethering it to the past, instead expressive of a freedom to explore. Here barbera throws aside traditions in a spirit of experimentation. This is a blend of grapes from two vineyards in the municipalities of Grinzane Cavour and Diano d’Alba and aging takes place for nine months in concrete vats. Freshness is dutifully captured, preserved and the barbera perseveres. Will drink this way for two, maybe even three full years ahead. Drink 2022-2025.  Tasted June 2022

Rocche dei Frisu is Abrigo’s top end, purest expression of barbera, from vineyards in Diano d’Alba and also nearby. The sites range in elevation between 230-360m, on clay-based soils mixed with sand and limestone, depending on the block. The name could mean “cones of frieze” in the literal sense but probably a name given to a hill of natural architecture that when looked at from afar there would be some sort of illusory effect. As in art, whereby a trompe l’oeuil or trick of the eye is created by a broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration. In any case the barbera in this bottle does the exact opposite with its openly blatant and striking set of ripe fruit, varietal acidity and full throttle potency. Not shy to be sure, nor heavy neither but there is power contained within this bottle. Even after nearly four years the Frisu does not relent and as a member of the Alba Superiore fraternity the representation is bang on. Plenty of stuffing will see this through to the end of this decade. Drink 2022-2028.  Tasted May 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC 2019, Piedmont

Marked valuation in animal musk through the masculine scent of Abrigo’s nebbiolo from Diano d’Alba, a parochial example equally rich in classic DOC notes. Only the nebbiolo from Alba’s territory smells and tastes like this, accentuated by wood with spice infiltration inside and out. The animal magnetism is captivating, as much as the barrel accents are condiments to the fruit and earth that fill up this nebbiolo. Quite tight for 2019, needing some time, acids equally taut and being open three days helped immensely. Be patient with this Alba, it will reward those who are. Drink 2024-2028.  Tasted June 2022

Abrigo Giovanni Barolo DOCG Ravera 2017, Piedmont

Diano d’Alba producer of a Barolo in the municipality/cru/MGA of Novello. Meets the specs of Tortonian soil, laminated Sant’Agata fossil marl, in other words calcareous clay, deeply entrenched, at 400m, vine age ranging 20 to 35 years. Fifty per cent is treated to long skin maceration i.e. cappello sommerso and despite the aridity and heat of 2017 there is freshness captured in Abrigo’s Ravera. Luminous and immediately spicy, a piquancy of pure nebbiolo spiked by time, vintage and lastly barrel. Amazingly persistent Barolo, full, substantial and in charge. Must give this three more years to integrate and allow us to grow as tasters, eventually to be ready and willing to enjoy this wine. Drink 2025-2032.  Tasted June 2022

Tenuta Di Pietrafusa Villa Matilde Avallone Fusonero 2015, Taurasi DOCG, Campania

Varietal aglianico from the Taurasi DOCG and a producer that also fashions top quality wines at IGT Campania prices coming in at under $20 CDN. This top drop comes from the production zone of Montemarano e Paternopoli off of vines planted in 1968 and 1985. The first commercial vintage was 2004 and so here in the 12th iteration is a most generous vintage from which the best of all worlds is accessed. The world of aglianico is reached earlier than that which hesitantly emerges out of some hard, at times sufferable and surely tannic vintages. Here the fruit is nearly up front, artistically open and and even playing with musical swagger. There is room for all the aglianico because they provide the opportunity to enjoy the standards, originals and forward thinking examples. Fusonero is a delightful combination of all three and for that we are grateful. Drink 2023-2029.  Tasted June 2022

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