Chenins, pinots, syrahs – and the cheaper ones win

A mixed sort of tasting with my frequent sparring partner Angela Lloyd. Mostly some newish releases, but first a Swartland presentation from David Clarke, an Australian import who’s proving himself an asset to the Cape wine culture. He’s taken on some really interesting small producers to distribute locally, and some equally interesting and rather grander – or at least more cultish – ones to distribute in Australia.

Yesterday he brought us some of the wines of Jurgen Gouws, who works with the team at Lammershoek in the Swartland, but has been making wines under his own Swartland label, Intellego, for a few years now. These have always seemed to me some of the most interesting, though often rather “difficult”, wines of the new Swartland. Jurgen’s label is “Intellego”, and there is indeed something intellectual about them.

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Jurgen Gouws with a bottle of Elementis – from www.rawfair.com

I’ll mention now his two Swartland chenins – the straight Intellego Chenin Blanc 2012 (R125) is the comparatively straightforward one, but very much in the honest, non-interventionist style that one would expect from someone happily working with Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek; with not an addition in sight, apart from some modest sulphuring at bottling time. Oxidative rather than fruity, subtle but gorgeous, with a richness balanced by a fine purity and acidity. I really liked it.

Just as convincing, but very different in character, is the single-site Elementis 2013 (R200), which scarcely alludes to Intellego on the label, in fact. This is Jurgen’s more radical white – made  in the way that only reds have been made in modern tradition at least. That is, the wine was left on its skins for three weeks. This gives a totally different range of aromas and flavours, but I think we must accept that they are authentic chenin characters, even if they are not the ones we’re used to from more orthodoxly-treated chenin. Anyway, they are intriguing and satisfying – this is a most complex and fascinating wine. It’s cleaner, perhaps, than the previous vintages of Elementis that I’ve tried; wide-ranging in its allusiveness, almost chalky-textured, dry and interesting.

When Angela and I got on to our selection of new releases, there was one wine to compare with these – the 2013 incarnation of the famous Beaumont Hope Marguerite, a chenin I admire (it’s also made with little intervention), and one which I know tends to benefit from some years in the bottle (incidentally, I’m confident that so will Jurgen Gouws’s versions, especially the Elementis).

I wondered if there might have been some botrytis on the Hope Marguerite, evidenced in the honeyed richness on the aromas. As always, it’s full and rich, with some lovely flavours – but for me it’s just too sweet for comfort this vintage. Definitely off-dry in its effect, and although there’s a good balance with a fine acidity, it’s a matter of taste – and for me it’s “no thanks, not this year”. I’d much rather drink the dry chenins of Jurgen Gouws – and find them more rewarding than at least this vintage of Hope Marguerite. Let me point out that Angela admired the wine more than I did, and found it developed well over a day or two after opening. (We also disagreed over the merits of the straight Intellego, by the way, with me liking it much more than she did).

Winters-Drift-Pinot-Noir-2013Pinot
Now the pinot noir comparison, at a lower level of excellence. To be honest, the reputation and success of Haute Cabriere always surprises me – for all their wines, certainly including pinot. The latest release is the 2010 (at a pricey R180) – and I can’t but think it was a mistake to release it so late, as it would surely have shown better a year or two back, as the tannins seem to be rather drying out the wine as the fruit fades. There is varietal character still, though it’s more savoury than fruity, despite some clear ultra-ripeness. A bit more freshness would have been welcome.

The maiden Winters Drift Pinot Noir 2013 from Elgin, at two thirds the price of the Franschhoek version from Cabriere, is more successful. More vibrant and fresh in aromas and flavours, with some nice fresh fruit, and a firm succulence, the acid and firm tannin in balance. A decent entrant in the pinot stakes.

And two Syrahs. When I tasted through the Radford Dale offerings of the Winery of Good Hope for Platter 2014, not far short of a year ago, there were two syrahs, and I preferred the Stellenbosch version to the Voor-Paardeberg version – somewhat against my prejudices. The same thing happened again with my recent retaste. The Nudity 2012 (a weird name, suggestive of the organic, “natural” approach, I suppose) I found somewhat lean and drying, while the straight Syrah 2012 (at R100 from Woolworths, R80 less than the Nudity, and a pretty good buy, I’d suggest) is better balanced, lively and fresh, with attractive berry flavours, much more generous without being excessive, and a dry lengthy finish.

Surprisingly disappointing by comparison was the La Motte Syrah 2011 (R139) – a renaming of the well-known La Motte Shiraz. Neither Angela nor I much cared for the wine – though as Angela gave it a high score and enthusiastic note in the current Platter guide (under its old name), I think we should presume it was an off bottle – though not as obviously tainted as a corked bubbly we’d tried earlier.

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