Thursday, November 17, 2016

De Wetshof Estate Celebration of Chardonnay 2016

Now this event is really, really special. It is held once every two years on their farm by the de Wet family of De Wetshof in Robertson to showcase the best Chardonnays locally and internationally. Since 2010, chardonnays from Burgundy, America and Australia have been included. It is an extremely generous gesture to the wine industry. Anyone who has ever been invited hopes that they will be on the guest list again. This year was the sixth time it has been held and there were 200 guests. Every year they invite an important international speaker. The speaker this year was the acclaimed American novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney. And we tasted some phenomenal Chardonnays
A bus was organised to take media from Cape Town at 7am from the Convention Centre. We collected more people in Stellenbosch
Waiting to board
A bit early, so several people napped, some chatted and some had deadlines to meet
We were offered a glass of chilled De Wetshof Brut MCC to help with the long voyage. Robertson is about 2½ to 3 hours away by bus
Arriving at the farm, the vines are flourishing and are still spring green
Takuan von Arnim checking in
A coffee marquee awaited us
With small canapés to tempt
Figs with topped blue cheese
An avocado panna cotta topped with a salmon ceviché
Mini Eggs Benedict on a stick
Peter Allan Finlayson of Gabrielskloof with his father Peter of Bouchard Finlayson have an amusing chat with Boela Gerber, Cellarmaster of Groot Constantia
Time to begin. All the local wines for the tasting and the lunch are generously donated by the winemakers. Each local winemaker introduces his own wine. We take our seats in the tasting marquee
Kevin Grant of Ataraxia with Dudley Wilson. Kevin's wooded 2015 Ataraxia Chardonnay shone the brightest for us. It has a pretty nose, rounded integrated Chardonnay notes with whiffs of the barrels and perfume of limes and apple. On the palate it has finesse with crisp minerality, chalky softness, length and depth, with long fruit flavours totally in balance. Dudley was to introduce the Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection 2014 Chardonnay as Richard is abroad at a trade show. This wine also impresses, as they always do. Roses Lime juice with lime leaves and smoke on the nose. Clean limes and lemons with soft toasted wood on the palate with good chalky minerality and satisfying length.
The full tent
Johann de Wet begins the session . He informed us that both the current Russian and American Ambassadors to South Africa were present and introduces the speaker American novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney
Besides being a well known novelist, Jay McInerney writes about wine for various publications, notably The Wall Street Journal. He made an amusing speech about on Chardonnay, terroir, Marilyn Monroe and Cape wine quality, which he says has improved remarkably since his first visits in 2001 and 2004. Today he says he is “Absolutely dazzled by the quality of Chardonnay available in the country, by the overall high quality of premium chardonnays, by the sophistication in the handling of oak on the part of those who use it, though I’ve also had some fine unoaked examples,” To read his full speech, follow the link to De Wetshof web pages http://dewetshof.com/News.aspx?NEWSID=29742&CLIENTID=1072&Title=NEWS
Dave and Lorna Hughes listen to the speech
Sommelier Higgo Jacobs talked about Chardonnay. He is a founding member and current chairman of the South African Sommeliers Association. 2015 was a brilliant wine harvest in South Africa. Most South African wine styles have merit but Chardonnay is leading the field at the moment. The wines are selected by a Nomination panel headed by Dave Hughes since its inception and now includes Higgo and Richard Kershaw, Danie and Johann de Wet take part in the selection panel but they do not vote
The pourers were extremely efficient and gave very fair portions of the wines. Something has amused the guests
 We began with a tasting with a flight of 4 unwooded chardonnays: Eikendal Janina 2015; De Wetshof Bon Vallon 2015; Bouchard Finlayson Sans Barrique 2015 and from France the Joseph Drouhin Chablis Drouhin Vaudon 2014. This last wine had a very French 'pong', and was lean and tight on the palate, showing terroir, minerality and some chalk with apples and pears in the background. Very different from our wines, as expected
Christo Hanse, the winemaker at Eikendal, presented the Janina 2015. Citrus on the nose, some minerality, some lees, melon and butterscotch. Clean, crisp full mouth of gorgeous yellow fruits: peaches, lemons, melon and some lime. A lovely wine to start with. Christo called this a "long distance runner".

The second flight was of eight superb wooded Chardonnays - the heavyweights: Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection 2014; Ataraxia 2015; Chamonix Reserve 2014; Ramey Wine Cellars in California Russian River Valley 2013; Uva Mira The Single Tree 2014; De Morgenzon Reserve 2015; Groot Constantia 2014; Domaine Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Close Mouchere 2014. The Ramey was a little understated with spritzy acid and lots of wood. The Puligny Montrachet had whiffs of smoke, apples, sesame, buttery wood and more smoke with minerality. Dry, clean citrus flavours, crisp apples and limes and chalky tannins, tight and austere still but developing. This wine needs lots of time. At */- R1,600 a bottle the most expensive wine in the tasting. It scored high.

Thinus Neethling of Chamonix presented their 2014 Reserve. Apples and toast on the complex nose. Clean flavours of apples and pears then dry citrus and chalk in layers. The wood shows on the end as support.
The Ramey from California
Presented by Dr Phil Freese
Christiaan Coetzee of Uva Mira presented The Single Tree 2014. Warm and ripe golden berries with some smoke and white cherries on the nose. Sweet fruit, yellow plums, nicely integrated with minerality and soft, almost not there wood, just hints of support on the end
Carl van der Merwe of De Morgenzon presented their Reserve Chardonnay 2015, with whiffs of wood and sunny fruit - loquats, white and yellow peaches on the nose, a round mouthful of lovely warm fruit, generous, with peaches and perfume. The wood supports but doesn't shout out. Freshness and minerality rebound
Boela Gerber Cellar master at Groot Constantia presented the 2014 Chardonnay. Cooked apple, linseed and warm linen on the nose. Citrus and almond in layers of flavour and depth, with Granny Smith apple and butterscotch wood
Then it was time for the older vintages. There were 4 extraordinary wines. De Wetshof Finesse 1993; Thelema 1997; Neil Ellis 2005 and Hamilton Russell 2005
A tasting portion
Rudi Schultz of Thelema with the 1997. Honey golden in colour, the nose is golden and honey almost NLH with some smoke. On the palate soft fruit, apples plums and yellow peaches, with long warm flavours ending with lime marmalade. Another really high scoring wine
Warren Ellis presented the Neil Ellis 200 Chardonnay. Golden syrup with whiffs of smoke, linseed and warm linen on the nose. A round mouth of lasting grape flavours, butterscotch wood and apples on the end
Anthony Hamilton Russell presenting their 2005. This is an award winning wine. It was golden on the edges in the glass. Shy, only smoke whiffs at the beginning then English gooseberries and apples on the nose. Dry tannins, crisp limes, lemons and chalk on the palate. Can this go further?
Danie de Wet spoke about his De Wetshof Finesse 1993. So pale for a 23 year old wine, still vibrant. Apples, age, perfume, herbs, the wood is mahogany shavings. Golden fruit initially, so integrated then apples, plums and almonds, tart tatin with butterscotch. A high score for a great wine
then the final flight of 4 Blanc de Blanc MCCs and Champagne. The tasting included Simonsig Cuvee Royale 2011; Graham Beck 2010 Blanc de Blanc; Bon Courage Jacques Bruére 2010 Reserve; Pol Roger 2008 Champagne.
Johan Malan of Simonsig spoke about their Cuvee Royale 2011. Golden apples, lees and perfume and a nick quick mousse finishing with more apple and almonds.
Pierre de Klerk of Graham Beck introduced their 2010 Blanc de Blanc. It's an elegant wine, soft leesy yeasts with seaweed and even a little smoke. Crisp and bright. sparkly lemons and limes, the age shows nicely. Especially if you have the gout Anglaise
Jacques Bruwer of Bon Courage talked about the Reserve Blanc de Blanc 2010. Golden Delicious apples, full lees, good crisp bubbles and lots of them. More long cooked apple flavours
Karen Visser, who imports it introduced the Pol Roger. It really impressed with its difference to the style of bubbly we are accustomed to. Spirity, full, with cooked apples and plums, perfume and smoke on the nose and layers of crisp fresh golden apple on the palate. A lovely mousse with long flavours, it is a food wine and made us long for lunch far too early
The tasting over, Danie de Wet leads Simon Back and Phil Freese to the tasting marquee for lunch
Each table had a different farm's name
The marquee was very full
Johann de Wet told us about lunch and the 15 wines and one brandy we would be tasting.
The chefs came to tell us what we would be eating. The caterers were Slippery Spoon
Wine in crystal glasses
During lunch they presented the Golden Vine Award 2016 to Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, chef owner of the restaurant Jan in Nice (where he serves South African wines) and the first South African chef to get a Michelin star. The award is for the role he has played in creating a standard of culinary excellence of which the South African wine industry can be immensely proud
He made a short speech of thanks
Seated at our table were Meyer Joubert and Rudi Schultz
The menu, detailing the wines available with each course
The starter of a prawn Caesar salad with beetroot
The main course of a torchon of pulled braised Karoo lamb. (A torchon is the mould that shapes the dish). It was tender, there was an awful lot of lamb and the pommes Anna were good too. But there was very little of the Traditional Sunday gravy we were promised. More would have added necessary moisture
We loved the cheese course, a twice baked goats cheese soufflé, light and puffy, with apple slices and walnuts in a verjuice reduction
Making merry with Peter Pentz of Groote Post and more of that Puligny Montrachet at our table
A great wine with food
Dessert was served buffet style in the coffee marquee and was a selection of bon bons Petit fours, fudge, chocolate truffles and Pate de fruit squares. These are red berry
Chocolate truffles
Orange Pate de fruit squares
Iced Petit fours
More truffles
Fudge. A sweet ending to a marvellous day, so well organised. What a superb tasting of the different aspects of Chardonnay. We were then off to get the bus home
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016
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