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Myrna Robins

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Heritage month makes a great excuse, should we need one, to focus on our Cape history – its viticulture, architecture and cuisine, among other aspects. So when a trio of Lanzerac wines arrived that all embody this colourful heritage, the subject of this September blog required no further debate.

A few years back cellarmaster Wynand Lategan added the maiden vintages of a new range to the Lanzerac wine portfolio. Headed the Keldermeester Versameling he focussed on fine harvests of uncommon cultivars, bottled them in heavy glass bottles closed with wax and added a minimalistic white label. The back label offers some info, and only Afrikaans is used.

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There are two whites in this range, both of which are worth sampling when next you visit the tasting centre. There’s very little pinot blanc in South Africa, but Lanzerac boasts a single, low-yield vineyard in the Jonkershoek valley which Lategan used to make Christina in 2001, a rare example of this varietal, launched to coincide with the arrival of the new millennium and given the thumbs up by Tim James in the 2002 edition of Platter’s wines. Fast forward to 2017 when the first vintages of the Keldermeester Versameling were released, one of which is a limited edition, named Bergpad, a wooded pinot blanc which I enjoyed enormously. Golden in hue, it makes quite a bold statement, (I received the 2016), full bodied, old oak melding with flavours of pineapple and semi-tropical fruit, freshness thanks to muted acidity.  The wine is  a fine example of well-balanced handling, just different enough to offer a nice altlernative to the usual whites. It is a fine tribute to the famous mountain path that stretches from Coetzenberg sports ground to Lanzerac, that has seen generations of Stellenbosch students tramp their way to the famous bar on the farm.

Bergpad was joined by Bergstroom last year, a 2017 vintage blend of homegrown sauvignon blanc and semillon from Elgin. Fermentation took place in old French oak, using mostly natural yeast, and six months of maturation preceded blending and bottling. It is a charming example of a classic blend, offer ing green fruity flavours of kiwi and gooseberry, a long delicious mouthfeel that lacks the acidity that often dominates sauvignon blanc. Alcohol levels of 14% are not obvious, and this makes both a moreish aperitif and fine partner for local salmon trout with beurre blanc. Bergstroom also pays pleasing tribute to mountain streams, both those of Stellenbosch and of many a small South African dorp, offering irrigation lifelines to people, livestock and crops.

Both these delightful whites, limited editions and numbered, are available only from Lanzerac, priced at a reasonable R200.

No vinous discussion about heritage could exclude our one true indigenous grape – pinotage is not only enjoying global acclaim at present, but Lanzerac estate is also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Lanzerac pinotage which was produced by then owners,  SFW co-operative, under the Lanzerac label. Created by Stellenbosch universty’s Professor Abraham Perold who cross-pollinated pinot noir and cinsaut to produce just four seeds in 1925, the new cultivar, pinotage flourished and was first used in blending with other dry reds.

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Today cellarmaster Lategan continues to specialise in pinotage, offering winelovers and connoisseurs an easy-drinking rosé, a full-bodied classic pinotage from the premium range and the flagship Pionier Pinotage, a single vineyard champion .

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Iconic wine from an iconic Cape estate: Having been fully restored after a major fire two years ago, Lanzerac is back on the winelands map, as beautiful and elegant as ever. More than three centuries of history can be experienced in the special ambience found in some sections where old walls and woodwork retain the patina of many an ancestral presence. Beauty abounds in a magnificent setting, as the estate wears its three centuries with effortless grace.

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Given the growing trend to produce wines that reflect a sense of place , it’s good to see Stellenbosch Hills join the mode with the release of a pair of classy limited edition wines that now form their flagship duo. The range will soon be expanded with the addition of a MCC.

Both the white, a wooded chenin blanc and the red blend have cork closures and attractive front labels, the former featuring a wild chestnut flower, the latter our beautiful sunbird , his beak deep in a Sugarbush Protea. These features are found on the farm(s) from where the grapes were sourced.

Kastanjeberg 2017 is a wooded chenin, produced from a single vineyard growing high on slopes facing False Bay. This is a bold, full-bodied chenin, offering aromas of honey and stone fruit and whiffs of vanilla from its time in oak. There is more fruit on the palate, where flavours of peach and apricot are complemented with some nuttiness, oak lending tannic structure and vanilla, and acidity assuring freshness. It’s a big wine in every sense (including high alcohol levels at 14,5%) and will make a good partner with complex poultry and game bird dishes, pork and also complement Asian fare from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Suikerboschrand is a Cape blend from that superb vintage year 2015 and comprises one-third pinotage, with 29% shiraz, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot and 10% petit verdot.  All the components were vinified separately and spent 24 months in new French oak before blending and bottling took place. This is a voluptuous blend, where an array of aromas – berries, chocolate, cigar box – are followed by a complexity of flavours on the palate, fruit melding with tannic structure from new oak. Alcohol levels of 14,5% do not overwhelm the wine which is both accessible and well balanced.

As these flagship wines are destined to be savoured by connoisseurs and those keen to know more, both about the “place” or terroir from where the harvests came, the age of the grapes, and – in the case of the chenin – how long the wine spent in wood, and was it first, second or third-fill oak, it seems a pity that these facts are neither on the labels nor can be found on the website. I would like to ask the winemaker why he decided that a bold, wooded chenin would offer a better sense of place, (that is the high single vineyard), than a wine where the grapes could have expressed their particular terroir.

The Kastanjeberg sells for R285 and the Suikerboschrand for about R385 both from the cellar and some boutique wine stores. Email info@stellenbosch-hills.co.za for more info.

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We have come to expect the best from Waterkloof wines, and I have yet to be disappointedThe estate’s fierce commitment to traditional organic and biodynamic methods is well-known and there is no doubt that these are reflected in the purity of their wines,  accompanied by a delicacy that promotes, rather than restrains,  expression of terroir. Add to this a natural elegance that  has long been winemaker Nadia Barnard-Langenegger’s  characteristic style, and you know what to expect as you unscrew the cap of the 2016 vintage of Waterkloof Circle of Life White.

Winelovers will be delighted to find the components listed on the front label – 67% sauvignon blanc, 29% chenin blanc and 4% splash of semillon. I found the sauvignon to be dominant both on the nose and slightly less so on the palate, but there are few typical chenin characteristics. The chenin has, however, softened the sauvignon's acidity and added a backdrop of flint Fruit is restrained, but adds roundness to the blend which lingers to a long, complex,  satisfying and serene finish. Moderate alcohol levels are in keeping.

Winemaker Nadia co-fermented the sauvignon and chenin in a combo of 600 litre barrels and concrete “eggs.” No additives were used, and extended time on the lees and with bottle maturation contribute to the fine integration that is characteristic of this blend.

A persuasive example of the positive effects of eco-farming, organic and biodynamic vini- and viticulture, this retails for around R160.

 

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Before adding my ten cents worth as to what Voltaire was satirising in his 18th century novella Candide, let’s look at this wine, a charming, even enchanting blend from the historic Babylonstoren estate, home to magnificent gardens along with winery, accommodation and restaurants.

Fruity, satiny, as fresh and moreish as the spring we await, Candide 2018 is a four-way blend of cultivars all grown on the enormous estate: Wine of origin Simonsberg-Paarl, the bottle proclaims – and apart from its moderate alcohol levels of 13,5% - it tells us little else.

Not even on the website will curious consumers find much about Candide, so here are some facts about this captivating wine, gleaned from their efficient marketing professional Lize Grobb and the Platter guide.

Candide is chenin-led, at 45% with 24% viognier, and the remainder almost equal proportions of chardonnay and semillon. The grapes are all grown on the Simonsberg slopes and the chenin and semillon underwent cold fermentation in tanks after pressing, then kept on secondary lees for four months until bottling. The chardonnay and viognier were fermented in French oak and were kept on the lees for four months.

The results are gentle yet quite complex, where a stone and tropical fruit flavours meld with citrus in a crisp medium-bodied wine where each element is in fine balance with the others. There’s a feminine touch to this little gem, which made me wonder if the only female winemaker on the Babylonstoren cellar team, Marina Laubser had significant input to its creation. Both elegant and eminently approachable, Candide serves to strengthen my belief in chenin-led blends being the pinnacle of Cape white wines with regard to quality, diversity and offering great enjoyment.

Apparently the 2019 vintage will be on sale in September, which is definitely an item for the spring shopping list. Meanwhile '18 is not to be missed. It sells for R155 from cellar door.

Back to the choice of name, designed, I am sure, to get winelovers talking over their Candide aperitif: As Voltaire ends his work with its best-known phrase, which, translated, reads “We must cultivate our garden” – it could literally refer consumers to the sumptuous beauty of the estate’s gardens. But that would be a waste of an opportunity to argue about what Voltaire was targeting – optimism? War? Persecution? The tolerance and the rights of the individual were among his concerns and they are there for readers to find in his fast-paced action across 18th century continents.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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