Jamie Goode and Treve Ring choose their favourite WO Franschhoek wines
During our week in the Franschhoek region we met with many of the valley’s producers and tried a lot of wines. Here, we’ve chosen some of our top WO Franschhoek wines.
Jamie chose 16 wines, and included just one wine from each producer, which means that it’s not an exhaustive list of the top ranked wines from the WO. Treve chose 10 wines, but allowed herself more than one wine per producer.
But we’ll begin with the thoughts of Treve:
I arrived in Franschhoek thinking I knew about the region. I have visited before (albeit not nearly as in depth as this week), spoken about it, and written about it. But I left feeling like I knew much less than I thought I had. What is Franschhoek? The reason is simple. The current day Franschhoek isn’t the Franschhoek of even 5 years ago. It’s an exciting place to be, for sure. But it’s also a confusing transitional time, for the region, its 130ish wineries, and its wines.
First off, where do the firm borders fall? And why? Based on soils, climate, and, er, purchasing power? We tasted with producers that use the Franschhoek branding and label liberally, when they’re sourcing all their grapes from outside the region. Of course, thanks to the fantastic appellation system in South Africa, the wines are appellated properly (100% of the grapes have to come from within a delineated area), but it seems some producers are more apt to go with the more generic WO Western Cape, then using their neighbours (sorry WO Simonsberg-Paarl), which is unfortunate. I tasted many great wines from Franschhoek-based wineries, with fruit sourced from far and wide, but far fewer from WO Franschhoek.
Which again, begs the question, what is Franschhoek?
To answer this properly, one needs look at wines from the region. This fertile valley can do many things, from Sauvignon Blanc, to Sémillon, to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Chardonnay. That’s a huge benefit for the touristic sector; this picturesque Cape Dutch town is located close enough to Cape Town to be a massive tourist draw (omnipresent Wine Trams / Trains bolster this). But just because you can do everything, doesn’t mean you should do everything.
As many would, I’d love to see a detailed soil study done, mapping the region’s numerous soils, aspects, and altitudes. The valley floor is as sandy as a beach, well suited to producing generous, fruity, approachable wines. Please stop trying to make seriously structural Cabernet Sauvignon here. As you move up the hills, gaining altitude and freshness, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay become quite interesting. There are exceptional, world-leading pockets of old vine Sémillon grown in the region, and we quickly found that some of our favourite examples of the grape were sourced from shared vineyards dating back to the early 1900s.
Sémillon’s stardom aside, Cabernet Franc was a surprise, as was Syrah, with producers paying close attention to clone and vineyard location. Though we heard a lot about Chardonnay, I’m much less convinced, tipping my hat more towards Grenache Blanc, Gris, and Noir.
What I think this combined list does show is that Franschhoek is an interesting wine region with some talented vineyard sites.
Boekenhoutkloof Semillon 2017 Franschhoek
12 000 bottles. One vineyard is from Eikhof, planted in 1902. On rootstock. Then across the road, there’s a sandy vineyard planted in 1942, and since Gottfried came they have sourced from the La Colline vineyard, too, planted in 1936. From 2016 they have used 2-3% of Muscat from 1902. Whole bunch pressing oxidatively, settle naturally then racked to barrels and eggs (one third). Wild fermentation. Wine in barrel spends 14 months on mother lees without any intervention. Fine, mineral, nutty and structured with amazing texture. Has hints of lanolin and wax with a citrus undercurrent and some pear skin, too. Brooding and complex with lovely intensity and a fine, finely spiced texture. Lovely stuff. 95/100 (JG)
Boekenhoutskloof 2017 Semillon, WO Franschhoek
This old vine Sem blends fruit from the 1902-planted Eikehof Vineyard, and two nearby vineyards planted in the 1930’s and 1940’s (including La Colline), all on sandy, alluvial soils. From 2015 started they started adding in a co-planted wee splash of Muscat Haanepoort as well. Very, very long in the mouth, this was whole bunch pressed with no skin contact before being split into 1/3 concrete egg, 2/3 French barriques for native ferment and then blending before a 14 month rest undisturbed on the lees. Softly creamy in the mouth, with dried yellow fruits, chamomile, some green herbal leaves, fine salts, and fine tea notes in the very long finish. Quite textural throughout, and so young still. 93/100 (TR)
Black Elephant The Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017 Franschhoek
Old 500 litre barrels. Very fine, complex and linear with nice precision to the pear and citrus fruit. There’s a bit of structure here with fine toasty notes and a hint of hazelnut. No malolactic this year. Some mandarin detail. Lovely stuff. 94/100 (JG)
Wildeberg 2018 Semillon, WO Franschhoek
This mesmerizing Semillon comes from La Colline Vineyard, planted in the mid 1930’s. Bush vines, and a native ferment in Stockinger and one each of first, second, and third use French oaks add complexity. Savoury and flaxen, green fig, fine earthy chalk, wild herbs and broken stones that trail along the lengthy finish. Great grip and tension around the sides. Subtle and nonchalant, but very powerful. 93/100 (TR)
Damascene Semillon 2018 Franschhoek
From two plots planted in 1942 and 1962, wild fermentation in older barrels. Ripe with honey, nuts and apples with nice focus to the citrus fruit palate, and some hints of melon and spice. Such focus and precision. Lanolin and hazelnut on the finish. Such personality here. 94/100 (JG)
Landau du Val Semillon 2017 Franschhoek
From Basil and Jane Landau’s 1905 block of Semillon, made by Rickety Bridge in the same way as they make their Pilgrimage Semillon from the same block, but in a slightly more oxidative way, just pressed to old barrels. Hint of mint and lively lime notes. Supple with a floral edge, a touch of white pepper and a hint of cabbage. Lovely wine. 93/100 (JG)
Haut Espoir Semillon 2017 Franschhoek
Both this and the Chardonnay are about a third wild yeast. From Glenwood block DP1. Get a little botrytis from the portion near the river. Has some overnight skin contact, then goes to barrel after pressing. Lovely apple and nut character with some crisp citrus and a bit of pear skin. Bright and juicy with a touch of marmalade and honey. Thoughtful, characterful wine. 91/100 (JG)
Môreson Dr Reason Why Amphorae Chardonnay 2018 Franschhoek
Goes into amphora and Nomblot egg, inoculated with organic yeast, use a yeast hull food source. The amphorae come from Arte Nova in Italy, direct imports. This is mealy and spicy with nice citrus fruit, some pear notes. Pure, grainy and fresh with lovely texture. Such a delicious, pure wine with an interesting texture. 93/100 (JG)
Haut Cabrière Chardonnay 2017 Franschhoek
80% barrel (half new), 20% amphora. Toast, honeycomb and cashew on the nose as well as peachy fruit. The palate taste fresher than the nose suggests, with spice and citrus, as well as some white peach and a lovely mineral core. Combines richness and freshness, with great concentration. The palate is old world, the nose is new world. 94/100 (JG)
Mont Rochelle Miko Chardonnay 2016 Franschhoek
Fruit behind the cellar, decomposed granite soils. Lightly cropped (5 tons/ha). 30% fermentation then goes into 100% new oak, and then back into older oak half-way through. Complex with some toast and cedar notes. Has a savoury edge to the pear and peach fruit. Has nuts and spice with a lively citrussy finish, showing a bit of orange peel character and pith, as well as oatmeal. Such a crystalline complexity on the finish with some new oak showing. 92/100 (JG)
La Motte Syrah 2017 Franschhoek
Has 15% Petite Sirah in the blend, 30% new oak. Aromatic and focused with supple, fine red cherry, redcurrant and blackberry fruit. Has a nice pepperiness with juicy red fruits. So expressive with a bit of crunch on the finish. Lovely bright style. 91/100 (JG)
Rickety Bridge The Sleeper 2017 Franschhoek
13.5% alcohol. Syrah. Four Paws grapes up against the mountain. 2 hectare block. Really vivid with a lovely peppery edge to the bright cherry and plum fruit. 100% new oak, which adds a nice spicy sheen and some sweetness to the palate. Extended maceration for two months. Nice tannins here, with some brightness. Very fine and peppery on the finish. Lovely wine. 94/100 (JG)
La Bri 2016 570 Bottles Syrah, WO Franschhoek
This reserve label (signalled by its black background) is not made every year, but they thought this parcel had a special character that stood out. Super perfumed, with tight spice and dusky floral violets that merge with an alluring wild blackberry perfume. Lovely generosity on the wild peppery cassis middle, and salty, lingering finish. Beauty savoury syrah. 93/100 (TR)
Allée Bleue Shiraz 2017 Franschhoek
From the Lemon Grove block which has now been registered as a single vineyard. This has lovely concentration and depth. There’s some peppery freshness with nice structure and sweet black cherries and spice. The oak is really well integrated with lovely intensity and grippy structure. It’s structured, but there’s also freshness and some complex wild herb notes. Has high acidity. 93/100 (JG)
Allée Bleue 2017 Shiraz, WO Franschhoek
Stefan Ogier came to visit the farm, and owner/farmer Van Zyl Du Toit went there to exchange ideas (Van Zyl there learned the fine art of delestage). Lovely dusky dark herbal perfume leads into more wild dark fruits, with ample white pepper, black pepper seasoning. Muscular, but fresh throughout. Wild violets perfume. Muscular, but fresh, from a special block on the farm called The Lemon Grove. 92/100 (TR)
Mont Rochelle 2010 Miko Syrah, WO Franschhoek
The current vintage, this spent 7 years in bottle prior to release. Sourced from block 9 and 10 at the top of farm, and on all decomposed granite soils. This was 35% whole bunch into 25% new oak, where it remained for 2 years prior to bottling. Very peppery, taut and structural, in a Northern Rhone style, with dark, brooding perfume, a supple wild cherry core, and large, thankfully worn tannins. Muscular and meaty, but finessed, this is drinking beautifully now. 92/100 (TR)
La Bri Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2016 Franschhoek
13.5% alcohol. 2000 bottles, 2 years in barrel with a bit of second fill. Only made when it’s a great year, so there have been three so far. Very fresh and gravelly with a nice savoury edge to the blackcurrant fruit. Restrained and backward with lovely complexity already, but potential for further development. Elegant but also powerful with freshness and purity, yet also grippy structure. So exciting. 94/100 (JG)
La Bri 2016 Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Franschhoek 2016
La Bri has a very special, light touch to everything they do, labels including (this limited edition black label wine features the Wastonia Alba flower). Not made every vintage, this Cabernet Sauvignon always comes from Block 1, planted in 1999. After a week long cold soak prior to native fermentation in stainless, this spends 2 years in French oak barrels, almost entirely new. Wild cassis, wild blackberry filter through the long palate, moving into red fruits (wild raspberry, cherry) and threaded with tight, fine, grippy spicing. Tannins are fine and graveled. Gentle, but structural, this carries the precise muscularity of a ballet dancer. 94/100 (TR)
La Petite Ferme Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Franschhoek
14 months French oak, 25% new. This shows lovely concentrated fruit with a blackcurrant core and also some raspberry brightness. Compact and juicy, with some richness. Lovely grippy structure. The key here is the fruit purity: it’s seamless, vivid, fresh and so expressive. Nice fine green hints here adding brightness, with the tannins cloaked in the dense fruit. The oak is very well integrated. 94/100 (JG)
Black Elephant 2015 Amazing Grace Cabernet Sauvignon
From their 1999 and 2003 planted estate vineyard, this utilized Reyneke’s isolated organic yeast for ferment, taking place in a mix of 50/50 new and old 225/300 L barrels where it remained for 21 months before the final blend. Wild blackberry, salted plum, savoury black cherry are textured with a lovely thorny grip. Alluringly wild; very drinkable now but will hold in cellar for a few years. 92/100 (TR)
Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Franschhoek
11 barrels. Nice concentration here, with a savoury, spicy, grippy edge to the blackcurrant fruit. Has some freshness but also a sterner, more savoury, structured edge. Rich and opulent but not too polished. Blackcurrant bud notes on the finish. 93/100 (JG)
Holden Manz Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 Franschhoek
14.5% alcohol. Barrel fermented. There’s a freshness to this wine as well as some sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. This has a lovely chalky texture to it. Stylish with some grainy structure keeping the sweet fruit in check. Has real density and focus. Bright red fruits notes add interest here. 94/100 (JG)
The Old Road Wine Co Stone Trail Chenin Blanc 2018 Franschhoek
Was trellised until 10 years ago, but took out the trellis and irrigation. So now it’s high bush vines, on stony soils. Low yields of 5 tons/hectare. This is lovely. Nice apple, pear and peach fruit with some lemony brightness. Has grapefruit freshness. Linear and focused with a long, taut, stony finish. Such good acidity. Some green tea hints. Racy and edgy. 95/100 (JG)
Lynx Grenache 2017, WO Franschhoek
This lighter red surprised with its fragrant and utterly charming Grenache character. Herbal raspberry, wild strawberry wrap around a slight, ripely sweet core of fruit. Tannins are very fine and long, with a white pepper spice laced throughout. Lovely lightness of being in this smashable red. 90/100 (TR)
La Bri 2013 Sauvage Blanc de Blancs, WO Franschhoek
From a Chardonnay vineyard planted in 1990, this was matured in old barrels for 3 months before going to bottle for secondary ferment and 5 years on lees. Very focused and pure, with tight spicing, generous and well-handled autolysis, and tight lemon pith gripping on the zero dosage finish. Hazelnuts add a lovely pad of generosity to the core. Great length, and energy. The flower on the label is The Franschhoek Pride. Every one of the 1400 bottles is hand numbered. 93/100 (TR)
Miss Molly NV Bubbly Rose Brut, WO Franschhoek
Based on the 2018 vintage, this spent one year on lees. Medium-deep hued, this is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, in saignée. When the desired colour is achieved, the Pinot Noir is pulled off the skins and blended with the Chardonnay. Lovely wild raspberry, strawberry is riffed with some cherry skins on the finish. Freshness abounds. 8.5 g/l. 91/100 (TR)
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Conflicts of interest: my flight (JG) from London to Cape Town, plus my accommodation in the valley, was paid for by the Franschhoek Vignerons. TR received free accommodation.