A few bottles

As is the case with names from SA’s yesteryears, it is often with surprise that I drink a really good bottle. There’s no doubt that these names can make good wines, or reason they can’t, it’s just that the surge in new, sexier labels has put them largely in the shadows, especially on the shelves. So it was with the La Motte Chardonnay 2004 that I enjoyed with a roast chicken and polenta lunch. A good balance of oak and freshness make this a fine drink, and one that stays interesting over the whole bottle.

A bottle that started murky and too clumsy for me, but then pulled itself into fine shape was the 2001 Graham Beck “The Ridge” Syrah. With bold fruits and wood, they clearly make this wine to age, and after five years it can still wait a while longer. One of those times that I was glad to have resisted opening on release, the wine was finessed enough to have a few people guessing it was cooler climate shiraz.

Speaking of cooler climates, a quick taste-off of a number of sauvignons yesterday with some winemakers showed that it really is hard to pick the warmer climes from the cooler ones in the bottle. A Doolhof 2006 (from “warm” Wellington) was picked as a cool region, simply making the point that generalisation is dangerous, for pockets that subvert the norm exist – and modern methods of winemaking/choice of yeast/barrel can shape the wines’ character so powerfully.

A provocative question: Until all wineries really are reflecting site, it is almost foolish to talk regionality?

Vina Progreso Tannat Reserve 2002

Another Chilean, a joint venture with a French family. Great structure (tannin, appropriately) and freshness, some earthiness and one could even talk about minerality. A variety that would be welcome in South Arica, where I believe there are a few experimental plantings.

Bodegas Carrau Sauvignon Blanc “Sur Lie” 2005

Tasted blind, thought it was a European light white, not unlike pinot grigio. Very light in palate, loads of tropical fruit, even pineapple. Very short palate. Turned out to be a Chilean sauvignon that’s been left on the lees for six months. Can only imagine the lack-lustre juice that it began as.

Miles Mossop Max 2004

An accomplished wine, rich and pleasing. Cab sav, merlot and 21% petit verdot. Modern in style, with well-handled tannin and good fruit. My only reservation is the interrupt between what the wine is and what it claims to be on the back label – idiosyncratic and somewhat maverick.

Stellenzicht Rhapsody 2003

Never heard of this wine before it was introduced to me as the winemaker’s dream of a pinotage blend. Apparently the winemaker is very proud of this near 50/50 pinotage/shiraz, I found that the pairing (at this ratio) seemed to have the effect of one cancelling the other out. Very short, dusty, a bit earthy. Rhapsody in Blue?

Sterhuis Chardonnay 2004

A year after release, this wine is ageing beautifully and tasting great. Certainly in the well-wooded style, but deftly handled. I hear the 2005 did not live up to this superb wine, but I have yet to taste it.

Andreas Shiraz 2004

The anoraks seem to like this wine at the moment, and it does have very pleasing round and chocolatey notes with a smooth texture. Pleasant enough, even downright charming if not an intensely complex wine.

Haute Espoir Semillon 2005

I don’t have vast experience with this winery, and I believe I am already in trouble with them for being less than amazed, but a glass of this wine again failed to make much of an impression. I’ll leave it there.

Wildekrans Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2004

In the June issue of our local Wine magazine an article on Morgenster, the prize olive oil and wine estate on the Helderberg ends by posing the question of whether they would consider making the estate blend a cabernet franc-cabernet sauvignon wine, and do away with the merlot, a variety that their superstar consultant, Pierre Lurton, of Cheval Blanc and Yquem fame, thinks does not really feature well in the Cape.

Interesting. Not having access to an immediate bottle of Morgenster Estate (since this was top of mind), I opened a bottle of another wine that did rather well (considering its price) in the same magazine’s cabernet franc roundup – Wildekrans Cab Franc-Merlot 2004. I am a cab franc fan, I have to say, the leaner, more spicy notes of this cab compared to its big relative, cab sauvignon, appeal to me. On this wine, I didn’t find much of the hoped-for joy though, it was closed and dull, with a woodiness that only later led to a maderised flavour that I thought may have something to do with a highish VA. I don’t think merlot is the culprit here, and my interest in cabernet franc and its blends is certainly unabated, notwithstanding this setback.

Sagila Chenin Blanc 2005

This is one of the best chenins I’ve tasted in a while – a taut number, with great finesse. Good fruit held in by great palate richness that comes from the extended lees contact (around four months). Mzokhona Mvemve has worked with local chenin maestro Teddy Hall, and I think the time was not wasted! Retails for about R65.

Sejana Merlot 2000

What a colossal disappointment. This wine was heralded at release, as was the Cab, but after six years the wine is a dead duck. Promising nose of meaty merlot with some cedar complexities devolves into a hard, tannic and unappealing mouthful of unbalanced wine. It even had a faulty spritziness. If you have any of it in your cellar, I’d send it back to the producer for a refund.

Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2002

In a slighter year, a refined and most drinkable wine that proves how pleasant thoughtful wine can be – not life changing, but certainly life enhancing. Drunk over a robust lunch with a friend who used it as a description of a wine that you would not be able to wow the world with (lacking structure and weight, he described it); it was nevertheless a lithe, balanced and enjoyable drink with a good moderate alcohol. At R130 form the restaurant I certainly wish there were more honest wines like these at lower prices, but I was very happy to have it instead of some turgid concoction that clamors for my attention. It is wines like these that will have people drinking and enjoying wine – surely the most solid foundation for wine culture.

La Motte “Pierneef” Shiraz/Viognier 2004

Another contender in the latest blend fad to sweep through the Cape winelands, and this one is interesting in that the cellar has whacked 11% viognier into the blend, quite a way up from the usual 4-6-ish percent. Yet the wine sits in your glass at a respectable 13.9 % alcohol, not the big and unctuous levels that one usually associates with this blend and its full ripe, full sweet viognier. So what happened? The notes show that the viognier did come in at 28 degrees Balling, so very ripe and with a high potential alcohol. But the shiraz component was harvested earlier than most shiraz, at 24 degrees Balling.

The result is a wine with less of that perfumed, even cloying viognier character. As this blend goes, it is likable though I have my deep reservations about these blends – if you have good shiraz, use it on its own, don’t pep it up with the florid exuberance of viognier. And the Pierneef? One of South Africa’s celebrated landscape artists, the owners of the farm (Rupert family) have the largest collection. This is their “ultra premium” range, above (?) the “classic” range. How we hype our adjectives.

A few wines

Dinner on Jens Lehmann the other night because some friends foolishly bet me that Arsenal would beat Barcelona in the Champions League. So I found myself at the Relais & Chateaux property Cellars Hohenhort, where the restaurant is called Greenhouse (it has trees growing through it) and a young Frenchman is behind the pots. The food was good on average, but what interested me more was that the sommelier had organised some wines in advance, knowing my friends were wine-lovers. Brampton Viognier 2005 was their first choice with the starters – a rich and heavy wine, positively smothering itself in an ingratiating desire to be lovable. As a result, I could barely drink a glass. At least the wine was in screwcap.

Then a Backsberg “Pumphouse” Shiraz 2003 which was so named I guess because it was pumped up by… yes, viognier. Put the wine to the nose and that was all you first smelt, second and third too. Not a poor texture on the palate, but again cloyingly sweet and twee.

To rescue the situation and take control of our vinous pleasure, my friend ordered a 1997 Cordoba Crescendo. The winemaker Chris Keet reckons this may be his finest (although the 1995 is superb). It’s a cabernet franc-led wine, and still so incredibly fresh and pure it’s astounding. Besides its obvious class, it had that most winning quality of being drinkable.