Thursday, January 27, 2011

Visit to Africa

This month I took one of the most amazing trips ever. And this time it wasn't about wine. It was about nature; wild, extensive nature of dazzling beauty - Botswana and Zimbabwe.

For about a week we were fully disconnected from the rest of the world, visiting the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. It was very exciting to see all the wildlife, and I was impressed by the expanse of nature, the only sign of humans being the endless dirt roads crossing the untouched forests and grasslands.

Despite my awe, I will talk about something else in this posting, and that's what we did on the last day of our trip: visiting Anthonij Rupert Wines in Franschhoek. That makes more sense on a wine blog and moreover, it was an interesting visit.

Anthonij Rupert vineyardsThe Groot Drakenstein Mountains behind one of the L'Ormarins vineyards

A known saying in the wine industry is: you need a big fortune to make a small fortune. And this rule definitely applies here. The story starts with the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Anton Rupert, who gained his first fortune by introducing the Peter Stuyvesant brand to the African continent. Many thriving business initiatives followed and made Mr Rupert - who started with almost nothing - one of the richest people of South Africa.

In the 1990s, with Nelson Mandela and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Mr Rupert founded the Peace Parks Foundation, a successful organization that simultaneously - hence effectively - attains goals in the fields of nature preservation, poverty reduction & development, and peace. We saw some results of this important work in Botswana. Talk about making a difference...

Today Mr Rupert's son Johann (born 1950) is the head of all family businesses and organizations, and he must be one of the most energetic and strong-minded people I've ever met. This powerful mind is also reflected in his wine, and in the winery. Anthonij Rupert Wines is named after Johann Rupert's younger brother, who was killed in a car accident in 2001. Nevertheless, there's a beautiful car museum as well on the grounds of this wine estate.

Anthonij Rupert Wines consists of four farms, and we visited the L'Ormarins where the central vinification facility is located. Johann Rupert's approach is uncompromising: the investments for the 007-like cellar must have been enormous. But the proof of the wine is in the drinking, so the first thing we did was taste.

Personally I was most enthusiastic about the estate's basic wines. There are the L'Ormarins and the Terra del Capo wines. Expressive whites and quaffable reds. I liked the Arné for example, a slender, somewhat smokey and peppery blend of Merlot and Sangiovese. It has the agility and freshness that I like to find in a wine.

Then there are the ambitious Anthonij Rupert mono-cépages; we tasted these four: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Perhaps the shortest way to characterize these cuvées is that I correctly identified the wines as being made with the advice of Michel Rolland. The style is ripe, leaning towards very ripe (especially the Merlot), and powerful. This is not a matter of quality, it is a matter of taste. For me these wines are a bit too heavy and meaty. At the same time it was crystal clear that in its segment these wines are impressive. My personal favourites were the Cabernet Franc (earthly, more dry) and the Syrah (energetic and spicy).

Anthonij Rupert vat room from aboveThe fermentation vats and one level lower the barriques, L'Ormarins estate, Anthonij Rupert Wines

After the tasting we toured the winery which is, indeed, impressive. The idea to use gravity is extended to the max: the winery is actually a tower. The grapes enter the building at the top and from there they merely trickle down until they reach the barriques in the cellar. I have seen many ambitious wineries in Bordeaux, and this one easily maintains itself within the group of - say - the ten most advanced wineries.

The fermentation and remontage tanksThe fermentation vats with a remontage vessel in front, L'Ormarins estate, Anthonij Rupert Wines

The strictly selected grapes are distributed over different types of fermentation vats (we're one level down now): wood, stainless steel and concrete. There is a huge wheel above the circle of vats which is used to fill and refill the tanks. For the remontage a sort of flattened tank is used (see picture) that can be entirely hauled up in order to be emptied in the fermentation tanks - an ingenious manner to perform a remontage.

Anthonij Rupert cellarThe cellar with the barriques, L'Ormarins estate, Anthonij Rupert Wines

Finally we arrive at the barrels in the cellar. The grands vins stay on barrel for no less than 18 to 24 months, and these barrels are rolled regularly so the wine intermingles nicely with its lees. Fining is not applied, filtering is. Acidification is done to get to a good balance in the wines.

Mercedes-Benz Brabus E V12Mercedes-Benz Brabus E V12 1996

Talking about power: in the car museum (from T-Ford to Ferrari F-50) I was fascinated by one specific car: the Mercedes-Benz Brabus E V12 from 1996. One of the favourite cars of Johann Rupert, as the guide knew. It looks like a normal E-class Mercedes (i.e. as an Amsterdam taxi cab) but under the bonnet is a 7,3 litre V12. Top speed of this car... 331.5 km/h. A wolf in sheep's clothing, or as they say in South Africa: "Dit is 'n wolf in skaapsklere. Met die eerste oogopslag lyk dit na 'n normale E-klas [...]. Maar moenie mislei word nie." (translation: This is a wolf in sheep's clothing. At first glance it may look like any normal E-class [...] But don't be fooled.) I definitely wouldn't have minded to be fooled, and drive this monster car...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wine Professional 2011: Madeira, Vinhos Barbeito

Dwayne Perreault — When I saw that Horizon Wines was hosting a master class on Madeira, Vinhos Barbeito at Wine Professional, I knew I couldn’t miss it. This was for me the highlight of the three-day long wine exhibition, the largest in the Netherlands.

Madeira is a tiny gem on the world wine map, producing a range of fascinating wines, some of which can last a couple centuries. But strangely it has been in a period of decline since the mid-19th century, when the island was hit by the powdery mildew and phylloxera plagues. Vintners chose to replant with inferior American grape varieties, then lost major markets in Russia and America to a revolution and prohibition. Eventually, the public perception of Madeira was downgraded to a cooking wine, and to some extent that misconception still exists today.

The future of Madeira became a bit brighter in the late twentieth century, when producers began replacing hybrid and American vines with the noble varieties Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia (listed from dry to sweet). The red-skinned Tinta Negra Mole remains the workhorse of Madeira, but Ricardo Diogo Freitas, the owner and winemaker of Barbeito, showed that it is also capable of producing worthy wines.

Ricardo’s mission is to save Madeira the wine, whose biggest threat is now the more lucrative tourism industry. At one time, Madeira had over 150 winemakers; it is now left with five. Ricardo is a new style producer, striving to also create Madeiras which can also be enjoyed young, thus challenging the perception that only older Madeiras are fit for drinking.

We were presented with six flights of wines from Barbeito, culminating with two Malvasia’s from 1875 and 1834!

Flight one: 1. Rainwater 5 years old. Made from Tinta Negra Mole, which needs extra ageing. Soft in mouth, sherry-like. Ricardo forbids the use of caramel in his wines, but a caramel flavour is present. Bit fiery at the end. 2. Boal 5 years old. This sweeter grape can produce fuller bodied wines with less ageing. Even softer, with orange peel and candied fruits.

Flight two: 1. Sercial 10 years old. A dry wine. Acidity is extremely important to Ricardo for all the wines he produces, so he fortifies his must and stops fermentation earlier than is traditional. Oxydation ensures that the wine gathers both sweetness and complexity. This is a blend of wines from 12 years with lovely tangy bitters. 2. Sercial Vintage 1988. Vintage wines must be aged 20 years in cask. A bit sweeter, with oxidative nut tones.

Flight three (served with a dish of monkfish with octopus and a friture of echalottes and garlic): 1. Verdelho 10 years old. Verdelho is Ricardo’s favourite grape for Madeira. Luxurious in the mouth, exuberant and elegant with notes of toffee and lively acidity, which makes it a fascinating match for this seafood dish.

Flight four: 1. Boal Colheita 2001. Medium sweet, Boal can be even more full bodied than Malvasia. Orange peel, raisin, caramel and cinammon melt in the mouth. 2. Canteiro Colheita 1995. A single cask wine made from Tinta Negra Mole with notes of lemon and lime.

Flight five (Perfectly matched with a dish of sweetbreads, pear and artichoke mousse with a sauce of Sauternes, butter, gorgonzola and lemon): 1. VB Lote 2 Reserva. This is a blend of 60% Verdelho and 40% Boal. More sherry-like, but very soft and sweet.

Flight six: 1. Malvasia 2000 Cask 40a. With 8-9 years cask ageing and many caramelised tones. 2. Malvasia 1875. My first 19th century wine was a Malmsey! The bouquet had older oxydized tones, wood notes, light acetone, hazelnut. Very dark and rich in the mouth, an explosion of walnut and dark rich fruit flavours with pleasant, intriguing wood bitters. Fantastic. 3. Malvasia 1834. Napoleon had been buried just 13 years before this wine was made. Perfumed oak in the nose and dark, rich molasses. Taste: bitter almond liqueur, orange peel, dark earthy fruit, very persistent and long lasting. Extravagant, so rich but still fresh and alive with ancient but vital acidity!

While sipping the 1834, I thought briefly of Napoleon, the Tsars, the founding fathers of America who all shared an admiration for a drink that must have tasted much like what I was tasting. It is said that George Washington drank a pint of Madeira per day.

But to my horror and astonishment, as we were leaving, two young cooking students sitting next to me left their barely touched glasses on the table. Imagine waiting 176 years to be enjoyed, only to be spurned! I wanted to grab their glasses, but damned decorum wouldn’t let me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Afpilsers Christmas 2010 tasting

Dwayne Perreault - It’s great to have a tasting club. Wine is social and is best enjoyed in good company, where it can be praised, critiqued and discussed, and the tasting club gives us the perfect, intimate venue to do that.

Our club in Amsterdam is called the afpilsers (which sort of translates into ‘the beer after drinkers’). We’re a group of about 8-10 people, some wine professionals and some enthusiasts, who take turns organizing wine tastings by theme.

Our latest evening together was organized by Doris Vroom from Winefields Auctioneers, who surprised us with a blind tasting of nine vintage Bordeaux wines, and a Californian Mondavi at the end to confuse us. David brought a white Hermitage 1998 from Chave to round out the evening.

tasting Doris Vroom
1. The first wine, a Lalande-de-Pomerol, Laborde 1959 caught us by surprise. Stewed red fruits and tomato in the nose, woody with a hint of iron. Very soft and delicate in the mouth. I correctly identified it as right bank, but who would expect a Lalande-de-Pomerol to last fifty years? As Milan Veld from Winefields remarked, 1959 was one of the best vintage years of the twentieth century.

2. The second wine, the 3e Grand Cru Classé, Margaux, Château Boyd Cantenac 1975 was clearly Cabernet Sauvignon-driven, thicker, more concentrated with jammy tones. Not really a bad year either; this wine has kept well.

3. 3e Grand Cru Classé, St. Julien, Château Lagrange 1982. This was known to be a great year for Bordeaux, and the Lagrange did not disappoint. More dark fruit expression, with toffee, pepper and good use of new oak. Strong tannins.

4. Cru Bourgeois, Listrac-Médoc, Château Reverdi 1983 was a little more subdued but still very enjoyable. A nice introduction for…

5. 1e Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, Château Latour 1983. While 83 is seen as a lesser vintage than 82, the top wines are still grand. This Latour has an older, smokey, tobbaco case bouquet with a light acetone. The taste is very dark and full, oakey with spice and cacao.

6. 3e Grand Cru Classé, Haut-Médoc, Château La Lagune 1991 also had a smokey, fragrant character with nice dark fruit. 1991 is seen to be a poor year, but this wine proves you can’t take that literally.

7. Pomerol, Château Lafleur-Pétrus 1992 is an even better example of this. A poor year, but this Pomerol is dark and rich with fragrant tobacco, candied fruit and dark chocolate. Once again, I couldn’t pick out the Pomerol.

8. 5e Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac, Château Lynch Bages 1993. Considered only a slightly better year, this is actually elegant Lynch Bages, not quite as powerful as other years I’ve tasted, more charming than robust.

9. Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Moulis-en-Médoc, Château Poujeaux 1996. Back to a very good year, and at 14 years old the youngest of the bunch, with beautiful, perfumed oak in the bouquet and really great dark fruit concentration.

10. A trick wine, the Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997. A nice effort from Mondavi, very fragant and dark-fruit driven. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of this over the past year.

That was our Christmas tasting, but now it’s a new year. Thanks again to Doris and here’s to opening many more fine bottles in 2011!