Really serious producers never pretend that they have achieved their idea of perfection. No vintage is the same, so success is never absolute, but rather a reflection of the best possible, given the weather, the constraints of cellar space, the evolution of the winemaker’s aesthetic vision. Ideas about palate weight, fruit ripeness, use of wood are never immovable. They are also vintage dependent – bigger fruit weight can manage more new wood, lighter berries might profit from a longer pre-fermentation maceration.
Then there is the matter of vinous fashion. For a very long time almost all wine making was oxidative rather than reductive. In other words, the fermenting fruit had unprotected exposure to oxygen and acquired a stable but quite evolved style almost from the outset. This presented as a range of aromatics closer to the sherry than the fruit side of the spectrum.
Cold fermentation, closed tanks, sulphur dioxide and commercial yeasts changed all this. Aromatics – especially in white wines – were fresher and more forward, and this fashion dominated winemaking from the 1950s until quite recently. Now a little oxidation is creeping back, sometimes just as a note on the flavour spectrum, sometimes more obviously, such as with so-called amber wines.
Incidentally, not all the oxidation you encounter is the result of the winemaker’s intention: sometimes it’s a closure-related fault, or the result of dissolved oxygen at bottling, or simply too little sulphur in the winemaking. While oxidative notes can contribute to the texture and flavour profile, if freshness has been lost without a commensurate gain in complexity, it’s fair to question whether yourself if this was what the winemaker had in mind.
Of course it’s not always obvious: Matthew van Heerden’s Signature Chardonnay 2016 certainly shows more evolution on the nose than would have been typical a few years ago, but it comes with discernible freshness on the finish. I would have preferred the fruit to be more luminous, but it’s certainly not faulty by the standards of today. Likewise Simonsig’s 2016 Die Kluisenaar (part of the Grapesmith range) is earthy and textural, geeky by today’s standards, rather than mainstream. I much preferred the 2016 Grapesmith Mediterraneo – it’s one of the best wines from Simonsig I’ve ever tasted. However, the editor of WineMag wouldn’t have agreed: he scored Die Kluisenaar significantly higher than the Mediterraneo. Clearly oxidative fruit handling has more appeal to those surfing the cutting edge.
Sebastian Beaumont is a winemaker who does seem to have managed the tightrope of authenticity and fashion, and to have optimised his skills set, the potential of his vineyards and his sense of the aesthetically possible. I tasted through most of his current range and there was nothing I wouldn’t happily have taken to dinner. There were several highlights, both among the single varietal wines, where the fruit expression was pure and linear, without being clinical, and also in the thoughtfully composed blends.
There are very few pinotages that offer immediate pleasure and a promise of complexity. The 2016 Beaumont is certainly one of them: deep, plush aromas, good intensity, perfectly managed tannins, which are fresh rather than chunky. Likewise both the Ariane 2016 and the Vitruvian 2014 are better than any Beaumont blends I can recall tasting – an indication that after almost 20 years Sebastian Beaumont is right at the top of his game, and is able to coax more than ever before from his vineyards, and from the vintages.
This impression was substantially confirmed by the Dangerfield Syrah 2016 and the latest (2017) Hope Marguerite. The former shows plenty of fine peppery spice combined with lovely sweet raspberry notes on the palate. The latter manages the inherent tension of racy acidity and ripe fruit notes perfectly. It delivers hints of slightly honeyed compote and pear-drop aromas, followed by a faint sweetness held in check by real fruit freshness. This may be the best vintage of Beaumont’s iconic white – it’s certainly as good any chenin blanc you could find anywhere in the world.