Big wines from Holden Manz

It’s scarcely relevant – or fair – to invoke the past, given that it’s now about seven years since Gerard Holden and Migo Manz took over Klein Genot in Franschhoek and changed its name to a combination of theirs, but I can never forget how awful I always thought Klein Genot wines were and what a good thing the change was for Franschhoek. The past is, happily, past.

Until just recently, the last Holden Manz I tasted was the Visionaire 2012, which I reported on here with enthusiasm (and severe reservations about its poor packaging). The Visionaire of the subsequent vintage, 2013, was among the six-pack of wines which I was kindly given by Holden Manz to taste a few weeks back – but unfortunately it was corked, so I can’t note anything except that the packaging remains dire and that the price has gone up from the R95 I noted for the 2012 to about R140.

Winemaker at Holden Manz now is Thierry Haberer, with something of a history of making big, ripe, bold wines in the Cape, at Anthonij Rupert, but the 2012 and two 2013 reds I’ve just tasted are in that tradition too, which surprised me, given the rather lighter-footed Visionaire 2012 – and the fact that the winemaker was Schalk Opperman, whom I now know much better from the different style of wine he’s making at Lammershoek, where he’s been for a few years now.

But let me start with lighter colours than red. The Chardonnay 2016 (R225), from Stellenbosch fruit, is pretty standard pleasant on the nose, ripe-fruited and untroubled by oak. Acid comes through in rather a whoosh on the palate however, presumably in an attempt to cope with the ripeness, and I found it rather awkward. As for the fairly insipid Rosé 2016, the best that I can say is that it’s nicely dry and that it doesn’t hang about much; probably the worst that can be said is that it costs R80.

Big G is the rather coy name (it’s apparently the nickname of Gerard Holden) of a 2012 blend of merlot and the two cabs. The label features a salient bit of an elephant. Big (and chunky) by nature too, the wine is richly ripe and a touch sweetish on the finish, but with well-adjusted acidity to balance it, well supported by oak and made more interesting and drinkable than it would otherwise have been by some pleasingly austere tannins. Very drinkable, in fact, also partly thanks to its years in bottle.

This elephantine blend seems pricey at R225, but I enjoyed it no less than the Cabernet Franc 2013 at an even pricier R595 – and perhaps a bit more. The latter wine gets 4.5 stars in Platter 2017, which shows that at least someone really liked it (and says something about discrepancies of judgement between Platter tasters). For me it’s partly a stylistic thing: this is altogether too ripe, big and sweet (even more of all those things than Big G), though there is certainly some intensity there – but rather monolithic, I found, though at least the oaking was restrained; some fragrance, but you don’t easily get varietal character with this degree of ripeness: I could more easily place Big G in the Bordeaux tradition than the Cab Franc (and don’t even mention the Loire).

I preferred the Syrah 2013, essentially because it was a significant bit less brash and big than the Cab Franc, though scarcely a shrinking violet. Again, it had the warmth and generosity of the Big G, without shifting to excessiveness, and I could happily enjoy a few glassfuls. The Syrah is also in Holden Manz’s top range, selling at around R595. Which is, really, much, much too expensive for what the wine is, which is not very special; and that’s really my bottom line judgement of all that I tasted.

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