Welcome to the first in a series looking at the hottest/coolest, bad meaning good, most interesting wines in the world right now.
First up we have the Testalonga El Bandito ‘Cortez’ 2012
5 Reasons you need this wine in your life.
1. This is made from Chenin Blanc grapes, possibly the most underrated grape variety on the planet.
2. It’s from South Africa (Swartland in particular), the most exciting wine region in the world right now. Old vineyards + Young wine makers (the guy that made this is one of the best) + A weak currency = pound for pound some of the best value wine around.
X + Y – $ = WOOF!
3. It’s what would be deemed a ‘natural‘ wine, which basically means it has been fucked around with as little as possible and is as close as you can get to a honest expression of the grapes and site from whence it came. As with so many things in life, less is definitely more.
4. It’s low alcohol, much in vogue at the moment (yummy mummies want a bottle to themselves on a Friday night ya know), in short, you can drink more and feel less guilty about it. As a side note, a wise man once told me that asking what a wines alcohol level is, is like asking a woman her age, you might like to know but it’s just not the done thing!
5. It has a naked bum on the label and it’s tongue firmly in its cheek. So to speak.
Who put these grapes in this bottle?
We have to thank Mr. Craig Hawkins for getting this in our glass. Craig is the chief winemaker at Lammershoek, a family run, organic vineyard and winery in the Aprilskloof Valley, Paardeberg, Swartland. Here he makes a number of very interesting wines under three different labels; Lammershoek, LAM and Cellar Foot which is a project label (Hárslevelü anyone?). ‘I try and make as many cuvees as possible so I don’t get bored.’ I would also recommend searching these out, a personal favorite of mine is the Lammershoek Chenin Blanc, very classy stuff.
Craig recently topped a list of South African wine makers to watch, and has been described as an ‘envelope-pushing enfant terrible’. He originally got the winemaking bug from his older brother Neil who makes wine at Hoopenburg in Stellenbosch. Craig has worked with some of the best wine makers not only in South Africa (Eben Sadie) but also Portugal (Dirk Niepoort), France (Tom Lubbe) & Austria (Muhr-van der Niepoort) to name but a few.
Testalonga is his own label, started in 2008, there are two wines both made with Chenin Blanc, El Bandito ‘Made from Grapes’ which will have a longer maceration on the skins (anything up to 2 years!) and is fashioned after those wines of Friuli-Venezia in Italy and Georgia that have an extended skin contact, often known as orange wines. If you’ve never tried these style of wines I would search them out, it’s the wine equivalent of leaving the tea bag in the mug, the builders tea of white wine if you will and they can be amazing and quite beautiful things.
His other wine is the El Bandito ‘Cortez’ which takes its name from the track ‘Cortez the Killer’ (Live in Central Park) by the Dave Matthews Band (originally penned by Neil Young). Craig used to love listening to this while driving around the sun drenched vineyards of the Douro Valley in Portugal with Luis Seabra when he was helping to make the wine there, it’s also quite a killer track to enjoy with its namesake, check out those guitar riffs!
Made of 100% Chenin Blanc but without the skin contact, this wine is all about the lees contact which Craig thinks of as the soul of the wine. The fruit is from a 1.5ha vineyard in the Boschgaasfontein (this is where the highly regarded Observatory wines were formerly made by Tom Lubbe.
This is the third vintage following on from 2009 & 2011, no wine was made in 2010 due to mildew. No sulphur has been used in the making of this wine which is a gamble few wine makers are willing to take. It takes great skill and conviction to make wine in this way and it has paid off here meaning that this wine can be enjoyed by those that usually react badly to vino due to allergic intolerances, asthma etc.
WHATS IT TASTE LIKE?
Out of the bottle this smells of toffee, honey & green, waxen apples but with an hour or so in the decanter it opens up and develops more complex notes of rich, spiced apple, apple blossom, pear skin, refined nutmeg baking spice, fresh tarragon, wet orchard floor and wet slate.
In the mouth there is juicy red apple, mouthwatering acidity but with a richness of body and strong mineral component. Good weight on the mid palate and long aftertaste of ripe orchard fruit juicy ripe apple & pear fruit on the length with plenty of lift followed by a very clean almost salty mineral finish. The wine manages to feel restrained but with a great richness and amazing acidity that puts it up there with top end Vouvray Sec.92+pts
IN THE VINEYARD
Farmed dryland, thus no irrigation. The Chenin vines are 51 year old bush vines, the vineyard lies on a big bank of hard granite rock (granite type known as Lammershoek granite, there are 7 different types in the Paardeberg and we have a combination of Paardeberg and Lammershoek Granite), which naturally stresses the vines. There is no specific recipe that we use; each vineyard block is treated according to its strengths and weaknesses, this wine is a combination of 3 separate granitic sites/slopes. The grapes were harvested by hand in small 20kg lugs in the early morning.
The vines are farmed organically, the ultimate goal is to use biodynamic principles that work for us on our specific soils/climate.
2012 was one of the most challenging vintages we have had. Cool dry weather allowed a slow even growing season, but this abruptly interrupted by severe heat in early January with no rains for 3-4 months. This made conditions extremely difficult and yields were thus naturally low. Important decisions needed to be made in the vineyard of when to harvest the grapes so to allow enough material to be extracted into the final wine without allowing any unripe or over ripe flavours due to the heat. The grapes were harvested on the 1st of February.
IN THE CELLAR
The grapes were picked purely on taste, resulting in a wine that is a healthy 10.5% in alcohol. The whole bunches were pressed by foot in a basket press and then the juice poured directly into old 10th fill French casks (300L) without settling or clarification of any kind. No yeasts or other additives were added at any stage and the wine was made completely without the use of sulphur dioxide. The wine has a free SO2 of 0 and a Total SO2 of 9. Malolactic fermentation was completed naturally and the wine has a resulting 1.6g of residual sugar and a natural acidity of 6.7g/l. The wine was never racked “clean” until bottling, thus stayed on its gross lees for 15 months. Unfined and unfiltered.
Approximately 10 years (Hopefully longer, who knows?)
100% Chenin blanc
RS: 1.6 g/l
And what about that label?
‘The idea behind the label is actually now in hindsight kind of lost as most people don’t really get to see the back label as they are too busy staring at the front label.
People often say that natural chenin’s like this one (no SO2 added) taste like cider, so I thought I would be a bit cheeky and put this picture up and then on the back label the expression from Goodwill Hunting “How do you like them apples?” as a reference to apples and cider.
It’s as simple as that. I change the Cortez label every year and I always have a cowboy on the label and I enjoy street art, so it’s all in there.’
Where do I get some?
Only a small amount of this wine was made with less than 550 bottles being imported into the U.K by Les Cave De Pyrene so don’t hang around if you want a bottle! Hunt some down at one of these great independent wine shops; Dvine Cellars, Bottle Apostle, New Street Shop, Highbury Vintners and Whistle Wines in Exeter. £25-£30