Everyone from (allegedly) the First Minister down knows how fantastic Linlithgow’s Champany Inn steaks are. Fewer people, however, know about Champany Cellars – the Inn’s on-site retail shop. Nevertheless, many happy diners from the restaurant – or the less formal Chop House – already clank home with a half-case “carry out” to help them re-create their positive mealtime experiences.
Given the close links the Davidson family, who own the Inn, have with South Africa (and, especially, its top winemakers), it is no surprise that the wine list has a clear orientation towards that country. Indeed, the two House wines – by far the most popular retail lines – are both made by the Simonsig operation in Stellenbosch.
Predictably too, given the Inn’s reputation with beef, that particular red is two thirds cabernet sauvignon – with shiraz making up the remainder. Champany House Red (£7.50 in the retail shop) is shrewdly balanced with soft, blackcurrant fruit and typical cabernet mint in the background but the shiraz joins the party too with touches of ripe plum and concluding cinnamon.
Its sister wine, Champany House White (also £7.50) is 100% chenin blanc but adds attractive touches of nuts, apricots and butteriness to the fresh citrus-charged banana influences forever associated with well made examples of the grape variety.
Nevertheless, the shop is about much more than entry point wines and I was hugely impressed by the recently arrived 2013 Springfield Estate Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc (£11.55 in the shop). Despite its youth, there is a real concentration and intensity here – a result, perhaps, on the tenacity demanded by the vine’s underground battle for water in what is the rockiest part in the estate. Whatever the cause, the effect is vibrant grapefruit and lime acidity that contrasts delightfully with the more textured tangerine and passion fruit flavours that lie beneath it. Everything is rounded off by hints of green pepper and a neat, flinty finish.
Adapting the “when in Rome” principle, it is almost de rigueur to seek out top level South African wines – like those from Franschhoek’s prestigious Rupert operation – when visiting Champany. The bottles I sampled came from either their Cape of Good Hope “terroir specific” group or the reds that comprise the flagship range of Anthonij Rupert wines (and use only the very best grapes from specially identified parcels of land).
Let’s start, however, with 2012 Anthonij Rupert Cape of Good Hope Serruria Chardonnay (£22.50) which, as a high altitude wine, is light and tangy with attractive lemon based acidity. As it opens up, however, it acquires a creamy butteriness with nice hints of spice and orange peel to give an extra dimension to its smooth, vanilla finish.
Among those top level reds, the slightly unfashionable grape variety behind 2008 Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc (£45) shows off delightfully what it does well. Here, then, is a dense, mellow red that brings together mulberry depth and acidity-tinged bramble fruit but adds in a handsome chocolate and herb finish.
Finally, I moved on to 2007 Anthonij Rupert Syrah (also £45) with its imposing, rich but rounded plum and bramble fruit with added hints of clove and unusually savoury spices. Here, indeed, is grown up and powerful wine that will do justice to the full-flavoured beef on which Champany has built its reputation.
So, courtesy of the retail shop, the authentic Champany style can still be enjoyed – even if you are eating at home.
2012 Zalze Reserve Chenin Blanc: Coastal Region, South Africa: 13.5 per cent: The Reserve range offers the cream of Zalze wine – and is a snip at just over £7. This version retains a vibrant lime and fresh pineapple tang beneath its rounded apricot flavours and then nicely integrates them all into the spicy nuttiness created by the winemaker’s adroit use of oak. (£7.49 – instead of £9.99 until 25 March – at Sainsbury’s).
2012 Cournon Lafleur Malbec: Languedoc, France: 13 per cent. Argentina does not get it all its own way with malbec as this dark and spicy version from the grape’s French homeland testifies. Its substantial black cherry fruit is topped by a lighter layer of red currant that gives acidic balance and complements the shrewdly judged tannin and black pepper finish rather well. (£6.99 at Majestic)
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