From the occasionally lunatic soul (and the soil)

The trade tasting of David and Jeanette Clarke’s Ex Animo portfolio was held, to the accompaniment of delicious and interesting snacks, at Open Door in Constantia earlier this week. A fine collection of wines there were. Mostly, I suppose, of the genre that the eminent Michael Fridjhon would describe as of the “lunatic fringe” – his summary of the offerings of the Zoo Biscuits producer group at Cape Wine (wines of the Alheits, David Sadie and others presently exciting the international wine community). And well, yes, there was not a single Cape Dutch Stellenbosch mansion or ageing rich proprietor in the background.

Julien Schaal’s chardonnays, however, were respectably conventional and good, showing quite a bit of oak and ripeness, especially the Evidence. Restless River’s 2013 Chardonnay, I’m afraid, does teeter towards slightly eccentric brilliance (excellent wine), and the Thorne & Daughters Zoetrope 2014 topples right over. I tried the latter straight after the Schaals, expecting it to be reduced to insignificance by the conjunction, but no. At its release I said of the Zoetrope that “It’s unlikely that many people have ever had a chardonnay of this airy, quiet, elegant lightness, though there’s also delicate power and succulence.” Since then it’s gained more presence and is more than a match in any respect for the sane centre. And I like it more.

I was pleased to learn at this tasting that Mick and Jeanine Craven of sane Stellenbosch (the former an Australian, like distributor David Clarke, but nonetheless very pleasant, the later a charming local – both with serious, non-lunatic jobs, at Mulderbosch and Dornier respectively) have decided to abandon their experimental, fully skin contact Clairette Blanche, in favour of the better balanced blend of this with “normally” vinified grapes. The 2015 not yet released, but do keep an eager eye open for it if you want something deliciously different, unpretentious and satisfying with your supper.

Perforce, for space and exhaustion reasons, I must pass over wines that I intend to talk about some other time, or didn’t taste here because I’d recently tried them for Platter, or for some other reason rather than their quality. There was not a single dud at this trade tasting. In brackets, as it were, let me mention that Stompie Meyer is making even more wines, for himself (JH Meyer Signature) and others (Mount Abora, not in this portfolio), than I realised. The typical Swartland red blend he’s making in his new Force Majeure range is a really nice wine at, I should think, generally under R100.

And I can’t omit to mention the maiden own-label offering of Jocelyn Hogan Wilson, the Hogan Chenin 2014. If you think you know about Swartland chenin, you’ll love it; if you don’t, you will love it. Jocelyn is going for a serious price (this should retail over R200), but it is really worth it; as a debut punch it reminds me of the first Cartology. There’s also a fine 2015 Hogan red blend of cab, cinsaut and carignan to come, of which much more anon.

But – and of these wines I will certainly talk more, once they are bottled and released – let me finish by mentioning Testalonga, the organically farmed, naturally made wines of Craig Hawkins and his partner in wine and life, Carla. In the past I’ve had moments of enthusiasm and, I confess, depression with Craig’s Lammershoek and Testalonga wines. I bought them, and then ceased buying them, despite some continued highlights. Craig and Carla are no longer with Lammershoek, and are concentrating on their own brand. This trade tasting offered unbottled samples of eleven 2015 wines (and given Craig’s winemaking, you can be sure that they will go into bottles essentially untampered with). OK, it is a great vintage, but there’s also evidence of a new focus, and perhaps a new confidence, and a new serenity. As they’re not available yet, there’s little point in saying more than that they are immensely promising; and I will report more later.

Viva the lunatic fringe, viva!

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