Not every day in the life of a wine taster is as perfect as it sounds: a line-up of a hundred sauvignon blancs is not necessarily what you feel like first thing in the morning, nor is the discovery (which really did happen to me at an Australian Capital Show), that the day’s work is a close encounter with over 200 shiraz samples, none more than three years old. However, for every one of those “I wish I were somewhere else” moments there are countless others which make up for the oral abuse. Such a day occurred recently: it began with a presentation of polished and impressive high-end Italian wines and finished with a line-up of finely crafted, suitably edgy examples from the Cape.
The unifying element of the Italian selection was that all the wines were produced on estates owned by iconic families in the Italian fashion industry: Massimo Ferragamo’s Castiglion del Bosco, Paolo and Giovani Bulgari’s Podernuovo a Palazzone and Guido Fendi’s Idillio Maremmano. Our view of Italian wine in South Africa is tainted by the fact that at least 80% of what is available is made in large, industrial cellars. The trick is to find the hand-crafted examples at prices which are still vaguely affordable, and there were several such examples at this tasting.
The Castiglion del Bosco Chardonnay 2018 delivered intense citrus and pomelo notes from aroma through to the finish. Without any oak to lift the fruit, it depended entirely on the quality of the grapes harvested from the site near the town of Montalcino. I was equally impressed with the two Brunellos. The standard release 2013 was finely delineated with a faintly smoky red fruit and mushroom note, suggesting it was as ready for drinking as it needed to be. The more prestigious “1100” Riserva 2011 was a little silkier, a little more elusive, a little more persistent.
All of the wines are already available in South Africa, unsurprisingly only at high-end outlets such as Norman Goodfellows, The Saxon, The Houghton. Ranging in price from around R500 for the chardonnay and touching the R3000 per bottle mark for the Brunello Riserva, they are clearly not intended for the pizza-pasta trade.
Though these Tuscan wines were stylistically very different from the Cape tasting which followed in the afternoon, both line-ups shared in common a focus on craft. The Cape selection included the 2015 release of the Dainty Bess MCC produced by Jane Eedes, one of the very few Rosé bottle-fermented bubblies delivering the bready notes and creamy textures associated with this style of winemaking. There were also a couple of really impressive wines from Jocelyn Hogan – her finely crafted 2017 Chenin Blanc (in my view her best to date and a real benchmark example of that near-impossible achievement of fruit intensity balanced out with finesse) and the Divergent red blend. The latter is an unusual assemblage of equal amounts of carignan, cabernet sauvignon and cinsaut: in 2017 it worked beautifully.
Meerlust’s Chris Williams has been making his own wines under The Foundry name for many years. His 2017 Roussanne is fabulous, as is his 2017 Grenache Noir. Properly sited Rhone varieties are really showing well in the Cape, as Jeremy Borg proved when he bagged the Best Producer award at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. The Foundry selection confirms the potential of both these less familiar cultivars.
JH Meyer and Lucas van Loggerenberg are both leading lights in the world of hipster wines. The former’s Palmiet Chardonnay 2017 delivers great concentration and purity, as does his Elands Rivier Pinot. Van Loggerenberg’s 2018 Breton Cabernet Franc is a classic, but in a Loire rather than Bordeaux style. Finally the Luddite Shiraz, always a cult wine with its own personality, shows how good 2014 reds can be, if you just choose the right winemaker. Not all these Cape wines are easily found in Gauteng, though many appear on the winelist at La Boqueria, where the tasting took place.