The Champany Inn near the town of Linlithgow is one of Scotland’s genuine ‘destination’ restaurants with rooms. Opened 30 years ago by South African Clive Davidson and his wife Anne, it is now managed day-to-day by their son Jason. Based around a courtyard are a collection of historic stone buildings, some dating back to the 16th century, all of which have been developed by the Davidsons to create a small gastronomic centre. As well as the principle dining room with in-house butchery specialising in Aberdeen Angus steaks, they have added a luxurious residence, then the ‘Chop and Ale House’ for more casual dining and, a few years ago, Champany Cellars wine merchant (right).
The Champany Inn has always had a superb wine cellar, and is especially strong on South African wines, including those personally imported by the Davidsons and overseen by long-time Sommelier Mike Anthony. But a recent innovation is the Inn’s very own range of house wines, made for them by two of South Africa’s best estates, Newton Johnson from the Hemel en Aarde/Walker bay region, and the venerable Simonsig from Stellenbosch. The wines are for sale in the shop and restaurant, and are also available mail order via the Champany website. Jason Davidson recently sent me the selection of six house wines below to taste for myself.
The white wines
Champany, House White NV, South Africa
The first of the house wines from Simonsig in Stellenbosch is an unspecified blend weighing in with 13.5% alcohol and bottled with a composite cork. I’m guessing Chenin Blanc might dominate, as this has the apple and pear fruit, hint of honey and freshness one would expect. In the mouth it is fruity and boldly flavoured: more very sweet, ripe apple and pear, a touch of spice and a glimpse of the more exotic with notes of pineapple and mango coming through. The finish is very nicely balanced, both sweetly easy to drink and savoury enough. 86/100. £7.75, Champany Cellars.
Champany, Sauvignon Blanc 2013, South Africa
This is part of a more upmarket range made by Newton Johnson, one of my personal favourites in the Cape. This 13.5% alcohol Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from “Cape South Coast” so there could be fruit from such cool areas as Walker Bay, Elgin and Elim in here, but no clues are given on the label. It is bottled with a DIAM cork. Delightful nose, relatively restrained and creamy (could there be a touch of oak here?) with tropical fruit character coming through and just a hint of green herbs and minerals. In the mouth the punch and verve of the Sauvignon really comes through, with lots of fresh-squeezed citrus, but very far removed from the passion fruit and ‘sweaty’ character that can sometimes detract. More Loire-like in style, but finishes with lovely crispness. 88/100. £11.50, Champany Cellars.
Champany, Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
Newton Johnson again make this Chardonnay, a Wine of Origin Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, closed with a DIAM cork. It also has 13.5% alcohol. It has an alluring nose, the crushed oatmeal and almond of fine French oak, juicy stone fruits and a burgeoning sense of more tropical ripeness. There’s an orange rind hint of tang too. On the palate it is beautifully done: the creamy richness of the oak and the substantial weight of sweet fruit fill the mouth, but it is alert and juicy, a fresh-squeezed lemon or grapefruit zestiness running straight through the mid-palate and extending into a long, spicy and fruity finish. Clean as a whistle and perfectly balanced, it’s a lovely Chardonnay. 90/100. £13.50, Champany Cellars.
The red wines
Champany, House Red NV, South Africa
From Stellenbosch and made by Simonsig, the closure is synthetic, the alcohol is 14%, but the blend of grape varieties is unknown. Pinotage I’d guess, but beyond that who knows? It is smooth and warming on the nose, a little pepper and spice lift suggesting some Shiraz element perhaps, and a solid, ripe black fruit. In the mouth it is really very pleasing: there’s an inkiness to this, very dark, savoury plum and the tart skins of blueberries, giving this a bit of grip and power, the sweetness and ripeness of the fruit adding to the enjoyment. A lovely wine: big, but balanced and savoury. 87/100. £7.75, Champany Cellars.
Champany, Pinotage 2010, South Africa
From Simonsig in Stellenbosch again, 14% alcohol and this time a natural cork. There is a little bit of estery banana and floral lift to this, loads of spice and a coffeeish note over berry fruit. On the palate it is super-sweet, with a touch of leather and, for me, a tiny metallic element that is somewhere between interesting and detracting. It is rich, full, crammed with fruit, spice and chocolate, but is decisively Pinotage – and whether or not that’s your ‘thing’ will determine how much you like it. In the end I really rather liked this. 86-87/100. £10.75, Champany Cellars.
Champany, Thistle Red 2011, South Africa
Again from the Newton Johnson winery and a Wine of Origin Walker Bay, this has a natural cork and 14% alcohol, and the blend is not specified. On the nose it is intense and peppery, with a very deep pool of blue/black fruit suggesting the Rhône, or perhaps more towards Australian Shiraz. A delightful wine on the palate: this has a medium-bodied lightness in the mouth, the fresh and juicy fruit is copious, but it retains a fine edge of freshness and an alert character. Chocolate and cream, and a little toast fill out against smooth tannins in the finish of a very nice wine. 89-90/100. £15.00, Champany Cellars.