Glen Heatlie Grenache Blanc, Piekenierskloof, South Africa 2016

Glen Heatlie Grenache Blanc.jpg
Glen Heatlie Grenache Blanc.jpg

Glen Heatlie Grenache Blanc, Piekenierskloof, South Africa 2016


Only one barrel of this beautiful wine was made!

We don’t often come across wines made in such tiny quantities as this and when we do, they are usually stratospherically expensive, for obvious reasons. So, although we cooed and swooned over it at the recent ‘New Wave South Africa’ tasting, we braced ourselves for the price, like a boxer who knows he has dropped his guard. We winced, but the blow never came. For a wine this good to come from a single barrel and to be less than £25.00 a bottle, bearing in mind the fastidious care that would have been lavished upon it in the vineyard and the cellar, makes it a knockout bargain, especially within the context of The Cape’s small-scale, artisanal, old vine projects.

It’s a bold claim to say that this was the best white wine at the ‘New Wave’ tasting, especially as it was made by an unknown newcomer in a room full of superstars like Eben Sadie, Chris Alheit and David & Nadia Sadie, but it stood toe-to-toe and gave no quarter [no more boxing analogies! Ed.]. It’s made by a young gun called Joan Heatlie, whose main job is assistant winemaker at Solms Delta, but she does a little moonlighting in her spare time, and this single barrel of loveliness, sourced from a dry-farmed, bush-vine vineyard in Piekenierskloof, is the result of her extra-curricular tinkering.

What’s so special? As Joan explains below, its unique property is that the Grenache Blanc was racked off its own lees and aged on Chenin Blanc lees, so it’s almost two wines rolled into one. It has the mineral inflection that you find in some of the best Grenache Blancs from the Roussillon, it has the tension-and-release of some of the great dry Chenin Blancs from the Loire, it has the crisp-yet-creamy quality of a fine Chablis, but what outweighs all of those comparisons (and they are only included here to contextualise the wine) is that it has the irresistible swagger of a ‘new wave’ Cape white, proudly independent and self-confident, not suffering from the ‘cultural cringe’ of emulating European stereotypes. 
The aromas are simply gorgeous, bringing together two seemingly opposing areas of the flavour spectrum, citrus and dairy, into a mouthwatering harmony, with lemon yoghurt, lime sorbet and cold butter combined with an impression of quartz chippings that sprinkle the magic fairy-dust of minerality all over it and give it a sense of place. The palate shows excellent concentration and length, carrying flavours of white pear, cream soda, lime and the lactic tang of crème fraiche onto the calm and softly tapering finish. Although it was aged in oak, the barrel had seen 4 previous vintages, so it didn’t impart any oak flavours, it simply softened the texture and brought a little creaminess. Drink it on its own or with most dishes, because it’s remarkably versatile, but treat it with a little respect too, because it’s really quite stylish and could stand in for many a more familiar stalwart of the fine wine scene. 12.5% alc. Drink now-2020.

We asked the winemaker, Joan Heatlie, for some background information about the wine and this was her very helpful reply:

"For the past 5 vintages I have worked with the Grenache Blanc grapes from Piekenierskloof (north of Swartland), which is incredible dry with old bush-vines planted on decomposed sandstone, 700m above sea level. In 2016 it was by far the best in terms of grape quality. The decision to buy in 1 ton was an easy one. The harvest date was done to achieve 12.5% alcohol as that is where freshness with Grenache is retained in our growing condition. The wine was whole-bunch pressed and racked to a demi-muid (500 litre), 4th fill, tight grain French oak barrels where spontaneous fermentation took place. The wine matured for 10 months on its primary lees. Stage two involved a very unique strategy: the Grenache was racked off its primary lees into a stainless steel vessel and Chenin Blanc lees were added. The wine matured for another 6 months on a different ‘umbilical cord’ after which is was bottled unfined. Only 600 bottles were produced in this style, working with different lees components, and therefore makes it one of a kind."

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