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News

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Just what many of us need right now! Midwinter blues increased by rocketing petrol and other prices. Depressing ongoing national political news and Cape shenanigans that don’t inspire trust in municipal or provincial management.

Perfect timing, then to find a red and white wine that manage to offer cheer on several fronts: Stellenbosch Hills – long known for affordable quality wines - launches a pair of blends that retail for just under R45 each, which doesn’t dent the budget much.

Then, having tried both of them, one finds that – as expected – they offer uncomplicated sipping, but a lot more. Both these wines offer enjoyment way beyond their price – they are well-balanced, presenting fruit, freshness and enough backbone to make them meaningful wines.

And thirdly, there’s a feel-good angle as well: A percentage of Polkadraai wine sales is channelled to the Vlottenburg Primary School through the Polka Kids Community Project. Stellenbosch Hills has been a patron for a decade now, and shows no signs of stopping. Even if that percentage is very small, after 10 years the cellar’s contribution has made a good deal of difference to those 400 pupils.

The 2017 Polkadraai Pinotage/Merlot slips down like silk, easy enjoyment as a fireside aperitif, comfortable companion to pizza, pasta, sausage and mash and a whole menu of comfort suppers. At 14,5% alcohol levels, the second bottle needs to be watched with some care.

By way of contrast the 2018 Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc is a mere 12,5% alcohol-wise, is fruity and gentle and not bone-dry, but not flabby, and will accompany easy dishes like apricot chicken bakes happily.

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The pair make  the maiden vintages of his Focal Point Collection and there’s more in the pipeline, with a cab to come. Arco Laarman, whose name is almost synonomous with fine chardonnay after his long stint at Glen Carlou, went solo a few years ago, presenting his Cluster Series last year, and this impressive pair, both 2017 vintage, a couple of months ago.

Dubbed the Focal Point, Laarman explains that this range concentrates on specific vineyard sites to express their character, by making a wine that reflects a specific place and time. Deciding on Chardonnay as the maiden white was a given, while settling on Cinsault for the red was influenced both by the existence of fine old vineyards to tap into and the fact that its star is on the rise, just as chenin’s was a decade agao – and look at that so-called humble grape now.

 

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Laarman found his chardonnay grapes in a vineyard in limestone on the banks of the Duiwenhoks river near Vermaaklikheid, a cool southern region that’s been spotted by several adventurous winemakers in recent years. He does not reveal their age, but he harvested quite late, whole bunch-pressed them and used four different fermentation techniques before maturing the wine – half in new French oak, half in neutral oak for 10 months.

The result is impressive on every count. Elegance and freshness are both prominent, the nose offers citrus and pineapple, while rounded flavours and minerality come through on the palate, with a hint of nougat. Alcohol levels of 14% are unobtrusive. Laarman suggests pairing the wine with sophisticated seafood or roast chicken with asparagus and white wine sauce. I think there are several French gourmet chicken classics that would make an excellent companion, especially those from the north and French Alpine regions. At over R300, it’s a chardonnay to match  with patrician fare.

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To the Cinsault, which Laarman made from berries of 35-year-old vines in the Bottelary Hills. After natural fermentation had taken place and the skins pressed in a large basket press, the wine spent 10 months in 300 litre neutral oak barrels. The result is a delicious violet-tinged cinsaut, where purity reigns supreme, tannins are gentle, fruit, a distinct herbiness and earthiness add to the typical cinsaut character. Moderate alcohol levels of 13% add to its attraction. Those who favour light-bodied reds will be delighted with this fine example, which will enhance warming game bird casseroles, and mushroom dishes – eat your heart out, pinot noir, you have an affordable rival to contemplate. Recommended retail price is R210.

Final comment is on  the distinctive and attractive closure of the bottles which sees conventional cork topped with an innovative cork capsule for re-sealing the bottle. It's made by hand locally, it looks good and, being a natural product, beats plastic and wax seals both in looks and practicality.

For more info, see www.laarmanwines.com.

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It proved to be a bitter-sweet occasion, that day in May when a group of wine writers and retailers gathered in Morgenster’s hilltop tasting room. Similar in many ways to past events where the ever-courteous, charming Giulio Bertrand, flanked by cellarmaster Henry Kotze and consultant Pierre Lurton greeted guests ahead of a tasting of new wines and latest vintages.

This time, however, our host was absent, although we were told he was resting in the gabled farmstead which had been his home for more than 25 years. So he was near enough as we sipped the estate’s maiden bubbly, and sampled seven still wines ahead of a tour through the impressive olive oil plant, now graced by even more sophisticated machines. As always, the lunch that followed was an Italian gourmet triumph, from the simple, flavourful green pea soup, topped with a swirl of newly pressed oil, to the buffet of charcuterie, classic salads and cheeses.

A few days later we learned that Giulio Bertrand had died, with his family around him. One of the Cape’s most beautiful 18th century farms had lost a custodian who lavished money, attention and love on his southern home, adding world-class olive oil to its reputation for fine wines.

We started our tasting with the Cuvee Alessandra 2016, a Cap Classique produced from cabernet franc sans dosage. As could be expected, this is a distinctly different MCC which I found intriguing and enjoyable, with a fine mousse and full-bodied and a long finish. It sells for R227 .

The Morgenster sauvignon blanc 2018 is a wine that should enjoy wide popularity – produced from Stellenbosch grapes it is well-balanced, with subtropical fruit flavours and fresh zestiness in enjoyable combination. At around R80 it also offers good value.

 

 

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I think that Morgenster’s White Reserve 2015 is a memorable Bordeaux-style white blend that offers elegance, complexity and great character, its components (55% s/blanc 45% semillon) melding into a fragrant, fruit-filled mouthful backed by a well-integrated structure. After being in oak for 12 months, the wine was bottled early in 2016 . Expect to pay about R220.

 

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On to the reds, starting with the delicious Tosca 2015, a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 15% cab, and finished with a splash of Cab Franc. While its array of aromas, smooth tannins and fruit and spice combo makes it delightful right now, it is sure to improve even further if cellared. Priced at about R230.

Morgenster’s Nabucco 2015 is an expression of Giulio Bertrand’s favourite cultivar and an example of the great quality of much of the 2015 vintage wines. Nabucco takes a while to get to know – presenting an earthiness reminiscent of pinot noir, spice and herb flavours rather than fruit, all backed by prominent tannins. Cellarmaster Kotze added that when paired with food (beef, mature cheese, dark chocolate) it has a notable effect on the latter. It will also benefit from a few years in a dark cool place. About R340.

Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2014 is a wine made in a more accessible style and offers a delightful blend of a merlot lead with cab, some cab franc and 10% petit verdot. Heady aromas of cherry and vanilla, cinnamon and licorice are followed on the palate by ripe fruit, backed by elegant tannins. It sells for about R190.

The flagship Morgenster Estate Reserve 2014 proved to be a fine finale, produced by Kotze in collaboration with Lurton. This vintage is comprised of 36% cab, 36% merlot, 14% cab franc and 14% petit verdot. It’s a big wine in every sense, with intense nose of fruit and nut, coffee and cigar box and a blend of flint and fruit on the palate, with agreeable freshness. It costs around R392

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And so, an era has come to a close. A timespan of more than two decades which has seen Morgenster - originally established by one Jacques Malan who acquired Morgenster in 1711 – gain in beauty and value while Signor Bertrand was its custodian. I heard that his grandchildren are interested in keeping the farm in the family, which is encouraging news. Arrivederci, grazie.

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 Peter Finlayson, founder and cellarmaster of Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley recently released the 2016 vintages of the two wines for which he is most renowned.

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From his dozen hectares of pinot noir he regularly crafts a cultivar champion that attracts local and international acclaim, and the 2016 Galpin Peak pinot noir proves the point, having already claimed two trophies in the 2018 International Wine Challenge, being best South African pinot noir and best South African red wine.

 

 

The varietal is known as being one of the trickiest with which to work, and the 2016 harvest was not the easiest, offering twin challenges that Finlayson no doubt relished. Pinots can often be difficult to pin down when writing about them as they present seemingly diametrically opposed characteristics – earthy yet delicate, rich in fruit yet savoury on the palate. And yes, the new vintage offers all those and more: as usual, it’s a complex wine where dark fruit and a little spice is balanced by the backbone provided by 11 months in French oak. It’s particularly expressive of its fine viticultural terroir and will benefit from several years of cellaring. Those who choose to enjoy it this winter could find it complements classic Occidental cuisine such duck with cherries, or beef casserole and mild cheese better than fare that is highly spiced or fiery. Alcohol levels of 14% are unobtrusive and the wine sells for R355 from the cellar .

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To flavours of Italy now, and the 18th vintage of Hannibal, a hugely popular blend where Finlayson combines a varying number and variety of mostly Italian cultivars to produce a wine that sings of Tuscan reds enhancing al fresco fare at a long table... As one expects there’s fruit including olive and prominent tannins although tempered somewhat by the inclusion of some pinot and shiraz – the lineup is 45% sangiovese, 18% pinot noir, 15% nebbiolo, 12% shiraz, 7% mourvèdre finished with splashes of barbera. Moderate alcohol levels are held at 13,5% . Another wine to squirrel away for a few years then unearth and savour even further. It costs R309 from the cellar.

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It sports gold from Vitis Vinifera’s 2017 contest and a Hidden Gem sticker from

 

Platter’s current edition while its Royal Rhino logo testifies to its registration as a

 

donor to rhino conservation. All good reason s to consider The Rhino Run Ian

 

Player red blend vintage 2015, and there’s another as well: this is a delicious

 

blend of cab and merlot, medium bodied and juicy with soft tannins, and a berried

 

collection of dark flavours to please a vast number of consumers. Fireside sipping

 

at home, or, even better, round flickering flames in a bushveld camp or safari

 

lodge, where the plight of rhinos becomes tangible and taut. You may find that only

 

the 2016 is available now, but my 2015 sample celebrates one of the finest

 

vintages the Cape has enjoyed recently, so look for that one if you have a choice.

 

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Van Loveren make one white in their Rhino Run range, a lightly wooded

 

chardonnay, medium-bodied, offering citrussy aromas and flavours in the 2017

 

vintage, alcohol levels of 13,5% and a pleasing companion to seafood and poultry

 

both on the braai or baked in rich sauces for winter.

 

 

Van Loveren have been making the Rhino Run range for several years and are

 

keeping the quartet affordable at R61 for the reds and R53 for the single white.

 

There is also a cabernet sauvignon and and pinotage, not tasted, both 2015

 

vintage. A limited edition collector’s item, The Last One Shiraz 2013 completes the

 

range – selling for R1 215 and packaged in its own box.

 

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