Tag Archives: Viognier

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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Age does not wither?

In the old fashioned world of gentlemen’s clubs and wine merchants, the ageing of wine, claret in particular, was virtually the essence of wine appreciation.  How the wine scene has changed but there is still a fascination with how wines age, whether they improve, whether people actual like to drink older bottles.   Andover Wine Friends’ monthly tasting, on this occasion of wines from the Rhône, threw these questions into sharp relief. 

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The tasting started with two whites, a Viognier and a typical Marsanne/Roussane blend.  The Viognier from Jean Michel Gerin (Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes) I had bought in some hurry from Berry Bros and had not noticed that it was 2005. I became anxious about it before the tasting because in general Viognier is much better young with its very distinctive peach/apricot aromas and velvety texture.  This was a pleasant rather than outstanding example, the nose not that pronounced, some of the lusciousness still present but quite structured. 

By contrast white Hermitage is a wine to keep and let develop in the bottle. It can be one of the grandest whites in the world.  The example was from Domaine des Remizières, Cuvée Emilie, 2001.  This wine split people, some struggling with its tough minerality and slightly muzzy herbiness.  It’s definitely not easy drinking.  Retasting it after 24 hours it had cleaned up and was more approachable.  Later in the week I tasted a couple of Hermitage 2006s from different producers at the London wine fair.  They obviously had more freshness but were rather undeveloped (Jaboulet), though Chapoutier had made theirs quite approachable with mildly oak aromas. 

The reds were much more straight forward.   The younger wines came from a mixed case offered by the Wine Society from the excellent 2007 vintage. The older wines were generously provided by club members Andrew and Maria from wine they have bought over the years – we are always willing to help with clearing space if you have quality old bottles cluttering up your house!

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A trio of Côtes du Rhône Villages showed exactly how these Grenache-based wines age. Visan’s  Domaine de la Florane 2007 is bursting with young fruit and acidity, a slightly unruly but likeable adolescent.  By contrast Château Laudun 2000 is in sedate old age, marked tertiary aromas of leather with a little pruney fruit.  Standing up to the ageing process rather better was Jaboulet Aîné 1999, with same aged characteristics but much livelier fruit.  The colour difference after a decade is very obvious.

IMG_5316 The evening finished with a pair of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The 2007 from Domaine du Vieux Lazaret  was a text book example of rich, IMG_5297vibrant fruit, layers of interest and a refreshing finish.  It’s a big but balanced wine.  Château Mont-Redon 1996 is one for lovers of seriously aged wines.  Predominantly Grenache but with 35% of no less than six other grape varieties, the fruit is again prune and blackberry now transmuted towards leather and treacle.

And which wine would you like to drink with a meal after a tasting like IMG_5322this?  My vote would go to a brilliant youngster, Domaine Coursodon’s St Joseph, Silice, 2007.  100% Syrah from the Northern Rhône, it shone with its purply-red colour, lively mid red fruit in the mouth, excellent mineral streak and wonderful acidity.  Age in wines is a matter of taste. 

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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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