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.
Last week I was delighted to drive down to Sussex on a beautifully sunny English summer’s day to taste through Bolney Estate’s range of English wine. First planted in 1972 with Chardonnay, Dornfelder and Rondo, the estate has now expanded to cover 39 acres and includes further varieties such as Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Pinot Gris. Lying on a south facing slope close to the Sussex downs the bedrock is sandstone and is covered with Sussex loam. Fairly typical of many English vineyards the grapes are trained using a High Sylvoz system that keeps the deer away from the fruit and also allows a free flow of air around the base of the vines, helping to reduce the disease pressure from the moist English climate.
Plenty of investment in the winery and an attention to detail and quality have built this estate into a winery that England can be proud of on this Jubilee weekend. These wines are worth seeking out or better yet, take yourself off to Sussex and see the vineyard yourself on one of the estate’s tours
This is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Seyval Blanc that gives a raspberry and strawberry cream nose. Technically dry but there is a hint of residual sugar, which together with some lees character is balanced nicely by a refreshing acidity. Elderflower and green apple coming to the fore on the finish. A gentle mousse makes this a delicious aperitif.
60% Pinot Noir and 60% Pinot Meunier. These grapes normally go into the sparkling wine but a particularly ripe batch begged to be made into a still rosé. Light, refreshing, juicy berries, this wine isn’t pretending to be something serious, it’s fun, meant to be enjoyed casually and is perfect for those lazy warm summer days that hopefully will be returning to the UK soon!
Fragrant, aromatic nose of white flowers, elderflower and English meadows. This is quintessential Bacchus with a precise palate of delicate roses. There’s no hint of the bitterness from too long a skin contact that detracts from so many other Bacchus wines. This is refreshing, balanced, elegant and finishes very long indeed. Pour me a second glass please!
Spending 2½ years on the lees this English sparkling wine is as close to a good NV Champagne as you’re likely to find. Freshly baked bread and toasty with a light apple and quince fruit profile. This is a well made sparkling wine that displays balance and is fully deserving of its recent victory and Gold medal at the IWSC competition.
Spending 6 weeks in 2nd and 3rd fill oak barrels, ¾ of which are French and the rest American, helps to give a softly tannic wine that is dominated by cherry, raspberry and plum gently caressed by a whiff of smoke. Good quality English Pinot Noir is very hard to come by, often being overly acidic or displaying harsh green characters, but this wine fits the bill with its ripe fruit finish. This is supple, fun and thoroughly decent Pinot Noir, an English charmer.
We’re getting a bit more serious with this wine and its concentrated cherry, plum and blackcurrant nose. Juicy ripe fruit is supported by rounded tannins and an acidic bite that gives some definition. The finish is seasoned with a touch of spice and pepper. This blend of Rondo and Dornfelder shows that the UK can also make stylish red wines.
Made with 100% Pinot Noir and spending 18 months on the lees, this sparkler is all about refreshing berry fruit flavours. It’s straightforward, refreshing and charming, drink it with friends in the garden and enjoy it for what it is, fun in a glass.
I have just spent an awesome few days with Ray Walker at Maison Ilan helping with the harvest for 2011. Ray is based in Nuits-St-George and this is his third vintage having moved to France from California to pursue his dream of making world class Burgundy wines. This was my first visit to Burgundy in an attempt to discover more about the Cote d’Or, its vineyards and its wines. Ray was the perfect teacher.
To say that Ray is focused would be to misrepresent his absolute passion, drive and commitment to producing wines that are a faithful representation of the soil in which the grapes are grown. Meticulous attention to the quality of the fruit coming in and ruthlessness in discarding anything that doesn’t meet his extraordinarily high standards are the order of the day.
There are no high tech gizmos in his winery / garage, no vibrating sorting tables, no air blowers or optical sensors. This is manual wine making, every grape bunch is hand sorted, every leaf and ladybird is manually removed before the grapes receive their only mechanical touch – the de-stemmer. Further sorting of the de-stemmed grapes removes any stem remnants (jacks) before the grapes are placed in the wooden or stainless steel fermentation vats. A small dose of sulphur is the only addition and fermentation is left to start naturally. Pigeage is kept to an absolute minimum.
The days are long, starting at 7am and not stopping until all the fruit is sorted and safely in to the vats. Work continues late in to the night accompanied by the occasional fortifying beverage from Ray’s cellar!
I may be tired, bruised and grape juice stained but it was a great privilege to spend time with Ray and the rest of the volunteers, Mark Freeman, Alino Punzalan, Jonathon Beagle and Shun Yamaguchi. I’m excitedly looking forward to tasting the fruits of my labours in a couple of years and in the meantime you can follow Maison Ilan here.