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Rickety Bridge, South Africa

by Tom Cannavan, 03/08

I was contacted by Great Wine Online, UK importers of the wines from Rickety Bridge in South Africa, and asked if I'd like to taste their range.

Vine growing on Rickety bridge's farm can be traced back to 1829, and today the farm is a popular wedding and conference centre as well as producing wine.

Based in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, fruit for some wines is purely from Franschhoek, whilst others blend fruit from Stellebosch and surrounding areas.
 

Whilst I enjoyed several of these wines, and there are a couple of stars in the line-up, I also wonder if there is some vineyard or cellar problem that has had a slightly dulling effect on some of these examples. Could Brettanomyces or leaf-roll virus (very common in South Africa) be the culprit? Certainly, some of the wines had rather indistinct fruit and a slightly animal character.

I most certainly don't mean to write this estate off, as their nicely European, restrained style is invariably food-friendly and savoury, and the best wines here are excellent, but I look forward to re-sampling these wines or tasting future vintages to see if this trait is in evidence.

White

Rickety Bridge Duncan's Creek Chenin Blanc 2006
At one pound less than Rickety Bridge's regular Chenin Blanc I presume this is a second line, perhaps made with bought-in fruit rather than estate-grown? The nose is rather flat, with a slight damp wool character, and a background of gently toasty, apply fruit. On the palate this has plenty of sweetness, with quite a mouth-filling, almost tropical fruitiness, and a lean, quite pithy acidity sitting alongside. I find the acidity just slightly prominent, but it is a juicy, uncomplicated wine. £5.95

Rickety Bridge Chenin Blanc 2006
This screw-capped, 13.5% alcohol Chenin comes from the coastal region of South Africa, and has a very appealing nose, where bright, juicy apple is rounded out with a hint of fatter, more tropical fruit, and a hint of oatmeal. On the palate there is a massive hit of fruit sweetness, with that tropical, very ripe character to the to the fore, before a sweep of acidity cuts through. This wine is dry (only 1.1 g/l residual sugar) but there's just a touch of sweet/sour character about it. There's also a nice spicy component in the finish, in a wine that packs quite a lot of personality. £6.95

Rickety Bridge Sauvignon Blanc 2006
I'm a fan of South African Sauvignon Blanc, and this screwcapped wine from Franschhoek weighs in with a surprisingly light 12.7% alcohol. The nose has moderately distinctive Sauvignon aromatics, though it is not overtly herbal or pungent, it does have a little green fig edge to otherwise quite straightforward lemony fruit. On the palate it is quite weighty and textural, with some juicy, sweet, exotic melon and guava fruit, and a suggestion of waxy lime and lemon. Acidity is nicely integrated on this wine, which is moderately long and well-balanced. A good example of the style this. £6.95

Rickety Bridge Semillon 2004
This 2004 Semillon was aged in small French oak barrels, only around 18% of which were new. The nose has plenty of creamy vanillin quality, but there's a buttery quality too from very ripe fruit, as well as plenty of honey and almost minty ripe fruit. There's a slightly rotten orange note too, that I sometimes find in very ripe Semillon. On the palate the creamy, quite custardy oak is quickly joined by sweet, ripe, fruit that is at the same time clean and quite crisp, with a white fruit and citrus character. This is a gentle wine, with modest acidity but enough to keep it fresh and appealing. In the finish, the spice and almost marmalady tang of the fruit and oak gives this some added interest. £7.95

Rickety Bridge Chardonnay 2004
This Chardonnay was quite heavily worked in the winery: after fermentation in stainless steel tanks the wine was transferred to French oak barrels (22% of which were new) for 12 weeks of twice-daily lees stirring, followed by a further 14 months of barrel ageing. It has a fairly deep golden colour, and a deep nose of honey and melting butter, and a sense of ripe, though not particularly bright fruit. The whole picture is slightly herbal and mealy, with some notes of dried seeds and slightly dank, dill-like aromas. On the palate there is more obvious fruit ripeness and sweetness, and although this wine remains rather more nutty and herbal than overtly fruity, it has decent length and enough savoury quality to play against the sweet fruit. £7.95

Red

Rickety Bridge Duncan's Creek Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Matured in second fill and older French oak barrels for 12 months, and weighing in with only 12.6% alcohol, this has a pleasant berry-fruited nose, with a touch of creaminess and some leathery, slightly gamy background notes. On the palate this has a certain attack, with a rasp of tannins and very firm, if slightly furry and indistinct fruit. It is rustic and certainly has a bit of character, and finishes with decent balance. Needs food to tame its slightly rough edges. £6.95

Rickety Bridge Merlot 2003
With a £10.95 price tag and its a heavy, broad-shouldered bottle, Rickety Bridge's Merlot is clearly pitched as a fairly serious wine. It spent 24 months in French oak barrels, of which 25% was new. It has an attractively cedary nose, with a deep pool of blackcurrant fruit, and just a hint of briary undergrowth. There is possibly just a touch of Brettanomyces evident in these reds I think, but not at troublesome levels. In the mouth the fruit is very plush, ripe and forward, filling the mouth with creamy-textured and deep plum and blackcurrant flavours, set against a slightly harsh background of grippy tannin, slightly raw oak, and alcohol that is a touch hot just unbalancing the wine slightly. It is juicy enough and quite tangy, and its European styling suggests this again needs food to show at its best. £10.95

Rickety Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Like its sibling Merlot, this Cabernet spent 24 months in French oak, around 15% of which was new. The colour is an opaque, dark crimsony black, and the nose has a nice melange of pencil shavings and cedar, with rich blackcurrant fruit. There's a touch of that familial gaminess too, but the old polished wood and black fruit character dominates. In the mouth this has a really creamy, ripe, cassis brightness of fruit, but the whole lot is wrapped in spices and cedarwood, with some peppery notes and a big gripping core of rustic, grainy tannin. There is fine balance in this wine, and for me it is one of the stars of this line-up as it has the mid-palate concentration of fruit to make for more balanced drinking. £10.95

Rickety Bridge Shiraz 2003
Rickety Bridge's Shiraz is a mix of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch fruit, vinified separately before blending part-way through their 24 months ageing in 20% new and 80% older French oak barrels. At five years of age the wine is more about leather, spices and grilled meat character than primary fruit, and once again there's that slightly animal character to this wine. It is very much in an Old World style. On the palate I find the wine slightly harsh, but then there is a liquoricy grip to the fruit and tannins, and the charry quality of the oak adds a charcoally edge. It certainly has some chewy, robust savoury character, and grew on me as I tasted. £13.95

Rickety Bridge Paulina's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2003
The flagship wine of the whole Rickety Bridge range, this is composed of the best barrels of the 2003 Cab and Merlot, given 24 months in small French oak barrels, but with a higher proportion (36%) of new oak. The sweet intensity of the fruit here is immediately obvious, sitting on top of the pencil-shaving notes, and also hinting at some raisin and espresso coffee quality. On the palate there is a cool, elegant, composed black fruit quality that presents itself much more openly than with the other reds in the range, with a silky purity to the fruit and those mocha and spicy oak notes just filling in beneath. There's more juiciness in this wine too, certainly than in the Merlot and Shiraz, and the tight, bright acidity and rather more polished tannin structure both sit very harmoniously. A lovely wine this, and it is the most complete wine of the line-up without doubt. £16.95

Wines available from Great Wine Online.