It is unlikely that anyone managed to taste all 184 wines available at last weekend’s fantastic Grapeful event in Leeds, although there were lots of people who were prepared to have a go. The magnificent Town Hall thronged with wine lovers, tempted by the huge range of wines, masterclasses and opportunity to meet winemakers.
As a wine festival I thought it was one of the best I have attended, not only for the venue, and the quality of the wines, but also for the all-day access that a £25 (£30 on the day) ticket provided. There was no sense of rush and no need to cram as much tasting in before the end of a “session”. From noon until 10pm there were wines to taste, music to listen to and a relaxed, fun atmosphere to enjoy. I presented several masterclasses which were held in the slightly strange setting of one of the old courtrooms. My pronouncements on the soil, climate and grapes of South America, all presented from the judge’s chair, were probably a lot less important than various sentences passed down in a previous era, but the audience seemed to enjoy the experience. The wines – Argentina’s O. Fournier Torrontés 2014 (£10.49) and Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2012 (£13.99) and Chile’s Errazuriz Costa Aconcagua Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (£13.99) and Montes Alpha Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£13.49) – all showed well, with perhaps the Errazuriz wine winning most fans.
One of the top areas was the Winemaker Room where several winemakers from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina set up their tables, poured their wines and talked about their vineyards, wines and the philosophy of their estates. I was particularly delighted to meet Catherine Marshall, somewhat of a legend in top quality winemaking in South Africa. She is based in the Elgin Valley, tucked between the mountains and the sea, where she makes small quantities of exceptional wines, particularly notable for their elegance, precision, texture and purity of fruit.
Luke O’Cuinneagain, winemaker at Glenelly, was also at the festival, presenting wines from this new South African property owned by May de Lencquesaing, the astonishing 90-year-old who used to own the beautiful Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux. Her new acquisition is undoubtedly run with the same kind of attention to detail, and she has developed a range of wines with intensity, balance and finesse.
I did my best to get round all 184 wines and here is my top dozen. All wines are available from Martinez Wines in Ilkley (01943 600000).
• Ch La Berrière Muscadet Sur Lie, France (£8.95): Classic Muscadet with crisp lemon and lime with minerally streaks and almost a salty herby tang. Terrific with fish.
• Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Canterbury, New Zealand (£11.75): Made from 30-year-old Sauvignon vines that conjure up fresh, herbaceous flavour, with passionfruit and kiwi fruit. Lovely rounded texture and a long finish.
• Rolf Binder, Highness Eden Valley Riesling 2013, Australia (£12.75): A grand name for an equally grand wine. Riesling is not a popular grape which means that this citrus-charged, floral-backed, crisp, dry wine is at least twice as good as its price suggests. Try this with any Asian-inspired recipe with ginger, chilli, coriander or lemongrass in it.
• Waterkloof Circle of Life White 2011, South Africa (£14.85): A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin and Semillon from this biodynamic estate where they use horses, composts and herbs rather than tractors and chemicals. The wine has peach and honeysuckle notes with a core of freshness and minerality. Delicious with a herb-sprinkled salad.
• Alpha Domus Wingwalker Viognier 2012, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (£16.49): All the right peachy, pear and apricot Viognier notes with an added layer of ginger spice and a crisp citrus finish.
• Muga Rosado 2013, Rioja, Spain (£11.49): One of my favourite rosés and showing well at the festival. Delicate salmon-pink with light, fresh-tasting strawberry fruit.
• O. Fournier Urban Malbec 2013, Argentina, (£11.49): Full of damson and crushed raspberry exuberance with a touch of cocoa and spice. Perfect with sausages, steak or a chunk of cheddar.
• Glenelly Glass Collection Syrah 2011, South Africa (£12.49): 100 per cent whole bunch fermentation gives bright, red berry fruit with a super-spiced and white pepper tone. There is no new oak in this wine, so the wood is tucked well under the fruit, letting it shine out of the glass.
• Penley Estate Gryphon Merlot 2011, Coonawarra, Australia (£14.99): Packed with redcurrant and cherry fruit, smooth and supple with a touch of cooling mint on the long, balanced finish.
• Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2013 South Africa (£15.75): “These vines grow on a sandstone-based soil, so they are well drained and produce lighter flavours,” said Catherine. I would describe it as more “ethereal” than “lighter”. It has a pure, floral-edged, savoury, strawberry fruit, complex on the palate, long and gentle. “We drink it all the time in summer, slightly chilled, with salmon and salads,” said its winemaker. Perfect.
• Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2013 South Africa (£22.49): An odd mix of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Mourvèdre, Barbera and others, but it really works. Smooth, wild berry and plum fruit with touches of cream and spice. Serious, well-made wine.
• Rust en Vrede Estate 2011, South Africa (£30.99): A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot gives a wine with pure, elegant cassis fruit, silky, supple tannins and a complex, spice-edged finish. Tuck this away for a couple of years and then bring out to enjoy with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Jonathan at Martinez Wines and all his tireless team were a vital part in setting up Grapeful this year. This is a fantastic festival and there are already plans in place to make it even bigger and better. If you missed it last week, then watch out for the Leeds Wine Festival next year.