Ian Naudé makes three red wines in his Old Vines Series, I have a bottle of each. I thought I would start by tasting the Cinsault because it is the grape I know least about.
Indeed, my only real experience of it is the circa-30% it forms of Domaine Tempier’s Bandol Cuvée la Miguoa. From what I can tell from such a pudge of an example, I think* Cinsault softens the Mourvèdre blend and adds red fruit perfume to the wine. Obviously, it is hard to tell from this wine and its sister blends.
Therefore, (if I may name-drop incredibly) I asked a guru, Randall Grahm, about Cinsault. He believes it has “enormous potential for elegance and complexity”. Wehay! That sounds nice! He has planted a vineyard of the stuff for his own wines.
Mr Grahm cautions that non-fertile sites and clonal selection are important. My South African pusher-man, Greg of Handford Wines, suggests Mr Naudé’s soil is low fertility but I doubt even an MW liked him knows what clones the Cinsault are and whether they are optimal for the site.
Further digging tells me that Chateau Fonsalette (the most expensive Cotes-du-Rhone money can buy). has a lot planted. It is vinified separately, and my agents tell me it tastes gorgeous from barrel.
There is intelligence that famed Chateauneuf-du-Papes producer Rayas has a reasonable amount planted (that would change the whole Grenache-story). For obvious reasons I cannot get confirmation of this.
So I now feel I know a bit more about Cinsault! As I open this, I feel the great excitement one feels when one is about to learn new things and pleasure oneself in a new and unexpected manner.
Greg has told me this wine needs a lot of air. I am going to decant it back into the bottle two hours before The Editor and I sit down to enjoy it with dinner. I will have a taste as I am doing so.
A beautifully attractive nose of wild strawberry fragrance with dizzyingly complex crushed stone and subtle earth nuances. This is the kind of nose I like a lot. A taste…
Hell’s bells! The nose gave no suggestion that it would be so tannic and rather acidic. It is pretty god-damned hard. I will do as Greg says and let this breathe for a couple of hours.
A couple of hours later…
The nose is still arrestingly perfumed with wild strawberry and a herbal tang: sage and thyme, I would venture to suggest.
The fruit is deliciously sweet and ripe. However, that sweetness is not from alcohol – this is only 12% booze. That is surprisingly low, and commendably so. Booze monsters are only rarely fun to drink.
So there is low booze and no hint of new oak – these are things of which I approve! When a wine has as lovely, natural fruit as this one does not want them hidden with artefacts.
That crushed rock and earthy set of aromas has also blossomed and makes the nose throb with dimension, all whilst being perfectly balanced and highly attractive.
I feel slightly hard saying this, as I really love the nose, but there is the merest hint of volatility showing. I do not know if this is a product of the extended decanting or whether it is naturally present in the wine. It is not a screaming fault though so do not let it get you too worried.
The palate retains the beautiful fruit of the nose. It is quite lovely In this regard. The tannins have also softened with decanting, indeed they are quite luxuriant. Were the palate just composed of these factors, and the brilliant, really terroir-y herbal/rock dust flavours, I would be pleased as chips.
There is, however, a problem – but first I must make an admission. My stomach is really sensitive. I have taken so many overdoses that I have damaged it and so things like Riesling, Champagne and pickled eggs make it hurt. The acidity in this wine makes my stomach hurt a lot.
The Editor said he found the acidity too high, but he had no real difficulty drinking his half of the bottle over an animated dinner. I, on the other hand, was holding my stomach and generality whining from time to time. We drank it and, largely, enjoyed it, but I had to give up halfway through my last glass as I’m a big girl’s blouse and I do not like pain.
As I said, this wine is only 12% and, because I was going to be a clever, clever sod, I planned to suggest that if the grapes were harvested at a higher potential alcohol, some of that acidity would ripen out of them. This must be the first time in my life I’ve wanted a wine to be more alcoholic!
So as I was chatting to Mr Naudé (clang! Another name dropped) I asked him what potential alcohol he harvested his grapes at. He replied:
I made a big mind shift a few years ago. I go to the vineyard and taste the grapes regularly. I honestly do not look at analyses anymore. When I taste and I get the flavour and balance I want to get in the bottle, I pick. Every year the alcohol is a surprise to me!
I have learned that you should be more in the vineyard and understanding the block, rather than make wine from a cellar office. I am going to get flak for this!
No flak from me, Mr Naudé! I feel this is precisely how one should make wine: wine is a living art form of great complexity that expresses the character of who made it in many subtle ways.
If you are going to make a wine that is reflective of both the turangawaewae and of you who brings that expression into wine-form, you do not make wine from an office. You spend time coming to understand the grapes that you are going to be involved in their parturition into wine.
You may recall this is what Simon Mazzini (clang!) told me he did (that I reported on in my 2018 Burgundy review). Absolutely, you spend your time in the vineyard! I could not agree more with these two chaps!
Mr Naudé will, I feel, have greatly improved the quality of the fruit he harvests. This will result in better wine in his last few vintages. I am gagging to try a very recent vintage and if Greg from Handford is reading this, perhaps he can comment what is the most recent vintage he has on offer for us to rush out and buy.
As it stands, the 2015 is a flawed diamond. Really lovely apart from that frustratingly high acidity. Maybe if you have a very chilly cellar and you leave it long enough that acidity will cold-stabilise out of the wine. Possibly it will just resolve given time in a normal cellar. As far as the rest of the components go I think that they are what they need to be, where they need to be in order to age for a long time. It is just that if you open this now you will need to drink it with a very fatty roast in order to mask that acidity a bit.
I strongly feel that Mr Naudé has made changes to his winemaking philosophy that will have improved this wine no end. Buy a recent vintage, give it a decant of heroism or age it, and I bet you could not have more pleasure from it than you could if you owned your own brothel!
*Wittgenstein said the construction ‘I think’ is a tautology. Arse.