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Tim James: A visit to Reyneke Wines

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I’m a touch worried about getting excessively lyrical around Reyneke wines. It’s not any lack of objectivity, but it might perhaps seem a bit uncool to be quite so convinced by the winemaking skills of Rudiger Gretschel and the viticultural skills of Johan Reyneke – who has Rosa Kruger in attendance to plug any possible holes in his passionate care and understanding of his ancestral hectares on the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch. Also, of course, not being a believer in the quaint religion of biodynamics makes me a little reluctant to acknowledge how successful it is proving here (well, I’ll fall back on accepting the virtues of intelligent, genuine organic viticulture).

Reyneke Wines
Uitzicht, home of Reyneke Wines.

Enthusiastic I am, however, and all the more so after a recent afternoon spent in the company of Rudiger, Johan and Nuschka de Vos – the latter working fulltime in the cellar since just before harvest 2016 (much of Rudiger’s time is accounted for by his other duties as Vinimark’s chief wine guy, Vinimark being amongst a great deal else of wine business the joint owner of Reyneke the brand, but not of the Reyneke’s Uitzicht farm). Despite harvest 2018 having begun – and looking very promising here – we sat down to taste in leisurely fashion through the Reyneke Biodynamic range, the current release wines each paired with a vintage two or three years older.

The whites reported on today, the reds to follow. All these off the estate; all made with minimal intervention.

I’m not generally much of a fan of sauvignon blanc, but effortlessly enjoy and admire the two Reyneke examples, perhaps partly because they are both wooded – the Sauvignon Blanc 2017 in older oak, the Reserve White in 60-80% new oak. The former is far from the standard Cape sauvignon (which is deft, well made, combining green and tropical notes, and boring); here is herbal, floral, sweet-fruited charm, succulent and balanced, though the acid a touch separate now. A little longer on bottle will be of great benefit. The 2015 is starting to show hints of sauvignon green-pea tertiary notes, the peach and tropical flavours developing well.

Reserve White (no variety blazoned) comes from a specific, special sauvignon vineyard. The 2016 shows the greater complexity this great wine always offers, with both delicacy and power, and a mineral freshness with a lemony twist, and a touch of tannic bite from the oak – which doesn’t otherwise behave anything more than discreetly. Tasting the 2013 alongside it revealed the benefits of giving this wine some time: the flavours and textures mellow together here to give a peach-tinged roundness. Plenty of flavour intensity but not at all simply “fruity”.

Chenin Blanc 2016, brought up in an old oak foudre, is absolutely delightful. There’s a certain lightness to this vintage, but one looks through that to an elegant, penetrating intensity. If it develops like the 2013, it will gain in richness, harmony, textural interest and general seriousness. In just about all the Reyneke wines I tasted, it was clear that keeping them for at least a few years gives real rewards. We shouldn’t be too easily seduced by the light charms of youth – though heaven knows it’s easy enough with these wines.

Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc 2016

A wine that I’d never tasted before is the maiden Natural Chenin Blanc 2016, from a single 60ish-year-old block which yielded a minuscule 1.7 tons off its 4.5 hectares (some justification in itself for the resounding price well over R800). Rudiger speaks eloquently of the characteristics of the grapes (especially a low pH and high acidity) that made him confident of the wine’s rare inherent stability, meaning that this wine was bottled, after its time on second-fill 300 litre barrels, having had no added sulphur. A fascinating wine, with a honeyed, intense delicacy.

There being no previous vintage, this wine was paired with the 2017, not yet released, and made in even tinier quantities: there are just 400 bottles. But, oh, what bottles! It’s a very different wine this, probably largely because it was matured in an amphora rather than oak, which accentuates a stony insistence at the core of the fruit, a laser precision of delivery. It made the hair on my arms stand up (to applaud!). Over the next few days as I finished the bottle at home its complexity and splendour only grew. One of the great triumphs of modern Cape wine.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

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