Searching for great heart in South Africa

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink Live in Kalmandi Township

Heritage and diversity in South Africa

as seen on WineAlign

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

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

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

A deeper understanding

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

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

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

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

So much to think about

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

Performers at Amazink Live

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

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

Sundowners, Sanbona Game Reserve

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

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

Chef Gregory Henderson, Wildekrans Wilde Forage, Bot Rivier

New age of diversity: Bot Rivier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chardonnay vineyard in Robertson

Regional spotlight: Robertson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L’Avenir Wine Estate and Country Lodge

Pino Pistols – The next generation of Pinotage young guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinotage winemakers at L’Avenir

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

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

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

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

Wildekrans Wine Estate

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

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

Graham Beck Winery, Robertson

Méthode Cap Classique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage vines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heldeberg from Stellenbosch

Post revolution Swartland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donovan Rall

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

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

Verticals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1980s called. They want their culture back.

Wot varietal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuier

Good to go!

godello

A view of the Simosnberg from Amazink in

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WineAlign

Eighteen Canadian wines that rocked in 2018

2017 Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

The inaugural year-end summary of Canadian wine excitement posted to godello.ca was in 2013 and this sixth instalment naturally includes five more than the first. The necessity begs of the process to expand because five years later even the paltry number 18 is but a fraction of what could or should be noted, publicized and celebrated. This exercise is one of the most arduous writing assignments of the calendar year, difficult to pin down, even harder to leave wonder out in omission. As I’ve said before “it’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it.”

Related – 17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

Another year of tasting Canadian wine, another year of thousands of examples shared my way. Even more international travel made it difficult to keep up the pace but I’m sure I tasted more than 1000 wines once again. We are relentless in our attention paid to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. The WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada convened in June at the convention centre in Penticton B.C. and judging Ontario wines happened with David Lawrason at The Great Canadian Kitchen Party, the artist formerly known as Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

Over the past 12 months my partner Scott Zebarth and I have upped our little négoce game with the fine folks at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery. With the help of Marty Werner, Ben Minaker and Eden Garry we managed to crush, ferment, blend and bottle three new wines. In April there were 594 magnums of Aldé Rosé 2017, a 100 per cent VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake cabernet franc. Then in September we released the second vintage of Interloper Cabernet Franc 2017, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake and our newest wine, As Is Field Blend 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore.

As Is Field Blend 2017, VQA Niagara Lakeshore, Ontario ($19.95)

The third wine in the little project with partner Scott Zebarth and Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery’s Marty Werner, Ben Minaker and Eden Garry A dream of fields, single-vineyard one-third each blend of pinot noir, merlot and cabernet franc, co-fermented with ambient yeasts. As Is.  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard  @Scottsomm  @marty_werner  @BMinaker23  @RavineVineyard  Scott Zebarth  Martin Werner  Ben Minaker  @RavineVineyardEstateWinery

In 2016 there were 16 wines noted. In 2015 I counted 15 on the filtered list. In 2014 the highlights numbered 14, just as in 2013 the number chosen to cant, recant and decant excellence in Canadian wine was 13. Last year you are correct, the list held 17 spots. Roll out the 2018 red carpet. Here are the 18 most exciting Canadian wines of 2018.

Back up the truck, glug glug Gamay Rosé Flipping the Bird by @hatchwines and where’s J-do?

The Hatch Wines Gobsmacked Flipping The Bird Pink 2017, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $21.99, WineAlign)

We pulled this Rosé from the ice and were utterly astonished and astounded at this particular bird. It was Jason Parkes, “he named you the bird. It’s how you were generally referred. We never really understood, never really thought about much.” So we tasted again and we raised a brow, got excited and then were utterly gobsmacked. Sometimes, there’s a wine. And I’m talkin’ about the Bird here. Sometimes, there’s a wine, well, he’s the Rosé for his time and place. Mostly go gamay go with some cabernet sauvignon, utterly fresh at the peak of perfect natural volatility, red berries and grapefruit. No salve texture nor trans fat feeling left in mouth behind neither. Crushable by any amount desired. A portion of the profits from the sale of this wine are donated to Parrot Island, a non-profit sanctuary for abandoned and abused exotic birds in Peachland BC. “With time, it only made more sense, As time went by, it just made more sense. You are the bird. You are the bird.” Thank you Jason, thank you Dude. Thank you Gord. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted June 2018  hatchwines  @HatchWines  @hatchwines

Two years in a row. Well-deserved and just because.

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2017, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

Malivoire’s most important and benchmark Ontario Rosé is one of the first to the table from the 2017 vintage and why not because its quick soak and lightness of being takes no time at all to get ready. This is the antithetical beauty of Rosé and how it must be approached for best results. Malivoire does not take a step forward from the most perfect ’15 and ’16 wines but there is more fruit in this ’17. You can actually nose and taste strawberry plus a hint of tart raspberry. This will appeal to more of the general Rosé loving populace without any compromise for the provincial, provençal geeks everywhere else. It’s ostensibly a better wine in 2017 because it will attract that growing audience without having made any concessions or dis to authenticity. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted February 2018  malivoire  noble_estates  @MalivoireWine  @Noble_Estates  Malivoire Wine  Noble Estates Wine & Spirits

Fitzpatrick Fitz Rosé 2014, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $48.98, WineAlign)

Long lasting flavours of impression. Candied ginger, dried strawberry, every fruit shade of red, for redheads everywhere.  Last tasted December 2018  fitzwine  @FitzWine  @FitzWine

This pinot noir is lovely, quiet and mild, a lemon-strawberry aromatic blush of the faintest noir. Fine spun, wild yeasty, truly wound tight, so focused and persistent. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Trail Estate Riesling Foxcroft Vineyard Unfiltered 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

In 2016 the next wrinkle is a wild ferment (as opposed to the inoculated ’15), unfined and unfiltered, because as time progressed “I liked it more and more,” says winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois. No coarse filtration means some minor sediment will settle in the bottle. Smashed layers of tote-filled grapes are brought to the crushpad, in lieu of the crusher, to extract from the skins and stems, making use of the punchdown tool, while waiting before pressing. Recently bottled in December 2017 the BFR is something completely other and if 2015 was considered not, this follow-up is markedly fruity now, because it always was, all the way through during just more than a year in really old barrels. It’s a blonde riesling as per M. Gustave, if you will. “Why blonde? Because they all were.” This is the wisest of Mack Brisbois’ rieslings, calm, confident, collected and shining brightly from the word go. You don’t have to wait on this one, it’s riper, it’s unfiltered, made with a lot less sulphur than the skin contacts and those “dirty” 15s. “I like to see how little (sulphur) I can get away with,” notes Brisbois. The most accomplished riesling that she has made to date, the 16’s balance is spot on now and you will not have to wait for it to come into its cinematic stage. Drink it now and keep it longer. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hard not to put the 1991 Cave Spring on the list but is there any good reason to not place the CSV on the list every single year?

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2016, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

The CSV from a warm 2016 really expresses the vintage on the nose with a heavy dose of wet stone and every part of a ripe peach. You have to get past the early sulphur but once you do you take a good bite into the flesh of this riesling and the juices will run with accents and angles fit by tonic, pith, tangy, nervy acidity and a hidden sweetness. The sugars are surely more elevated than realized or will ever be felt because the combination of acidity and pith are covers that will never peel back. Size matters and this CSV is built with great Escarpment architecture, stepping out of the paradigmatic 2015 shadow and into another age. This 2016 begins an epoch of structural expressionism and should easily carry its construct through to the next decade. That consequently, is when this CSV will really be ready to rock and roll for a full decade more. Drink 2020-2030.  Tasted March 2018  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine

Godello and Paul Pender of Tawse
PHOTO: Steven Elphick & Associates

Tawse South Bay Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.15, WineAlign)

The South Bay Prince Edward County fruit from Huff Estates lands is simply exceptional produce, from where winds blow-dry leaning vines perched aboard a passel of solid limestone sliding into Lake Ontario. Tawse has always coveted this fruit and when Paul Pender is allowed to play with it he does so with great mindfulness in search of greater apogee. Methinks Pender both picked a few days to a week earlier and also worked the most mineral meets Ceres toast his barrels can afford. There is a deep, sonorous and resounding regard about this chardonnay. It’s both sumptuous and serious, with a flinty-mineral meets toasted hazelnut interplay. It is perhaps an Ontario nod to Les Caillerets, or just a far away coincidence, but regardless you just have to know that it’s a very special wine. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted December 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve Du Domaine 2016, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Agent, $37.95, WineAlign)

Still in the vein of the Queylus chardonnay tradition where a winemaker is always on the watch, meaning you never take your eyes off the child or the prize. The Réserve is a matter gathered from the best barrel selections but says Kelly Mason “the treatment and the worry are the same.” Slides easily away from the tropical and sidles up the the rocky places from whence it came. Chardonnay is often round and liked that way but Queylus is direct, linear, angled and also far from angular. When the Escarpment rule is followed and traced along the lines of a malolactic ruler marked by clones (in this case 76 as opposed to 95) then structure is assured. The ambition is real, the intention serious and there is no roaming far to the west or the east. All that and richness is found through every bright sip. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2018  queylus  @Queylus  Domaine Queylus Winery

Hidden Bench Chardonnay Tête De Cuvée 2011, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (278812, $45.20, WineAlign)

Still so youthful, now noted by smoked quince with a shot of peppermint schnapps where no sugar lives save for the sweetness of nature.  Last tasted December 2018  hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Tête De Cuvée by Hidden Bench, like a Champagne best of the best abstraction, makes an appeal to self-esteem and esteem for others, to consumers who have come to recognize Niagara and even more specifically, the Beamsville Bench for head of the class, cool climate Chardonnay. That mouthful congregates and works in congruence with the quality in the Tête’s composition; full-on freshness, density, weeping cerate texture, toasted and popping kernel, fine-grained localization, utterly integrated barrel. There was scant quantity (32.5 hL/h) from some very old and wise vines, pronounced like others but louder than most, from the bullhorn of a stentorian vintage. What is felt and spoken about the quality inherent from out of the finest parcels in the Locust Lane and Rosomel Vineyards Chardonnay fruit is more than a patent observation. The ability to take on toast cuts to the nougat and the synoptic rises to the ethereal ozone. Not to mention gross minerality. On the shortlist for best Niagara Chardonnay to date. Drink now and beyond 2025. Tasted twice, September and October 2014

Roche Wines Pinot Noir 2016, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $24.90, WineAlign)

The 2016 is purchased pinot noir fruit by Dylan and Pénélope Roche from Kozier organic vineyard on the Naramata Bench. Hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel tanks with regular pumping over and pressed after three weeks on skins. The press wine was separated from the free run and aged for 10 months in stainless steel and neutral French oak. Knowing what I know after the first blind assessment it now turns this love of love into inspiration, away from the soulless, blind pinot noir love and to something real. If there is a more honest and crushable one I’d be shocked. So exciting and new.  Also tasted at Bench 1775, June 2018  rochewines  @RocheWines  @rochewines

Really ripe, I mean really ripe, a hematic liqueur that few others in the flight can match. From a warm site to be sure, full and thick as pinot nor  thieves. Not as structured but so very, bloody and reasonably drinkable. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $39.00, WineAlign)

Though statements of monadical hyperbole should very much be avoided, a taste of Dan Sullivan’s ’16 JCR makes one think it has all come to this. The glycerin fruit endowed with so much natural sweetness and magnificently low alcohol feels like an impossibility. In a way it is but it’s also a County reality. This may just be the least astringent PEC pinot noir ever produced and at the same time seems entirely void of tension. Yet there is structure and cohesion, two functors so very necessary to see it drink well for 10 years, with great charm and further curiosity for five more after that. Drink 2018-2028.  Last tasted July 2018  rosehall_run  sullywine  profilewinegroup  @Rosehall_Run  @sullywine  @ProfileWineGrp  @RosehallRun  Dan Sullivan  @ProfileWineGroup

Bright, red raspberry, light and effusive with a simple, liquid chalky feel. Really drinkable. The tart is part of a delight in composition. A good chew.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

Lightfoot & Wolfville Ancienne Pinot Noir 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $40.00, WineAlign)

Driest year on record with nary a moment of disease pressure. Spent 18 months in older French oak, less one barrel. This is the richest Ancienne and Nova Scotian pinot noir to date, with firm grip, structure and outright intensity. Welcome to the pinnacle of the first L & W pinot wave, the culmination of the first epoch, after which nothing will be the same and so much learning will have been achieved. Begs the question of what happens next? The vines get better is what, in fact I walked the 2018 pinot noir vines today. Their maturity and contiguous consistency will be the answer to future questions and debate. They will speak for and on behalf of themselves. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted October 2018  lwwines  rachhlightfoot  jhortonns  korilightfoot  @rachel_hope  @lwwines  @lightfootandwolfvillewines  Rachel Lightfoot  

Two Sisters Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $54.80, WineAlign)

Released on Monday July 16th and now a Platinum Award winner at NWAC18. “This has everything that ’13 had but just a bit more weight, structure and complexity, plus volume, those last three meaning on the palate,” explains winemaker Adam Pearce. Down in volumes (30 per cent), beautifully aromatic, low-cropped, (1.25 tonnes per acre), 15 per cent new wood, 32 months in barrel, in bottle for an additional 10 months. The focus, presence and confidence of this wine stand apart, all worked specific to place and the uniqueness of the appellation. Benefits from a double-lake effect and different soils. Chalk and river stone liquidity running as a river of its own right through. Drives the point of patience, to allow a vineyard the chance to speak of its singular phraseology. The 2014 Niagara River cabernet franc may still be a ways from reaching its full potential but it has certainly hit its stride. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2018  twosisters_vineyards  apearcevino  @TwoSisters_wine  @apearcevino  Two Sisters Vineyards  Adam Pearce  

Benjamin Bridge Cabernet Franc Small Lot 2016, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $57.95, WineAlign)

Still from the Kingsport farm fruit, a whole cluster ferment, no messing with stems, fully oxygenated, no carbonic maceration, 30-40 per cent whole bunch. Total output is “a barrel and a bit.” An infused aromatic ferment, green spice and a char of tobacco, utter intensity, compelling and a phenolic reality. “A myth buster incarnate,” says Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, ripened beyond the sensory borders, miles away from other territories, with generosity and juicy ripe legs. From a warm vintage, nine months in neutral oak plus nine in the bottle. Then a decant and oh how the florals open up, furthered, blooming and intoxicating. More than just a fun little experiment so please wake up and smell the Gaspereau Valley. So lively, a wee salty and all energy. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted October 2018  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones  scott.savoy  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  Jean-Benoit Deslauriers  Scott Savoy  

Vineland Estates Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

Winemaker Brian Schmidt’s investigations into cabernet franc border on obsession but truth be told it’s not rocket science that makes so many fine varietal tiers. There are the six growers combed from six Niagara sub-appellations that add up to one entry-level, over-delivering cabernet franc. Then there is Bo Teek, the large estate vineyard planted in 1996 to clone 327 in the south and in 2006, to clone 214 in the north. Not to be forgotten in the cabernet franc make-up is the limestone substratum, highly significant for the trace mineral, elemental push up into these vines ensuring that no over-the top make up is required for varietal elevation, explanation and consummation. Vineland’s Reserve spends 16 months in barrel, none of which are any newer than from 2009. Fermentation, barrel, bottle, repeat. That’s it. No racking. This Reserve is the marriage of north and south, 60 and 40 per cent respectively, a combinative attack both phenolic and aromatic. The northern fruit sings some blues with crooning volatility whilst in delivery of sweet blackberry fruit. The south is all about stretched, nimble and elastic tones, elegant, more fragrance, black to red berries and less brooding. As one it’s a deeper and more intense wine than Bo Teek or Elevation, bottled in November, with higher acidity. The corollary variegation expands above what Bo Teek seems capable of executing solo. The structure here tells us it will not switch gears as early and live longer. Look for some secondary notes in the vein of black truffle, sweet balsam and dried lavender to show up after the turn of the decade. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2018  vinelanestates  benchwineguy  @VinelandEstates  @benchwineguy  @winery.vinelandestates  Brian Schmidt


Mission Hill Terroir Series Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2015, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $50,00, WineAlign)

You have to wonder why Mission Hill had not kicked at the can before because the Vista’s Edge is one of British Columbia’s brightest cabernet francs. It’s an important and exciting first effort from East Osoyoos fruit pulled from one of the Okanagan Valley’s farthest southern plantings. It’s a top three per cent single-vineyard, special terroir series edition that smells, tastes, feels and acts like cabernet franc. Nothing about this, not by barrel nor like varietal reminds of cabernet sauvignon. There are currant and peppery reductive meets pyrazine notes as red, bright and fresh as you’d hope they would be. The pitchy darkness of structure and hue falls because night must always follow the day and that’s what happens when cabernet franc is made this way. A long life ahead is conformed by the diphthong finish. Drink 2019-2026.  Tasted June 2018  missionhillwinery  @MissionHillWine  @MissionHillWine

Leaning Post Syrah Keczan Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Agent, $45.00, WineAlign)

The eureka moment for syrah, Lincoln Lakeshore, Keczan and Leaning Post came years ago, for it, that, they, them and I. Not together mind you but passion knows no limits and opens doors to transcend time and space. This pinpointed farm on that flat expanse so perfectly proximate to the lake is where syrah can express itself without hindrance or opposition. Here the lake is like the Mediterranean and the river like the Rhône. Together they address the clay, create a moisture gathering effect, ship out the cold fronts and usher in the warm. They make syrah like this, rich in humus, hummus and hubris, olive tapenade and sweet brine. Fruit is fruit, also sweet, but savoury, acidulated and fine. Acidity is perfect in this vintage. Length is exceptional. A new benchmark, bred from passion with the intendment to inspire commitment. One of Ontario’s best red wines. Drink 2020-2032.  Tasted September 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Kacaba Signature Series Reserve Syrah 2015, VQA Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

It’s about time we get something straight. Kacaba knows Syrah, in fact they should receive serious consideration for the title of Ontario’s top Syrah specialist. Two vineyards (with plantings that date back to 1997) provide fruit for several tiers, including the syrah from Terrace and Silver Bridge Vineyards and the highest quality chosen, hand-harvested fruit for this Signature Series Reserve. An escarpment’s dolomite limestone effect plays into these hands from fruit that arrives into glass through the body of arguably Ontario’s finest current syrah. The aromatic waft of a warm pastry crust is laden with red and blue berries that also fill the cool flavour centre of a pastille. The savoury candy gives way to a peppery kick before featuring a cure of salumi and a return full circle to that serious fruit. The apposite and complimentary smells and tastes are only intensified with a bottle’s decant so just imagine the possibilities that age will bestow. This is special work from Michael Kacaba with winemakers John Tummon and Vadim Chelekhov.  Last tasted February 2018  kacabavineyards  vadimwineguy  @KacabaVineyards    Kacaba Vineyards and Winery  Vadim Chelekhov

Oh what a beautiful peppery syrah, ripe and floral, all of its aspects, angles and components agreed upon, all in. When Canadian (and in this case, somewhere in Ontario) syrah gets down to business, gets straight to the meaty and smoky point it does so tart, tight and coiled around your tongue and finger. This, right here just nails it. It is the best of times. This is the man. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted blind at #NWAC17, June 2017

Stratus Vineyards Sémillon Botrytis Affected 2016, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (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   stratuswines  @StratusWines  @StratusWines

Good to go!

godello

2017 Aldé Rosé, Interloper and As Is

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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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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

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Hamilton Russell three ways

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College

Good to Go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Tasting Ontario Part Six: Pinot Noir

Gather your thoughts about pinot noir. Begin with Bourgogne and it’s really quite easy to articulate an opinion. Smells like cherries, shows earth and mineral notes of/from clay and limestone. Texture is specific to the village where it is grown. New Zealand? There’s a recognition regardless, save for a special and singular red fruit that is specific to Central Otago. What about California and Oregon? Any wine geek who knows who they think they are could surely pick them out of a blind tasting with great certainty? Now what about Canadian pinot noir? That’s a totally different story.

Related – Results of the 2018 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada (The Nationals): Pinot NoirNational Wine Awards of Canada 2018

If it were just a simple matter of Ontario versus British Columbia that would be one thing but there is Nova Scotia to consider and within the provinces so many sites of origin and stylistic variegation making it really difficult to identify the source. It may be a challenging and oft-times heartbreaking grape but in Canada it increasingly finds a way to ripen from coast to coast. Even if that were less true just five years ago the tenets of experience, acumen and passion have taken pinot noir to heights few believed it was capable of going. That winemakers can now produce so many varied examples tells us it’s here to stay.

Bourgogne uses the word Climat to define vineyards or rather the DNA of the vineyards and the official term is specific to wine while the reference lieux-dits is an administrative one. Many would argue that while dirt makes an impact it is climate that inflicts the most drama on a wine but even more important than climate and soil, it’s the people who give the terroir its cultural identity. In Canada these notions of accumulate knowledge that can be transmuted from generation to generation are developing so that each appellation or sub-appellation is managing to produce a specific style of wine from vintage to vintage.

Related – Tasting Ontario Part Five: Varietal Whites and Appellative Blends

In Ontario there are pinot noir crus few would ague against the probability that in most vintages quality will be a guarantee. Crus like Lowrey Vineyard on the St. David’s Bench, top blocks in Prince Edward County, several vineyards up on the Beamsville Bench, Wismer-Foxcroft and many plots on the Twenty Mile Bench. In the Okanagan Valley there are many premier growing sites; East Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Lake Country, the Similkameen Valley and increasingly on Vancouver Island.

Producers in British Columbia may have more merlot planted than they can or want to have to deal with but in red grape terms, pinot noir is it. There are more single-vineyard, name-assigned, block-designate, terroir collection, (x) series and (Y) cuvées attributed to the grape than any other. Granted some passion projects are giving some love to gamay and cabernet franc but the attention doted upon pinot noir is unequaled and unprecedented. Proof is in the tabulated pudding, so to speak, with the final results at NWAC2018 showing what’s what.

There were 73 medals awarded to pinot noir, a staggering number that represents just less than half of the wines submitted and four per cent of all wines entered into the competition. Only red blends (93) and chardonnay (79) received more total medals but most impressive were the 28 Gold Medals in this category, plus 18 Silver and 27 Bronze. The naysayers who continue to doubt whether pinot noir is a viable signature grape in this country are not paying close enough attention to the signs, portents and in conclusion, results. Here are 30 tasting notes for pinot noir made in Ontario.

Vieni Estates Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (550608, $16.95, WineAlign)

Vieni’s pinot noir shows off some pretty impressive fruit, certainly veering towards the sweet and dried fruit spectrum but hanging around with some good acidity, firm grip and proper 2015 structure. It’s more than a pleasant surprise and it’s only $16.95. Good fruit meets equally good acumen in a must try Vinemount Ridge buy. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted March 2018  vieniestates  @VieniEstatesInc  Vieni Estates Wine and Spirits

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

The warm sites can’t help but develop dark fruit and vintage variation seems to be in a current state of suspension. The string is alive with the ’16 pinot noir, always a matter of value for Ontario. Still just as ripe as 2015, perhaps not quite as charming but certainly generous. It holds back from cooking at a level of stovetop heat unnecessary to the execution of the dish. Gentle, resilient and restrained, far from a pressed or pressing matter and just ideal for weekdays and weekends alike. Pair this wine with everything but I recently discovered that long pasta noodles with prawns in a spicy garlic, chile and tomato sauce worked quite well, thank you very much. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted April 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Château Des Charmes Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Niagara On-The-Lake, Ontario (454967, $16.95, WineAlign)

This remains one of the better values for pinot noir out of Ontario with generous thanks to some of the warmest growing sites in the province. It’s also worthy for what it does not try to do, which is too much. The Château des Charmes pinot noir is just what it needs to be from 2015; ripe, charming and generous. It shows lovely restraint and balance, finishing with some gentle spice after the reign of fruit. It’s also really easy to crush so cook up at least three courses to make it last. It will pair with just about everything. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted November 2017 and February 2018  chateaudescharmes  @MBosc  Château des Charmes

Coyote’s Run Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (53090, $19.95, WineAlign)

Two blocks, two soil types and two proximate meets apposite pieces of the Niagara Peninsula raise a pinot noir in get together fashion for a consistent estate style. The tonality is elevated like few other and the fruit on the nether side of fresh. It’s energy and vitality is a combination of acidity and dried or even scorched earth-derived savour. Tang and sapidity are not the result but smoulder and spice surely are. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted March 2018  coyotes run  @coyotesrun  Coyote’s Run Estate Winery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1545, $20.95, WineAlign)

In true essential Flat Rock style this 2016 pinot noir deals in rusty, ropey, ripe and flattering red fruit with its always balancing note of tension. The vintage is certainly prettier, easier and friendlier than most so the fans should pile up and add to the overall success of Flat Rock representing Ontario pinot noir on the map. This is nothing but fine and enjoyable work from a true varietal leader. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Kew Vineyards Pinot Noir 2014, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $23.95, WineAlign)

More high tines, dialled back a touch, lithe, again some effusive character, tart, so very tart, a whack of wound tight intent, dry tannins, so much tea. Cranberry, earthy, lots of tone and structure. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  @kewvineyards  @kewvineyard

2027 Cellars Pinot Noir Edgerock Vineyard 2016, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Edgerock is Twenty Mile Bench fruit with expected 2016 ripeness and just an edgy twitch like quick lightning strikes on that fruit. There is some chewiness to the fruit laced by acidity and some drying tannin that is a bit deferential for the vintage and for Peninsula pinot noir. Not sure that pinot noir can get much riper than this in Ontario and so the perfect storm of vineyard, vintage and execution is met. The nose is so very ripe to almost advanced, with strawberries macerating and flavours so well to far developed. Not as fleshy as some as a result but will soon begin to develop some nice secondary character. Good summer wine, for this summer and hopefully an indigenous one for the fall. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  2027cellars  @2027cellars  2027 Cellars

Meldville Wines Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $27.20, WineAlign)

Derek Barnett’s is a sweetly perfumed pinot noir, fully expressive of ripe 2016 fruit and with a tannic drying edge. It’s a bit lactic to be sure, seemingly argilo-calcareous in nature and really reminds me of some far away sangiovese or corvina grown on white limestone soils. Really unique, lithe and elegant for Barnett if also tangy, sweet and sour. Not sugar sweet but aromatically so. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  meldvillewines  @meldvillewines  Meldville Wines

Thirty Bench Small Lot Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $28.95, WineAlign)

Bright and effusive, eye and olfactory opening, citrus, steeped herbal tea, with fruity accents. “All around the blooming heather,” purple fruit flavours, fiddle background and thoughts of rolling thyme hills. Good bass line, baritone underneath, full of structure, real structure. Time has had an effect. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018  thirtybench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  @ThirtyBench  Andrew Peller(Andrew Peller Import)  Emma Garner

Leaning Post Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Agent, $28.95, WineAlign)

Ilya Senchuk’s small lot (220 case) 2015 pinot noir is actually a new wine set to be released this spring. It’s a blend of fruit drawn from both McNally and Lowrey vineyards, two exceptional cru that have been the focus of previous Leaning Post single-vineyard pinot noir. The most notable difference here is how all the tension and vaporous tones melt away to create this fluid, fleecy and ductile wine. The fruit selection seems clearly developed to gain easier access with downsized structure or perhaps it just happened this way. It is here that the house style reads as a lithe Peninsula pinot noir manifesto with clarity and transparency to set up and introduce the estate’s next vintage, recently planted young vine pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Redstone Pinot Noir Limestone Vineyard 2013, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

The Redstone Vineyard pinot noir comes off of the ridge that is all Redstone estate fruit expect for the 40 acres riesling block (of 60 in total). There is a ferric gaminess to this pinot with its tension and dusty, tart rusticity. Intense in its litheness, like light and bright strawberry on steroids. Really lingers. Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted November 2017  redstonewinery  @RedstoneWines  Redstone Winery

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2015, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (392738, $29.95, WineAlign)

From 2015 comes a fully ripened, full advantage press taken and fleshy warm pinot noir on the dark cherry end of the fruit spectrum. The wood is fully supportive of that wealth of fruit and tension is really nowhere to be found. The tannins are sweet and also do little to distract from the fruit. What it manages to elevate in terms of energy and vitality is this lovely elegant tang from both soil and wood, short of spicy and in gentle drift. The pleasure is all now do enjoy this before the decade strikes midnight. Drink 2018-2019.  Tasted February 2018  queylus  @Queylus  Domaine Queylus Winery

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Pork Tenderloin and Flat-Iron Steak marinated in black raspberry lees grilled with black raspberry sauce.

Westcott Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Westcotts have to be so very pleased with the result of their 2015 estate pinot noir, a wine of great farming in loyal custodial work across an exceptional rolling terroir. This Vinemount Ridge locale is the perfect love-hate relationship builder but when sacrifices are met and zero corners are cut it will produce some very fine, albeit fortune abetting fruit. This ’15 interprets ripeness with an edge of tension by way of a gentle rusticity and mild barrel spice. A second taste weeks later also gives salumi, natural funk, cèpes, dusty balsamic earth and the angled torture or the ridge. It’s all there, wonderfully integrated and already hinting at a truffled secondary stage. Not yet mind you, but not so far away. Would it perhaps benefit from one less day or two of phenolic ripeness in exchange for half a point higher acidity? Perhaps but ultimately the vintage decides, as do the handlers who listen to the wind. A greater pinot noir vintage likely lies ahead and for this wine, further understanding. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February and March 2018  westcottvineyards  @WestcottWines  @westcottwines

Trail Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)

The Peninsula ’16 pinot noir is a joint Wertsch and Wismer blend, six barrels Between the Lines and two Foxcroft. The goal is not fully in focus, even if it’s just too early to call. Niagara pinot noir from these parts is want to be rusty, red fruit volatile and so bright you gotta wear shades and this ’16’s profile reads from such a script. It’s so very different from the lemon-citronella note that County pinot often surveys. So what does Trail Estate have, at least in here? Lightness for one thing, ease of drinkability and sweet tannin. Wild ferment and no new oak got this here, plus some neutral, second and third fill. It’s got candied floral and cinnamon heart, is quite tangy but honestly quite delicate. Simple yes, quite OK and at times, volatile too. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  trailestatewine  mackbrisbois  @TrailEstateWine  @MackBrisbois  Trail Estate Winery  Mackenzie Brisbois

Hidden Bench Estate Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (Winery, $31.95, WineAlign)

Really high-toned in which volatility may be in charge if checked by ballads of bright, currant-berry fruit. Cranberry, pomegranate, has got it all, but also a lovely earthy grounding. Rays of light on the mountain, “such a simple thing.” Has to be an example of a concentrated house style by a great pinot noir maker from great pinot noir terroir. Like a bench somewhere special where pinot can get through chains, “some how, some how.” Really tannic so all should be good and structure laid out cool. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   hiddenbench  markanthonyon  @HiddenBench @MarkAnthonyWine  Hidden Bench Estate Winery  Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits

Cornerstone Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

Big and verging into oxidative, a raisin and fig note, almost appassimento. Could very well be or at least made in a ripe, concentrated and mimicking style. Glycerin, strawberry, leafy savour, jammy and quick to reveal itself. Immediate gratification in a really big pinot noir. Drink 2018-2021.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  cornerstonewine  @cornerstonevino  @cornerstonewinery

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir Gravity 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (1560, $34.95, WineAlign)

Gravity is the focus of Flat Rock’s pinot noir exploration and with a whole bunch addendum it changes gears in 2014. This is a very important vintage for Gravity, to leave behind and move forward into a new world. That it does with more ripeness, structure and less intimidating consternation than past vintages have shown and with a freshness also not before seen or tasted. The balance between ripe black cherry, linear and focused acidity, neo-classical structure, followed by an intense drive to please delivers the whole package. Well done on the first of two Gravity swan songs from outgoing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted February 2018  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

Closson Chase Pinot Noir K.J. Watson Vineyard 2015, VQA Niagara River, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

From Kevin Watson’s Niagara River vineyard, a place that warms quickly and leads to very early harvests, in this case September 15th. Deals a pinot noir of whole clusters that when they come in smell like blueberry and clove but take little time to move out of that realm and into one occupied by cedar, mushroom and artificial strawberry candy. It’s a complex situation that requires opening several bottles over a few year period to really gain an evolutionary understanding of regional pinot noir, this particular Niagara fruit and Closson Chase winemaking in the hands of Keith Tyers. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2018  clossonchasevineyardsClosson Chase  @ClossonChase  Closson Chase Vineyards

Tawse Pinot Noir Unfiltered Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $34.95, WineAlign)

Unfiltered elevates and lifts Quarry Road fruit up to a forthright plateau where it generously gifts at its purest and most impulsive best. This is seriously juicy, sexy, fleshy and ripe pinot noir from the Vinemount Ridge, a windswept variegated set of rolling hills that plays hosts to the larger Quarry Road set of blocks. It is this gathering of fruit from here and there that allows winemaker Paul Pender to have a better representation of the appellation and ultimately a better balance. And so this ’16 is a wonderful example of the beautiful relationship between producer, appellation and vineyard. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted December 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Stanners Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $35.00, WineAlign)

From County fruit, again in 2016 not so much a great quantity thing but for the median kind of vintage, not bad either. The fruit is exceptional, bright cherry effulgent and County radiant. Just a hint of meaty cure, salmagundi and analogously speaking, quite layered. Such a wine is poignant, with energy and drive, holding on to the past, but with a deeper understanding and thinking about the future. “When you talk about the past, what are we talking of?” In a family Stanners pinot noir we’re talking about moving from strength to strength and really the sky is the limit for what this wine can become. It’s a more complete and better structured song than before. If I feed Colin Stanners a War on Drugs lyric he’d sing “and I’m moving on a cast, shadows on my seam, I keep moving to changes, yeah, ooh.” His ’16 pinot noir is just a child right now and like the song, it will gain flesh in a year’s time, be timeless, then last a very long time. Drink 2019-2024.  Tasted April 2018  stannerswines  @StannersWines  Stanners Vineyard

Thirty Bench Pinot Noir Small Lot 2015, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (461566, $35.20, WineAlign)

The tones are elevated and the fruit is really ripe though the acidity is quite calm in this extreme small lot pinot noir. You can get a true sense of the culture and the micro-managed terroir that separates this from some less expensive and certainly more rustic Niagara cousins so the cost is quite understandable. The fruit is the thing, given all the attention and the credit. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted February 2018  thirty bench  pellerwines  @ThirtyBench  @PellerVQA  Thirty Bench Wine Makers  Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant

Tawse Pinot Noir Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $35.95, WineAlign)

It would not be a Paul Pender raised pinot noir without the triple threat of dustiness, meatiness and tension all working in a circle of Niagara Bench lands love. In Quarry Road’s case it is a very specific Vinemount Ridge condition, from a place of wind, rolling hills and variegated clay and limestone soils that deal directly with and into these vines. They are at seven years of age by this point, just long enough to speak the truth and turn this pinot noir into a wiser and more experienced wine. The fruit is remarkably delicate when you consider the grip and purpose exercised by the tannin and yet it’s all coming together nicely. I for one am really looking forward to what eight and nine years of age will mean for 2015 and 2016. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Agent, $39.00, WineAlign)

Though statements of monadical hyperbole should very much be avoided, a taste of Dan Sullivan’s ’16 JCR makes one think it has all come to this. The glycerin fruit endowed with so much natural sweetness and magnificently low alcohol feels like an impossibility. In a way it is but it’s also a County reality. This may just be the least astringent PEC pinot noir ever produced and at the same time seems entirely void of tension. Yet there is structure and cohesion, two functors so very necessary to see it drink well for 10 years, with great charm and further curiosity for five more after that. Drink 2018-2028.  Last tasted July 2018

Bright, red raspberry, light and effusive with a simple, liquid chalky feel. Really drinkable. The tart is part of a delight in composition. A good chew.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018   Rosehall_run profilewinegroup  @Rosehall_Run  @ProfileWineGrp  Rosehall Run Vineyards  Profile Wine Group

Meritorious match alert @leaningpostwine #lowreyvineyard pinot noir with #goulash and #spaetzle

Leaning Post Pinot Noir Lowrey Vineyard 2014, St. David’s Bench, Ontario (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)

It was a very good pinot noir vintage across the peninsula board and so not necessarily one to separate with megaphone announcement the Grand-ish Cru St. David’s Bench Lowrey Vineyard from the lower flats and the upper benches. Even though many a winemaker were opting for some percentage of whole cluster fermentation the vintage combined with this block was not such an animal. What Lowrey, Leaning Post and the vintage were meant for was a module that included grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted, de-stemmed, partially crushed and soaked on skins prior to fermentation. Three days later a spontaneous fermentation in small open-top fermenters would be followed by a transfer to French oak barrels (35 percent new, 30 one-year-old and 35 older) for 15 months. The result is another exemplar of pinot noir lithe excellence in this, the final chapter ahead of Ilya Senchuk’s newly planted pinot noir story ready to unfold out of the home (Winona) vineyard. The 2014 Lowrey is a wine that elevates a goulash game (which I can attest to because of an out of mind and body experience), but it’s also magically understated and subtly complex. It’s almost unmovable, resistant to early development all the while a joy to drink. Open it, store it, age it, wait on it. It’s all good. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted March 2018  leaningpostwine  nicholaspearcewines  @LeaningPostWine  @Nicholaspearce_  Leaning Post Wines  Nicholas Pearce

Tawse Pinot Noir Laidlaw Vineyard 2012, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (Winery, $44.95, WineAlign)

Juicy straight up, red cherries in their ripest state, a bit dusty and lifted. Tart, dry, herbal, savoury, so interesting. Really tannic and remains to be seen if this structure will deem that fruit to drift into some elegance. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018 tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

The Farm White Label (Mason Vineyard) Pinot Noir 2015, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $50.00, WineAlign)

A high-toned, effusively bright and perhaps edging into volatile pinot noir. Flavours are rusty deep, quite orange-zest scraped and scented, like Irancy. If it’s really that simple then there may not be much tension later on, so think about pairing its coolness now. Lean and verdant with shading into crimson is a very specific beneath bench Niagara speciality, replete with firm if tender emotions. This example is for the here and now. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted blind at NWAC18, June 2018  thefarmwines

Tawse Pinot Noir Cherry Avenue 2013, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario (Winery, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Tawse Cherry Avenue ’13 is hotter than July, classic soul Twenty Mile Bench pinot noir that has hit its stride because of solid winemaking, varietal-musicianship and über professional production. Five years forward is the right time to take in the firm and founded cherry fruit, aged in oak for 18 months in 40 per cent new French oak. Filled with feeling and wonder, Cherry avoids the temptations of disco and new wave to stay focused on the old world prize and can’t help but “put me in the right direction, with tender love and affection.” It’s a wine from an estate holding the Midas touch and from a time when it could be argued it was pausing at the crossroads of an illustrious career, looking in all four directions. The pinot noir exploration has fortunately continued, justified and vindicated by such a retrospective look. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted May 2018  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Karlo Estates Pinot Noir Estate Grown Wild Ferment 2016, VQA Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $65.00, WineAlign)

As with the Estate chardonnay the elévage from winemaker Derek Barnett for the second Karlo home-front pinot noir is wild ferment, barrel ferment and barrel aging. Oh if this isn’t so Prince Edward County; wild, wooly, bright and engaging, reeking of red cherry and plum. It’s also quite cedar savoury but also salumi-cured, naturally and necessarily so. The accrual is complex and driven by a devoted purpose to make something small really effin’ matters. This is fine-grained pinot noir with a sense of condiment, a relish that supports the fruit to make it tangy, juicy and real. And it’s been done without any excessive intervention or wasted notes played. Terrific origins, sense of place and quality. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018  karloestateswinery  @KarloEstates  Karlo Estates

Good to Go!

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