Friday, October 15, 2010

Alto Luxury

Modernisation is a powerful force, and no more clear example occurred yesterday at Alto Estate with the launch of MPHS, Alto’s new luxury Cabernet Franc-based blend to celebrate the 4 winemakers – Manie, Piet, Hempies and Schalk – who have crafted wines here since 1920. Surely only a handful of Cape estates can claim such a venerable pedigree?

The warm-up flight comprised Cabernet Sauvignon – 65, 70, 84, 99, 01 and 07. The 65 showed amazing youth for its age including fruit, colour and bright acidity. Back then 5000lt oak vats were used (vs today's minute by comparison 225lt barriques) which, simply stated, means 22 times more oak today (from '84) and although not at all scientific seemed to suggest that oak has tempered all subsequent vintages for it nearly stole the show.

Alto MPHS '07

Next up was the 1970 which was more consistent with old SA style but showing good balance and length followed by 1984 reflecting the first significant style change including extended post-ferment maceration and smaller oak barriques to produce a more concentrated wine.

The 1999 was more juicy, lighter and elegant with a less earthy more floral bouquet while the 01 revealed another significant shift – while maintaining tannic structure - to a more opulent, modern style and the start of Schalk van der Westhuizen’s stewardship. The final warm-up was the 07 showing plenty of youthful red fruit and a softer palate.

The 2007 maiden MPHS however clearly stands in a league of its own for a number of reasons not least for the 24 months 100% new oak;  that its 67% Cabernet Franc (balance Cab Sauv) from some of the estates highest vineyards and that it will retail at around R700 per bottle.

Showing a rich sumptuous palate dominated by intense dark berry fruit and new oak aromas the wine should evolve to include Cab Franc’s classic lead pencil and tobacco leaf aromas to be a wonderfully complex, powerful, yet elegant wine.

Schalk van der Westhuizen has made just six barrels (1 800 liters) from what he believes are the farm’s best two blocks of the two varietals chosen for the blend: a 2 ha block of then 11 year-old Cabernet Franc, 350m above sea level in deep red Hutton soils and a 5 ha block of then 14 year-old Cabernet Sauvignon at 500m above sea level in stony granite soils.

“Thanks to the condition of the vines and their deep root systems, we were able to pick the grapes at 26° Balling and still ensure an excellent balance between fruit flavour, acid and sugar.  We harvested on taste, when the tannins were fully ripened and the berries had reached a peak of flavour concentration’’ van der Westhuizen said

Jonathan Snashall

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