I seem to have been so upbeat about everything recently, that’s it’s quite a relief to be a bit grumpy about some recent releases that were sent for tasting. It’s never quite clear on what basis producers choose to send out samples – in some cases I suspect that they’ve got quite a bit of a rather dubious wine and hope that some desperate or lazy editor or blogger is going to give them a bit of publicity by reproducing the tasting notes and story that they kindly send along with the wine.
But that wouldn’t be the case with these wines, all from successful and reputable producers. Take Porcupine Ridge, one of the highly successful brands owned by Boekenhoutskloof. I was very enthusiastic recently about the Wolftrap White, and wish I could be equally so about the two newest additions to the Porcupine Ridge label: Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. At this price point (hovering under R40) I’d have expected to welcome nice young fruity 2015s, but these are both from the 2014 vintage. Why has Porcupine Ridge been hanging on to them so long, I wonder. If they’ve improved over the last nearly two years, they must have been rather awful to start off with.
The Chenin struck me as offering a slightly pawpaw nose, which I found offputting. There’s an easygoing softness, very little freshness, and a slightly sour undertone on the short finish. One could easily find better chenins from most co-ops at this or lesser price. The Chardonnay shows ripe aromas, and some not very gratifying oak influence on the palate. Some varietal truth, but a bit harsh in effect, despite the soft roundness. Neither of these a patch on the Syrah and the Syrah-Viognier on which the brand was established. Sometimes brands grow beyond their capacity,driven merely by greed and a belief that the producer can do no wrong, and I wonder if that’s happening to Porcupine Ridge
Two much grander reds next, which have something in common: they’re from fashionable “Cape wine revolution” varieties – grenache and cinsaut – but are both made in a style which seems rather depressingly old-fashioned, or at least inappropriate.
I’m a great admirer of the Neil Ellis way with cabernet sauvignon, but don’t find the winery’s way with the Rhône/southern French varieties as convincing – partly because it is too often much the same way as the cab way: big, ripe and matured in quite a bit of new oak. This is true of the Vineyard Selection Cinsaut Noir 2012. I wrote in the Platter guide that the “new oak doesn’t upset the sweet fruit charm”, but tasting it again now (with Angela Lloyd, as for all these), I’m less sure of that. It seemed oaky, frankly. Perhaps I’m just a bit narrow-minded, but this very ripe, oaky, big and bold style is just not right for cinsaut. The wine costs R275, which is a lot.
Much the same could be said for the Piekenierskloof Grenache 2014 from the Piekenierskloof Wine Company. This is the new name for what was Citrusdal Winery, and the essence of the project, as I understand it, is – inspired by Charles Back who bought the winery some years ago – to produce good, even unusually ambitious and expensive Fairtrade wines, while giving farmers good prices for their grapes. (Unfortunately the website http://piekenierskloofwines.co.za is one of those particularly shallow ones, with vague atmospheric descriptions and little real information.)
If you’ve been fortunate enough to taste some of the best grenaches from this marvellous area up the West Coast – wines like Sadie’s Soldaat or the Vriesenhof and Tierhoek versions – your standards will be high, and, at R125, this Piekenierskloof Grenache 2014 is likely to disappoint. True, it has some modest but pleasant red fruit aromas – and is generally quite pleasant in fact, if dull; it seems quite ripe and extracted, lacking intensity, structure and freshness, and finishing rather sweet. The 20% new oak is not intrusive, but probably doesn’t help much.
In fact, the Piekenierskloof Chenin Blanc 2015 (R90) from the same producer is no more interesting, just as ordinary. My first impression was that it showed typical commercial yeast-derived character – and we’ve come to expect something more individual and interesting than pleasant light fruitiness from serious West Coast chenins. Pity. Let’s hope this project, which should be a very exciting one, can pick itself up.