WINE: Alistair Gibson on a grande dame of the Old World finding inspiration in the New

Madame May de Lencquesaing.
Madame May de Lencquesaing.
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I was lucky enough last week to host a wine dinner with Nicolas Bureau of South Africa’s Glenelly Estate. To a full house, Nicolas told of the founding of the winery which is one of the most amazing tales in the modern history of wine.

It was the vision of Madame May de Lencquesaing who in 2003, aged 78, and owner of the famous Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux, bought a fruit farm and established Glenelly.

The Glenelly label

The Glenelly label

Why, after 30 years in the French wine business, would she plant vines in South Africa? Why would an older woman invest in this young democracy and start a new adventure? It seems she wanted a new challenge and believed in the soil, the micro climate and potential for quality wines. And she believed in South Africa and wanted to play a part in its economic development.

I visited Glenelly earlier this year spending a day with its winemaker and can only say she has achieved her vision which was to establish Glenelly as ‘a world-class estate producing wines with power, elegance and balance’. As Nicolas, May’s grandson, said at the dinner: ‘The wines effortlessly bridge the gap between Old World elegance and New World power.’

Glenelly is planted mainly with classic Bordeaux grape varieties plus a little syrah and chardonnay and if I had to choose three current releases

showing what is exciting so many wine critics about this estate it would be these:

Glenelly reserve chardonnay 2014.

Glenelly reserve chardonnay 2014.

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Stellenbosch (Hermitage Cellars £14.60, frontierfinewines.co.uk £16.85) takes a Burgundian approach with natural fermentation taking place in a mix of new and second-fill barrels before maturing for 11 months in-barrel. The nose has apple, citrus and melon with background butterscotch notes. The palate is beautifully balanced with citrus, minerals and a long, textured finish. It wouldn’t be out of place in a line-up of fine white Burgundy.

Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch (Hermitage Cellars £11, frontierfinewines.co.uk £12.80) is one of a handful of single varietal cabernet franc wines produced in South Africa. It’s better known as part of the classic Bordeaux blend of grapes but also found as a single varietal in the Loire Valley. There are dark cherries, dried herbs and a touch of spice before a supple palate with more dark fruit and smooth tannins. Chill briefly and serve with seared tuna.

Glenelly Estate Reserve Red 2012, Stellenbosch (Hermitage Cellars £14.60, frontierfinewines.co.uk £16.60) shows just what this estate can achieve. A cabernet sauvignon/shiraz blend plus some merlot and petit verdot, it’s matured in French oak for 18 months. It has plums, blackberries, violets and spices on the nose followed by ripe dark fruits, more spice and firm but balanced tannins – brilliant value given the quality. You could put it away for a few years but it’s drinking wonderfully now as guests discovered at the dinner when matched with lamb.

•Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars. Call 01243 431002 or e-mail alistair@hermitagecellars.co.uk

Glenelly Estate Reserve NV

Glenelly Estate Reserve NV

Glenelly Glass Collection cabernet franc nv.

Glenelly Glass Collection cabernet franc nv.