It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sebastian Beaumont’s eponymous winery was the one that changed my view of South African wine. Six years ago, I had experience of some fairly tough, stringy Cape reds and fruity, but rather confected and oaky whites. Then someone pushed a glass of Beaumont Hope Marguerite in my direction. It was a revelation, and in every subsequent tasting I’ve placed it in, it has been an almost unanimous favourite among tasters.
Although Sebastian is the current winemaker, the Compagnes Drift farm in Overberg was bought by his parents, Raoul and Jayne in 1973 and was mainly given over to orchards. Jayne made a small amount of pinot noir for family consumption but it wasn’t commercialised. Some half bottles of reds from the 80s exist, but Sebastian smiles disparagingly when he mentions this. “Pretty rustic stuff – I don’t drink it.” It wasn’t until 1993 that wine production became the focus of the farm, and not until 2004 that Sebastian took over the wine making after working with Raoul for a number of years.
His first decision was to focus on chenin blanc, despite the fact that over the years various grapes had been planted. The situation of the farm in Bot River valley means the soils have a high proportion of shale, and south-easterly winds coming in from the sea, both of which favour chenin blanc. Making a speciality of chenin blanc was a smart choice. South Africa’s old workhorse is its new calling card, and the competition from the French in export markets isn’t particularly stiff.
Tasting with Sebastian at Cape Wine 2015 was a pleasure. He’s more than happy to dispense technical information on the wines, but, as he put it “wine is about subtlety and development, not immediate gratification”. It’s certainly true that some of the wines are not immediately gratifying, but I liked that. There is a reserve to the whites, and a glassy hardness underneath all the fruit that was just very grown up. The reds show great purity and varietal definition, but with some firm tannins and quite linear structures in the mouth. All of this bodes well for the wines as they mature, but this sense of restraint is also quite tantalising, and therefore quite moreish.
I was a bit sad to hear that the Old Basket Press blend based on Tinta Barocca has been phased out. However, the vineyard is very old and the yields are so low that Sebastian says it is no longer commercial to make the wine for blending under this label. Thankfully, the grapes live on. Winemaker Marelise Jansen van Rensburg is buying the fruit to work with under her own label, Momento, and very good it is too.
I loved these wines. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it out to the farm but it sounds like they do an excellent line in hospitality, with cottages on site. Next time.
Chenin Blanc 2015
With a residual sugar level of around 5g/L you might expect some unintegrated sweetness, but this is as seamlessly dovetailed as it is in Hope Marguerite. The difference is that this is straightforward, with lots of ripe orchard fruit and a note of pear skin. Unoaked.
Chenin Blanc Hope Marguerite 2014
Named after Sebastian’s grandmother, the grapes for Hope Marguerite come from two vineyards planted in 1974 and 1978 on clay and shale soils. Sebastian picks the grapes on taste rather than phenolic ripeness as he wants “a ripe, green apple character in the grapes”. High acid and low pH are the goal here, and the malo is suppressed. On average, the wine spends a year in wood before being bottled, around 15% of it new. This is one of the most elegant vintages I have tasted. In fact, my tasting notes don’t mention any flavours, just the incredible finesse of the structure, the seamless integration of 4.3g/L of residual sugar and its long, reverberating finish. With the 2011 shown alongside, still beautifully youthful despite a touch of varietal (rather than oxidative) honey, I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the best chenin blancs available in the world, let alone South Africa. At around £20 in the UK, it’s also a very smart buy.
Chenin Blanc Demi-Sec 2013
Cheerful, breezy stuff with about 30g/L of sugar, this would make a very pleasant aperitif or a lightweight way to round off a meal – probably lunch rather than dinner. It does feel fairly simple coming off the back of Hope Marguerite, but I don’t think this is a wine that aims for high seriousness.
Beaumont Goutte d’Or 2014
Fresh, succulent and very well-balanced, this hides it 150g/L of sugar exceptionally well – integrated sugar is clearly something of speciality of Sebastian’s. Lots of pineapple and mango here, but not big and in your face – fresh and restrained instead. It has a lovely line of acidity that keeps a tanginess to the fruit character.
Raoul’s Constable House Shiraz Cabernet 2013
The replacement for the Old Basket Press blend mentioned above. Quite delicious and perfectly pitched between bouncy, commercially appealing fruit and then some savour and chew from ageing in old wood. This is 60% shiraz and 40% cabernet sauvignon.
I shall miss being able to be rude about pinotage. Blueberries and petals leap out of the glass in this fragile, delicately aromatic varietal wine that show considerable intensity and grip on the palate, betraying the charm of the nose. One of South Africa’s game changing examples of this much-maligned grape.
Actually, not quite. A canny blend of 86% syrah and 14% mourvedre, this manages – by a hair’s width – to not have to declare the mourvedre on the label under EU law. I wonder why, though, since mourvedre is becoming something of a cult grape among wine lovers. It certainly does its work on the palate, turning a plush, juicy nose into something with a lot more fibre and granite. I think this will need another year to unwind, or a decanter.
This hasn’t previously been a wine I rated much, and maybe under the genial eye of Sebastian I was slightly prone to generosity, but then again maybe its the extra bottle age as I think this is the same vintage I’d tasted about a year previously. It is still in the process of coming round with a scrubby, Mediterranean leatheriness to the flavour and a structure that’s firm and earthy (without being dirty). Sebastian is holding back subsequent vintages which is both honourable and sensible, so 2012 is the current release.
Named after the old Vitruvian mill on the farm, and with a nod to the Vitruvian man, this is a motley blend of 47% mourvedre (I get the impression he grows a lot of mourvedre), 32% syrah, 12% pinotage and 9% cabernet franc. Still youthful, this has generous layers of dark fruit alongside some clear white pepper notes and again, the granitic, firm texture that is a kind of hallmark for Sebastian’s reds. A powerful wine of considerable density, this is still tightly packed and youthful but with enough fruit to keep it buoyant. I’d like to try an older one!