Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Silverthorn MCC vertical tasting with John & Karen Loubser

This has to be the highlight this week. Occasionally, we write about tasting South Africa's version of Champagne (made to exactly the same method and called in South Africa Méthode Cap Classique or MCC because, justifiably, Champagne guards its brand).  We do not have the same climate or terroir, but we do have winemakers who have studied the process in depth, made these wines for many years and so understand the process that they are producing superb sparkling wines. John Loubser is one of these.  It was very exciting to be invited with other members of the media and wine trade to taste several different vintages of his Silverthorn wines at his home. It was a very rare opportunity to taste so many vintages of great MCC
John and Karen live in a beautiful home set like an eyrie high above Lakeside, with the most enviable views. John is the MD of Steenberg Vineyards, which belongs to the Graham Beck family. Silverthorn is his own label with the grapes grown on their family farm in Robertson. All these wines are MCC
We had four flights plus the non-vintage Genie, made from Shiraz, on arrival; it sparkles with strawberry notes. Then on to Flight 1, four vintages from 2014 back to 2011 of The Green Man, 100% Chardonnay. The 2011 won the Trophy for best sparkling wine in the 2014 Six Nations Wine Challenge and shared the Trophy for  Best Wine on Show with Dog Point (New Zealand). It is sophisticated and complex with toasted coconut marshmallow on the nose and crisp apples and citrus on the palate. Lean and crisp is good in a champagne glass. The others all show well with similar characteristics to the 2014 (released that day) showing some spicy promise
John has kept a small vinoteque, so the second flight was another four vintages of The Green Man from 2010 back to 2007. These wines are showing very well and do show their differences with the vintages. This spends 29 months on the lees and has 10% oak contact. The earliest is classic with perfume and warm brioche on the nose and crisp, lean citrus favours and is still restrained, which means that it can last and last. These wines all have that oyster shell, gun smoke and petrichor (rain on hot stones) aromas which undoubtedly come from the lime-rich rocky shale soils in which they are grown
He started making bubbly in 2004 (first release in 2006), but has not held back any until 2007. This year he will be bottling some of the Green Man in magnums
Here Mike Bampfield Duggan of Wine Concepts, Tarryn Vincent of Reciprocal Trading and Tracey van Maaren, who represents Silverthorn in her portfolio, enjoy the flight
John is ably assisted by his talented wife, Karen. They are joint owners of Silverthorn; the farm was inherited from her father, Joachim Rieck, who bought it in 1976. John's brother Steven and former investment banker Brett Nagel are also involved and this has enabled them to increase production
Then came flight 3. Four vintages of the Special Cuvée Jewel Box; 2012 back to 2009. The three earlier vintages had 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir but this has now changed to 70%/30%. The Chardonnay goes through malolactic fermentation in older barrels. John likes the clean minerality it brings to the wine. They have sourced the Pinot Noir grapes from Darling and Stellenbosch; it is not wooded. The 2009 was creamy with brandy notes on the nose and whiffs of jasmine and citrus. Creamy on the palate with crisp minerality and long end - it kept on delighting. The latest release, the 2012, is also creamy with a faint whiff of smoke and a zing of citrus and soft raspberries follows, very full and satisfying . These wines are kept on the lees for 42 months and are beautifully bone dry
Then it was time for some canapés and with these we tasted two versions of the Big Dog, John Loubser's Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Reserve wine. This is a special hand-picked, whole bunch pressed blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, kept for 53 months on the lees. The 2011 is this year's offering in the auction, which will be held at Spier on the 1st of October. They are indeed big wines. The 2011 is full of golden fruit with flinty gun smoke on the nose, prickly clean dry limes, lemons and green apple on the palate. It has miles to go.. It went so well with the Osciètre prestige Caviar they served as a treat
These two work so well together
Just a small pearl spoonful is all you need, soft sea-filled bubbles to go with crisp bubbles and lime
Then time for lunch - some fresh Saldanha Bay oysters
Tomato tarts with cheese and crisp, buttery pastry
Charcuterie platters with top quality meats
Dill gravadlax
Salami and good fresh bread, served with a great Epoisses cheese absolutely at the perfect point of ripeness. There were also other cheeses, fruit, nuts and, for 'dessert' Turkish delight, tiny almond biscuits and other sweetmeats. It was a feast and we drank more of the Silverthorn wines. It appeared that, for many, the wine of choice was the 2009 Green Man, but others were appreciated. These do go so well with food.
John talking about his wines
Helping ourselves to the buffet in the kitchen
The wines we tasted
John and Karen’s daughter Fain with the other Big Dog, the family pet, an enthusiastic and friendly Rottweiler
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016

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