Fine Franschhoek fare

The quality of many of its wines means that Franschhoek  is certainly not just a pretty face (a perhaps rather over-made-up pretty face, one might think, strolling down the touristy and occasionally kitschy main street). The time is long past when people could sneer about the best Franschhoek wines being made from grapes brought in from elsewhere.

The Vignerons de Franschhoek (which unfortunately still sees fit to include a few wineries from Simonsberg-Paarl, which doesn’t help to focus on its own qualities) put on a thoughtful media tasting earlier this week. Each winery could put forward two wines, and a selection for presentation was then made by an independent panel – who surely made, as panels usually do, some significant mistakes of inclusion and exclusion.

The group I most enjoyed were the semillons, and I shall write about them separately, but there was a lot of other good stuff, especially amongst the whites. Topiary is a newish Franschhoek producer, and I remember being unimpressed by their wines a few years back. But I must try them all again, given how very good is winemaker Chris Albrecht’s Topiary Blanc de Blancs Brut MCC 2008, made from chardonnay. It actually seems more advanced than a 2008, with some interesting development on the lovely, lingering appley flavours. There a bit of sugar, and it only just squeezes into the Brut category, but the sweetness is not obvious at all – mostly it just adds to the light richness. I’d venture a 17/20 score for it and suggest that at R85 it’s a good buy.

There were five chardonnays, including one from outside Franschhoek. Of the four home ones, the Grande Provence and the Môreson Premium were adequate and nice enough in a modern, fruit-forward style  – the former a touch oaky, the latter with some sweetness pointing up the fruitiness. I liked the Glenwood Vigneron’s Selection rather more. It carries its oak very well, and has a good fresh acidity and the ripe, citrusy flavours are not too overt, and there’s a tantalising mineral element (16.5/20). These are all 2009s, and priced around R130 (which doesn’t seem cheap to me).

Also 2009 but rather more expensive at R200 – and perhaps better value in terms of a quality/price ratio – is the Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2009.  Chamonix’s chardonnays have long had an excellent reputation, and this has only grown since Gottfried Mocke took over in 2001. This wine is still very closed, still rather oaky, but already there is an exciting complexity starting to muscle its way in; it’s fairly rich, and intense and vibrant, mineral and elegant. Not to be thought of in connection with a corkscrew for at least 3 or 4 years, I’d suggest, otherwise you’re wasting your money.

The same conclusion applies to the Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2009. There’s purity here, though none of the simple aromatic charm that can seduce with a young pinot, but elements of earth and cherry and a faraway hint of raspberry. The structure is rather more about savoury acid than tannin, with the latter present, but discreet as  it should be, I think, even in young pinot.  17.5/20.

The shirazes on show were generally disappointing, and I wondered why La Motte wasn’t here with its fine examples.  Haut Espoir Shiraz 2006 was very ripe, a little pawpawish, with a vague sort of charm, but too sweet.  Dieu Donné Cross Collection Shiraz/Viognier 2008 was in not dissimilar mode, less sugary but also very ripe and markedly lacking freshness; heavy extraction and plentiful added acid are not compensations – rather the opposite. At  R210 it’s somewhat ambitiously priced, I’d suggest.

Rather better was  La Bri Shiraz Viognier 2007, which didn’t show its 15% alc, and offered some good varietal notes, and a soft but decent balance, with big ripe tannins and some quite well integrated toasty oak – and the viognier component also very subtle. You could buy two bottles of this for the price of the Dieu Donné, and perhaps you should. (16/20).

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which is probably the best-performing red wine over the years in the Platter Guide, with more 5 star ratings than any other, showed predictably well. Though it does seem to me that this wine is getting rather fruitier and more ‘modern’ by the year.  There’s certainly a lovely fresh, sweet fruitiness on it, and some elegance too. 17/20.

The tasting finished with the happily eccentric Solms Delta Gemoedsrus 2009, the port-style wine made from desiccated shiraz fortified with grappa prepared from the husks of those grapes. Dusty, ripe, spicy, herby notes;  sweetish, rather coarse, but very attractive and interesting. 16.5/20; R190.


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