Sampling Grenache Blanc and Cinsaut wines
05 October 2016
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This is Old Mutual Live Wine edition and thanks for joining me, I’m Jenny Crwys – Williams . We’re staying with our conversation on the varietals. I say the new varietals, they’re not new at all elsewhere, but they are relatively new in South Africa. Something is happening in the South African wine industry. We are trying varietals that are common in Spain, the south of France, Italy and of course Portugal. I think it’s absolutely fabulous that we are learning more things about wine and actually what it can do for us and the different tastes.
So it’s not just Chardonnay, it’s not just Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a range of other wonderful tastes. I hope that you’re going to find this really interesting and worthwhile. I’m chatting to Cape Wine Master, Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright and also one of the owners of the Warwick Wine Estate. Jen, I’m sitting here and I’m just looking at all of these bottles. I know they hold all sorts of riches and I am right, am I not? That there is something stirring in the South African wine industry in terms of these varietals?
Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright: Absolutely, people are really moving away from some of the varietals that they know and as in all fashions, it starts at the top and moves down. If you consider clothing fashion, it starts with haute couture and it goes to the designers and it moves down to Zara. Eventually in the furthest flung corner of Pep stores you find that same fashion. Things move down the chain.
So many great varietals out there already
Currently some of these exotic varietals, the winemakers have made them and love them. The wine nerds have talked about them and now the wine lovers and drinkers are really into them. Eventually you will find more mainstream brands, having these interesting varietals.
In fact, the Two Oceans brand, they produce a Pinot Gris, as far as I know and there are more and more people doing. Even Terra del Capo, which is a fairly mainstream brand, they do Pinot Grigio. So it’s filtering, those varietals are filtering down into the more mainstream brands. So that people can drink interesting varietals within a brand they’re comfortable with.
These brands that we’re drinking today are not perhaps that well-known amongst the generic wine circles. The Foundry is a wonderful label, it’s produced by Chris Williams who makes the wine for Meerlust. He’s got a little farm out in Voor Paardeberg which is in the Swartland really, the beginning of the Swartland. This is his little side line project. He produces a Viognier, a Grenache Blanc and one or two other interesting varietals.
But today we’re going to drink the Grenache Blanc and the other varietal we’re going to have is a Cinsaut. These two varietals have been chosen together because they both actually hail from the south of France and the southern Rhone. So they come from a similar area. These varietals are proving very successful in South Africa because we’ve got a similar climate.
Our climate is warm and it’s in general warm, there are obviously pockets of cool areas, but in general it’s warm. So, if I can really applaud the South African winemaker, it’s because they’re starting to plant material that’s suited to the ground and suited to the climate. As opposed to what is just commercially viable.
It’s like that wonderful movie, If They Build It, They Will Come. If you plant things that are specific to that soil and that terroir, people will recognise a good wine. Eventually they will move from what they have been drinking to the great wines. Even Sadie in the Swartland is one of the pioneers of this kind of thought of, do what’s right for the soil. Don’t just plant commercially acceptable grapes.
The appeal of Grenache Blanc
This Grenache Blanc, meaning white Grenache, so there’s also a red Grenache which is quite widely known in South Africa now. Red Grenache is very spicy and quite a light red, often. This Grenache Blanc, when it came onto the scene, I got very excited. Because Grenache Blanc is a wonderful variety because it’s got weight. So many of our white wines do not have weight. The only one usually is Chardonnay and they give it weight with oak.
This one they have given oak, but it’s naturally got a bit of weight to it. It’s got lovely spice, it’s got a lovely savouriness to it, a floral sort of note. People describe it as lemon cream or lemon meringue pie, white stone fruit. The finish is very mineral.
How we describe mineral is kind of wet stones after the rain. After a Jo’burg rain storm, how your patio smells when we’ve had a huge downpour. That’s a mineral smell and it also has a citrus character to it, but essentially if you can say one thing that attracts me to Grenache Blanc is its weight.
This has got a little bit more weight, it’s been fermented in French oak, it’s had a wild ferment. Which means they don’t add any yeast to it. They allow the yeast, which is naturally occurring on the bloom of the grape to create its own fermentation. That takes about six months to complete.
They also do whole bunch pressing, so you don’t take the berries off the stalks, you press them whole, which also gives the wine more character and more weight. Chris Williams has really thought about this wine, there’s nothing random about it. It didn’t just emerge, he thought about it and just having something that’s so specific in itself is special. The label as well is so beautiful –
JCW: So classic.
One sip will leave you speechless
JRW: It’s so classic, so gorgeous, but the wine really is lovely and often I see this on wine lists and I suggest it to people. They’ve never heard of The Foundry; they’ve never heard of Grenache Blanc. They take one sip and they don’t know what to say. They’ve never tasted something like this in their lives. They usually like it, but it’s got a lovely savouriness, like white pepper to it, that I really enjoy. I think it’s a very exciting wine.
JCW: Why would you get the lemon meringue, just explain that to me?
JRW: The lemon meringue is a citrus but blended with a creaminess and a hint of nuttiness, all rolled together, so that’s where the lemon cream biscuits come in and the nuttiness will come from the oak.
JCW: It is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve got some in my glass.
JRW: It’s just got a beautiful feeling in the mouth, it’s rounded and it’s full. It’s mouth coating and it’s welcoming. I would definitely include this as a food wine. I think most people would struggle to just have it as an aperitif.
I would pair it with a poached salmon in a lemon and dill sauce or even, you could do something a little stronger like a seared duck breast, sliced very thinly. Some sort of pork dish would work nicely, as long as it was fairly light, not too many strong flavours. But it’s 13.4 alcohol, which is certainly not heavy, but it’s present and it’s strong enough to go with a lot of foods.
JCW: I think it’s scrumptious and again, to see this on a wine menu where previously there was only Chardonnay, there was Sauvignon Blanc. Which I think people just go to because they know the name and because they don’t know that there are alternatives. Of course, Chenin, which is suddenly going through the roof isn’t it?
JRW: Absolutely and the funny thing about interesting wines is often the pronunciation. Gewurztraminer is impossible to sell because no one can pronounce it. No one wants to pronounce it because it’s scary. If you look at the wines of Burgundy, the villages are right next door to each other, but one outsells the other by times a hundred because everybody can pronounce one and the other looks too scary. It’s a strange thing, people are just worried. But Grenache Blanc, I think, everyone can get their minds and their tongues around and it really is worth trying something totally different.
JCW: It tastes totally different, but totally moreish, so that’s my moreish wine. The next one you’ve chosen, also from the south of France.
Cinsaut – light in colour doesn’t mean light in flavour
JRW: The next one I’ve chosen is the Cinsaut, from his old vine series and it’s called Naude. There’s a winemaker called Ian Naude. This one I have been drinking a lot personally. There’s a huge trend towards lighter reds in the market, especially in South Africa where it’s hot. Not everybody is into just Cabernet and Shiraz has grown in popularity because it’s lighter than Cabernet.
People are moving more towards the lighter styles of red, the Pinot, the Cinsaut, even the Grenache Noir, which is lighter. It’s just wonderful to see this trend happening because just because a wine is slightly lighter in colour and lighter in mouth feel, doesn’t make it light on flavour.
This wine has ten thousand times more flavour than any one I’ve ever tried. It really is acute in its flavour profiles. Certain things that came to mind were cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, wild flowers, herbs. The tannins are very light, the tannins are soft, so it’s easy. I would suggest drinking this wine chilled. Because with the lighter style wines, they really do well with just a half an hour of chilling in the fridge or as I see people do all the time, throw a block of ice into it.
JCW: Doesn’t that just dilute it somehow? I know it’s better to do that than to have something that is practically boiling, but doesn’t it dilute the flavour?
JRW: It does dilute the flavour, but some people prefer it slightly diluted because it brings the alcohol down a degree or two and it means they drink more, strangely enough. I find many restaurants are guilty of serving wine at totally the wrong temperature.
So often in a restaurant my first glass of red has a block of ice in. Then the bottle goes into an ice bucket and my second glass of red is perfectly chilled. I’m terribly fussy about wine temperatures because it totally changes your drinking experience, as does a beautiful wine glass. The temperature of the wine, if it’s too warm, the tannins and the alcohol will become present and the fruit will be overpowered. Where if you chill it down, the fruit really comes out, which is why we often chill the lighter styles of reds.
Bunch pressed to add extra flavour
In terms of the winemaking, this comes from a 36-year-old vineyard in Darling and two-thirds of it was whole bunch pressed. We talked about the whole bunch with the Grenache, it’s such a trend at the moment. It was seen in France, that’s what was done in France 50 years ago. Then all the young guns came in and said they were archaic for doing whole bunch pressing because they thought that’s where the tannin was coming from.
But the tannin is not coming from there, the tannin is coming from the skin. So whole bunch pressing is adding extra character and flavour. The wine is fermented and matured for six months in second fill barrels. It would seem very natural to me not to have a first fill barrel here. Not to have new oak. Because the fruit is just so perfumed that you wouldn’t want to overpower that at all with any sort of strong oak.
The list of descriptions I can come up with, just fasten your seatbelt, we can keep going on! It really hits you in the face when you pour it into a glass. Often I give it to people that don’t know what it is and they cannot guess, they’ve never tasted a wine like this. It almost tastes a little bit like that perfume, the white powder on a marshmallow. That’s very perfumed, it’s also got that sort of aroma that really is lovely.
I really wish him well, Ian Naude, because he’s changing the landscape of the South African wine industry with producing wine like this. Also being very respectful of the terroir and the vineyard. He’s using old vineyards, he’s using traditional methods. He’s using old oak and so the flavours you’re getting are naturally from the soil and the terroir and it really tastes in the bottle.
JCW: I look at all of these labels, I think of the wines that we’ve tasted this morning and I think, if I was just listening to this, I would want to go out and actually sample them and see for myself what you’re saying. Because you’ve opened the door, I think, for many people to try these wines. I hope they creep into, I mean I think that on wine lists that are more sophisticated maybe. Maybe that’s a snotty way of saying it, but a more sophisticated wine list. They would try a few of these, but it’s the everyday wines that you pop around to your neighborhood restaurant, you also want to taste them there.
JRW: They are emerging onto wine lists and actually I went the other night to the opening of Marble Restaurant, which is David Higg’s new venture in Johannesburg. So much of that wine list has got interesting varietals, they really have thought about it. They haven’t put on the standard wines that we all know and they’re basically forcing the consumer to drink something different. Because there isn’t anything on the list that is absolutely mainstream.
JCW: But isn’t that nice, isn’t that an adventure?
JRW: It’s so exciting. It’s a risk, but it’s so exciting.
JCW: I’m going for dinner there soon-soon and I’m dying to look at that wine list. So Jen thank you very much indeed. I think it’s very heartening to see what is actually happening and as you’ve repeatedly said, good luck to the people who are actually going out on a limb, or a tendril, and planting and growing and bottling these different varietals. Changing the face of South African wine, so thank you very much indeed.
JRW: Thank you.
JCW: Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, thank you very much indeed for joining me for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine edition.