Tag Archives: Riesling

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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Multi-faceted Vajra

Planning a week’s tasting in a region is a mixture of thorough preparation, chance meetings and recommendations, and sheer persistence.  And there is the question of whether to visit wineries which you already know and whose wines are available in the UK as opposed to those you can only taste in situ.  Our final day in the Langhe region of Piemonte had  a large gap in the final afternoon but after a few phone calls, we arranged a visit to G.D.Vajra (pronounced VAI-ra), a very well established name, located above the village of Barolo since 1972.  All the planning had paid dividends as this was also the only time in the week that we had to drive from our morning tastings in Barbaresco, wellIMG_4882 to the east of our base in Alba, to a visit at the opposite end of the region, via a very good if hurried lunch and a near disaster at a self service petrol station.

Vajra’s substantial winery has a workmanlike feel about it, with the exception of the charming stained glass windows which throw a slightly surreal glow over proceedings.  But this is clearly a place of work, of focus on the goal of a quality across a largish range of wines.   For whites they have a Chardonnay from the Luigi Baudana company which they are now directing and a surprise package in Pétracine, the Riesling which they have been making since 1986.  They also have quite a serious Dolcetto from the two vineyards, Coste and Fossati, which can be aged for up to 10 years, a denser more structured wine with nice cherry and almond notes.

The use of barriques is interesting here.  Usually expensive new  wood is dedicated to the most important wines but here the new wood is matched up IMG_4901-1 with the forceful Barbera grape and it is only when the wood has mellowed that it is used on the prized Nebbiolo.  This means that you get the mild oxidising effect of small barrels for Nebbiolo but without the vanilla and toast aromas of new barriques.  Very clever.

Barbera comes in two shapes, normale 2007 and riserva.  The former comes from the younger IMG_4887-1vineyards and a part of it is matured in new oak for six to eight months.  It has a gorgeous, fruity nose which covers the new wood – it needs to express itself, like an  adolescent, says our host Sabrina. The Barbera riserva (or superiore) 2007 comes from 50 year old vines from the famous Bricco delle viole vineyard, the source also of one of the cru Barolo.  However, the law being what it is, you can only put the vineyard name on the back label of Barbera, whereas of course it is allowed to be on the main label of the Barolo!  This wine is aged in large traditional barrels and tonneaux for 18 months. It has a super concentrated nose of dark fruit and some oak ageing, wonderfully ripe, sweet fruit on the palate and is extremely long.  An outstanding wine which makes the case for great Barbera.

After Barbera comes Nebbiolo of course, though in this case we could have gone next to that other native, Freisa, of which more anon.  With the addition of Luigi Baudana wines, Vajra now has four Nebbiolo wines, the simpler Langhe Nebbiolo 2008 (quite a complex perfumed nose, no wood, quite tannic) and three Barolo.  Grapes from three vineyards, La volta, Fossati and Coste di Vergne go into Barolo Albe 2005.  IMG_4905-1 These are relatively young vines, 20-25 year olds, though the wine making is very traditional – maceration of the skins in the young wine for 30 days followed by three years in traditional large botti.  The label reflects the youthfulness of the vines rather than the traditional winemaking and seems a very loud statement next to the traditional main label. You can see the density of the ‘legs’ in this glass – 14.5˚ of alcohol and lots of extract.  This is a good Barolo – structured, perfumed, with spicy notes, beautiful.

The final two Barolo are from the respective houses of Vajra and Baudana.  Barolo Bricco delle viole 2005, that vineyard IMG_4911again, is the flagship wine getting the full 40 days of maceration and 40 months in large traditional barrels.  It is rich and delicate simultaneously, already beautifully knit together, with layers of fruit, spice, balsam and further spice on the nose.   By contrast the Baudana offering, Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2005 has a much more obvious use of oak ageing (balsam, cloves), quite velvety in the mouth but still tough and tannic, typical of the Serralunga area.

Having tasted the heights of Barolo we are definitely on the descent from the tasting mountain, but there are various points of interest as we return.  First off is Kyè 2006 (a play on words on chi è, who’s this?), made from the local grape, Freisa.  Vajra are one of ten producers of this wine, though there is still, not the more conventional light, sparkling red wine.  Sabrina says its a wine for the autumn, perfumed and tannic (it must be something in Piemontese soil that produces this combination), good acidity, could last 10 years.  Then there is a version of Pinot Noir, called PN Q497, 2006, though our bottle had been open a while and IMG_4915 IMG_4916 perhaps wasn’t a fair test (slightly odd caramelly notes).  Of course there is also Moscato d’Asti, all 5.5˚ of it, but delicious none the less. And finally – thirteenth in line – our first taste of Barolo Chinato, a digestivo, which is Barolo infused with herbs and beefed up with added alcohol.  This had lovely bitter notes, a complex cocktail of herbs and counterbalancing sweetness.

This comprehensive tasting was a fitting climax to our week.  As we drove back to Alba we enjoyed for a final time the great views across the ridges of the Langhe, this time around La Morra bathed in spring sunshine.

Many thanks to Sabrina and all at Vajra.  The wines are available in the UK via Liberty Wines, eg Caviste.

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Particularly Alsace

After the anticipation, the tasting.  Ten members of Andover Wine Friends gathered to try two of Alsace’s great white grape varieties followed by a simple supper.  We settled quickly to the task after a taste of Aureus, Cremant de Loire, a bottle-aged single vintage Chardonnay, 2002.  Toasty, decent acidity if slightly milder than much Champagne, must be the best under £10 sparkler with bottle age? 

 IMG_3792Hugh Johnson speaks of the secretive sect of Riesling lovers, a great grape whose public perception is tarnished by memories of poor quality mainly German examples of the 70s and 80s.  In fact, both Gewürztraminer and Riesling are little understood in a wine world full of Chardonnay in various guises, neutral Pinot Grigio and big, muscular reds.  By contrast, Gewürz’s style takes some getting used to, with its combination of low acidity, modern high alcohol level (despite Alsace’s northerly latitude, it is one of the sunniest place in Europe) and off-dry taste which tastes sweet to those who only drink bone dry wines. Full details of the wines are given below – we tasted three Gewürztraminers.  An obvious difference was between the pale yellow of the 2007 with the tell-tale streaks of youthful green still visible and, by contrast, the yellow to gold of the 2000.  What was apparent to all was the outstanding aromatic qualities of Gewürz, some floral and mineral notes, kiwi and especially lychees, then honey and weight in the mouth in the better bottles. The surprise was that Ostertag’s 2006 tasted an older wine than the Hugel 2000.  How can this be? Our most knowledgeable taster suggested low intervention wine making and minimalist use of sulphur dioxide could lead to the fast ageing of the 2006.    

 The colour contrast in the three Rieslings was even more marked, the first two pale to the point of colourless on the rim of the glass, the third, older, wine, much darker and pale gold.  Rather less immediate sensation on the nose, floral and petrol in even the younger wines, honey, toasty, ‘floor polish’ (but only the best) on the older wine.  But then an explosion of flavour in the mouth, borne along by great acidity, refreshing to some, demanding to others.  For most of us, quality did reflect price.  Hugel’s wonderful Jubilee 2005 is very pale in the glass but a wine of good fruit and superb balance, while Zind Hubrecht’s single vineyard Heimbourg 2001 was bold and complex, bottle ageing producing the toasty notes otherwise associated with oak ageing, a wonderful balance between still good zinginess (many years to go if you hadn’t drunk it!) and great persistence, the sensations lingering in the mouth for what seemed like minutes. 


 Over the supper that followed we had a further treat, Zind Humbrecht’s Pinot Noir from the same Heimbourg vineyard.  This is a brilliant example of Pinot, fragrant, a clarity of fruit and balanced acidity presumably reflecting its northern latitude.  Not cheap but a fine accompaniment to pork and prunes.  Multiple conversations buzzed.  The evening concluded with a bottle from nowhere near Alsace – Pietratorcia’s one-off dessert wine from Ischia, one of the islands off Naples.  This 2002 was bought at the family winery after a particularly good lunch with the wine maker.   A product of the passito method, by semi drying the grapes before vinification, this was a mildly eccentric bit of Italian creativity, the grapes here being Viognier and Malvasia Aromatica.  The former presumably contributes some silkiness and apricot tones, all now knitted together in a pleasant if not outstanding pale orangey-brown sticky.  It’s not just Alsace that can do the particular. 



The Society’s Exhibition Gewürztraminer, made by Hugel, 2007, (Wine Society £14)

Domaine Ostertag, 2006 (Berry’s £17)

Tradition, Hugel, 2000 (WS, originally £10.50)



Collection, Kuentz-Bas, 2005 (WS £11)

Jubilee, Hugel, 2005, (WS £19)

Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, 2001 (Caviste £25)


Pinor Noir

Heimbourg, Domaine Zind Hubrecht, 2005 (Caviste £22.50)


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Searching for older Alsace bottles

taller than thou!

taller than thou!

Half the fun of putting a tasting together is in the search.  We will all have our favourite places to start – in your own cellar (under the stairs), your local supermarket, on the web or in a local shop.  I had already put together a tasting of Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Alsace and could draw on some bottles already. These included some 2003s, more 2005s for Riesling, some 2007s recently acquired and the odd bottle of 2000 waiting for an occasion such as this.  But I didn’t want to use up all my older bottles in one go, so I went to see what Caviste in Overton (www.caviste.co.uk) might have tucked away. 

The day was made by finding two quite grand bottles from Zind Humbrecht, one white and one red, the latter to go with the accompanying supper.  First, the perfect find in the shop was its last bottle of the single vineyard Riesling, Heimbourg, from 2001, which should have developed in the bottle over the last eight years.  Second, to complete the day, a quality Pinot Noir.  A nice touch is that both bottles come from grapes from the same 4 hectare vineyard.  The tasting awaits on Tuesday, but the satisfaction of the successful search already.

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