Age before beauty

I am reporting on a couple of wines The Editor and I drank to celebrate the 19th anniversary of him moving to the UK: Ian Naudé Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016 and Ava Syrah 2019 by Rall Wines.

People who leap to buy my recommendations will notice that the Naudé Old Vine Chenin 2016 is not for sale anywhere as I type. Worry not! I have not told all my chums to buy it all up before I publish my note on it, it is simply yet to be released.

So how is it I have a bottle of Naudé Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016 to review? I am sorry to say that the limit of my powers, imbued upon me by writing Elitistreview for over 15 years, only stretch as far as being able to buy wines a short period before their general release!

Age of Chenin Blanc Old VinesSouth African wines are actually pretty good at telling you whether vines are old or not. If a wine is claiming to be made from old vines, the winemaker has to demonstrate when that vineyard was planted and that date is put on a neck label on the wine (see right). Whether 36-year-old vines (when this fruit was produced) show as properly old in character we shall see shortly!

Ava Syrah is named after the daughter of Rall Wines owner. It is made from a plot of unirrigated 21-year-old (in 2019) vines planted in a single site with decomposed schist soils in the Swartland region. Swartland is the source of many excellent South African Syrahs.

Ava Syrah is naturally fermented and is carried out with 100% whole bunches. Consequently, this wine should not be too frighteningly tannic. I am quite glad about that, as a lot of South African Syrahs’ push the bounds of extraction a bit close to the leather mouth-limit.

Elevage for Ava Syrah occurs in old oak barrels. These add no oak tannin whilst adding complexity from micro-oxidation as the Ava Syrah matures.

The yields for Ava Syrah are tiny in these water-stressed vineyards. In 2019 the 2.4 hectare vineyard managed to produce just 5.3hl/ha(!). Makes you wonder why they bother… Let us hope it is the quality of wine that makes them bother! Such low yields are laudable as is picking the grapes at a potential alcohol level that allows the final wine to be 13.5%. No booze-bomb here!

Unsurprisingly, such limited production from a tiny vineyard gives Ava Syrah an incredible cult status. I feel cool just having pulled the cork!

As is usual for young South African, or almost any Syrah of this age, I will double decant two hours before drinking.

To the white wine, Batman!

Naude Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2016Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, Ian Naudé

This wine is an oenological TARDIS. It has massive features in its core, but they are wrapped up into a very svelte, elegantly-poised wine. That must mean that Ian Naudé is The Doctor and so I must grill him about next week’s lottery numbers!

The core of this Old Vine Chenin Blanc is a confidently structured edifice with prodigious density and power. There is old vine depth of fruit, and layers of greengage, grassy, apple-y fruit that just keep displaying more involute, stylish sophistication as you plunge further into its seemingly unfathomable scale.

Ian Naudé has allowed this Old Vine Chenin Blanc to speak of its origins so clearly that if you were transported to the vineyard you would be able to identify it as the home of this wine by comparing its smell, texture and taste with those features of the vineyard soil. It is the Platonic ideal of old vine Chenin Blanc fruit from a special, unique location.

However, this strident communication of origin, this plummeting depth of flavour and complexity are all wrapped up in a bundle of small-scale beauty. The Old Vine Chenin Blanc is a delicate 12.5% and has light, energetic, vivacious acidity that keeps it pirouetting across your palate with supreme élan and panache. It is tear jerkingly winsome.

So, a wine of dichotomies! Scale, density and power that sing of its home vineyard all precisely packaged within a coy, but but deliciously energetic, sculpted vision of beauty. Utterly beguiling; it leaves me smitten with naught to remember it by but an empty bottle and an explendency of cogitation.

Ava Syrah 2019 Rall WinesAva Syrah 2019, Rall Wines

What a nose! Powerful but not overwhelming. Ava Syrah has plenty of fresh cherry fruit, scented with floral hints and a rich array of spices – chiefly pepper. To smell this is to know your pleasure party is being ran by skilled, louche and distinctly dissolute hands for the duration of this bottle.

There is no new oak, no crazy alcohol, just the complexity of the aromas I have mentioned plus a freshly dug peat character, all presented in a svelte collocate of pure hedonism. Most two-year-olds I have met are incomparably less sophisticated and smell unspeakably worse than Ava Syrah’s undoubted bundle of joy.

It is quite amazing that it speaks so clearly of lewd, but involute, pleasures so sonorously when it is less than two years since it was harvested. This is smart winemaking with fruit that throbs with quality and is engorged with class. Wow. Just, WOW!

The of Ava Syrah 2019 palate is a little tough, but far more silken and sensual than most South African, or indeed any, Syrahs of this towering quality at such a young stage in its evolution. The energy and vivacity of the wine gives that tannic structure real life and vivacity and it is not remotely harsh or grating. I would go as far as saying it is a kinkily sharp suit of a structure that provokes your palate into palpitations of pleasure.

The cherry fruit on the palate of this Ava Syrah is deliciously titillating. That strong pepper character just seems to make your mucus membranes more sensitive to the gorgeous seductive power that thrills this mouthfeel to the high peaks of love.

Ava Syrah’s spice and peaty characters just serve to remind you you are rolling around in unbridled delight on a very special piece of ground. One that can deliver such pulsing, accessible (if you know whose doorbell to ring) delight at such a young age is a special vineyard site indeed!

Utterly delicious now, if you decant it. You could age it for 15+ years but I do not think this cheekily pert minx needs even a decade. Lap her up, boys and girls, lap her up!

Both wines can be purchased from Handford.

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