Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert have really raised a lot of eyebrows both in South Africa and abroad with some of their exciting releases in the B-Vintners vine exploration range. With the Strandwolf Chardonnay already in the range, this new addition is another wonderful site specific, terroir expression from the boys, joining two of my favourites, the delicious Liberte Pinotage and the highly lauded Hope to Harlem Chenin Blanc blend in the growing range.
B-Vintners Fire Heath Chardonnay 2016, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.
Made from vines grown on calcareous soils, this Chardonnay has an impressively low 12.5 Abv but is positively bursting with flavour. The nose is incredibly dusty, pithy and mineral laced, with prominent notes of fynbos, dried herbs, lemon peel, dried straw and lime sherbet. Great vibrancy and vitality lie at the heart of the liquid aromatics. On the palate, there is real restraint and dusty, gravelly, minerality. If ever there was a wine that tasted of wet river pebbles, here it is. The white citrus fruits are pithy and mesmerisingly austere, showing alka seltzer zip, dry bitter lemon, briney salinity, fresh acids and again, multiple layers of wet grey slate and crushed gravel minerality. A wonderfully pure, steely Chardonnay expression with the most subtle use of oak. A fabulous addition to South Africa’s cool climate coastal Chardonnay landscape.
The popularity of Jura wines has been exploding over the past few years as consumers turn their attentions away from stratospherically priced, impossible to buy Burgundy. However, the problem with this is that many, if not most of the top domaines in the Jura are also tiny and only produce small amounts of wine.
So when it comes to unicorn Jura wines, there are none more rare and sought after than Japanese producer Kenjiro Kagami, who owns 3 hectares in the Grusse area of Jura. Mentored by the Ganevats and Bruno Schueller, Kenjiro crafts some extraordinarily fine wines that seem nearly impossible to find. This 100% Chardonnay is made from organically grown grapes, which are vinified and then left on their lees for 12 months with no sulphur added during any stages of the winemaking.
A medium dark yellow straw colour that is slightly hazy. The aromatics are explosive, with lemon peel, oranges in cognac, bruised yellow peaches, summer orchard fruits and an intense, liquid minerality of wet limestone and dusty crushed granite. The palate begins with upfront yellow peach, saline alka seltzer zest, yellow citrus notes and waxy apples before shifting into fifth gear and offering up notes of exotic botanicals, incense, dried herbs, white peach, grapefruit and vermouth like complexity. The wine is balanced, harmonious and deliciously fresh, but also intriguing, multi-dimensional and impressively concentrated, all at 12.5 Abv ripeness. The fruit and minerality coat the palate leaving no corner of the mouth untouched. The longer the wine sits in the glass, the more it grows in complexity. The finish is unctuous and vibrantly fresh with sweet / sour peach and sour yellow plum notes melding beautifully with herbs in liquor and exotic botanical spices. A really profound Jura expression, it is easy to see why Kenjiro Kagami’s wines are now some of the most collectable and sought after unicorn wines produced.
The Kaaimansgat or Crocodile’s Lair vineyard is hidden away in the Elands Kloof Valley behind the village of Villiersdorp, just 80km from Hermanus. A beautiful spot inside a blind valley nestling amongst majestic Cape mountains.
Bouchard Finlayson has been linked directly to this vineyard for close to twenty-four years. It is located 700m above sea level, ripens a month later than other Cape Chardonnays and benefits enormously from cool autumn temperatures. The vines are not irrigated and they usually produce smaller than normal berries with a high skin to juice ratio, adding an extra flavour component to the wine.
The 2014 vintage commenced on the 12th of February, much later than normal, after a long and possibly the wettest summer on record with 610mm of rainfall recorded from October to March. This atypical vintage initiated a keen sense of urgency from both vineyard and cellar staff. Peter Finlayson’s experience and attention to detail ensured a successful harvest and an excellent vintage for the estate’s white wine.
The optimally ripened grapes were whole bunch pressed to utilise the added complexity derived from the skins and stalks. The acid component of the fruit assisted in arriving at high malic acid levels that enhance the wood maturation according to Peter. The point of departure for this particular “Limited Edition” cuvee was the fact that 50% of the wine was matured in premium new French oak while the remaining 50% was aged in inert stainless steel. (Alcohol: 12.48%, Acid: 5.4g/l, Residual Sugar: 1.6g/l, pH: 3.44, with only 305 x 12 cases produced.)
The first thing that strikes you about this fascinating wine is how totally and utterly European it appears on both the nose and palate. The aromatics are both exotic and hugely restrained and classical at the same time, crossing boundaries and pushing boundaries. The nose is seductively fresh, perfumed and complex with lemon grass, grated lime peel, waxy crab apples, incense, quince jelly and bruised yellow summer orchard fruits. But simultaneously there is a real presence of minerality, wet chalk, river pebbles, and petrichor nuances. On the palate, you get hints of smokey reduction, sweet / sour yellow plums, green melon, crunchy white peaches and lime cordial. Plenty of yin and yang but at no point is there ever any discord or dissonance. There is exoticism twinned with linearity, with subtle hints of creamy butterscotch oak emerging on the elegant finish, very much in the mould of a fresh, lightly wooded premium 1er Cru Chablis. Steely, textural, and ultra cool, this is a truly spectacular expression from one of South Africa’s most premium cool climate Chardonnay regions. Drink now to 2030+
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Footnote: Elandskloof fruit is certainly big news in winetrade circles at the moment after the recent maiden release of the Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015 from the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. Indeed, one of Andrea Mullineux’s winemaking Eureka moments occured while drinking a bottle of Kaaimansgat 1997 Chardonnay from Bouchard Finlayson. I myself only drank my last bottle of the 1997 about 2 years ago and the memory is still very vivid, such was the incredible quality and youthfulness of that particular wine. Elandskloof fruit also notably makes it into the uber premium Capensis Chardonnay from the Jackson Family Winery joint venture with Anthony Beck.
Founded in the 1840s, Domaine J.A.Ferret is located in the heart of the most famous “climats” of the Fuissé amphitheatre, and has followed a female line of succession, who cleverly decided to bottle their wines themselves long before the practice became common place in Burgundy. The 18 hectare Domaine was acquired in 2008 by the Louis Jadot empire and encouragingly, the estate has remained unwaveringly quality focused ever since.
The 1 hectare Les Perrières vineyard, located on the so-called ‘back side of the rock’, les Perrières lies halfway up the slope, just above the les Clos parcel. The slope, which faces south-east, is somewhat steeper than that of les Clos itself.
The average age of the vines is 35 years old and are grown on soils derived from alluvial deposits, consisting of a mix of deep silt and clay containing a few stones. The subsoil features streaks of limestone and limestone marls, while the top layers, which are moderate in depth, and are littered with calcite and flint stones on the surface over a metre-thick layer of limestone marls.
Domaine J A Ferret Pouilly Fuisse Tete de Cru Les Perrieres 2014, Burgundy, 13.5 Abv.
The anticipation of top quality for this 2014 was high and this wine certainly does not disappoint. The nose is steely and Roulot’esque, bristling with hints of dusty limestone, struck match reduction, lemon & thyme, lime peel pith, yellow grapefruit preserve and salty sea breeze notes. Not just lifted and complex, the aromatic intensity and focus is so very impressive. On the palate there is beautiful intensity with supreme balance and textural harmony. The creamy oak tastes very expensive but is very intelligently applied, allowing it to melt into the lemon lime fruits. It’s so rare to get this supreme crescendo of minerality, salinity, struck match reduction and vibrant acidity in perfect equilibrium with crystalline fruit intensity. A really superb wine from a once in a decade quality vintage. Drink now to 2030+ (Recommended retail £38 per bottle).
This week I attended the “Art of Chablis Trade Tasting” in London to catch up on the latest happenings in one of the wine world’s great classical regions. Billed as a discovery of the various appellation styles, from Petit Chablis to Grand Cru, there was a fairly mixed bag of wines on show, some represented in the UK, some seeking representation.
After a pretty indifferent “restaurant vintage” in Chablis in 2015, and then a crop reduced by 60-70% in 2016, like much of Burgundy, this is a region in flux with many concerns for its future commercial path.
The last serious quality vintage in Chablis was certainly 2014, producing wines with taught acidity, tension and rasping chalky minerality. But despite its slightly lacklustre reputation, the 2015s on taste (the majority of wines), were encouragingly impressive and seemed to have grown in stature, and showed plenty of mineral classism and steely freshness despite lacking some visceral thrill.
But of course there were some real stand out wines, none more so than JP Droin’s incredible 2014 Grand Cru. From grapes grown on Kimmeridgian marls, this wine was clarified straight after vinification. The musts were then placed partly in stainless steel tanks, and partly in barrels. The malolactic fermentation was done systematically. Ageing is for around 10 months in partly new barrels.
Jean Paul et Benoit Droin Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2014, 13 Abv.
The 2014 Chablis Valmur is one of the most impressive wines in the lineup. The aromatics are very exotic with a tantalising nose of quince, green fruits, pineapple pastille, bruleed figs and subtle tarte tatin notes from the oak aging. The palate is broad, expressive and fresh, with a beautifully creamy, textured palate. This wine has everything… a complex nose, a youthful, dense expressive structure, and a long, exotic, nuanced finish and plenty of classical dusty, pineapple intense, Chablis notes. Such a beautiful, creamy palate texture, seductive fruits and a crystalline finish. Supremely vibrant, pithy, chalky, this wine is almost overpowering in intensity. I could drink this all day.
It all started 26 years ago when Claire, a Montpellier graduate, first started making wine. Her winery is located between the Cotes de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits, 9kms away from each. Claire has always focused on very minimalist intervention winemaking and only adds a very small amount of sulphur before bottling.
A sufferer of migraines, Claire first started experimenting with no sulphur winemaking in 2001, experimenting with Aligote. In 2002, she started to also make her reds without sulphur additions during winemaking. In 2016 she lost 70% of her fruit to frost, prompting her to start buying in Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes from St Pourcain.
Bottled wines now typically contain 35ppm total SO2, with minimal amounts being added after Malolactic in reds. “Sulphur additions end the wine feeding itself off its lees and compacts the lees.” Long, slow 3 hour pressings allows the juice to oxidise, resulting in very stable wines.
1 Le Clou 2015 (Patois for Clos)
Aligote 55-60 year old vines, 12.5 Abv. – Rich, honied white citrus, lemon blossom, and biscuits and pithy yellow peach and white toast complexity despite no oak use. Palate is taught, pithy, stony, and fresh with real vibrance but also density, ripeness and fleshy depth without losing its pithy, mineral saline briney edge.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2 La Plante d’a Cote 2016
(Name of a young vine) 11 Abv. – Whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast. Rich perfumed nose of talc, musk, Parma violets, strawberry confit and smokey, chalky, sappy, minerality. Bottled early in Feb 2017, after ageing in fibreglass. Super sappy, saline, perfumed with a light textural touch, elegance and sleek, feminine purity and bright, stony, red cherry and red plum low alcohol vibrancy. Real ‘vin de soif’ drinkability.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
3 Le Gamay de L’Allie 2016
Aged in stainless steel, show lovely plummy, savoury red fruits, hints of reduction, cassis and black cherry nuances. Palate is pristine and pure, showing cherry sherbet, pink musk sweets, tantalising acids and wonderful uplifting freshness. Such an energising joy to drink.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
4 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Orchis Mascula 2014 – Beautiful dusty, fragrant melange, wet river pebbles, chalk board duster and stemmy sappy spice. Real lift and energy, cherry blossom, red apples, and tart red cherries. Texture is very polished and pristine, pinpoint tannins, and seductive smokey, chalky, crunchy red berry fruits. Very impressive interpretation of Pinot Noir.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
5 Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Myosotis Arvensis 2013 – The 2013 is a more savoury, earthy expression, showing red currant, cured meats, strawberry compote and a complexing sappy, mineral limestone vein. Palate is dense and fleshy, broader and more leesy, savoury than the crunchy ’14. Lovely salty, saline hints of red cherry and salted strawberries, and smokey minerality linger on the long, sensual finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
6 Nuits-St-Georges Les Damodes 1er Cru 2012 – Dark dense wine instantly showing the Nuits power. Nose is packed full of black damson plum, red apple purée, raspberry confit, savoury frais de bois and hints of sap and cured meats with dusty wet river pebble minerality. Palate is vibrant, crunchy and super saline, with perfumed black fruits and chalky, limestone notes. The texture is super suave, the balance intense, pure and harmonious with a chalky, dry powdery tannin finish. A masculine styled wine with a feminine touch.
South Africa’s Carsten Migliarina has made some superb Chardonnays in the past, so it was with great excitement that I tasted his new single vineyard expression from Elgin. His wine making reputation is growing by the day and so are his awards. He also works masterfully with cool climate terroirs as evidenced in the precision of his Elgin Chenin Blancs, Riesling and of course Chardonnay.
Migliarina Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, W.O. Elgin
At 14 Abv, you’d expect this wine to show some depth and power… and of course it does. The nose is beautifully complex with green apple skins, tart crunchy green pears and dusty minerality. But the oaking is also perfectly judged for the weight of the fruit concentration. On the nose it’s very subtle with bruleed creme caramel hints and lemon pie brightness. The oaking on the palate, at this stage, is a little more obvious, but definitely very high quality. Even with the multiple layers of pithy lemon confit, honeydew melon and caramelised fig notes, Carsten’s signature minerality prevails, dominating the finish with a real classical restraint and dusty, gravelly, Schweppes bitter lemon intensity. A fantastic expression with all the old world minerality of a top Umbrian or Friuli cool climate Chardonnay. Drink from 2018 to 2025.