On Thursday 17th May the ICC Group to taste some wines from Provence.

We tried wines from 3 famous small appellations: Cassis, Bellet and Bandol; a top Côtes De Provence Rosé and a Rosé and a Red from the slightly more International area of Aix.

Here are my notes:

CASSIS   CLOS VAL BRUYERE 2015 (Chateau Barbanau)   –   12½%   –   Wine Society (£12)
This is Marsanne, Clairette and Ugni Blanc with a little Sauvignon Blanc. Light soft fruit and floral nose, quiet but complex! Slightly herby and salty notes on the palate – almost vermouth, some fruit behind too and the many flavours pan out into a long, quite persuasive wine – rather good.
Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  17.5/20

CÔTES DE PROVENCE ROSÉ 2016 (Domaine De Rimauresq – Cru Classé)   –   13%   –   Virgin Wines (£15)
This is Cinsault and Grenache based with about 8% – 10% each of 4 other grapes. Prickly nose with strawberry and slightly cherry fruit and a higher perfume. Palate is lively and fresh with a red fruit middle and a long line of acidity coming to a mineral finish, Structured and dashing this would make a good food wine, with fish, salad or even something spicy.
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

COTEAUX D’AIX EN PROVENCE ROSÉ 2016 (Chateau Vignelaure)   –   13%   –   Wine Society (£13)
This is Grenache, Cabernet and Syrah and has a pinker, slightly darker colour… the nose is simpler but more powerful with citrus and cherry fruit. The palate is rounder and heavier-seeming than the previous wine, mainly though through a shorter, warmer profile. Well made, but lack the dash of the previous wine…
As I write these notes 6 days later I have also tasted another 5 Rosés at home or in the Loire, including a Sancerre (Pinot Noir), and 4 other Loire: two from the Bourgueil area made with Cabernet Franc (at a quarter of the price!), one from Pineau d’Aunis, one a sparkler. The Sancerre was the clear winner, the Rimauresq next best and this, Aix, the least interesting!
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  14.5/20

“HARMONIE DE PROVENCE”  COTEAUX D’AIX EN PROVENCE ROUGE 2014 (Domaine des Oullieres)   –   13%   –   Yapp (£19)
This is a similar (more Cab less Syrah) grape mixture to the previous Aix Rosé. Nose is rather Southern Rhone Garrigue, slight twist of red berry fruit. Blackberry and black cherry, slightly jammy, fruit a little too sweet and the tannins a little too soft for balance IMO – good for initial gulping but lacking complexity or shape… In many ways a parallel to the other Aix!
Ratings:        Quality:  14/20   Value:  13.5/20

BELLET: DOMAINE DE LA SOURCE ROUGE 2013   –   13½%   –   Yapp (£27)
Very intriguing nose of vegetal, smoke, spice, forest floor, dark berries… Open, succulent palate without being cloying, with fruit and a long line of warm acidity intertwined for a long complex wine. Very balanced and complete – many people made it favourite but a high price. Excellent though!
Ratings:        Quality:  17/20   Value:  15.5/20

BANDOL LA BASTIDE BLANCHE 2014   –   14½ %   –   Waitrose (£15)
Slightly brackish but fresh nose, with some high notes, over a brooding dark fruit element. Palate is powewrful and full bodied with sweet briar, blackcurrant fruit, and non-fruit component – liquorice (?). Big-boned, long and involving but lacking the lightness and charm of the previous wine. A good, not dazzling, Bandol, but very good value.
Ratings:        Quality:  16.5/20   Value:  16.5/20

Quite an interesting tasting, I think. For me the star was the Bellet, but close behind – and a real surprise – the white Cassis.  The first Rosé and the Bandol were very good, as expected. In fact all the wines were enjoyable, but I found – in this company – that the two Aix wines were… not bad but a bit pedestrian… chacun à son goût as they say in the Government (!?).

Talking of which… the group were very amused at receiving a letter advising on democratic processes from a certain  Pridirka Putat’, answering a query about American democratic “innovations”, from the Kremlin. I have tried to establish this person’s identity and bona fides… with little success. However transliterating the name into Russian characters, translating to English and using a Thesaurus gives a clue… ’nuff said!

À Bientôt

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Provence is a relatively small wine area, producing under 300m bottles a year, compared to about 1bn from the Rhone, but it has about twice the production of Alsace or Beaujolais and about 30% more than Burgundy.

Provence is the home of Rosé, over 80% of the wine is pink!  The majority of the rest is red (over 13%), in fact white wine only makes up 5% of the total.

Apart from a few obscure traditional grapes in the fringes (see below) the main grapes are similar to those in Southern Rhone, the big 5 reds: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan; and on the white side: Grenache Blanc, Rolle (Vermentino), Clairette, Roussanne and Marsanne.

Most Provence wine, 68%, is AOP (AOC) while 30% is IGP (Vin De Pays). At this top (AOP) quality level Rosé is even more dominant: 87% Rosé; 9% Red and 4% White. In fact nearly 40% of all French AOP Rosé  comes from Provence.

That makes it a niche area – in two different ways: it’s a big player in the Rosé world (but that’s rather a small world (less than 10% of all still wine worldwide); and a very small player in the overall French Red & White wine world (about ½ of 1% of the total).

So to sum the region up: a lot of Rosé – usually based on Cinsault and Grenache; reds a bit like Southern Rhone, but with some specialties; unusual and rare white wines… Any further general assessments about styles is difficult – it seems to be more about very particular growers or small appellations…

There are 9 AOP areas, they are:

Côtes de Provence
The largest AOC /AOP, producing over two-thirds of Provence AOP wine. The most varied regional also, with soil and climatic differences across the area…
There are four geographical “Sub Regions” in the Côtes de Provence: Sainte-Victoire (Some of the better Reds); La Londe (Cinsault based Rosé); Fréjus (at the eastern edge – bigger wines); Pierrefeu (near Toulon, focused on Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. producing Garrigue inflected reds and rosés).

Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (nearly 15% of AOP wines)
There is more red here (up to 10%!) and more influence of Cabernet and Syrah – carrying over to the Rosés.

Coteaux Varois de Provence (9%)
Rosés, mainly from Cinsualt, Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah are in the majority, but there’s even more red (a third) here, it’s relatively cool and even Pinot Noir is grown.


Bandol (5%)
On the coast in the South West corner of Var is the most famous Provence area of all: Bandol. Home to some white (from Clairette and Bourboulenc) and Rosé, the main attraction is the Red. Based mainly on the Mourvèdre, with a little Cinsault and Grenache, the best wine combines subtle fragrance, delicacy, power and longevity.

Cassis (1%)
Along the coast, West of Bandol, is the rare white-dominated AOP of Cassis. Marsanne is the main grape, with Clairette, the wines have a reputation for intense aromas of citrus, peach, honey and dried herbs.

Les Baux de Provence (1%)
This is predominately red – fitting to this very hot enclave within Aix en Provence, with Granache, Syrah, Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon common, and more unusually Tibouren and Calitor. It’s home of the most famous wine – outside Bandol at any rate – the (£60 ish) Domaine de Trevallon!

Pierrevert (1%)
Pierrevert is the newest (1998) and the most northerly of the Provence AOPs, next to the Luberon,  and has a S. Rhone style. Rosé here differs from the other parts of Provence: the rules dictate that a minimum of 50% of the wine must be made in the ‘saignée’ method, the only place in Provence where this technique is allowed.

Bellet (0.2%)
Bellet is set on the steep hillsides surrounding the city of Nice, so it’s tiny and expensive. Cooled by the sea influence the area produces Red and Rosé from interesting Italian-ish grapes like Braquet and Folle Noir – at a price!

Palette (0.2%)
Nestled below Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and coming in at only 100 acres, Palette is the smallest AOP of Provence. The vineyards were planted on the limestone and clay soils by the Romans around 100 BC and the area is now home to over 25 grape varietals (some obscure), all hand harvested and subject to specific blending rules and aging requirements. Very esoteric, and expensive!

Is there an overall Provence style? Well the Rosé could be called a style of its own – the best examples are fresh, herby, dashing and food-friendly. There are also, certainly, unique reds: Bandol and Bellet are styles that one won’t find elsewhere. However many other reds are versions of the Southern Rhone formula with a Cabernet twist. Are they truly distinctive?

We’ll see – the May tasting will be a Cassis white; two very highly-rated Rosé; and reds from Aix, Bellet, and Bandol.

My notes will be published next week…

À Bientôt

May this year is a strange Month: the end-of-Month Sock Party will be on June 1st; and the beginning-of-Month Tutored Tasting actually took place (due to an English Bank Holiday) on April 30th! Rest assured the middle-of-the-month May ICC Tasting will be indeed be in May….

So it was the WING group met to taste Mosel Rieslings guided by Andrew. Andrew had been partly inspired by a travels to Traben-Trabach very near the centre of the Mosel wine area. I too have stayed there and we both heartily recommend the area.

Regular readers will know my liking for Riesling, it’s probably my favourite white grape – especially in its traditional form from Mosel (or Mosel-Saar-Ruwer as the overall region was known until 2007). Andrew had noted the increasing propensity for Trocken and Feinherb (=Halbtrocken, sort of) wines in the area. When I first went there in 2001 only perhaps 10% of production was so labelled – last time (2015) I also had noted the change, then nearly half were.

(See my reflection on these issue in my post of September 17th 2015 – below>).


Andrew sought to explore the differences by showing 3 trocken wines  the first of each pair) against 3 more “traditional” wines with some residual sugar…

Here are my notes:

FINESSE TRABENER KRÄUTERHAUS RIESLING SPÄTLESE TROCKEN 2015 (Weingut Trossen)
Rich oily nose with elderflower and peach, and a later honey hint – all classic Riesling notes but seems a bit dull, by that classic standard. The palate has a zingy acidity, quite rounded by soft fruit – but a little short.

RICKELSBERG STEILLAGE TRABENER WÜRZGARTEN RIESLING AUSLESE FEINHERB 2015 (Weingut Trossen)
This is an interesting wine, with 26 g/l residual sugar and 12% alcohol…so right in-between a traditional Auslese (50 -75 g/l and 9% ish) and a trocken (1 g/l and 13.5%). So, IMO, if the “Feinherb” styling means anything this is it! This had spicy hints on the nose, I would say Fenugreek, with citrus and peach. Palate has warmth, some sweetness and a mineral note with a citrus peel, slightly bitter tinge. Longer and more satisfying in my opinion than the previous wine. This has the acidity / sweetness balance of a traditional Kabinett but over a much richer fulcrum.

 

VON BLAUEM SCHIEFER RIESLING TROCKEN 2013 (Heymann-Löwenstein)
This is an artisan curiosity from the very North of the Mosel, near its confluence with the mighty Rhine. This pays little service to the old style classifications and is just crafted to make a dry wine with depth added by a proportion of botrytis-affected berries in the press. It shows hints of diesel already and orange peel (from botrytis) and some herb notes… Palate is gingery and rather dry, with the acidity rounded and softened by the complexity and depth of flavour. Similar weight to the previous wine and successful on its own, less-well-trodden path…

GRAACHER HIMMELREICH RIESLING KABINETT 2012 (Joh. Jos. Prum)
This is a traditional style and probably has a bit more sugar than the previous Feinherb. However the nose is dumb and the wine a little recessed too, so this sweetness sticks out rather at the moment – especially when slightly warmer than optimum… Against this the acidity is stunning:  piquant, lip-smacking and very, very long – leading to some mineral, slate tones… Unbalanced right now (some traditional Rieslings do seem have a “dumb” period from 3 or 4 – 7 or 8 years from vintage) but give it 3 or 4 years to open up again ….

 

ABTSBERG RIESLING ALTE REBEN TROCKEN 2012 (Maximin Grünhaus)
This is a basic Qualitätswein fermented to dryness, but ripeness must have been between Kabinett and Spätlese levels. The nose has diesel and orange peel hints with some peach, but quite restrained. The palate seems a bit astringent – a thinner, more bitter acidity. This shortens the experience. Well made, clean… but my least favourite in this company.

ABTSBERG RIESLING SUPERIOR FEINHERB 2012 (Maximin Grünhaus)
This is a Große Lage wine and the Feinherb finished product is very like a dashing old fashioned Spätlese. So in many ways this is a counterpoint of the very first wine. Nearly diesel, vaguely furniture polish hint, some fruit blossom and herb hints. Palate has warmth, good supple acidity with soft fruit, long and lip-smacking it is well balanced and very pleasurable now.

I found this an incredibly interesting tasting. First I love this grape, and even my least favourite wine tonight would beat many other wines from many other areas – including, probably, the majority of New World Rieslings!

However the tasting re-enforced an issue I’ve had with German dry Rieslings since it began its forward march 20 years ago – I call it the trouble with trocken. This is the apparent effect of fermenting Riesling to dryness, particularly in cool areas like Mosel, doesn’t just reduce the sugar, but in some way also reduces the rounder flavours in the wine and the acidity. True the acidity, with less counter-balance, seems more fierce, cooler and more bitter – but those long, lip-smacking, zingy, zesty lines of warmer acidity seem curtailed.

This was aptly illustrated by the last trocken (my least favourite)… which seemed shorter, aggressive and bitter in comparison to the wines with some sweet impression, The very first wine suffered a little, much less, from the same syndrome. The middle trocken is – eccentrically – made with 10% – 20% botrytis-affected grapes in the press… and balanced the acidity with the flavour-twist that is thereby imparted: orange peel, ginger…

In contrast the acidity in the Prum is exceptional, long (the most enduring by far), round, warm, lip-smacking, dashing, dazzling… The wine is currently unbalanced by a closed nose and the higher sugar “sticking-out”; although I would guess that, after 4 more years’ development and served a couple of degrees cooler, it could be the best wine of the six?!

However right now the middle trocken and the two  Feinherb wines were lovely – with the last just shading it, IMO.

Thanks so much Andrew for a captivating tasting!

À Bientôt

On Friday 27th April 2018 we were generously entertained for a Sock Party at Ralph and Jill’s home. A wonderful evening with a dazzling supply of great food and wine…

Here are my notes:


JASNIÈRES “L’ECLOS” 2015 (Les Maisons Rouge)         Laurie
Jasnières is an enclave in the general Coteaux du Loir area, about 30 miles North of Vouvray. Pure Chenin, the wine showed some citrus and later peach and apple fruit on the nose. The palate has a hint of honey, and a fresh fruit peak in the centre but a long, strong but warm acidity and a mineral finish. Very clean, refreshing and precise and balanced between searing acidity and richness. Made by biodynamic viticulture on clay, sand and flint topsoil above the tuffeau base in West Jasnières.

COURS CHEVERNY “LE PETIT CHAMBORD” 2014          Yvonne  
This Romorantin wine from the Solonge has a slightly powdery nose with a warm note and a citrus peel prickle. Palate has a fruit start and then a kick-in of acidity, a slightly malic tinge and a ginger hints spicy element. Rounder and a little fuzzier than the previous wine, it’s Loire (50 mile away!) nieghbour.

PECORINO ABRUZZO “BIANCHI GRILLI” (Torre Dei Beati) 2014         Ralph   
Dark colour, nose is quite closed with a slightly spicy, woody, aged quality. Later some balsamic sweet sour elements emerge. Palate smooth, opening to show some rich woody flavours and a clear acidity with some mineral accents. Aged on lees in barrique for 9 months, deliberately to by-pass the vibrant-youth stage and go straight to the evolved complexity. Needs quite a lot of time in the glass still, despite decanting…

MEURSAULT 2013 (Caves de l’Orangerie)           Kathryn
Caves de l’Orangerie is the label of Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune’s own vineyards. This Mersault is almost text-book: slightly oily nose with hints of tropical fruit. Buttery palate with oak notes and a richness based on a hazelnut-oil kick – underpinned by a mineral, citrus backbone. Very satisfying and at good maturity now.

CAMEL VALLEY PINOT NOIR ROSÉ 2014          Ann
This is strawberry fruit straight on the nose with fresh-herb acidity and a hint of pinot character. The palate echoes the pinot line – lovely base acidity with lip smacking red-berry fruit. Well balance, fresh cool and under 12% alcohol. Would be lovely with spicy food!


RONSEL DO SIL MERENZAO “ALPENDRE” 2012 RIBEIRA SACRA           Ralph (again!)
This comes from 2 ha of vines on ancient Roman terraces on the steep banks of the Rio Sil. Merenzao is the local name for Trousseau, found in the Jura. This has a light colour. Nose is slightly herby with a pinot-ish soft red fruit and vegetal touch. Palate is more raspberry sweetness with a herby twist and a clean acidity. Easier to guess the location than the grape I think…

ST-ÉMILION GRAND CRU CLOS VILLEMAURINE 2009     John
This is dark and dense with a fruity – damson and fresh plums with an undergrowth hint. Slight graininess is appearing on the palate, which will soon be chocolate hints… structured, long with palate echoing the nose with darker fruit and warm hints appearing. Long and supple, this has opened a lot since I last tried it –  but, IMO, it will keep improving for a year or two and last another 6. It’s 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

MUDGEE CHAMBOURCIN 2012 (Savannah Estate, Aus.)      Rob
This had a slightly gummy, minty (tell-tale Australian!?) nose with some plum fruit. The palate has the same sweet fruit, some oak and an earthy hint… but a tannic line that somehow is both rich and hard. Not quite together…  yet?

“ES LO QUE HAY” GARNACHA 2013               Yuan
An old-vines high-altitude Garnacha from Aragon, NE Spain. The name is a Spanish expression meaning something like “that’s how it goes” – the International translation of a shrug! The wine is pretty big – closed nose at first with dark berry fruit emerging and hints of herbs and some perfume. Palate is fruity with a mineral line and prune, tannin and some suppleness. The altitude airs and lifts the potential Granacha thickness…

BAROLO “CERRETA DI PERNO” 2007 (Sordo)     Kim
This Castiglione Barolo has a nose of soft fruit and a fragrant perfume – possibly even the renowned rose, later hints of cherry appear. Palate has a higher-than-expected acidity with lower-than-expected tannins and tar, although they are present. Rather lip-snacking long and non-fruit flavours. Maybe still a year or two young but getting there!

20 YEAR OLD TAWNY PORT (OHSOMM)       Farewell Wine
Ohsomm is a trading name of the parent company that own Offley’s and Sandeman. This Tawny has a big fruit-and-nut complex nose. Palate has some sweetness but in balance with a long line of fruit acidity. Lovely!
 

Thanks to Ralph and, especially, to Jill for providing such wonderful food, great company and hospitality.
Thanks too to Yuan for the wine photographs.

À Bientôt

On Thursday 19th April the WING group met at the ICC for a Tasting of wines from South Africa. We kicked off the evening with a bonus extra wine that Jane and Lee had brought back with them from their trip to South Africa last year. It was a Stellenbosch Chardonnay and was very enjoyable; thanks Jane and Lee!

We then moved onto three more whites, followed by three reds.

DSC_3081
Here are my notes:

Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2017 – 13% – The Good Wine Shop – £13 (£12)*
This Swartland Chenin comes from old vine fruit, fermented with wild yeast with plenty of lees contact but no new wood. The result is full of tropical fruit, pineapple in particular and some mango. Sherbet with honey and floral notes and quite a sharp, tangy finish. Very drinkable!
Quality: 16/20                                    Value: 18/20

B Vintners Haarlem to Hope  2015 – 13% – Hennings Wine – £19.99
This white blend from Stellenbosch contains 54% Chenin Blanc, 42% Semillon and 4% Muscat d’alexandrie. More Semillon on the nose; slight oiliness in balance with a high acidity and pronounced flavour intensity. Peach, lemon sherbet and quite a bit of ginger on the palate. Another interesting wine.
Quality: 16/20                                    Value: 15/20

Springfield Estate Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2016 – 13.5% – ND John – £13.50
This Robertson Chardonnay is fermented using the native, wild yeasts that occur naturally on the skins of the grapes. Pronounced aromas of nuts, vanilla and pineapple; in addition, for me the nose has an agreeable character reminiscent of tinned sweetcorn. Fresh pineapple and pear on the palate with hints of vanilla and nut and some lime on the finish. The acidity, alcohol and flavour intensity are all in balance. Probably the highest praise for this wine however, came from Harry with his judgment: “For a Chardonnay, it’s not bad!”
Quality: 17/20                                    Value: 18/20

Silwervis Smiley V2 Red Blend NV – 12.5% – The Good Wine Shop – £20 (£17.50)*
This Swartland red blend is 40% Cinsault, 40% Mourvedre, 15% Syrah and 5% Tinta Barroca from three different vintages spanning 2015-2017. The producer’s tasting note includes almost every flavour ever used to describe red wine from cranberry, redcurrant and blackberry to smoked paprika, clove, star anise and white pepper to liquorice, rosemary, thyme and oregano to violets and cured meat! Unfortunately, on the whole, we were unable to detect this type of flavour complexity in the wine and the general conclusion was that it was a bit jammy and not worth the price tag.
Quality: 14/20                                    Value: 12/20

The Liberator Terroir by Truck 2015 – 14% – The Good Wine Shop – £14.50 (£13)*
From Richard Kelley, MW, whose alter ego, Rick is the Liberator. The idea behind these wines is that the Liberator travels around, ‘saving’ wines that are in danger of being ‘blended away or disposed of in bulk’. ‘It’s my mission,’ says Rick ‘to procure these precious vinous orphans and consign them to a better home.’ Terroir by Truck is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from Piekenierskloof, Swartland and Franschhoek respectively. Both red and black fruit with a spicy finish and smooth tannins in balance with good acidity.
Quality: 15.5/20                                                Value: 16/20

Manley Pinotage 2013 – 14% – The Good Wine Shop – £14.50 (£13)*
A previous vintage of this Tulbagh Pinotage was voted in the Top 10 Best Pinotages in the competition organised by the Pinotage Association. This 2013 vintage was voted best red of the night amongst our group. Medium bodied with well-balanced acidity and tannins. Red fruits such as strawberry, cherry and plum; some gamey flavours and suggestions of rubber and blue cheese that are not unpleasant and contribute to a pleasing flavour complexity; none of the acetone aromas that are sometimes associated with Pinotage.
Quality: 16.5/20                                Value: 17/20

An enjoyable evening with an interesting selection of wines. The Chardonnay and Pinotage got the most votes for wine of the evening, but there was no runaway favourite. Great to see you all and thanks for all your contributions. See you next time,

Brigitte. x

*’Mixed six’ price

Although it is generally considered to be a ‘New World’ wine country, winemaking in South Africa actually began on 02 February 1659. It is possible to be so specific, thanks to the diary of Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape who wrote on that day: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes…” Seven years earlier, van Riebeeck had arrived in the Cape to set up a supply station for the Dutch East India Company. It was hoped that sailors on the spice route would be protected from scurvy if provided with wine and grapes, so vines were imported from Europe in 1655 and thus began South Africa’s wine industry.

south-africa-vineyard
Jan van Riebeeck’s successor was Simon van der Stel, who established the town of Stellenbosch and advanced winemaking in South Africa with the planting of 10,000 vines on his Constantia farm. The fledgling wine industry received a further boost in 1688 when the Cape became the new home of some 150 Huguenots who were fleeing religious persecution in France. Indeed, one of the wines we will be tasting on Thursday is made by ninth generation descendants of a Huguenot family who arrived from the Loire, bringing vines with them, in 1688.

The industry flourished over the next century and a half. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, ‘the famous Muscat-based dessert wines of Constantia seduced 18th and 19th-century Europe at a time when names such as Lafite and Romanée-Conti were still in the making.’

South African wine exports did well under British rule until the 1860s when Gladstone removed empire-preferential tariffs, benefitting French wine at the expense of South African. This setback was followed in the 1880s by phylloxera which was to be the catalyst for over a century of unexceptional wine production in South Africa.

Following the devastation of phylloxera, growers responded by planting high-yielding vines and a wine glut ensued. This led to the formation in 1918 of the South African Co-operative Wine Growers’ Association or Ko-operatiewe Wijn-bowers Vereniging van Zuid Afrika (KWV). The KWV was initially set up to fix production quotas but over time it acquired more and more power and came to control every aspect of the industry from disseminating planting material to setting minimum prices. The KWV effectively disincentivised the production of quality grapes and prevented any sort of innovation. Thus, much of the twentieth century saw an industry in stagnation, made worse by the global isolation of South Africa due to apartheid.

SA wine map
So prior to 1994, the South African wine industry was quasi-state controlled; vineyards were mostly planted with bulk white varieties; fruit was harvested before it was ripe; there was little fruit selection; acidification was standard; lots of new oak was used; cellar hygiene was poor; yields took precedence over quality, and wine faults and defects were common.

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, much has changed in the South African wine industry. No longer told what to plant and where to plant it, new vineyard areas have been explored and new, cooler regions have been developed. There has been a swing towards planting more black grapes and more international varieties. The Cape Winelands have a great diversity of terroirs and South Africa has become the New World leader in terroir research; consequently, there is now much better matching of vine variety and location. Flying winemakers have brought their knowledge, skills and experience back to South African vineyards and wineries. In the vineyard, improvements have been made in terms of choosing the best rootstocks and planting densities; in trellising and canopy management and also in tackling a major scourge of South African vineyards: leafroll virus. In the winery, many winemakers are now favouring minimalist intervention in order to let the terroir speak for itself. Another improvement is the use of larger, older barrels rather than an excessive use of new oak.

www.drinkpreneur.com-cape-winelands-10
Unlike other New World wine producing countries, such as New Zealand and Argentina, South Africa hasn’t really developed an ‘icon’ wine or signature grape that consumers can recognise and rely on to meet their expectations.

South Africa’s indigenous grape, Pinotage, which was created in 1925 by Professor Abraham Perold when he crossed Pinot Noir with Cinsault (known in SA at the time as Hermitage), has generally suffered from a bit of an image problem. Many still champion the grape though, and it currently accounts for 7.4% of all plantings in South Africa. In 1995, the Pinotage Association was formed by producers and two years later The Top 10 Pinotage competition was launched. The Pinotage which we will be tasting on Thursday evening has featured in this Top 10 so we’ll be able to judge for ourselves whether careful winemaking practices can allow this grape to shine and avoid the notorious acetone aroma that some have come to associate with it.

Traditionally, Chenin Blanc, or Steen as it is known locally, has been the white grape most associated with South Africa. Today it is still the most widely planted grape variety in the country, accounting for 18.5% of the total vineyard area. However, unlike Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, South Africa’s Steen produces a very wide range of styles so that consumers don’t always know what to expect from the label and hence it has not become the signature or icon wine for South Africa that Sauvignon Blanc has for New Zealand. On Thursday, we’ll be tasting a varietal Chenin as well as a white blend containing the grape.

There is currently a lot of optimism about the wine being made in South Africa. Tim Atkin, MW, says that it’s the best ever and that the industry is ‘dynamic, exciting and still evolving.’ At the same time, there are a lot of big challenges that the industry faces, including meeting Black Economic Empowerment targets; improving return on investment and thus preventing vines being uprooted in favour of more profitable crops; shaking off the ‘cheap and cheerful’ reputation and not least, contending with the severe drought that has gripped the Cape over the past three years.

Find out more about the country’s regions and wines on Thursday evening and hopefully taste some wines that justify the current buzz.

See you there,

Brigitte. x

On Monday 9th April Yvonne showed the WING Tutored Tasting Group some Hungarian Wines sourced from the Wine Society.

Hungary is a diverse wine country producing only two-thirds of 1% of the worlds wine, mostly from indigenous grapes. They are  little known among UK wine-drinkers beyond Tokaji (famously sweet but recently dry versions too…) and Bull’s Blood – now labelled Egri Bikavér (from its original region Eger) or just Bikavér, a Kékfrankos based blend with other Hungarian or French grapes.

However Hungary has well over 20 wine regions and produced about 70% white wines. Nearly half the wine – mostly dry white plonk – comes from the South East areas of Hajós-Baja, Kunság & Csongrád, near the Sebian border. Many little-known grapes from little known areas are starting to appear in the UK now – we saw some examples together with a dry Tokaji and a couple of Bikavér.


Here are my notes:

SOMLOI JUHFARK (KOLONICS) 2015
Juhfark is a grape now almost exclusive to the small Hungarian appellation of Somló (pronounced shomlo). In North-West Hungary, Somló is a volcanic hill, with unique basalt soils, north of Lake Balaton, though this is grown on more loamy soil. The nose has citrus and oily tropical fruit notes, reminding some of Gewurztraminer. The palate too is oily and rich – dried and balanced by the bitter gingery finish.

DONGO FURMINT (SZENT TAMÁS) 2015
This dry Tokaji has a cleaner citrus nose with a slightly cereal or mealy hint. The palate is clean with a sharp lemon peel, slightly bitter, zing which persists under the fruit and saline touch to a long finish. Complexity evolves with time and the wine opens into a very satisfying package… Very good and by a good couple of points (/20) my favourite, justifying the £27 price tag?!

KADARKA (TIBOR GÁL) 2016
Kadarka is a quite pale Pinot Noir-like grape praised for its gentle qualities and its ability to produce Rosé. It occupies about 1% of Hungarian vineyards. This is a translucent ruby “half-Rosé” wine from Eger. It has the slightly rubbery hint of carbonic maceration and some rhubarb notes. The palate is light, fresh with a slightly drying quality and hints of strawberry and sour cherry that bring to mind (my mind at least) Rioja Rosado. Quite liked this and would be better on a summer afternoon.

KÉKFRANKOS RESERVE (HEUMANN) 2013
Kékfrankos is the same grape as Austria’s Blaufränkisch and Hungary’s most important red, about a third of Hungary’s red-grape vineyards are planted with it. This comes from Villany, in South West Hungary near the Croatian border. This has a pungent, oily nose with a slight eau-de-vie hint and some bright red fruit. The palate is grainy with a slight alcohol burn, some dark fruit eventually subdued by a grainy grappa finish.

 ÁLDÁS EGRI BIKAVER (ST ANDREA) 2015
This is: Kékfrankos 33%, Merlot 28%, Cabernet Franc 18%, Pinot Noir 11%, Syrah 4%, Cabernet Sauvignon 3%, Kadarka 2%, Turán 1%. This has some obvious oak on the nose, berry fruits and peppery tones. The palate has a fruity slightly jammy attack, then a drying, slightly thin, middle and a spirity rather spicy finish. Better than the previous wine but a little incomplete or unbalanced somehow.

HANGÁCS EGRI BIKAVER (ST ANDREA) 2013
This is half Kékfrankos with Merlot and Pinot Noir and just a little Kadarka and Cabernet Franc, and a step up.
This has a very fruity – almost confectionery, jelly-making – first nose, spirit notes and some herbs later. Palate is fruit-driven too but with some evolved flavours (forest-floor, mushroom, chocolate…) later. More elements here, better balanced and evolving, and quite satisfying although the fruit is a little jammy…

A very interesting insight into a little known country. The dry Furmint won hands-down for me, but I quite liked the almost-Rosé… and the last red.

Thanks so much Yvonne.

À Bientôt

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