Babylonstoren’s famous garden at its estate tells the story of the people of South Africa’s winelands, their Cape Dutch heritage and the sheer joy of gardening, so what better way to celebrate all three than to showcase not only their historic beautiful farm but also their wines at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Our retired Michelin star chef, South African wine explorer and amateur gardener, Roger Jones, spends the day with the team at the show ground.
For the third year running, Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé has been chosen as the official rosé of the Chelsea flower show and, from the 2023 vintage, is one of the first 2023 wines to hit the UK market.
I first visited Babylonstoren based in Simonsberg-Paarl in January 2016, with temperatures hitting nearly 40°C, grateful for the shade whilst walking through their incredible gardens, however the temperature was a more modest 22°C when I visited them last week at Chelsea. Babylonstoren is the South African sister farm of The Newt in Somerset, and a partner of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
The visit was hosted by cellar master Charl Coetzee and winemaker Klass Stoffberg. Coetzee joined the team in 2010 and has been on a journey evolving the wines ever since, and for me it was remarkable to see the huge strides in quality and evolution since my first visit to the estate, quite profound in fact, Coetzee and his team always had the vision, but to see it come to fruition is so pleasing.
So how were the new Babylonstoren wines holding up?
For the third year running the Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé (2023) is the RHS official rosé of the show, and notably the first 2023 rosé on the UK market. This is no playful rosé, this is rosé at its best, think quality Provençal, this is a serious wine seamless and easy to drink yet with enough character, savoury texture and attitude to match with a basket-of-fruit and vegetable-inspired dishes such as watermelon, wild salmon and baby gem lettuce.
Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé 2023 13.0% RRP £16.75
The fruit element of this rosé is from pomegranate, rhubarb and watermelon, bright and joyful on the palate, but with a serious undertone, this has texture and layers and lends more to a savoury feel than floral and strawberry. The finish has a glowing, fresh, mineral feel. This really is quite a special rosé that offers great value for the quality.
Babylonstoren Sprankel 2017 12.0% RRP £37.00
The Afrikaans word Sprankel, means ‘sparkling’ and, for Babylonstoren, it symbolises celebration, transformation, and beauty reflecting the Monarch butterfly on the label which is part of the natural life of the Simonsberg-Paarl region.
Coetzee, the cellar master, took some great founding advice from ‘Mr Bubbles’ himself, Pieter Ferreira (Graham Beck), who suggested that, money permitting, he should age this sparkling wine for four years as opposed to the minimal requirement in 2010 of 9 months (now 12 months).
This is the seventh vintage of this Cap Classique. The Chardonnay grapes, sourced from the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain, were whole-bunch pressed and the first fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. The wine was kept on the secondary lees in a stainless steel tank for seven months. The second fermentation took place in the bottle, after which it was kept on the lees for a further 55 months prior to disgorgement.
This wine combines texture and freshness, unwaxed lemon, crisp apple, hint of candied ginger, great mouthfeel, full and opulent, easy and enjoyable by itself as a luxurious vintage style or enhanced with shellfish.
Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc 13.5% 2022 RRP £14.00
Ripe notes, hints of tropical fruit, touch of banana, fresh acidity, pineapple notes, lime and textured, a great foodie wine bringing plenty of life to the palate.
Babylonstoren Viognier 13.8% 2022 RRP £16.50
Loved this Viognier, textured, honey blossom, creamy and spiced, great balance, delicate, perfumed, floral nose with a citrus lime finish, think Condrieu. Really impressed with this wine.
Babylonstoren Chardonnay 2022 14% RRP £27.00
Textured and layered, creamy, restrained, toasted brioche crumbs, lime freshness, custard apples, lime marmalade, honey blossom, pineapple essence, white peeled nuts, pretty complete.
Babylonstoren Babel Red 2021 14.0% RRP £16.00
Shiraz-led (53%) with Pinotage (19%) Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir and Marselan in the pot to brew together a fulfilled, brooding chocolate and dark berry wine that gives plenty of depth, sweet tobacco, plush dark cherries, juicy and fresh with a great balance between the Shiraz and Pinotage.
Babylonstoren Shiraz 2020 14.5% RRP £18.00
Stoffberg, the winemaker, stressed that they were definitely aiming for a Shiraz not a Syrah, and this dark, deep-flavoured velvety wine delivers just that – lead pencil, blackberries, cassis and cool vanilla notes, the wine has dark intensity but also a fresh, bright finish.
Babylonstoren Nebukadnesar 2020 14.5% £34.00
Their flagship wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Petit Verdot (7%), Malbec (3%) and aged for 24 months in French oak – a wine to age. Mint, violets, salt and pepper, fresh cigar leaf, bitter chocolate, cassis, mulberries and billberries, all evolving together, I would love to see this in a decade.
It really was a special visit to RHS Chelsea Flower Show, especially being guided by one of the head gardeners across the show ground during the twilight hours when the crowds had dispersed, whilst also enjoying the inspired wines of Babylonstoren with delicious canapés provided by the Newt.