I have known Arco Laarman for a number of years. His mentor was Danie Steytler of Kaapzicht, which was followed by a spell at Glen Carlou where he really established himself as an Award-Winning Winemaker of note.
Now out there on his own, Arco recently released two sublime premium wines in his Focal Point Collection. Both from the 2017 vintage, there is a Chardonnay and a Cinsaut. He had previously released a range of wines called The Cluster.
I want to see what we can achieve with different expressions of the same variety, using different soils, different clones and different terroir in each vintage,” adds Arco.
In the study of optics, a ‘focal point’ is where a variety of light rays converge. In art it marks the point of interest, often highlighting the very essence of the work. The same applies in Laarman’s approach to winemaking, focusing the myriad influences of terroir, cultivar, vintage – and indeed the winemaker himself – to conjure a single image, a wine that reflects a specific place and time.
And when it came to be choosing a white wine grape variety to launch the Focal Point collection, there was only ever one option. “Chardonnay’s in my blood,” says Arco, who turned to the pioneering vineyards in the southern Cape for the Focal Point Chardonnay 2017. The region is known for its limestone soils, late ripening, and cooling sea breezes, and is fast becoming is South Africa’s bold new frontier of cool-climate winemaking. “I’ve worked with Chardonnay from a warmer climate for so long, I was looking for a site that offered a different character,” explains Laarman. “There’s definitely a trend in the wine industry towards the cooler regions, and I found what I was looking for on the banks of the Duiwenhoks River near the small town of Vermaaklikheid.”
Of the Focal Point Cinsault 2017, Arco says, “I wanted to work with a lighter red variety, and we have such wonderful old plantings of Cinsault in the Cape winelands. Just as Chenin Blanc has become the flag-bearer of South African white wine on the international stage, I think Cinsault could do the same for reds.” The grapes for the Focal Point Cinsault 2017 were sourced from 35-year-old vines in the Bottelary Hills beyond Stellenbosch. Half of the harvest was whole-bunch pressed, with the rest de-stemmed before pressing. Natural fermentation took place over a two-week period. The wine then spent 10 months in neutral oak – “It’s all about bringing oxidation into the wine, and softening the tannins,” explains Laarman – before bottling.
Pour and pair
From a Burgundy shaped bottle, already striking by its cork top and a clean minimalist livery. In the glass, it is gem bright, pale straw in colour with lime green flashes. On the nose, desiccated pineapple, sweet tropical limes and soft citrus peel. The palate is full and complex, particularly in the mid palate. Perfect harmony between fruit, oak and the rounded acidity. Long waning aftertaste.
Definitely a food wine. Chicken is a natural partner, serve it spatchcocked and pan roasted in a buttery creamy sauce. Good with smoked fish like trout or angelfish.
Pour and pair
Pour from a Burgundy shaped bottle identical to that of the Chardonnay. In the glass, it is a rich almost translucent cherry red at the core which pales out to a violet tinged ruby at the edges. The smells are exciting with blueberries, cherries and bloodplum. The tastes are vibrantly fruity with crushed fynbos herbs. I just love the pure unadulterated fruit. A gently settling minerality, the acidity, the fruit and the oak and its concomitant spices come together in a mouthfilling wine with a long tail.
A food pairing could be a game bird, a duck or roasted quail. The wine will take happily to a pork belly with crispy crackling made on a bed of cascading coals in a Weber. Roast your apples at the same time, they make a great accompaniment. Perfect for a vegan or vegetarian main course.
The sleek modern labelling is built around a series of lines converging on a focal point. It’s a subtle design cue inspired by the 11 influences Laarman brings together in the creation of each wine in the collection. From variety to viticulture, topography to fermentation techniques, it is the skill of the winemaker in harnessing these individual inputs and focusing their energies on a single goal.
Equally eye-catching is the unique bottle closure. In a first for the South African wine industry, each bottle is capped with an innovative cork capsule made by hand in the Cape winelands.
For further information on the wines, stockists and distribution, visit www.laarmanwines.com