Tag Archives: red

Meeting the Vintners: Warwick Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Warwick's logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

Warwick’s logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

One of the first wines I picked up when I lived in Botswana six years ago was Warwick’s Three Cape Ladies, mainly because of the fabulous label, but also because it is a Cape Blend, which by law has to include 30% of Pinotage, that is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and then Shiraz or any other of the French usual suspects. I like Pinotage, and I wanted to try something unique. I liked the wine a lot back then, so when it was time to go to Stellenbosch, I put it high on my list.

Warwick Estate is a family-owned winery that was bought in 1964 by Stan Ratcliff, but the winery dates back to the 1700s. His wife Norma decided to learn how to make wines from other winemakers in the region, and initially produced only wines for friends and family. Norma became one of the first female winemakers in South Africa. Since 1981, winemaking has become more commercial and today the estate maintains about 60 ha under vine and about 110 ha in total, and produces a wide range of wines from whites to Pinotage to a flagship Bordeaux blend. The current managing director is the third generation of the Ratcliff family managing the estate. The grounds boast wide lawns around a water basin, and you can have picnics there while you taste their wines. One curio as you enter the gardens is a larger than life Nelson Mandela statue made completely from beads…

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

We met Warwick’s winemaker Nic van Aarde over lunch in the winery’s garden. We were about two hours late because we had had such a grand time with Dirk Coetzee at L’Avenir. Luckily, the chef had prepared tapas food, with most of the ingredients coming from the region. There was chicken liver pate that was to die for, and the pulled pork sandwiches were delicious as well. Even local olives were served.

Very tasty tapas

Very tasty tapas

Nic is an easy going, very likable guy. He’s quick, full of stories, loves to laugh and keeps any taster on his toes with what seemed like constant questions about how I would describe the wines. He has consulted for a while with a Mumbai-region based winery in India…I didn’t know there was winemaking in India, and his tales were amusing but also horrifying at times. Talk about an interesting fellow.

Nic’s winemaking “philosophy”, if you want to call it that, is to try to avoid overly herbaceous wines, a flavor characteristic that one can find in many South African reds. He doesn’t like softening his wines, and prefers to present them the way they come, with some edges and character. The wine he considers most in line with that philosophy is his Cabernet Franc which comes in a small batch and is only available at the winery.

Us with Nic

Us with Nic

We tried a host of Warwick’s wines and started with the 2013 Prof. Black Sauvignon blanc. The wine is named after Prof. Black, who planted a peach orchard on the premises in the 20th century, but that didn’t work out so well. Now, the area that used to be the orchard hosts Warwick’s Sauvignon blanc vines. They are among the oldest vines on the property. For this vintage, 14% Semillon joined the Sauvignon blanc, and it worked out well. The wine showed a very light yellow color, with a restrained nose of grass and citrus aromas. The palate was surprisingly expressive given the nose, with minerality, low acidity and great citrus fruits. I was very partial to this wine!

Next up were the 2013 First Lady Unoaked Chardonnay and the 2013 White Lady Chardonnay (which is oaked). The first one is made in the Chablis-style with partial spontaneous fermentation. The color was slightly golden, and the nose showed grapefruit, lees and grass aromas. The mouthfeel was as full as one would expect from an oaked Chardonnay, but it had very clean and light flavors. The oaked Chardonnay is fully spontaneously fermented and after fermentation, the barrels are being rolled to stir the wine. Nic called it great exercise. The vines for this wine are 32 years old, and combined with the wood they clearly produced a more intense nose which also was dominated by citrus aromas. The mouthfeel was fuller than the unoaked (surprise, surprise), and while the wood was noticeable, it still showed good freshness, mainly driven by good acidity. I still preferred the unoaked version though.

We then tried the 2012 First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon, which sometimes gets blended with Shiraz, but not in 2012. The grapes come from younger vineyards and the wine spends 18 months in older barrels. The wine poured in a purplish red color and smelled of ripe red fruit, tobacco and leather. It was an interesting mix of very expressive fruit and tartness, which reminded more of a Cabernet Franc rather than a Cabernet Sauvignon. It confused me a bit too much, I am afraid to say.

The reds lined up

The reds lined up

Up next was the 2012 Pinotage, which hails from old bush vines (vines that are not tied to posts and wire). It is produced in old barrels with a soft approach that does not try to extract too much from the grapes (in order to not get too many tannins). It poured in a dark purple, and the nose was very expressive with cassis, sandalwood and cake batter. We loved it! On the palate, it was light and refined in texture, with cassis being the dominant aroma in this fruit driven version of a Pinotage. Great to drink, very easily accessible. Would recommend this to fall in love with the fruitier side of Pinotage.

After that, it was time for the 2011 Three Cape Ladies, which is a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinotage. The wine smelled of red berries, sour cherry and tobacco leaves, a combo I like a lot. In the mouth, it felt silky and had good tannins. The most wonderful thing though was the combination of raspberries and dark chocolate with a whiff of sweetness, and then a bitter chocolate finish. Love, love, love it!

The final wine was the 2010 Trilogy, Warwick’s flagship Bordeaux blend, which sells as Barrique Estate in the U.S. due to copyright problems. The grapes come from two Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards (60%), two Cabernet Franc vineyards (30%) and one Merlot vineyard (10%) and spend 24 months in 60% new oak barrels. The color is dark and brooding, and the nose very complex: There is ripe cherry, definite coffee aromas, and hints of cooked meat. The texture is wonderfully silky, and the flavors are carried by just enough acidity. I found the wine to be very balanced in its play between red fruit and leather aromas. It leans towards the Cabernet Franc side in taste more than in the nose. Very good length on the finish. I was quite impressed with this wine.

All in all we were quite happy with the line-up, which is marked by wines that are ready for consumption, but should also do well in the longer run. The food was great and just what we needed and dealt with Nina’s food allergies very well. Nic is a great guy, and I hope for anyone that they can run into him either at the estate or at an event!

Warwick's iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

Warwick’s iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

 

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2012 Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Disclaimer: The wine was received as a media sample. Opinions expressed are my own.

A few weeks ago I was approached whether I wanted to review a wine for a good cause. Apparently, the California negociant Joseph Carr has developed a line of five varietals under the name Josh Cellars, to honor his father. With the holidays coming up, the company is going to donate $1 for every bottle bought until December 31 to the military family support organization Operation Homefront (up to $50,000). While many like to talk about honoring the troops and with Veterans’ Day, I thought that’s a neat idea and why not combine pleasure and giving.

The wines in the line include a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Grapes come from California and are made in the French wine making tradition, whatever that really means (sometimes, I do find marketing talk interesting). The wines should be available nationwide.

A few days after the initial contact, I received a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the mail….and cursed myself for not telling them that usually I am not that fond of Cabernet Sauvignon. My preferred choice would have been the Pinot Noir or even the Sauvignon Blanc. Ah well. I knew I could count on Nina to help me assess the wine (she’s in love with all things Cabernet Sauvignon).

I checked the technical stuff on the wine, so let me share that with you. It contains 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, which was actually exciting news because I tend to like Cabernet Sauvignon blended much better. For those unfamiliar with negociants, they are wine merchants that cooperate with growers to produce a crop from which the negociant makes and markets wines, think of Louis Jadot or Georges Duboeuf of the American Kermit Lynch.

When we poured the wine, shortly before I took off to Germany, it poured in a surprisingly light color, much less saturated than I had anticipated. The nose showed some heat, prunes, ash, blackberry and strawberry after a while of opening up. When tasted initially, it just had a great mouth feel with a good chewiness and freshness. I got green peppers, some sweet raspberry aromas, cooked strawberries and there were hardly any tannins noticeable. The wine had retained some hints of sweetness, and was all in all quite pleasing. After an hour, I noticed aromas of licorice and tobacco complementing the palette.

What the Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon might lack in depth, it easily made up for its drinkability and how accessible it is. I can see this as a great wine for people that might be interested in wine, but don’t have much experience, and frankly, we all have a ton of such friends. They want to explore wine more, but they also see the entry barrier as too high. I can see the Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon come in handily for those. And when seen from that angle, it makes for a great gift for a family member or something to take along to a party in the neighborhood. It’s an easy to enjoy wine for sure, and the price tag at $14.99 SRP seems quite alright.

Their website is currently under construction, but you can look up their partnership with Operation Homefront on Josh Cellars Facebook page.

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Tasting with Friends: Strange Fruit

Last Friday, we had the third of our group of friends’ wine tastings. The previous tastings were themed around old world and new world Malbecs and European reds (which we conducted blindly). Not only did this time’s hosts decide to cook us a spectacular meal, they also picked a really cool theme for the night: “Strange Fruit”. They had initially thought about restricting the allowed wines to unknown grape varieties or regions, but later settled for strange fruit, which proved to be an awesome theme.

My initial thoughts for what wines to bring were centered around grape varieties that were strange or not very common, but I then also thought about wines that tasted different than expected. I had a couple of ideas and we ended up bringing a bottle of German Riesling (what’s unexpected about this, you may ask, but bear with me!), a bottle of the Ruchè we had tried with Nina’s birthday burgers and a Cannonau di Sardegna, both Italian reds.

Meierer Logo

Meierer Logo

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!?

We started with the 2011 Meierer Riesling WTF!? (12% ABV, limited to 300 bottles made). When Nina and I first tried this wine at the winery in the summer of 2012, it was definitely one of the weirdest Rieslings we ever had, hence the name… Matthias, the winemaker, had decided to produce this wine in the way one would usually make a Pinot Noir: He let the must sit on the skins and stems for a couple of days. This really changed the nose and palate of this wine making it intense and I would never have guessed it was a Riesling if I had not known. I was eager to share this wine with the group, so we made it our apéritif. The wine showed itself in a slightly darker yellow, pretty much pee color. The nose showed acidity, some sour apple, I got hints of vanilla and coconut, but there seemed to be a decisive lack of fruit in the nose. The palate was herbal and what I would call branch-y, with healthy acidity and some apple aromas. Most in the group remarked on that it reminded them of a Chardonnay. The finish was long, with some bitterness. I like the experiment itself, I am not sure I would want to drink this wine all the time…but how could one, with only 300 bottles made? (I wrote in depth about the winery here). And it definitely fit the tasting’s motto.

2011 Agape

2011 Barafakas Winery Agape

The first course of the meal was an arugula salad with cranberries, walnuts and blue cheese. We paired it with a 2011 Barafakas Winery Agape, a Greek white wine blend from the Peloponnese peninsula. The wine is made with 50% Roditis grapes and 50% Savatiano grapes and had 12.5% ABV. The label promised strong acidity as well as citrus, banana and peach aromas. It poured in a light yellow color and had a very subdued nose. I really was not able to discern anything in the nose. The flavor profile on the palate showed a dry, slightly buttery wine with virtually no acidity or fruit aromas, some bitterness and a decent amount of heft to it. Nina said it seemed syrupy to her in texture (not sugar), I am not sure I got that. All in all, a bit boring. But then again, a lot of Southern European dry whites give me that impression. That said, it paired exceptionally well with the salad. The acidity in the dressing, the blue cheese and the nuttiness of the arugula made for good companions.

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato

For the pasta course, a classical dish of orechiette pasta and tomato-based ragù sauce, we first opened the 2010 Osél Ruchè di Castagnole Monferato that we had brought. My notes resembled the notes I made when we initially tried it in March, which is why I just repost them here: “It poured in a lighter red with some hints of brick. The nose was floral and perfumy with cherry and jammy notes. Rather enticing. The flavor profile of this light to medium bodied wine was very intense, with again cherry and some earthy aromas. There was noticeable residual sugar, maybe a tad too sweet. It had a peppery and slightly bitter finish that was rather short.” All in all, it seemed fruitier this time around, which I did not mind at all. Still a solid wine.

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d'Alba

NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba

We then opened a NV Accattoli Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC, an Italian red wine made from 100% Lacrima grapes, an ancient and rare grape variety. The wine had 12.5% ABV (notice a theme here?) and poured in a very dark ruby red. The nose was great, incredibly floral: violets and lavender and other floral aromas. It smelled a bit like an old grandma, but in a good way, if that makes any sense…On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied and soooo silky. That was the first thing I noticed: I really loved the texture of the wine. There was some cherry, and some smokiness to it, but the dominating factor was its black currant and blackberry aromas. Incredible. If you ever had black currant juice (I have, they sell it in Germany and it is AWESOME with sparkling water), you know what I am talking about. Just a wonderful currant, cassis bomb. There were hardly any tannins in this wine, and the finish was quite short. This was seriously yummy. And it paired well with the homemade dark chocolate ice cream. The fruitiness was great and the lack of tannins also helped when pairing it with the ice cream.

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

2008 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna DOC

We then proceeded to open my back up bottle, the 2008 Sella & Mosca S.P.A. Cannonau di Sardegna  DOC Riserva. I had brought the wine in case we’d run short because given our hosts gracious and laborious meals, we guests were providing the wine, and two of our friends couldn’t make it, so we would potentially have been short of wine. I had initially bought this bottle because I liked the label and the word Cannonau…which I had hoped was another strange fruit, but it turns out that it is the Sardinian name for Mourvèdre. The wine poured in a brickish red. The nose showed wet tobacco, a serious level of ripeness and some age, sweet plums, and, honoring the tasting’s motto: horse sweat. Significant horse sweat. Well, that was weird. On the palate, it felt flat with serious acidity (others were less kind and said sour), had a short finish and was not very enjoyable. I guess the fruitiness of the Lacrima, the wine we had before, did not help this contender, but it still seemed like it had serious issues which was too bad…

Johnny Drum Bourbon

Johnny Drum Bourbon

We finished the night with a glass of small batch Bourbon that our host, a total Bourbon aficionado, pulled from the kitchen closet. It was delicious and a great finish for another awesome tasting night. We’ll try to work another one into the time before we head out for our big trip this year, and I already cannot wait.

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