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

Tasting Events

A Fun Blind Tasting Event

rrapid_blocks

When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.

The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:

  1. Geographical Origin
  2. Grape(s)
  3. ABV %
  4. Vintage
  5. Price Band

Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine.  The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.

As for the wines selected?  The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites.  I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.

So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:

Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)

marques-cava

sparkling-1

Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band.  I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price.  I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!

Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)

tesco-finest-champagne

sparkling-2

Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30.  The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.

Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)

provo-regia-arinto

white-1

This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings.  It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible).  Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)

semillon

white-2

This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage!  Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia.  Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours.  This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)

20-barrels

red-1

Probably the best-received wine of the evening!  This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price.  Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable.  This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!

Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)

diemersfontein-pinotage

red-2

Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone.  This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part?  Perhaps…

**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**