Prince Albert (Ahrens)

I more-or-less gatecrashed a tasting that winemaker Albert Ahrens was giving to Allan Mullins (the genius behind Woolworths’ wine offering) – to my pleasure and benefit.

Albert has a very mixed portfolio. If anywhere, he’s based at the venerable Goede Hoop Estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary HIlls, but ranges from there into a few own-labels, and a joint venture with Goede Hoop’s owner, Pieter Bestbier (now there’s the wrong sort of name for a wine-man to have!).

First we sampled two vintages of the sparkling wine he makes for his partnership with lawyer Gerrit Maritz. Interestingly, Albert is yet another bubbly-maker who acknowledges the great help of Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira – what a generous-spirited lover of sparkling wines Pieter is. I preferred the current 2010 GM&Ahrens Vintage Cuvée to the 2009 – perhaps the predominance of chardonnay over pinot in the latter, as opposed to the other way round in the 2009, is a reason for this – certainly the chardonnay gives a lovely richness, and there’s great intensity of fruit, with a long-lingering and very clean finish. There are the brioche notes that you might expect from three years on the lees in bottle, the mousse is very fine and vigorous, and altogether this is certainly in the upper bracket of Cape sparkling wines. At about R415 it’s comfortably among the more highly priced too.

Albert was the winemaker at Lammershoek in the Swartland before Craig Hawkins took over and moved the winery in a more radically “natural” direction. But Albert was increasingly aligning the wines with the spirit of the modern Swartland – reducing ripeness and alcohol levels, and lessening the influence of oak, for example.

So the pair of Ahrens Family wines are very much in the spirit of the Swartland revolution. For a while they were produced and marketed in the excellent BlankBottle range, in conjunction with the innovative owner of that brand, Pieter Walser. The labels remain extremely minimal, especially for the red blend. It’s not allowed to be called Black, apparently, so the almost unrelieved colour of the label is left to convey the name. (Stupidly, I neglected to take a photo of the bottles, and can’t find one online.) At around R195, the “RedBlack” is a nice example of a modern Swartland red – the syrah-based blend giving what I noted as “some red fruit with black” and Allan Mullins rather more neatly characterised as “dark red fruit”. It’s ripe, but fresh, clean and with a good but gentle tannic grip.

The WhiteBlack 2012 (R165) is allowed to be called that, so it is. This takes in a little fruit from Voor-Paardeberg so doesn’t qualify for the Swartland WO – but it is in all respects a Swartland wine, and a very good example indeed of the genre. More than half comes from roussanne, but it takes in another five varieties. As a blend it works extremely well, with some floral top-notes from grenache offsetting some earthy ones, the merest hint of peach from viognier, added freshness from clairette – etcetera. As with the red, only older oak is used. Unshowy and delightful, WhiteBlackwas growing more appealing in the glass as time moved on – I was sorry to leave any of it behind. My favourite wine of this little tasting.

Then Albert poured us the Goede Hoop Estate Wine 2010, one of two in the Heritage label, the joint venture he conducts with the estate owner (the other is the Straw Wine). The red is intended to represent the entire farm, with the best of all its black grapes represented: merlot, pinotage, cabernet, syrah, malbec and cinsaut. They consort together well enough, and I think the wine is likely to develop well for some years – though it’s pretty tasty now.

At has a modest 13% alcohol, which is rare for such a blend, and I’d idly imagined it as  further evidence of Albert’s Swartland lessons. But in fact, given that the wine is in many ways a conscious look back at the past, at the heritage of Cape wine, I think that Albert is also picking up on the lighter wines that obtained two, three and more decades back.

In fact, as a concluding treat, Albert opened up three vintages of Goede Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon: 1986, very much alive and drinkable, though quite a bit past its best and thinning out; 2001 perhaps at its peak – very good, in fact, with plenty of flavour, immensely drinkable, modestly constructed and pleasingly dry; and 2009, continuing the tradition of light-footed, restrained and rather elegant style of Goede Hoop wines.

It’s a good match, in fact, Albert and Goede Hoop, but it’s also good for us that he’s playing the field as he does.