Making waves in Rioja

Bryan MacRoberts, Laventura, Rioja. A whose-who of New Wave South Africa, making waves in Spain

Remember when, the leading names in Rioja started making wines in Priorat and Ribera del Duero and the cult wines that emerged from these new regions. With Priorat and Ribera del Duero now firmly established in the premium wine sector, imagine what would happen if the leading names in New Wave South Africa started making waves inside Rioja …

Albert Ahrens is part of the original Swartland Revolution starting out at Lammershoek with Craig Hawkins, he has subsequently worked vintages in Champagne, Priorat and the Rhône Valley and teamed up with Pieter Walser to create Blank Bottle. From the cellar at Ahrens Family wines in Wildepaardejacht, Bryan MacRoberts makes his Abbotsdale and signature ‘Tobias’ wines. So it should come as no surprise that the assistant wine maker to Eben Sadie in South Africa, has a Spanish project of his own.

Eben also has a project in Priorat and Bryan MacRoberts has worked vintages for Eben in Spain.

Laventura are some of the most authentic wines I’ve tried to come out of ultra-traditional Rioja. A region dominated by either large scale producers or vineyards divided and divided again by inheritance.

Bryan has managed to secure small parcels of old vines, so inaccessible to modern farm machinery that it has to be ploughed by mule and therefore of no interest to the mechanised producers. From his base in Logroño, and just like he did with the Swartland Independents, Bryan is quietly and passionately leading the way for a return to a fresher, more elegant and authentic style of wine. These are some of the most exciting wines to come out of Rioja in many a year.

The 2014 (his second vintage) is on the water, expected to land within a week. Don’t be afraid to stock up, these wines just work. Bryan is searching for a purer, more elegant, and ultimately more traditional style of Rioja that puts vineyard before cellar, he treats Tempranillo like a cooler climate grape in a cooler climate region.

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THE REDS

LANAVE 2014 £199 per dozen

This wine is made from Tempranillo and Grenache grapes selected from small plots in Rioja. The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented and aged in Stainless steel for one year before being bottled. This wine has a light ruby red colour, perfumed nose full of fresh juicy red fruit, soft tannins and an elegant smooth finish. You can of course by six bottles, but it will not be enough!

Laventura Tempranillo 2014 £149 per six

80% Tempranillo from bush vines in Rioja Alavesa and 10% Grenache from Rioja Alta and 10% Grenache from Rioja Baja. Average age of the vines over 60 years old. Fermented in open fermenters with punch downs and aged in 500L used barrels. Fine and floral nose accompanied by figs, fennel and lemon grass. On the palate there is crunchy grippy red fruit with fresh acidity and soft tannins. Juicy and elegant with minerality and salinity that lingers on the palate. Pleasant long finish. Why not buy six bottle to drink now, and six bottles to age. £288 per dozen (Just £24 per bottle – SAVE £10 – Plus FREE STORAGE or DELIVERY)

ORANGE – SKIN CONTACT WHITE Laventura Malvasía 2014 £159 per six

High altitude single vineyard Malvasia hugging the Sierra Cantabria. The cool climate wards off botrytis and helps the grapes ripen late till they reach a golden red colour. Fermented as a red wine on skins for 3 weeks the wine is aged in a cement egg for one year without sulphur or wood or any additions. The nose is fruit dominated by oxidative fruit aromas such as apple and quince accompanied by sweet honey aromas. An interesting palate mix of flavours from ginger to apple cider backed by natural acidity and green herbs. Saline and grippy. Interesting orange wine that is well refined.

WHITE Laventura Viura 2014 £119 per six

This is an old-vine field blend from Rioja Alavesa consisting mostly of Viura, with a smattering of Garnacha Blanca, Malvasía Riojana (aka Alarije) and Calagraño (a grape banned in Rioja unless vines were planted before 1970). The vineyard, planted 80 years ago, is largely clay with some calcareous elements. 2014 was a warmer vintage expressed by the variety through natural fermentation and organic cultivation. Fermented in a 600 liters oak barrels. The wine is very floral on the nose, expressing geraniums, dandelions and fruits like pear, white peach and hints of lemon. On the palate, one notes the biscuit and cookie dough aromas from one year lees ageing without battonage in barrel. Integrated acidity maintains a rigid back bone backed by minerality and saltiness. Mouth watering.

Six of each (24 bottles) Logroño – Rioja Alavesa – Spain £499 – SAVE £27.50

Let’s drink to the health of the South African wines

Last week I had the pleasure of joining Chris Wilson from Harpers to debate the health of the South African wine industry.

Harpers, setting the news agenda for the UK wine trade

Joined by Victoria Mason, buyer for Waitrose, Martin Williams CEO of M Restaurants and representatives from Wines of South Africa (WOSA) and Distel one of South Africa’s leading Multinational drinks companies we concluded that all was well from the cradle of Humankind. They [South Africans] just don’t like to shout about it, and they should.

Where else in the world can you get sustainably farmed, field blends from 100yr old bush vines, dry farmed, full of varietal flavour and complexity but for under £10.

Winemakers with these kind of roots and stories in counties like France and Italy command prices in the £50’s and £60’s.

International varieties from newly planted vineyards in South America are all too often championed as ‘Icons’ but can often be iconic only in price.

Here in South Africa it is all about the winemaker, and the personalities behind the wines, if you want to get the most from South Africa explore the different regions don’t get bogged down following the grape.

You can read the full article on the Harpers website:
Continue reading “Let’s drink to the health of the South African wines”

Vineyard Visit to beautiful Klein Constantia

It’s rare to visit a wine estate outside of Europe that has more than 300 years of history behind it.  Klein Constantia, in the Constantia Hills some 20kms from Cape Town centre is a 146 hectare estate that was once part of the greater Constantia estate, founded by the Cape’s first governor in 1685.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the estate became world famous for its incredible sweet wine known as Vin de Constance.  Imortalised by poets and authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Baudelaire. Although the wine survived wars, trade battles and fashion it was virtually lost thanks to the most aggressive of vine pests; phylloxera.

A renaissance began in 1980 when the estate was purchased by Duggie Jooste.  30 years later the potential was spotted by Czech-American investor Zdenek Bakala, UK businessman Charles Harman, as well as Bordeaux luminaires Bruno Prats (Cos) and Hubert de Bouard (Angelus).  Wine expert Hans Astrom joined as MD and 24 year old winemaking protégée Matt Day was appointed head wine maker.

“One of the most mythical vineyards in the world…” Institue des Paysages & Architectures Viticoles.

Touring the vines you can clearly see why such powerful men were excited by the possibilities at Klein.  Plots rise and fall along a sweeping ridge, climbing to over 400 metres above see level.  Blocks of Sauvignon, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Muscat and many more streak across the landscape.  Some on guyot, some planted in the old “goblet” or bush style. They all share granite soils and vineyard management of obsession attention to detail.

“From these Elysian fields used to come one of the greatest wines in the world – the legendary Constantia” Hugh Johnson.

The winery itself is also spectacular with plenty of new toys for Matt to trial, including some tronconic tanks which allow the red wine to be fermented with less aggression, resulting in finer, softer wines.  Matt, now 30, benefits from collaboration with the aforementioned Prats and de Bouard, but also, of course Pascal Jolivet of Sancerre.

The wines we tasted were as exciting as the estate itself.  The estate Sauvignon was beautifully textural and controlled, benefitting from excellent fruit and some wild ferments.  The Metis is an exciting wine for ‘wine geeks’ as it’s hard to tell from a Sancerre, except for its extra ripeness.  Perdeblokke was intense and amplified by comparison although it was certainly overshadowed by a new creation; Block 371.  This really was exquisite and a really fine addition to the world of brilliant SB.  We also tasted a couple of estate Rieslings.  The only South African Rieslings planted on granite soils (we believe). While the 2015 was superb it was usurped by a bottle of 2012, illustrating how good this wine is with 5-6 years of bottle age.  This is certainly a wine for Riesling-Heads to search out.

The estate also make a red, just one now; Estate Red.  It’s a blend of Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Both the 2014 and 2015 were superb, emphasised by enjoying some from magnum in the evening.  It’s smooth, savoury and complex and ages well.  With influence from the two Bordeaux gurus is it any surprise that it’s excellent and not just a little Bordeaux-esque?  I implore you go big on this wine.  We also tasted some Klein MCC aka Method Cap Classique, a fermentation in bottle wine (a la Champagne).  Made from 100% Chardonnay this is a wine that’s really come on in leaps and bounds and definitely makes a good “stunt double” for the French stuff.

Of course we finished our tasting with the world famous Sweet Muscat of Vin de Constance. 2012 stood by its reputation as being the best ever bottled and 2014 was typically lush and rich.  We also tasted a pre-bottling sample of 2017 which suggests this could also be a first class vintage.  This is a wine with grapes that are picked bunch by bunch over a 3 month period.  An incredible labour of love.

Sitting with Hans and Matt it’s clear that this is a team that is totally committed to the philosophy of continual improvement; never resting and always questioning.  They harvest information and feed it back into their pursuit of brilliance.  The wines are world class but I’d be lying if I didn’t think they’ll achieve more, much, much more.

Visiting Anwilka Estate in Stellenbosch.

Visiting Anwilka on March 11th 2013.
I’ve been visiting vineyards in a professional capacity since 2006.  In this time I’ve been lucky enough to taste with the teams at Lafite, Latour, Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Ausone and Petrus in Bordeaux.  In Burgundy I’ve benefited from days at Leflaive, de Vogue, and negociants like Chanson and Drouhin. I’ve been enchanted and educated by the best in Tuscany, Peidmont, California, Rioja, the Douro and the Mosel.  Of course all the greatest producers have their own, specific and usually unique way to approach the challenge of making wine that transcends the time, people and place that conspire to allow their birth. However, despite the differences between then there is one unifying factor that the most impressive all share.  I cannot describe in a term more specific than mindset; a soup of ambition, control, open-mindedness, generosity, drive, focus and knowledge.  Above all they have teams that click at a spectacularly high level of performance.

This same, unmistakable vibe radiated off of the team at Anwilka in the southern pocket of Stellenbosch.  Now in his 50’s, Vineyard manager Piet Neethling has been husbanding the estate for two decades with input from Bordeaux legends Bruno Prats, ex of Cos and Hubert de Bouard of Angelus. Wines are made by wine made by outstanding young South African oenologist Jean du Plessis.  This stellar team is guided by the commercial acumen of Managing Director Hans Astrom.

This team fires on all cylinders producing just two wines from the 40 hectares of red gravel soils supporting Syrah, Cabernet, PV and soon to be realised Malbec.  These are wines which famous terroir guru Claude Bourgignon described as wines of true terroir (spoiler: he doesn’t say that much outside of Burgundy).   Furthermore Robert Parkers decribed the wines thus “Fabulous… this is the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa… This debut release, the 2005, a blend of 37% Syrah and the balance of Cabernet Sauvignon, is world class stuff, exceptional wine…”

But back to us, what did we think?

Wines Tasted by Ed.

Petit Frere is the 2nd Wine of the estate. 3 vintages tasted:

Petit Frere 2013 84% Shz, 12% Cab, 4% PV: Lean, fruity, chocolate. Lean tannins. Nicely integrated.  Good broad finish. Quite Fine. Quite polished. Unique. Delicious. 

Petit Frere 2014 65& Shz, 34% Cab, 1% PV: Powerful nose suggested weight but palate was surprisingly streamlined and refined. Lovely cabernet character. 

Petit Frere 2015 58% Shz, 31% Cab, 11% PV: Very well balanced.  Quite dry tannins. Acids seemed more pronounced. Lithe finish, less flamboyant.  Reminiscent of a fine Coonawarra Cabernet.

Anwilka Estate Red is the flagship of the estate, designed to be the ultimate vessel to deliver Stellenbosch terroir.

Anwilka 2012 87% Shz, 13% Cab: Superb balance. Very textural. So fine. Really delicious and creamy.  Immediate and easily recognisable as a new world classic.

Anwilka 2013 62% Shz, 25% Cab, 13% PV: Lifted, perfumed and aromatic on top of a powerful structure. Lovely use of oak. Very good length.

Anwilka 2014 52% Shz, 37% Cab, 11% PV: A broad, delicious, chocolate style.  Reminded me of better vintages of Gaja’s super Tuscan Ca’Macanda. 

Anwilka 2015 64% Shiraz, 29% Cab, 7% PV: Close to 2014 in sstructure. Texture and rich, noted more terroir identity. Awesome balance and integration.

The objective of the team is to keep refining the style of the wine, looking for more and more honesty and terroir influence without losing the established personality of the wine.  Their philosophy of continual improvement is married to a belief in innovation so we can anticipate bold changes as well as just ongoing refinement.

A summary is easy.  In a wine world where “Icon (!?!) Wines” are built with power and (high) price as the headline objectives it’s easy to become jaded and cynical. It’s also easy to forget that there are wine estates like Anwilka that are producing world class calibre fine wines, that are totally true to terroir and yet are fashioned via perfect control in the winery.  Both wines will age and develop very well. And with Petit Frere being a £15 wine Anwilka being comfortably sub £30 these are two world beaters at half the price of their competitors. This is remarkable stuff all round.

Flint Vineyard Visit Jan 2017

There’s a little bit of wine magic happening in South Norfolk.  Hannah and Ben Witchell have moved to Earsham in the Waveney Valley in search of the perfect terroir; climate and soils to produce the finest English wine.

This project has serious aspirations.  Ben, a graduate of Plumpton Wine College, has a wealth of experience including a vintages in the Napa Valley, California and two years based in the esteemed wine village of Morgon in Beaujolais. Hannah and Ben are combining the best wine making technology with the traditional methods they’ve lived around – certain that the free draining soils of the Valley floor and Norfolk’s dry climate and sunshine hours will produce the environment to push quality to new levels for East Anglia.

Currently reliant on fermentations of small batches of grapes bought in from fellow vignerons in the region they’ve also planted a sizable vineyard that will come on stream in 2 to 3 years from now.  Being a wine grower is not for the impatient. The vineyard is in an ideal spot with great aspect and ideal soils, in fact, visiting it I kept having to remind myself I was 20 miles from home and not in central France.

The guys are focusing on the Bacchus grape, a cross of Riesling and Sylvaner.  I two from tank and while one expressed really charming aspects of Sauvignon flavours another was very reminisent of the chalky and mineral aspects of Chablis.  Ben also offered some Pinot Blanc from barrel (the barrels hail from a contact at Ch des Jacques – Jadot – in Beaujolais) and these were also delicious – supremely exciting wines by any standard.  There was also a bit of Pinot Noir/Pinot Precoce which had a really attractive aroma and decent depth and a touch of complexity.

These are very early days for the Witchell’s but it’s clear that there’s a really exciting project here, one that is building momentum.  The potential here is strong and it’s taken pioneers (sorry Hannah!) like these and a few other brave souls to tap it from our local landscape.  See more via www.flintvineyard.com and of course they have facebook and twitter presence too – and a tasting room due to open very soon.   Once they bottle their first wines, this Spring, we’ll hopefully have some at HarperWells too.

The Queen of Grapes

Cabernet Franc from Piemonte, what ever next? ‘L Franc ****** Between two of Italy’s smaller regions, Liguria to the south and Valle d’Aosta to the north, lies Piemonte, the second largest region after Sicily. Its name, meaning ‘foot of the mountain’, is derived from the foothills that swing in an arc from Lake Maggiore in the north-east, round its western border with France. In the Langhe hills around North of Novara, close to the Valle d’Aosta, in a little chain, are the five tiny sub-zones that include Lessona, and where the Nebbiolo grape is making a comeback. ‘The Bandit’ 2009 Cabernet Franc Originally a native to the southwest of France, this is both parent to, and overshadowed by, the illustrious Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc ripens earlier and is less susceptible to poor weather than other major varieties, making it suitable for cooler climes like the Loire Valley, where it has thought to have been grown since the sixteenth century, elsewhere it has been used as a blending partner, although it is gathering credence for single varietal wines in Northern and Central Italy and Eastern Europe. The gentle growing season in cooler regions gives wines with lightish body, distinctive freshness and a mix of floral, red fruit and capsicum flavours. Just 1,600 bottles produced annually and ‘outlawed’ in the US due to copyright. This 2009 is a definite in my 365 bottle wine rack.

The Bishop of Norwich – South African “Port”

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Perhaps you know the story of the Bishop of Norwich or perhaps not?

At formal dinners at traditional dinner tables it is said to be imperative to pass the port to the left, pouring a glass for your neighbour on your right before you do so. Ideally, the decanter (vintage port is always decanted because of the extreme level of sediment in the bottle) should never stop its clockwise progress around the table until it is finished. If the decanter, or bottle, should ever stall it is considered very bad form to ask for it. Instead, you ask the person hogging the decanter: “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”. If they are familiar with port etiquette they will immediately realise their faux pas and pass along the decanter with an apology. If not, and they answer in the negative, you should say: “He’s a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port.” Precisely which forgetful and inebriated Bishop of Norwich is responsible for inspiring this particularly part of the etiquette has been lost to the vagaries of time but some ideas can be found here: www.theliberatorwine.com/episode-9-the-wine/

The style is akin to a fine ruby or LBV port and is made at the famed Muratie winery at the cape. The blend involves traditional Port varieties of Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francesca and Souzao. Vintage 2012 the wine comes in at 19% abv.

HarperWells have secured 162 bottles of this rarity and can offer it at £22 per bottle. The wine leaves South Africa on the 15th Sept due here in mid Oct. It’s available on a first come first served basis.

Sami-Odi

If you wanted you could describe this wine as a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley as that’s exactly what it is but it is also so much more. Its given name is “Little Wine IV Syrah Barossa Valley.” Syrah is a nod towards its European style whatever that means these days.

This wine is made from 4 different vintages as the wine maker says: “There are 16 barriques used for this wine this release, two of the barrels are from 2012 and one from 2013, so the bulk of the wine is from younger wine from 2014 and 2015. “I like youth and snap and crunch, so it’s quite nice to see that as the dominant part, and the older wines foiled by the younger.” Fraser the winemaker gives the impression that he is just making wines that he wants to drink rather than something that is out to be commercially or critically acclaimed. The old school farming philosophy concentrating on organics and the lunar cycle with minimum intervention put this firmly in the “natural’ wine category (I need another blog to discuss natural wine).

This is not an every day priced wine, certainly not for me, however it does offer superb value. When Sam and I tasted, we immediately delved into an in-depth conversation about its merits. This in it self indicates to me its value. Whether it is music, fashion, art, food or wine if a subject stimulates such vibrant discussion, it adds value, and helps justify its price.  More importantly this wine is absolutely delicious. Beautiful balance between tannic grip and acidity this wine tasted ‘alive’ for one of a better description. A spicy nose, red fruit on the palate with a touch of white pepper that is unmistakable Syrah. A complex wine that deserves to be shared with friends and discussed.