I mentioned last time that I did some travelling and tasting with my friends Neil Beckett, “my” editor at World of Fine Wine, and his partner Luciana Girotto. A Saturday morning was spent firstly with Chris Mullineux, tasting through the ranges of Mullineux and Leeu Passant wines in the grand tasting room on Leeu Estates in Franschhoek. Most of the wines I knew, but was only too happy to taste again – to be reminded, for example, just how fine a blend the Mullineux 2015 Old Vines White is; even more complex and perfectly balanced, perhaps, than the two 2015 single-soil chenins we tasted, Granite and Quartz.
And I was even happier to taste the 2015 Syrah, which is about to be released. I wasn’t wild about the 2014 vintage (though I know many admired it), but the 2015, from seven syrah parcels in the Swartland, is more than back on form. It seems to me the best ever of this label, in fact – achieving a new delicacy of subtle power (with a floral element of some charm), a precision, and a harmony of held-back aloofness and generosity – it’s the precision and finely severe element that was lacking for me in the riper, softer 2014. A lovely freshness and dry finish here, as one finds on only the best local syrahs – from Swartland or Stellenbosch, but this one seems notably Swartland in its structure. With all this, it’s very drinkable now, but will reward, as they say, many years maturation in bottle. I do look forward to trying the single-soil reds from 2015; they should also be excellent.
Another yet-to-be-released wine was the undoubted star at our next stop. I wanted Neil, one of whose specialities is champagne, to visit one of the Cape’s finest bubbly producers, and fortunately Le Lude was there to hand in Franschhoek. Neil was clearly impressed. The non-vintage Brut and the Rosé are both refined, with delicate mousse and great length of subtle flavour, and you won’t easily do better from a local sparkling wine house. But the Prestige Cuvée 2012, long matured and in magnums under cork (as opposed to the usual crown cap) to be released later this year, is a real triumph. Genuinely bone dry, it will be disgorged with no dosage (that is, no added sugar): but there’s no hint of a harsh austerity, with the ripeness of sun-ripened grapes giving enough richness and fruit in the balance. Connoisseurs of bubbly (amongst whom I don’t feature, sadly) will be thrilled come September, or thereabouts….
The most stunning unreleased wine I tasted will be out sooner than that, in early June. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit Alheit Vineyards with the others – but they kindly brought back the bottle of Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2016. This is a wine that has been, since the maiden 2013, in the tiny elite of Cape chenin – a category so good that to be at the top is to be quite remarkably wonderful. And the 2016, off its ungrafted vines on a hot, high and dry hillside in the Olifants River’s Citrusdal Mountain ward, is perhaps even more splendid than its predecessors. It is utterly thrilling – even thinking about it now as I write this, the hairs on my arms bristle with excitement. Unquestionably, this is a great and profound wine. I am delighted that I have a case on order (one case was the maximum allocation), but, oh, I wish I had more! There won’t be a lot of it that makes its way onto the retail shelves, and it won’t be inexpensive (except by international standards, according to which wine of this quality is ludicrously cheap), but if you can find a bottle to buy, you won’t regret any sacrifices you might have to make to get it…
There were other really good forthcoming releases that I tried with Neil and Luciana. I could just mention the 2016 red and white Lourens Family Wines blends (also sent to me) from Franco “Poenie” Lourens, who works in the Alheit cellar and whose own wines need not blush in the illustrious company they grew up with. I will try to catch up on them again when they’re labelled and released and I can concentrate on them better. And the youthful 2017 wines tasted from barrel in Lukas van Loggerenberg’s shed-on-a-hill in Stellenbosch – if I say that they look even more exciting than the maiden 2016s, that’s saying a lot.
But I’d rather finish this report on tastings with Neil Beckett by mentioning two of the finest older wines that we drank – rather than tasted – together. Firstly, Sadie Family Mev Kirsten 2010; my only bottle, sadly. At this period, Mev Kirsten was a little funkier, a little more oxidative than it is now, and I confess I loved that older style even more than the undeniably magnificent more recent vintages. This bottle was superbly satisfying.
And then, at our last dinner in Cape Town, I opened a bottle of 1997 Welgemeend Estate Reserve – reminded of it partly by the 1988 we’d admired at Michael Fridjhon’s Old Wine Tasting the week before. That older one wasn’t yet too tired, and certainly the 1997 is in great shape. As Neil said (and I know he gets around the smarter addresses in Bordeaux quite a bit), if he’d been served a wine of this age and quality with dinner at any fine Bordeaux estate he’d have been very pleased. And though he’s a man of kindness and nearly impenetrable courtesy, I believe he meant it. He went back to London the next day very impressed, I believe, with the wines he’d had here over the previous week or two.