I was lucky enough last week to host a wine dinner with Nicolas Bureau of South Africa’s Glenelly Estate. To a full house, Nicolas told the story of the founding of Glenelly which surely must rate as one of the most amazing tales in the modern history of wine.
The winery is the vision of Madame May de Lencquesaing who in 2003 and at the age of 78 and the then owner of the famous Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux, purchased what was at the time a fruit farm and established Glenelly. You do have to ask yourself why after 30 years in the wine business in France would she decide to plant vines in South Africa? Why would an ‘older’ lady invest in this ‘younger’ democracy and start a new adventure? She is clearly a quite remarkable woman and it seems she wanted a new challenge and believed in the soil, the micro climate and the potential for quality wines. And because she believed in South Africa and wanted to play a part in its economic development.
I visited Glenelly earlier this year and spent a day with winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagan and can only state that she has achieved her vison which was to establish Glenelly ‘as a world-class estate producing wines with power, elegance and balance.’ As Nicolas Bureau who is the grandson of May de Lencquesaing said at the dinner, “The wines manage effortlessly to bridge the gap between ‘Old World’ elegance and “New World’ power.” Glenelly is planted with mainly the classic Bordeaux grape varieties plus a little Syrah and Chardonnay and if I had to choose three current releases to show just what is exciting so many wine critics about this estate it would be these.
Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2016, Stellenbosch (£14.60) takes a very Burgundian approach with a natural fermentation taking place in a mixture of new and second fill barrels before maturation of 11 months in barrel. The nose shows apple, citrus and melon along with some butterscotch notes in the background, the palate is beautifully balanced with citrus and minerals and a very long, textured finish. It wouldn’t be out of place at all in a line-up of fine white Burgundy.
Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch (£11.00) is one of a handful of single varietal Cabernet Franc wines produced in South Africa, its better known perhaps a part of the ‘classic’ Bordeaux blend of grapes but also found as a single varietal in the Loire Valley. There are dark cherries, dried herbs and a touch of spice before a supple palate with more dark fruit and smooth tannins. Maybe chill this briefly and serve with some seared tuna.
Glenelly Estate Reserve Red 2012, Stellenbosch (£14.60) is for me perhaps the wine that shows just what this estate can achieve. A Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz blend with the addition of some Merlot and Petit Verdot. Matured in French oak for 18 months this has plums, blackberries, violets and spices on the nose followed by ripe dark fruits, more spice and frim but balanced tannins. It is brilliant value given the quality, you could put it away for a few years but its drinking wonderfully well now as guests discovered at the dinner when matched with a lamb main course. As renowned wine critic Neil Martin wrote on Robertparker.com “for under $25 per bottle, one has to ask why you would bother with Bordeaux?”