Tuesday 26 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
It is rare that I sample wines without visiting the estate at which they are made. However, there was good reason with Guillaumé. First, I came by the wines on the eve of covid-19 Lockdown and, second, Guillaumé, is a garagiste producer and consequently without a Tasting Room. The three wines, one rosé and two red, make up the entire range made by Johan Guillaumé. A garagiste, to set the scene, is a small-scale winemaker. According to South African wine classification, the garagiste must be a commercial rather than a home winemaker as well as being the sole financier and winemaker. Production needs also be under 9,000 litres per annum to gain SAWIS certification under the Wine of Origin scheme. It is customary, though not essential, that garagistes buy in grapes and do not own any vineyard.
Garagiste literally means a ‘garage mechanic or garage owner’. The name comes from the pioneer of the ‘movement’, a Bordeaux wine merchant called Jean-Luc Thunevin. Frustrated by the big name, historic producers and with ‘No money, no big vineyards’, he set about making his own wine in 1991 in an old garage in the back streets of St Emilion. He bought in grapes from a 1-hectare plot of vines and sold the wine he produced under the Château Valandraud label. Five years later, the great American wine critic Robert Parker rated one of his wines higher than the famed and iconic Château Petrus. I can only imagine the ripples of Gallic shock and discontent that must have rippled through the French wine establishment.
It took only 4 years for the first garagiste wine to be made in South Africa, a remarkably quick turn of events. First was Cathy Marshal who started Barefoot Wine in Muizenberg, to be closely followed by Clive Torr of Topaz Wines who produced Pinot Noir from a plot of just 400m2 of vines in Somerset West. There are many more garagistes nowadays. Indeed, I recall hearing at the Small-Scale Winemaking (aka Garagiste) Course, which I completed at Stellenbosch University in 2018, of at least 28 garagistes in Durbanville alone. Some, like Guillaumé, make it into the Platter’s Wine Guide. I have tasted – and reviewed – the wines made by Bemind Wyne (McGregor) and Sonklip (Stellenbosch), both of whom are listed.
Johan Guillaumé, true to form and like his Platter-garagistes Isle Schutte and Frik Kirsten, makes wine in his garage. He is based in Orangezicht, close to the Cape Town city bowl, and has produced wine since completing the ‘Garagiste’ Course in 2015. 2020 marks his sixth vintage. Johan’s ancestors were French Huguenots who came to South Africa at the invitation of the Dutch East India Company. Francois Guillaumé arrived in Cape Town in 1726 with the intention of being a silk maker. On his arrival, he changed his name from the French to Dutch (later Afrikaans) spelling and pronunciation. However, and I am unsure whether this was the cause, the business failed. He wanted to become a winemaker instead but this was not possible at the time due to the lack of available wine farms and so he moved to become a sheep farmer in the Overberg. It intrigues that six generations later, descendant Johan is making wine from grapes bought in as he does not own a vineyard either.
The first Guillaumé I tasted during the ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ series was the Le Phenix, a Merlot-led red blend. The name refers to the Greek mystical bird the Phoenix that regenerates itself to be born again. Wine blends do much the same when different cultivars come together to make something anew. It seemed fitting too that I was sampling a Right Bank Bordeaux-styled wine, as if the garagiste journey was returning to the place where the movement began. The wine is made from Stellenbosch grapes in small amount (198 bottles only) such is the small-scale of typical production. After de-stemming, the grapes are soaked for 5 days before fermentation with frequent, manual punch downs. Light basket pressing follows before 18 months of maturation in new/4th fill French oak barrels and minimal filtration prior to bottling. The deep ruby wine showed classic Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon notes of burnt raspberry, red plum and cherry t0gether with bramble, cassis, mint, leather, and meat, respectively, on the nose. The dry wine showed good balance with silky Merlot offsetting the more structured tannins of the cabernet Sauvignon. The heady 14% alcohol was well matched by the dense fruits to make for an enjoyable wine that will age well.
I shared ‘Live’ the Rosé tasting a few weeks later. Like Le Phenix, this was a blend of Bordeaux grape varieties with Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead cultivar (48%) with the grapes sourced from Kaapzicht and Bottleray in Stellenbosch. Johan tells me that the idea for making a rosé came from a day making wine at De Toren. Rather than waste 60 litres of juice bled off to concentrate a red wine, he fermented it in stainless tanks. Sixty days on the lees followed before hand-corking with only 110 bottles made. The Rosé was a pale salmon in colour with delicate aromas of red strawberry, candied honey, and slight white blossom. These notes followed though to the palate which showed above average acidity, a refreshing clean dry taste, and modest length.
My favourite of the three wines, Johan’s too, was the Cabernet Sauvignon and bottle number 45/153. The grapes also come from Stellenbosch, hence the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin on the elegant and stylish black label. The wine was made in similar fashion to Le Phenix – with a dash of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for complexity and balance – with light basket-pressing and 110 litre barrels for maturation before light filtering and bottling. The wine showed classic deep ruby appearance with aromas of warm dark fruits – ripe cherry, dark plum, cassis – smoky toast with excellent complexity and intensity. The dense, concentrated fruits balanced well the 14% alcohol and structured tannins on the palate that were already showing some signs of opening. I liked the decent finish. This wine will improve with keeping as tertiary aromas and flavours develop in the bottle.
I recall asking Professor Wessels du Toit during the Small-Scale Winemaking Course whether making wine was really that easy as I feared producing awfully expensive vinegar. Johan Guillaumé has shown that it is entirely possible for a garagiste to make decent wines and, indeed, to sell them. More pleasure even for me, is that the Live Tasting videos of his wines have had some of the highest viewing numbers. I say so as I am keen always to profile the small producer. I raise a glass to Johan and encourage you to buy and enjoy his wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2019 Rosé (47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot) – R150
Red: 2017 Le Phenix (51% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot) – R300
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) – R300 FAVOURITE WINE
METZER & HOLFELD FAMILY WINES
Wednesday 6 November 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 5/5
I had a special reason to visit Metzer. It was probably an unusual one. I wanted to buy a PétNat wine for a special tasting I was arranging for my WSET Diploma colleagues ahead of the Sparkling Wine Exam in early 2020. Pétillant Naturel is a wine made using the méthode ancestrale (also known as artisanale or rurale) that is currently in vogue. The wine is made by an method older than champagne and its equivalent sparklers (MCC or Cap Classique) included. The wine is bottled before fermentation has fully finished, thereby allowing the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation of the natural sugar remaining to form the bubbles. It is a risky approach for obvious reasons. PétNats are not disgorged, though may be fined and filtered. The sparkling wine is typically light, fizzy, spritzy and low-alcohol and for early drinking. [Afternote: the Metzer PétNat was ripe fruity in character with flavours of lemon citrus, white honey and pineapple. The bubbles were fine and simple but short-lived with the wine showing medium alcohol and an average finish].
I digress. I had already travelled to South Stellenbosch for a morning WSET class and so I was conveniently placed to collect the PétNat and taste some wine. Metzer was a secret that seemed determined not easily to be disclosed. The wines – mostly exported to the USA, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan – are Wine of Origin Stellenbosch yet the vineyards are on the lower slopes of the Helderberg Mountains. You won’t find Metzer in the maps at the back of the 2020 Platter’s Guide either. Tasting is by appointment only in a spacious modern house that, even with satnav, was not the easiest to find. Nonetheless, head South and past Avontuur Estate on the R44 towards Somerset West. Turn onto the Cordoba Road and pass Pink Valley Winery and you will be almost there.
I was warmly welcomed by Wade Metzer, winemaker and co-owner with Barry Holfield. The winery was established in 2006 and produces mostly (60%) red wine. I began the tasting in the family kitchen with 2 Chenins Blanc. Both wines were of 2017 vintage, vinified in old French oak using natural fermentation with 8 months lees ageing, but made from grapes grown in differing climates and soils. I rated them both highly. The ‘Maritime’, with grapes sourced from a vineyard 4 kilometres from the ocean at False Bay, was fresh in character with delicious lemon, lime citrus and tropical fruit aromas on the nose. The palate was well balanced with the fruits matched by a crisp bright yet integrated acidity, showing a saline minerality. Deeper in lemon colour and grown on granite, quartz soils on the mountain slopes, the ‘Montane’ chenin was equally elegant. The wine had a weightier character with vanilla notes complementing those of lemon and lime. The wine was more textured on the palate due, Wade explained, to the clay subsoils.
Cinsault is a favourite variety and, like Chenin Blanc, is found in small parcels of old vines. The wine was made from bush vines planted in 1964 on the lower slopes of the Helderberg West peak. The low yield of concentrated berries made for a beautifully perfumed pale ruby wine with aromas of raspberry, bitter cherry, cranberry and violets. White pepper spice emerged on the palate to balance a green and herbal stemminess (30% whole bunch pressed) that gave added complexity on the palate. I would have preferred even greater concentration on the palate.
The Shiraz also comes from the Helderberg but from a single block containing sandstone, granite and clay soils. The wine was made in a light style, belying its 13.5% alcohol, with scented red to dark fruit notes of cranberry, mulberry, white pepper and violets on the nose. The elegance fed through to a precise palate with good intensity and a balanced, integrated acidity.
I ended the tasting with a Cabernet Sauvignon, the first release for Metzer. This was another high scoring wine with an elegant and inviting nose. The red cherry, black plum, cassis and eucalyptus aromas were complex and intense, aided by added 10% Shiraz and 5% Cinsault. Green tobacco leafiness emerged on the palate that showed a good structure from tight but not astringent tannins (14 months in 30% new French oak). The Cabernet Sauvignon was approachable and already very drinkable but will age well for another 10 years.
Metzer was the very essence of a boutique estate. The wines were superb with elegant, simple stylish labels (there is also excellent detailed information on the website). I rated the wines highly and the effort to find the winery was well worth it. I liked the cultivar and terroir specificity that came from the carefully selected vineyards in small parcels from the immediate area. Whilst the Stellenbosch or Helderberg location conundrum confused at first, there was nothing contradictory about the wines. Each one was precise, authentic and made with minimum intervention to allow the soils and varietal character to shine best. The wines were pricey (R250 to R300) but this is understandable for a boutique winery producing only 4,500 cases annually. Their quality is without question and so worth the money. The ‘Montane’ Chenin Blanc, for example, gained 5 Platter stars in a very competitive category in 2020. I could very easily have bought every wine had my pockets been deep enough. I would also buy any Metzer wine without prior tasting. That combination is a rare treat for me indeed.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Metzer PétNat (100% Chenin Blanc) – R250*
2017 Metzer Family Maritime Chenin Blanc – R250
2017 Metzer Family Montane Chenin Blanc – R300 FAVOURITE WINE
2018 Metzer Family Cinsault – R300
2017 Metzer Family Shiraz – R240
2017 Metzer Family Cabernet Sauvignon – R240