- Anura (£1.50 to taste 6 wines)
A very well designed and stylish estate. Driving through the vines you arrive at an unobtrusive building, with tasting room and restaurant. Airy and bright inside, select your tasting and take a seat. We had the most wonderful wine advisor who talked us through each wine in detail and was good fun to chat to as well. An interesting conversation about vegetarianism remains in my mind, she just didn’t understand it – all rabbit food and lettuce! She was open to discussion though, all good over a glass or two of wine. All very well made, silky velvety wines.
- Chardonnay Limited Release 2011 – Elegant and smooth, honey, butter, ginger, butterscotch. Lovely finish! A nice match to roast mushrooms, pine nuts and chicken.
- Joy Brut Sparkling wine 2012 – Very impressed by this Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandria sparkler, we were unsure what to expect, however, it was refreshing, floral, orange blossom with a lovely full mouthfeel.
- Anura Pinotage 2010 – One sniff and you just wanted to drink it, wonderful. All I could think when drinking this was blue velvet. It had richness and smoothness, backed with spicy fruitcake flavours perfect for BBQs. Mulberries, cassis, cranberry, prunes, fruitcake and spicy undertones.
- Merlot 2010 – Refreshingly floral, red roses, red and black berries, hints of fruit cake and spice (these flavours seemed to run through the red wines at this estate), rolling and velvety tannin.
- Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007 – Black and red fruits, hints of blackcurrant and raspberry, hints of spice and tobacco, very smooth tannins, a structured wine.
- Petit Verdot 2008 – Silky black fruits and plums, hints of cedar and walnuts, a drier style.
- Malbec Limited Release 2009 – Quite a powerful wine with good tannic grip that needs some meaty steak with it. Blueberry, mulberry and dried peach interestingly. Liquorice hints and full rich mouthfeel.
- LB Sangiovese 2008 – Wow, warm blackberry, mulberry, caramel and toffee. Rich with strong tannins and spicy, herbal undertones.
- Fairview (£1.50 to taste 6 wines and cheeses)
Ah the famous Goats do Roam winery, a wine that we have enjoyed back home. There really are two goats living in a tower, quite mesmerizing to watch them wind their way up and down the spiral staircase. A busy Estate abuzz with tourist buses and visitors, many standing at the round tasting bars, served by the friendly knowledgeable chaps as well as tasting cheeses at the cheese counter. They cope well with the different groups stood waiting for top-ups! We tried the Adventure Range to see what Fairview is experimenting with, as well as the classic Goats do Roam Rosé.
- Goats do Roam Rosé – Crisp and dry, bursting with red berries and strawberry. Easy and fruity. I shall be looking out for that one this summer!
- Fairview Barbera – Ripe red fruits, cherry, savoury with soft tannins, a canny example.
- Fairview Viognier – Claim to be the first producer of this variety in South Africa. Lightly fragranced with peach and apricot flavours.
- Fairview Oom Pagel Semillon – Reminded us a little of English whites with a green hedgerow aroma, quite zesty lime with mineral flintiness.
- Fairview Extraño – Spanish inspired blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan. Interesting to try, farmy aromas with moderate tannin, a little on the thin side.
- Fairview Durie – Made from Petit Syrah another interesting one to try, very fruity nose of cherries, blackfruits and bramble, very intense colour!
Huge cooperative winery on an industrial Estate near Paarl. Despite size and location, the tasting area has been tastefully designed to feel welcoming, with wines on show around the walls. Unfortunately, we missed the tour and so didn’t see what is described as the ‘cathedral’ sized cellars but the wine tasting made up for it and the lady advising us was knowledgeable and helpful. A great selection, very impressive!
- KWV The Mentors Chardonnay 2011 – Won the Miele Trophy for best Chardonnay and Old Mutual Trophy for Best White Wine. Medium bodied and well balanced, lovely floral, citrus blossom, pineapple and spice aromas with mineral tones. Ginger biscuit (yes, indeed) and hints of almond nuts in the mouth.
- KWV Cabernet Franc 2010 – The first time released under this label. Aromas of cedar spice, chocolate, dried fruit and fruit cake, layer on layer of aroma and flavour, complex and rich.
- KWV The Mentors Orchestra 2010 – 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec. Bordeaux style blend with upfront fruit, cassis, plum, strawberry and cherry. A little perfumed with violet, dark chocolate and hints of smoke and mint. Full bodied and balanced with a lovely long finish.
- KWV The Mentors Semillon 2010 – The 2011 won Gold at the 2012 Michael Angelo Awards so we were keen to try this. Full bodied, bursting with green apple, lemon grass and citrus blossom. Refreshing minerality and crisp finish.
- KWV Heritage Abraham Perold Shiraz 2006 – Only 5300 bottles produced. Rich black and red fruits such as blackberry and strawberry, hints of spice and pepper, chocolate and vanilla. Well balanced.
- Mellasat Vineyards (£1.50 to taste a selection)
Lovely boutique winery run by husband and wife team Steven and Janet Richardson, tucked away in Dekkersvlei, Paarl, feels like a working winery and farm picturesquely set with house, tasting room and winery side by side. Fabulous to see where the wines are made, such small scale compared to some we have seen.
Stand out tasters:
- Mellasat ‘M’ 2004/2005 – 40/40% Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, 20% Pinotage, wow, lots of development on this wine, rich prune and raisin aromas and flavours.
- Mellasat ‘Σ’ (White Pinotage) 2009/2010 – This is a first for sure – white Pinotage, always an interesting treat to try a red grape as a white wine. This was quite light bodied and favoured, mainly stone fruits flavours of white peach with quite a creamy mouthfeel.
- Mellasat Chardonnay 2010 – A more subtle style of Chardonnay to what we have had so far in South Africa, softer hints of tropical fruits, quite buttery on the nose. Pleasant.
- Dekker’s Valley Revelation 2009 – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage, essentially what is left over after the ‘M’ wine is produced. Black and red fruits with spice and balanced acidity.
- Dekker’s Valley Shiraz 2009/2010 – Black fruits, blackcurrant fruit and spice. Sweetness of the American oak complements the fruit.
- Nederburg (£4 to taste 6 wines – Heritage Heroes Range)
A little drive out of Paarl, heading towards the mountains, you arrive at a group of low lying buildings with large winery well hidden behind. The tasting room is tastefully decorated with plush sofa, dining room chairs and tables. We had a great guy advising us on the wines and happy to tell us more when we showed interest who gave us additional tastings to compare different styles and vintages. The Red Table restaurant was unfortunately closed but gave us the opportunity to enjoy it quietly, as you could wander around inside the old Cape Dutch house where it is located without anyone around. Beautiful architecture and a lovely feel, very eclectic furniture. I loved the swinging seat hanging from the huge tree outside, it was so peaceful.
One of the best tastings in terms of portion size (generous), quality of all wines served, pace of service and information given, addition of other tastings for comparison. These wines seemed to have more weight and body than others tried.
Our Nederburg Heroes:
- Motorcycle Marvel Rhone Blend 2010 – Full bodied, lovely spicy, peppery red berries and fruits, plum, sweet fruit character, chocolatey mouthfeel and caramel touch.
- II Centuries, Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Cassis, tobacco and cigar box, medium bodied with great depth of flavours. Only available at the winery – darn it!
- Stein 2012 – A glass of sparkling Chenin Blanc was handed to us on entering while we perused the tasting list to see what we might try. Crisp, fresh and fruity.
- 5600 Chenin Blanc 2012 – Named after the price originally paid for the farm 5600 ZAR, about £400 today, a lighter style with white peach, guava, apple and hints of dried apricots. A little like a pinot grigio. Lovely lunch or salad wine.
- Young Airhawk Sauvignon Blanc 2010 – Lots of green going on! Green figs, grass, herbs, gooseberry, tinned peas, asparagus, smoky edge to it, not too acidic due to the oak softening it a bit, retaining structure and minerality. Good match for pasta with asparagus, samphire, mozzarella and goats cheese!
- Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2011 – Lovely ripe fruits, spicy apple, pineapple, apricots, nectarines and orange, hints of floral, spice and raisin. Richer from oak influence. Yummy.
- Brew Master Bordeaux Blend 2009 – Concentrated dark fruits, cassis, bramble, cigar box and vanilla spice, hint of pepper, great tannic/acid balance, not drying, this should age nicely.
- Red Blend 2010 – Italian blend of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera (imported root stocks are grown in the nursery), full boded with lots of cherry, bramble, spice and savoury meat aromas, round and smooth and very well balanced.
- Niel Joubert (no charge)
Quite far along a tree lined country road, you arrive at the gateway to this beautiful old house hidden away behind large trees and flower filled garden beds. It turned out you should book to visit by appointment, oops, but they were very accommodating and Marie, the Sales Rep, happily gave us some tastings, at no charge, and talked us through their wines.
Perfect Summer Wine:
- Estate Rosé 2012 – Proud Silver medal winner of the International Michael Angelo Awards made from 100% Pinotage. Absolutely lovely. Onion skin/salmon colour, strawberries and cream! Dry with great acidity and lovely summer fruitiness.
- Chenin Blanc 2012 – Hints of guava and pear, tropical hints, young, crisp and fresh.
- Sauvignon Blanc 2012, a refreshingly easy drink, delicate hints of lime citrus and grass alongside passion fruit and guava, crisp and dry.
- Chardonnay 2011 – Ripe, tropical nose oozing with pineapple, backed by a creamy sweetness. Dry and fruity.
- Merlot 2010 – Deep aromas of plum, dark fruits, hints of chocolate, still developing.
- Shiraz 2010, lovely chocolatey body with spice, very velvety smooth mouthfeel.
- Noble Hill (£2 to taste 7 wines – fee waived on purchase)
A very well designed and beautifully laid out Estate, boutique is definitely the word and well done too! I must admit we were both very taken with it and loved every wine we tasted, there was just something so well done about them. Showing that bit of extra enthusiasm talking to the lovely girl advising us on the wine, she took us around to where the grapes were being hand sorted and explained that they believe this is their secret to quality, hand sorted first as bunches coming into the de-stemmer, then again afterwards to pick only the best grapes, intensive and some may say unnecessary but the results tasted pretty darn fine to us. They produce very tasty Olive Oil too. Shame we couldn’t bring it all home in our cases.
Stylishly drawn pictures of old Cape Dutch keys adorn the walls in the tasting room, which is light, open and airy and it was explained that each grape variety grown here is matched to a key. The story goes that when the American owners bought the Estate they were handed a large bunch of farm keys, not small in size by any stretch, all in a box for every door on the Estate. So each key now represents a varietal and in a sense is the key to the Estate and most probably their hearts, you can easily fall in love with South Africa here.
All fabulous wines, but our stand out favourite was probably:
- Noble Hill Syrah 2008 – Quite a lot going on here, savoury meatiness, boot polish (honestly!), red fruit, spice and black pepper, hicory smokiness, good weight. Very well done and like a silken blanket in the mouth.
- Noble Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Quite tropical, full of guava, crisp, green and fresh.
- Noble Hill The Longest Day Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Green pepper and zingy citrus! Creamy in the background gives a lovely mouthfeel.
- Noble Hill Mourvèdre Rosé 2012 – Pale salmon pink, subtle aromas of red fruits, strawberry, creamy mouthfeel and soft finish. Lovely lovely lovely in the sun and warmth.
- Noble Hill Merlot 2010 – Just released this is velvet in a glass, full of black fruits, juicy plums and spice with very smooth tannins.
- Noble Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – Lots of savoury animal and herby aromas alongside black fruits, cherries and blackcurrant, hint of oak and good body.
- Noble Hill Estate Blend 2009 – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, savoury with juicy black fruits, a little restrained at the moment but seems to have potential to open up nicely.
Paarl and Swartland
As well as visiting the vineyards in Paarl and Stellenbosch with Jeremy Borg, owner of Painted Wolf Wines, we also saw the rest in Swartland, to gain a fuller understanding of the terroir of the grapes that go into making these fabulous wines. Jeremy’s wines also benefit from the skills and insights of the wine makers at Rheebokskloof and Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, including Johan Gerber.
The vineyards are:
Kasteelsig Vineyard, Swartland
- Shale soils, dry farmed, organic grape growing practices
- Grapes: Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier
Southern Cross Vineyard, Paarl
- Decomposed granite soils, part dry farmed, minimum input viticulture
- Grapes: Pinotage, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc
Devon Hills Vineyard, Stellenbosch
- Decomposed granite soils, hill side, irrigated, minimum input viticulture
- Grapes: Pinotage, Shiraz
Painted Wolf Wines owe their name to the endangered African wild dogs whose conservation Jeremy is very passionate about, to the extent that he is currently cycling through Zimbabwe raising funds for the dogs: Peddles for Paws. Jeremy is also a committed conservationist for other African wildlife and promotes the activities of TUSK.
Within our first few days of arriving in Cape Town, we visited vineyards and wine estates in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Swartland. This enabled us to see where Painted Wolf grapes are grown and the wine is made. We also had the opportunity to meet the winemakers at Mulderbosch, Rhebokskloof, Leeuwenkuil and Koopmanskloof.
On our first afternoon, we met Adam Mason, winemaker at Mulderbosch Wine Estate, and had our first taste of the busyness of a SouthAfrican winery in the throws of harvest time. We were lucky enough to have a taste of the Painted Wolf sauvignon blanc fresh from the tank, it was beautifully refreshing, full of tropical fruit and green herbaceous notes, perfect on a hot day. Fresh from bottling the following week we were privileged to receive a bottle pre-label and boy did we enjoy that, Kelvyn said “this is the freshest Sauvignon Blanc I’ve ever had” and not previously being a huge fan of sauvignon blanc that was a big compliment. We look forward to more of that Jeremy!
Whilst at the sorting table, we noticed that some of the grapes were red and that these were being sorted and put into a separate basket. Upon enquiring as to what these grapes were, Adam explained that they were a mutation of the white Semillon grapes that were being sorted. He said that he hoped to experiment with these to see if a good wine could be made from them. We shall wait in anticipation!
We briefly met Francois Naude, new manager at Rhebokskloof wine estate, and tasted some wine from barrel. We will have to hunt out their reputable wines as we didn’t have the chance to return there for a full tasting.
We also had the pleasure of meeting the owner of Leeuwenkuil wines, Willie Dreyer, South Africa’s largest producer, which was fascinating to see compared to the smaller boutique styled wineries, huge stainless steel tanks in room after room, equipment all around you. Big business!
Our first taste of work was green harvesting a plot of viognier vines at Southern Cross Farm. So up bright and early we shot off up the road from Stellenbosch to Paarl, about a 30 minute drive North. We each worked our way through the rows of vines, clearing leaves and foliage that was preventing the grapes underneath from ripening or allowing them space to breath to avoid rot. We also cut away any rotten bunches of grapes to allow the rest a chance of ripening fully. It was a great morning and before we knew it, it was 2pm, and the job was done! The ripening grapes had a fantastic orange tinge to them and tasted of the “orangeyness” that you get in the wine. They were juicy and I was surprised by their flavour.
It was quite cloudy and rained a little when we ventured out this morning, but perfect for the work we did, as once the sun came out it was hot hot hot! By contrast, we drove up to Malmesbury and Swartland, which means ‘black’ land as it gets so hot the ground almost burns black. I could understand why, it felt dry and arid in comparison to the greenness of where we had just been. The earth was full of red quartz and glistened in the sun, hard to imagine anything living very well out there. But the divinely iridescent purple syrah and grenache were almost bursting at the seems with ripeness, almost ready to harvest.
We were lucky enough to be offered the chance to help out at Koopmanskloof and what an amazing experience that turned out to be. We measured the sugar levels and checked the temperatures of the fermenting grape juices in tanks, barrels and vats. We made up additions for the ferments to help things along, topped up where tanks of barrels had lost a lot of juice in evaporation, we checked on ferments, cleaned tanks, cleaned equipment, cleaned crates, basically, we cleaned a lot! We helped load the de-stemming machine when grapes arrived for processing, of which everyday there were more and more as the harvest kicked into full swing.
I was somewhat shaky legged when standing atop a vat of fermenting grapes balanced a little precariously on a plank of wood holding a quite heavy punching down prop to punch through the pretty solid cap of grapes, man that was a workout and a half. All I kept thinking was strong legs, focus, don’t fall in!!!
We stayed in the beautiful university town of Stellenbosch for the whole three weeks, which I will describe in a little more detail separately, and hired a car to get around. Living and working here was the most amazing learning experience and far surpassed our expectations of what it would be like over there. I am working on a list of the wine estates we visited and the wines we tasted to share and hopefully inspire you to try South African wines because I will be honest we were extremely impressed.