Tasting Events

Unfinished Sympathy

After a little reflection, one of the most important characteristics of a great winemaker (in my humble opinion) is sympathy for the vineyards they pick from and the grapes that they harvest.  Underlying this are intelligence, knowledge, and more than a little humility.

Many winemakers develop this sympathetic nature over the course of decades with a small number of plots of land and as few as two or even just one grape variety, as is the case in Burgundy.  Indeed, sometimes it’s an ancestral connection with knowledge that has been passed down in the family for generations.

In stark contrast to the timescale of the Burgundians, I give you Pieter Hauptfleisch Walser of BLANKbottle.  Pieter has 58 different varieties growing all over the Western Cape, though you won’t see them mentioned on the bottle.  A few months ago, thanks to WineMason I had the opportunity to try eight of this wines which were new to the Irish market (and only available in very small quantities).  Each has an intriguing backstory and a interesting label to go with it.

with apologies for the quality of my snaps…

Rabbitsfoot 2018 (14.5%, RRP ~ €30)

BLANKbottle Rabbits Foot 2018

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, but not that you would probably recognise at first – it’s not like a Loire or Kiwi Sauvignon, and to be honest it’s not even like other South African Savvies, although perhaps some could be though of as baby versions of this.  It has more body, texture and alcohol than most Sauvignons, still grassy but with spicy notes.  Tasted blind my first guess would have been Grüner Veltliner!

Full details here

BOBERG 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle BOBERG 2018

Boberg means “on top of the mountain” and the mountain is pictured on the label – but not on its own.  It is depicted as being overlooked by seven generations of Pieter’s family who lived on the farm next to it.  These Chenin Blanc vines are old and low yielding, and have recently been certified organic.  For 2018 they were picked early and fermented in old French oak barrels with natural yeast.  The wine is fresh but with real depth; a whole basket of Granny Smith apples with a few Golden Delicious and lemons.

Full details here

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 (13.0%, RRP ~ €33)

BLANKbottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018

Pieter found these vines while on his travels and took a backroad shortcut to get to his next appointment – the name means “shortcut to Cape Town”.  The grape variety used is even more obscure (especially in South Africa): Fernão Pires!  If you’re a fan of Portuguese wine then it might not be so obscure as it is grown throughout Portugal, sometimes under the moniker Maria Gomes.  It’s a highly aromatic grape, somewhere in the realm of Gewurztraminer and Viognier, though fairly gentle (Alsace aficianados: think of Klevener de Heiligenstein).  I liked this wine though it didn’t shine quite as brightly for me as the two whites above.

Full details here

B.O.E.T. 2017 (14.0%, RRP ~ €36)

BLANKbottle B.O.E.T. 2017

It’s fairly well known among wine geeks that South Africa’s signature variety Pinotage was created as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (the Rhône’s Cinsault, then known as Hermitage in South Africa).  This wine is something of a family reunion as it features all three grapes, though Pinotage is dominant with small amounts of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.  On the nose I would never have guessed this to be a Pinotage blend – my best guess would perhaps have been a Languedoc red.  The palate is lighter, with medium body, lithe red fruit and good acidity.  This is the perfect example of BLANKbottle’s labelling philosophy – those who would be put off by the varieties might well love this wine if tasted without knowing.  I certainly loved it!

Full details here

My Koffer 2018 (13.5%, RRP ~ €37)

BLANKbottle My Köffer 2018

This is single vineyard Cinsaut (without the “l” as usually spelt in South Africa) – a variety known for high yields and large berries which is often used to make rosé or inexpensive bulk red wine.  It’s not a grape I taste as a single varietal very often, but if it’s as good as this then I definitely should.  The nose is all cherries, following through onto the palate where they are joined by exotic spices.  The finish is pleasantly dry.

Full details here

My eie Stofpad 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €38)

BLANKbottle My eie Stofpad 2017

This wine is principally Cabernet Franc but also has a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, all from different vineyards, so it’s technically a Bordeaux blend.  It tastes nothing like a Bordeaux, with thick mouthfeel and ripe blackcurrant fruit.  There’s a savoury edge as well plus fine grained tannins.  An excellent wine.

Oppie Koppie 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €39)

BLANKbottle Oppie Koppie 2017

This lovely Syrah reminded me of St Joseph or Hawke’s Bay on steroids – but not as ripe and juicy as most Aussie Syrah/Shiraz.  Perhaps we (I) just just stop with the comparisons and say it’s a great example of South African Syrah.  Whole bunch fermentation is used in varying degrees depending on the vintage (and in particular how ripe the stems are) – for this 2017 80% was whole bunch.  2017 was the first vintage that a little Syrah from Swartland and Cinsaut from Breedekloof were added to the main Syrah from Voor-Paardeberg, all for additional complexity.  The result is a fantastic red wine that is rich yet fresh, full of black and red fruit and spice, but no jamminess.

Full details here

B.I.G. 2017 (14.5%, RRP ~ €41)

BLANKbottle B.I.G. 2017

This is a single varietal blend; if that sounds strange it’s because it’s made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in eight different vineyards across South Africa.  Well, normally eight, from sea level up to mountain tops, except for the 2017 vintage which saw the fruit from two of the vineyards lost to smoke taint from fires – depicted on the label.  This is definitely a Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s not too far in character from the Cabernet Franc above, just a little richer and with more pronounced blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  As you’d expect there are fine grained tannins to keep everything in check. A truly delicious wine.

Full details here

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #15 – Barbara Boyle MW [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Barbara Boyle is an Irish MW and half of the dynamic husband and wife team WineMason, a specialist wine importer.  Regular readers might recognise that name from the numerous reviews of their wines I have posted this year! 


We did not drink wine at home when I was growing up.  Not an unusual statement for an Irish person growing up in the 1970s and 80s.  The very first time I drank wine with my family was Christmas Day 1985.  My Christmas eve induced hangover was hard to hide. My ever-sharp father looked into my sleep deprived eyes and instead of greeting me on Christmas day with scorn or an anecdote of the dangers of drinking, I was greeted with a glass of wine at dinner.  My father and I have enjoyed a glass of wine or two together every Christmas since.

BLANKbottle Moment of SilenceSeveral years before (1980) I had given my father a bottle of wine which I had purchased while in France on a school trip (I did not drink then for the record).  It was a Chenin Blanc from the Loire and he said that this Christmas day seemed like a fitting time to open it.  I am often surprised that we don’t yet represent any Loire wineries but this something I hope to fix over the next year.

Every year since that I have been working in the wine trade, my father asks me to assemble a case of something nice for him that we can enjoy together over the holiday period.  So, this year going into my father’s Christmas box are some wines that I am keen to open with him.

Moment of Silence 2015 Blank Bottle: this is a blend which includes that wonderful grape Chenin Blanc together with Grenache Blanc and Viognier. A soothing wine, perfect to shape a cold night in around. It’s made by Pieter Walser of BlankBottle Winery who I think it something of a genius and very good company to boot.  This cape white is a great example of the thrilling and delicious  wines that are being made in South Africa. And at Christmas who does not need a moment of silence.

Moment of Silence 2015 Blank Bottle, Wellington, South Africa (14.0%): available at around €24.95 from Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Corkscrew, Sweeneys and Green Man Wines.


PUY14Emilien Château le Puy 2014: “Fabulous, powerful, inky, floral, perfumed, fruity and earthy, iron, edgy acidity.”  This is the note I made in June at a dinner in Chapter One of several vintages of this wine.  I am looking forward to returning to it at Christmas and this time from magnum.  The estate is situated at the second highest point of the Gironde which makes for later ripening and higher levels of acidity.  Predominantly Merlot and from an uncompromising bio-dynamic estate. To me this is Bordeaux as it should be.

Emilien Château le Puy 2014, Côtes de Francs, Bordeaux, France (13.0%): available for €38-40 (€81-85 for 150cl format) from Blackrock Cellar, Redmonds of Ranelagh, Greenman Wines, Kellys Off LIcence, and Clontarf Wines.

 

 

 

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)

TORRE DE ERMELO_botella_4300pxh

Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group.  HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.

Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrus and mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity.  Great value for money!

 

Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)

Fossil

If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first.  It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it?  This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.

The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone!  There are indeed mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.

 

BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)

Blank

This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer.  Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from.  He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself.  This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.

Moment of Silence is a blend (for the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and stone fruit flavours.  The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily.  A wine that deserves to be tried.

 

Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)

Arbois

Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east.  Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified.  Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.

Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference.  It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly.  A great way into Jura wines!

 

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)

Chenin

De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery.  Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s.  Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.

The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above.  The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises.  People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why.  Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees.  These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series: