Vintage Bordeaux: Haut Medoc 2005

Whenever the subject of Bordeaux comes up, one cant help but conjure up images of majestic chateaux, of rolling countryside and of course some of the most expensive wine known to man. Since the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the price of Bordeaux has simply rocketed out of control as this new market makes a beeline straight for the great chateaux of the region. Indeed such is their love for Bordeaux (China is the largest export market of Bordeaux wine in the world) that Chinese investors now own over 100 vineyards in the region.

Of course I talk about Bordeaux as a single homogeneous region, which, perhaps more than most, is a vast oversimplification. Bordeaux covers over 120,000 hectares and is made of 60 different appellations, famously divided into the left and right banks. Bordeaux makes over 10,000 different bottles of wine ranging from mere few pounds for the cheapest, to many thousands of pounds for the dearest. Navigating ones way though this vast array of wines is an exceptionally difficult task and one that few can truly say they are at home doing so. I, a mere mortal, simply have to settle for a basic working knowledge to give me some idea of what I am looking at.

This brings me nicely to today’s wine:

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Chateau Cambon La Pelouse, Haut Medoc 2005

Bordeaux Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), Alcohol 13.5%

Chateau Cambon La Pelouse traces its roots back to the 18th Century, when the Cambon family first planted vines in the gravely soil of this 35 hectare plot, located in the Macau commune on the banks of the Garonne. The Macau commune lies just South along the river from Margaux. The chateau plants 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignion and 5% Petit Verdot, and their blends, whilst varying from year to year, often contain a large proportion of Merlot. Wines of the chateau are aged for an average of 20 months in French oak barrels of which between 40 and 50% are new.

2005 was a year to remember in Bordeaux. It was a year of plenty – plenty of acidity, fruit and especially, plenty of tannin. It was hailed by some as the vintage of the century, its rich tannins allowing great potential for ageing.

This bottle is a fine example of the vintage, displaying all the characteristics associated with it. The wine is a deep claret colour, with a real spicy nose, traces of leather and smoke with just a hint of red fruit. As expected, tannins are not in short supply, giving a real astringency quality to the wine. Its obvious the wine has been heavily oak aged, bestowing a complex smokey, almost licorice flavour. Unfortunately these intense bold flavours somewhat mask the rather more delicate black fruity flavours. All the components of the great wines are there, however the wine is let down by the lack of balance.

Even with over 10 years of age on the bottle, there is still a lot of room for more ageing and this might just bring some much needed balance to the tannic flavours. The classic food pairings for left bank Bordeaux are simple hearty lamb dishes or fine steaks. This wine would pair very well with either. Its important to avoid overly complex flavours or foods as these would likely be lost in the boldness of this wine. 87 points (MI)

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‘If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving!’

If you were to offer Miles Raymond a bottle of 1982 Petrus, I would suspect he would change his mind. However, when the lead character of the Hollywood film Sideways made this remark, he was really making a jibe at the over-produced, easy-to-make, easy-to-drink, generic, sweet, simple expressions of merlot that we all know and avoid.

Instead, Miles and I pursue the ‘haunting and brilliant and subtle’ flavours of the temperamental, thin-skinned grape pinot noir. Growing pinot noir is notoriously difficult. In cold climates, there is a risk of under-ripeness; in hot climates the grapes ripen too quickly, preventing the development of complex flavour compounds.

There is a great deal of pinot noir being made in warm-climates. As these are cheaper than Burgundian expressions, I popped a bottle yesterday in sincere hope that I would find something charismatic.

2016-03-27 00.01.16Newton Johnson, Walker Bay Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, South Africa 2012

100% matured in French Oak, pH 3.5, residual sugar 1.9, alcohol 13.95%

Light-mid ruby colour. Sour cherries and raspberries on the nose. A subtle touch of manure and some thyme. Lovely acidity on the palate with buckets of red fruit. Sweetness on the mid-palate (which is not a bad thing as it is balanced by the acidity).

Conclusion: I enjoyed this. It had some of those herbal aromas that you remember for days to come. However, you can tell that this is Newton Johnson’s more simple pinot . The palate is fruit driven, forward and slightly sweet. I would love to try their ‘family vineyards’ pinot noir to see how it compares. 88 points (BP)

Learning Point: Jancis Robinson is, as usual, correct when she says about South African pinot noir: ‘the coastal regions show promise.’

Meerlust Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Prior to visiting South Africa I had already tasted Meerlust Rubicon, and this wine helped set the yardstick to judge against. The visit to Meerlust came towards the end of the trip so I felt a certain trepidation for how the wines of the estate matched both expectation and memory.

Wine has been grown on this estate to the south of Stellenbosch since 1756. The estate has been recognised as a national monument since 1987, although we did not stop long enough to see more than the tasting room. Meerlust has been long recognized as one of South Africa’s top estates. The range at Meerlust is simple: 4 varietals (1 white and 3 red) and the flagship Rubicon (a Bordeaux blend). Here in the UK I have also seen an entry level Meerlust red although this was not available for tasting.

We travelled to Meerlust Estate from False Bay having followed the stunning R44 along the coast around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. False Bay is still visible from the turning into the estate and this proximity to the sea is key to the wines. A sea breeze and mist keep the vineyard temperatures in check through the summer permitting a longer ripening season. This translates into a great intensity and permits elegance in the wines.

The tasting room and shop are in one of the estates historic buildings and are accompanied by an exhibition of photography and articles about the cape and the estate.

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 09h00 – 17h00, Saturdays 10h00 – 14h00.

Tasting fee: R30 per person refundable on purchase of wine.

Stockists in UK: The wines of Meerlust are relatively easily found in the UK.  The price disparity across the range is less here than in South Africa and so Rubicon is relatively more keenly priced.  I have included a link for each wine as some are slightly tricky to find.

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Wines Tasted: Meerlust Chardonnay 2014, Meerlust Pinot Noir 2015, Meerlest Merlot 2013, Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Meerlust Rubicon 2012

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Wines from Stellenbosch

The following wines are a mix of wines tasted by the bottle with friends in South Africa. I tasted these wines with no preconception and minimal knowledge of the producers. Unfortunately for two of these I did not have any appropriate glassware available so they were sampled from a flat bottomed tumbler (unfair I know).

StehuisMorgensterWines: Morgenster White 2012, Sterhuis Merlot 2013, Eikendal Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

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Eagles’ Nest Winery, Constantia

Eagles’ Nest winery lies at the north end of Constantia on the slopes of the Constantiaberg to the south of Table Mountain.  The location of Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town, means access for visitors is straightforward and we traveled to the winery by Uber allowing us both to enjoy the wine.  Being in close proximity to the Atlantic on the west and False Bay to the East, Constantia is blessed with a coastal breeze giving its wines a cooler climate feel than those regions further inland.  I had hoped to make it to the majority of the Constantia wineries, however, due to a last minute excursion to Durbanville I only made it to Eagles’ Nest and Steenberg (link to follow shortly).

The vineyards at Eagles’ Nest were destroyed by fire back in 2000 but have now been replanted with Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot and Viognier in terraces leading up the mountain slopes.  Given that Syrah and Viognier grown together leave me thinking of Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone I had high expectations for these wines.  Eagles’ Nest is an idyllic spot, with a modern tasting room opening on to the garden of the estate.  If I had more time around Cape Town it is a spot I would certainly return to for lunch and a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon.

Tasting Facilities: Mondays-Sundays from 10:00am – 16:30pm.
Appointments are not required, and tasting is in the gardens of the estate.
The cost of tasting is 50 Rand per person (this is refunded if spending over R500 on wine).

Refreshments: We accompanied our tasting with a superb Antipasto Platter for R165 which was more than enough for 2 to enjoy as a light lunch.  I understand it is also possible to arrange for a picnic in the grounds during the summer months.

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Wines Tasted: Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Viognier 2015, The Little Eagle Rosé 2015, Merlot 2011, Shiraz 2013

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