South Africa Emerges

It’s almost 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and South Africa began to emerge from the bleak days of apartheid. Many things have changed since then, not least their wine industry, which was in a sorry state. By contrast, today, that country is producing some really high quality bottles.

So, I was particularly pleased when the Bristol Tasting Circle invited Duncan Pilbeam, from the historic Babylonstoren Estate north of Stellenbosch, to talk to us and show us some of the estate’s wines.

We began with Sprankel (£31.99), a soft, fresh traditional-method sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grown at altitude. More than 4 years on its lees gave it a savoury, biscuity character.

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A quartet of whites followed – a Chenin Blanc, a Viognier and a ‘farm blend’, all well-made and pleasant easy drinking, but, for me, the standout white was the Chardonnay (£19.99). Almost Burgundian in nature with well-judged, subtle oak and lovely rounded tropical fruit flavours; this would be even better with food – something rich and creamy making a perfect partner.

I expected the reds to be better than the whites and so it proved. The Cabernet Sauvignon (£15.99) had a pure eucalyptus nose and rich black fruits on the palate while the Shiraz (£16.99) was a chunky mouthful with an attractive smoky edge. Both were food wines and both would improve for a further couple of years in bottle at least.

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The evening’s final wine, the Estate’s flagship, Nebukadnesar (£27.99), is a blend of the 5 main Bordeaux grapes, aged in new French oak barrels for 2 years. This is a big wine that, again, is still very young – even decanted 3 hours before tasting, the tannins were still really prominent. Like so much in South Africa, it’s a wine for the future, but you will need to be patient.

For more information about any of the wines mentioned or to buy, contact the Wine Shop at Winscombe (www.thewinetastingco.com)

Round Italy in 10 Wines

How do you choose just 10 wines to represent Italy – a country that produces almost ⅕ of the world’s wine each year? That was the problem facing Graeme Ewins of Great Western Wine who hosted a recent meeting of the Bristol Tasting Circle. His solution? Avoid the obvious like Chianti and Barolo and focus on producers who are creating something interesting and distinctive.

That is certainly true of Roberto Anselmi from the Veneto region.

20200210_193121His deliciously rich, medium-sweet I Capitelli (£25 per half bottle) was a bold start to the tasting with its intense flavours of orange, peach and honey from the often bland Garganega grape (think Soave).

Next came Lambrusco, that (justifiably) much-maligned lightly sparkling red.

20200210_194005But Sassomoro (£14.95) is quite different with its refreshing bitter cherry and blackberry fruit, this would perfectly cut through any fattiness in a plate of dried or cured meats, which just happen to be a speciality of the region of its production.

My favourite wine of the evening was Antonio Caggiano’s Bechar,

20200210_200337a lovely crisp, fresh, slightly smoky Fiano di Avellino (£18.95) from the hills inland of Naples. Good to drink on its own but even better as a food wine – a creamy risotto springs easily to mind.

Among the reds was an incredible bargain:

20200210_202526Palladino’s Biferno Riserva from the east coast (£9.50) is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico giving a wonderfully quaffable wine full of smooth, jammy black fruits. Not greatly complex but oh so drinkable.

Rather more serious was the final red, Varvaglione’s Primitivo di Manduria (£22.50).

20200210_205217A big mouth-filling wine in every way (14.5% alcohol) but with the blackberry fruit and spicy, smoky oak all in complete harmony. A wine for full-flavoured robust winter dishes – a game casserole, perhaps?

So ended a fascinating trip round the wines of a country full of delicious surprises. Special thanks go to our guide, Graeme, for pointing us towards bottles that, before this evening, many of us would have ignored.

Carmenère – the Clear Winner!

2017-11-13 18.25.40In the minds of many who enjoy a glass of wine, Chile is the place to look for something fresh, fruity, easy-drinking and not too expensive – the sort of wines the Australians used to call ‘sunshine in a glass’.  But that’s only part of the story: Chile is full of ambitious young winemakers eager to break away from the ‘cheap and cheerful’  tag and experiment with something more interesting that will appeal to those prepared to pay a little more. 

Typical of this trend is the Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon I blogged about earlier this year but, for a much wider selection, I joined  a tasting organised by the Bristol Tasting Circle recently and supported by ‘Wines of Chile’.  Committee member and wine educator, Tim Johnson’s choice included wines from all the main international grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir.  A particularly nice example of the latter (Falernia’s Reserva from the Elqui Valley, £14.95 from Great Western Wine) got my top mark of the evening.  

Among the less well-known was Huaso de Sauzal’s País (also Great Western Wine, £22.95).  País was brought to South America by the Spanish in the 16th century and, after decades, even centuries, of neglect, has recently attracted the attention of a number of winemakers who are coaxing lovely red and black fruit flavours out of this formerly unloved variety.

These days, no tasting of Chilean wines could be complete with examples of Chile’s ‘own’ grape, Carmenère.  Once thought to be Merlot, it has been embraced enthusiastically since the error was discovered in the closing years of last century and, appropriately, provided the overall joint winners of the evening from Santa Ema (Tanners, £12.80) and Los Vascos’ Grande Reserve (Slurp, £13.95).

So, sunshine in a glass?  Yes!  But a whole lot more, too!

If you would like to join the Bristol Tasting Circle and enjoy tastings like this, please leave your details in the comment box below and I will pass them onto the membership secretary.