Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hemel-en-Aarde Wines Classic Chardonnay Celebration

South African Chardonnay has been through ups and downs in popularity and quality over the last 20 years and, thankfully, now seems to be firmly entrenched as one of our best producing noble varieties, as long as wood is used judiciously. But is it better grown in some areas of the Cape than others? We were invited to this Celebration last weekend and certainly it does shine in the Hemel and Aarde Valley with quality, great purity of fruit and finesse. Regardless of which part of the valley it is grown in, it thrives and produces great wines if handled correctly and this the valley is doing
In need of a large venue, the Hemel-en-Aarde Wine Growers’ Association found one outside the valley in Voëlklip, a five star luxury property with plenty of space and a lovely site, The Thatch House. It is midway between Voëlklip at the end of Hermanus and Stanford, on the lagoon
There were two levels for the tasting. You could come along and picnic on the lawn and do an informal tasting of wine on the terrace, or you could do what we did, the formal guided tasting inside the hall, followed by lunch outside around the pool
Tables and chairs or blankets and cushions were provided. as well as umbrellas
The views from the lawn are lovely
A brisk wind, good for sailing, calmed down later in the day. The jetty got a little wet
Winemakers making sure their wines were on their stations for the informal tasting and picnic
Canapés on arrival for the guided tasting were pork and cape gooseberry sticks...
... and pear and blue cheese slices
Claudia 2010 MCC from Domaine des Dieux was the welcome bubbly
Nice generous glasses poured by Megan Parnell of Domaine des Dieux. Lynne chatting to Gordon Newton Johnson
We take our places for the guided tasting.  All the wines are from  the 2015 vintage, which is turning out to be a really great one, especially for white wines and Chardonnay.  It is difficult to express how good the tasting was without going into overdrive on adjectives. These wines will win awards and international recognition, some have already.  Seldom have we been privileged to taste such a great bouquet of clarity, quality and finessed Chardonnays from one area and been so impressed. Our average score for the 12 wines was 17.5 and there was one 19 and five 18s.  Hemel en Aarde surely can count itself as one of South Africa's major Chardonnay producing areas
The wines from the three wards: Hemel en Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley and Hemel en Aarde Ridge are incredibly good and are beginning to win major local and international awards. Several of the winemakers are members of the Cape Winemakers Guild
This is a list of scores awarded by Tim James MW, one of Britain's leading wine writers and judges on international wines, and Wine correspondent for the Observer
add @@@ from below here This was a box of one Chardonnay from each the 10 farms participating which was on a silent auction. Every bottle was signed by the winemaker. the proceeds of the auction will go to the Ellen Gordon Community school
Dieter Odendaal, Sales and marketing manager of Creation, starts the tasting
Chairman of the Hemel-en-Aarde Wine Growers’ Association, Peter Clarke, said: “The valley has the finest grapes, water, great soil, climate and big characters. It is wonderful the results the winemakers have been achieving. We must celebrate the achievements of the others as that brings us strength". He has great enjoyment interacting with them
Dr Winnie Bowman CWM said: "It is an exciting journey for Chardonnay, especially in 2015 which is a great vintage. South African Chardonnays are winning Trophies or high awards in international competitions, making sure SA wines are recognised in the wine world. 79 entries for Chardonnay in Platter this year 17 got 5 stars, four are from the valley. Kevin Grant from Ataraxia says that, formerly, Chardonnay was avoided. ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) was the buzz word, but now it stands for Absolutely Brilliant Chardonnay.
Anthony Hamilton Russell told us that this is the first time the valley has sat down together and tasted all the chardonnays. The three appellations have real and positive differences which are highly desirable and show expression of place
Gordon Newton Johnson introduced his Chardonnay
The packed hall
Four winemakers from the valley waiting to pour their wines: Emul Ross of Hamilton Russell, Reino Thiart of Bottega Family Wines, Gordon Newton Johnson and Hannes Storm
The tasting finished, we moved to the outside terrace for lunch
Natalie Opstaele of Almenkerk chats with Anne Wessels of Restless River
One the verandah, all the wines were available to taste. These ladies were showing the Bouchard Finlayson 2014 Missionvale Chardonnay
Nathalia Ventura with the Storm Chardonnay
The busy outside tables and the picnickers
Kevin Grant was abroad on business but his Ataraxia Chardonnay showed very well. This was a barrel sample of the unreleased 2016, hence the inexpensive screw top bottle
Extra food available for the picnickers
"I love my Granny!"
Chocolate anyone?
Creation wine being poured into the sensible glasses provided for the picnic. Stems don’t work on the lawn
Anne Wessels from Restless River showing their wine
Newton Johnson, poured for guests
Roberto Bottega from Whalehaven had their 1996 and 2016 Chardonnays to taste
The guided tasting and lunch wines
Good friends of ours, Dr Peter Roos and Michele Guttler were also having a great time
Our lunch menu. The food was made by Chefs Madre and Tullishe and paired with Chardonnay
Gordon Newton Johnson produced a huge rabbit out of his hat, a 5 litre jeroboam of Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, here being enjoyed by Deon Oliver and Kara Miller
Winemakers Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson 
and that bottle, which was shared around all the tables, much enjoyed and yes, it was finished
The starter of mushrooms in aspic jelly and Banting seed crackers
John got the Banting crackers with cheese and olives instead
The main course of Geelbek (Cape Salmon). Never has Lynne enjoyed Cape Salmon this much, it was so moist and tender, it can be dry and rather gamey. It was in an absolutely superb saffron seafood sauce. The dish was topped with three arancini rice balls
Dessert was that "dropped on the floor" (their description) crème brulée with hazelnut brittle and berries. It was a bit curdled but tasted fine. Obviously difficult to transport? Ah deconstruction, when will it end?
Enjoying the day were Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson, Johnnie and Dr Winnie Bowman

We don't think anyone jumped in the pool. We left at 3.30. to reach our overnight destination in Paarl, shower and change and arrive at the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year function in Franschhoek at 6. It's a long way away. We were only 15 minutes late
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016

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