On-trade specialist importers Jascots held its annual portfolio tasting in London last week to which an excited Robert Mason visited on behalf of The Buyer. Newcomer South African estates such as Spier Wine Farm and Nativo rubbed shoulders with old stalwarts such as Schloss Johannisberg, Chateau Brown and Garage Wine Co. Mason picks out the wine that shone on the day and talks to Spier’s international sales manager Pierre Nortje about the wine estate’s award-winning conservation project.
“It is safe to say that my pilgrimage to this Jascots portfolio tasting was one of nostalgic joy and huge hope and excitement for the future,” writes Mason.
The tangible electric buzz of a tasting room floor in full swing is a rare but glorious thing and the Jascots portfolio organisers have clearly mastered this art. The event at London’s Westminster Chapel set the standard for 2023 by creating an atmosphere of furore, heart-racing endorphins and Bacchanalian glee.
The aim of Jascots has always been to champion quality wine by delivering a broad range of exciting, progressive and energetic winemakers to the UK trade. Of the three hundred-plus wines showcased, each displayed a vibrant passion and authenticity. None more so than a select few producers new to the Jascots range.
As is customary with large tastings, I began with fizz. Champagne house Alfred Gratien of Épernay began my voyage of discovery. Founded in 1864, the family knowledge has filtered down through many generations to the latest Champagne custodian Nicolas Jaeger to continue the fine work. Of the four excellent cuvées on show, the Alfred Gratien Brut NV set the tone of the house style: singing of its barrel fermentation and extended five years ageing on lees. True character, refinement and deep richness. Followed by a 2015 Blanc de Blancs and glorious 2012 & 1999 vintages.
With Gratien setting a particularly high bar from the off, the Jascots staple English sparkling wine producer Harrow & Hope went toe-to-toe with its equally rich and mature Blanc de Blancs 2015. The regime of extended lees ageing also very apparent here, having been disgorged in 2020, the wine showed brilliant purity and complexity in a myriad of brioche and nutty goodness. The Blanc de Blancs is soon to shift vintage, so one should move fast to grab this mature expression. Otherwise, careful cellaring will handsomely reward those of a patient persuasion.
Enter the ‘Tree-preneurs’
Of the many new headline acts, Spier Wine Farm from South Africa’s prestigious Stellenbosch region rightly dominated attention. With winemaking history dating back to 1692, it places Spier within an unique set of founding wine farms of the Cape. Understanding the importance of heritage has led the Spier family and international sales manager Pierre Nortje to drive the future – just last year, for example, the producer received an award for its holistic commitment to ethics, the environment and humankind. Similar to the criteria for inclusion in the right bank Grand Cru Classé system, Spier has initiated its “Growing for Good” community-empowering project to inspire positive social and environmental change. Extremely important given that the country is still reeling from the government sanctions on alcohol. This campaign sits alongside the sterling efforts of the launch in 2009 of the snappily titled “Tree-preneurs” conservation project.
“Ethical farming, the health of the soil and the people who work it. Artists. Art. And – let’s not forget – the art of making great wine!” says Nortje, leveraging the producer tagline, as I sample the organic range Good Natured Organic. These three core range wines display purity, freshness and varietal character of classic Cape Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz.
“As well as 80 hectares of organic vineyards, we are constantly looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Whether that be by fully recycling water, zero waste to landfill or looking at ways we can reduce the weight of our glass bottles, we strive to make a tangible difference,” highlights Nortje.
Throughout the Spier range consistency, quality and value underline this inclusive ethos. The 21 Gables and Franz K. Smit lines offer complexity, depth, versatility and supreme drinkability. Especially the 40-year-old-vine Chenin Blanc and the single vineyard 2017 Pinotage respectively.
The South African presence on the day was strong. Nativo is relatively new to the scene having been established in the year 2000, over four-hundred years after Spier. Fully certified organic in 2020, Nativo crafts innovative and inspired wines reflecting the Swartland terroir. From the skin-contact Amarillo blend of Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne through to juicy, ripe and rounded GSM blends with restrained 13% alcohol. Nativo is a producer to watch closely.
Clinical, precise design with great attention to detail is the hallmark of De Trafford wines, yet another stand-out Stellenbosch producer. Founded in 1992 by architect David Trafford and his artist wife Rita to produce mindful wines of great intensity. None more so than the Elevation 393, 2014 red blend: aromatic, pure and lifted red fruit and sundried tomato sit alongside chocolate, pepper and delicious savoury tones.
More highlights from across the globe
Bolfan Riesling, Croatia 2020 – pure, chiselled and expressive style
Marcel Henri Sancerre ‘Daniel Chotard’ 2020 – rich, nutty, developed profile verging on neighbour Pouilly-Fumé in style
Schloss Johannisberg ‘Silberlock’ Riesling, Rheingau 2020 – next level German Riesling: oak aged with leesy complexity
Chateau Brown Blanc, Pessac Leognan 2020 – excellent example of how good white Bordeaux can be
Chateau Brown Rouge, Pessac Leognan 2014 – robust and elegant left bank blend with bright acidity and deep structure, great now but will age beautifully
Daniel-Etienne Defaix Chablis 1er Cru ‘Les Lys’ 2009 – Super complex, layered and opulent: a real treat
Chateau La Gaffeliere St Emilion 2014 – finessed, elegant and masterful
Garage Wine Co. ‘Higueras’ Cabernet Franc, Maipo 2018 – lifted herbaceousness, chocolate and purity of fruit.
It is safe to say that my pilgrimage to this portfolio was one of nostalgic joy and huge hope and excitement for the future.