Stellenbosch Cabernet tasting lays down a marker

Decanter make pleased director John Stimpfig attended a landmark tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet vintages from 2000 to 2011 in South Africa. Read his review and see his top wines. On the eve of Cape Wine 2015, 20 of Stellenbosch’s best known Cabernet producers came together in a collective show of force at Cape Town Waterfront’s plush One & Only hotel to present a historic tasting to a packed audience of South African buyers and press.
Wineries built-in Vergelegan, Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Delaire Graff, Glenelly and Waterford with a range of vintages from 2000 to 2011. Le Riche’s veteran cellarmaster Etienne le Riche said, ‘This was the best tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet I have ever experienced.’
The subtext of the tasting was a timely riposte by the Stellenbosch ancient guard to some of South Africa’s young guns building significant waves in newer regions.
Event moderator, South African Greg Sherwood MW of Handford Wines in London, told Decanter, ‘there’s no doubt that regions like Swartland are doing a fantastic job in promoting its edginess, newness and excitement. But that’s no wits to overlook or forget that Stellenbosch has an incredible tale to tell with its fantastic Cabernets. These wines are world-class, have fantastic ageing potential and represent incredible value.’
‘Cabernet is subdue the yardstick by which all regions are judged, and over the years, Stellenbosch has proven to be the most successful area in South Africa for building fantastic Cabernet,’ added Le Riche who is also a member of the Cape Winemaker’s Guild. ‘I want Stellenbosch to become well-known for the variety that does best here. And that variety is Cabernet.’
Johan Malan, who helped organise and coordinate the tasting, also argued that Stellenbosch is South Africa’s best province for Cabernet and has a proven footstep confirmation of over seventy years. ‘The vital thing to remember is that Cabernet chose Stellenbosch. Not the additional way around.’
‘This event is really the launch of a campaign to re-establish Stellenbosch’s Cabernet credentials amongst global consumers,’ he continued. ‘In the longer term, we’d like to take it around the world to a number of major cities.’
Cabernet Sauvignon is the third most planted variety in South Africa and the most planted in Stellenbosch with a 20% share of the vineyard surface.
Yet there are major challenges for Stellenbosch Cabernet. Jan Boland Coetzee, winemaker at Vriesenhof, commented that some winemakers hadn’t done enough with plant material and leaf roll virus. Vergelegen’s Andre van Rensburg had the same view: ‘we need to sort this out as soon as possible.’
Stellenbosch’s Kingdom of Cabernet
These are my top six wines from a truly spectacular tasting of top Stellenbosch Cabernet at the One & Only Hotel at Cape Town’s Waterfront. These wines can be drunk with food now or cellared for a number of years, depending on the vintage. They also represent nearly unbelievable value for the prices questioned. Proof positive that Stellenbosch Cabernet at its best is a match made in heaven.
Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
92 points
Made from Helderberg fruit by Kevin Arnold and Mark le Roux, this classical 2009 has attractive leafy, herbal aromas with intense cassis berry fruit. On the palate it is rich, structured and refined with juicy acidity, firm tannins and gorgeous layers of tobacco, blackcurrant, cedar and violets. Long end and plenty of ageing capacity.
Alc 14.4% ABV. Rand 210.
Drink 2015-2027.
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
93 points
Very deep colour for a ten year ancient wine and no lack of primary fruit on the powerful nose. This is a forceful, dense and structured Cabernet which is only just entering its prime. Plush tannins, ink, mocha, black fruit, some sous-bois, tea leaf and a mineral edge combine to make this a stand out wine by one of the Cape’s greatest and most classical producers.
Alc 14% Cellar door.
Drink 2015-2027
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2011
91 points
Winemaker Rudi Schulz makes this from a blend of the estate’s best Bordeaux components carefully selecting the best individual barrels of Cabenet for the ever impressive Rabelais. Fantastic perfume, deep colour and rippling concentrated fruit easily handles the oak regime with total ease. Dark berry fruit, with coffee and mocha and blueberry notes there is a hint of cedar and vanilla. Utterly tasty with lush tannins, superb acidity and balance, this is fine, complex and long.
Alc 14.85% Cellar Door 390 Rand.
Drink 2016-2030
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
93 points
According to Etienne Le Riche, this is one of his greatest Cabernet Sauvignons, which might clarify why it was John Platter’s Red Wine of the Year in 2005. Terrific elegance and definition here, with flavours of grilled meat, cassis, licquorice, graphite and tobacco. Perfectly evolved undergrowth notes and ripe sweet tannins. A blend of Cabernet fruit from Firgrove, and Jonkershoek this was made in classical open top concrete fermenters. Ready now, but plenty of life and pleasure subdue to come. A corker of a Cabernet.
Alc 14.46% Cellar Door.
Drink 2015-2025
Vergelegen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
92 points
Andre Van Rensburg quipped that he isn’t quite sure why this is called a reserve because it is the only cabernet he makes. Shame, because this is remarkably excellent and only 5000 suitcases are produced. No overripe fruit here. Instead, this is leafy, juicy and fresh with cassis and savoury cigar box. The acidity is wonderfully integrated with the tannins and the nearly unobtrusive oak. And it wears the 14.5% alcohol very, very lightly. Benchmark stuff and a pleasure to drink.
Alc 14.5%. Cellar Door 250 Rand.
Drink 2015-2025
Stark-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
95 points
Modern, vibrant and vivacious. But also classical and right to its Stellenbosch roots. Fantastic florality (jasmine and violets), polish and presence here with ripe creamy cassis and coffee notes on the palate. The Cabernet fruit is grown on decomposed granite from the Jonkershoek Valley and winemaker Jose Conde’s expert fruit handling means that the silky tannins and violet notes really stand out and sing. This wine is all about elegance, freshness, pleasure and refinement. A genuine class act and a joy to drink now and for the next ten years.
Alc 14.5% Cellar Door
Drink 2015-2025.
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Sardinia: where to stay, eat and shop

Sardinia: where to stay, eat and shopCarla Capalbo picks out the must visit hotels, restaurants and shops for the ideal Sardinia wine holiday. Hotel Nibaru, SardiniaSardinia: where to stay, eat and shop
Locanda Conte Mameli, Olbia
In the town centre, this is a small hotel in a historic palazzo with some character.
Li Finistreddi, Arzachena
Near Arzachena, at Micalosu, this country resort near the vineyards offers all the comforts of a summer retreat.
Hotel Nibaru, Cala di Volpe
Stay here to delight in the Costa Smeralda on a budget: fantastic location, a lovely pool and walking access to several beaches.
Agriturismo Agrisole, Casagliana
If you prefer to stay outside the towns, this agriturismo is middle between Olbia and Arzachena, and offers a more rustic atmosphere, with local dishes available for dinner.
Caffè Cosimino, Olbia
In Olbia’s town centre of Piazza Margherita, this wine bar features a huge selection of wines and excellent food. Always open. Tel: +39 0789 21001
Ristorante Barbagia, Olbia
Try some of the hinterland dishes of pork, wild boar and cheeses in the spacious Ristorante Barbagia.
Ristorante Nino, Pittulongu
A few kilometres outside Olbia, in Hotel Stefania, this restaurant offers local Sardinian dishes, along with lovely rooms and views of (and access to) the sandy Pittulongu beaches.
Ristorante Il Tirabusciò, Calangianus
Inland at Calangianus, in the hills where the cork trees grow, this affordable venue prepares homemade traditional food, with pastas (boiled and fried) and locally reared meats and vegetables. Tel: +39 0796 61849
Gelateria da Pasqualina, Porto Cervo
In the Promenade du Port at Porto Cervo, this ice creamery makes its own fabulous ices and pastries from Mediterranean fruits and nuts.
Stelle D Stelle, Porto Cervo
Stelle D Stelle hosts Michelin-starred chefs in summer.
In summer, this restaurant hosts Italian Michelin- starred chefs who prepare their own gourmet food.
Soha Sardinia, Porto Cervo
As well as offering handmade jewellery and additional accessories, this boutique makes fine, polyphenol-rich skin creams using an wring of red Cannonau grapes.
In Vino Veritas, Olbia
On the Corso Umberto in the centre of Olbia, you will find a large selection of Sardinian wines to taste and buy, and they also supply set alight lunches.
Thursday market, San Pantaleo
In the small, traditional village of San Pantaleo, there is a fun market each week where you can find local produce, crafts, artworks and more.
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Video: DAWA 2015 Judging Week

Video: DAWA 2015 Judging WeekSee the highlights of DAWA 2015 Judging week, hear from our DAWA judges, and find out why you should look out for a DAWA medal!See DAWA 2015 judging week in pictures
See the DAWA 2015 judging panel
Find out where you can taste DAWA winning wines
Find DAWA wines and promotional offers
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Anson on Thursday: Redefining Rioja terroir

Anson on Thursday: Redefining Rioja terroirJane Anson explores Rioja terroir with fresh eyes and finds there is a fightback in the Spanish province amongst those seeking to promote its diversity. Grapes hang on the vine in Spain's Rioja.There is a back road into Rioja from France that I cannot recommend highly enough. It scales the Pyrénées mountains, through winding country passes that switch between French and Spanish Basque villages.
You pass hand-made signs offering Baigorre ham, Pryénées brebis, Espelette peppers, fresh river trout and spicy Basque chocolate. The backdrop zigzags between dense swathes of oak, beech, fir and birch forest and wide-open vistas across mountains and fertile valley floors.
You arrive in Rioja not only exhilarated, but with a apparent understanding of the influence that altitude and orientation exerts over these wines. Rioja sits within its own fruitbowl of mountains, most notably the Obarenas and the Cantabrias, with dramatic escarpments from Sierra de la Demanda to Sierra de Valdezcaray. Its soils are a jumble of slates, limestones, sandstones, loam, gravels and clays, as you would expect in an area so clearly governed by shifting tectonic plates, cut through by the quick-flowing Ebro river. And yet, the go to talk about this has been a weirdly long time appearance.
When learning about wine in the classroom, Rioja is seen as one of the excellent guys, the establishment figure of quality regions in Spain. And yet there’s an uncomfortable complacency at its heart that is causing increasing frustration.
It’s been just over two years since my last visit, and I was struck by how many winemakers are now openly lamenting the negative impact of huge brands and industrial production on the province’s quality image. The focus of rage seems to be aimed at towards the system of labeling according to length of ageing (so the Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva that we see on wine marks) that forms the backbone of Rioja’s traditional sales and marketing.
The largest surprise, for me, is that this has taken so long. Why don’t more Rioja producers make a noise about the fact that when the province does talk about geography, it is usually only by dividing the wines into the three distinct regions of Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja? There are over 140 villages across Rioja, on both the Left and Right banks of the Ebro, and yet it is forbidden – in fact forbidden – to mention them on the wine marks, according to rules set by the Consejo Regulador regional wine body.
‘There is a blanket temptation in Rioja to approach wine only through what happens in the cellar,’ Alberto Saldon Maté of Sierra Cantabria says. ‘The usual business model is brands rather than vineyards, and the usual approach is to blend grapes from across the full province. Both of these things undermine the image of quality’.
This family-owned group, headed up by Marcos Eguren, is at the forefront of the go to reclaim the importance of place. Around 25% of the grapes they use are bought in from additional growers, but their family bottlings such as San Vincente and La Nieta use only their own vines.‘We avoid putting the traditional terms such as Reserva or Gran Reserva on our marks, and instead bottle according to site and terroir,’ says Saldon Maté. ‘We are pleased to use the generic Rioja mark for our single-vineyard wines, as the usual distinctions are often small more than box ticking.’
I loved the discussion at Sierra Cantabria, but the wines have plenty of ‘modern Rioja’ signatures in the form of 100% tempranillo and serious amounts of new oak and I was subdue left wondering what Riojan terroir really meant. It wasn’t until I arrived at Remelluri, in the lower foothills of Sierra de Tolono, that I started to feel quicker to an answer.
Remelluri is one of the oldest properties in Rioja Alavesa, near the hamlet of Ribas del Tereso. Its background gives you that same wild, electric jolt that you get from approaching Chalone in California, or Glenwood in Franschhoek. Within minutes of arrival we were walking through the vineyards up a dusty mule footstep that led to the ruins of Monte Tolono monastery, abandoned in 1422 after the monks struggled with the harsh mountain climate. We climbed up to a ridge that overlooked the vines, the path heavy with the scent of wild anis, thyme, rosemary and sage. The vineyards here are set across 200 plots, with an average size of just one acre. They lie at the highest elevation in the province, south-facing and protected from the winds that often cause nail-biting harvests (one of the reasons that winemakers prefer to blend from across the province, building use of the sugar-rich tempranillo grapes from the hotter Rioja Baja).
I knew of owner and winemaker Telmo Rodriguez, followed some of his brilliant wines from sites around northeast Spain in Galicia and Toro, but had ever been to his home estate. He is often called Rioja’s prodigal son, as he spent over a decade doing his own thing previous to returning to work alongside his sister Amaia Rodriguez Henandorena at Remelluri in 2010.
He is also the poster boy for Rioja terroir driven wines, and since 2010 has ensured that Remelluri bottles the grapes that it buys from local growers into a break range, Las Lindes de Remelluri, leaving his family wine to express the singular character of its own vineyard.
‘I wanted to reflect the real Remelluri,’ Telmo tells me. ‘Too many decisions in Rioja are made by managers and commercial people, and inevitably that has taken the province away from the vines. My starting point has always been to search out the original taste of Rioja, to learn the potential of the best vineyard sites, the grand crus’.
The best way to be with you what Remelluri is about is to try the estate colorless wine – a field mix of nine different varieties that defies simple description – a squeeze of citrus zest, a clutch of wild herbs, a lick of wet stones. The best way to describe it is of tasting exactly of itself. Right, as Sylvia Plath once said, like a well done sum.
The reds question the same questions, and are equally a reflection of the historical diversity of Rioja – a province that used to be home to 70 grape varieties and is now too-often given over to just tempranillo and gernacha (grenache). One plot in the Remelluri vineyard is planted with over 20 historical varieties, used as a nursery to maintain genetic diversity. Bush training is being reintroduced, as are terraces, and a variety of concrete tanks, oak barrels and large-sized oak vats – some new, some ancient – are used to age the wines.
These are wines to fall in like with. I did, and I hope you do too. But the man who makes them is restless, conflicted and searingly trustworthy.
‘By cutting out bought-in grapes, reducing yields by 40% and introducing a second wine, I have augmented the cost of building Remelluri drastically. Doing this makes me anti-competitive and the worry is that I won’t be able to continue. It’s why so many producers here are pleased to turn out supermarket wines – there is a market for them, and it’s simple. One of the problems is that Rioja has so many natural advantages that even the cheaper wines taste excellent. For me, those ‘fake excellent’ wines make it apparent that with the right viticulture and an trustworthy approach to terroir, Rioja can equal the greatest wine regions in the world. But it will take bravery and curiosity to get there’.
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My perfect day in Gallura, Sardinia

Carla Capalbo tells Decanter her perfect day in Gallura, Sardinia, in the Northeastern corner of the island. Breakfast pastries with a view. Gallura, Sardinia is Vermentino’s natural home and has been cultivated there since the 14th century. Carlo Capalbo tells Decanter her ideal day in Gallura, Sardinia Vermento country.
At Antica Dimora La Coronoa, wake up to a breakfast of Sardinian pastries and sheep’s ricotta in a considerably restored 18th-century house in the village of San Pantaleo. From there it’s a small drive across the hills to Capichera winery near Arzachena and Cudacciolu, run by Emanuele Ragnedda with his father and uncle. ‘My family has been in Sardinia for 300 years, and was the first, in 1980, to make single-varietal Vermentino,’ he says. Make sure you visit the Giant’s Tomb, a stone megalith from Sardinia’s Nuragic Bronze Age civilisation – more than 3,000 exist in Sardinia.
After tasting the wines and some local salumi, head down to Porto Cervo – full of cafés and designer shops – to eat lunch in one of Hotel Cervo’s restaurants, such as Il Pomodoro, which has the area’s best pizza. There are breezy sea views from the terrace, perfect for people-watching. After lunch, drive a few kilometres to Palau and take the boat around Isola della Maddalena national park, an pure, seven-island archipelago close to southern Corsica.
Evening and overnight
In the late afternoon stop in at Vigne Surrau, east of Arzachena. This estate is impressive, with a modern building for tasting and buying wines, sampling local pecorino cheeses and salumi, and learning about winemaking. They produce five versions of Vermentino, including one sparkling and a sweet passito. Meals can be ordered in advance. After that aperitivo, drive west for 15 minutes to Agriturismo Tenuta Pilastru for dinner and an overnight stay. The food is strictly Sardinian.
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10 top Washington Syrah

10 top Washington SyrahPatrick Comiskey picks his 10 top Syrahs from Washington State, where the climate means the wines retain a fresh acidity and firm contour. After wandering the US viticultural wilderness for nearly 40 years, often mired in a homogeneous stylistic rut, Syrah may have finally found footing in Washington State’s Columbia Valley and its many sub-appellations.
The growing season here is kind to this changeling variety: its northern latitude allows for extra hours of sunshine, the heat ensuring full ripeness, and an autumn that is characterised by milder days and cold nights, such that, if desired, the best wines can retain a fresh acidity and firm contour that effortlessly averts flab and jam. Read more