Highlights: The Swartland Independent 2011 Street Party

Last week I filed my copy for a Decanter feature focused on Cape Chenin Blanc.  It reminded me that, though I’ve reported on the wines made by the poster boys and girls of the Swartland Revolution (with the honourable exception of Callie Louw of Porseleinberg, Porcelain Mountain, which has yet to release its first wine), I’d yet to write up my highlights of said Revolution’s Swartland Independent Street Party – a bit of a scrum at this sell out event!

You’ll find notes on my stand out wines below but, first, let me refer you to Michael Fridjhon’s rigorous and very readable analysis of what it means to be one of The Swartland Independents here.  In summary, low intervention winemaking is a major plank of the movement which, he says, “will bring together the expression of place and the personality of the winemaker. It will be characterised by low volumes of artisanal, hand-crafted wines. It will not be the place to produce wines like Stepford Wives, compliant and without personalities or lives of their own.” Great!

David

David Sadie grew up in Swartland, left to study at Stellenbosch and worked 3 years at Saronsberg in Tulbagh Mountain before moving to Lemberg, also in Tulbagh.  He also makes wines under his own label in Swartland.

David Aristargos 2010 – this blend of Chenin, Verdelho and Viognier is fleshy, rich and powerful with a ripe core of apricots and waxy fruit.  Lovely purity.  14.5%

David Aristargos 2011 – this sample is drier and incorporates a dash of Paarl-sourced fruit.  The varietal mix is different too, comprising Roussanne,  Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  It’s a less flashy style, more textured, spicy and mineral though still very pure.  A long fine finish shows pear skin and aniseed notes.  Great potential.

Intellego

Winemaker Jurgen Gouws has worked a vintage at Lammershoek and is based in Swartland.  His Chenin is quite different in style to the Lammershoek wines.

Intellego Chenin Blanc 2010 – this is a rich, ripe Chenin, nonetheless with good purity and underlying freshness to its stone fruits.  Very good. 14%

Lammershoek

It’s been all change at Lammershoek since I last visited in 2008 now winemaker, Craig Hawkins is at the helm.  Hawkins has worked with Eben Sadie and Dirk Niepoort, making wines for the latter’s Austrian collaboration with Dorli Muhr, Niepoort Muhr.  He’s not afraid to experiment (especially under Lammershoek’s new Cellar Foot and his own Testalonga label) and, since this farm’s 80ha vineyard is the seed bed for many a top Swartland wine (for which it supplies the fruit), he’s in an enviable position.  A role he does not take lightly.

Hawkins has introduced the strikingly labelled Lam range, a junior label which delivers plenty of bang for buck flavour-wise, with freshness and uncommon finesse.  He’s hot on picking earlier than has been the norm, so alcohol levels are refreshingly low too. He tells me “Lammershoek’s terroir gives incredible freshness and it has the ability to allow Chenin specifically to be able to be picked early without the grape losing its richness and “honey like aromas” even at very low alcohol levels say 12%.” 

All wines are made from estate fruit.  The vineyard is farmed organically and the wines made without adjustment (no added yeast, acid, tannins etc).  Hawkins is also very hot on foot-trodding which he says is a crucial element in my winemaking that ensures that I can “pick early” without capturing any green/unripe flavours,” explaining “in general from Chenin Blanc in the Swartland we get about 50 -55% juice extraction, but with the foot pressing in a basket press we recover about 40-45%.”  He says “this may seem low, but the juice is of a much brighter and for me higher quality.” 

Lammershoek Lam White Blend 2010 – this unoaked, lees aged 60/40 Chenin Blanc Viognier blend is very expressive with its honeysuckle perfume and bright stone fruits, especially apricot.  Finishes clean and crisp.  Animated.  Very good.  12.5%

Lammershoek Lam Rose 2010 – just five barrels of this wine were made; all the oak was old, putting the focus firmly on this fresh Syrah’s delicate red cherry fruit.  A leesy autolytic adds texture and a subtle savoury dimension.  More than a nod to Lirac.  Again, clean and very fresh.  Good. 11.5%

Lammershoek Lam Pinotage 2010 – Hawkins runs with the grape’s Pinot Noir heritage, foot trodding this wine with lots of whole bunch ferment and it responds really well.  A lovely Pinotage, with uplifting pretty violets, cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit, finely balanced by a pithy edge of fruit tannin (only old oak here).  Very good.  13%

Lammershoek Lam Syrah 2010 – this sweet, red berried Syrah is floral, fresh and textured.  I like the fruit focused but very au naturel approach here – a really digestible, juicy, joyous Syrah.  13.5%

Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2010 – picked in late January this blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Clairette is tightly focused and mineral with fresh white orchard (not tropical) fruit salad, aniseed and fresh ginger notes.  13%

Lammershoek Chenin Blanc 2010 – 40-55 year old Chenin vines come from 5 different parcels on 2 slopes (NW and SE facing) on either side of the Aprilskloof valley.  It’s an intense, powerfully focused wine, lean and mean, with a thrust of G&T-like cool, quinine minerality to its quince, apple peel/core and lemon peel palate.  A lifted edge of powder puff too.  A very singular, bone dry style.  13.5%

Lammershoek Cellar Foot Mourvedre 2010 – Mourvedre is renowned for its tannins and, with 85% whole bunch, this wine is endowed with serious tannins, a touch chewy.  It makes for an ascetically structured wine, though it’s intensely floral and spicy with classic saddle soap notes and has an underlying minerality.  Needs time.  Be good to retaste it in 2-3 years.

Nativo

Bill and Penny Hughes of Nativo are based in Malmesbury and farm organically.

Nativo White 2010 – this blend of Viognier and Chenin is well put together, with spicy, gingery apricot and lifted, textured pear skin notes.  Stocked, I believe, by Naked Wines.

Nuweland

Loire & Rhone heaven with a bit of Portuguese paradise! Winemaker Juan Louw fashions a great Tinta Barroca and, though I didn’t take a full note, what I did say about his 2011 Pinotage is telling – “very Pinot Noir,” so a refined example then.

Haasbek Tinta Barroca 2011 – the Portuguese (port) variety (55 year old bush vines) works well here – this is a spicy red with a lick of sweet cinnamon to its juicy core of blackberry and cherry fruit.  Ripe but present tannins reinforce both freshness and structure.  Well done.

Rall

When he’s not making wine for Vuurberg, Donovan Rall makes tiny quantities of wine under his own label – 20 barrels of red and white max.  He says “small is beautiful – I want to keep it sustainable.”

He tells me there are many young winemakers keen to do their own thing on the side and growers who are very happy to get a better price (and more recognition) for the fruit than they currently receive under the cooperative system.

Rall Red 2009 – Rall made just four barrels of this Syrah, Carignan Grenache blend (no Mourvedre in this vintage).  Fruit was picked a little earlier than in 2008 – the direction he wants to go down and he says, slate soils “give beautiful acid – 7g/l!”  Shot through with bergamot and incense spice, long and languid but fresh, this red very much makes its own shape.   Lovely. 14.3%

Testalonga

This is Craig Hawkins’ own label,

El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2009  – I recently reviewed this wine alongside the very different Jean Daneel Signature Chenin Blanc 2010 (here).  It has a nutty, textured edge, akin to a fino (sherry) character; fabulous ripe (pink) grapefruity acidity coarses through this ripe lemon zested bone dry wine. Super complex.

Tobias

The man behind Tobias is Brian MacRobert, who manages vineyards for Eben Sadie.  I was intrigued by the fact that he labels his Chenin “Steen” which is a name just about every other producer I know is desperate to get away from because it’s associated with the cheap, neutral, off-dry quaffers of old.  But MacRobert told me forget the wines of old – for him Chenin vines are “our richest heritage” and he reckons South Africa should be proud of it.

Tobias White Steen 2010 – fruit is sourced from a relatively cool site in Malmesbury, so most likely shale not granite soils.  The wine has a lovely purity and precision to its honeyed, bright quince and kumquat fruit.   A muscular wine.

Tobias Red 2010 – the Syrah for this blend with Mourvedre and Cinsault was about to be pulled out by his dad’s neighbour before MacRobert got his hands on it.  Again, the fruit – red and black berry – is bright and well defined with a deft lick of spice and ripe but present tannins.  Very good.

Click here for my reports of a visit with Eben Sadie and here for an in depth tasting with Chris and Andrea Mullineux.

Sarah Ahmed
The Wine Detective
(12 November 2011) 



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