No Pinotage Please

Wine clubs are growing faster than mushrooms in Finnish forests these days and one of them invited me to do a South African tasting for them. It was a tough choice, not to say yes to the invitation, but what to serve? Dare I leave out the trademark of SA wines, the iconic Pinotage, or not?

I took the plunge, a leap of faith in the direction of lean and mean rather than big and bold and held my breath. I’ve done many wine tastings in my time but this one made me nervous. The narrative of wine from my beloved country is sadly encased in descriptives like ‘high alcohol’, ‘in your face’, ‘jammy’, ‘robust’, the list goes on. But I was determined to show another side, one that would make these knowledgeable tasters sit up and think again.

The set for this tasting
The set for this tasting

Making history in Finland with the first showing of Mount Abora Wines in a public setting, these are all about ‘no’, ‘low’ and ‘minimal’. With their aim being to emulate the style of Alain Graillot from Crôzes-Hermitage, Burgundy, France, winemaker Johan Meyer and consultants Pieter de Waal and Krige Visser have succeeded in producing some truly bright, light and structured reds in their Saffraan and The Abyssinian. Their Koggelbos Chenin Blanc has a deep yellow colour and is so full in flavour that you could mistake it for a Chardonnay.

Johan Meyer, winemaker for Mount Abora (Photo: Indigo Wine)
Johan Meyer, winemaker for Mount Abora (Photo: Indigo Wine)

In contrast to Koggelbos, is Eben Sadie’s Skurfberg (Sadie Family Wines). From 88 year-old unirrigated vines from way up north on the west coast of South Africa in the Olifants River region, this Chenin shows you just how good this widely planted grape can be made. Pineapple, minerals and acidity explode in your mouth and the finish is steely and long.

Cinsault or Cinsaut as the South Africans spell it, has been the workhorse of South African reds used mostly in blends since before my student days which is a long, long time ago. “The family member that’s been in jail and that no one talks about” (Eben Sadie), has now come out of the closet to show itself in all its glorious structure. Mount Abora’s Saffraan is a great example, low in alcohol, fruity and layered. Lean and elegant, it expresses its terroir and the result is a memorable finish. On the other hand, Louis Nel’s Collaboration Cinsault is bigger and surprisingly bolder considering the fact that it was bottled in the same year as it was harvested. Never seen the inside of an oak barrel, this food friendly wine is rounded expressing yummy tannins.

Eben Sadie (Photo: Wine Anorak)
Eben Sadie (Photo: Wine Anorak)

They do things well at Morgenster Wine & Olive Estate. Owner Guilio Bertrand from Piemonte, Italy, calls in the experts when he is in doubt and has managed to produce one of the best blended olive oils in the world. Now their aim is to do the same with the wine. Henry Kotzé is the Cellar Master and Winemaker and works closely with consultant Pierre Lurton from Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux. Their Lourens River Valley Bordeaux blend is full with plenty of cigar box and eucalyptus showing in the nose and palate and the finish is so long you can still taste it the next day!

So, what did punters think? Finding the best of the whites and the reds was an impossible task. Each wine had its place, each wine was remarkable. The applause was loud and long. Hey, I got away with it! No Pinotage….

These wines are available from the webshop: Veinidkoju.ee

 

With a Cough and a Splutter – Tasting Olive Oil

Flos Olei’s stopover in Helsinki, Finland

With a cough and a sneeze I was introduced to the experience of tasting olive oil and distinguishing between the good and the bad. With 6 of the world’s best, it was quite a task to know what to look for and find the differences.

Flos Olei 2016 in Helsinki - some of the world's best olive oils
Flos Olei 2016 in Helsinki – some of the world’s best olive oils

Lined up in small plastic cups, you start by putting one hand over the top and warming the oil by turning it with the other hand. The colour is not so important the experts say. Hence, they use small blue glasses so as not to be unduly influenced by shades of yellow or green whatever the case may be. Just as in wine, the next step is to put your nose in the cup and smell it. Even this, you shouldn’t linger over. Get a good whiff and decide on the fruitiness, whether it is mildly, medium or intensely so. As in wine, there are several varieties and the oil could be a blend or made from a single sort called a monovarietal.

The colour is not so important, it's the pungency that counts
The colour is not so important, it’s the pungency that counts

Next step is to of course taste it. As is the case with wine, the ‘nose’ must agree with the ‘palate’ but somewhat different would be the method of pulling in oxygen to get the full flavour. It’s as if you’re smiling and the air is sucked in from the corners of your mouth and short, strong bursts. Then you swallow and that’s when the spluttering begins. They can be quite strong and peppery and catch you at the back of your throat.

The magic words are fruitiness, bitterness and pungency. If it doesn’t grab your attention, it’s not good quality, so the experts say. So part of the process is definitely the sharp reaction you get, a cough or even a sneeze. After 6 tastings, you would need something to clear your throat, bread or water or something to eat. Personally I preferred using bread to dip in. Once you know what the bread tastes like, you taste the difference in oils. The taste spectrum is wide, from almonds and various nuts to herbs, green grass, even apples and other fruit.

A good education from Paolo Borzatta - IandP
A good education from Paolo Borzatta – IandP

A good education was from IandP whose palette from bitter to sweet, delicate to intense, pointed out clearly their products. What you really learn at the end of the day, is that there is an oil for every dish and that dribbling the single one that you happen to have in your kitchen cupboard on everything from salad to meat is not the way to go. The Cru Piscine MAU made from Maurino olives would be perfect with fish dishes like sashimi whereas their Grand Cru Musignano would put a whole new spectrum on a barbecued steak, for example. Another super-intense one is from Le Tre Colonne from Puglia, Italy. The guy points out that the greener the olive, the purer the oil and the more flavour is extracted. The older and browner it gets, the cheaper it becomes and the less pungency you experience. Their Le Tre Colonne 100% Coratina is enough to make you gasp. This one lives right up to its name, standing tall and strong, believe me.

Frank Poirot from Finland flying the flag for South Africa's Morgenster
Frank Poirot from Finland flying the flag for South Africa’s Morgenster

From South Africa’s Morgenster to Turkey’s Zetay, through Italy and Spain’s Castillo De Canena Olive Juice from Andalusia made from 100% Picual, the best one in the world according to the tasters, it’s a real oral workout but in the end, you start getting it and at the same time start wondering what’s going to happen to your monthly food budget. These products are not exactly cheap, but now I know why.

Links:

Flos Olei

IandP

Le Tre Colonne

Morgenster

Zetay

Castillo De Canena

 

 

Casale del Giglio – Wine Innovation in a Valley

They took a long, hard look at the terroir in the Agro Pontino Valley, 50 km south of Rome in Lazio, and made their decision. The maritime climate had a say too. Hence, the choice of grapes.

With sandy, mineral and alluvia dark volcanic soils similar to those of Bordeaux, they use French and Spanish varietals to create their magic. But one grape that’s neither of these and completely new for me is Bellone, meaning ‘handsome’, a full, beautiful bunch that the Romans discovered (although this is contested by some) and that has frequently been used by farmers for their own consumption.

Bellone 2014

Nose: A tropical fruit nose somewhat reminiscent of Viognier but more guava, grapefruit, perfume

Palate: In spite of what is normally said of this grape lacking zing, a slight tingling on the tongue, guava, apricot, peach, mango, hint of grapefruit

Finish: Slightly bitter, tingling and medium length

My verdict: It’s easy drinking and tempts you to sit on the beach and sip away.

Shiraz_NF

Shiraz 2014

They decided to go with the original name from ancient Persia with the eponymous city.

Nose: leather, smoke, violets, spice, anise

Palate: Beautiful acidity, just enough to transform it from a jammy wine to an elegant mouthful of spice and dark berries

Finish: Medium length but lingering tastes of cardamom and blueberry

My verdict: This is a wine to watch. Still a bit green (2014) and 6 months in oak, the acidity and flavours that are holding back right now, will develop into a world-class wine in 3 to 5 years. I vote for 5. Lamb, grilled tuna, roast chicken.

 

Paolo Tiefenthaler - winemaker at Casale del Giglio
Paolo Tiefenthaler – winemaker at Casale del Giglio (Credit: Tehcnosoc)

Tempranijo 2013

This Spanish varietal (spelt in the Italian way) is usually a strong tannin wine. To minimise this, it was picked late allowing the grapes to slightly shrivel on the vine. In keeping with its characteristics, it was aged in big barrels of cherry oak.

Nose: Wow! Strong, serious molasses, raspberry, blackcurrant

Palate: Rounded – they did a good job of calming down those tannins, luscious, full and slightly sweet with lots of fruit

Finish: Long and fruity

My verdict: Big wine with plenty of layers to experiment with when it comes to food like stews, especially game, roast duck and strong charcuterie like Parma ham.

Oenologist Paolo Tiefenthaler is adventurous and innovative and loves experimenting with varietals that are not that common in Italy. They produce 18 wines with care and quality in mind.

Links:

Casale del Giglio

Available at:

Winesearcher

In Finland:

Viinitkotiin

In Estonia:

Veinidkoju Shop – Lootsi 14-2, 10151 Tallinn (opposite Terminal D, Tallink terminal)

Trending Now – Wine in Finland

He’s seen the inside of kitchens, packed wine on cellar shelves, taken stock, paid his dues in some of the most renowned restaurants in town and now Samuil Angelov is a highly regarded sommelier and wine educator in Helsinki. I want to know his views on wine trends.

Samuil Angelov, owner and sommelier of restaurants Muru, Pastis and Hodari ja Hummeri
Samuil Angelov, owner and sommelier of restaurants Muru, Pastis and Hodari ja Hummeri

“Less is more,” he says. “People, especially Finns are becoming more and more health conscious. They want to eat well and exercise, drink less. This is evident in the sales of hard liquor which have gone down not only in Finland but I’d venture to say in the rest of Europe, especially in restaurants.”

“Today it’s not unusual to find say two gentlemen going out for a meal ordering champagne or sparkling as an aperitif. In the past it would automatically have been a dry Martini or a Vodka Polar. Wine and bubbles have become the order of the day, so to speak.”

“So you mean to say Finns have changed their drinking habits?”

“Definitely. The long lunch is out. Life is too hectic and demanding. It’s possible to have a glass of wine at lunch time without it affecting your work load in the afternoon. You can’t do that with a good dose of heavy liquor under your belt.”

“What would you say is the fastest growing beverage?”

“Champagne and sparkling wine. We have one of the world’s most highly acclaimed champagne specialists and Masters of Wine, Essi Avellan as well as Alko’s Communication and Marketing Director and Master of Wine, Taina Vilkuna, right in our midst. Needless to say they have had a great influence on the consumption of wine in general and especially bubbles.”

“Finns are quick learners and early adopters. As a sommelier, can you see this in your restaurants?”

“When I started working the floor in the late 90’s, wine knowledge was pretty limited. Today, my customers keep me on my toes. They’ve become so aware and know so much and it pleases me when I see a young couple coming in for a meal who know what they want in both categories of food and drink.”

“What about the style of wine? Are the heavy, in-your-face types still popular?”

“It depends on the weather. If it’s cold, Amarone and Barolo are the ones that’ll warm you up. But the lighter styles are in, with German wines doing really well at the moment. Riesling, Spätburgunder, Pinot Noir, cool climate wines with less alcohol are flying off the shelves. Personally, I’d like to see more consumption of the new style of USA and South African Chardonnay which is more acidic, fruity and elegant than the over-oaked stuff they used to make. It’s still oaked but balance is everything.”

According to Samuil, wine is here to stay. The demographic is changing to include the millenials who are taking a deep interest in the subject. This is evident from the attendees of wine tastings, of which he does a lot.

“We still have a long way to go to educate the entire population of Finland. There are a few wine drinking pockets mostly in the big cities but the countryside is going to take some doing. On the other hand, Alko is providing a good service in that you can find almost every grape varietal available in their shops from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, if not on the shelves then to order.”

Watch out for these events:

Grand Champagne 21 – 23 April 2016

Wine Tasting for Dummies with Samuil at Pastis

Links:

Pastis

Muru

Hodari ja Hummeri (Hot dogs and lobster)

Grand Champagne

Making Wines Honestly – Mount Abora Vineyards

Imagine using your imagination. Think of a flavour profile of a wine that, in your opinion, would be the best wine you have ever drunk. I can just picture it. Spice, fruit but not too much, with garrigue shyly showing up in the finish with a touch of tannins. As a white, crisp acidity, nut and honey flavours on the palate and a smooth, elegant finish. Whatever works for you. Now imagine 3 guys putting their heads together, seeing and dreaming about the finished product and then trying to create it. It’s like working backwards. What do we want, how do we do it, where will find the grapes. That’s what you’ll find in the wines of Mount Abora Vineyards.

Pieter de Waal
Pieter de Waal

Pieter de Waal is a friend of mine. He’s been making wine as a garagiste in his lounge and in borrowed cellars under the Hermit on the Hill label and now he’s found a team where he can fit in. The other members are Johan Meyer, one of the top ten young winemakers to watch in South Africa today (JH Meyer label), and Krige Visser, a maverick himself and brand designer of note.

Some of Pieter's off the wall labels
Some of Pieter’s own off the wall labels

My first question being a South African and familiar with the map, “Where is Mount Abora?” thinking that it’s somewhere in the Swartland area.

“It’s a figment of the imagination. Intertwine Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and a kindred spirit like D.J. Opperman, a poet from South Africa and you find their imagery in our wines like Koggelbos Chenin Blanc and the Abyssinian Red Blend.”

“We’re inspired by the wines of Alain Graillot from the appellation of Crozes Hermitage in the Northern Rhône. He is one of the most celebrated winemakers in the area and his philosophy is simple: very little intervention and making wines that people will want to drink.”

When you ask Pieter about their process, ‘NO’, ‘LOW’ and ‘MINIMAL’ is what you keep on hearing.

“No acidification, no yeasts added, no enzymes, no or minimal filtering, no or minimal sulphites i.e. minimum intervention all round. We harvest early to retain the natural acidity in the grapes; we use whole bunch fermentation in our reds and white, no punch downs, no pump overs. We’ve been using bare feet to break the grapes since feet are soft but we’ve just acquired a really expensive machine that uses a perestaltic movement to press, a little bit like a toothpaste tube. “

Their Saffraan is 100% Cinsault and reminds me of a fine Pinot Noir, with light colour, enough fruit and beautiful acidity. Pieter says, “This is a heritage project and harks back to the time in the 70’s when Cinsault was the most widely planted red grape in SA. We’re trying to present an honest wine showing the bright quality of this varietal.” It catches me off-guard. I find apples, spices and raspberries and a grip that holds you well into the finish. Vintage 2014

Koggelbos Chenin Blanc has that lovely yellow colour you expect to find. The grapes are from 4 blocks in the Paardeberg and vines that are more than 40 years old. It’s been in 300 l. old oak barrels the staves of which have been scratched out and cleaned and then put together again. Kept on the lees for 6 months, the mouthfeel is creamy and sustained. Minerals and stone fruit mingle nicely on the palate and the acidity maintains a perfect, elegant balance. Vintage 2013.

In true Rhône Valley style, comes the Abyssinian Red Blend. Surprisingly low on alcohol 12,5%, it’s Mourverdre driven with Cinsault and Syrah next in line. It holds back on you and doesn’t give you that ‘all-in-your-face’ quality that so many reds do. It’s got spice, it’s got pepper and it sure has class. Vintage 2014.

“There are many fermentation technologists out there, but few winemakers. We try to stay as honest to the varietal as possible stripping down to the bare basics of the vine, place, the grapes. Wines of elegance, low in alcohol, less about fruit and more about texture is what we’re creating.”

Links:

Mount Abora Vineyards

Wine searcher – Koggelbos Chenin Blanc, The Abyssinian Red Blend, Saffraan

J.H. Meyer

Hermit on the Hill

 

 

Jeff Carrel and Les Darons 2013

First time I came across this wine, I was excited. The retro label is distinctly different from classic French labels, it comes from Languedoc one of my favourite regions for red blends and then the name Jeff Carrel. In his own words, this ‘eclectic’ winemaker produces some exciting products not least of which is Les Darons.

Photo: escapadoenophile.com
Photo: escapadoenophile.com

The slang word for papa or father, Les Darons shows the true backbone and character of the vines which have dug deep to find water for a very long time and produced their harvest in small quantities. Grenache (60%), Carignan (25%) and Syrah (the rest) grown in the high, dry area of Laure-Minervois, have particularly low yields as in 35hl/ha in this region with a limit of 50. Aged in concrete tanks only, the wine has had no sulphites added, a rare find indeed when no SO2 has gone into the process since its anti-oxidant properties tend to preserve wines a lot longer.

On a cold winter’s night there is nothing quite so warming as sipping on this red and dark fruit combination with exciting sub structures like spice, minerality and a good dollop of garrigue, the Mediterranean dried herb flavour. The finish grips you and keeps you coming back for more. We are dealing with a winemaker who excels and has created a wine that has to be a favourite on your Christmas dining table.

Country: France /Languedoc

Producer: Jeff Carrel

Grape: 60 % Grenache, 25 % Carignan, 15 % Syrah

VOL.: 14.0%

Available: Finland – www.viinitkotiin.com

Estonia – Veinidkoju, Lootsi 14, Tallinn

Wine searcher

History, Evolution, Revolution – Australian Wine Master Class

Blown away is somewhat of an understatement. I expected thick, over-oaked, jammy, and I got none of these. Where have I been all this time?

The tasting was cleverly arranged in 3 categories showcasing the exceptionally old age of some of the vineyards, how wine making has changed and where it is going, as indicated in the title above. Twelve wines in all, I’ll talk about the ones that impressed me most.

We kick off with a Semillon from McGuigan Wines ‘Bin 9000’ from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, 2007. From the first commercial wine region of Oz comes this surprise: could have sworn it was oak on the nose but on the palate this young, early picked grape just comes alive in a balanced lemony, acidic palate which has even a little spice on the finish. Considering it’s a 2007 vintage, it’s retained its fresh, vibrant quality. With only 11% alcohol, makes you think.

Available at:

Alko in Finland – €19,59

McGuigan Wines – http://www.mcguiganwines.co.uk/agegate?destination=

Winesearcher – http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/mcguigan+semillon+bin+9000

With Mike Davidson at Restaurant Sipuli, Helsinki
With Mike Davidson guiding us at Restaurant Sipuli, Helsinki

Crossing over the full extent of this huge continent all the way to Margaret River near Perth, sits Vasse Felix Winery in Western Australia. This ‘Premier’ Chardonnay is as young as 2014. With ocean on 3 sides, the conditions are simply perfect for this grape varietal. The terroir of loam soil, limestone and clay produce this delicate grape which after 9 months in French oak, 50% of which is new, is transformed into elegant acidity with notes of butter and pepper. This wine is resoundingly vibrant and bright with a luscious mouth feel and a lingering finish. Am I imagining it or was there something like mushroom in there?

Available at:

Winesearcher – http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/vasse+felix+premier+chardonnay+2014

Vasse Felix – http://www.vassefelix.com.au

Vasse-Felix-435x170
Vasse Felix Winery, Margaret River, Western Australia

Yarra Valley? Victoria? We go way over on the other side again where we come across Luke Lambert who has favoured keeping 40% of the whole bunch of Syrah grapes in his fermentation process. Added to this, the juice is wild fermented and only wild malolactic is allowed. Matured in 28 year old puncheons, yeah I was wondering too, no fining or filtration takes place. Small production, minimal messing around and you get this classy, restrained example of this grape varietal. Nice blackberry, floral nose with a super divine violet palate and a finish that gets you grabbing for more. A puncheon, by the way, is a wooden barrel holding 500 litres of liquid.

Available at:

Winesearcher – http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/luke+lambert+sra+yarra+valley+victoria+australia/2012

VImage_403753

And then the Revolution. Route du Van – a humorous play on words befitting the people that run the show and the winery’s relaxed attitude taking the consumer on a road trip exploring Victoria. Their Dolcetto and Shiraz is undeniably different, the former grape springing forth from some of the oldest vineyards in the world. You thought it was Italian, right? So did I but now I know better. They call this one a Wednesday night wine. No need for pretense, it’s just yummy without being jammy with just enough tannins on the finish.

Available at:

Winesearcher – http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/route+du+van+dolcetto+sra+victoria+australia