The world is marked with a long trail of wine regions that take Burgundy as their model. The obvious example is Oregon, with their claim that the landscape, soil and weather patterns are closely similar to the Côte D’Or (or at least that’s what Robert Drouhin told me years ago). Spend a day touring Napa, and you’ll encounter a slew of winemakers who were “trying to make a Burgundian style” of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. In areas as diverse as Germany and New Zealand, acolytes have their eyes trained on Beaune.
South Africa is not one of the places that immediately spring to mind. Yet in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, roughly 90 minutes from Cape Town, Bouchard Finlayson pioneered the production of world-class Pinot Noir. The estate was a 1989 collaboration between winemaker Peter Finlayson and Burgundy négociant Paul Bouchard. Given that the French tend to shy away from speculative investments, we can assume Bouchard saw the potential to do something truly special in that landscape. Although the winery was purchased in 2000 by the Tollman family, owners of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection, it remains under Finlayson’s control and true to the original spirit of the venture.
Bouchard Finlayson’s 2018 Missionvale Chardonnay ($28) is their flagship white wine, harvested from estate-grown grapes and vinified in different sizes and ages of oak barrels (not to mention being partly fermented in Terra Cotta Amphorae, which increases the amplitude of the wine). It has an intriguing nose of stone fruits, citrus zest and spice. It is mouthfilling and satisfying, filled with excellent acidity and flavors of Meyer lemon, quince and stewed apples against a firm mineral backbone. The finish is exceptionally long. For Francophiles seeking an analogy, think village Meursault.
Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, the estate’s benchmark red, is consistently ranked at South Africa’s finest. The 2019 ($55) is closed and recessed on the nose but opens up on the palate with flavors of dark berries, black pepper and wild herbs. The persistent finish reverberates with smooth tannins and earth notes. 2019 Tête de Cuvée ($140), a selection of the best barrels made from the estate’s oldest vines, presents a panorama or red fruit flavors: currants, rhubarb, red cherries and raspberries, accented by hints of spice and mint. Either wine would be a splendid match for stews, roasts and dishes flavored with wild mushrooms and truffles.
Bouchard Finlayson’s Hannibal is a red blend inspired by the wines of northern Italy, named for the Carthaginian commander who successfully crossed the Alps during the Second Punic War. Their 2018 ($45) is a combination of 42% Sangiovese, 17% Nebbiolo, 15% Pinot Noir, 12% Shiraz, 7% Mourvedre and 7% Barbera. Deeply colored and strikingly aromatic, filled with aromas of smoked meat and saddle leather, it offers flavors of dark berries, anise and tart cherries balanced by good acidity. Savory and complex, it would pair well with dishes ranging from earthy pasta to wild game, or (as the website suggests) Indian and other spicy cuisines.
Buying Bouchard Finlayson wines can be a bit tricky, since the production is small and the estate is located on the other side of the world, but there are internet sites willing to ship to Florida. In addition, the wines are carried at Red Carnation Hotels in Palm Beach and throughout Africa, Europe and the British Isles.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats.