Some wines are just mad and when I heard the details of Ian Naude’s White Blend Reserve I thought its production was one of those differently sane enterprises. I have enjoyed all his other wines, so maybe I should not have been surprised I enjoyed this, despite its oddities.
Biggest oddity first. I am tasting the current release of the Naude White Blend Reserve (the next vintage is due to be released at the start of next year) and it is a 2009! That is right – his standard-bearing white wine is released when it is eleven years old! This is just crazy.
Every day a wine is stuck in the winemaker’s cellar gathering mould is costing him/her money. For a start, filling up valuable cellar space means it is costing rent. People who get their wine professionally cellared will know it costs about a pound per bottle per year to store wine. So that is over half of the cost of this £19.99 wine already accounted for just storing the bleeder!
More importantly it has not been sold, and so is not recouping the money the winemaker put into all that grape-growing and vinification. Most non-vintage Champagne has a legally defined period during which it must undergo vinification and storage that means a bottle of pretty basic fizz is three-to-four years old. You are hard pressed to get a bottle of proper quality fizz for twenty coins.
Moreover, there is the risk. If the winery catches fire, or ne’er-do-wells gain access, that is a decade’s worth of work, time and money gone. Do not discount this! The winery and a lot of vines at Lismore Estate in South Africa burned down in 2019 and, if one keeps an eye on the trade press, stories of having wine stolen en masse from cellars are as common as encountering bizarre opinions from the general public on BBC News.
Hell, I had all of my Burgundy, my only real assets, stolen from a cellar underneath the home of a Burgundy vigneron! I am still charged with effulgent fury about this. Wine theft is a real problem and most winemakers, who tend to live in relaxed, sleepy, country locations, just do not assume it will ever happen to them. Bad people are everywhere, boys and girls, and they took all my Burgundy!
This cash furnace of extended ageing does bring a sign that Ian Naude is the clever fellow we know from previous Elitistreview posts. When bottling, he does away with the loathsome cork and uses a screw cap.
The reasons for this are obvious. Even given perfect cellaring conditions, ageing a wine on cork for a decade would result in too much bottle variation, with too many faulty bottles, to be attempting to push out a consistent product to market. Screw caps have none of these problems when ageing wine for extended periods. I wish the good Mr Naude would use them for all of his wines.
So even though the ‘sell at eleven years old’-idea is slightly weird, the choice of screw caps saves this from being a totally bonkers proposition. Screw caps, however, bring problems of their own.
A screw cap is totally impermeable to air, the wine will not ‘age’ in the anaerobic environment under a screw cap in quite the same way as it will with gradual oxidation under a cork. As discussed, this is good because it brings consistency and reduces faults, but it also bad because it stops the development of the aromas and flavours traditionally associated with fully developed wine.
Now, I was warned that this wine needed a decent decant. Indeed, it took about twenty minutes of swirling in a decanter to change from prepubescent repulsiveness to jail-bait sex kitten (NB. NEVER have sex with eleven-year-olds… nor kittens…). Those who are not warned, or fail to act on warnings such as this, are going to feel somewhat short-changed for their money.
Yes, the wine is perfectly drinkable when you crack it. Put it in a decanter (and swirl like crazy) or vigorously shake it in the bottle (after a volume of wine has been transferred from the bottle into the stomach of the old soak in the room who does not care what wine tastes like, only that it has alcohol in it and they have already started drinking it; totally unlike me, you understand…) and the difference is night and day.
I would not say a wine from Mr Naude was bad, but being in an anaerobic environment for a decade really hampers the expression of what, after you have given it a good whack of oxygen, is a fully mature wine that is rather ‘electrodes in your olfactory centres’-level of unexpurgation.
And that, dear reader, is as close as I will get to admitting that screw caps are not perfect for wine ageing. They ARE perfect, you just need a decanter.
The final bit of weirdness is the blend of grapes used to make this. I recognise this is not weird in the context of South African blends, but to a classically-trained taster it does seem a bit odd. The blend proportions change slightly with every release, but they are basically 50% Chenin Blanc (the undisputed great grape of South Africa) and 25% each of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (grapes that reach their zenith in Bordeaux – by which I mean the sweet stuff, although given my epic tasting experience I have actually tasted one good dry example).
Good god, I have written 947 words so far and have not got to the note. Moreover, the note I am going to write is very short. Let us get it over with…
White Blend Reserve 2009, Ian Naude
The power, complexity and focussed beauty of a really high quality, mature South African Chenin Blanc, with a grassy, herbal, green background reminiscent of an aged Australian Semillon. Really rather good!
This is an absolute bargain at £19.99. A fully mature wine that will, if you treat it correctly (chill slightly and decant seriously), give your palate and mind great pleasure.
Buy from Handford.