Testalonga El Bandito Cortez 2009

By , 7 February 2011



New wave.

New wave.

Recently I reviewed the Syrah 2008 from Swartland property Lammershoek on this blog noting that I was “a little underwhelmed” by it on account of it showing “super-ripe fruit on nose and palate” while it also seemed “short on freshness and tannic grip”. Shortly after the posting went live, I had an email from Carla Kretzel, responsible for Lammershoek sales and marketing, daughter of owners Paul and Anna, sweetheart of winemaker Craig Hawkins as follows:

“We agree with your comments 100%. Luckily there is a market for wines such as this, but it is not really the kind of wine that we want to be making anymore. And we are not making them… If you’d like to come along to the farm and taste the 2010s we have in barrel, you are more than welcome. There has been a massive change in style and philosophy and the wines make for seriously interesting drinking.”

Kretzel’s exceptional candour makes it impossible to say “no” to a visit. I arrive at the Swartland cellar and the first wine Hawkins shows me is a single-variety Harslevelü from the 2010 vintage, his first in charge of the Lammershoek cellar. “It’s a wine for geeks. It’s my tugboat wine – a small production that will pull the whole brand along.” More about structure than any particular set of flavours, the wine is fruity upfront before the acidity kicks in making for a bracingly dry finish.

On to the Lammershoek Roulette Blanc 2010, which seems very much more flavoursome than its alcohol by volume of 12.5% suggests. It’s worth noting that the 2009 vintage which was rated 5 Stars in Platter’s 2011 has an abv of 14.5% – Hawkins did not vinify this wine but he did blend the different components (44% Chenin Blanc, 34% Chardonnay, 13% Clairrette Blanc and 9% Viognier) in order to be as fresh and elegant as possible.

What impresses about Hawkins is that although only 29, he has a very well conceived personal aesthetic. While there are many enamoured with the Shiraz and Shiraz blends of the Swartland which have emerged over the last decade or so, my feeling is often that they are too big and not particularly vital. Does Hawkins agree? He won’t be drawn on the subject but instead points to what Shiraz he has in the barrel from 2010.

If the 2008 Syrah that I found disappointing had an abv of 14.5%, then the wines as made by Hawkins are all significantly lower in alcohol by volume. First up, a Shiraz with arresting purity of fruit and pronounced pepper, its abv being 13.5%. Next, a Shiraz with enticing floral aromas and pretty red fruit, its abv 12.8%. Key for him in achieving greater elegance is to pick the grapes earlier and then treat them in such a way that they don’t produce overtly “green” flavours. Gentle foot stomping features prominently…

The visit ends with a tasting of some of his off-the-wall own-label wines. We start with Testalonga El Bandito 2009, which features fruit from a 0.75ha of vineyard on Lammershoek, around 50 years old.  Vinification involved whole bunches (no destemming) and carbonic maceration lasted some three to four weeks, the wine subsequently spending nearly two years on its lees in old wood. (This is as opposed to the maiden 2008, where most of the bunches were destemmed, before the wine was naturally fermented on the skins for five weeks and the 2010, which again saw whole bunches used, but the wine now set to stay on the skins and stems until the end of 2011, a period of nearly two years!)

Next to the El Bandito 2009, El Bandito Cortez 2009, grapes for this sourced from a nearby property called The Observatory where Tom Lubbe used to make wine before his departure to Roussillon in France. The wine was foot pressed before spending just under 24 months on the lees.

Sulphur additions across all these wines are minimal if any, and the wines are not filtered or fined as they stabilise naturally due to the extended time in barrel. The aromatics and flavours on the two bottlings I experienced were unusual to say the least but very compelling – lots of bruised apple and spice rather than primary fruit. Hawkins let me take both open bottles home with me and I scrutinised them over the next 48 hours. Crackerjack stuff but I think the slightly more conventional Cortez was my favourite, in that it had just had a little more liveliness.


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