It’s been a while since I was last at Dornier Wines, that imposing estate sprawling across the foothills of the Stellenbosch mountain. Encompassing four farms with diverse terroir, access is gained via a road off the R44.
Visitors are likely to comment on the contrasting architecture which spans three centuries: the 18th century barn which houses the popular Bodega restaurant, the late 19th century Sir Herbert Baker homestead, now a function venue and guest house and the striking winery: the ultra-modern brick cellar with its sinuous roofline was designed by artist Christoph Dornier.
The restaurant is closed at present, re-opening on October 31. First-time diners should look out for a small model, vintage photograph and map, unobtrusively displayed against one wall. They illustrate a fascinating story of MD Raphael Dornier’s grandfather’s achievements a century ago. Claude Dornier was renowned as the pioneer who replaced wood and paper with metal in the design and construction of early planes (and seaplanes in particular) at the start of the 20th century. The photograph shows his plane, dubbed The Switzerland, arriving in Cape town, marking the first such flight from Zurich to this country. This three-month odyssey ended early in 1927.
Philip van Staden became the estate winemaker in 2015, and heads a cellar that makes the Donatus and Dornier ranges and easy-drinking Cocoa Hill wines.
The six that I was invited to review consisted of the Donatus Red and White which comprise the range of that name, along with four Dornier labels.
Given my penchant for fine chenins and chenin-based blends, it was unsurprising that my favourite was the 2017 Donatus White (R233) an elegant and delicious blend of 80% chenin, the remaining 20% being home-grown semillon. The chenin grapes were sourced from old bushvine vineyards in Stellenbosch. This rich, full-bodied blend presents stone fruit and floral aromas on the nose, follows with a complex palate where crispness pervades - but does not overpower - flavours of fruit, honey and a little citrus, backed by agreeable minerality. The two components were fermented separately in 300 litre French oak barrels, and spent 10 months in barrel on the lees.
Delicious as an aperitif to seafood feasts or as a partner for shellfish and rich and meaty fish such as tuna. Asian curries could also benefit from this blend, as could northern Indian and Persian vegetarian combos.
The flagship partner wine, Donatus Red 2016, (R349) is as elegant as its white counterpart, a Bordeaux-style blend of home-grown components: Led by 60% cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot comes in at 20% with malbec at 13% and cabernet franc bringing up the rear. Open- top fermenters were used tostart fermentaton, after which malolactic fermentation took place in oak. A further 18 months saw maturation in barrel, before blending took place.
Berry, black cherry and cassis flavours combine on the palate in pleasing purity, lent character from smooth tannins, the whole presenting a well-balanced blend that should age well. Alcohol levels are substantial at 14,5%. It already complements all manner of red meat in fine style and will enhance vegetarian dishes like mushroom or root vegetable casseroles.
From the Dornier range, the Semillon 2018 (R196) revealed a limited release, golden in hue that offered wafts of apple and honey when uncorked. Produced from grapes on the estate,subtle flavours of buttered brioche meld with citrus in an elegant, almost restrained manner that brings to mind Old World style. There’s no hint of waxiness, but the wine is fresh and sprightly with moderate alcohol levels. As a companionable varietal, semillon has few competitors and can accompany a wide spectrum of vegetarian, fish and white meat fare with panache.
On to the Dornier reds, housed in elegant dark bottles finished with silver tops, starting with Equanimity Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. This appealingly named cab will find followers among most red wine fans. A well-made classic priced at R176, it presents an opulence that showcases characteristic spice and fruit: cassis and licorice yield to berry and subtle mint flavours, hints of vanilla are balanced by elegant tannins. Substantial alcohol levels do not detract from a cab that is already enticing and will go on developing for some years. A great choice when savouring red meat of every kind.
The Dornier Siren Syrah 2016 (R176) offers a description of the said siren, pictured on the back label, who lured the artist with aromas of “wild herbs, ripe fruits and violets.” All these can be detected in this shiraz made in contemporary style, that spent 15 months in French oak, none of it new, so that fruit would not be overshadowed by wood. Like the cab, should be enjoyed by a broad swathe of shiraz fans paired with venison, lamb or beef.
The Dornier Merlot 2017 was produced from vineyards on the estate, and berries were picked at optimal ripeness, They were fermented in open stainless steel tanks, followed by 12 months maturation in French oak. This is a juicy, delicious merlot with soft tannins, adding up to well balanced, well-made quality that offers pleasing versatility. A good buy at R159.
For more information, visit www.dornier.co.za. It’s an efficient, user-friendly site that well reflects the entire operation.