27 July 2018

Vin de Francois 10 Year Vertical in London

Off to London on a lovely Tuesday evening when the temperature is in the 30s. Thameslink, now on its second emergency timetable in as many months actually delivered a train, and on time.

La Chappelle entrance

Venue is La Chapelle in Spital Square in the City. There I renew acquaintances with François Naudé Senior and Junior sitting in the bar outside with a drink.

Francois Naude Junior

Francois Naude Senior

The duo are hosting a dinner with a vertical of each of the ten vintages of the legendary Vin de François. There are 12 of us, plus the two François and organiser and Vin de François fan Paul Plant.

We move upstairs to the table on the mezzanine floor. Its open sides look down on the main body of the restaurant which is packed with diners.

A flute of Champagne is poured, followed by a glass of François' own 'Nuts About' Chenin Blanc 2010. This aged white has a honeyed taste while being completely dry. “it's an entry level wine, with no barrel maturation intended for easy drinking,” says François Snr. He's pleased with the way it's aged. “2010 was the first vintage and it just gets better and better.”

François Jr explains that the tasting will show the wine in pairs and threes, due to the restaurant not having 10 glasses for each of us.

2007 and 2008 are the first to be poured.

The two François relate how the idea for Vin de François came about. “I wanted to make the best Pinotage in the world, from each vintage to show what the variety could do,” said François Sr. His inspiration was meeting Napa Valley winemaker Robert Mondavi who described the perfect wine as 'having the power of Pavarotti with the tenderness of a baby's bottom.'

Our location was hot and I thought the wines were served too warm. The 2008 was thinning and tasted alcohol hot, but this wasn't a fair taste as the wine should be cooler.

“2008 wasn't as good a year as 2007,” said François Sr.

2007 was the better wine, but it too was showing age and served too hot for a mature wine. I'd had my last bottle of 2007 in January 2017 and thought then that was time to drink up.

François Jr told how they had discussed how the wine should be marketed before deciding on selling it all on one night at an invitation only auction – a first for South Africa. Some cases are kept back: for charity, for the wine library and for the family. “I only get one case,” said François Jr.

The next three poured were:

2009 – sweet ripe fruit with an intense flavour but a short finish.

2010 – this was ripe and juicy, sweet and powerful and absolutely beautiful now.

2011 – this was closed and tight, not wanting to reveal itself. Will it open up in time or is this as good as it gets?

“2010 and 2011 were difficult vintages,” said François Sr.

François Jr said he was getting more involved in producing the wine. “Vin de François will continue,” said François Sr.“My son is also François so the name won't change, and his son is also François so we have two more generations to produce Vin de François.”

“I am not a winemaker,” said François Jr, “so I will involve the winemakers who make the barrels we select for our blend. We started involving them with the current vintage.”

The wines were coming fast, leaving little time to savour and discuss them. 2012 and 2013 were poured next.

2012 – was full bodied and mouth filling, but had alcohol heat on finish.

2013 – had a strange taste that I couldn't nail down. The MW next to me thought it was oxidised.

François Sr noted there had been bottle variation between this and the same wine poured at the weekend.

2014 – Was taut, with a sweetness.

2015 – This was delightful, with sweet bright fruits, soft tannins and beautiful drinking.

2016 – A younger version of the 2-15 offering the same sweet fruit and a lovely drinkability.

Did this last flight show better because the wines had, at our request, been cooled a little or because they were the youngest?

But the event wasn't over, François Sr served his luscious white dessert 'port' with tarte tatin.

My brief notes above are quite critical. I think Vin de François is a wonderful wine and I have been lucky enough to have owned six of the ten vintages, and to have drunk five of them: '07,08,09,10 and 15, but in good conditions. I think these wines weren't given a decent chance because they were served too warm. I have two bottles of the 2013, a vintage I have not tasted, so I must open one soon in view of the off bottle at this event.

My favourite two of the event were the 2010 vintage, which I had two in 2014 and have one left in my cellar, and the 2015 which I bought a case of at the 2017 auction and have nine left.

Many thanks to Paul Plant for organising the event and to François Naudé Jr and François Naudé Sr for shipping these 10 vintages from their cellar specially for the event and sharing their memories of this iconic wine.

Francois Naude and Peter May

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