KWV Mentors reds: a difference in taste

It was the red wines that proved most interesting to discuss in my recent tasting of KWV Mentors wines (the white wines were covered in my previous posting). Tasting with me at KWV’s Paarl HQ were former chief winemaker Richard Rowe (still something of a KWV supremo in various ways), the newly-appointed incumbent of that position, Johan Fourie, and another of the winemaking team, Izelle von Blerk.

kwv-logoA very clear KWV aesthetic emerged, one that I largely diverged from – although it was perhaps noticeable that I rated wines I didn’t personally much care for rather higher than the KWV team did. (To some extent, I genuinely believe that this is a lesson learnt from tasting sighted for the Platter guide, where the practice of sighted tastings means that a taster trying to be honest will sometimes bend over backwards to recognise the quality of a wine that is not to his or her personal taste. Believe it or not – I realise that many people will not believe it!)

In some ways the most interesting example in the line-up was Sadie Family Columella (Richard Rowe, who organised the blind tasting, brought in a few non-Mentors wines).  Although I feel the wine suffered from being a comparatively delicate wine placed between massive wines which inevitably meant that it seemed even lighter than it was, it was unquestionably the wine I personally enjoyed most in terms of drinkability – if not in terms of sheer blockbuster impressiveness. My score was the highest. Perhaps the KWV team should note the discrepancy between their own comparative disdain for the wine and the unstinting international praise for it (in blind as well as sighted tastings).

In terms of score the KWV Abraham Perold Insignis 2011 fared best overall. This is a shiraz, mostly from the Op de Berg vineyard on the top of Paarl Mountain – the vineyard that gave the previous Perold wine that went by the vineyard name. The last of those was, I believe, the 2006. This 2011 is a much, much better wine than any of those over-showy, American-oaked, lush, sweet wines ever were. When I noted the results of the SA Shiraz Challenge recently, I named this as one of my “best” wines, saying that it wasn’t really to my own taste – same again this time.

Clearly, at present KWV’s preference for its red-wine profile aligns with the dominant American-Australian taste for big, showy, ultra-ripe and heavily oaked wines. But this might be changing, along with (I personally hope) international (and local) preferences. Richard Rowe at least seemed to agree with me about some excessive alcohols in some of the wines – KWV now has a reverse osmosis plant, and I think that very big alcohols on Mentors reds will be a thing of the past. I’d prefer them to deal with the problem in other ways – particularly through vineyard management, and also through earlier picking, but still.

Another thing that the KWV team have to grapple with, as with some of the whites, is the attitude to expressing origin rather than some idea they have of quality, especially as international buyers at this price-level seem (I hope!) increasingly interested in terroir expression.


KWVpetitverdotTHE WINES

Raka Cabernet Franc 2009. Strangely advanced colour. Slightly sullen, leafy nose. A bit sour, though enough concentration. Clearly suffers from over-oaking – good fruit spoilt. But pretty simple.  15/20 (Average: 15.2) [This wine scored 5 stars in the Platter blind 5-star tasting for the 2013 guide; I didn’t take part in that tasting and also rather disliked the wine when tasting it soon thereafter. Let it not be said that I agree with all Platter scores!]

Mentors Cabernet Franc 2010 (WO Coastal)  Better colour than the above, still youthful. Still very oaky, but the fruit shines through. Ripe, but with hints of herbal character. Nice fruit somewhat submerged by slightly bitter oak. Extracted, with a powerful, muscly finish, a bit hot and sweet from heavy alcohol. Too oaky, too powerful, not enough elegance. But undeniably impressive. 16/20

Mentors Petit Verdot 2011  (WO Coastal) Some forward fruit on nose, oak largely supportive though its presence clear. Rich, plummy, juicy. Supple, generous wine, lovely density of fruit. Oak still a touch excessive, but this better balanced than the Franc, finishing with nice sweet fruit – but fruit not sugar sweetness. 17/20 (Average: 17.5)

Mentors Shiraz 2011 (WO Coastal) Spicy nose. Ripe oaky palate, but some charming fruit surviving. Finish hot from alcohol. More refinement than extraction, but quite oaky-fruity – defiantly modern styling. Power. Very dry-tannic finish plus sweet fruit. 16 (Average 17)

Perold Insignis Shiraz 2011  (Coastal) More emphasis on fruit purity than previous wine, on both nose and palate. More fruity charm, and even a little finesse. Powerful, but it’s the fruit that impresses, not oak or alcohol. 17.5 (Average 17.4)

Sadie Family Columella 2010 Lovely nose, some pure fruit, just a suggestion of supportive, lighter oaking. Perfumey character (perhaps some stems used). Juicy; fine tannin structure, well balanced with acid and fruit. Elegant. Subtle tannins but quite forceful. Welcome dry finish. Very drinkable. 17 (Average 16.1) [Going back to the wine later, I recovered the strength of my own convictions and raised my score by one point – as I did to the next wine]

2011 Abraham Perold Tributum  2011 (A Cape Blend) Black-fruited and oaky style. A bit thick, ripe and powerful with a hot finish suggesting big alcohol. Serious tannins need time; but probably enough fruit for this. But chunky, with a sweetness on the  finish. 16/20 [Reconsidering, I realised I’d penalised the wine for its pinotage component, which was probably unfair, and underestimated its quality of its type.]

KWV Mentors (and a few others): 1 – the whites

An interesting tasting earlier this week at KWV headquarters in Paarl. KWV! – I guess they’re  still, like the rest of us, grappling with the still-powerful image of the monolithic powerhouse of 20th-century Cape wine. The classic remark for me in this regard was Michael Fridjhon’s when he compared the days of KWV’s power and glory, when it was more or less the winelands outpost of state and government power, and its diminishment after the collapse of the apartheid regime. Now, said Fridjhon, KWV is just one hustler among all the rest, trying to sell its wine.

kwv-logoIndeed. And it took KWV much longer than, say, Distell to shrug off the past and adopt modern winemaking and modern wine-marketing approaches. And, interestingly, just as Distell brought in Linley Schultz from Australia to bring the winemaking up to speed (and perhaps even more significantly, the Romanian Razvan Macici to revolutionise Nederburg), so did KWV (eventually) bring in another Australian, Richard Rowe, to do the trick.

To continue the parallel – I don’t think that KWV has reached Nederburg’s level of quality yet, but the transformation is well under way, and the flagship Mentors range (the focus of my tasting) is pretty good, on the whole. Anxious to prove this in a hurry, KWV has entered Mentors wines in a vast number of competitions, local and international, and has done well in them, on average).


Johann Fourie

The recently appointed chief winemaker, Johann Fourie, and Rowe himself (who handed over to the local man, and is now consultant and brand ambassador, and clearly still hugely significant) – they are clear that the Mentors range is still something of a work in progress, however. And they are confident that quality is still improving – and it clearly has made great headway since the establishment of the range with some 2006 wines. There are still stylistic issues being debated and considered, and also the question of how much they’re aiming at quality per se and how much at the expression of terroir – at present, it is clear that they are, reasonably enough, playing with both concepts.

Richard Rowe arranged the tasting for my visit, and also present were Johan Fourie and winemaker Lizelle van Blerk. We tasted (before a bonus of some gorgeous old KWV fortifieds) 13 table wines, including many of the current-release Mentors as well as some local standards and one furriner. We tasted them blind (apart from Richard, of course, who’d planned the event), knowing just the varietal make-up and the vintage. In my notes below, I give my own scores, and then in brackets the average score of the group of four.

I will deal here with just the white wines; later I will report on the reds – which actually brought out a much greater degree of difference in the tasters’ stylistic preferences (mostly me versus the KWV team!) than the whites did.

Mentors sauvignonMentors Sauvignon Blanc Darling 2012 Subtle nose, fairly ripe, with a green edge. Decent length. Perfumed element. Nice touch of blackcurrant, which is my favourite character in sauvignon (it’s pretty rare here). Attractive fruit purity. 17/20 (Average 17.4)

Jordan 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Suggestion of oak on nose. This subdues obvious fruitiness, but adds complexity. Lively, but more magisterial than the Mentors. A phenolic element shows on finish. 16.5/20 (Average 16.6) [Both Richard and I suspected an oak influence, but I don’t think any was used!]

Mentors Chardonnay Stellenbosch 2012 [From Bottelary] Ripe, but could be more touch more vibrant. Power but less finesse. Acid a little harsh on finish. 16/20 (Average 15.9)

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2012 Forthcoming, notably oaked nose, along with citrus. Lime. Perfume. A little sweet on the palate, but oak a bit less noticeable. Nice freshness, but in broader style, a little congested. Power fairly well controlled, decent length. Going back to it, it was even more impressive. 17/20 (Average 16.4) [The revelation of this wine was something of a shock to me, as I’ve associated Ataraxia with a much racier, more restrained, less showy style than this. I didn’t really much enjoy this wine, but thought it necessary to reward the obvious quality, regardless of stylistic preference.]

Mentors Chardonnay Elgin 2012 Much shyer nose than the previous; rather more elegant, with nice limey fruit, well balanced, but not very expressive. Improved after time in glass, however. Very decent. 16/20 (Average 16.6) [The KWV team noted afterwards that the track record of this label – not available to tasters doing it blind, of course – showed that wine from this source needs a few years to start showing its best.]

William Fevre Chablis 2011 Lighter than other chards, with elegance but also a touch insipid; nice lightness, but not much concentration. 15 (Average 16.2) [A classic case of me, especially, falling into the trap of under-appreciating the subtlest wine in a blind-tasted line-up. Tasting it later, more slowly, and looking out for quietly-expressed charms, I appreciated this wine much more and would have raised my score to 17.]