Thinus Krüger might be one of South Africa’s wine rock-stars. But he still has my DVD of the Martin Scorsese classic The Last Waltz, which I loaned him about five years ago, not able to stomach the thought of any young music aficionado being oblivious of the existence of the mother of all rock films.
Those were good days. I was doing some consulting to Boschendal where Thinus was making reds. What started out as business meetings to discuss the riveting topics of acid-adjustment, spur-pruning and the merits of malolactic fermentation in Hungarian oak would diverge into engaging interactions on rock music and soccer. Things have moved on: Thinus has seen The Last Waltz, his beloved Atletico Madrid reached the Champions League finals last year and he has hit the wine industry with a mighty riff, courtesy of his label called Fram.
As can be expected from Thinus, this Fram gig is cowboy, pioneering stuff. “Sailing into uncharted waters,” is the motto. Ravaged old vines in weird, hairy places with rocks and dry soils. Dank and murky cellars where the wine bubbles in old barrels. Rugged, do-it-on-a-whim winemaking. Big hair and a finger-to-convention attitude.
We’ve seen this movie before. But Thinus brings an original touch to South Africa’s so-called avant garde wine-set, aptly illustrated by my initiation to Fram.
First up was a Pinotage 2013. Pinotage is not quite known as a hipster grape. But Thinus tracked down an old vineyard on Citrusdal mountain and with this wine he is set to change that.
Fram Pinotage 2013, man, one of the finest examples of how much finesse and elegance the grape can express when the site is right and the wine-making restrained and un-hassled.
In fact, in style Fram is a dead-ringer for the Kanonkop Black Label 2006, with the latter’s soul point of differentiation coming from the visceral note of spilt blood for which the Simonsberg is renowned.
I hate the Fram for being so young, as it is going to age with the grace and comforting warmth of Sandra Bullock. Currently, the wine has firm, but rounded tannins. This allows a wet dollop of black fruit to land on the palate with an attention-grabbing thud. Following on this is a hint of Swartland game – such as duiker – smoked over a fire made of flaming old orange tree stumps. But wait, there is also a feral streak of spice. Nothing Malay or Oriental or from the Camel Jockeys out Middle-East way, rather a hit of sundried buchu, a chunk of fresh kukumakranka and spurt of suurvytjie.
The wine is fresh, and drinkable, and wet. It lights the eyes, slakes the thirst and makes the world the good place it should be.
And then, from Citrusdal Mountain, how about Fram taking us to Robertson? And for what else but Chardonnay.
Fram Chardonnay 2014 takes bunches of grapes grown in the chalky soils of Robertson and makes them without wood, but with lees contact of more than the one-night-stand type.. Also, a bit of Chenin Blanc is added to cut through the renowned richness of this area’s Chardonnay.
The result is a stunning example of unoaked Chardonnay, and also shows that making this wine unwooded requires far more than just avoiding the barrels.
Balance, pH, acidity and autolysis must have the same goal in mind, and here the finishing-line is cause for rejoicing.
Wet-stone and green plums rush to the forefront of this wine, which is more Beaune than Chablis. It has superb refreshment qualities, an Egyptian cotton cleanliness and crisp purity. But along with the zippy thrust, Fram Chardonnay has a startling depth of flavours when analysed closely. There is some Key Lime Pie about, with a loquat and green winter melon adding to the charming dimensions of an extraordinary white wine.
Fram. Not a name to forget. A lost last waltz, but the first of many steps to greatness.
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