Austrian wine continues to intrigue me. We all know about their steely Rieslings, piercing Gruner Veltliners and wonderfully luscious noble sweet wines. Slightly less well known are the reds which have been making steady progress and this collaboration between Dorli Muhr and Dirk van der Niepoort has a South African connection with the winemaker, Craig Hawkins of Lammershoek, coming over to make the wine.
Carnuntum, which stretches from Vienna to the eastern border with the Slovak Republic, is known for Zweigelt but Dorli Muhr has chosen to concentrate instead on Blaufrankisch. With the fierce heat of the Pannonian summer moderated by the Danube and the nearby Neusiedlersee, Blaufrankisch is able to fully ripen but still retain the freshness that is so evident in this wine. There is a premium wine made from a single vineyard, Spitzerberg, which has 60 – 80 year old vines, but the Carnuntum is made from younger vines and is considerably cheaper.
The first thing that strikes you about this wine is it’s wonderful freshness. 2009 was a warm year in Austria and up to 60% whole bunch fermentation with stems ensures a superbly crisp crunch to the precise plum and blackcurrant fruit. There’s such a clear definition to this wine that it’s a delight to continue sipping but I’m determined to save some overnight and see how it develops.
That proved to be an excellent decision – which isn’t always the case! – and I was rewarded with a slightly softer edge to the wine with elegant lines, clear minerality and a rich depth to the fruit and light herbal notes, finishing with a sprinkling of spice and pepper. The more I tasted, the more complex this wine became, liquorice started to emerge as did cherries and thyme, concentration appeared to increase and new depths became evident. There’s plenty of structure in the form of rounded, minerally tannin and lively acidity, suggesting there’s still plenty more to give.
If you’ve tried any of Craig’s Lammershoek wines then you’ll spot some similarities, freshness for one. Craig’s Swartland Syrahs exhibit that same clarity, with ripe fruit around a clean, refreshing core seasoned with herbs. Craig likes to push boundaries with his minimalist style and this wine is no exception. Aged and fermented for the first 7 months without sulphur before a minimal dose during racking. After spending a total of 15 months in 3000L foudres the wine is then bottled, without fining or filtration. It’s risky winemaking, but I’m delighted to see winemakers of Craig’s calibre taking those risks – especially when we’re rewarded with something that excites and intrigues in equal measure.
One of the benefits of being connected to the wine trade in the UK is access to a wealth of trade tastings in London. These range from small and intimate, single merchant / importer tastings to the more generic large tastings organised by trade bodies. The Definitive Italian Wine Tasting held yesterday at Lord’s is the largest Italian wine tasting in the UK and is an opportunity to discover or re-acquaint yourself with some of Italy’s diverse indigenous grape varieties.
There are the usual suspects of Sangiovese, Verdicchio, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Pinot Grigio and Dolcetto but then we get down to Cataratto, Greco, Frappato, Vespolina, Nerello Mascalese and the truly obsure Ortrugo. You could spend the day never tasting the same grape variety twice! But the star of yesterday’s tasting was from a grape variety that I had heard of but given scant attention to previously – Lacrima Di Morro d’Alba, which was rescued from virtual extinction in 1985 according to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes.
Made from 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes the wine is delicious right from the beginning with crunchy fruit, herb and spice pouring out of the glass and demanding an immediate respect. The palate is pure cherry with layers of spice, cinnamon, strawberry and wild thyme supported by light, velvety tannins and racy acidity. Each sip brings a different character to the fore, one sip is more herbal, the next floral followed by a kick of strawberry and finally a trace of incense on the long finish. This is a fabulous wine and if you want something just a little unusual from Italy this is well worth seeking out. 93/100
Imported by Amici-di-Bacco whose website I would recommend if you want to discover more of Italy’s lesser known wines.
On a recent spur of the moment trip to Cape Town I had the opportunity to meet up with David Sadie in the delightful Swartland town of Riebeek Kasteel. David has been making wine for Lemberg but has also been working on his own venture producing tiny quantities of exceptional wines and is now reducing his commitment at Lemberg to concentrate on the new venture. Lunch gave us the opportunity to sample all of David’s wines with food rather than in a sterile tasting room or cellar, which of course is how most people actually enjoy their wines.
Chenin Blanc 2012
Bottled in January 2013 only 2 barrels of this wine are made with fruit from Paardeberg and Malmesbury. Vines are up to 50 years old and dry farmed bushes.
This had a very fine apple nose with light oak influence and had clearly spent time on the lees. There was a pure mineral streak giving plenty of focus to the precise, clean and fresh palate. Tight still – the wine is very young so not surprising – but there’s good balance to this wine along with piercing acidity. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 91/100
The 2011 vintage of this wine earned David 5 Platter stars and judging by this tasting I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that repeated. 50% Chenin Blanc with the rest made up from 20% each of Viognier and Clairette Blanche with Chardonnay contributing the remaining 10%. 4 barrels produced, 11 months in old oak.
Another very fine nose with peach and apple but the palate has a richer texture than the straight Chenin Blanc. Bruised apple and honey with ripe nectarine and a floral touch, lightly herbal on the finish. Excellent poise and balance. This is a classy, restrained and serious wine from David. 93/100
With a tiny production of only 2 barrels David has crafted a wonderful wine from 90% Grenache with 10% of additional Syrah. Using 40% whole bunch fermentation with gentle punchdowns for light extraction.
The nose is a beautifully subtle cocktail of strawberry and raspberry while the palate is remarkable for it’s sheer elegance and pure linear fruit. Raspberry, strawberry, plums, with savoury tannins adding support along with the juicy acidity. Lightly spicy on the finish with the merest hint of vanilla and fynbos. Elegant, supple, refined, this is a wine that demands contemplation and is one of the most accomplished I’ve ever tasted from South Africa. 94/100
David introduced this as a new wine in 2011 and it’s a very well crafted blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault reflecting the Swartland’s affinity with Rhone varieties. The Syrah comes from the Riebeek Mountain’s shale soils, Carignan and Grenache noir from Paardeberg Mountain’s granite soils and Cinsault from Sand on top of clay based hills on the Western Hills of the Swartland.
Where David’s Grenache is immediately appealing, this blend has a brooding meaty complexity to it that will need more time to reveal its locked in secrets. Supremely integrated tannins frame the refined blackcurrant and mulberry fruit, fynbos and subtle vanilla. This is a wine to watch. 94/100
All of these wines will be arriving in the UK mid-July and will be available from Vincisive Wines.
This is a wine that I’ve consistently enjoyed over the last few years since first meeting Bevan Newton Johnson at the Bibendum annual tasting in 2010. I just happened to be visiting South Africa a couple of weeks later and Bevan kindly invited me over to see the winery. Set in the rugged beauty of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, the drive out from Cape Town is worthwhile for the scenery alone, but the opportunity to taste some of South Africa’s finest Pinot Noir is the real reason for oenophiles to visit.
Kept relatively cool by the Cape Doctor, Pinot Noir has found its South African home in this valley and in the hands of husband and wife winemakers, Gordon & Nadia Newton Johnson, is beginning to find its own expression. Keeping their approach as natural as possible is the aim at Newton Johnson – hand picking and sorting, no chemical additions, natural yeast, gravity used instead of mechanical pumping, soft extraction (pigeage) by hand. The use of Stéphane Chassin oak barrels completes this Burgundian approach but the results take on their own South African form.
Of course there are general stylistics similarities, the generosity of fruit of Chambertin, the elegance of Chambolle and the silkiness of Volnay but the essence of Pinot Noir is its ability to transmit that most French of concepts, terroir. In the hands of a skilled winemaker Pinot Noir shouldn’t be used to just copy another region but to express and represent the land where it is grown. Gordon and Nadia understand this and have the confidence to allow their unique terroir to shine through.
And what a delight it is. Time in the bottle has added some flesh and weight to the wine but the Newton Johnson hallmark elegant and complex perfume is still the immediately engaging aspect. Cranberries and strawberry are noticeable straightaway but then the floral notes emerge, violets and roses with a spicy perfume. The tannins are almost imperceptible and incredibly smooth but they lend authority to the wine and give it a silky structure that frames the sinewy body and lively acidity. The oak treatment is harmonious and the toasted notes wrap around the strawberry, juniper and cherry flavours with a little vanilla fleshing out now. This wine is seamless, flowing elegantly from the perfumed start to the long full finish. 93/100
5 stars from Platter for the past 4 vintages, 2008 – 2011, are an indication of how good and consistent the Family Pinot Noir is from Newton Johnson. Not the obvious choice for South Africa but with committed and talented winemakers like the team at Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir would appear to have a promising future there.
Classic Clare Valley Riesling. A big hit of lime initially surfing on a wave of cut throat acidity but this quickly settles down to a more gentle minerally wine with grapefruit and a sinew of kerosene. This is delicious to drink now but the depth of flavour, zesty acidity and generous length suggest that another 5 years in the cellar would be well rewarded. 89/100
Utterly beguiling, this 40 year old Port was easily the star of New Year’s Eve. Still vibrant in hue with plenty of colour, the aroma whilst decanting was a delicious teaser of what was to come and I couldn’t resist a sip. Given a few hours in the decanter this developed layer upon layer upon layer of flavour. Still remarkably fruity with a seductive spiciness and velvety tannins that enveloped the palate. The feel of this wine was the most surprising aspect, time has transformed it into something really rather sensuous that glides through the mouth. You just want to savour this Port, take your time, feel it just a little longer, roll it around, almost dance with it, and then it’s gone. But it isn’t, the finish lingers and captivates. It stays with you, playfully haunting, and you cannot help but go back for another sip. Wonderful wine. 98/100
Despite being disappointed to be away from home and my family this Christmas and having to work, I was determined that the day wouldn’t be a complete washout. Arriving at Pudong international airport at 2am on the 25th and having to operate a flight back to Hong Kong at 4am on the 26th was not exactly conducive to a fun and wine filled Christmas day but it was just about possible to get enough rest in, observe the strict rules on alcohol and flying, and still enjoy the day.
After grabbing a few hours much needed sleep I dragged my jet-lagged body out of bed, armed with a bottle of Uva Mira Chardonnay 2010 and headed in to Shanghai on one of the world’s first maglev trains at 300km/h.
I hadn’t spent any time in Shanghai since my Virgin Atlantic days over 10 years ago so it was reassuring to see that the Shanghai metro worked seamlessly and the city still seemed relatively familiar, at least at the usual tourist haunts of the Bund and Xintiandi. Obligatory photo on the Bund for the Chardonnay completed its Chinese tour and next on the agenda was finding a restaurant to have Christmas lunch.
Lack of planning on my part, due to misplaced optimism that my flight would be cancelled, meant that we couldn’t get in to the really interesting restaurants like Otto e Mezzo or Mr & Mrs Bund so we turned on tourist mode, jumped in a taxi and headed off to Xintiandi to see what we could find.
I wasn’t expecting too much when we came across KABB bistro and bar, but they were open, had food and, more importantly, allowed me to open up my bottle of Uva Mira Chardonnay for an almost reasonable 150 RMB corkage charge. Deciding that a burger really wasn’t appropriate for Christmas lunch I went for one of the day’s specials and had a very passable duck confit. It may not have been the best Christmas lunch or confit that I’ve ever had but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable dish that complimented the bold flavours of the Uva Mira.
It’s always a pleasure to introduce this wine to new people and today was no exception as I shared the bottle with the other pilot, a friendly Kiwi who had no idea that South Africa could produce wines with this depth and elegance. This wine has never let me down and it was on top form today with the usual integrated oak notes supporting the linear stone fruit flavours. A thread of citrus developing as the wine gently warmed up in the glass and a zesty acidity cutting through the duck fat. It remains one of my firm favourites.
Italian wine is often a bit of a mystery for me. I’ve drunk plenty of it over the years, I’ve done a bit of study on the place, read the books and spent holidays in Tuscany but I always feel overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the country’s grapes, styles and idiosyncrasies. It’s often said that Italy has over a 1000 different indigenous grape varieties, how on Earth do you begin to get a handle on that?
Not one to be unduly deterred and applying myself with fortitude I went along to the annual Italian tasting hosted by Decanter magazine at the Institute of Director’s in central London. The big names are often at this tasting and it’s an ideal opportunity to taste wines from Sassicaia, Gaja, Antoninori and many others that I wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to. Interesting as these wines are, you generally know what to expect and the real pleasure lies in exploring the plethora of wines from unfamiliar regions and varieties, which is how I came across Vintage Tunina 1997.
Made from a blend of grapes grown in the Collio region of Friuli in Italy’s North Eastern corner this was quite simply the best white wine I tasted all day, by a long way. The grapes come from an area of 16 ha called ‘Ronco del Fortino’ and are first selected and then harvested about 2 weeks later than the non-selected grapes. Tunina is apparently the name of the first owner of the vineyard and also the name of Casanova’s poorest lover, who the wine is dedicated to. Poured out of an impressively labelled double magnum, this blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, Ribolla Gialla and Picolit (yes, I know…!) was delightful. Powerful enough to fight through some of the tannic brutes that I had already tasted but keeping a sublime balance that kept every component of the wine in delicious harmony.
The nose is almost like a Clare Valley Riesling, full of lime, chalk and tension but with a veneer of light smoke. Fascinating palate right from the first sip with a profusion of meadow flowers and ripe fruits with a rich vein of honey and just edging into maturity. There’s a remarkable richness to this wine that apparently doesn’t see any oak ageing or undergo any malo, but perhaps that explains the clean and focussed acidity that balances the wine beautifully. Elegant whilst retaining an electrifying power that suggests there is more to come. 95/100
Yes, we’ve had a miserable summer but one of the joys about living in England is that the unpredictable weather occasionally throws up a gem of a day when you least expect it. The kids have gone back to school, I’m on days off between trips, and I could spend the day in the garden just enjoying this late burst of sunshine. There haven’t been many 25C days in the Cotswolds this year but yesterday was a cracker so it seemed the opportune time try and recreate a long, lazy, warm Provence evening and this Chateau Pradeaux Rosé transported me an instant to the balmy shores of the Mediterranean in Bandol.
The colour of this wine is a subdued, pale orange rose but has a brilliant clarity to it that suggests a brooding elegance and invites you to quickly dive in. It’s a slow starter this wine, the nose is light but hints at the complexity to come. It only really gets going after a couple of sips. Delicate layers of flavour start to emerge from the glass, strawberry, mulberry at first but herbal notes begin to emerge including the wonderfully evocative ‘garrigue’ herbs. Nectarine, quince and peach take over and this is all supported by an insistent citrus acidity that carries a wave of minerality with it. Don’t expect a full-on assault of flavour, this is a wine that focusses on elegance and develops in the glass, enticing you back in with its ever-changing, complex and refined character.
Bordeaux is of course famous for its red wines but the region also makes some lesser known, superb white wines. These white wines are normally made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon while a splash of Muscadelle and other minor varieties can also be thrown in to the mix. 15 years can be considered to be significant ageing for a Bordeaux Blanc, with 10 years usually regarded as about right for the wines of Pessac-Leognan.
Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is almost all Sauvignon Blanc but this vintage had 5% Semillon and 5% Sauvignon Gris and received a fair bit of oak contact, probably fermented and aged in new oak.
Oak a touch dominant initially but doesn’t overpower the delicate Sauvignon Blanc and richly developed Semillon in the blend. Citrus, lemon and lanolin in a delightful interplay with the smoky oak which seems to integrate much better in 30 minutes or so. This is well advanced along the maturity path and probably on the way down but is delicious right now. 91pts