Friday, November 16, 2018

De Wetshof Celebration of Chardonnay

This celebration is held every two years at De Wetshof in Robertson and it is one of those events to which members of the industry fervently hope to receive an invitation. There is certainly a lot of celebration in our house. This year, De Wetshof paid homage to icons and legends. We tasted the wines made by the people who have played leading rôles in pushing Chardonnay forward as a serious South African wine varietal, both locally and internationally. Chardonnay was only established here just four decades ago and it has certainly garnered a reputation for excellence in that short time
We arrived early to make sure that we didn't miss a thing. We loved the innovative way they displayed all the Chardonnays that were to be tasted, by putting them all on pedestals on the lawn. Although we did express concern that the 32º heat might damage these particular bottles!
Lynne and our host Néwald Marais of Kranskop, who very kindly put us up for two nights,
took a stroll to see what we were to enjoy and spotted some favourites
There was a tent with coffee, rooibos tea and some breakfast canapés to sustain us
PRO Emile Joubert with Stephen Spurrier, who was the keynote speaker of the day. He is British, previously a wine retailer in Paris, where he opened l'Academie du Vin, France's first private wine school in 1973. He is a renowned wine writer, educator, commentator, consultant, critic and judge. He created the Christie’s Wine Course with Michael Broadbent, and he is famous for having staged The Judgement of Paris, at which he arranged a blind tasting of French and American wines in France, where the USA wines outgunned the French. He has now made his own wine in Britain, Bride Valley Brut, and published his memoir Wine - a Way of Life earlier this year
Winemakers Nico Grobler (Eikendal), Morné Vrey (Delaire Graff),
Stuart Botha (Tokara), Carl Schultz (Hartenberg)
Joris van Almenkerk, Michael Bampfield Duggan, Natalie Opstaele van Almenkerk,
Jean Vincent Ridon and Cathy Marston
Johann de Wet is now the CEO of De Wetshof and he opened proceedings that morning
He told us that this biennial event began in 2006. The wines that we were to taste
are the most highly regarded Chardonnays in South Africa today
We were to taste four flights, each with three top Chardonnays
These wines were selected by Remington Norman
and each would be introduced by the winemaker, where possible
Other great wines would be poured during lunch
The formal tasting was held in the newly painted wine cellar
The makers of the wines in the tasting, preparing to talk about their wines
Murray Barlow of Rustenberg, Achim and Hildegard von Arnim of Haute Cabrière
The wines we tasted in these flights were quite superb and deserved to be here and respected
All were quite different; there do seem to be several styles and the different terroirs
obviously play a big role, as do the winemaking and the wood, if any

The first flight: Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson, Missionvale 2016
Jeanette Bruwer of Springfield (sister of cellarmaster Abrie who was unable to attend), Méthode Ancienne 2016
Andrew Gunn of Iona, Iona Chardonnay 2013
Second Flight: Gary Jordan of Jordan Wines, Nine Yards Reserve Chardonnay 2015
Carl Schultz of Hartenberg, The Eleanor 2016
Jan "Boland" Coetzee of Vriesenhof, Chardonnay 2012
Third Flight: Simon Barlow of Rustenberg, Five Soldiers 2017
Danie de Wet, De Wetshof Estate Bateleur Chardonnay 2016 
Anthony Hamilton Russell, Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2015
Fourth Flight: Kevin Grant of Ataraxia, 2016 Chardonnay
Boela Gerber of Groot Constantia, 2017 Chardonnay
Neil Ellis, Neil Ellis wines White Hall Chardonnay 2015
Stephen Spurrier began his speech with a question, "Why is Chardonnay a great wine? He quoted British Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn, who said: “Flavour-wise, Chardonnay is the chicken of the wine world – a blank canvas that winemakers are free to write upon. To oak, to semi-oak or not to oak at all; to follow partial or full malolactic fermentation, or to add richness and texture by lees stirring. All these and more are factors a wine-maker has to consider. But before the winemaker comes the vineyard”. Aubert de Villaine from Romanée Conti, arguably the most revered name in wine, is often asked how he made such great wines. His reply is always: “We pick the grapes when they are ripe and do nothing”. We hope to have a link to Mr Spurrier’s full speech in due course
Remington Norman introduced the wines. Tension is the buzz word in the industry at the moment and he said that we should be aiming at TEPF in winemaking - Tension, Energy, Precision and Focus. He said to the winemakers: "It is not your production facility or your socks we are interested in. What are you trying to do with your wine? Why did you make this wine, who are you, what are you trying to achieve? Tell us now as we taste it"
Steven Spurrier answering questions after his speech.
Comparing notes are Kevin Grant of Ataraxia and Boela Gerber of Groot Constantia
Neil Ellis of Neil Ellis wines, chatting to Mr Spurrier
Heads down, noses deployed, we begin the tasting
The Flying Sommelier, Jean Vincent Ridon and Johan Malan of Simonsig
 Joris and Natalie van Almenkerk of Almenkerk Estate in Elgin
The audience was asked for questions and comments about the wine, but were not very forthcoming
GM Johann Laubscher and winemaker Morné Frey of Delaire Graff
Peter de Wet, Winemaker at De Wetshof
The pourers were wonderful, silent, efficient and quick
and the portions were correct in every glass, so important
Christine Rudman with Phil Freese of Vilafonte
Simon Barlow making us laugh
and reminding us that had Danie de Wet not gone and acquired those cuttings from France,
the SA wine industry would not have had Chardonnay as early as it did
Danie de Wet, who started the ball rolling
Allan Mullins with the "old boys" –
Remington Norman, Achim von Arnim, Neil Ellis, Danie de Wet and Peter Finlayson
We moved to a marquee on the lawn for lunch. Johann de Wet outlined the rest of the programme
L to R Simon Back, chef George Jardine, Higgo Jacobs, Allan Mullins, Louise Jardine, Etienne le Riche
Thomas Webb of Thelema and Emul Ross, winemaker at Hamilton Russell
Johann de Wet, Rudi Liebenberg, Executive Chef at the Belmont Mount Nelson Hotel, and
Gera de Wet with the Golden Vine Award which is presented by De Wetshof each year
to an outstanding chef for service to wine and cuisine
Chef Marius Uys of Slippery Spoon, who looked after the catering for lunch. Each of the small dishes, titled Nips, was dedicated to a winemaker and was recommended to be paired with three wines. You could walk from table to table and try each one with the recommended wines
Peter de Wet with Izelle van Blerk, who makes the Mentors wines at KWV
Time to taste the many other chardonnays available with lunch; it was a very tempting selection
The Coal Miner, inspired by Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck, was a black sesame topped sweet and savoury charcoal macaron, filled with an artichoke mousse and rolled in sunflower seeds, which added a very good texture to the macaron. Good acidity in the filling too. Paired with Joubert Tradauw 2015 Chardonnay; Lismore Reserve Chardonnay 2016 and Excelsior Chardonnay 2018
The Robertson Fisherman, Abrie Bruwer of Springfield. A seared tuna Tataki with a miso pressed watermelon and crispy flakes of pancetta with a thick soy sauce. Good tuna; not sure what the watermelon was doing there, it added nothing to this good dish. Paired with Robertson Winery Constitution Road 2016 Chardonnay, Uva Mira Single Tree Chardonnay 2016 and Paul Cluver Estate Chardonnay 2015
The Rustenberg Garden, Simon Barlow. Rooibos vermicelli noodles and seven finely diced vegetables in a rice paper roll. Topped with a viola and served with a very weak nuoc cham dressing which should be sweet, sour and salty; this was just sweet. Didn’t see any of the promised edible gold. Paired with Arco Laarman’s Focal Point Chardonnay 2017, Bergsig Estate Tant Anna Chardonnay 2017 and Delaire Graff Terraced Block Reserve Chardonnay 2016
Johan Malan of Simonsig tasting the Tant Anna with this course
Gary Jordan enjoying one of the dishes
The chef serving the Biltong dish
The Springbok, Jan Boland Coetzee. 24 hour matured Springbok biltong, encrusted with cumin and coriander - thinly sliced with Japanese knives and slivered onto a hot crispy polenta cube and topped with a good, spicy waterblommetjie kimchi relish. Some people thought the meat too soft, we loved it, perhaps more carpaccio than biltong. Paired with Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2017, Groote Post Kapokberg Chardonnay 2017 and Vergelegen Reserve Chardonnay 2016
The Forager, Anthony Hamilton Russell. Mushroom toast. Foraged mushrooms in an XO sauce, in petit fried bao buns; serve with buchu and good Kalahari truffle sauce. The buns were strange; deep fried, they lost their fluffiness, but the contents were good, as was the truffle flavour. Paired with Mont Blois Hoog and Laag Chardonnay 2016, Storm Vrede Chardonnay 2016 and Thelema Chardonnay 2015
Carl Schultz and Rebecca Constable in conversation
The VOC, Boela Gerber. Crisp fried Karoo lamb bitterballen and Asian style steamed bitterballen, prepared in bamboo steamers with sweet mustard sauce. I have to say that they bore no relation to any bitterballen we have had; however, as a lamb kofta and a steamed dumpling, they were rather good. Paired with Arendsig Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Almenkerk Chardonnay 2012 and Tokara Reserve Collection Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2014
White Gloves, Danie de Wet. Home smoked oysters in their shells with seared king oyster mushrooms, fresh baby spinach and a fresh Cape gooseberry. Paired with De Grendel Op die Berg Chardonnay 2017, Newton Johnson Chardonnay 2017 and Kranskop Chardonnay 2017
Oysters on ice
There was another course, entitled The Elgin, Andrew Gunn: a hefty square of pork belly topped with a cheese Welsh rarebit with an apple purée, and dehydrated apple slices. Sadly, no photograph. It did rather need a sauce. Paired with Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2017, De Morgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2017 and Eikendal Earth Chardonnay 2016

Dessert - Three versions of a very sweet alcoholic sorbet:
L'Ormarins Sorbet Anthonij Rupert,  L'Ormarins Blanc de Blanc MCC, topped with strawberry
Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc with pink peppercorns and cucumber
and Simonsig Blanc de Blanc with fresh apple and parmesan shavings
These were paired with the MCCs from which they were made
Fida Hess, Louise Jardine, Bevan Newton Johnson
Meyer and Beate Joubert of Joubert Tradauw

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