The occasion of the release of two new vintages from Thorne & Daughters was, in its modest way, one of my more exhilarating recent wine experiences. With “modest” as a key word, in fact – a favourite endearment of my own when it comes to wine, and also proudly used by John Seccombe to describe his aspirations for the wines he makes. The opposite sort of stuff from, say, a “statement” wine; the sort of wine that speaks softly but eloquently, making its intelligent point without resorting to shouting or bluster.
In a review of a marvellous, moving article by Terry Theise something over a year back, I quoted his description of how he as an introvert responds to introverted wine “I also think there are gregarious wines and also introspective wines,”, he wrote, “and I love those autonomous little beings who don’t look up when you enter the room”. I have no doubt that he would love these wines.
Make no mistake, however, delicate and modest they may be, but they are possessed of firm and confident personalities.
There are two new releases, both from 2014: the second vintage of The Rocking Horse, and the maiden vintage of a chardonnay called Zoetrope (the first bit to be pronounced like the girl’s name, the second like, well, like “trope” – if you want to know what the word means and try to work out its applicability, do some googling and try your best; I didn’t quite understand).
We tasted the wines at the launch (at the Open Door, Neil Grant’s new restaurant at Constantia Uitsig – and very handsome it looks), sandwiched between past and future (2015) vintages. I was a bit less of an admirer of the roussanne-heavy 2013 Rocking Horse than some were – I found it a touch too oxidative at the expense of freshness. The 2014 is less oxidative and fresher. The blend is rather different this time round, too, with chenin ousting roussanne from dominance; there’s chardonnay, and a bit of semillon gris that was fermented on its skins – it adds a tinge of tannin. The balance is lovely and poised, with an element of austere aloofness as though mildly reproving the 2013 for having been a little too generous. This despite the subtly beguiling, perfumed charm of the aromas. It should be around R185 retail, I think.
More remarkable in some ways is the Zoetrope – though I suspect its higher price (R245-ish) reflects its tinier quantities more than anything. It’s unlikely that many people have ever had a chardonnay of this airy, quiet, elegant lightness, though there’s also delicate power and succulence. So drinkable – I could have downed a bottle with nothing other than pleasure. I thought the chardonnay notes were distinct enough to make the variety recognisable, but I must say that the wine reminded me more of some Skurfberg chenins – especially Alheit Magnetic North.
In fact this wine (from dryland bushvines in Bot River) was made in the same Hemel-en-Aarde cellar as the Alheit. For the 2015 vintage, the Seccombes moved to rented space in the Gabrielskloof cellar, over which another sharer of the Alheit cellar now presides (as I’ve described elsewhere): Peter-Allan Finlayson. It’s a wonderful small community of excitement (modest, of course!) that is being built there, and marvels are going to be pouring from its doors – not least of them more wines from Thorne & Daughters.