Peter Ranscombe revisits Reyneke’s stunning organic and biodynamic wines from South Africa.
WHEN he arrives at a trade tasting, Daily Mail wine columnist Matthew Jukes is professionalism personified.
Head down, taste the wines, move onto the next job.
That’s why is was so refreshing to see his fan boy side when he presented last week’s online tasting with Johan Reyneke.
And I can fully understand and endorse Jukes’ guy crush – hearing Reyneke explain his philosophy as we tasted his wines together was one of the highlights of my visit to the Cape Wine trade fair back in 2018.
Reyneke runs South Africa’s first grape farm to be certified as biodynamic.
That means he goes beyond organic farming – which involves using copper and sulphur instead of synthetic chemicals – and instead opts for natural solutions to problems with pests.
At its heart, biodynamics is also about improving the health of the soil, which – in turn – improve the health of the vines and the taste of the grapes.
And, while Reyneke explained during last week’s virtual tasting that he is “farming with grapes and farming with soils”, it was people, not nature, that triggered his biodynamic journey to eliminate chemicals that are harmful to the planet and to people.
As a student, he worked as a farm labourer, tending vines alongside workers who had spent their whole lives in the fields, having followed their parents into the industry.
He wanted his fellow labourers to benefit from the fruits of their labours, and so his company now funds housing, education, and other poverty eradication measures through the sale of its “Cornerstone” wines.
A heart-warming bromance
“I really can’t believe what I’m saying because I’m not a mumbo jumbo sort of guy,” admitted Jukes as he sampled Reyneke’s wines on screen, before reeling off a stream of enthusastic tasting notes.
“But this wine has moved me, as it’s moved me on so many other occasions,” he added, as he swirled Reyneke’s biodynamic sauvignon blanc in his glass.
While Jukes may be “Mr No Nonsense” during trade tastings, his infectiously enthusiastic side does also come out when he hosts meals, such as his Australian lunches in Edinburgh and his turns at the Loch Lomond Arms.
And it’s easy to see why he got so excited about the 2019 Reyneke Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc (2018: £18.30, Theatre of Wine), with its aromas of wet stone, gooseberry, and aspargus, and its multi-layer flavours, stretching from gooseberry and grapefruit through to a few crumbs of biscuit and a squeeze of lime.
Equally as thrilling was the 2019 Reyneke Biodynamic Chenin Blanc (£19.89, Roberts & Speight), which offered red apple, apricot, and a waxy note on the nose, before launching into more red apple, lemon rind, and a hint of apricot yogurt on the palate, with fresh acidity keeping it light on its feet.
The 2019 Reyneke Organic Sauvignon Semillon (£15.95, Wine Direct; 2018: £14.50, St Andrews Wine Company) is a great introduction to Reyneke’s wines, with classic stalky asparagus and green pepper on the nose from the sauvignon, plus a beeswax note from the semillon.
It’s the gorgeous texture that wooed me the most – rounded and slightly waxy, as you’d expect from semillon, but never turning flabby, with plenty of tingling sauvignon acidity and more gooseberry and lemon rind flavours.
Shiraz and syrah
After such stunning whites, Reyneke’s reds had a hard act to follow.
The chewy tannins in the 2019 Reyneke Organic Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon (£14.50, St Andrews Wine Company) place it firmly in “food-friendly” territory for me at the moment; it needs a wee bit longer to knit together but, right now, it’ll be ideal to match with a rump steak or a textured pea-protein veggie burger.
It’s already firing on all cylinders with its raspberry jam, bramble, and sweet spun sugar nose, while its juicy blackberry fruit gives way to more savoury blackcurrant on the finish.
Changing name from “shiraz” to “syrah” to signify the switch from purchased fruit to his homegrown grapes, the 2018 Reyneke Organic Syrah (£16, The Wine Society) has a Rhone-like mix of cedar, damp fur, deeper black fruit, and gamier notes on the nose.
Its high level of dry tannins is balanced by the sweetness of the blackberry and blackcurrant fruit on the palate, with a crack of black pepper on the finish, with an impressively-low 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) keeping proceedings light.
‘I suck at business’
The 2017 Reyneke Cornerstone (£24.95, Wine Direct) is the bottle that helps fund benefits for Reyneke’s workers – it’s a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot.
Commenting on his winery, Reyneke admitted: “It’s not a business – I suck at business. It’s not about making money – it’s a place of opportunities.”
If Reyneke sucks at business then he certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to farming grapes and making wine – the bright and attractive redcurrant, blackcurrant, and pencil lead aromas aren’t over-powered by the cedar from the 30% new oak casks.
On the palate, the juicy dark fruit flavours shine, alongside the sweeter vanilla, dark chocolate, and mocha from the wood, with the high level of tannin having already started to become more integrated.
It’s a fitting tribute to the workers that Reyneke describes as the “cornerstone” of his business.