Sunday, October 10, 2021

BLANKbottle "B.I.G. SA" Swartland Cabernet Blend 2019

BLANKbottle "B.I.G. SA" Swartland Cabernet Blend 2019

 This was another special buy from VinChicago who find and often offer such limited release labels at good value. This seemed to be good value relative to the market price if you could find it. Being from South Africa, it had lesser distribution and a more limited following that more popular regional wines. Searching for this label, I found it available throughout Europe and in a few locations on the east coast, in all cases at prices ten to thirty percent higher. 

During my South Africa Wine Experience in 2019, I tasted some really good wines from down there, thus was open to try some unknown labels. 

Fun with wine ... as the header of this blog states, I write about "perspectives on wine buying, collecting, tasting, a study in wine marketing & branding; observations, experiences and ruminations of a winegeek & frequent traveler." This post is the epitome of such ruminations.  

This wine is the extreme of the broad spectrum of wines and labels, the polar opposite of the grower producer terroir driven wine labels where one collects and compares the subtleties of variations of the same label from vintage to vintage over time, the same wine sourced from the same 'estate' producer owned vineyard (s).

This is from South African winemaker producer Pieter Walser, who travels the region sourcing a vast wide variety of grapes from numerous growers to produce a broad portfolio of labels, many one-of single vintage offerings, and some that are repeated. There are several American and French producers that employ this negociant method of acquiring grapes to produce a private label or own label brand. I've written in these pages the perils of 'collecting' such wines since they may never appear again. Walser notes, "At the moment, roughly 30% of our wines are once-off wines. If they perform well, they will stay on."

To his credit, he employs expensive quality packaging of these wines with heavier bottles and wax dipped capsules, and imaginative designer labels.

Seeing the producer website sole photo of the winemaker, (shown left), and the way he describes himself and talks about his business and his brand, I am drawn to think this is what it would be like if Crocodile Dundee, the Australian outback movie character, were a winemaker. 

Indeed, he plays on the movie theme metaphor: “It’s our privilege to be the costume designer and screenwriter, to present this time capsule, a catalyst that brings people together, there to de-stress, entertain, – as the star headline act, in the privacy of your home.”

He replays on his website this interview style backgrounder from the producer website:  

"SO YOU HAVE YOUR OWN WINERY BUT NO FARM? Yes, at the moment I can’t afford one but then again owning a farm limits you to the vineyards on your specific farm. I love traveling and experiencing many different areas. I want to convey as many different stories as possible from as many areas as possible – if I can one day have 50 wines in our portfolio I would be happy.'

"HOW MANY VINEYARDS DO YOU BUY GRAPES FROM? In the 2020 harvest we picked 165 tons from about 80 vineyards; 35 different varietals – anything from Fernao Pirez to Cabernet. This year we bottled well over 40 different wines.'

"ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE INVOLVED IN SO MANY VINEYARDS? I work with great farmers and knowledgeable viticulturists. We make wines from almost all the areas in the Western Cape. They all ripen at different times. In the beginning of harvest I only focus on the first, maybe 10, in Wellington and Darling. As we pick through the first 10, I start looking at the next in line to possibly ripen. We carry on like that and 13000 km and 100 days later we normally pick the last vineyard in the Witzenberg.'

I am learning that the Rhone varietals, notably one of favorites, Syrah, and South African varietals such as the most well known, Pinotage, are probably the more consistent and reliable selections than Bordeaux varietals such as this. This producer, Pieter Walser, explains the challenges of South African Cabernet Sauvignon.

"When I first started speaking to the masters of Cabernet here at the Southernmost tip of Africa, the first thing mentioned by most was the dreaded Greenness in Cabernet Sauvignon - a very unwelcome herbaceous / vegetative character. This develops due to high levels of Pyrazines present in the wine - something that's determined by the ripeness level of the grapes. The longer the grape bunches get exposed to sunlight during the growing period, the less Pyrazines - resulting in less greenness in the end product - reducing herbaceousness and amplifying fruit.'

"Here in South Africa we have a unique situation: although we have plenty of sunshine, it is hot and dry. In most instances, by the time the grapes are ripe for picking, it hasn't had long enough sun exposure for the Pyrazines to get to an acceptable level. And if you leave it on the vine for longer, the sugar level gets too high. These sugars are then transformed during fermentation into alcohol resulting in rather high alcoholic wines.'

"So in general, Cabernet creators are in fact chased by the Green Monster. Defended by some, feared by most. What confuses me, though, is that one could argue that this greenness is a stylistic characteristic of wines closer to the ocean, which makes it acceptable. Or does it? Where the exact point lies where herbaceousness turns into greenness - I am not sure." 

This label release is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, sourced from 11 vineyard sites, all of which are mentioned on the label, which explains its busy-ness and complexity. In retrospect, its brilliant, showing the geography and topography, elevation of each of the vineyard sites.  

Pieter writes, "The label shows a landscape and identifies all the vineyards that went into the final wine. The closest vineyard to the ocean is 3km and the furthest 3 hours drive."  The label is brilliant and ingenious in its design showing the relative proximity and altitude of the vineyard sites. BLANKbottle creative artwork labels recently won multiple awards, including the Grand Prix, at the 2015 Wine Label Design Awards.

Winemaker producer Walser writes about this label, "The name B.I.G. does not refer to the style of the wine but to the magnitude of the blend. This wine represents Bordeaux from South Africa. The first vintage of this wine was in 2015 and it had six vineyards in the final blend, all Cabernet Sauvignons from different heights above sea level. The blend varies from year to year - the 2019 consists of 9 vineyards - 5 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 Cabernet franc, 1 Merlot and 1 Petit Verdot. Each year I adjust the label accordingly.'

There are some wonderful high volume large production wines that are a blend of fruit from a wide variety of sources. I write often how remarkable it is that such labels can consistently produce a high quality product in this way. 

This was the approach and strategy employed by Jess Jackson in his California Reserve Chardonnay, a wine that propelled him to a billionaire legend that changed the landscape of the California wine business. His success and meteoric rise was chronicled in the book A Man and His Mountain, the story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson and his pursuit of his dream to build a brand of premium varietal based wine for the mass market.

This wine is a small production offering, a fraction of the Kendall Jackson Reserve, never-the-less, sourced and blended from a wide range of vineyards across a wide range of geographies and distinctive terroir's, in the same way. 

Winemaker's notes: "With stunning black fruit, sweet peppery spice, fine tannin and good acidity, this is a very drinkable wine that shows complexity and liveliness. A wine where each sip stays as interesting as the first."

I found it rather uninspiring and lacking a definition of a particular profile or character and style - perhaps a cacophony of tastes rather than a symphony, lacking elegance and polish, more appropriate for a casual sipper with pizza or pasta than with elegant French cuisine or grilled steak. 

Dark blackish garnet colored, medium-full bodied, big full flavors of black berry and black raspberry fruits with notes of baking spices, black pepper and black tea with lively acidity on a moderate finish. 

RM 87 points.

We obtained another bottle from this producer, another Bordeaux varietal, Petit Verdot. I'll look forward to tasting and comparing that bottle and will post that experience in these pages when I do.