Tag Archives: South Africa

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.

One heck of a Challenge

The past 50 days I have been running a lot. I have covered over 340km in this period as part of the 5×50 Challenge. A challenge designed to people off the sofa and committing to regular exercise. Today marks the end of the challenge but it doesn’t mean I will now return to sitting on the sofa. This challenge has inspired me to stick with it and keep running through the winter and get ready for some longer runs next year.

The 5×50 core team also inspired me to something else. And that was to find some amazing wines that would appeal to the running types. Because believe me, it is not all health and fitness, there is plenty of room for the good things in life.

Working with Cross Stobs Wine, a local independent wine shop I have found five wines to inspire the runners and of course a sparkling wine to celebrate the achievements. A percentage of each case sold will go to the 5×50 chosen charity, Sport Relief, so not only will you taste some lovely wine, you’ll feel great about it too!

You can now get the six bottle case (one bottle of each wine) for £55,  or two bottles of each wine for £110 (delivery charges apply). And don’t forget you’ll be helping a worthwhile charity at the same time.

The wines?

Domaine de Montredon Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France

An energetic, fast-paced sprinter with lots of energy. Perhaps struggles to keep up with Mo Farah, but who wouldn’t?

Raats Chenin Blanc, South Africa

The versatile type, can do fast-paced runs over long distances and still has a bit left in the bottle to pull out a sprint

Don David Malbec, Argentina

The rugged, outdoorsy type. Thinks nothing of running to the top of Ben Nevis and back for fun but needs some sweet ripe fruit on the way to keep the energy levels topped up. 

La Multa Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain

The social runner. Not the fastest and keeping fit is a useful byproduct but it’s really about the chat on the way. Life is for living after all.  

Mas des Amours, Coteaux du Languedoc, France

One for the long haul. More marathon than sprint, but intense, runs it in well under four hours and still manages a beautifully graceful finish. 

Casa Defra Prosecco Spumante, Italy

Cooling down time, don’t forget to stretch and then toast your success and put your feet up. You’ve achieved your goal.

Help yourself to a case by clicking here and join me in next year’s challenge!

 

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.

Pieter meets The Gunner

Probably not the world’s biggest Sauvignon Blanc fan, I often find it lacks the interest and complexity to get me really excited, but there are exceptions. And a few weeks ago at a dinner at Gandolfi Fish in Glasgow, I came across one of the best examples I have tasted in a long time. And it was neither Sancerre, nor Marlborough but hailed from Elgin in South Africa. Iona the wine in question is a winery owned by Andrew Gunn since the mid-90’s. 

Andrew “The Gunner” Gunn and Pieter.

Andrew, a very tall man who can trace his roots to Scotland, was looking for a change from his career as a medical engineer and found an old apple farm in Elgin. He realised quickly that the old apple orchard wasn’t going to sustain him and his family so he decided to plant vines instead. Having travelled extensively through the South African wine regions of the day, Andrew felt the slightly cooler climate of Elgin at an altitude of 450 metres was perfect for growing grapes and Sauvignon Blanc in particular. Around 70% of his production is made up of the grape, which achieves a perfect balance of ripeness and alcohol due to the long ripening season. Andrew calls this optimum physiological ripeness, and the balance this creates is what this wine is all about. It is closer in style to the mineral Sancerre than the abundance of tropical fruit flavours you might expect from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Mineral is a slightly woolly term but you get what I mean when you taste this. It is the aroma you get from soil, freshly rained on stones or even salt. The flinty character in Sauvignon Blanc is often mentioned as a mineral character. Together with the fairly brisk acidity it gives a distinctive and dry feel to the palate which is refreshing and lively at the same time as showing great purity of flavour.

The wine:

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – Elgin, South Africa

So here we go with our mineral, flinty nose that has a floral character and slight herbaceousness along the Sancerre style. And then the ripe fruit takes over. Not tropical but more zesty citrus fruit, gooseberry and stonefruit characters. The wine is generously mouth filling with a lively, dry and pure finish. This superbly balanced wine was a joy to taste on its own but when it was paired with a Ballotine of Scottish Salmon with cucumber, horseradish creme and a beetroot reduction it really came to life. I’m sure a pairing with a goat’s cheese tartlet would be equally good but make it something creamy as it will find a perfect balance with the dry and zesty character of the wine.

Gandolfi have this wine on the list and sell all their listed wines retail as well, so even more excuse to pop in now.

Andrew’s other wines are pretty exciting too but are much more difficult to get hold off. Gandolfi Fish expertly matched various dishes to some of these extraordinary wines. The almost Burgundian 2009 Chardonnay was matched with a Confit of chicken, baby leek and black truffle terrine served with toasted spelt bread which was a gorgeous combination.

Pan roasted lamb chop with a potato millefeuille, wilted spinach, stilton and port sauce was matched to the Gunnar 2005, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. It had a deep smoky nose and lovely ripe fruit on the palate. Again, I couldn’t fault the combination with the food.

The next course had to match with the Syrah 2007, deliberately using the French spelling indicating a more old-world approach to Syrah. Still, it was a big wine with big flavours and exactly what was needed with the Slow braised shoulder of ‘Venison Wellington’ with fondant potato, Scottish girolles and juniper jus.

 

The finale was a Plum and frangipane upside down cake with crème anglaise which was paired with Andrew’s dessert wine a Noble Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Delicious hazelnut, orange and honey with plenty of zesty flavours to balance the sweetness of both the wine and dessert.

This was the first time I tasted any of the Iona wines but it certainly won’t be my last. Judging by the reactions on the night, I somehow doubt I am alone in this.