BLANKbottle Tasting | South Africa’s Rebel Winemaker

Isobel SalterTasting Events, WinesLeave a Comment

Last Friday evening, we held a sell-out event in our cellars for a group of 35 guests, hosted by our events manager Tim. A deep-dive into the weird and wonderful South African producer BLANKbottle.

The group of excited guests were led into our cellars and met with their first glass of the evening, the 2022 Luuks Stellenbosch Helderberg, a light-medium bodied white wine. As everyone piled into the cellar and took their seats, Tim began recounting the history of Nickolls and Perks, setting the scene for the tasting about to unfold in this unique setting of our 18th Century cellars.

 

As everyone began sipping their glass of Luuks, guests were enthralled by the tale of the unusual winemaker Pieter Walser and the story of BLANKbottle winery. When Pieter started out, he produced very small batches and could not afford fancy labels. One day, a customer appeared at his home (also operating as his store), and asked for anything but Shiraz. Pieter casually sold her an unlabelled case of Shiraz with no explanation, and surprisingly she returned a week later singing its praises and requesting another batch. This taught Pieter a valuable lesson about labels and perceived preferences, one which translates into his current practice of neglecting to disclose the style of wine on any of his labels.

This tasting looks to take the drinker on a journey, exploring numerous grapes and styles, alongside some quite unusual backstories.

“People like to label me. Some say I’m a winemaker, an ideas guy, a marketer, a surfer, an actor, a Garagiste, a negociant, an entrepreneur. I prefer not to carry a label. To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to label myself. It’s like my wine, BLANKbottle… it’s just a blank bottle. You can’t judge I by the label; it takes drinking a whole bottle to get to know the wine” – Pieter H. Walser

The guests all began furtively discussing the Luuks, before it was revealed as 100% Chardonnay. One guest whispered I don’t even like Chardonnay, but I liked that” – already proving Pieter’s point. This wine was widely enjoyed by the guests, who certainly benefitted from sampling this wine blind. This wine showed pronounced aromas of butter, stone fruits, vanilla and apple on the n

ose. The grapes come from a relatively cooler part of South Africa, and this is reflected in the style of this wine, as it resembles the Burgundian style of Chardonnay. The palate is dry, with flavours from oak ageing such as vanilla and bread, combined with citrus notes. It is well balanced with a long finish which leaves you savouring every sip.

The evening then continued with the second white of the night, the 2021 Epileptic Inspiration Semillon. This very pale white presented with aromas of citrus and lychee, a very fresh start. The palate was very dry with a refreshing minerality. There were flavours of citrus and apple, balanced with creamier notes from the process of autolysis (ageing on lees, or yeasts). With this wine came the story of BLANKbottle’s iconic, and distinctive labels. Tim explained how Pieter had begun using Microsoft Word for creating his wine labels, but after suffering an epileptic fit, hecould no longer use a computer for prolonged periods of time, which led to him discovering his creative side and creating all of his labels by hand. In homage to this experience, he used a cut out of his own brain scan for this label, in attempt to portray the events which had shifted his creative abilities. This story got a real laugh from our guests who were now hooked and eager to hear more of these wild stories.

Next came the first of 2 vintages of the Master of None red blend, first being the 2022 vintage. The name of this wine was actually a dig at the UK press, who had disparaged the production of BLANKbottle, and criticised their repertoire of 40+ wines. Many people believed it to be impossible to produce such a variety of wines at a high quality, but Pieter has arguably proved them all wrong. He chooses not to own any vines, and instead he carefully selects and purchases his grapes from farmers all over South Africa. This gives him the variety and flexibility necessary for him to create such a broad range of wines. Master of None exemplifies this with its blend of 11 grape varieties; Palomino, Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Fernao Pires, Riesling, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. This rather light red is best served slightly chilled. It has an aromatic nose, with perfumed, floral notes at the forefront. The palate is dominated by fresh red fruits. This wine seemed to be a firm favourite of the crowd, with one remarking “it’s got a lot more going for it than it looks”, noting the very light appearance and the rather complex palate.

Immediately followed by the 2021 vintage of Master of None, it was particularly interesting to compare the different styles of these wines. With a slightly different blend, the 2021 showed some more herbal notes, alongside blackberry, violet and ripe red fruit. There is a slight earthiness, combined with subtle spice on the finish. Now we had compared the two vintages, there seemed to be some debate amongst the crowd about which was best. They seemed divided, and I can see why, as the wines really seemed to present two varied styles. With the ’22 showing more complexity and a little more weight. The 2022 would serve well for easy drinking, where the 2022 would go excellently with a spicy dish or barbecued meats.

 

We moved onto the wine with arguably the most fascinating backstory, the 2022 Familiemoord Grenache Noir. Tim opened with the fact that the Afrikaans word ‘Familiemoord’ translates to murder of a family member. This certainly shocked the guests, all of whom seemed slightly horrified and confused by how this could possibly relate back to a glass of Grenache. Now the story behind this wine is as bizarre as the name suggests. Tim set the scene, detailing the events of October 2013, when Pieter received a call fromone of his neighbours asking why the front of his house was packed with police. He headed out to investigate and heard someone say “a man killed a child and buried him in a shallow grave”, as soon as he noticed the location of this suspected grave, Pieter called out “ooops that was me”. He then explained to the police how he had been building a sandpit for his children and had jokingly begun burying his young son after he had jumped in! The panic was relieved, and the whole tale was then relayed in the newspaper – a clipping of which Pieter chose to replicate for the label of this wine. Only a character like Pieter Walser could use such an incident for a comical wine label – a truly unique bottle. But now onto the contents of the bottle; this incredibly complex wine is both aromatic and delicate. There are notes of redcurrants, raspberry, and violets, combined with subtle herbal flavours and soft leather. The finish is silky and seamless.

We ended the evening with a glass of The Spaniard 2022, a truly terrific expression of Mourverde, which happened to be our bestseller following the event. With this wine, Pieter looked to dub the Spanish style wines which he had enjoyed drinking, but rather unusually he chose to make this wine as a single-varietal, where it is more traditionally seen in a blend. The result is a medium-full bodied, incredibly rich and complex wine. There is an attractive blue fruit character, with hints of black olive and spice on the nose. The palate offers vanilla, liquorice, plum, blueberry jam and subtle leather notes. It’s a gorgeous rounded wine with great power. A wonderful end to the evening, followed by flurries of customers picking up their favourite bottles to take home.

The tasting was a great success! The wines elicited a great response from all the guests. Whilst chatting to one guest, he remarked that “these wines start a conversation”, and I couldn’t agree more. The unique labels, notably missing off much information about the wine, really stimulate discussion about their style, quality and provenance. Pieter Walser manages to encourage people to try a whole variety of wines, with each bottle embodying a narrative rather than a specific grape with the hope of raising questions for the drinker. Pieter is a nonconformist, from winemaking to marketing, he shows his ingenuity and talent. His craft was perfectly represented by Tim and by the wines.

 

All of these wines are available to view here.

If you are interested in attending a future tasting, we are hosting ‘The World of Sparkling Wine: Champagne and Beyond’ on Friday 28th June, available to book here.

Isobel SalterBLANKbottle Tasting | South Africa’s Rebel Winemaker

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