I’m in the very lucky position where I get to try lots of good and great wines on a regular basis, many of them sent as samples (especially in 2020!) Sometimes, even among these wines, a few shine even brighter than the rest. It’s often hard to put into words what makes them so special, though I do try. Here are a couple of (unrelated) wines which stood out even in good company:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly given as samples, opinions remain my own
Elgin Ridge 282 Elgin Chardonnay 2018
Elgin is South Africa’s coolest climate wine region, located about an hour’s drive south east of Cape Town. Although now an exciting area for grapes, for many years it was known almost exclusively for its orchards, particularly apples and pears1; as a rule of thumb, agricultural land which is suitable for orchards is generally suitable for grapes. Elgin is even cool enough for Riesling, with Paul Cluver’s wines leading the charge.
Elgin Ridge is the only winery in Elgin to be both certified organic and certified biodynamic (there is one other which is solely biodynamic). It was founded by Brian and Marion Smith on the site of a former small (ten hectare) apple farm in 2007 and has remained in family hands since. Their aim is to be self sufficient in terms of inputs (biodynamic preparations and cow manure) using sheep to control weeds and ducks to control insects and snails.
The figure 282 in the name of this wine, their flagship Chardonnay, refers to the vineyard’s altitude of 282 metres above sea level. It pours lemon in the glass and initial aromas are predominantly of toasted coconut, indicating a fair bit of oak ageing. Absolutely heavenly, if you like that sort of thing – which I do! The coconut gives way to fabulous orchard fruits(!), smoke and spices. On the palate this is a rich wine, with integrated oak and stone fruits and a touch of butterscotch. There’s plenty of body and flavour, but this is no big butter bomb as there is a certain elegance and lightness to the finish. In terms of style this brought to mind excellent southern hemisphere Chardonnays such as Smith + Shaw’s Adelaide Hills M3 and Man O’War’s Waiheke Island Valhalla.
- ABV: 13.5%
- RRP: €25.53
- Stockists: O’Briens stores and obrienswines.ie
Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2019
For some reason 2020 has been the year of Sancerre for me, with lots of very enjoyable bottles showing that the average standard in the region is very high. Even among those, this baby stood out. But first a bit of background.
The maison mère2(!) is Fournier Père et Fils – to give it its full name – under which there are four Domaines:
- Domaine Fournier (Sancerre &c.)
- Domaine de Saint Romble (Sancerre)
- Domaine des Berthiers (Pouilly-Fumé)
- Domaine Paul Corneau (Pouilly-Fumé)
The full range of Domaine Fournier is detailed below. As you might expect from one of the “Cuvées Appellations”, this wine is made from vines planted on the three key soil types of Sancerre: Silex, Caillottes and Terres Blanches. The nose opens with ripe peach but also peach stone, sweet fruit reined in by acidity and a pleasant tartness. On the palate there’s more fruit but on the citrus side of the spectrum, along with a touch of mown grass and green bell pepper. Don’t mistake this for a Touraine Sauvignon plus, though; this is a smooth and gentle wine which showcases its different flavours on a long journey through your mouth. A superior Sancerre.
The portfolio of Domaine Fournier comes under eight different labels:
- Cuvées Grand Caillou: Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
- Cuvées F: Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon
- Cuvées Mmm: Rosé, Chenin
- Cuvées Appellations: Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rouge, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Rosé, Menetou Salon “Côtes de Morogues” Blanc, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rosé, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Rouge, Sancerre “Les Belles Vignes” Blanc, Pouilly-Fumé “Les Deux Cailloux”, Pouilly Sur Loire “Les Marnes”
- Cuvée Terroirs: Cuvée Silex, Cuvée Les Terres Blanches
- Grandes Cuvées: Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne” Rouge, Pouilly-Fumé Grande Cuvée, Sancerre “La Chaudouillonne”, Sancerre “L’Ancienne Vigne Blanc
- Single Vineyard Wines: Sancerre “Les Boffants”, Sancerre “Monts Damnés”
- Cuvées Exceptionnelles: Menetou Salon Rouge “Sourire Aux Anges”, Sancerre “No. 22”, Sancerre “Vendanges d’Hélène”
1no cockney rhyming slang here, thank you
2French for parent company, literally “mother house”, which is a little ironic as it’s a “father and son” operation.