While I was on board the Regent Seven Seas Mariner sailing from Cape Town, I was lucky enough to be part of a wine tasting conducted by Peter Finlayson, founder of Bouchard Finlayson winery in South Africa.
Bouchard Finlayson is located close to the southernmost point of the African continent, in the sea-coast town of Hermanus. The climate there is considered to be fairly Mediterranean-like. Summers are hot, and winters are wet but not very cold. They grow virtually all of their own grapes, and purchase only tiny quantities of grapes from other sources for their blends. In their densely-planted vineyards they grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, and various others. Surprisingly, they don’t grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, as Finlayson thinks those do well enough elsewhere in South Africa; he’d prefer to focus on Pinot Noir that can benefit from the unique microclimate of his location.
The wines sampled were:
Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer 2010
Riesling and Viognier make up most of this wine, with Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc playing contributing Roles. I found it to be pleasant, with green apple and peach notes and a creamy texture. There was no oak. A little tartness was present to add to the interest.
Missionvale Chardonnay 2009
This lightly oaked Chardonnay had a lovely tropical fruit nose. Peach and citrus notes led to a nicely acidic finish.
Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2009
Medium ruby in color, this Pinot Noir is the most visible offering of Bouchard Finlayson. It has a very nice raspberry aroma. It’s not big and bold on the palate, as one might expect from a Pinot Noir, but mild berry flavors lead into a surprisingly big finish with lingering black pepper notes.
Peter Finlayson commented that Hannibal was his most common choice if he wanted a glass of his own wine. It’s a blend that features Sangiovese as its biggest component (60%), with additions of Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Mourvedre, Barbera, and Shiraz. Hannibal entices the nose with a big aroma of cherry and clove. Tasting it was a little odd. The first taste didn’t seem to show much, but with another sip Hannibal exhibited a round, smooth fruitiness that transitioned into an exceptionally long finish with oak and prominent tannins.
Asked about closures, Finlayson said that his winery would continue to use tradional corks. Even though corks can have a negative effect at times, screw cap closures simply don’t offer the opening experience that a cork does.
Finlayson remarked that while some people call winemaking an art, he considers it a sport. The variability of weather and grapes, the time pressure to produce most of one’s product in a few weeks each year, and the fact that once bottled wines keep changing make it more like a competition than a predictable science.