Having your mind – and tastebuds – stretched is always a good idea. And those of the Cape Winemakers Guild members (and of me as a guest) were nicely stretched last night, when Adi Badenhorst put on an amazing tasting of 14 wines from the Jura at his Paardeberg farm, Kalmoesfontein. Jura is not the best known of French wine regions, but is certainly one of the most idiosyncratic. Andrew Jefford in his book on The New France says that “it remains well outside the stockade of the conventional and the fashionable. Tradition is never more improbable, nor convention unconventional, than here among the yellow whites and coral reds”.
Just the sort of place to appeal to Adi – who’s already himself experimented very pleasingly (his rare but delicious Funky White, for example) with wine matured under a thin layer of yeast (only somewhat like sherry), which is how the Jura’s best-known wines are made. I suspect, though, that at least some of the more conventional CWG members did not find the more oxidative, unfruity and arguably downright weird wines anything other than an incomprehensible challenge to their taste. I must say that I love the stuff, and it was an enormous privilege to sample by far the largest number of Jura wines that has ever crossed my palate.
Waiting on the stoep, we started with rather good lightly sparkling Crémant du Jura, served in typical Adi contrary fashion, from wide, Marie-Antoinette-breast champagne glasses. I think I last drank from one of those at some wedding 30 years ago – no doubt filled with Grand Mousseux. But the late afternoon views across the Swartland to the mountains made up for quickly disappearing bubbles….
I’m not going to describe the wines, but I must say that the first one was a surprise to me – a classic, precise and delicate chardonnay from Domaine du Pelican. There’s lots of chardonnay in the Jura, apparently, but the real white star is the brilliantly acidic grape called savagnin, which is what’s used for the most characteristic (though certainly not most common) wine of the region – Vin Jaune. Basically, normally, this wine is matured in casks which are ignored (not topped up at all, usually) for something over 6 years to develop its remarkable flavours.
Adi gave us quite a range of styles of Vin Jaune – with the climax coming, as it should with a beautiful example from the tiny sub-appellation of Château-Chalon, from Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet, the Vin de Garde 2007. Still in its infancy, with its long potential future cruelly cut off here so far south of its birthplace, it was softly chalky beneath the piercing acidity, the aldehydic rather than oxidative characters all in poised harmony, alert and lively, and a finish that went on for ever.
It added a little piquancy to the event, by the way, that the wines were poured by Adi’s near-neighbour on the Paardeberg, Eben Sadie (with the help of his two sons, Markus and Xander, both learners at the nearby agricultural school). Here he is pouring for Coenie Snyman. And he took the photo of all the bottles.
We finished (that is, before the wines with dinner, itself a pretty splendid affair catered by Adi’s mom, Judy Badenhorst – surely one of the Cape’s best cooks) with four light, fresh red wines: two each from trousseau and poulsard grapes. Nice stuff too.
I’d love to know how these grapes – especially acid-hoarding savagin – would perform in the Cape.
Incidentally, it was a pleasure to have five of the CWG protégés there, enjoying this extraordinary opportunity. In the photo, interrupted while enjoying their dessert, they are, from left to right: Mahalia Matshete, Sydney Mello, Clayton Christians, Maryna Huysamen and Banele Vakele. I hope their imaginations and ambitions were fired, while their minds and tastebuds were being stretched.