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Tag: Swartland

Wine of the Week

Not at all ‘Swart’ from Swartland

Here is another “house wine”, when I want a little more power, or “skin”, than a normal white. Swartland, Blackland in the Afrikaans language, because the predominant rhinoceros bush turns dark after the rains. But it’s not only the landscape that is special here; the spirit of the winegrowers is a veritable force.

Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014 by Johan Meyer. I have written about the project before (like here), and I still predict that the producer will rise in fame and his wines accordingly rise. The news are that Johan and his partner Anri moved into their new property Plattenklip (northwestern Swartland) in 2019, and produced their first vintage in 2020 in their own winery. They have now planted new vineyards on exciting sites, so we know that there will be new interesting wines from them.

This wine comes from a single vineyard in Paardeberg planted in 1980, on granite-rich soil. Only chenin blanc, pure chenin. Whole bunches were pressed into steel tanks where the fermention starts naturally. It’s mostly aged in steel, but has seen a small amount of old oak. Unfiltered and without added sulphuur.

Force Celeste 2020 (Mother Rock)

Light yellow. Aromas of citrus, yellow apples, peach, a light touch of peel. Good weight in the mouth, creamy lees-character, but with a very fine acidity that cuts elegantly through, and contributes to a long, salty finish.

Price: Low

Food: Tapas and charcuterie, red fish, fried white fish, light meat…

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Wine of the Week

Dangerously drinkable South African red-rosé

Jurgen Gouws makes cool, fresh and focused wines in Swartland, South Africa. An earlier assistant winemaker under Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek, he soon established his own label Intellego.

The rented vineyards and the wines are managed with least possible interference. He was one of the first in Swartland to experiment with skin-contact for Chenin Blanc, very lightly in the fabulous (almost) orange wine Elementis.

The vines used for the Pink Moustache were planted in 1988 and 2001. The grapes are syrah 59%, cinsault 33% and mourvedre 8%. Whole clusters are pressed before spontaneous fermentation four days in used barrels. The wine matures 5 months, also in used barrels.

The Pink Moustache 2020 (Intellego)

Light ruby ​​red. Aroma of dark and red berries (raspberries), flowers, herbs and pepper. Luscious, juicy, with a light tannin touch, and just enough acidity. Lovely glou-glou, best lightly chilled.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meats, pizza, pasta, salads and cured meats.

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Wine of the Week

A Testalonga favourite

This has been a favourite since I tasted it first time at a London fair. In spite of that it has not been highlighted since the 2015 vintage. (Reed some background information here.)

We are in Swartland, Coastal South Africa. In this generally warm climate winemaker Craig Hawkins harvests early. A very short version goes like this: The wine is made according to quite strict non-intervention principles, and just a little SO2. Also, whole bunches are pressed, and spontaneous fermentation occurs, and it’s kept in big oak vessels and steel. And now in its 2019 vintage it is as alive and “punching” as ever.

Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2019 (Testalonga)

Light golden. Aromas of citrus, flowers, yellow apples. A flavourfull wine with light tannin structure and nice acidity.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Keep on rockin’

Continueing the rock series (a very thin thread really) from early February, Mother Rock is a producer that I have enjoyed so much over the last few years that I just had to leave you a tip of advice here. They are in a way in the shadow of leading lights and neighbours Testalonga and Intellego of Swartland, South Africa, and as such bargains. But there are many insiders who think you should take the opportunity to buy their wines now, because for natural wines their prices are ridiculously low.

Winemaker is Johan Meyer, a young Brit who who shares the values and techniques of the aforementioned producers. He was educated in Stellenbosch, but his visits to Roussillon and Tom Lubbe of Matassa took him in a whole new direction. Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014. The whole range is fabulous, and even their “entry-level” wines (if this is an adecuate expression here) are superb and have a sense of not only terroir, but a raw natural force, if this sounds meaningful.

Johan and the team have a really good hand on the chenin blanc grape, and I can also strongly recommend their “semi-orange” Force Celeste. This week’s pick is their “basic” White in 2018 version, that is made from chenin blanc 61% and lesser quantities of viognier, grenache blanc, sémillon and hárslevelu. The latter is omitted in the 2019 vintage, also in the market now. Each grape is grown in different types of soil throughout this immensly fascinating region that is Swartland.

Half of the grapes are fermented quite cold in steel, while the other part ferments in old barrels. Some, like hárslevelu, sémillon and grenache, are fermented with whole bunches with a four weeks of skin-contact before pressing. The wine stays on the lees nearly a year before bottling – unfiltered, naturally.

 Mother Rock White 2018 (Mother Rock Wines)

Yellow, cloudy. Aroma dominated by citrus (lemon, lime), yeast, candle wax and a touch of honey. Appley, cidery in the mouth, lightly structured both in terms of tannins and acidity, juicy, a touch of bitterness in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Salmon/trout, grilled white fish and shell-fish, some Asian dishes, lighter meat…

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Articles

The Real Wine fair 2019 – II The seminars and Simon’s orange wines

At the Real Wine fair there were several seminars and guided tastings given by both winemakers and writers. Among the scheduled speakers were Heidi Nam Knudsen and Jon Passmore, who practise an alternative wine education focusing on vineyard practices and winemaking techniques. The topic at the fair was “Retasting Wine: How we can become more informed drinkers.”

Alex Thorp conducted a “German Growers’ Masterclass”. Derek Morrison and Mike Hopkins of the Bring Your Own podcast interviewed a bunch of growers, among them Portuguese artisan Pedro Marques. Speaking of Portugal, Jamie Goode did just that together with Ines Salpico in the program “An Exploration of Portugal’s Wine Revolution.”

While I talked to some of these people on their way in and out of the seminar room, the only seminar I had booked beforehand was Simon J. Woolf’s presentation of his book Amber Revolution through a tasting of five wines from the so-called New World.

His seminar was informative, and there was a two-way communication. Simon answered questions from the audience with great virtuosity, and his short comments about each wine demonstrated how well-chosen the wines were.

Simon’s definition of an orange wine is a wine made with skin-contact that exceeds the “normal” 3-4 hours. In other words, it’s about the technique, more than the colour itself. He compares it to a white wine: -What colour is a white wine? White – as this paper?

Light examples from the tasting were Staring at the Sun 2018 (Momento Mori) and Elementis 2018 (Intellego). The first one, a citrussy, lightly spicy wine from Victoria, Australia, was quite light yellow, though it had been 6 weeks on skins. This because winemaker Dane Johns holds back on extraction. Elementis from Swartland, South Africa I know from several vintages; always fresh, appealing, this time very lemony, with green apple. Jurgen Gouws shares his colleague’s philosophy of minimal extraction.

Other than this there was the Pinot Gris 2016 (A & D. Beckham), a pink, red-tinged wine from the grape that we know is not white at all. It’s also known from Radikon, one of the natural and orange wine pioneers. This Oregon pinot gris was fresh, but warmer notes appeared after a while, and it was surprisingly smooth, the colour taken into account (also not usual for the variety). Vinu Jancu 2017 (La Garagista), an amber, beeswax, onion and plum smelling wine from the unlikely state of Vermont and the rare grape called la crescent and Chilion 2016 (Ruth Lewandowski), a lighter cortese with grapes from Santa Barbara, California, but made in Utah, finished the US American trio. It should be said that it’s Evan Lewandowski that is behind this project, but he named the winery after the Book of Ruth.

Regarding a question about what wines work with extended skin-contact, he points out that thick-skinned varieties go well. Aromatic varieties too, can perfom very well, such as moscato and gewürztraminer.

Simon J. Woolf has every reason to be happy with the book release

Amber Revolution

I have written a more extensive review of Simon’s book in the Norwegian language for the Vinforum magazine. You can read it on my magazine page.  Here is a summary:

Simon J. Woolf has written what is referred to as the world’s first book on orange wine. Woolf started his writing career in 2011 with the blog The Morning Claret for which he is still editor. He is also a regular contributor to journals such as Decanter. He is no well-known author though, and this is his first book. So there were no publishers who wanted to go for the project. That’s why he started a crowdfunding through his website, and nearly 400 people contributed to the “Kickstarter” campaign.

Woolf currently lives in Amsterdam. And it can almost seem ironic that it took someone in close contact with the Netherlands, with the historical “Oranje” dynasty, to get the idea to write about orange wines.

The book is partly an introduction to the orange wine world, partly a cultural and history lesson. Woolf writes well and demonstrates early on that he is both the passion and the insight needed. It is fascinating to take part in this journey, from his first, emotional contact with the drink in Sandi Skerks cellar in Friuli. But then he takes us further back in time and goes chronologically from the ancient Georgia, that we know as the orange wine’s cradle, via pioneers in today’s Friuli and Slovenia (with Joško Gravner as the main character) and beyond.

There is also a section on recommended producers from many different countries. Finally, the financial contributors are listed. Among them there are some wineries, although I find no reason to assume that it has affected the journalistic selection. The fact columns contain information about food for orange wine, grapes that respond well to the technique, misconceptions about orange wine, how qvevri are made, etc. Taking these columns out the main story also helps to make the text flow better .

Ryan Opaz, who lives in Porto, is one of the founders of the Catavino site, where Woolf also contributes. Opaz has provided images that depict both landscapes and people in an exemplary manner. The book itself is also made of paper with a certain texture, which responds to the wines the book is about.

Woolf says he could use different names for the same phenomenon, such as skin-macerated wines and amber wines. After a discussion with himself, he has ended up calling it orange wines. His definition is based on the technique, not the colour. An orange wine does not therefore need to be orange, but it has had extended skin contact. It can be yellow, dark mahogany, or even reddish or pink in cases where the grape has a lot of pigment, such as pinot grigio.

Here we have arrived at a point that I assume he has thought about himself, the title of the book. After choosing orange wine as the preferred term, he ends up using amber in the title. The Portuguese carnation revolution emerges in my consciousness when reading the title, and compared with this the term “orange wine” could perhaps have added another dimension. And even though the events of the 1990s and up to the present seem like a revolution, in the long term it will probably be more correct to call what we now experience a “revival,” or maybe a revitalization of a tradition. But none of this “troubles” me; Amber Revolution is a saleable title. And the subtitle, “how the world learned to love orange wines”, puts it all in place.

I will not reveal too much of the content. But I think the sections about Friuli and Slovenia, the multicultural and multilingual area at the intersection of East, West and South – and the political backdrop that is hoisted – is a particularly good section of the book. Here the story of the world wars becomes a necessary part. The families of the leading producers were finding themselves on a veritable battlefield with changing actors, not least Italy, Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia.

There are many who will enjoy this book. It is a niche book, but it at the same time exceeds the niche, and I would think that the vast majority of people interested in wine will find it fascinating, entertaining and enriching.

Amber Revolution – how the world learned to love orange wine

By Simon J. Woolf, foreword by Doug Wregg (director of import company Les Caves de Pyrène,), photo: Ryan Opaz

MCP Morning Claret Production, Amsterdam / Interlink Books, Northampton, Massachusetts

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Wine of the Week

Subtle Swartland orange wine

This wine I tasted recently in London. Simon Woolf has a new book about orange wines in the market, and he presented it at a seminar during the Real Wine fair. (More about the book later.)

The wine in the glass while Simon talks in the background

Jurgen Gouws has both learned from and been a colleague of Craig Hawkins of Testalonga in South-Africa’s Swartland (read about last week’s wine here). He “owns neither vineyards nor winery, but has built a cult following for his delicate, subtle cuvées”, one can read in Woolf’s book. All are dry-farmed (in a country with serious draught problems).

The chenin blanc grapes for this wine were grown on granite and macerated for two weeks on the skins. But it’s only contact to add some texture. The skin-contact makes it an orange wine, according to Woolf’s definition, although the colour is yellow.

Elementis 2018 (Intellego)

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Wine bars and restaurants and Wine of the Week

Stay Brave at Elliot’s

Finally I got the chance to visit Elliot’s wine bar in Borough Market, on the south side of the Thames. The occasion was not only that I was in London for the Real Wine fair, but also that I visited the new big sax shop at nearby Blackfriars. In the wine bar I had three wines, among them Testalonga‘s Stay Brave.

Elliot’s opened in 2011 and has from the beginning offered a simple menu based on good ingredients in season. They deal directly with fishermen and farmers, all of them with a focus on sustainability. They cook over a wood fired grill, and the wine list is exclusively comprised of natural wines from small artisan growers.

I had two small plates, first courgette, broad bean & herb salad, then beef tartare with green peppercorn, parsley and smoked Wensleydale (Yorkshire cow’s milk cheese). And several of the waiters have the knowledge to guide you through the wines.

I started with a Catalan white, Nar i Tornar 2017 (Vinya Ferrer), mainly garnacha blanca and some macabeu, a tasty and slightly cloudy non SO2 wine. It showed a slight mouse taint, but was nevertheless good. It was followed by a Côtes du Rhône 2017 (Dom. Aphillantes), an un-oaked grenache-carignan-mourvèdre blend; young, dark fruit, spice (but not the sweet oak style), and luscious, drinkable at the same time that it also has some light fine-grained tannin.

From the “last pour” section (not on the list and changes according to what has been opened) I had a wonderful wine from Testalonga. This is Craig Hawkins’ project in Swartland, South-Africa, and one of my favourites right now (I have two opened chenins of his in my fridge at the time of writing).

Stay Brave 2018 is pure chenin blanc. The names in the producer’s Baby Bandito series come from the encouragements you give a child, and the colourful labels are inspired by street artist. It’s made in steel, with 11 days of skin-contact and bottled un-filtered. It’s a low alcohol (10,5) and high acidity (6,5-7g) wine.

Stay Brave 2018 (Testalonga Wines)

Yellow. Smells of fresh green apples, citrus (lemon), white flowers and ginger. Very fresh, fruity, quite concentrated, mineral and super elegant.

Price: Medium

Food: Worked well with my herbaceous, green plate. Can go with white  fish, grilled fish, light meat, Asian and a variety of cheeses

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Wine of the Week

A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

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Wine of the Week

A red from the independent organization of Swartland

For the second time in a row our wine of the week is South African. And again it’s from Swartland (literally: the black land, after the indigenous, now endangered ‘rhino bush’ that turns black after rain), an area formerly famous for bushvines and for full-bodied red wines and fortified wines. It’s generally hot and dry, but with many variations on the theme.

The Swartland Independent Producers (SIP) is a group of producers that wish to express a true sense of place in the wines of the Swartland.

The SIP organization has implanted several requirements, such as a minimum of 80% of own bottling, and that an “independent” wine must be 100% of Swartland origin. Interesting for us is the requirement that the wines must be naturally produced. Their view of a natural wine reads: “a wine that has no yeast or yeast supplements added, no acidity manipulation, or tannin additions, no chemical fining, water addition / dilution, and no reverse osmosis or any other application to change the constitution of the wine. Sulphur additions are allowed, but producers are encouraged to make moderate additions.”

Another view we share 100% is this: “As over-oaking tends to ‘mask’ the essence of grape variety and site, no wine may be aged with more than 25% new wood (barrique) as a component.”

penny-and-billy-hughes Penny and Billy Hughes

The Hughes Family is located in the Malmesbury area in the middle of Swartland. It’s named after the main town, and is also the name of the most prominent type of soil. Argentinian-born Billy Hughes bought some land here in 2000 and is now running the estate together with his wife Penny. In various topsoils on granite bedrock primarily Rhône varieties are planted. The working of the land is in accordance with the organization’s principles. Did I say working? ‘Leave the vines in peace’ is their motto.

Native yeasts are integral to give the site-special aromas and flavours. The wine is always made primarily from shiraz (in this vintage 63%), with variable amounts of mourvèdre, grenache, pinotage, tempranillo, – and once in a while the white viognier, each variety vinified separately, then blended. The wines stay around 8 months in small French barrels, with only small amounts of new oak.

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Nativo 2013 (The Hughes Family Wines)

Deep cherry red. Aroma of dark berries, nuances of spices, herbs and coffee. Lots of both fresh and mature fruit in the mouth, nice rounded tannins, a mineral touch, and a fruity accent all the way.

Price: Medium

Food: Meat like beef, lamb and game (and why not with tasty sauces, and possibly also with tropical fruits on the side), stews, and much more

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Wine of the Week

Keep on punching, a Swartland chenin

I tasted this wine yesterday evening at the Remedy in London’s Fitzrovia district. You can read more about the wine bar here. Since then Abel has left the building, but Dany Teixeira, French-Portuguese sommelier is holding the fort, and I gave him almost carte blanche to match wines with my gnocchi and smoked duck.

This Swartland chenin matched both. It’s made by Craig Hawkins, who bought an estate in 2014 together with his wife Carla.

Swartland is experiencing something of a renaissance these days. It has many different climates, but it’s generally warm. That’s one of the reasons that Craig likes it so much, as this is a type of climate he really knows. To make the story short, harvesting early enough is essential here if one wants to keep the acidity, even if the grape’s name is Chenin.

Each of the producer’s wines has an original name, and all come with street art labels. The name of this particular wine refers to what Craig’s friend used to say during their childhood hockey games. And what is the connection to the girl on the label? You tell me if you find out.

The wine is made according to quite strict non-intervention principles. Just a little SO2.

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Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2015 (Testalonga)

Light golden. Aromas of citrus, flowers, apple, a touch of orange peel due to a bit extended skin contact. Nice acidity, long aftertaste. A lightweight wine yet full of flavours.

Price: Medium

 

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