Ah, the Mountain Nelson, home away from home to the likes of supermodel Kate Moss and the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Yesterday, Stellenbosch producer Ken Forrester hosted guests to the Cape Town hotel’s famous High Tea to mark the launch of the 2009 “T” Noble Late Harvest.
This was supposedly the 10th vintage of “T” (although Forrester referred to the 1999 as the first vintage which would make the 2009 the 11th and Platter’s refers to 1997 and 1998 prototypes as well). No matter, Forrester was gracious enough to present a range of older vintages, in some cases the last remaining bottles. And so we were treated to 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009. No 1999, 2003 or 2007 on account of a lack of stock and no 2002 or 2004 as weather conditions weren’t suitable for production.
The wine, which carries the initial of Forrester’s wife Teresa, is from Chenin Blanc. Grapes are sourced from a 2.4ha block at the lowest part of Forrester’s farm near a stream and hence subject to Autumn mists, ideal for the onset of botrytis.
Forrester refers to botrytis (or noble rot) as “millions of microscopic mushrooms” which concentrate acidity and sugar, increase viscosity and alter the aromas and flavours of the finished wine. The spread of botrytis is gradual and hence picking involves multiple passes through the vineyard, typically starting at the beginning of March and finishing mid-May. Forrester says that whereas the yield on a vineyard at normal ripeness is around 6t/ha, this is reduced to 3t/ha in the case of the one given over to botrytis. In addition, whereas he would expect to retrieve 635 litres a ton under normal circumstances, he gets only 355 litres a ton from botrytis infected grapes.
In the cellar, the wines undergo spontaneous ferment in 400-litre barrels, a combination of new and second fill, the fermentation typically taking between 8 and 10 months to complete – various yeasts are involved at different stages of the process, each adding something different to the final product.
Forrester refers to Noble Late Harvest as “an entire summer in a sip” and points out that achieving excellence is a delicate matter: “Grey rot is so close but so different to botrytis – let it into the mix and you’ve smudged your work of art”.
The2009 (price per 375ml bottle: R195) is quite closed down at the moment but shows promise. There are hints of stone fruit on the nose and palate but nothing too pronounced. What is remarkable right now is the riveting acidity and if previous vintages are anything to go by, this wine has a long life ahead of it. Score: 16/20.