10 Chris and Andrea Mullineux with their children
1 De Bortoli
3 Klein Constantia
4 Rebel Pi
6 Peller Estates
8 Campbells winery
9 Paul Cluver
New World wine is a useful shorthand in the absence of anything better, but it can seem strangely inappropriate when talking about vineyards dating back 330 years and a wine, Constantia, that was already a phenomenon in the 18th century, at which time European courts fell over themselves to buy it. The Cape’s most famous wine (see p67) is an exception – is unique, in fact – but there are other producers outside Europe who have significant history under their belts. The Campbells (p66) have been making wine in Rutherglen, Australia for 150 years and started their ‘rare solera’ back in the 1920s.
Even the groundbreaking De Bortoli Noble One (p70) was created in Australia nearly four decades ago. Paul Cluver in South Africa (p66) and Framingham in New Zealand (right) have both been making botrytis Rieslings for more than 20 years. In contrast, the 2016 Canadian ice wine Rebel Pi (p69) is the debut vintage and, had this been a top 20, I might also have included one of the new Chinese ice wines.
As it is, I’ve chosen wines from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, made from eight separate grape varieties (counting two different Muscats) and, demonstrating the diversity at the top level, in five styles: late-harvest, botrytised, straw wine, solera-aged and ice wine.
Botrytis Riesling was the hardest category to whittle down on my original long list, and I reluctantly had to let several go.
You might expect there to be more botrytis Semillons modelled on Sauternes. Although Semillon plantings have been declining for decades, there’s still quite a lot of it, especially in Australia. What there’s less of are the necessary humid conditions to develop botrytis cinerea (noble rot: you can induce it, but the best producers don’t). It’s also a challenge to make, but then there’s not a sweet wine here that isn’t – either in the vineyard or the winery, but mostly in both. Bravo to producers everywhere.
Joanna Simon is a wine writer, presenter and judge, co-founder of The Wine Gang, founding editor of Waitrose & Partners Drinks magazine, and blogs regularly on www.joannasimon.com
MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND
‘Botrytised Semillon is a challenge to make, but then there’s not a sweet wine here that isn’t’
‘It takes some experience, and even after all these years of doing it, it still feels like guesswork!’ Dr Andrew Hedley, winemaker at Framingham since 2001, is talking about judging the degree of dehydration, and thus the amount of sugar there’ll be in the must, in clusters with significant botrytis for his Noble Riesling. It may feel like guesswork, but the wines, and his global reputation for Riesling, speak for themselves. Whatever the year – and conditions weren’t right to make any botrytis wine in 2001 and 2010 – it’s never easy. Or, in his words, it’s ‘a pain in the ass to make’.
Picking is, necessarily, by hand and is selective even in botrytised sections of Framingham’s 38-year-old vineyard. It can drag on too (into July in 2012), involving as many as eight or nine picks. Keeping volatile acidity down during fermentation requires special techniques, clarification/filtration is multifold and the ‘bottling is the worst one of the year’. In short, he says, ‘you have to want to make these sorts of wines to do it well’. Fortunately for us, he does.
Framingham, Noble Riesling, Marlborough, New Zealand 2018 95
£16.75-£20.40/37.5cl Widely available Concentrated, creamy, beeswax botrytis aromas are threaded with orange zest and fragrant white peach. The palate is intensely fresh and mouthfilling, moving through flavours of dried peach and apricot, sustained by thrilling, bright acidity. Drink 2020-2035 Alcohol 9%
SWARTLAND, SOUTH AFRICA
‘With late-harvest wine, acid drops away as the grapes ripen. The beauty of straw wine,’ says Chris Mullineux, ‘is that acid and sugar both go up.’ Despite the Cape’s long history of sweet wine, straw wine – from grapes picked at normal ripeness then shrivelled naturally – only began in the late 1990s. The first vintage at Mullineux was 2008 and it now makes 10 barrels from about 30 tonnes of Chenin – ‘old vines that give really good acidity’. The volume is one reason why drying on straw matting became impractical: ‘If we spread the grapes out it would be the size of a rugby field.’
They now use ventilated wooden racks, placed in the shade, ‘otherwise the grapes go brown like Coca-Cola’. Drying takes three to four weeks, during which time both sugar and acid more-or-less double, leaving just 10-15 litres of juice from each 100kg of grapes. Fermentation, with natural yeasts, is very slow and long (six to nine months), at the end of which sugar is 240-300g/L, acidity is 10-11g/L and alcohol is 9.5%-11%.
Mullineux, Straw Wine, Swartland, South Africa 2017 94
£29.25/37.5cl Berry Bros & Rudd Immense sweetness and concentration on the palate, with an unctuous texture infused by riveting acidity. Spicy, stem ginger, tropical fruit, honey-baked quince and apple flavours, along with a suggestion of panettone. This is a long, layered and vibrant sweet wine style. Drink 2020-2032 Alc 9.5%
ELGIN, SOUTH AFRICA
The Cluver family didn’t plan to make a noble harvest Riesling. ‘It just happened. We realised we had quite a lot of botrytis and started making a dessert wine,’ says winemaker Andries Burger, Paul Cluver’s son-in-law. That was 1998 and it was made every year up to 2014, when the family chose to focus solely on great vintages. ‘If it’s just good enough, then it’s not good enough,’ Burger notes.
The only vintage since is 2017. Not only was the vintage good, he tried a new technique to improve texture: an essencia-style addition made from a tank of individually selected botrytised berries topped up with juice and fermented to 2% alcohol and about 600g/L residual sugar. ‘If the essencia opportunity occurs again, we’ll do it, but the cost is massive.’
Fortunately, the business model doesn’t rely on noble harvest Riesling. ‘If you take everything into account, it’s the one wine that doesn’t make money, but it adds something to our portfolio,’ says Burger, with his fingers firmly crossed for noble rot in 2020.
Paul Cluver, Noble Late Harvest Riesling, Elgin, South Africa 2017 94
£19.20-£20.95/37.5cl Amps, Christopher Piper, Dunell’s, Handford, Jeroboams, Noel Young, Tanners, The Oxford Wine Co, The Savanna Intense, mineral nose: apple, peppery ginger and candied orange peel. Carried along by brilliantly gleaming acidity. Drink 2020-2035 Alc 9.9%
In a world where wine styles are replicated from one continent to the next, it’s heartwarming that nowhere else can produce anything like the majestic sweet fortifieds of Rutherglen in northeast Victoria. John Campbell arrived here from Scotland in 1870 on the Merchant Prince. Today the fourth and fifth generations work alongside each other, led by Colin Campbell.
Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat, Campbells’ ultimate expression, was launched by Colin and his late brother Malcolm in 1983. It comes from the ‘rare solera’, which has an average age of 50 years and is topped up only every 10-15 years when it has reached 20° Baumé (above 400g/L sugar).
You might expect anything containing so much sugar to be cloying; however, the long, mellowing maturation of the Muscat à Petits Grains Rouges, the rejuvenating effect of the five-stage solera, Rutherglen’s significant day and night temperature differences and, not least, the Campbells house style, emphasising elegance and purity of raisined flavours, as well as richness and complexity, all coalesce in an extraordinarily multilayered, balanced liquid.
Campbells, Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat, Victoria, Australia NV 95
£55.95/37.5cl Christopher Piper, Wine Direct Massively sweet and concentrated yet perfectly proportioned, with a seamless flow of walnut, raisin, spice, dark chocolate, burnt toffee, coffee beans and balsam, plus a freshness that defies description. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 18%
CONSTANTIA, SOUTH AFRICA
It’s easy to home in on the long history of Constantia and its glory days in the 18th and 19th centuries without realising that for 100 years the legendary raisined-grape dessert wine wasn’t made. Phylloxera saw it off in 1886 and it wasn’t until after the Jooste family bought the estate for a song in 1980 that it was recreated as Vin de Constance six years later – using Muscat de Frontignan vines selected, it is believed, from the original Constantia stock.
It’s had a further boost since 2011, with a new winemaker, Matthew Day, another change of ownership, new plantings focused on quality clones, bush vines and experimental plots of Petit Manseng and Furmint, and a new cellar. The long-term aim is to improve quality and for Day that means balanced wine: ‘This is a wine that ages extremely well. The key is balance. You have to get the sugar, alcohol and acidity right.’ He is aiming for more consistent sugar and alcohol levels and has also lightened up on the oak to get a less evolved, less marmaladey character.
Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance, Constantia, South Africa 2015 95
£49.95-£62.99 Widely available via UK agent Mentzendorff Fragrant, with rose petal, peach and pear aromas echoed on the palate, and hints of Turkish delight and crystalised orange. The silky, rose-oil textured palate has shimmering, fine-tuned acidity. Drink 2020-2032 Alc 14%
MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND
After 25 years as chief winemaker putting Cloudy Bay and New Zealand Sauvignon on the global stage, Kevin Judd turned 50, thought ‘it’s now or never’ and left to set up on his own, naming Greywacke after the distinctive, rounded river stones in his first vineyard. Inevitably Greywacke is best known for its Sauvignon, but Judd has made seven wines from the outset, all in a ripe style, with a hands-off approach.
He likes ‘sweet wines that aren’t too sweet’, so the Botrytis Pinot Gris is typically 105-110g/L residual sugar, but it’s a lavishly flavoured wine. The shrivelled 2015 grapes – even smaller and more concentrated than usual – were handpicked on 8 June in an 18-year-old vineyard with a high proportion of the eponymous stones around Greywacke HQ. They were ‘squeezed rather than pressed overnight’ and fermented in old barrels, 60% spontaneously.
Fermentation was eventually halted in September and the wine left in barrel until bottling in July 2016. Where will Judd be in 10 years’ time? ‘I’m happy with where we are now.’
Greywacke, Botrytis Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand 2015 93
£19.30-£22.95/37.5cl Alexander Hadleigh , Carruthers & Kent, Exel, Harvey Nichols, Specialist Cellars, The Vineking, The Jolly Vintner Too Luscious apricot and black fig with exotic spice and dried orange peel. Tastes sweeter than the 105g/L residual sugar suggests, but in harmony with its acidity. Drink 2020-2025 Alc 13.5%
Jackie Fast(Photograph: Mark Cocksedge)
OKANAGAN VALLEY, CANADA
Canadians are generous about promoting each other’s wines – anything to show unaware wine drinkers that Canada’s best are world class. Even so, some may raise an eyebrow on seeing Rebel Pi, Roussanne Ice Wine 2016 here. It’s the first vintage from a new producer with no previous involvement in wine – and it’s the world’s first Roussanne ice wine.
In view of those facts, it may be a relief to know that Jackie Fast, the London-based Canadian businesswoman behind it, didn’t make the wine. Pentâge in Penticton did, from its own Roussanne; Fast selected it with a team that includes sommeliers and winemakers. The next Rebel Pi ice wine isn’t Roussanne and it’s from Ontario because, for Fast, ‘it’s not about this ice wine from this place, it’s about how it’s made’.
Once she discovered that ice wine was not the sweet, syrupy wine she thought it was, she ‘fell in love with the story, the risk, the craftsmanship’. She then set about ‘bringing the best ice wine of the year to the UK and beyond’ and telling its story. Taste it. You may well be surprised.
Rebel Pi, Ice Wine Roussanne, British Columbia, Canada 2016 92
£99.99-£139/37.5cl 31Dover, Connaught Cellars, Handford, Rebel Pi Appetising and fresh, with honeysuckle, mango and spice perfume. A delicately creamy textured palate, where honeysuckle notes are joined by a medley of mango, apricot, peach, mandarin, lime, ginger and a flicker of caramel. Drink 2020-2023 Alc 11%
NELSON, NEW ZEALAND
Chris and Heidi Seifried, two of the three siblings working with their parents in the business they founded in 1973, first made Nelson Sweet Agnes Riesling in 2006 and, although volumes vary, they can make it every year because it’s a late-harvest rather than a botrytis wine. Not much was produced in 2018, but there’s a lot of the recently bottled 2019 and the quality, according to Chris, is stunning.
As their most awarded wine (not least in the DWWA), is there anything they could do to improve it? ‘We talk each year about putting it in neutral barriques for about six months to add complexity, but then we taste it and say, “No, we like it like this”. Oak would soften it, give it a bit more weight, but it would also take away a bit of the fruit character – the apricot and Christmas cake,’ explains Chris.
So far, it’s showing some longevity. Chris sampled the 2009 recently and says it was ‘absolutely beautiful’. As for the 2018, a tighter, leaner, crisper vintage with lower sugar than most, he is confident it will age for 20 years. I’ll happily test that.
Seifried, Winemakers Collection Nelson Sweet Agnes Riesling, Nelson, New Zealand 2018 93
£15.50-£20.40/37.5cl Exel, Fareham Wine Cellar Marmalade, toasted almond, citrus peel and honey aromas. Intense and bristling with energy and grapefruit acidity on the palate, stretching into a long apricot and lime finish. Drink 2020-2035 Alc 11.5%
NIAGARA PENINSULA, CANADA
Ice wine production started in the 1980s in Ontario, and Peller Estates’ oldest vines, planted 40 years ago, are among the Niagara Peninsula’s most senior for ice wine. Thanks to the climate-moderating effect of the vineyards’ lakeside location, Peller has never missed a vintage of ice wine.
But moderate is a relative word here. Ice wine grapes have to be harvested at -8°C or colder. Peller’s winemaker, Katie Dickieson, goes for colder. ‘Minus 10°C is ideal,’ she says. ‘The grapes are even more frozen and the juice even more concentrated.’
Yields are even lower, but she believes the flavour justifies the means – and all the other challenges of making ice wine, which include netting every vine to protect the grapes from birds and animals and coaxing sluggish yeasts to convert the extremely concentrated juice. The Peller style is ice wines to pair with food so, whether Vidal (80% of production), Riesling or Cabernet Franc, the focus is on refreshing acidity balancing slightly lower sugar and higher alcohol. But, again, it’s relative: the 2017 Vidal has 210g/L sugar, 9.1g/L acid and 11% alcohol.
Peller Estates, Signature Series Vidal Ice Wine, Ontario, Canada 2017 92
£32.80-£38.50/37.5cl Exel, Great Western Wine Dried apricot, pineapple and crystallised ginger. On the palate, viscosity is skilfully partnered by compelling acidity. It’s concentrated and sweet, but fresh, flowing and balanced. Drink 2020-2022 Alc 11%
De Bortoli(Photograph: Michael Silver)
When Noble One, an opulent botrytis Semillon, was launched on an unsuspecting world in the early 1980s, often tasted with and outperforming top Sauternes, no region could have seemed a less likely source than the flat, fertile plains and hot, dry climate of Riverina. But that’s to overlook the autumn rain and fog, the humid mornings and dry afternoons. The botrytis cinerea is all naturally occurring.
‘We use the same vineyards each year, so the microflora is in the vineyard and we just need Mother Nature to give the right conditions at the right time,’ says winemaker Julie Mortlock. Mother Nature has failed only twice, ruining both 1989 and 2012 with rain.
Residual sugar has ranged from 150-230g/L (2016 is at the upper end), alcohol is usually 10%-11%, and acidity is fine-tuned to balance the sweetness. Production remains very similar to how it was in 1982, but the style has evolved slightly – lightened by the use of some unoaked components in the blend.D
De Bortoli, Noble One Botrytis Semillon, New South Wales, Australia 2016 93
£17.99-£22.99/37.5cl Carruthers & Kent, Majestic, Oddbins, Oz Wines, Sandhams, Secret Bottle Shop, South Downs Cellars, Street Wines, The Oxford Wine Co, The Wine Press, Waitrose Opulence balanced by acidity and a tapestry of aromas and flavours. Lanolin, beeswax and clotted cream nose; dried apricot, peach, pineapple, orange, ginger and vanilla palate. Drink 2020-2030 Alc 10%
Photographs: Andrew Chapman; Chocolate Dog Photography; Frank Gasteiger/Framingham ■