Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

South African stars

Writing in the middle of the World Cup in South Africa it is just as well this is about the country’s wine and not about football.  Along with most of the other African teams, the home team could not get out of the group stage of the competition, though they did win their final game against France.  Meanwhile England played poorly and departed in the most spectacular fashion.  By contrast, South African wine has much of which it can be proud.

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The history of wine production in South Africa is long and varied.  Initially famous 300 years ago for the sweet white Constantia, the trade came to be dominated by the production of huge quantities of cheap wine destined for the distillation plant.  But in recent decades a crucial section of the business has been concentrated on quality.  And as this Andover Wine Friends tasting showed, that quality is available in everyday wines as well as in more expensive bottles.  These wines were sourced from a Wine Society offer.

IMG_5403 Klein Constantia Riesling 2008 (£9): the Constantia name lives on, here represented by this good dry Riesling – inviting and lively young varietal nose, good acidity, refreshing, excellent.

Bon Cap Viognier 2009 (£11.50): nice pale gold colour, rather neutral on the nose, not obviously fruity but full of flavour including a slightly salty note on the palate, decent silky texture.

Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009 (£6.75): an inexpensive example of South African’s star white grape variety.  An excellent complex nose, floral and fruity the apples and especially pears register.  An excellent wine at this price level.

IMG_5417 Sequillo White 2008 (60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane; £15.50)  This classy white blends Chenin with some white Rhône varieties to produce a mid gold in colour, a fine expressive nose (honey, nuts, a bit of oak), lovely silky texture combined with real structure, fine and long.  Outstanding.

IMG_5406In the Rosé department, we tasted Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre 2009 (£8).  This was many people’s favourite wine – a lovely pale salmon pink, nice perfumed nose, substantial and rounded in the mouth, slightly strawberry fruit, moderate to low acidity.

The reds were somewhat atypical as they were heavily weighted to top quality.  While they were all more than drinkable, the last three would have a lot of development in them.

Douglas Green Shiraz Viognier 2008 (£5) – fully ripe rich fruit (cherries and plums), good balancing refreshment, easy drinking but with real depth of flavour and interest. You can’t really ask more for the price, assuming of course that you like the style.

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Impressive levels of concentration here!

Kanonkop Pinotage 2007 (£17): a big price jump here in a top example of South African’s own grape variety, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Deep purply red in colour, complex berry nose, brilliant sweet fruit on the nose and depth of flavour in the mouth, great acidity for keeping and development in the bottle, some good bitter notes. Excellent.

Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2008 (mainly Syrah with Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and Viognier; £18) Brilliant strawberry/raspberry/oak nose, the fruit-oak balance just right on the palate as well, full on and substantial in style, rich texture, excellent.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2005 (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) Super rich Cabernet nose, very ripe and full of blackcurrant and red fruit, mint, very substantial but balanced.

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Congratulations to South Africa. The football team might need a bit more work, though perhaps not as much as England’s, but the wine already has star quality.

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Piemonte 2-3 Toscana: A weekend in Italy part 2

After the Capezzana tasting, the riches of Decanter’s Italian day at the Landmark Hotel.  This has to be the best one-day introduction to the Italian quality wine scene in the UK and maybe beyond.  It’s big – with 86 listed producers – and pretty representative, 13 out of 20 regions present, with Sardinia a surprising absence.  A third of producers are from Tuscany with 16 from Chianti alone, but then we all know about that English love affair.

Faced with these riches, you have to choose.  Janet and I concentrated on filling in a few gaps from our recent Piemonte trip and of course some Tuscan friends.  Here are  some of the highlights.

Damilano, Barolo

This winery, between the communes of Barolo and La Morra, has a great range of wines and of  single vineyard cru.  It is particularly pleased to La Morrabe expanding its holding in the important Cannubi vineyard from two to ten hectares, leasing the additional land from Marchesi di Barolo, which will give them 60% of the cru.  The investment is eye-watering, with one hectare of Cannubi in the €2m range.  And so is the responsibility of moving from 9,000 to 50,000 bottles of this wine per year.

Of the wines we particularly enjoyed Barolo Cannubi 2005, squeezed between two great vintages, now showing better than most expected, with a very rich, complex nose and dense fruit.  But a good word has also to be put in for the Barbera d’Alba 2007 in a modern oaked style (40% new barriques), but a good depth of fruit and quite luxurious.

Michele Chiarlo, Calamandrana, Monferrato

Michele Chiarlo, while being based in the Monferrato region, has important wines from many key areas of Piemonte – whites from the Roero and Gavi, Moscato, an interesting sparkling wine which we drank when we were in Alba, quality Barbera and of course Barolo and Barbaresco.  The highlights included the premium Barbera, La Court, Barbera d’Asti Superiore ‘Nizza’ 2006.  This wine, which from the 2008 vintage has acquired DOCG status, is treated like the top wine that it is – low yields of only 1 kg of grapes per plant, harvested late in the middle of October, half fermented and aged in larger 650 litre barrels, half aged for 12 months in barriques and then for a year in bottles. It shows brilliant dense fruit, complexity and typical great acidity, a powerful but balanced food wine.  The wine received the Gambero Rosso’s top grade of ‘three glasses’ in this excellent vintage, as well as in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s great value too at €26 – just over half what you would expect to pay for a Nebbiolo based wine of similar quality.  All the wines we tasted here were very good or excellent: Arneis Le Madri 2009 and Gavi di Gavi Rovereto 2009 were very good, Barbaresco 2006, Barolo Tortoniano 2005 and Barolo Cerequio 2005 were excellent.

So, so far on this football day, an early 2-0 lead to Piemonte.

Marchesi di Frescobaldi

In the Tuscany room, I noticed that Frescobaldi had bought a fine range of wines including top Brunello and Chianti.  But there was also the chance to taste two Super Tuscans, which draw on the cultural and religious symbolism of the Mediterranean, Lucente and Luce.  From these bottles beams the sun rays in embossed golden splendour – can the wines live up to this?  Lucente 2007 – the affordable option – has very good medium weight fruit, good counterbalancing acidity, a decent second level Super Tuscan.  Luce 2006, a 50/50 Sangiovese/Merlot divide, spends two years in barriques and emerges with deep, dense, colour and aroma (prunes and cherries, balsam), great fruit (the Merlot of course to the fore) and lively acidity (Sangiovese makes its mark). Perhaps a wine for tasting rather than drinking, but an excellent achievement nonetheless.

Montenidoli

Having tasted this company’s top Vernaccia di San Gimignano at Vinitaly, I was keen to catch up with at least the other whites in the range from this producer.  Maria Elisabetta Fagiuoli introduced the wines herself and fully justified the company’s slogan Sono Montenidoli – ‘I am Montenidoli’, or rather less likely, ‘They (the wines) are Montenidoli’.   This part of Tuscany is the product a great prehistoric salt-water sea, a land of fossil filled limestone which can produce whites of real character.

The Vernaccia tradizionale 2007 is the product of long maceration on the skins and has very good complexity on the nose though it is rather flatter on the palate. I love this style but if you prefer something cleaner, more fruit led, then there is Vernaccia Fiore 2007, with freshness and even delicacy, some fruit, pleasurable drinking.  Il Templare 2007 is a real marmite wine (Gambero Rosso agrees: these wines don’t leave you indifferent …): 70% Vernaccia, 20% Trebbiano gentile, 10% Malvasia bianca, a distinctly cheesy opening, then herbaceous notes, nice texture, good lemon and melon fruit. We also enjoyed Canaiuolo 2007, the unusual rosé made from Canaiolo,  a Tuscan grape usually relegated to being a blender with Sangiovese. Here it produces a nicely balanced, quite floral wine for summer drinking.

Caiarossa

Dutch investment, French know-how and biodynamic agriculture is the package at this very contemporary venture, near Riparbella close IMG_0159 to the Tuscan coast.  Dominique Génot remembered us from our visit on a tempestuously  rainy day in May 2007 and judging by the wines, since then things have gone from strength to strength.  A fine sweet wine and a dry white have been added to the entry level if excellent Pergolaia (90% Sangiovese) and the top wine, Caiarossa.  The grape mix for the latter sets new standards for a multi-grape wine in Tuscany – you could be in the southern Rhône: around 20% each of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, plus 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Alicante, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre.  Or to put it another way, that’s 40% Bordeaux, 30% Rhône and 30% Tuscany.   The show offered three vintages:

Caiarossa 2004: is now beautifully knit together, with a fabulous nose of ripe fruit and savoury wood, rich in texture, complex, satisfying.

Caiarossa 2005: squeezed between two great vintages, this shows more herbaceous notes but still very creditable.

Caiarossa 2006: do not drink this wine yet!  Not that there is anything wrong with it but it is going to be outstanding with its great depths of fruit, zippy acidity, so much potential  – currently very young.

Oro di Caiarossa 2006 and 2007: late harvested Petit Manseng, slow strong pressing of whole bunches, two days of cool maceration, then barrel fermented for  eight months.  A delicious sweet white with apple and nut flavours.  The 2006 shows some oxidation (there are risks in that long slow fermentation), the 2007 is exactly what the maker intended: a sweet wine with freshness, notes of acacia honey, good fruit, very good.

We left the tasting early – me for football reasons, Janet heroically filled in the time shopping.  The cup final, which looked like it could be a mismatch between  the top and bottom teams of the Premier League, exceeded expectation with a match full of incident and interest: competitive, lots of goal mouth incident, bad tackles, two missed penalties.  Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners but somebody ought to explain to them that the ball is supposed to go between the posts, you don’t get any points for hitting post or bar.  To complete the perfect Italian weekend in England, the winning cup final manager was of course an Italian.

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A weekend in Italy: Capezzana

As the saying goes, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain will have to come to Mohammed.  The past weekend not only offered not only the ending of the English domestic football season with the show piece of the FA Cup final, but also a Tuscan wine tasting in Hungerford, Berkshire and Decanter’s Great Italian Fine Wine Encounter in Marylebone in central London.   Apparently the Chelsea team were staying at the Landmark Hotel for the final, venue of the tasting, but we saw no sign of them expect for a large police presence. 

The evening tasting at the wine merchant Caviste’s new Hungerford branch was a great opportunity to learn about Tuscany’s smallest fine wine area, Carmignano. What it lacks in size (only 14 producers), it makes up for in history, location and interest.   10 miles NW from Florence, the area is marked by the presence of the Tuscan nobility and especially their hunting villas and lodges. While the Medici are critical to the history of wine in the area, recent research has found documentary evidence of wine making in 804, a remarkably early date.  The Etruscan presence in the area makes it highly like that wine making was going on centuries before the Christian period. 

What really marks Carmignano out in wine terms is the custom of growing at least some Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Tuscany’s Sangiovese.  This has become commonplace in Tuscany since the success of the so-called Super Tuscans in the 1970s and 1980s, often to the detriment of the lighter, more characteristic, local grape.  However, in this area the Cabernet was introduced by the Medici in the 1700s from Bordeaux – aristocrats were talking to each other and wanting to be like each other back then, just as the Super Tuscan classic, Sassicaia was the result of an aristocrat wanting to ‘grow his own’ Bordeaux after the second world war. 

I approached these wines with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  They have a great history but I rarely like the Sangiovese ‘plus French grape variety’ wines.  You have to agree that Sangiovese is normally not a big, bold wine, but if you want big and bold there is no shortage of them either from Italy or from other countries.  The recent increase of allowed ‘other grapes’ in Chianti Classico is a case in point – there comes a critical tipping point, certainly above 15%, at which the more imposing French varieties drown out the particular charm of fresh, acidic, sour cherry Sangiovese. 

But I have to say that Carmignano has got this more or less right.  The quality appellation  (DOCG) calls for at least 50% Sangiovese, 10-20% of Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc, up to 20% Canaiolo IMG_0158nero (another local grape) plus other minor varieties.  Leading this tasting, Beatrice Contini Bonacossi explained that her family wines at the largest of the Carmignano estates, Capezzana, have stuck to the rule of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon (the twentieth century ones from Ch. Lafite no less) and 10% Canaiolo, or an 80/20 split between the two main varieties in the top wine. 

We start by tasting a good rosé, Vin Ruspo 2009 with a sweet, juicy nose, rounded with good fruit in the mouth, quite weighty and very food friendly.  Particularly good is the wine made for everyday drinking, Barco Reale 2007, named by Beatrice’s father after the noble hunting enclosure.  Here the Cabernet contributes to a wine of mid ruby colour, darker than if it were just Sangiovese, but still clearly Tuscan in style.  A good nose of violets, plum and cherry is followed by dense plummy fruit, a little bitterness and typical, if by Tuscan standards, mild acidity.  Beatrice says this her everyday bottle and you really could not complain about that! 

The premium wine is Villa di Capezzana, in this case, 2006.  The wine, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, is aged in tonneaux for 12-15 months, a compromise between the larger traditional barrel and the smaller French barriques.  Only 30% are new each year, so the new oak aromas are not pronounced. It is a more powerful wine, which comes at you out of the glass, with aromas of darker red fruits and some toast and perhaps even a chocolate note.  It has superb acidity and dense fruit, but the wine, even at this young age, is balanced and drinkable.  It has a long, long life ahead of it; from this great vintage it would be outstanding in 10 years time and long after that.  

The penultimate wine is a proper modern Super Tuscan, ‘pebbles of the stream’ or Ghiaie della Furba, 2006, now 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah, aged in small French barriques.  It has great fruit, from blackcurrant to plum, and an intriguing bitter, tannic finish, very Italian, the land battling back against the non-Tuscan grapes. 

After a light supper, we taste another great treasure of the estate, its Vin Santo, 2003. It is made in the traditional manner by drying of the grapes on racks for months before making wine and then long slow fermentation and maturation in very small barrels (caratelli) of a range of woods for five years.    The anticipation/anxiety must be something when you finally open those barrels with their much diminished content – is it going to be the nectar of the gods or is it going to be five years leading to nothing?  This example was definitely the former, on the drier side, one of the subtlest I have ever tasted with very grown up chestnut, raison and even herby dimensions.  Very refined, it coats the mouth and lasts and lasts and lasts. 

Capezzana have fairly recently introduced a top quality Trebbiano – not a combination of words you can often use in Tuscany!  The old war horse, the peasant’s favourite for its productivity, rarely produces anything more than a basic white accompaniment to food.  I am looking forward to tasting it, hopefully at the estate. 

This was a great introduction to Carmignano, to Capezzana, and a fine start to the Italian weekend.

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Dennis Canute presents Rusden wines

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It’s not often that you have the privilege of welcoming a leading wine producer to your own home.  But here’s a picture of Dennis Canute opening bottles in our little conservatory, know affectionately as the lean-to.  Dennis co-founded the Rusden estate in the Barossa Valley, Australia, some years ago, initially as a hobby farm.  He had to continue his day job as a teacher for quite a few years. His first vintage was 1992, though he would be the first to say that ‘vintage’ is definitely not the right word.  They didn’t start bottling until 1994 but it was no big deal until Robert Parker, the hugely influential wine critic, rated a couple of their bottles as 92 points that the world suddenly took notice.  This is not the time to rehearse the merits and demerits of Parker, but one thing is very clear: he can give an unknown small producer an enormous lift.  For the little family farm it can be a godsend – the judgement is authoritative, it’s free and people take notice.  

Rusden is very much a family firm, with Dennis’s wife in charge of the vineyards and winery and their son, Christian, the wine maker.   Christian wanted to be a chef as a youngster (until he discovered what working in a kitchen with split shifts was like, according to his dad) but fortunately he discovered the ‘bottle shop’ (Australian for off-license).   In his case this was a very positive find for a young man and led to him working and learning at Rockford before he came back to his parents’ farm. As Dennis says, in his charmingly self-deprecating way: it just made such a difference when you have a wine maker who knows what he is doing!

The first wine and only white from Rusden is appropriately enough called Christian Chenin Blanc 2007 (£19.50).  I don’t really need to write about how it is made as they have done that for us on the label. 

IMG_4584The really unusual thing is that it is Chenin Blanc at all in the Barossa. Riesling would be more typical but for Dennis that doesn’t really produce great wine on the valley floor until the vines are very old.  By contrast the Chenin has done well.  When young the nose has a strong banana flavour which fades quite quickly to be replaced by a pleasant and complex nose of fruit including some citrus, nuts and honey, and grassiness.   It has a typical Chenin seam of acid though not as pronounced as from cooler areas.  

IMG_4586However, the real focus of interest at Rusden is the red wines.   The principal grapes for the quality wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro and of course Shiraz.  What is immediately obvious is that all the reds shows some strong common themes.  They are full-flavoured as you would expect but not in an over-rich, obvious sort of way.  All the wines showed a good level of acidity, making them genuinely lively and even supple, despite the typical 14˚ or more of alcohol.  Further, they all had a strong salty, iodine, streak, which Dennis puts down to the ‘soil’, if that’s the right word, which is basically non-wetting sand over clay.  the pictures on the Rusden web site show vines, old and new, growing in what appears to be a desert! 

First up was Ripper Creek 2006 (£21.50), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz, aged for 15-18 months in old IMG_4581barriques and hogsheads.  This is a serious wine, said to be at its best after 10 to  12 years, with a bold nose of green pepper, some sweet Shiraz fruit and some pepperiness.  On the palate it combines a great structure with the zip of decent acidity. The latter comes from a combination of the relative coolness of their location (2-3˚ degrees cooler and greater day/night difference because of the gully breezes) and judicious and entirely legal adding of acid to the final product.  

Next up was a real ‘marmite’ wine, Full Circle Mataro 2005(£26.50): 100% Mataro or Mourvèdre if you prefer.  Dennis muses on the origin of the name of the grape in Australia and then repeats the old joke: why is the grape called Mataro in Australia?  Because Australians couldn’t say Mourvèdre.  But then he notes it’s called Monastrell in Spain.  The wine itself sparks off a further digression on words for tasting.  Some don’t like this wine because its too ‘feral’ (untamed, not super clean as most modern wines are) ‘blousy ’ (you decide), says Dennis.  This one is both both highly vegetal and salty, a stand out wine if you like strong character and distinctiveness – which I love.  The wine starts with a great barnyardy smell (hence ‘feral’), then green peppers plus the iodine notes commented on.  ‘Great palate weight’ adds Dennis.   There is great depth of flavour and super silky tannins.  There was some disagreement on this in the group, but no one seemed to mind that much.  On the general issue of what we mean when we speak about wine, see the post on ‘Talking about wine’. 

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Rather more recognisable is Boundaries Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (£36.75)   A good ruby colour, but not black, great big fruity nose of red and blackcurrants, but not jammy, counterbalancing acidity again, slightly sweet notes (rum and raison according to Dennis) which comes from the 20% American oak used for this wine.   Supple and velvety. 

Rusden’s most celebrated wine is named with Aussie bravado, Black Guts Shiraz (£46).  We tasted two years, 2005 and then 2003, the second a hotter year.  Rusden’s philosophy of using older barrels continues with this top wine, with only 20-30% new IMG_4577 barrels.  Basically they are looking for the maturation of the fruit and for the wine to come together over its 30 months of ageing, rather than adding new flavours through the use of much new oak.  The 2005 leads with dense, black fruit, a certain smokiness and has great length to go with it. Its simultaneously robust and highly civilised, balanced as with all these wines through its acidity.  2003 is rather more tarry, characteristically ‘burnt rubber’ of Syrah and the acidity has dropped a bit.  These are a remarkable achievement for a relatively small (4,000 cases a year) family winery. 

Through all is this Dennis is a friendly, informing presence.  It’s quite clear how much he cares about his wife and family, his company, the wines, the people he has met.   It didn’t seem surprising that we finished the evening with someone else’s wine:  Gregg Hobbs Viognier 2005 (£14.50 for 50 cl bottle).   In a piece of new world inventiveness, this is a sweet wine made by an accelerated grape drying method and the vinified.  So instead of simply allowing grapes to shrivel for three months (as in the making of traditional Amarone and Recioto), these grapes are air-dried in a week. 

The result is beautiful to behold – a rich deep orange-gold colourIMG_4567 IMG_4566  and a nice green and gold wine label to go with it.   (I wonder how many wine label designers think about the needs of photographers when they knock up those labels – will the label relate to and complement the wine?)  The nose is a powerful apricot, with good fruit and refreshing acid again.   Very good indeed. 

Rusden is a model for great new world wines – combining balance IMG_4571and drinkability with a depth of flavour and complexity. If we were in the old world, we would be talking terroir as the wines do speak of the particular place from whence they came. And in Dennis Canute they have an friendly, approachable and informative ambassador. 

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Many thanks to David Thomas of Caviste (where you can buy these wines) who arranged this tasting and to Stafford for his company and help. 

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