On 24th November, The Club’s third virtual tasting hosted Richard Kelley MW, his seventh visit to the Club we reckoned. But this time he revealed his super power as Rick ‘The Liberator’. Modestly, he reckons his talent is no more than ‘finding the new talent’ but by the end of a fascinating evening we knew better.
In his guise as the ‘Liberator’, Rick draws on his deep knowledge of South African wine to truffle out barrels of wine that have been overlooked because the quantity is too small or their taste profile doesn’t fit the winery’s current blend. Working closely with the winemaker, Rick turns them into ‘Episodes’ or ‘Special Editions’. He’s now up to Episode 30 and his wines can be found through the Wine Society, or independents such as Lay & Wheeler.
Each Episode is unique; each has a distinctive graphic label, often cartoonish in conception, but always (thanks to his designer Eddy in Franschhoek) immaculate and thoughtful in execution. The very titles speak to The Liberator’s creativity. Take the first wine of the tasting, ‘Chenin No. 5’ in a 250 ml can, with a graceful sketch of a (whisper it) Chanel no 5 scent bottle.
We were urged to taste first from the can and only then try it from a glass. As a wine merchant and distributor, Richard knows the importance of reducing the environmental load of glass and, like the new generation of micro-brewers, recognises that cans don’t need to mean common. As Rick, he recognised the potential of this barrel-fermented Chenin and ‘liberated’ it from mystery cellar of a top Cape producer (whose name must remain confidential). The wine itself was complex, richer in colour than most Chenins and with flavours of greengage, honey and citrus. Interestingly, the oak shows far less when drinking from the can. It opens up more in the glass – some members preferred the ‘canned’ taste, others the ‘glass’ taste. But undoubtedly a serious wine at a very affordable price - £5 in the can, £15 in a full 750 cl bottle.
Richard’s love affair with South Africa started when he went there in the early 1990s to do his MW Thesis and built up a network of friends and collaborators who now give Rick the run of their cellars to identify future episodes of The Liberator. (By the way, search for www.theliberatorwine.com to see all the labels and check out the wit and originality of his work … if you omit the ‘wine’ you apparently get a rather different result.)
The following six wines (in Avino ‘test tubes’) showed the range of possibilities in South African wine, starting with the distinctive SB aroma of ‘Come To Sauvignon Country’ – a few experimental barrels of Miles Mossop’s Sauvignon to which Rick added 15% Semillon to give the wine lift and freshness and bring it closer to the white blends of Bordeaux.
Next up was a Viura / Maccabeo from a single barrel (just 600 bottles) with an extraordinary nose of ‘toasted teacake’ or ‘oak-infused coconut. The name – Homage to Catalonia – is testament to Rick’s love of old-style white Rioja (think Tondonia)
The very name of wine no 3 – The World Turned Upside Down – has a label drawn directly from a Civil War pamphlet of the same name in Newark’s Civil War museum showing fish in the sky and horses pushing carts is a testament to a year of global awfulness – Covid, wild fires, wretched ‘world leaders’. The wine itself, a barrel-fermented 2018 Grenache Blanc, was complex and distinguished.
Two ‘light’ reds followed by a fortified LBV port closed the tasting. A rare Petite Syrah (now lost to its original homeland of the Rhone) was first up. Rich and powerful, redolent of dark plums, black berries and eucalyptus, this is now a Wine Society exclusive under the brilliant name of ‘P.S. I Love You’ with a cover from Julian Weir’s 1910 painting ‘The Letter’. The website also has the front label and back labels of all the Episodes and it’s well worth checking them out to follow the exploits of the intrepid and, as he admits, slightly mad Cape Crusader.
Wine no 5 had my favourite title, The Good, The Bad and Sangiovese’. Three horsemen riding into the setting sun on the label; a blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese in the bottle. Definitely mature with a mahogany edge to the rim and aromas of tobacco, spice and tomato leaf and subject (said Rick) to a certain amount of bottle variation but £13.95 for a fascinating 2003 wine is quite something. Another gem from the Wine Society.
Last up was The Bishop of Norwich adorned with a suitably episcopal beard and pectoral cross. Why? Well a certain 19th century Bishop of Norwich had a tendency to fall asleep over supper, which meant the port stopped with him. To call for the ‘bishop of Norwich’ meant give the old boy a nudge… A nose of toffee and molasses and black cherry and the power and complexity of a true LBV port drew comments such as ‘wow’ and ‘stunning’ from the Club and Richard Liwicki quickly sought a restraining order on the last case in the UK – over which members have already fought.
An appropriate end to a fascinating tasting. Our thanks to Richard / Rick (doing his first Zoom tasting), to Phil Jones who compered admirably and to members who turned out in force.