I recently did it – but I confess that to accomplish complete verticals of the whole range of Jocelyn Hogan’s wines is not a massive undertaking. It meant five wines: the Chenin Blanc from 2014, 2015 and 2016, and the Divergent red blend (cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut, carignan) from 2016 and 2016. Jocelyn sent them to me, correctly thinking that I’d like to taste them together, but she also delivered a challenge.
The challenge – accompanied by a winky emoticon – arose from when I tasted her newly released 2016s a few months back. As I said in my report on the wines, we had something of a disagreement over the approachability of her Divergent 2016. I found 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 was a remark in the context of much appreciation. I had also said to Jocelyn, to amplify my conclusion, that I would have trouble finishing off a whole bottle in an evening.
So that was why she said, when she sent me all the wines: “In particular, I challenge you to finish a bottle of the Divergent 2016 – now ;)”
I’ll report on all that shortly, but first I want to exercise some self-indulgence and say more of what Jocelyn wrote to me in that email. She said, to my surprise and enormous gratification:
I have been following Grape Magazine (and now the online version since my varsity days) and remember what a treat it was to pick up a newly released Grape Magazine. How I miss print….
I attached a photo of a quote of yours that I wrote in the front of my 2003 Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book in my final year of BSc Viticulture & Oenology in 2004. I have always found your quote to be so inspiring in terms of the style of wine I aim to make.
The quote went like this:
The wine that will never be described as a “Parker wine” is a wine of bright medium hue, crystal translucence in the glass, of restrained but complex, fresh and vibrant aroma, with the flavour of perfectly ripe but not over-ripe grapes, with enough mouthfeel but, more importantly, with great length and savoury finish. This is the definition of English claret style which has established Bordeaux’s unequalled reputation for producing age-worthy wine.
In fact, sadly, this rather pleasing description was not by me, but that fine Australian wine man Brian Croser, from a joint interview I did with him and the French critic Michel Bettane when they came out to judge at the Trophy Wine Show in 2004.
I should mention, for some readers, that Grape was a modest but ambitious little magazine I edited, having founded it with Cathy and Philip van Zyl in 1999, out of a sense of despair at the lack of quality and seriousness as we saw it of, especially, the then Wine Magazine. There was no colour, no gloss – and no advertising as we didn’t want any conflicts of interest. In 2004, when Jocelyn read that interview, it was largely the work of me and Cathy, Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux
Of course, Grape couldn’t and didn’t survive, and never got much of a readership. (It lingered in print into 2005, lasted online a little longer, then became a sort of joint blog, and then became – this.) But we were a bit proud of some achievements. As I said to Jocelyn, “It was a quixotic effort, and doomed, but did some little bits of good – and if it helped inspire you, then it did a lot of good.”
As to the Hogan verticals. These were the notes I made.
- Chenin Blanc 2014. The quietest of the aromas, with a nutty element the others didn’t have, also some pearskin notes. Bright acidity, with a bracing grip – a hint of greenness in it. Fine & rather soft texture; Elegantly unassertive, almost demure, but with a subtle intensity. No sign of any diminution – plenty of room for further ageing, I’d guess.
- Chenin Blanc 2015. Comparatively forward aromas, with dried peach and thatch, even a hint of liquorice. A little more assertive on the palate too, more intense, more lingering; also with ripe, soft and harmonious acidity. Altogether the most complete wine of the three.
- Chenin Blanc 2016. Incidentally, the label notes that 13 barrels were made, compared with 9 of the 2015 and 5 of the 2014 – so it’s clearly not just me that admires this wine. This has a riper, richer nose than the other two (being younger, the primary fruit showing a little more). The acidity at present less harmoniously integrated and perhaps rather softer in effect. Another elegant, understated wine – and this something which links these wines, which very much have a continuity.
- Divergent 2015. Some garnet in the colour. Lifted, perfumed nose (and a little shoe polish?), with spice and the red fruit you’d expect. Ripe flavours – a hint of sweetness – and texture, but still a feeling of lightness, but not without richness. Enough tannins to give form and support. Clean, fresh and bright.
- Divergent 2016. A little deeper-coloured, more ruby. Sense of deeper fruit – there’s less spicy perfume and immediate charm, more real substance. More confident somehow, without being bold. The tannic structure is bigger and bolder, though still restrained. The components are all excellent, but need a few years to meld harmoniously – there’s still some rawness on the wine and it deserves a good few years in bottle.
If you’ve reached this far, you will see that I haven’t really changed my position on the unreadiness of Divergent 2016. I think it a very good wine – too good and serious to be drinking now. I easily managed half a bottle, but didn’t feel impelled to meet Jocelyn’s challenge. In five or more years’ time I think I’ll be able to do so very happily, if I’m lucky enough to get the chance.