While a visit to Calitzdorp and its hospitable inhabitants is always enjoyable, and there’s much to see and do in every season, winter offers both peace and particular beauty in this Klein Karoo dorp: against a backdrop of the Outeniqua, Swartberg and Rooiberg mountains, probably snow-dusted, wandering around the old part of the village makes a great start to the day, working up an appetite to do justice to robust country fare washed down with a glass or two of the region’s fine wines and world-class ports.
Which brings us, of course to De Krans, on the village fringe, sprawled along the upper reaches of the Gamka river valley. The farm was founded in 1890 by MD Boets Nel’s great-grandfather although many decades passed before the first grapes were planted, mostly for sweet wine and raisin production. Fast forward to 1964 when the existing cellar was built and De Krans soon became known for its fine ports and dessert wines. Dry table wines were to follow.
Today visitors can taste the various ranges every day of the week, relish al fresco lunches at the bistro and contemplate the walking trail to work off the kilojoules. Friendly, enthusiastic staff add to the enjoyment while generosity is another ever-present characteristic.
In reviewing fine wines from three of the four De Krans ranges, we start by going back, way back to 1947 when De Krans planted a vineyard of Palomino (also known as Malvasia Rei) in Gamka river soils for brandy production. Some 70 years on they have survived, now bearing small, intensely flavoured berries: these are blended with verdelho (37%) into an unusual, fascinating golden wine that presents old vine legacy with Klein Karoo flavour. De Krans Tritonia 2017 wafts aromas of citrus and honey, while the palate offers exotic flavours, traces of a spicy Christmas pud balanced by acidity for freshness. I can imagine it enhancing a Cape Malay curry, and certain Portuguese classics, perhaps Arroz de Pato de Braga, that flavourful combo of roast duck with chorizo on ham-flavoured rice from the north. It sells for R150.
Its red counterpart De Krans Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend 2016 is better known, having already won for itself an impressive list of awards – among these, Platter gives it 4 and half stars, NWC a double gold, the Six Nations Wine Challenge rated it gold and the Old Mutual Trophy Wine show a trophy. Composed of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barocca it’s hardly surprising that its dark, tannic, and flavour-packed with berry and plums, but also smooth on the palate , a fine winter wine to pair with venison and beef. It costs around R185 and also offers great ageing potential.
Then there’s De Krans Basket Press Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 which proves quite a contrast to the above: For R65 winelovers can enjoy an accessible cabernet that not only offers great value, but is an authentic expression of the grape – the typical aromas of cedar and tobacco are there, as are the flavours of black cherry and plum. This is a comparatively light-bodied cab, with alcohol levels of 13,5% and ready to pair with pizza and pasta, the weekend braai and provide companionable fireside sipping.
When it comes to port, to use the traditional term, Calitzdorp is the local king, and De Krans – through a lucky mistake – was the first to plant the Portuguese varietal of Tinta Barocca, which flourished nicely in the valley. Today, the region is famed for its production of fine port wines, which – after negotiating with the EU in 2011 – are no longer named “port” but are labelled according to the style of port in the bottle, hence “Cape Ruby” or Cape Tawny”. De Krans marketing is also keen to get consumers to replace those teeny liqueur glasses that used to be used for port with decent wine glasses, something we did a while ago. (Most of these ports are just under 20% alcohol strength, so you are not sipping the equivalent of spirits at over 40% )
Their Ruby port can be classed as the entry level port, perhaps, less complex than its cousins, also more affordable, but nonetheless quality wine and a good way for newcomers to this fortified wine to begin their port journey...
The De Krans Cape Tawny Limited Release, a much awarded port wine, and my all-time favourite, is quite delicious, perfect with meatless and poultry dishes, complementing French onion soup and a superb partner to aged cheeses like mature cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan. Its glorious golden hue is the result, I was told, of small oak vats being used which influences the wine along with a greater degree of oxidation, but obviously there is far more to this process.
The flagship De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve - 2016 is the current vintage – is deservedly five-star, rated 96 points in the Tim Atkin 2018 report, was judged SA Fortified Wine of the Year, sports Veritas Gold, Michelangelo platninum, and the brag list goes on... It's comprised of 74% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barocca and finished with Tinta Roriz, yielding a big, dark wine, offering aromas of berries, nuts and chocolate. It's complex and bold and deserves to be a fine finale to a special meal, perhaps with a cheese platter. While this is a Cape port that one could safely store unopened for three decades or more, once opened, do bring it out on chilly evenings and savour every delicious, complex sip. You are sampling the results of long and meticulous craftmanship practised by some dedicated and talented winemakers.