The term ‘icon’ is often bandied about in the New World by wannabe superstars, regardless of their heritage. So which are the wineries are in the same league as the giants of the Old World, and which are those on the way there?
by Linda Murphy
ICON OF TODAY
Ridge Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
Paul Draper’s Ridge Monte Bello is the most consistently great Cabernet Sauvignon icon in California, and a must-have for the cellar. Its ‘victory’ over Bordeaux and other California Cabernets in the 2006 re-enactment of the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting was further validation that Monte Bello also stands tall among the finest wines in the world. Draper, Ridge’s CEO and winemaker there since 1969, also produces exciting Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and a Santa Cruz Mountains red blend, but Monte Bello is the jewel in the crown. It’s a traditionally made, ageworthy wine that is Californian in provenance and Bordelais in structure and nuance. Monte Bello is typically deep in cassis and blackcurrant character, with secondary notes of cedar, spice, leather, dried herbs and minerals. Firm tannins and fresh acidity allow the wine to age gracefully, as the 1971 proved when it was placed first at the 2006 Paris re-tasting. Alcohols tend to be an admirably low 13.5% or less. The location of the Monte Bello estate makes this style of wine possible. The vines, a mix of old and younger, are planted at elevations of 395–810m, in soils of decomposing Franciscan rock mixed with clay and limestone, atop the cool Santa Cruz Mountains. Draper’s minimal intervention winemaking then preserves the inherent character of the grapes; relying mainly on air-dried American oak barrels rather than French. The wine style hasn’t changed much since Draper made the 1971, and his 2000 was the favourite of the new wines tasted at the 2006 California-Bordeaux battle. The current Monte Bello, 2004, is 75% Cabernet, with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, and sells for approximately $120 – a relative bargain for a wine of such pedigree, in Californian terms.
J Rochioli Vineyards, Russian River Valley
Long before California Pinot Noir became the icon that it is today, Joe Rochioli (above) ignored the advice of neighbouring farmers and planted Pinot in the foggy Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, a region that had previously been thought too cold for the ripening of Burgundian varieties. That was in 1966, and Rochioli’s intuition paid off, making him arguably the most prescient grower – and, since 1982, accomplished producer – of California Pinot Noir. And, since 1982, the fruit Joe and his winemaker son, Tom, keep for their own Rochioli brand makes owning a case or two a wise investment. From the sweetest spots in a vineyard that hugs the Russian River southwest of Healdsburg, the Rochiolis make several estate Pinot Noirs from a mix of classic and Dijon clones, including a fine, widely available estate Russian River Valley bottling ($55) from younger vines and a handful of small-production, rich-yet-elegant Pinot Noirs from older plots.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley
Just as Ridge Monte Bello flummoxed the French by winning the Paris retasting last year, Warren Winiarski’s first-place finish in the original 1976 judging was astonishing. Not only did California beat Bordeaux at its own game, it did so with a new brand, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars; the 1973 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was Winiarski’s first commercial bottling. Thirty-plus-years later, Stag’s Leap’s Cabernets – particularly Cask 23, SLV and Fay – remain an icon. While many producers seek ripeness and soft textures for immediately enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignons, Winiarski goes for less upfront ripeness, brisk acidity for a refreshing taste, and mature yet firm tannins that lose their tightness with age.
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Alban Vineyards, Edna Valley
John Alban’s wines are an icon of a reference point for California producers of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier and other Rhône varietals. A relatively new face (1991 was his first vintage) Alban bucked the Cabernet Sauvignon/Chardonnay trend by growing and producing only Rhône-style wines – and doing so in under-appreciated Edna Valley, a Central Coast wine region half an hour south of Paso Robles. Alban’s wines are modern, opulent and concentrated. They’re made in a style that resonates with many consumers, with richness of fruit and supple textures, yet older examples have shown a capacity for ageing. The benchmarks are the Reva Vineyard Syrah ($74) and the Edna Valley Grenache ($65). This Pied Piper for Rhône-style wines has a growing number of followers; the next 10 years will tell if Alban’s wines are as accepted worldwide as they now are in California, but the smart money is on this quintessential Rhône Ranger.
Harlan Estate, Napa Valley
H William ‘Bill’ Harlan’s Cabernet Sauvignons don’t have the extensive track record of the Bordeaux first growths his wines emulate, hitting their stride only in the early 1990s. Yet the Harlan Estate Cabernets grown in his fastidiously tended vineyard in the steep hills west of Oakville are among California’s most collectable, with tremendous ageing potential and high resale value. Harlan (right) is well past the proveyourself period; the only question is, how much will prices soar as Harlan Estate ($265 current release price, with around 1,600 cases produced) becomes increasingly more difficult to acquire? Single 750ml bottles of 2002 Harlan have sold at auction for as much as $1,000. The wines burst with lively black fruits and savoury spices, with subtle oak shadings and a polish that tempts one to drink them sooner rather than later. Harlan spares no expense with his vineyard, and is a perfectionist boss to longtime winemaker Bob Levy and sometime-consultant Michel Rolland. The wines, including a second label, The Maiden ($100), are mostly sold to mailing list customers and to high-end restaurants; so don’t delay in buying if the opportunity arises.
Marcassin, Sonoma Coast
As a winemaker, Helen Turley is already an icon, thanks to her consultancy with several of Napa’s flashiest Cabernet producers, including Bryant Family and Colgin. With her viticulturist husband, John Wetlaufer, she is also an estate owner to watch, with her own brand, Marcassin, under which she produces intense, multi-dimensional Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the chilly, marginally farmable Sonoma Coast near Jenner. Turley and Wetlaufer also make several other Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from other sources, including the Martinelli family’s Blue Slide Ridge and Three Sisters vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Prices are $60–90 per bottle.
by Max Allen
ICON OF TODAY
Penfolds, South Australia
Australia’s leading wine company by any measure is Penfolds. Being the producer of the country’s one truly iconic wine – Grange, first developed by winemaker Max Schubert in the early 1950s – is almost qualification alone, but Penfolds also has a century-and-a-half track record of slaking Australia’s thirst with accessible brands such as Kalimna Shiraz and Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. It’s hard to imagine a wine company in any other country with as loyal a following as Penfolds has in its homeland – or, indeed, in markets around the world. Since the turn of this century, though, Penfolds (now owned by Fosters) has been through a period of tumultuous change, and the company could now be seen as a tarnished icon: while the wines at the top of the quality hierarchy (in particular Cellar Reserve wines such as a minimal-intervention Sangiovese, and the recently released ‘special bin’ Block 42 Cabernet and Bin 60A Cabernet-Shiraz – the latter both destined to become absolute Australian classics in decades to come) are arguably better than ever, bread-and-butter brands such as Koonunga Hill are looking decidedly ordinary. Still, the only other wine with as much gravitas as Grange in connoisseurs’ minds is Henschke’s Hill of Grace – a single-vineyard Shiraz that may not be as consistent as Penfolds’ top wine, but which, in great vintages (1990, 1996, 2002), rivals and perhaps exceeds Grange in sheer quality.
Grosset, Clare Valley
Jeff Grosset has made some crucial contributions to Australia’s modern wine scene. On one hand, this Clare Valley winemaker has spearheaded the Riesling renaissance: inspired by the pristine Leo Buring Rieslings made by John Vickery in the 1960s and 1970s, Grosset’s scintillating terroir-driven Rieslings (the floral, generous Watervale and the nervy, incisive Polish Hill) took the classic Clare style to new heights of quality in the 1990s, and continue to be among Australia’s greatest white wines. In 2000, Grosset was the unofficial leader of a group of the region’s winemakers who, en masse, rejected the cork in favour of screwcaps. Grosset’s highprofile work with Riesling and screwcaps shouldn’t, however, overshadow his other wines such as the superb Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills and the refined, single vineyard
The new wave of young winemakers crashing across the Barossa landscape would not be here today were it not for the pioneering work of Robert O’Callaghan’s Rockford winery. O’Callaghan came from a background working for bigger companies – Seppelt and St Hallett before setting his own place up in the mid-1980s, dusting off century-old winemaking equipment, and sourcing grapes from century-old vines. The wines – earthy, robust, oldfashioned reds such as Rockford Basket Press Shiraz – became a beacon of retrochic that attracted and inspired a whole generation of winemakers. Importantly, while some of O’Callaghan’s protégés have succumbed to the US-influenced trend for Barossa reds with extreme ripeness and extract – and price tags – Rockford’s style has remained savoury, restrained and long lived. It’s not just the wine styles and winemakers that Rockford has inspired, either: O’Callaghan is the Barossa’s philosopher king – over the last 20 years of rapid development, he has helped construct an aesthetic and moral framework for the region.
Yalumba, South Australia
The Hill-Smith family-owned Yalumba wine company wears many hats. For much of its 150 year history, the company has produced a steady stream of solid, reliable commercial wines, and continues this tradition with labels such as Oxford Landing, Galway and undoubtedly the country’s best cask (bagin-box) wines. Innovation is also at the heart of the modern Yalumba: the company pioneered the aromatic Viognier grape in Australia, first at its Heggies vineyard in the Eden Valley then in flagship wines such as the heady, complex Virgilius, even in an unusual Tempranillo-Grenache-Viognier blend. Yalumba also has one of the most global perspectives of any Australian wine company, a perspective gained through its import/export arm, Negociants. In the last 10 years, the company has implemented an environmental policy that earlier this year earned it a Climate Protection Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Cullen, Margaret River
Since the mid-1970s, the Cullen family has been at the forefront of grape growing and winemaking in Margaret River. First husband and wife team Kevin and Di Cullen, then daughter Vanya, showed the world how well suited this part of the world is to both Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet and Merlot for reds, Semillon and Sauvignon for whites) and Chardonnay: Cullen’s Diana Madeline Cabernet blend is exceptionally refined. Vanya Cullen converted her vineyard to biodynamics in 2004, and is now one of the leading exponents in Australia: since then, some wine critics (including this correspondent) have detected a new dimension of quality in what were already brilliant wines.
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The Bindi vineyard, just north of Melbourne, is shaping up to be one of the greatest sources of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Australia. Winemaker Michael Dhillon, an icon, is obsessed with capturing the essence of his quartzriddled site in every bottle he produces, and manages his vines using a combination of biodynamic and biological techniques. Pinot Noir gets most attention – and it deserves the accolades – but many suspect history will show Bindi to be an even better Chardonnay vineyard: the Quartz Chardonnay has an underlying minerality rarely seen outside Chablis’ grand cru sites.
There is more than a passing resemblance to the cool, mountainous country of northeast Italy in northeast Victoria’s King Valley. Little wonder that migrant Italian families settled here in the middle of the 20th century. Much of this regional specialisation is down to the pioneering work of the King Valley’s leading producer, Pizzini: first a pioneer of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Pizzini, recently led the way with exceptional ‘super-Victorians’ -barrelaged, sumptuous (and suitably expensive) versions of those classic red grapes.
Clonakilla, Canberra, Inspired by legendary Yarra
Yering winemaker Bailey Carrodus, who first splashed Viognier into his Shiraz (a la Côte-Rôtie) in the 1980s, Tim Kirk has refined the style at Clonakilla over the last decade to the point where he produces not only Australia’s leading example of the Shiraz-Viognier blend, but also some of the country’s most breathtakingly beautiful wines. The white Riesling and Viognier can be gorgeous, but the Shiraz-Viognier is the knockout: exceptionally pure, spicy fruit, clean lines, juicy freshness, intensity and vitality. And yet Kirk remains one of the wine world’s most humble and gentle men. Spinifex, Barossa One of the most exciting things about Australia at the moment is the proliferation of (mostly) young winemakers setting up their own labels, often relying on bought-in grapes from old vineyards. Pete Schell and Magali Gely’s Spinifex wines stand out from the crowd with their imagination and daring: a superbly savoury 2006 rosé, for example, blends Grenache, Cinsault, Mataro and Shiraz, while a 2006 Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan red blend called Papillon tastes like a succulent Beaujolais spliced onto an earthy Côtes du Rhône. Pondalowie, Victoria It’s only in the last 10 years that Spain’s Tempranillo grape has been grown seriously in Australia, and no one has a better handle on the sheer deliciousness of the variety than Dominic and Krystina Morris at their Pondalowie vineyard at Bridgewater, north of Bendigo in central Victoria. All the Pondalowie reds are dense, impressive, firmly structured – reflecting the warmth and red soils of their terroir – but the Tempranillo is the star: complex, generous, spicy, slurpable.
by Bob Campbell MW
ICON OF TODAY
Cloudy Bay, Marlborough
When David Hohnen, founder of Margaret River winery Cape Mentelle, an icon, first tasted a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, he knew it was a winner. In less than a year he’d purchased grapes from the 1985 vintage, hired a winemaker and produced his first wine. By the next vintage he’d built a winery. He called it Cloudy Bay, and it went on to almost single-handedly put New Zealand wine on the world wine map. It must be a source of frustration to many Kiwi winemakers that it took an Aussie to launch their wine on the world stage. Cloudy Bay’s motto might easily be: ‘Quality without compromise, half the wine the customer wants’. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Méthode sparkling wine have since been added to the range. All maintain the quality and character of the winery’s bread-and-butter Sauvignon Blanc. Now owned by the French company Moët Hennessy, the wines are better than ever.
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Felton Road, Central Otago
Every wine region needs a hero. Sauternes has Yquem, Central Otago has Felton Road. From its first vintage a mere decade ago Felton Road has blazed a trail for other winemakers to follow. A great vineyard site at Bannockburn, one of Central Otago’s warmest districts; a gifted winemaker called Blair Walter and an innovative owner, Nigel Greening, have proved to be a devastating combination. Felton Road achieved almost overnight success with its first vintage of a slinky, elegant Pinot Noir. That was followed a few years later by the single-vineyard Block 3 and Block 5 Pinot Noir. As the numbers rose, so did quality and price. Organic viticulture, reduced crop levels, vine age and experience have seen the quality of Felton Road Pinot Noir steadily rise. Although the winery is best known for Pinot Noir, the three Rieslings are at least as good. All boast knife-edged acidity with flavours that develop magnificently with bottle age. For the winery’s two Chardonnays, the unoaked version is remarkably Chablis-like – the country’s best unoaked Chardonnay.
Dry River, Martinborough
I have been recording tasting notes on a computerised database for 10 years. Dry River scores a higher average rating for its wines than any other New Zealand winery by far. Every one of the company’s wines has ranked top in at least one vintage for the past decade, and it is very unusual for any Dry River wine not to achieve Top 10 status in my rankings. That’s not a bad achievement for a man who, when he started making wine in 1979, knew little about winemaking and viticulture. But Dr Neil McCallum is no ordinary man. He earned his doctorate at Oxford and headed New Zealand’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research before turning to winemaking. McCallum’s approach to viticulture and winemaking is meticulous and scientific. His methods are nonconformist but show spectacular results. Dry River makes powerful, flavoursome wines that age well in bottle (almost alone in New Zealand, he doesn’t use screwcaps). Wine styles include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. With an annual production of just 3,000 cases Dry River sells almost all of its wine to a mailing list of devoted customers. It has an ‘A’ mailing list and a ‘B’ mailing list. The ‘A’ list are allowed to buy, while the ‘B’ list are waiting to get on the ‘A’ list if someone doesn’t buy for two years. Most of the ‘A’ list would die before they’d give up their place.
Craggy Range, Hawke’s Bay
A chance encounter with Kiwi viticulturist Steve Smith convinced Australian-based businesman Terry Peabody to establish a winery in the Gimblett Gravels district of Hawke’s Bay. In 1999 Craggy Range released its first wine from contract grapes. These were eclipsed by the release of wines from its own vineyards two years later. Syrah, in particular the flagship Le Sol label, has earned Craggy Range the highest number of accolades to date. The winery’s other two prestige blended reds, the Merlot-dominant Sophia and the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Merlot are outstanding, while Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot and Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Kahu) are intense and powerful reds that need time before earning their status as the country’s best examples of their type.
By Anthony Rose
ICON OF TODAY
Concha y Toro
If you were to pick a Chilean winery that approaches the stature and range of Australia’s Penfolds in terms of consistency across the board, the icon Concha y Toro would be it. At a time when small is beautiful and big is bad, its growing reputation for quality and diversity should not be underestimated. Founded in 1883, Concha steadily expanded by creating Emiliana in the 1980s and Cono Sur and Argentinian giant Trivento in the 1990s. It moved into the 21st century under the direction of the powerful Guilisasti family with an ambitious programme to develop the 6,000-odd hectares (ha) under its control (sourcing grapes from a total of 18,000ha). As a result of better cooperation between the winemaking and vineyard sides (including bringing the talents of Ignacio Recabarren and Marcelo Papa on board), the sourcing and overall quality is much improved. At everyday level, Concha y Toro is responsible for one of the best-value brands in the world in Casillero del Diablo. Don Melchor is classic Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Cono Sur swept the board at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, while Concha’s joint venture with Domaines Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Almaviva, ensures it a place in the panoply of modern Chilean icons. Recent moves into exciting vineyard areas like Limarí, San Antonio and Colchagua suggest its place is assured for some time.
The uneven timber cellar floor and old winery photos testify to over a century of tradition at Errázuriz, and many will argue that the producer is already Chile’s icon. But it is its future path which may prove its legeacy. Founded in 1870, the present-day operation’s 750ha are overseen by the charismatic Eduardo Chadwick. He is the scion of several generations of a Chilean family which owns a variety of drinks and wine interests throughout the country. The winery’s source of fruit was long focused on Panquehue, but Chadwick’s search for terroir has resulted in expansion to Casablanca for Pinot Noir and whites, including the notable Wild Ferment Chardonnay, and more recently, to virgin coastal territory. Errázuriz first made waves in the modern era when it teamed up with Robert Mondavi to form Caliterra and its premium brand, Arboleda, in Colchagua. The joint venture included Seña, which became an internationally acclaimed icon blend of Merlot, Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, and Carmenère. American winemaker Ed Flaherty was in charge until he made way for the experienced Francisco Baettig (formerly with Casa Lapostolle). Chadwick has enlarged the Seña vineyard itself to 40ha and converted it to biodynamic viticulture in 2008. Following the split from Mondavi in 2004, the source for Arboleda has changed from Colchagua to a new vineyard project, Las Vertientes, a cool site some 40km from the ocean, planted in 2006 with Syrah, Carmenère, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne and Marsanne. Errázuriz is pushing the cool-climate envelope still further by planting 200ha of a 1,000ha estate at Chilhué (‘place of seagulls’), 14km from the Pacific, mainly to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chadwick says the venture is risky but is convinced that in the long-term this cool-climate venture will pay dividends. On past form, he’s probably right.
De Martino, Isla de Maipo
De Martino is based at Isla de Maipo, once an island formed by two rivers descending from the Andes, but now an island in name alone. Part of the larger Santa Inès brand (the first incidentally to label its Carmenère as such at Tesco in the UK in 1996), de Martino is the smaller, quality-oriented arm of a family winery established in 1934 and now owning 280ha of organic vineyards. Winemaker Marcelo Retamal sources grapes from the best sites throughout the country, based on his pioneering studies of Chilean terroir. As winemaker with the company for 11 years, Retamal backs up his research of Chile’s complex soil structures and climatic differences in climate, altitude and exposition with visits to vineyards around the world. The focus in the Isla de Maipo is Carmenère, but over the last 10 years, he has made trial vinifications from more than 350 vineyards between Elqui in the north and the Bío-Bío Valley in the south. ‘It’s impossible to get the best of all varieties from just one piece of land’ says Retamal. Thanks to his efforts, de Martino makes one of Chile’s best Carmenères from a block planted in 1992, a fine reserva Chardonnay from Limarí Valley, classic New World Sauvignon Blanc in its Single Vineyard Block 5 from Casablanca, a herby Malbec from Maule and, perhaps most unusual of all, an excellent, spicy, peppery Syrah from the barely known Choapa Valley between Aconcagua and Limarí. With the backing of the de Martino family, progress like this makes it a name to watch over the coming decade.
Casa Marín, San Antonio Valley
It had long been Maria Luz Marín’s ambition to own her own vineyard and winery, and, using her own funds she established the icon Casa Marín in 2000 in a garage just 4km from the Pacific, in a region at one time considered too cool for growing grapes. ‘I used to come here as a child with my father, and I always thought that to succeed, it needs to be something unique,’ says Marín (above). Her experience of buying and blending taught her that Chile’s Central Valley would never produce the high-end wines she had in mind. During her travels to New Zealand, South Africa and California in particular, she saw what cool-climate conditions could achieve. In fact the region is on the warm side of cool climate, according to Marín. In a short space of time, she has established a reputation for two aromatic single-vineyard Sauvignons, the tropical Laurel and the more herbaceous, mineral Cipreses. She makes a fine, concentrated Sauvignon Gris, an intense Gewurztraminer and has now embarked on Riesling. Reds are promising too, notably the Lo Abarca Hills Pinot Noir and the spicy 2005 Casa Marin Syrah Miramar Norte.
By Anthony Rose
ICON OF TODAY
Catena Zapata, Mendoza
At nearly 1,000m above sea level, the Catena Zapata winery, which sits like a giant cubist spider in the Agrelo district of Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo, is a fitting spot for Nicolás Catena to mastermind the resurgence of Argentinian Malbec and the Catena brand. Catena’s first conversion on the road from volume to quality favoured Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, after being inspired on a trip to California. His Cabernet quest was interrupted however, and he switched to Malbec in the 1990s. Catena felt that Malbec’s selling point as a uniquely Argentinian variety on the world stage made it a basket worth putting if not all, then at least most of his investment eggs into. Thanks to his pioneering efforts, one of the most astute businessmen in the Argentinian wine industry has turned the Catena brand into a modern Argentinian icon. And he’s achieved it by concentrating on quality first and foremost in the vineyard after identifying the most suitable microclimates for varieties and their clones. Awareness of Argentina’s desert climate, with its powerful solar radiation and high vineyard locations has enabled Catena to develop five different vineyards covering 380ha, each at different altitudes and with different soil types and growing conditions. It’s the attention to detail and willingness to experiment that has borne fruit for Catena with deep-hued and concentrated but ultimately soft-textured reds and stylish Chardonnays. The refinement of the selection process has resulted in a trickle-down process, creating a Penfolds-style ‘ladder brand’ with flagship wines, Nicolás Catena Zapata and Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino at the top, followed by the Catena Alta range, Catena and finally Alamos. In 1997, Nicolás Catena’s daughter Laura came on board, and is taking Catena’s research and development to even higher levels.
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Clos de Los Siete, Valle de Uco
The vast, bleak plain that rises imperceptibly towards the majestic Andes Mountain near Vista Flores in the high Valle de Uco was the unlikely spot chosen by Michel Rolland and the late Jean-Michel Arcaute for a vision of the future. The original aim was to establish seven French-owned wineries, each of which would own part of a massive vineyard of 850ha, to be planted in rocky soils at 1,000–1,200m. Each would make its own wine as well as contributing to a high-class brand called Clos de los Siete. Three wineries are up and running: Catherine Péré-Vergé’s Monteviejo; the Laurent Dassault-Edmond de Rothschild partnership, Flechas de Los Andes; and Cuvelier de los Andes, owned by the Cuvelier family of Léoville-Poyferré. The fourth, DiamAndes, is due to open for business next year and, long-term, perhaps Rolland’s own winery. Meanwhile, each winery contributes a proportion of its grapes to Clos de los Siete itself, mainly Malbec, but with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon also in the blend. The first vintage of Clos de los Siete was 2002, since when it has grown in both volume and stature, while punching above its weight in value-for-money terms at around £10 a bottle. What’s remarkable is that Clos de los Siete is currently from young vines. As the vines get older, so the wine itself should continue to improve. As long as Rolland keeps control of the grape source for the Clos de los Siete brand and some of the glamour of the project’s Bordelais-owned wineries rubs off on it, there’s no reason why it should not achieve the icon status of Rolland himself.
O Fournier, Valle de Uco
Sitting like some giant winged spacecraft at El Cepillo in the Valle de Uco, at 1,100m, Bodega O Fournier is the impressive modern winery set up by José Manuel Ortega (above). His self-proclaimed challenge, as befits a Spaniard with a winery in Ribera del Duero, is to bring glory to the Tempranillo grape in Argentina. It was not always thus, for, as Ortega himself points out, until the mid-1980s it was not possible to bottle Tempranillo in Argentina as it didn’t qualify as a ‘fine variety’. It took lobbying by the Marqués de Griñon to obtain recognition for it as a noble variety. What Ortega likes about Tempranillo is its ability to ripen so much earlier than Malbec and Cabernet (temprano means ‘early’). The source for the Alfa Crux blend is 50-year-old Tempranillo from the cool Uco Valley: ‘almost Ribera-like in fact’, claims Ortega. If the O Fournier Tempranillobased A Crux and B Crux blends are exciting, it would be unfair to overlook the Malbec. The A Crux Malbec is a classic cool- climate red from 65- and 85-year-old vines at La Consulta.
Mendel Winery is the new Malbec kid on the block. But it does have an experienced winemaker in Roberto de La Mota who, before taking on Mendel, spent many years at Terrazas de los Andes working with Malbec, while his father, Raul, is a legend in the Argentinian wine industry. Mendel also has exceptionally mature vineyards of 80-year-old own-rooted Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in Perdriel (Finca de los Andes) and in Mayor Drumond (Finca M) at an average of 1,000m above sea level in Mendoza’s Luján de Cuyo. Rocky, permeable soils, poor in organic materials, and a continental, desert climate with minimal annual rainfall are the preconditions for the low yields needed for wines of concentration, intensity and elegance. Roberto de la Mota has teamed up with a traditional Argentinian family to produce wines of superior quality and, on the evidence of his efforts to date, Mendel looks a good bet as an icon of the future. Working with vineyard manager and winemaker Santiago Mayorga, de la Mota produces a Mendel Malbec and Unus Malbec, the latter a vivid blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec with excellent structure and complexity.
By Michael Fridjhon
ICON OF TODAY
Vergelegen has enjoyed greater prominence as a country estate than as a wine property for most of its three centuries of existence. After a change of ownership in 1987, however, a replanting programme brought swift recognition for the exceptional quality of its wines. Its claim to fame is spread equally between whites and reds. Winemaker Andre van Rensburg, whose passion and obsessive perfectionism have played a key role in the estate’s renaissance, identified several sites ideal for both Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, both used in the estate white – a truly great white Bordeaux-style blend, it combines intensity and elegance in an understated expression of the best of these two varieties. Vergelegen’s red wine reputation rests on a series of Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends which have led to a flagship wine, V, first produced in 2001. The latest release, the 2003, confirms that V is far more than a one-off gimmick. It is rich, dense, fully ripened but not too alcoholic, with finesse, length and freshness, and without greenness. For most of the estate’s loyal followers however, their faith in the property resides in the depth of Vergelegen’s red wines. Profound cassis and lead pencil Cabernet Sauvignon, fragrant, almost electrically bright Cabernet Franc, Merlot that is savoury but not simple, and Shiraz which can be the ultimate Northern Rhône doppelganger in its spice-rich pepperiness.
ICON OF TOMORROW
Boekenhoutskloof’s reputation stretches a long way – a boutique brand whose winery nestles against the mountainside in Franschhoek, with a track record in Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that sets it apart from all other producers in the Cape. Winemaker Marc Kent’s hand-crafted reds are produced in minuscule quantities for a customer base which takes up the full allocation the moment a new vintage is released. Both reds profit from considerable bottle ageing – the maiden 1997 Syrah is still evolving, a brooding red wine infused with raspberry and pepper notes and layered with the scents of the forest floor. Forgotten in the midst of the red wine hype is the cellar’s Semillon, one of the most sumptuous, seductive whites produced in the Cape. Whiffs of thatch and lanolin, an almost viscous mouthfeel, waxy, rich and hauntingly persistent, it is one of those wines all serious wine drinkers should taste at least once before they die. Rustenberg Estate, Stellenbosch While Rustenberg Estate dates back to the 17th century, its winemaking renaissance pretty much tracks Vergelegen’s. Owned by Simon Barlow, and situated in a beautiful valleys on the outskirts of the town, it has been producing consistently good whites and reds for most of the past decade.
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