The inaugural London wine tasting held by fledgling wine distributor North South Wines showed a number of quality wines across its portfolio. A tasting table based on the company’s insights and predictions for the coming year was illuminating. But it was the wines of one producer in particular, South Africa’s Painted Wolf, that got the journalists in the room reaching for their superlatives.
The wines of Painted Wolf and new portfolio partner Puglia’s Paolo Leo, plus the insight behind a Top 10 Trends table were highlights at the inaugural London tasting of North South Wines.
Three years since inception, wine distributor North South Wines held its first London wine tasting at Carousel restaurant in Marleybone, showing off the wines of its three wine producer shareholders Australia’s De Bortoli, NZ’s Waimea Estates and Italy’s The Wine People, along with wines from its 13 other producers or, what it’s calling, ‘Agency Partners’.
It’s an intriguing model and one that needs to have a point of difference, presumably, in these days of consolidation.
Many of the producers were in attendance and the wines they had brought demanded attention. A lot of them were very good indeed.
Tasting highlights – the Italians
North South Wines has got a varied Italian portfolio with The Wine People covering a number of regions, predominantly Sicily and Puglia.
Its Frappato Terre Siciliane IGP Bio, 2015, that is on-trade and independents only, is a typical Sicilian food wine best served with fish – white through to fuller flavours such as octopus and capers. It was light, floral, with great texture and had a nice lift of vanilla on the finish.
‘New kid’ on the portfolio, Puglia’s Paolo Leo, is a specialist in Primitivo – they produce nine – in a variety of styles.
I liked his Vairietali Negroamaro Puglia IGP 2015 that was dark and brambly on the nose, good fruit, savoury notes, nice and fresh with good balance.
The Salice Salentino DOC Riserva 2010 was wonderful and one of the highlights of the tasting. It spends 48 months in American oak, six months in steel and a further six months in bottle. Everything was in order here – an exceptional wine.
All of the Primitivo were excellent. Two standouts were the Primitivo di Manduria DOC which was nice and fresh, quite unusual for this neck of the woods and the Passitivo Primitivo Puglia IGP (Appassimento) Organic 2015.
The organic was a clear step above the non. Rich, complex, multi-layered, a good balance sweetness-wise.
Tasting highlights –South Africa’s Painted Wolf – a winemaker to watch
The clear buzz of the tastings, though, was surrounding Painted Wolf, a South African micronegociant producer.
All of the wines were very well made, with minimal intervention in the winery, a careful check on alcohol levels and structure and superb fruit profiles throughout the range.
Founded ten years ago by the charismatic winemaker Jeremy Borg and his wife Emma, Painted Wolf’s 12 wines on show were all (bar one) excellent. Although the winemaking is done in their base in Paarl, the grapes and juice are sourced from many regions, with plenty coming from Swartland and Stellenbosch.
Borg was assistant winemaker for Charles Back at Fairview after a few years in the safari business where he met his wife and love of South African wild dogs, of which there are only 450 left in existence and the reason behind the brand and the percentage of every bottle sold that goes into wildlife conservation.
The wines may already be on your radar, they have been available before in the UK (Red Squirrel is in the process of de-listing some) and they have picked up plenty of national and international awards.
Based upon the wines tasted, Painted Wolf’s portfolio splits into three main categories: The Den, everyday drinking varietals, The Pack, five single vineyard wines and Pictus, two premium blends.
The Den wines all punched above their weight with the Den Pinotage 2014 in particular standing out for me which was spicy on the nose, great fruit and an elegance to the structure.
The Pack and the Pictus were something else, however.
The Pack are three whites – Old Vine Chenin, Roussanne, Penny Viognier and two reds, a Pinotage and Syrah. All of the whites have spent 10 months in 500l barriques with a mixture of wood, and all bottled in January.
The Old Vine Chenin 2015 was from 30 year old vines. It had a delicious honeyed nose, a generous mouthfeel and a precise balance not unlike a top Demi-Sec Vouvray.
The Roussanne 2014 might need a hand-sell but will pay off. White floral nose, delicious fruit and mouthfeel, great texture and acidity pulling it all together.
The Penny Viognier 2014 is from a 30 year old dry-farmed single vineyard. This is a dry Viognier and doesn’t have the weight or rich stone-fruit of its Rhone counterparts – but it clocks in at 13.2% alcohol which keeps it alive and fresh. Hard to pick one of these as they were all very good.
The Guillermo Pinotage 2013 and Swartland Syrah 2013 were both superb wines. The Syrah was a big step up from The Den Shiraz 2014 which was the only dud in my book.
But the Pinotage was exceptional and the style that Roger Jones in this piece was searching from on his recent trip there.
This is a big wine with plenty of black fruit and spice on the nose and a nice lifted vanilla on the finish but also it has a good acidity that gives it structure for now and the longterm. It would be good to try this alongside the new Pinotage from Olifantsberg Wines which it reminded me of.
The Pictus White 2015 is a new blend that has one foot in the Rhone and one in the Côtes-catalanes – 52% Grenache Blanc, 38% Chenin and 10% Roussanne. It worked well and will find its place alongside other exciting white blends coming out of South Africa.
The Pictus 3, 2011 you could smell across the room. It had a nose you just wanted to dive into. An equal blend of Syrha, Mourvedre and Grenache and with 14.5% alcohol you could easily see yourself in the Southern Rhone. The fruit profile was colossal and in there you also had liquorice, soy and tapenade. The tannins were still profound but not aggressive and the freshness made the wine juicy rather than assertive. Check it out.
What North South Wine predicts we will be drinking in 2017
North South Wines uses Nielsen and online research for shaping its product sourcing and marketing. Nothing new, perhaps, but wearing this on its sleeve at a tasting was refreshing and felt novel.
None of these trends should hopefully come as a surprise to those in the trade but for the record the categories and styles that North South Wines see in the ascendancy are: No & low alcohol, Wines with a higher purpose (organics and the like), Full reds/ appassimento style gaining share from the middle ground, Sparkling as a way of life, Pale, dry Provence style Rosé rather than “sweet dark icky ones”, South African wines gaining 8% share in the On Trade, Sicilian and Southern Italian indigenous varietals, Australian premium, Millennial-friendly and Craft Gin.
Joy Edmondson, one of North South Wines directors, explained that with Millenials their research shows that 80% will go for an entertaining label, hence their own label wines such as Instawine Appassimento Nero d’Avola and TD4 ‘to die for’ Pinot Grigio which sit alongside its producers’ 3 peas in a pod Pimitivo from Paolo Leo and Accomplice Chardonnay from De Bortoli that has already earned its spurs on the international scene.
Another statistic behind a product development is that at any one time there are 1 million women pregnant in the UK and many are looking for low or no alcohol substitutes for sparkling.
Bees Knees which comes in white and rosé and retails for £3.99 is a cute marketing angle for pregnant Millennials, although tasting-wise it is most likely to be drunk by the designated driver only. My notes read ‘Alcopops without the booze’ which is unsurprising given Two Dogs’ Davd Pahl is behind this ‘wine’ of unspecified varietals. It’s a very similar product to Echo Falls’ Tisane in all but name.