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Iona and Cloudy Bay push out the boat

On the 31st May at Portland restaurant in London we held a tasting of wines that inspired our winemaker Werner Muller in his journey in this wonderful world of wine. The event was attended by Jancis Robinson MW and her report on the tasting follows.

"Tasting these world icon wines inspired me again, giving me new inspiration and passion. It's not just about the wines, but also the philosophy of the winemakers and the sense of place that each wine showed, that is inspirational. It was a privilege tasting these wines and an unforgettable experience." – WERNER MULLER

Iona and Cloudy Bay push out the boat

Written by Jancis Robinson
28 Jun 2016 (click here for the full original article on JancisRobinson.com)

Scores and text in parentheses taken from the original article, with credit to Jancis Robinson.

“ Attendance rates at professional wine tastings in London can be shockingly low, so spoilt for choice are those of us based in one of the world's great capitals of the wine trade. But one tactic that tends to increase the acceptances is to promise to compare the wines in question with some of the most famous wines in the world.

By coincidence this strategy was employed recently by two southern hemisphere producers best known for their Sauvignon Blanc, with the respective winemakers in each case having chosen their guiding icons. In the case of Iona, Andrew Gunn's distinctive wine estate on the southern coast of South Africa in Elgin, we compared six pairs of wines knowing what they were: one example made by Iona's winemaker Werner Muller and a famous wine in a similar style.

Andrew Gunn obviously did well enough in his previous life as an engineer to be able to afford 101 ha (250 acres) of wind-cooled scrub at 420 m (1,400 ft) above the South Atlantic in apple-orchard country back in 1997. He was able to transform 48 ha of it into some very promising vineyards, even if the market pendulum is now swinging back in favour of growing apples, with some of his fellow Elgin farmers already pulling out vineyards to make way for orchards. (A hectare now yields 200 to 300,000 rand if planted with apples and only 50,000 with grapes, apparently.)

I should imagine Gunn's financial resources are considerably more limited than those of the owner of Cloudy Bay, LVMH, but Muller, who used to work with Gottfried Mocke at Chamonix in Franschhoek as well as at Vergelegen and in Ventoux, certainly did his best to make this London tasting as memorable as possible. (South African MW Greg Sherwood of Handford Wine's black and white portrait above shows, left to right, Muller, me and Gunn.)

His first suggestion for a wine to pair with Iona Chardonnay 2015 was a Domaine Leflaive Montrachet (£4,000 a bottle and up). He had to be gently downgraded to Pucelles 2013 (under £200). But he got his wish of comparing Iona's barrel-aged 2014 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon with Ch Haut-Brion Blanc 2012 (closer to £750). With the unoaked Iona Sauvignon we tasted Dagueneau Silex Pouilly-Fumé, a wine that is not given away.

As for the reds, Iona Pinot Noir 2014 did its best to stand up to the embryonic but stunning de Vogüé Musigny 2013 (a young Goliath of a wine) while the debut vintage of a varietal Syrah from Iona was an admirable David against a Chave Hermitage. The Iona red blend of Rhône and Bordeaux varieties was logically paired with Domaine de Trevallon and, in my view, trounced it. Rather to my surprise, the noses of the Iona wines were purer and fresher than than those of the wines paired with them – except for the poor little Pinot. But that's Pinot for you.

(Werner Muller is clearly a glutton for punishment; 3 hectares of Nebbiolo have just been planted at Iona.) ”

The Iona tasting


Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Elgin


Rating: 17

Retail price: £12

96% Sauvignon Blanc of which 2% was barrel fermented – a proportion which is increasing each year. 4% Sémillon, all barrel fermented. Sandstone, some gravelly clay, some quartz. Four different clones. All ripen very differently. 10-day picking window only. They pick everything at optimal ripeness – not under – or overripe. In 2015 they had only three hours over 27.5°C.

Lots of pure green fruit and just a tiny hint of oiliness. Very marked but natural acidity. Super-brisk, clean and delineated. Extremely vibrant.

Didier Dagueneau, Silex 2012 Pouilly-Fumé


Rating: 17

Retail price: £85

100% Sauvignon Blanc. 600-l casks, all new, for nine months and then settled in tank – no fining or filtration.

Deep straw. Oaky, broad, rather smudgy nose. Very backward with perhaps a little sulphur still evident? Much less evidently varietal than the Iona 2015 Sauvignon served alongside. A little surly at present.


13.7%

Drink 2017-2020


13%

Drink 2018-2024


Iona One Man Band 2014 Elgin


Rating: 17.5

Retail price: £22-50

Debut vintage. 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Sémillon. Werner loves dry white bordeaux. They de-leaf the Sémillon completely. All whole-bunch ferment with ambient yeast and no new oak. 11 months in barrel. No stirring.

Broad, rich, tangy but with real undertow. Great green tension but with more underneath than the varietal Sauvignon Blanc. So pure and chiselled! Long and pure. Real peacock's tail on the end. A little simpler than the Haut-Brion Blanc 2012 served alongside.

Ch Haut-Brion 2012 Pessac-Léognan


Rating: 18

Retail price: £765

55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Sémillon. All new oak for 16 months.

Deep straw. Complex, brooding nose with strong lanolin and lots of greenery and richness. Real definition. Very crisp and refreshing but with great undertow and potential for ageing. Already delicious. Really broad and gorgeous. Precise but rich. Essence of lanolin.


13.2%

Drink 2017-2024


13%

Drink 2017-2030


Iona Chardonnay 2015 Elgin


Rating: 17

Retail price: £20

Werner believes there is no other site like this in South Africa.

Pale greenish straw. Pure and straight and arguably less distinctive than the two Sauvignon Blanc-based wines from Iona. But the same lightly reductive, liquorice scents on the nose as fine white burgundy. Very crisp and fine. Very precise and youthful. Quite long after crystalline structure.

Dom Leflaive, Les Pucelles Premier Cru 2013 Puligny-Montrachet


Rating: 17.5

Retail price: £165

Pale gold. Richer, sweeter on the nose than the Iona Chardonnay 2015 served alongside. Chunky, chalky, even a little clunky next to the Iona! Very obviously bone dry. Very youthful and drier-tasting than the Iona.


13.6%

Drink 2016-2020


13%

Drink 2019-2028


Iona Pinot Noir 2014 Elgin


Rating: 16.5

Retail price: £22-50

Pale, slightly syrupy-looking ruby. Pale rim. A little muddy on the nose. An edge of rusty nail and syrup. But much more satisfying on the palate. Good and precise on the mid palate but pretty light, and hot on the end.

Dom Comte de Vogüé, Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru 2013 Musigny


Rating: 19

Retail price: £575

I bowed to this bottle. Very deep ruby. Lovely savour. Bones and richness on the end with dry finish. Much, much more grown-up than the Iona. Precise and fresh. Really expressive and gorgeous. Long and stunning now. Bone-dry end.


13.3%

Drink 2016-2021


12%

Drink 2020-2040


Iona Solace 2014 Elgin


Rating: 17.5

Retail price: £22-50

Debut vintage and the first time this wine has been tasted. 100% Syrah. 'This wine is a testament to Rozy and her philosophy', according to Andrew Gunn (Andrew is married to Rozy).

Very dark crimson. Hint of reduction but very correct. Broad and a lovely fine balance between dry and ripe. Great balance. Spicy and richer than a typical northern Rhône Syrah.

Dom Jean-Louis Chave 2006 Hermitage


Rating: 18.5

Retail price: £180

Dark crimson with a ruby rim. Dense and grown-up. Already approachable. Racy and tense. Tastes as though there are lots of little insects scuttling around here! Rich and ripe – just ready to enjoy but clearly with lots of potential. More complex than the Iona Syrah 2014.


13.8%

Drink 2016-2023


14%

Drink 2015-2030


Iona One Man Band 2010 Elgin


Rating: 17

Retail price: £22-50

47% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Mourvèdre. Fermented and aged together. Aged in 500 litre barrels with not much new oak.

Dark crimson. Nicely balanced and integrated. Great freshness and drive. Mature and rewarding. Bravo!

Dom de Trévallon 2008 IGP Bouches-du-Rhône


Rating: 17

Retail price: £42

50% Syrah, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dark ruby with a black tinge. First bottle pretty stinky but the second one was cleaner and fresher. Real edge of coolness. Exciting drive. Drier on the end than the Iona, One Man Band blend served alongside.


13.6%

Drink 2015-2022


13%

Drink 2014-2024