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south african wine, part 5
Marc Kent and Boekenhootskloof

Aged only 35, Marc Kent (above) has been responsible for some of South Africa’s most talked about wines for a few years now. His Boekenhoutskloof operation makes some very smart wines indeed: the premium Syrah is probably the best known, but perhaps more remarkable is the Porcupine Ridge range, which includes possibly the world’s best value £6 wine, the Porcupine Ridge Syrah.

Marc’s first Boekenhoutskloof wine was made in 1996, although he and his business partners bought his historic Franschhoek property back in 1993. Winemaking wasn’t his first career choice: he was on course to be a pilot with the South African airforce when the changing political landscape derailed this option. Growth has been fairly rapid. From an initial 6000 bottles in 1996, and in 1997 just 1000 more, now production is running at 1.3–1.5 million, of which 80% is Porcupine Ridge, another 15% is the new Wolftrap and 5% is the high end stuff.

Marc is clearly a talented winemaker, who’s prepared to take some chances and do things a little differently. For example, he doesn’t do any acidification of his wines. His 1997 Syrah came in at pH 4.09, which is massively high – working at this sort of pH you have to be lucky, or be very talented, or both. The wines are, for the most part, sensationally good. Particularly interesting are the high-end whites. Rather than working with Chardonnay and Sauvignon, Marc focuses on Semillon, Viognier, Clairette and Grenache Blanc.

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2003 Franschhoek
This comes from three vineyards on the same property, 106, 65 and 35 years of age. 6–9000 bottles made annually. The Semillon is low in acid, so 5% early picked Sauvignon Blanc is blended in. The wine is fermented in new French oak, where it stays for 13 months: just after alcoholic fermentation the barrels are taken to the cold room and kept at 5–8 degrees C for a year. This inhibits the malolactic fermentation. No sulfur; no battonage; no topping up. This is a complex sort of Semillon with some wax and lanolin notes; quite rich with some citrussy freshness and a nice herbiness. The oak is really well integrated. Apparently, this is quite aldehydic when it comes out of the barrel, but the sulfur dioxide addition before bottling binds this up. I like the nice lemony perfume, and the subtle herby character. A complex, food friendly wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2002 Franschhoek
Wonderful nose with a lovely, herby, slightly cheesy complexity to the waxy, citrussy fruit. The palate has a nice savoury weight with good acidity and herby complexity. This is evolving nicely: smooth and long. Very good/excellent 92/100

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2004 Western Cape
Lovely sweet dark meaty black fruit nose. The palate has generous sweet fruit with a nice black olive and meaty character, together with a spicy edge. Delicious, and brilliant commercial winemaking. Very good+ 89/100 (UK availability: Waitrose)

Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block 2004 Western Cape
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet and Viognier. Sweet, dark spicy fruit on the nose, which has nice definition. The palate shows lovely weight and nice spicy structure. Drinking brilliantly now with open fruit and nice spiciness. Very good/excellent 91/100 (3000 cases made. Marc says, ‘For me the gem in this is the Cinsault, which comes from old bush vines cropped low. We do saignee, and for me it is very rewarding’.)

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
With 8% Cabernet Franc blended in, this is aged in new oak. It spends 18 months in barrel on its gross lees, is racked and fined with egg white and then returns to barrel for a further 9 months. It is then fined and bottled. Serious dark fruits nose: spicy, a bit earthy with an old world-style chocolatey, spicy profile. The palate is structured, full and spicy with tight, tannic dark fruits. Lots of concentration and a lovely firm structure. A fantastic, tannic, long-term wine. Very good/excellent 94/100

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2003
From a single vineyard in Wellington. Wild fermented and spends 27 months in barrels, all of which have been used. Dark nose: sweet and slightly meaty with a black olive note. Nice freshness. The palate is quite supple showing elegant spicy fruit. Expressive and fresh with good structure. Very good/excellent 93/100

Boekenhoutskloof Grenache Blanc/Viognier/Clairette 2004
We had some more wines at dinner, beginning with a couple of rather special whites. ‘Good white wines are far more difficult to make’, says Marc. The Clairette has racy acidty but a relatively neutral flavour profile. With Viognier, Marc reckons you need to get to 16% potential alcohol to get the flavour, ‘but if you then blend in the high acid Clairette, it’s a match made in heaven,’ he adds. Rich and soft, but with well defined peachy fruit.  Lovely full texture and lots of character: a delicious wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon/Grenache Blanc/Viognier 2004
The Grenache Blanc was fermented on its skins and prepared oxidatively. This is a striking wine with a fresh limey edge to the nose, and on the palate some tannin (unusual for a white wine) together with some oak notes. Very tight with a long future ahead of it. Very good/excellent 91/100

Wolftrap 2005
This used to be a sort of bin-end; now it is a more focused blend of four varieties: Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier. It’s stunning value (sells at £6.99 price point). Lots of seductive ripe black fruits here, with some meaty spicy character. Delicious. Very good+ 88/100

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 1997
This is the famous pH 4.09 wine, made from a vineyard in Healdsburg that is now a car park, alas. The nose is dark, spicy, meaty and minerally, showing some earthy/leathery complexity. The palate is savoury, rich and spicy with plenty of complexity and a slightly phenolic edge. A serious effort that has evolved nicely. Very good/excellent 97/100

Boekenhoutskloof Noble Late Harvest 2002 Franschhoek
Just two barrels of this wine made. It was harvested in the second week of May 2002, and 8 people took 7 days to pick the grapes. It has a whopping 319 g/l residual sugar (that’s sky high: much higher than Sauternes), 8 g/l acid (sky high) and it’s 9% alcohol. Wonderful rich, apricotty nose is intense and rich, and also shows citrus and caramel notes. Sweet, viscous, honeyed and rich on the palate with good acid. Racy and intense. Very good/excellent 92/100

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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