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.
Everywhere I turn at the moment I seem to bump into Ralph Hochar of Chateau Musar, not that I’m complaining of course because wherever Ralph goes there’s always a few bottles of Chateau Musar close by.
First up was London International Wine Fair where I attended a tasting with the legendary Serge Hochar who took over the winemaking in 1959. Serge has spent over half a century in charge of Lebanon’s most iconic wine, turning it into an internationally recognised and globally appreciated wine. He became Decanter magazine’s first ever Man of the Year in 1984 and when you hear him talk it’s easy to see why. Full of enthusiasm and passion for his wines, his calm and affable manner draws you in to the Chateau Musar story which is about history, tradition and an expression of Lebanon’s high altitude Bekaa Valley.
All of us at the tasting were happy to listen to Serge talk and answer numerous questions but time was pressing and we had to move on to the tasting which began with Musar 2005 and Musar 1999.
Chateau Musar 2005
Structured, firm tannin with smoky fruit. Obvious Musar nose but this is hard and disjointed at the moment. Hide away in a dark cellar for at least 5 years!
Chateau Musar 1999
Richer, fuller and more developed. Sweet, ripe plum, red berries with supple ripe and integrated tannins. Creamy, enveloping body that is very balanced. Tobacco and leather on the very long finish. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 2005
Not as oxidative as I expected. Creamy mouthfeel, spicy, lanolin, peach and honey with some smoky oak notes.
We were then treated to a magical array of mature vintages, 1974 and 1980 reds alongside 1986 and 1991 whites. Chateau Musar wines are some of the most age-worthy you are likely to find anywhere and they reward patience with complexity, subtlety and enormous pleasure.
Chateau Musar 1974
This is a beautiful brick colour with a truly evolved nose. Remarkably rich, silky and round palate. The tannins have long since melted to leave a wine that feels like crushed velvet. You could almost mistake it for a mature top flight Burgundy with its elegance and complexity of flavour that seems to float around the senses. Heavenly.
Chateau Musar 1980
A much deeper colour than the 1974, this wine is incredibly fresh still. Classic Musar flavours but this is soft, round and very well integrated. Vibrant with a fresh acidity. This wine constantly changes in the glass but retaining a rich elegance through to the cedar, tobacco and leather finish.
Chateau Musar White 1991
Dark amber colour with a toasty, smoky nose. The palate is very rich and creamy, nutty and balanced. Lightly oxidative intertwined with layers of herbs, marzipan and apricots all held together by tight acidity. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 1986
A completely different wine to the 1991, this vintage was unwooded hence the much lighter, clear and bright lemon gold colour. the nose is lighter too, almost reticent. In comparison to the 1991 the palate is much more straightforward with a creamy lemon and lightly oxidative touch.
Through the magic of Twitter, Ralph and I discovered that we were both going to be in Hong Kong at the same time. Ralph and the Chateau Musar team were in town as part of Vinexpo, the trade show that alternates between Bordeaux and Hong Kong. I was there as part of the day job and had flown in from Amsterdam via Mumbai, a quick shower and straight in to Stanley for a Chateau Musar dinner with a few Hong Kong enthusiasts.
Serge was also attending and it was a real pleasure to spend an evening in his company discussing the wines and his philosophy on Chateau Musar. Serge is such easy company and it was obvious that all around were not only comfortable in his presence but were positively engaged by his conversation and interest in life in Hong Kong.
This tasting brought another Musar first for me – Rosé. Not just any old Rosé but a 1994 vintage Rosé. We all know that Rosés are supposed to be drunk young so why bother with one that is 18 years old? Well the Musar Rosé is based on the white grape Obaideh, which is reputed to be descended from Chardonnay, and is blended with about 5% Cinsault. The wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels and ages superbly, like the Musar White. I was astounded at how fresh and alive this wine was. Clear fruit profile, strawberry, citrus and apricot but also herbal and floral. I can’t say that I’m usually a fan of Rosé but this wine intrigued me and I couldn’t resist going back for a second glass.
Finally, I bumped in to Chateau Musar again yesterday. Not at a wine event but at an Indian food tasting of all places. Again Twitter played its part, having met the very talented Asma Said Khan at the London Wine Fair, I offered to try and pair some wine with her cooking. Asma very kindly invited me and a few Twitterati including my winemaking guru Nayan Gowda @vinosity and food bloggers Susan Wilk @ssusu_you and Florian Siepert @siepert, and amongst the wines brought to taste was a Chateau Musar 1998.
I’ll leave the food blogging to the experts but suffice to say that if you ever need somebody to come and cook the most amazing Indian food for a dinner party then you need Asma. Every single dish, of which there were many, was a delight of complimentary flavours and balanced spices. I have eaten widely in Mumbai and Delhi and Asma brought these flavours to the table but took them on to a whole new experience for me. This was fabulous home cooking that fully deserved the fulsome praise that was heaped upon Asma.
I was delighted that my Mullineux Kloof St Chenin Blanc paired extremely well with many of Asma’s dishes but was surprised to see how well Chateau Musar 1998 went with a fish curry. Never would I have dreamed of this combination but the emerging bright fruit of this wine complimented the meaty fish and the softening tannin didn’t react to the gentle spice combination leaving the butteriness of the dish to merge with the wine’s acidity.
I feel very privileged to have shared these recent experiences with Ralph and Chateau Musar. Once you have tried these wines it is difficult not to fall in love with them, their history, their nuances, their age-ability and of course the wonderful characters that are a part of the Chateau Musar family.
We’ve had a beautifully warm last few days in the Cotswolds recently and this evening presented the perfect opportunity to get to grips with another Platter 5 star wine, the Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc.
South Africa has taken Chenin Blanc from its heartland in the Loire Valley and made the variety its own. The styles are very different but there is no doubt that South African winemakers are doing something special with this grape. Led by Ken Forrester and his iconic FMC, South African Chenin Blanc is becoming well known and appreciated around the world for all its styles, clean and fruit forward, oak influenced, intensely sweet voluptuous stickies and incredibly complex Swartland White blends.
This well crafted wine from Sebastian Beaumont is barrel fermented in 400l French oak casks, only 15% of which is new. This allows the Chenin fruit character to express itself with just a supporting hint of oak given away by a light toast and merest whiff of vanilla. This is classic Chenin Blanc, apple, floral and edged with a touch of honey. The honey notes really brought out with the remnants of some Pecorino left over from the weekend.
Regular batonnage makes this a rich wine with a full body but acidity is well balanced giving a refreshing zesty feel. Allowing the wine to warm a little releases a second wave of new aromas, more stone fruit this time with apricot and nectarine but carried along with a wave of lime. Delicious stuff!
The finish is long and concentrated, pushing the apple character all the way through the spectrum.
5 Platter stars, well deserved indeed.
UPDATE – Stocks have arrived from South Africa and are now available from Vincisive Wines here