Jocelyn Hogan’s fine wines

I greatly enjoy the style of Jocelyn Hogan Wilson’s wines. Well, so far – including those that are just released, there have only been three vintages of the Hogan Chenin Blanc, and two of the Divergent blend of cab, cinsaut and carignan. She promises two new wines with the 2018 vintage – but didn’t offer any more detail than that and I wasn’t pushing. But that will be that, she says, four wines is all she wants to make.

As to the style – well, it seems to me to lie very happily within the established new wave (fresh, with hands-off winemaking aiming to express origins and vintage), but with a firm, classic focus on balanced vinosity and drinkability, and not notably early-picked. To use some established lofty reference points, more Eben Sadie than Craig Hawkins. It was interesting earlier this week to taste them at an Ex Animo trade tasting in Cape Town alongside the admirable and equally care-driven offerings of John Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters. The latter are lower in alcohol, higher in apparent acidity – in that way a little more aggressively hipster and in line with the overt characteristics of the “natural” movement.

Incidentally, the Hogan wines are also significantly more expensive, but Jocelyn is clearly pleased with her original decision (which wasn’t by any means easily made) to pitch her wines at a relatively high price level, and sales have gone well. The current Chenin should retail at about R320 (if retailers modestly add only 30% onto the trade price), and Divergent about R370.

Interestingly, the latest releases, from 2016, are perhaps more intense, and in that way more impressive, than the 2015s, without any loss of elegance. I say interestingly because there has been so much (justified) positive comment on the 2015 vintage that it threatened to prematurely overshadow the 2016s. This was especially true for dryland vineyards (notably the Swartland), not that Hogan wines are that – but in fact it’s becoming clear that the 2016s are much better balanced than some winemakers feared (sadly, the corresponding truth is that some 2017s from warmer areas, a few months after harvest and having gone through malolactic fermentation, are not as pleasing as originally hoped – though obviously it’s too soon to make generalisations).

The Hogan Chenin 2016 has, then, good fruit concentration, with some ripe tangerine-ish notes, and a lovely core of sweet fruit within the total dry affect. A good fresh natural acidity, and a most pleasing texture. Both delicate and confidently emphatic.

To my embarrassment, when I not long since organised a tasting of the burgeoning category of blends of cinsaut with Bordeaux varieties, I forgot about Hogan Divergent. Perhaps subliminally because most producers of such blends stress the older-Cape heritage, while Jocelyn refers explicitly to the inspiration of the late Lebanese winemaker Serge Hochar and his famous Chateau Musar. Not being an unequivocal fan of Musar, I rather prefer, as I’ve no doubt said before, the Hogan version of this blend: it’s undoubtedly fresher, cleaner and more charming in youth, though whether it’ll improve for many decades as some of the Musars do, is yet to be seen.

But in fact I did have something of a disagreement with Jocelyn over the approachability of her Divergent 2016. I find it still tight, and even a touch raw, and would certainly like to leave it a good few years before trying it with hope of complete pleasure – while she finds it (also) fully enjoyable now. That said, I much appreciated the wine. The aromas don’t suggest cab, rather the floral, red-fruited, cherry notes of the other components. But the grandeur of cab’s structure has more influence on the intensely full-fruited palate, with some serious tannic grip, along with carignan’s freshness.

A fine homage (or challenge) to Musar.

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