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.
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.
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
I’m always on the look-out for new wines to add to the Vincisive portfolio and have been searching for a Pinotage that offers a pure expression of the fruit rather than the bombastic, aggressive, smoky monsters that batter you in to submission with 15.5% alcohol. You just don’t ever want a second glass of those fearsomely potent brews. This search led me to Sebastian Beaumont who is making Pinotage in South Africa’s Bot River, just a little way inland from Walker Bay. That Pinotage will be the subject of a different blog post all of its own but Sebastian also sent some samples of his other wines and I had the opportunity to try a couple of them yesterday.
Beaumont Shiraz Mouvedre 2009
A blend of 61% Shiraz and 39% Mouvedre leads to a beguiling nose that continues to change and evolve. Initially meaty but quickly supported by a delicious chorus of blackberries, dark cherry, chocolate, coffee and sweet spices. There’s a thread of vanilla with a dash of pepper and ripe figs.
Generous on the palate with an excellent structure. Firm, ripe and juicy tannin enlivened by complimentary acidity gives a keenly balanced feel to the wine. Not quite as overtly complex as the nose but I suspect given an hour in a decanter and served with grilled meats this wine will open up beautifully.
Beaumont Vitruvian 2008
Sebastian’s flagship blend of 38% Mourvèdre, 27% Pinotage, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Cab Franc and 11% Shiraz matured in oak barrels for 2 years, 1/3 of which was new. Much more restrained than the Shiraz Mouvedre but there is the same recognisable initial meaty core with a rich sweet fruit profile. The Pinotage element marks this out as a South African blend but unlike many examples of these super-blends, it sits harmoniously with the other components and is complimentary rather than standing out as a distinct entity.
This wine is smooth, polished and statesmanlike with brooding power and structure. Quite closed at the moment but given 5-10 years the dark berry fruit and oak should come together beautifully creating a harmonious wine of beauty that will continue to evolve for a decade or 2.
Christmas! Just the mention of the word starts to bring a shiver of excitement. Sadly, I’m a long way past the days of waking up ridiculously early with a feverish anticipation of what amazing goodies Santa may have left below the tree for me. More importantly though, this is the time of year when we celebrate with friends and family. When loved ones come together to share happiness, joy, good food and of course wine.
This excitement at the imminent arrival of guests can be edged with a certain amount of trepidation about getting the food just right and having the perfect wine to serve with it. While I can’t help with the cooking as well as Nigella or Delia, I can offer you some handy hints and suggestions for wines that will match, and compliment, your efforts in the kitchen.
The obvious choice here is Champagne and why not? Champagne can be delicious, it’s the perfect celebratory drink and a wonderful way to relax your guests and get the party started. Champagne is refreshing and is also a wonderful foil to anything with a pastry base, seafood or charcuterie.
Tarlant Brut Reserve Champagne NV £25.95
A beautiful Champagne that is seductive and generous with powerful aromas of crunchy apple, mirabelle and grilled almonds. Remarkable liveliness with hints of honey cake and caramel, this champagne will delight your guests
Oysters straight from the shell, tiger prawns, even lobster are all beautifully complimented by a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre is the old fashioned choice, but South Africa offers a style of Sauvignon Blanc that is perfectly poised between the overtly fruity New Zealand style and the sometimes austere (and overpriced) minerality from Sancerre.
Tremendous value for money this is more old world and mineral driven than tropical fruit forward. For those seeking a good value alternative to Sancerre, the refined balance of this refreshing wine, combining ripe flavours of gooseberry, lime and fig with bracing acidity, gunflint and minerality, this Sauvignon Blanc gives the perfect match to a wide range of seafood.
Awarded a Gold Medal at the 2009 Michelangelo International Wine Awards and listed in First Class with South African Airways.
The traditional meal at this time of year is of course turkey which is a wonderfully versatile meat that offers a range of flavours and textures that are delicious with a variety of wines. As this will normally be the main event, it makes sense to pair with a high quality wine that will neither dominate the meal nor be overpowered by it. We’re looking for balance, elegance, depth and complexity and two grape varieties fit the bill perfectly, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The recipient of a coveted 5 stars from Platter, this is the only South African Pinot Noir to receive this honour in consecutive vintages.
It has superb intensity on the nose with wild strawberry, Morello, crushed flowers and a touch of citrus lemon, a real doppelganger for Burgundy. The palate is well balanced with crisp, fleshy red berry fruit with crisp, taut acidity and a feminine silky smooth finish. This is how Pinot Noir should be: vibrant and life affirming! 93 points – Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate
Consistently rated 4½ – 5 stars from Platter, previous vintages of this wine have won many awards, including IWSC Best Chardonnay in the World. This is a stunning Chardonnay with Burgundian minerality and beautifully finessed oak integration. The perfect wine for special occasions that is the equal of Burgundy’s finest Premier Cru wines.
Sourced from 14-year old vines, winemaker Matthew Van Heerden has produced one of South Africas outstanding Chardonnays that stood out like a sore thumb in a blind tasting. – 94 points, – Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate
A succulent fillet or an extravagant rib of beef deserves an equally bold wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannin in the wine melts in to the beef protein allowing the bright fruit flavours of the wine to come to the fore.
A total of eight barrels of hand-made wine, originating from the 2 Ha of environmentally friendly vineyards surrounding the Amares winery. The nose hints at dark-skinned berries, a promise of mint and other herbal aromas. The wine has a broad palate with an attractive mouth feel from ripe grapes backed by mature tannins and a dry cedar finish.
Awarded best Cabernet Sauvignon in Stellenbosch and Simonsberg by the South Africa Terroir Wine Awards. A deserving title for this elegant wine that is gaining in complexity with time in the bottle.
Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding and Stilton Cheese
There can only be one choice at Christmas time and that is mature vintage Port. South Africa has been producing fortified wines for over 300 years and this example from JP Bredell’s shows the benefit of all that experience.
Grown in the well drained soils of the Helderberg basin, the traditional Portuguese Port grape varieties combine to give a powerful fortified wine that is capable of rivalling the best of the Douro. 5 stars from Platter, a Gold Medal at the 2006 Michelangelo awards and an Old Mutual Trophy in 2008 are testament to the quality and purity of this wine.
Mature and ready to drink now, this Vintage Port style wine is powerful with aromas of dried fruit, plums, raisins, ripe blackberries, blackcurrants, Christmas pudding, liquorice and spice. The palate is muscular with strong tannins and alcoholic grip but is voluptuously rich and packed with dark fruit flavours, mocha and mint. This is a decadent wine to finish a perfect meal matched with the finest Stilton cheese.
These wines are all available at www.vincisive.co.uk and a mixed case of these 6 wines is on offer for £105 giving a saving of over 10%. Delivery in the South Cotswolds area is free. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to order, quoting xmas
This post first appeared as a guest article on one of the wine world’s most entertaining and thoughtful blogs – Quaffable
Given the fine literary talents usually displayed by Mr Quaffable, it is quite a daunting prospect to rise to the challenge of writing a guest blog. Stick to what you know would probably be good advice, but this is a wine blog and not an aviation blog. OK, perhaps I know a little bit about wine but is any of it interesting or vaguely entertaining? After all, I don’t want Quaffable’s blog ratings to plummet – it’s a competitive world in the wine blog arena and it might be nice to be invited back some day.
Tell a story perhaps? Hmmm, well they all start with a bottle of wine and usually end up with me not remembering what happened between the second bottle being opened and waking up in another familiar hotel room on the network. Although I’m pretty sure I would have managed to solve many of Cathay Pacific’s rostering, pilot pay and recruitment issues during the course of the evening. There would undoubtedly also have been perfect solutions to the problems of bankers’ bonuses, the Euro and world peace. Throw a bunch of pilots together, add wine, all your problems solved!
Right, back to wine it is then, why on earth does somebody with a reasonably well paid job decide to start up a business importing South African wines? We all know that the wine business is sewn up by the big boys, there’s cut-throat competition, miniscule margins, import duty, VAT, large upfront costs, and of course there’s only a small niche market that is interested in anything other than Jacob’s Creek or First Cape.
The answer is passion. A passion that develops from the instant that you taste a wine that utterly blows you away. A wine that unexpectedly takes you by surprise with its elegance, mineral purity and complex depth of flavour. That wine is Uva Mira Chardonnay.
Stellenbosch may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of elegant Chardonnays, but Stellenbosch includes the picturesque Helderberg mountain which rises majestically above the plain with panoramic views to Cape Town. Uva Mira is located at the top of this mountain, above Hidden Valley and Ernie Els and stares down to Ken Forrester’s Chenin Blanc FMC vineyard. The Chardonnay vineyards are at an average elevation of about 1700 feet and this provides a cooler climate enabling chardonnay grapes to retain their freshness, elegance and mineral focus. Restricted yields of 32hl/ha, careful handling and hand sorting are all part of winemaker Matthew van Heerden’s fanatical approach to quality.
Fermentation is in new, lightly toasted, French oak with the occasional batonnage and a small amount of the wine is allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation for some added complexity.
Returning back to the UK after tasting this stunning wine I was amazed to see that it wasn’t available anywhere. Why hadn’t this wine been discovered? I still don’t know the answer to that question but a few phone calls and emails later and I had started a new business, invested a sum of money that caused some ‘discussion’ with my wife and Vincisive was born, importing the wines of Uva Mira as their UK agent. The worst thing that could happen would be being left with a pallet of fantastic wine that I would have to drink by myself, now wouldn’t that be a shame!
Fortunately, I’m not alone in thinking it’s a great wine. Take Neal Martin for example,
The palate is very well balanced with a delicate entry that expands beautifully across the palate with notes of orange peel and subtle apricot. It is both long and vibrant in the mouth with a palpable sense of tension. This Chardonnay exudes thoughtful winemaking and is highly recommended. 94 points
With reviews like this, my stash of fine Chardonnay that I can keep to myself is getting smaller. Production is limited to 800 cases a year so it’s not easy to secure a bigger allocation. However, I’m prepared to make the sacrifice as wine this good should be shared and enjoyed by a wider audience! Passion for wine is something that cannot be indulged in alone, it needs to be articulated, debated, discovered and above all enjoyed. I look forward to having that conversation with you over a glass of South Africa’s finest Chardonnay!
You can find Uva Mira Chardonnay at Vincisive
Surrounded by the Rustenberg estate and overlooking the Simonsberg mountain, Amares is a small farm of only 5 hectares. The name was the inspiration of the original owner in 1920, Hugh Cooper, who was an expert honey maker and named the farm after the mountain range near Athens where the honey produced is of legendary quality.
The current owners are a partnership of Sally Ann Noel, Renier Pienaar and the winemaker, Neville Koudstaal. They are united in their belief that wine should be as natural as possible and to that end farm their vineyard organically. A covercrop of Korog (a wheat and rye hybrid) is sown between the rows mostly as food for the Guinea Fowl it would seem, but some of it does grow! An organic fertiliser is used for both the vines and the cover crop.
650 Bales of straw are put on the vineyard beds to help with weed-control and moisture retention. This straw gently breaks down during the season and helps improve the soil structure.
The Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is situated on Hymettus farm and was planted in 2001 to a variety of Cabernet clones on rootstock 101-14 Millardet et de Grasset.
The Syrah grapes are sourced from two select vineyards. Amares is able to obtain premium quality grapes from their neighbours, Rustenberg Wines. The second batch of Syrah grapes are sourced from a farm in the Banhoek valley which the winemaker, Neville Koudstaal established himself. Both of the sites are well suited to world-class Syrah and impart bold fruitiness, spiciness and subtlety.
Vinfication is very similar for both wines
- Harvesting: Grapes are harvested into small containers, early in the morning, at optimum phenolic ripeness and brought immediately to the cellar to remain cool. No more than two tonnes of grapes are processed per day.
- Hand Sorting: The grapes are hand sorted by a team of fanatics to ensure that only quality bunches are crushed. All matter other than grapes (mogs) are removed and spiders are rescued and returned to the vineyard.
- Crushing: The grape bunches are agonizingly slowly put through a crusher-destemmer perched on top of a fermentation bin. Stalks are removed to the compost and the berries lightly crushed by rubber rollers to break their skins.
- Fermentation: The must (crushed grape berries and juice) is allowed to settle for a day before yeast is added to start fermentation in the one ton stainless steel fermenters. Punch down is manually performed three times a day with daily checks on temperature.
- Pressing: When fermentation is complete, the must is left for a few days on the skins to impart further flavour. The must is then gravity fed into the press. The press is a hand operated wooden press which allows a fine degree of control over the pressing operation. Free-run juice is collected separately from pressed juice and pressing stops well before undesirable tannin flavours can be imparted to the wine. The pressed must cake is removed to the compost.
- Barrel Fermentation: After pressing the wine is decanted into French oak barrels. The wine is encouraged to undergo a second (malolactic) fermentation in the barrels to impart further smoothness and flavours to the wine.
- Barrel Ageing: After malolactic fermentation is completed the wine stays in the barrels for approximately 18 months to age. During this time the oak contact imparts desirable tannin and vanilla flavours to the wine.
- Bottling: When the wine is ready, bottling is performed at the winery. The bottled wine will rest in the cellar for a few months, labelled, packaged and finally shipped for consumption.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2007- The nose hints at dark-skinned berries, a promise of mint and other herbal aromas. The wine has a broad palate with an attractive mouth feel from ripe grapes backed by mature tannins and a dry cedar finish.
Awarded best Cabernet Sauvignon in Stellenbosch and Simonsberg by the South Africa Terroir Wine Awards. A deserving title for this elegant wine that is gaining in complexity with time in the bottle.
Syrah 2007 – Turkish Delight, clove and juniper on the nose followed by fresh red stone fruits with strong white pepper and light spice to finish. The careful use of French oak creates gamey, smoked meat hints. A bold but elegant slow-food wine.