Category Archives: Tastings

Innocence of Youth

Taking Pinot Noir to the beach

Have you ever seen wines labelled as ‘Old Vines’, ‘Vieilles Vignes’, ‘Viñas Viejas’? It’s one of those terms that can be used freely on a bottle of wine as no one has yet determined how old vines need to be in order to gain the plaudit. As vines get older they will expand their root system and burrow deep into the soils, which is a good thing. They will also start to regulate themselves better and become more hardy as they do so. With advanced age vines will become less productive, but I suppose that happens to most of us! That drop in production could mean the vine puts the energy into ripening fewer berries, thereby ensuring a more concentrated juice. The term itself is on the rise and is often seen as a badge of quality, but the fact there is no regulation around it makes it more of a marketing term. That said, I have had many wines labelled as ‘Old Vines’ that do show a remarkable concentration and balance.

What really caught my eye was a wine that proudly proclaimed on the label it was produced from ‘Young Vines’. Wow! I’m not sure I would have the courage to admit to that. My slight apprehension was immediately quashed as soon as I tasted the wine, the Seven Springs Pinot Noir from South Africa.

The Pinot Noir vines were only planted in July 2008 in the beautifully named ‘Hemel en Aarde’ Valley (Heaven and Earth), near Hermanus. The vines yielded their first ever vintage in 2011, made by 29 year old Riana van der Merwe and it is simply gorgeous. With the fruit doing all the talking rather than the oak, this was a sheer joy of juiciness. Ripe cherries and strawberries, vibrant in its innocent youth. Not so much an unruly teenager as a well-balanced, vivacious character that already shows complexity well beyond its age and knows its way around a wine glass. Hats off, not just for the wine, but for having the gumption to label it as young vines and making a feature of it. It will be interesting to watch this one over successive vintages and see how it develops into a thirty-something.

Seven Springs is not all about Pinot Noir either. The delicate, apple-scented Sauvignon Blanc is lovely and pure. There are a couple of Chardonnays with the unoaked being my favourite and a sumptuous Syrah, again coming from younger vines and gently oaked in older barrels.

For stockist information, go to the Seven Springs website and they are very active on Facebook and Twitter too. Images used with kind permission by Tim Pearson.

Thumbs up for Riesling

I remember my delight when, during one of the blind exam tastings for the WSET Diploma a few years ago, I was faced with three wines sharing a common grape variety. The very first whiff told me I was dealing with Riesling. The task was to work out where each of the three wines came from. Fortunately they were textbook examples and I recognised the bone-dry Australian Riesling with its trademark high acidity and that typical lime-like and characteristic petrolly smell. The richer and rounder Alsace Riesling stood out for its remarkable balance and finally there was the lighter, peachy sweetness from a Mosel Riesling, which was balanced with a lively, lemony freshness on the palate, owing to the ever-present acidity in the wine as well as a little bit of a sparkle.

It’s that Mosel style I absolutely love but I’m acutely aware of the association this has in many people’s minds. Sweet German Riesling equals Liebfraumilch I seem to hear all to often. Let’s put that one to rest. Although Riesling is allowed in the blend for Liebfraumilch, in practice this is much more likely to be dominated by a grape like Müller-Thurgau, which has nowhere near the nobility of Riesling. Frankly, most Liebfraumilch is not much more than sugary water, made from overcropped vines on the flat lands, quantity over quality. Compare that to the steep, slate-covered slopes facing the Mosel river, where Riesling finds its characterful side.

The blue slate soils in Dr Loosen’s vineyards

German Riesling comes in a multitude of different styles and these days the dry Rieslings (look out for ‘Trocken’ on the label) are increasingly popular. One thing that can provide a key is the level of alcohol. If it’s around 12% you’re more than likely dealing with a dry version, below 9% and it’s almost certainly sweeter. Invariably I try to convince people of the merits of German Riesling, with mixed success, but I was absolutely delighted with the reaction when I presented a sweeter style from the Mosel with a chicken and mushroom paté starter served with toasted brioche at the Wine Unearthed workshop in Edinburgh this weekend. I don’t know if it was the wine itself, the combination that worked so well, or if the tasters just had an open mind. The wine, Dr Loosen ‘Blue Slate” Riesling from the Mosel (around £11, Bibendum), is from one of the top producers in the region, which clearly helped. The name refers to the steep blue slate slopes the grapes were grown on. Quite a sweet style, but its fruity freshness and zippy character worked beautifully with that paté as well as the sweetness of the toasted brioche. Combine with that the gentle 8% alcohol level and it made for a perfect lunchtime wine.

I’m sure I won’t be able to convince everyone of its merits but you should really make time in your wine calendar for this amazing grape. It might just pleasantly surprise you.

Prosecco: The Wines of Nino Franco

The sales figures speak for themselves. Prosecco is hugely popular and seems to be going from strength to strength, outperforming those of Champagne. Perhaps it is a sign of the times but I would like to think the recent tightening of the laws, enshrining Prosecco into the DOC(G) system has done it now harm whatsoever even though it has taken the cheapest versions away from the market. There is still some dreary stuff that carries the name Prosecco, but if you’re willing to pay a little bit more you can get some truly interesting wines.

I’m one of those people who loves Prosecco but I see it very much as a simple, fresh, lightly sparkling wine that is at best a refreshing aperitivo and a good party drink. But a serious wine able to cope with a variety of foods? Boy, how wrong was I.

Nino Franco Prosecco and Oysters
Prosecco and Oysters

When I caught up with the importer of producer Nino Franco recently, the venue was not entirely random. HIX Soho is a hip and happening place and the menu seems almost too perfectly matched. The pork crackling “Mark Hix style” is something to behold, the crispy texture and saltiness crying out for a fresh, soft wine with that little touch of sweetness that takes any sharp edges away. It’s where the Rustico comes in. If you’ve never had oysters with a Prosecco, I’d urge you to try this too. No good if you don’t like oysters, but I’m pretty certain scallops would do nicely too.

The revelation arrived with the slow cooked veal. The single vineyard wine we tasted is a Prosecco the like I’ve never tasted before.

Nino Franco Grave di Stecca
The single vineyard ‘Grave di Stecca’ perfect with slow cooked veal.

The ‘Grave di Stecca’ has been given a little ageing in tank but on the lees, the deposit formed by the dead yeast cells after the fermentation. This gives the wine an extra depth and complexity that was completely unexpected and was unbelievably tasty with the veal. Deliberately left unclassified, the word Prosecco never appears on either the front or back label. The vineyard is walled, something of a rarity in the area, and the vines, by all accounts, are ancient. I suspect that means they were never affected by the phylloxera pest that blighted most of the world’s vineyards in the 19th and 20th century. That story reminds me of the ‘Vieilles Vignes Francaise’ from Bollinger, so perhaps Nino Franco is the Bollinger of Prosecco?

Nino Franco RusticoTwo of the wines also make pretty smooth dessert matches. They are not really dessert wines but the sweeter styles each have around 35 grams of residual sugar, a bit like demi-sec Champagne and both the Prosecco Primo Franco and Superiore di Cartizze work well with my saffron infused custard tartlet and rhubarb compote, but the apple fritters might be an even better match here. It may seem like quite a bewildering array of wines but putting them into the context of food really shows off their uniqueness and excellent quality.

And the quality is undisputed. Nino Franco is one of the oldest producers of Prosecco in the heartland of the region known as Valdobbiadene. Third generation Primo Franco seems a trailblazer for Prosecco and a stickler for detail. By all accounts he’s not a great friend of the ‘flute’ glass, preferring to drink the wine from a white wine glass to fully appreciate its intricacies.

These wines are really worth searching out and if you can, go for the ‘Grave di Stecca’, it may well change your whole perception of Prosecco. It certainly put a smile on my face.

Thanks to Tim McLaughlin-Green from importer Sommeliers Choice and Dacotah Renneau for introducing me to the Nino Franco range.

Wines of Rhone Valley – Paul Jaboulet

There are some names in the world of wine that everyone seems to know. I’m never quite sure if that is because they are very well-known or because I experienced the wines very early on in my career. Paul Jaboulet is one such name. I remember studying the wines of the northern Rhone valley at the Hotelschool and some of the Jaboulet wines ended up being tasted as benchmark wines of the style. I don’t think we had ‘La Chapelle’, more likely a Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle has always been expensive, one of those top of the range, luxury wines, coming from the best sites on the hill of Hermitage. That’s no different today. In fact, each bottle comes with a special card containing a code which allows access to a VIP part of the website to enhance the exclusive experience. I bet they didn’t have that back in 1834 when Antoine Jaboulet established the first vineyards on the slopes of the Hermitage.

These days Paul Jaboulet Aîné, to give it its full name, is owned by the Frey family, who also make wine in Bordeaux and Champagne. Caroline Frey took over as winemaker in 2006 and she produces a wide range of wines, from both the Southern and Northern Rhone. Wines like the popular Parallèle 45 provide an introduction to Cotes du Rhone with a traditional blend of Grenache and Syrah for example. But the domaine’s history lies further north and with the Syrah variety in particular. And it was those wines we concentrated on during a tasting of the wines with Marie Cordonnier, Paul Jaboulet’s export director. I had a quick chat with her on video and asked her to pick one wine we could discuss. It may seem obvious to go for the luxury end and pick ‘La Chapelle’ but I wanted something a bit more down to earth. Marie picked the Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage 2007. The reason is quite simple, it’s a very tasty wine, silky smooth, ripe fruit and a bit of an earthy edge. But these are also the first vineyards the Jaboulet family ever owned, so in effect this is where it all started.

We managed to taste a few others as well though. I can’t say I have much experience of the white wines from the Northern Rhone. Typical grape varieties are Marsanne and Roussanne for the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage and Viognier for the Condrieu. For some reason I expected these wines to be bigger, but a couple of times I wrote down ‘delicate’. I liked the ‘delicate’, slightly floral Marsanne/Roussanne blend ‘Mule Blanche’ from Crozes-Hermitage. Mule Blanche means white ass (as in donkey!). It is another of the older vineyards so named because in the early days the hardy donkeys were regularly used as pack animals in the vineyards.

The other wine that really floated my boat was the Cornas Grandes Terrasses 2009. A lovely warm, spicy nose, tasting of sweet black fruit and cocoa powder. As I’m a cheapskate I would chose this wine or the Domaine de Thalabert over the Hermitage La Chapelle. At around about the thirty pound mark for these wines I could get almost six bottles for one of La Chapelle. Only thing is, I really wanted to see what’s going on in the VIP section of the website. I wonder if there is a dress code?

 

The Scottish Connection

Food, Fun & Fizz – Burns in Love!

Wedged firmly between Burns Night and Valentines, the twain did meet in a very special Scottish food & wine tasting in Glasgow on February 6th. In conjunction with Brenda Anderson from Tasting Scotland we showcased Scotland’s infinite variety of produce while matching this with some superb wines from around the world that can trace their proudly Scottish roots.

When I started researching this tasting I was amazed by the sheer amount of wine I could chose from. The Scots really do get out there, making wine from Spain, to New Zealand, from Australia to South Africa and even a little in Scotland itself.

Kicking off the love was a Scottish Sparkling Strawberry wine from the quirky Cairn O’Mohr winery, made using local Perthshire strawberries. The medium-sweet fruity character makes it very easy drinking, which means you can have it on its own or pair it with lighter, fruit-based desserts.

The seven-stage menu provided plenty of opportunity to sample Scotland’s produce.

 

Some hae (smoked) meat

A taste of Smoked Beef & Smoked Venison from the Rannoch Smokery

These cold smoked meats call for quite a powerful wine and I chose the white Huia Gewürztraminer, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, (£14) with its pungent nose and spicy character. It is rich and creamy enough to stand up to the food. The owners of the winery, Claire and Mike Allan make some very characterful wines and can trace their roots back to Scotland.

The La Multa Old Vine Garnacha (£8) is made by Scotsman Norrel Robertson MW. He is known as ‘El Escoces Volante’ or the Flying Scotsman. After starting his career with Oddbins he travelled the world, making wine in a variety of countries. He is now based in the Spanish Calatayud region where he makes a number of different wines, among which is this juicy, and far too easy drinking Garnacha.

 

The Rigs O’ Barley

Pearl Barley risotto served with Smoked Chicken & Smoked Duck from the Rannoch Smokery

The creaminess of the risotto and the different meats gave me an opportunity to experiment with two Australian wines. The Skillogalee Rose from Australia’s Clare Valley (£13) is a juicy blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. It really shows off the ripe fruit. The winery is owned by David and Diana Palmer who both originally came from Edinburgh and are now producing stunning wines in South Australia. Look out for their amazing wines from the Riesling grape as well.

The second wine is produced by the third Baron of Glenguin, Robin Tedder MW. This means he has a direct connection with the Glengoyne distillery just outside Glasgow. Robin Tedder’s grandfather was the first baron of the land the Glengoyne distillery occupies and was an excise man. I’m told he had a hand in bringing about the law that Scottish Whisky should be aged in oak for three years and one day. Glenguin Old Broke Semillon (£15) from Australia’s Hunter Valley. The tasters loved this wine with the smoked duck in particular. Despite its age (it was 2005) the wine was still full of zippy lemon and lime flavours, the acidity providing a good balance to the duck. Also keep a look out for a Glengoyne malt whisky finished in Robin’s Shiraz barrels.

 

Bard’s Broth

A modern take on the traditional ‘Scotch Broth’

Urlar Sauvignon Blanc (£12). Urlar is New Zealand winery and is the Gaelic word for earth. The winery was established in 2004 by Angus and Davina Thomson after they left their farm in the Scottish Highlands. Organic viticulture and sustainability are their driving forces and they even have a herd of Highland cattle on the estate, providing that magic Scottish ingredient by way of organic fertiliser. Their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is pretty textbook. Fresh, a mix of gooseberry and tropical fruits and characteristically mouthwatering.

 

The Great Chieftain o’ the puddin’ race

Haggis from Ramsay of Carluke

Iona the Gunnar (£14) is made by Andrew Gunn, who traces his family roots back to Scotland and even has Viking roots. Not only is the name Iona very Scottish, it is situated in Elgin. The vineyards were planted in an old apple orchard and the Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding, but I’m a big fan of ‘The Gunnar’ a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a little Petit Verdot, like you get from Bordeaux. The proximity to the ocean lengthens the ripening season and it shows in the gorgeous ripe fruit.

 

The Poet’s Ploughman

Barwheys Cheese from Ayrshire

For the cheese I chose a classic southern French blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The Cotes du Roussillon Special Reserve Charles Rennie Mackintosh (£11.50) is an homage to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who spent the last few years of his life in Port Vendres in the Western Languedoc, the heartland for these vines. Many of his paintings depict Port Vendres, a small port near the Spanish border, and the nearby landscapes.

 

Cupid’s Dessert Cocktail

An adult and liquid version of Cranachan. Shaken not stirred by our good friend Richard Duffy

 

Luscious Lots of Chocolate Love

White, Rose & Vanilla, Milk, Dark and The Chieftain by the Chocolate Tree, Edinburgh & East Lothian

With the dark and Haggis flavoured ‘The Chieftain’ we had a taste of El Puño (£18), one of my favourite Garnachas made by El Escoces Volante, Norrel Robertson who also produces the La Multa. This is full bodied, full of flavour with a chocolatey feel on the finish. Although I would have this with big, meaty dishes normally (think Sunday roast) but the ripe blackberry and plum fruit and chocolate make it work with the dark, bitter chocolates.

 

The various wines were supplied by:

www.rose-wine.com

Bibendum Wine

Cross Stobs Wine

Great Western Wine

 

 

Address to a Haggis

It’s that time again, when anyone with even the merest link to Scotland celebrates Burns’ Night with the traditional Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, piped in with great ceremony by kilt-clad Scotsmen and addressed with a recital of Robert Burns’ famous poem, ‘To a Haggis’. As any self-respecting Haggis fan knows, this rarely seen, four-legged animal comes in two varieties. One has a longer set of right legs, the other a longer set of left legs. This allows them to run around the mountains of the Scottish Highlands without tumbling down the slopes, but clearly only in one direction, depending on which set of legs is longer.

When it comes to the question of what to drink when this ‘beastie’ finally makes it to the dining table the traditionalists opt for Whisky and it would clearly have to be a Scottish one at that. But I’ve been having a go at wine with haggis and there is plenty there that can work well. Youthful whites provide a refreshing balance to what is an earthy dish. I’ve had Australian Pinot Noir Rosé where gorgeous ripe red fruit characters and a little toastiness work beautifully with the richness of the dish. This makes me think that a Champagne could work well here too. Or is that just too decadent? Spanish and Italian reds made from Garnacha or Sangiovese seem to be some of the most popular matches. The earthiness combined with plenty of fruitiness in the wine means they combine well with the meatiness of the dish, but the slightly higher levels of acidity and juicy, ripe fruit give it plenty of freshness to add a lighter touch to it all.

I suppose what it comes down to is personal taste. Doesn’t it always? But it also shows that this ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!’ is actually very versatile and easy to match with your favourite wine or whisky. If you feel like a little experimentation yourself then the Food, Fun & Fizz evening – ‘Burns in Love’ is a great opportunity. We’ll be doing some food & wine matching (and it’s not all haggis!) with wines from all over the world, yet firmly rooted in Scotland. Intrigued? Come and join us on February 6th. Slainte!

Burns in Love – Food, Fun and Fizz

Robert Burns painting by Alexander Naysmith

Why not join ‘Tasting Scotland’ and ‘Cork & Bottle’ in killing two birds with one stone? Having planned our next Food, Fun & Fizz night to take place on 6th February 2013, it makes sense to celebrate Burn’s night and Valentine’s day with us in one fell swoop.

Bring loved ones, friends, family or colleagues to enjoy a unique experience consisting of a perfectly executed blend of pop-up tapas dining, traditional wine tasting & some gourmet ‘look what’s on your doorstep’ education!

Your evening starts with a glass of fizz and nibbles, followed by a 7-stage tasting menu that gives you a unique insight into some of Tasting Scotland’s favourite local artisan food producers.

The accompanying wines from around the world all have a unique Scottish connection which will be shared with you during the ‘Cork & Bottle’ wine matching masterclass.

 

 

Where?           The Tasting Room at The Good Spirits Co.  23 Bath St, Glasgow

When?             Wednesday 6th February  2013

Time?               19:00

Cost?                £35

To book?          email pieter@corkandbottle.co.uk  or call  07939 272532

 

Tasting Menu

7 Scottish Artisan Food Producers in 7 stages

‘Some hae (smoked) meat’

The Rigs O’ Barley

 Bard’s Broth

The Great Chieftain o’ the puddin’ race

The Poet’s Ploughman

Cupid’s Dessert Cocktail 

Luscious Lots of Chocolate Love xxx

Tasting the Obscure Spain

Once a month I attend a tasting with a few fellow wine lovers. We normally decide on some sort of loose theme, I say loose as the theme is usually followed by the words ‘or not’, giving rise to some pretty weird and wonderful stuff. We primarily do this to keep our blind tasting skills up to speed but we don’t treat it all too seriously. Last Monday the theme was “Obscure Spain (or not)” which can mean anything as the variety of wines from Spain is impressive. We had a pretty varied bunch, but before starting we have to master the process of putting the wines in some sort of order. You’d think this would be pretty straightforward but usually the group descends into chaos resulting in a completely random set of numbers and letters. Despite this it usually turns out reasonably accurate at the end.

To kick off we had a white Rioja, the Marques de Murrieta Capellanía 2005 (Berry Bros – £19). Produced from 50 year old Viura vines from the Ygay estate it spends 18 months on new French oak. This not only gives the wine its nutty, gingery characteristics but also makes it feel slightly grippy on the palate. It’s a special wine, very complex, particularly the aromas and it has a very long finish. Not one for the easy drinking crowd but a great food wine.

The second white, the Mas d’en Compte Priorat 2007 (Spirited Wines – £23), had a slightly deeper golden colour. A toasty, vanilla nose with a greenish edge. I wrote down guava but cardamom was mentioned as well. It was a rich, full-bodied wine with a spicy flavour but showed very little fruit character. The acidity comes in late and it finishes clean. Overall we felt this wine had a bit too much oak and it really overpowered what fruit there was. We did wonder if we perhaps had a bottle that was slightly out of condition as it gets rave reviews otherwise. The dominant variety is Grenache (60%) and I normally really like the soft floral style of white Grenache but the oak spoiled it for me.

Our first red wine was the Vina del Perdon Gran Reserva 2001 from Navarra (Waitrose – £9.49). This wine had most of us confused over where it was from and even what grape variety it was made of. It had some Rioja-like characters, clearly owing to the 3 years in a combination of French and American oak, but it felt altogether lighter in style. It had quite a bit of acidity and freshness. Most of us had put its vintage somewhere around 05/06. As it turned out it was a more international blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Graciano, the latter being the only grape also used in Rioja. The nose had the more developed aromas of tobacco leaf and something that reminded me of tree bark as well as dried cherries. A dry, spicy wine on the palate with cherry and plum flavours. Refreshing without being simple.

Next up was the wildcard, a Tempranillo from Argentina. The Zuccardi Q Tempranillo 2008 (Cross Stobs Wine – £16) uses the main variety from Rioja but puts a decidedly new world twist on this. Sweet vanilla, chocolate, cherry and chilli. Explosive fruit on the palate, tasting of summer pudding and chocolate. Not for the faint-hearted as it is alcoholic and extracted and very impressive. Likened to a very modern style of Ribera del Duero this was the odd one out.

Then we came to a very big treat with the Pintia 2006 from Toro (Berry Bros – £42). Made from 100% Tempranillo, known locally as Tinta de Toro it spent a year in new French and American oak barrels. This is a hugely tannic wine, even after 5 years. It has a dark, meaty nose, chocolate, coffee, black olives were all mentioned as were dark cherries. On the palate it was the tannins that really stood out. They were screaming for food. Fortunately we had some cheese and Jamon Iberico to come to our aid. Dry, intense, dark and brooding. Dark plum, chocolate and those tannins, this wine feels like it will live forever. Keep it for now or decant it a few hours before drinking and have it with a nice joint of meat to get the best from it.

Our final wine of the night was a sweet wine, the Alta Alella, Dolç Blanc 2008. The grapes (a blend of Cava variety Xarel-Lo, blended with Viognier and Chardonnay) were grown about 2km from the sea near Barcelona. Aromas of lemon curd and honey, with a slight mineral edge, followed through on the palate, which is rich but not hugely sweet. There is a pithy, rind-like bitterness that balances well with the sweetness making it feel beautifully balanced. The grapes are picked and then frozen (in freezers), producing something like an artificial ice wine as I doubt the temperature would ever get low enough there to make the proper stuff. Pretty much for local consumption and this bottle was brought back from Barcelona so I don’t expect to find it in the UK. If anything this may well wine the prize of most obscure wine of the night.

Malbrontes – Malbec and What?

A red wine made with white grapes. Sounds unlikely? White grapes have long been used as part of red wine production. It may be pretty obvious that to make a red wine you need the colour from the red grape skins but there is nothing stopping you from adding a little white too. This used to be common practice in Chianti but the choice of grapes impacted the quality so the practice is no longer so common. In the Rhone valley in France the white grape Viognier is often added to Syrah to make the famous wines from Côte Rôtie. In Australia they even make a point of it and put the blend on the label and I’ve heard of many wine producers who experiment with different ways of introducing white grapes into their red wines. One Australian producer put some of his Shiraz into a barrel that had formerly held Chardonnay. He left the fine lees (deposit) in the barrel and the result was an added richness and creaminess to the Shiraz.

It is important to state that this is not about blending red and white wine together, that would mean ending up with a rosé or very light red. Making a red wine this way means you have to ferment the red and white grapes together. The idea is to get plenty of colour and extraction during the fermentation, but combined with a lightness and freshness from the white grapes. Malbrontes is just such a wine even though it does sound more like a long-forgotten character from Jurassic Park. It combines in more than name two of Argentina’s best known grapes. The fragrant Torrontés adds a fresh and floral element to the juicy, rich spiciness of the Malbec. I was sceptical at first but this wine quickly won me over. It has the chunky blackberry fruit from the Malbec but the Torrontés makes the whole thing seem fresher and softer and it’s seriously easy-drinking. You can even chill it down slightly and make it a perfect partner to a barbecue.

Wine Searcher gives an up to date list of where you can get this wine.

 

An evening with Journey’s End

There is a popular pastime in Scotland for hillwalkers called “Munro-bagging”. A Munro in Scotland is a hill over 3000ft and the practice of “bagging” involved climbing all of them. There is ongoing debate about the exact number but a recent list puts that number at 283. I’m not a Munro-bagger as I can only lay claim to two. One of these was Ben Lawers, overlooking Loch Tay. The reason I remember it so well is that I climbed it on a gorgeous summer’s day and the views from up on the mountain are nothing short of spectacular. The other reason though was that for 75% of the climb you could see the top of the mountain, or at least, I thought it was the top. Just as you reach the crest you realise that the top is still a mighty long way to go and you’re forced to drop down into a valley before having to climb all the way up again. That last part was very tough going.

I was reminded of this story last night at dinner with Rollo Gabb, owner of the Journey’s End winery in South Africa. I asked him where the name came from and he talked about the location of the winery on the edge of Stellenbosch, only a couple of miles from the coast, overlooking what is know as ‘False Bay’. In the old days many a sailor was drawn into False Bay believing their journey to Cape Town had come to an end (Journey’s End) only to realise they still had the treacherous task of rounding Cape of Good Hope. I suppose that is how I felt coming to the false summit of Ben Lawers.

Rollo makes Journey’s End sound like a pretty special place. Originally from Shropshire he comes from a very entrepreneurial family who have had a hand in bringing many well-known wine brands into the UK. In 1995 the family bought the farm in South Africa and after taking over from his father in 2007it is now Rollo’s aim to grow the estate sufficiently to make premium South African wine but also make it work as a commercial venture. I was already aware of one of the wines, the Pastor’s Blend. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, it is a wine that Rollo describes as his easy drinking wine and he jokingly adds it’s his Monday night wine. The blend changes depending on the vintage and it sees a bit of oak, giving it a softness without losing the fresh fruit. The wine was the result of a slight misunderstanding when Rollo gatecrashed what he thought was a party at a neighbouring property, carrying a case of wine. It turned out to be a church service, but I’m sure the wine didn’t go to waste and Rollo became good friends with the local pastor and the Pastor’s Blend was born.

Journey’s End also produces Chardonnay and for me the 2010 Single Vineyard Chardonnay was stunning. The oak was beautifully integrated, which means it’s not as obvious on the nose and the freshness of this wine when tasted makes it an absolute joy to drink. Rollo has started producing Sauvignon Blanc which we didn’t taste but I’m being told it is beautiful. I was slightly dubious about that considering the estate is in Stellenbosch but Rollo assured me his location, although in Stellenbosch is facing the coast and that brings with it the cooling influence of what is locally known as the ‘Cape Doctor’, an on-shore wind so called because it also helps to keep disease and rot at bay.

Rollo has named his top wines after this wind and we got to try the Cape Doctor Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, as well as the Single Vineyard Merlot 2007. Both are gorgeous wines with the Merlot being soft, spicy with ripe plummy fruit. I found the Cabernet Sauvignon very elegant with a much more savoury, tobacco like nose but none of the green stalkiness you sometimes get with this grape. Journey’s End completed a new winery in 2010 and all of these wines were made by borrowing other wineries’ facilities, so Rollo is very confident that the quality of subsequent wines will really take a jump over the next few years. He certainly isn’t short in ambition in putting premium South African wine firmly on the map and it seems like Rollo’s journey has only just started.