Last night The Editor, new chum Guy and I tried two South African wines: Hoë Steen 2015 and Paul Sauer 1997. I have introduced you to Paul Sauer before, this 22 year old bottle was of superlative quality, as were all but the faulty bottle last time.
Steen is the old name for Chenin Blanc in South Africa. Hoë Steen 2015 is a Chenin Blanc wine made from dry-grown old bush vines. It, too, was of superlative quality. Indeed, I am getting used to South African wines from my two SA-dealers, Keith Prothero and Greg Sherwood (huge thanks to you both for these two bottles, chaps!), being of superlative quality. This is good.
However, what we found last night was better, in a manner of speaking, than just being really fine. You can have an uptight, austere, tough, rigorous, focussed, structured wine of superlative quality, that is just bloody miserable to drink (one such wine is called Chateau Latour). What the three of us really enjoyed about these two wines is how… well… enjoyable they were.
Part of that enjoyment was, of course, their cracking complexity, class and completely correct character. But the Paul Sauer had just a hint of delicious lushness to it. The Hoë Steen was bursting with delicious, ripe, delectable fruit. The Sauer was rounded and heading for plump. The Hoë Steen filled your mouth with power and density whilst titillating with perky acidity and fizzy minerality. These wines were not just fine, they were fun!
As we ticked off the analytically correct features of these wines we laughed, giggled and hugged each other. We had a hoot of a time! There is more to wine than it being something you taste. It is something you drink with your friends to enjoy. That is why it is impossible to score wines in any meaningful sense in the environment where they are supposed to be drank. God, we had fun last night!
Let us face it, old world Chenin Blanc is not conventionally nice. I like it, but all those flavours of wet wool and rotting wood are not exactly going to be universally popular. Ever. How does this South African version (Steen being the traditional name for Chenin Blanc in South Africa) fare?
It smells lovely! It positively pulses with fruit and that fruit is fresh and delicious. Ripe apple (I would guess some variety of Russet), lemon with hints of the ripest, juiciest melon. It is a glorious, attractive set of fruit aromas.
There is also an impressively strong set of stone aromas on this nose. Wow, mega vineyard character! You have just got to be impressed.
I think this is fermented in large oak vats. There is no new oak (to my knowledge), and this is a Good Thing. With those glorious fruit and vineyard-derived aromas, you do not want to go hiding them behind shed loads of toasty vanilla. A truly great and attractive Chenin nose!
The palate has a huge depth of flavour, no doubt imparted from the low-yielding old bush vines. However, it has they racy, thrilling acid Chenin always should have, so it positively pulses with life and excitement.
Clearly made from very ripe fruit but fermented to total dryness this has serious power to it. I will not say it is concentrated, because my chum Freddie Mugnier says ‘concentrated’ is a terrible thing to say about a wine: but it has magic power and density to it. Flavour fills and explodes in your mouth. I got goose bumps when I had a smell of this and now I am tasting it the goose bumps have turned into little hills and every hair on my body is standing erect (I got Guy to check all the places I cannot see so easily)
There is an incredible, mouth filling panoply of fruit here too, but I am not one of those piss boring note-writers who list fifteen different kinds of fruits. This palate makes me feel charged with happiness and love for my fellow man, it is just so alluring and delightful.
It also throbs with dimension, there are layers of flavour to dive through and rub into your naked body. The flavours all go on and on and on, in a dizzying thrill of complexity. This is simply stunningly compelling; I am really moved by its brilliance. A fine, fine wine.
Indeed, even though I feel that one of the highlights of my life was meeting and tasting with the great Gaston Huet himself, many, many years ago, I rather think this is the best completely dry Chenin I have had in my life. It is seriously impressive whilst being beautiful and incredibly enjoyable to drink. Consider me seriously moved by this wine.
It will age and improve for decades, if your cellar is up to it, but why? That fruit is so lovely now, It tasted so fresh and full of energy, it excited and engages you with vigour and vim. Drink, boys and girls, drink, smile, laugh and love the friends you are sharing it with!
Now this smells like what you want twenty-plus year old Claret to smell like. Yes, it has all that cigar box, cedar wood, all that stuff, but it does not smell dusty or thin, it smells like you are going to have a good time with it.
Indeed, there is something of the somewhat voluptuous tart, wearing a heady 80s perfume and very strappy lingerie about it. She is a tiny bit sweaty in that get up. And in anticipation.
There is really good, and I mean really good crème de cassis fruit, rich and luxuriant. You also get a hint of the Merlot in it – big, ripe Victoria plums that have softened and intensified with age. This smells so good!
It does smell like Claret, but it is super-charged, super-fun first-growth Claret. The nearest approximation I can come up with is terms of the hedonism-level of the nose is La Mission Haut-Brion ‘75, only younger and with bigger tits. Lovely stuff.
The palate is a little more restrained. Handcuffs, probably. It does show elegance in its tannic structure and acidity, but they too give you a nod and a wink. There is not a hint of it being dried out and dusty, it is not lean and thin, this is a structure that is alive with procreative life.
The ripe, but maturing, fruit is kept perky by good acidity and I love the way it intertwines with the lovely structure. It creates a seamless, full-bodies palate that is just totally delicious. I bet if I tried this on release I would have thought, “Yawn, international Cabernet blends, let us drink up and walk out!”, but this has aged into a truly delicious, seductive, classy and god-damned stylish wine.
It has a great, persistent finish of fruit and mouthcoatingly rich tannins. It is in no way over-blown or heavy, but silken and svelte. Totally, totally delicious, a Cabernet blend from cloud nine.
That is not all. This wine is lovely and mature, but there is not a hint of tiredness or dustiness about it. It fills your mouth with pulsing life. If you have some of this in your cellar, firstly you are a very sensible person. Secondly, you have no need to run for the corkscrew for many a year yet…
This makes me want to revisit some of the huge Cabernet blends I used to like on release when I was a university student, but thought were too massive to age. Ideally they will have some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in them, but I feel some of those apparently short-lived monsters might make my old age full of saucy goodness.