Wines of South Africa’s Wine Workshop roadshow rolled into town last week on leg two of the European tour, next up, Asia and North America. I have to admit that the first of the four sessions entitled “Tomorrow Stars” remains firmly etched on my mind (and taste buds) – “Tomorrow Stars” have peaked early! With an emphasis on freshness rather than extract, there was lots to like.
New to me were Rall Wines’ Donovan Rall and Howard Booysen of Howard Booysen Wines, both first generation winemakers and rightly proud to sport their names on their labels.
The Finlayson name may be well known but Crystallum’s Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson have struck out on their own, making their first wines in 2007. The brothers dare to follow in the giant footsteps of their father, Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson, making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Walker Bay.
While KWV Wines is hardly a new name, the Mentors range, which is presided over by Aussie winemaker Richard Rowe (most recently of Evans & Tate), is genuinely innovative and, with its own dedicated cellar, is boldly going where the KWV never went before.
Donovan Rall, Vuurberg & Rall Wines
Speaking of mentors, Rall can name a few. Working at Harvey Nichols broadened his views on the world of wine (he subsequently worked vintage in Hermitage) and helped define his stylistic approach. After a vintage with Eben Sadie his mind was made up and he joined Vuurburg, a boutique Stellenbosch winery where he also makes his eponymous wines.
Rall’s principal focus is white blends which are basket pressed straight into barrel and fermented naturally and not too cold. For his own wines he works with around 25 parcels which he picks at varying levels of ripeness in pursuit of balance.
Vuurberg White 2010 (Western Cape) – this blend of 40% old vine Chenin Blanc from Helderberg, 20% Viognier from Bottelary Hills, 20% Semillon from Simonsberg and c. 10% each of Rousanne from the Paardeberg and Grenache Blanc from Paarl is more focused on Stellenbosh fruit than Rall’s eponymous label. Aged in 30% new oak, the Viognier leads with its sweet honeysuckle and rich, round apricot fruit, but it’s also succulent, juicy and fresh with none of the “burn” which can come with this grape. Very good – puts me in mind of Miles Mossop’s Saskia. 14.5% N/A UK, RRP £10
Rall White 2009 (Coastal) – a blend of 60% Chenin Blanc (Paardeberg), 20% Chardonnay (Bottelary Hills), 10% Verdelho (Heldeberg) and 10% Viognier (Paardeberg) which, though older, is less expressive on the nose, or at least less overt in terms of fruit. With no new oak and seemingly a more oxidative approach, it reveals more layers, with dried herbs to its gentle quince and stone fruit. It finishes quite long with a pronounced sweet nougat, nutty finish. There’s good balancing freshness, though personally I’d prefer a touch more line and lift. Still, very promising. RRP £27.50, imported by Indigo Wines, £25.95 at Handford Wines.
Rall Red 2008 (Swartland) – I tasted this unofficial member of the line up during a coffee break. A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan it impressed, showing liquorice and dried herb edged sweet plum with a meaty, savoury undertow. Though 15%, it wore the alcohol well and I much liked its ripe but present tannins. A pricey £42.50 at Harrods.
Howard Booysen, Howard Booysen Wines
Booysen (pictured), was the first person in his family into wine. He studied at Elsenburg where he wrote a thesis on Riesling and, while working at Flagstone, got to work with the variety, indeed the vineyard from where he today sources his fruit. Walk this way fans of Flagstone Frostline Riesling and other out of the box wines. Booysen’s red grape of choice is Cinsault!
You’d not guess it from his bold and sophisticated wines, but it’s early days for Booysen, a one man band who juggles growing grapes, making and marketing wine with evening shifts as a sommelier to make ends meet. He only ventured out on his own in 2009, making his first wines in 2010 – just 5000 bottles of Riesling in a kabinett style; going forward he’ll also be making a drier style. Most definitely a name to watch – find out more here.
Howard Booysen Riesling 2010 (Darling/Swartland) – the fruit hails mostly from a 25 year old vineyard which, at 1300m, is South Africa’s highest. Booysen says the combination of vine age and elevation together with cool afternoon breezes “picks up a lot of minerality” in the wine. Great typicity (which cannot always be said of Cape Riesling) with a finely wrought yet intense and very pure nose and palate which shows a slatey minerality, delicate honeyed sweetness, lime and lime blossom. A fresh, bright chalky subtly textured finish is well balanced – I was surprised that the residual sugar is as high as 19.89g/l, but then the total acidity is 8.8g/l. Delightful. N/A UK, RRP £18
Howard Booysen Pegasus Cinsault 2011 (Stellenbosch) – on the face of it, Riesling and Southern French red variety Cinsault make for an odd couple but, as Booysen sees it, Cinsault plays into his hands given he’s after a leaner style of wine. It withstands hot temperatures well and, though its berries are big, stress, he says, is key, leading him to source his fruit from aged vines. He also uses a dash of Darling fruit which benefits from cool Atlantic breezes. “Engineered for easier drinkability because of lower alcohol [12.5%] and juicy fruit-driven notes” it’s quite deep ruby in hue with a floral (rock rose) and liquorice nose. In the mouth it has lovely freshness and florality to its wild red berry fruits – a guileless, really attractive rustic wine – for Booysen, his “poor man’s Burgundy.” N/A UK, RRP £9 – nice price!
KWV - the Mentors range
KWV’s Mentors range was launched in 2006 and, at the discretion of the winemaking team in terms of varieties, quantities and style, seeks to capture the particular highlights from each vintage. The fruit is 100% hand picked and sourced from throughout the Western Cape.
KWV Mentors Grenache Blanc 2010 (Western Cape) – fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and large, old 500l oak barrels this maiden vintage shows plenty of life and layer. A textured, toasty, smoky, nutty palate is animated by fresh squeezed lime juice, initially a little elbowy, but it falls into line as the wine opens up in the glass. Had I not known the variety, I’d have guessed it was Semillon, made in a style mid-way between the Hunter and South Australia if you can imagine it! Very good. RRP £16.99, imported by Thierry’s
KWV Mentors Orchestra 2008 (Western Cape) – a deep claret hue with rich, spicy berries, blueberry and cedar/cigar box on the lifted nose. In the mouth it shows juicy, liquorice edged blood plum framed by fine tannins. A fresh finish shows cedar spice and a slightly distracting smoky note which detracts from the purity. RRP £16.99, imported by Thierry’s
Peter-Allan Finlayson, Crystallum
Finlayson showed two single vineyard wines from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward in Walker Bay. He says he and his brother enjoy experimenting and he has drawn on vintage experience in Burgundy as well as his father’s knowledge. For example, he uses around 15-40% whole bunch fermentation for Pinot Noir. Also vines are closed planted at 7000 vines/ha.
Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2009 (Walker Bay) – aged for 14 months in 50% new French oak, this very pale wine shows a tight, smoky nose. In the mouth, it’s well focused with bright and tight melon and white peach fruit with a savoury and attractive smoky/flinty/toasty reductive note. Good spine, line and levity. Very good. 13.5% RRP £30, imported by Liberty.
Crystallum Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noir 2009 (Walker Bay) - sourced from a mix of Dijon/Bernard clones (777, 115, 667), this is quite a restrained, savoury style of Pinot Noir with hints of barnyard, straw even, to its vanilla edged plum fruit. Though there’s a freshness to it, there’s a muddiness too – I’d like to see more definition and intensity (as opposed to weight) of fruit. 13.7% RRP £30, imported by Liberty.