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It’s Picking Day!

Day 2 in Roussillon

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Up early in the dark … Yes, it’s dark in this part of the world at 6am, all the French pickers had arrived so Jonathon and Rachel got everyone registered and off we went to the vineyard. It got light pretty quickly and by 7.10am we were off picking the Grenache Gris, which is the most wonderful dusky pink colour, and some of the Grenache Blanc.

The vines are called ‘Goblets’ because of their shape, they aren’t tied to any wires or trained, which I thought would make it hard to pick as you have to bend down and kind of hunt under the vines greenery to find the bunches but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Two people work together on either side of the vine and put the grapes in a bucket. Once the bucket is full you empty it into a crate at the end of the row.

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Bunch selection was explained as it’s important not to pick bunches that look diseased, are not fully ripe yet or are hard and underripe, known as ‘grapillons’. The Roussillon has plenty of snails I noticed and it’s equally as important that they don’t end up being picked with the grapes.

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Once we all got into the flow, we worked through the rows quickly and the group worked well together. A couple of the slower pickers got teamed up with me and Georgia, not that we were especially speedy, but more to help gee them along a bit and it worked. The first parcel wasn’t too difficult and we were done by 9am, ready to go to the next vineyard.

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The sun was heating up now and the vines at the next vineyard were much larger in comparison with plenty of greenery to wade through and huge bunches of grapes, so we had to be careful not to snip a finger or two off, which would not only be a painful loss to myself but could have added some interesting flavours to the wine! It’s satisfying knowing these grapes will make La Terre Promise 2013, so when I drink some of that next year I’ll know I had a hand in making it, a wonderful feeling!

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Jonathon and Ruth next to the last trailer load of grapes for the press

Whilst the rest of the gang continued picking, Georgia and I headed back to the winery in the Land Rover … and I’m pleased to report there were no driving incidents! We headed back to load the press, firstly emptying the grapes into the destemmer, which Georgia kept an eye on, whilst I had the joyous job of washing the crates out as they were emptied and restocking them ready to load in the lorry to go back to the vineyard. We completed 3 loads of grapes and then the Champagne 2000 press was kick started into action. The juice from today’s picking went into one of the temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.

One thing is for sure so far I’m pretty dirty and soaked most of the time, it’s hard work but there is great satisfaction in getting it all done.

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The work didn’t finish there though. After lunch we had to make sure everything was washed down so no grape juice was around for fruit flies to be attracted to. Boy that felt like an age, the press must be spotless and it feels like you’re just pushing the grape skins around but never removing them. So much water gets used, something I was highly aware of in South Africa too, I believe the water goes into the river here, hence the need to take care what goes down the drains. Any stems or grape bits that end up on the floor are swept up and taken to a specialist recycling centre, not washed away.

Finishing around 7pm, we could relax and have dinner. My body was telling me it needed to lie down but after such a buzzing day, I got a second wind once fed and given a glass or two of Le Ciel Vide and Three Peaks.

Read more in the next in this short series when I get down and dirty in the tanks that will soon house the red wine.

EAT! Festival – Sideways Speakeasy

The annual Newcastle/Gateshead EAT! Festival is now underway with various events taking place at a number of locations between these two cities over the next two weeks.

This year, we are privileged to be involved in two events. The first is with one of Newcastle’s leading wine merchants Carruthers & Kent, whilst the other is with the ever expanding Local Wine School, whose Newcastle franchise shall be hosting their annual wine fair on the final day of the festival. Alongside other local merchants, Carruthers & Kent will be showing a great selection of wines for you to try.

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Carruthers & Kent’s leading ladies Mo & Claire, were on hand to deliver some fine wines at The Speakeasy “Sideways” film show, which was held in a makeshift bar and cinema at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle City Centre. The carefully selected wines* were handed out to the audience at the right moment to coincide with wines in the movie, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed and so did we!

The evening continued with live music and the chance to re-try the film’s wine stars.

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* These wines will appear in our tasting notes “Wine Lab” section (in development).

The International Wine Challenge 2013 Awards Dinner & 30th Anniversary Summer Ball – London

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We arrived to a hot, sticky London evening in search of our hotel in Pimlico, which we found just in time as we discovered that one of our tyres was punctured by a large screw and was quickly going flat.

We moved into our pink, basement, shoebox sized room that resembled the inside of an oven. After failed attempts to manage the temperature and create some kind of airflow in the room, we resigned ourselves to the fact we would just have to swelter. So we put our minds to planning our stay in London.

We have forgotten to mention that we acquired three vines in Devon, our ‘Pinot Passengers’, which would be coming home with us to hopefully grow in our porch, aka the cats toilet (incidentally he does use a litter tray and is very proper about his toilet habits). We thought it fitting that he should have a few Pinot Noir grapes dangling above his head and hopefully he will agree.  Before retiring to bed, Kel popped out to the car to water our precious commodity, which we hoped wouldn’t be mistaken for a more “exotic” type of plant. IMG_0395 The following day, after sorting the flat tyre out, we escaped any further baking in our room by spending a few hours relaxing in the sun in Hyde Park, along with most other people in London who had the same idea.

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The awards dinner was held at Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane and is the result of a lengthy process of identifying those wines from the thousands judged from around the world that are considered to be the best. The Awards Dinner is also a platform for celebrating and recognising businesses as well as individual personalities within the wine trade who have achieved great success. Well done to everyone involved!

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This year’s dinner was all the more important as it celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Challenge, since it’s beginnings in 1984 founded by Robert Joseph and Charles Metcalfe. Many well known individual “wine celebrities” enjoyed the Awards Dinner as well as the odd non-wine related celeb, who have a keen interest in wine, such as Mick Hucknell of Simply Red fame.

It was good for us to meet up once again with familiar faces from our time working on the IWC Crew back in April, when all the judging took place at Lords Cricket Ground, and we enjoyed sharing a glass (or two) of Trophy Award winning wine.

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Also receiving an award that evening was long standing IWC Crew Member John, who has amazingly worked for 25 years as part of the team. Here he is proudly receiving his own trophy: IMG_0272 It was a fantastic evening and a wonderful way to see the fruits of all the hard labour that has gone into the IWC year. Now the process begins all over again for IWC 2014 … Bring it on!!!

The South African Winelands Low-down – Stellenbosch

  • Amani (£1.50 to taste all listed wines or choose)

A beautiful Estate, with tasting terrace overlooking the surrounding vineyards, gorgeous panoramic view. Very relaxed feel and helpful, knowledgeable wine advisor. We had the pleasure of meeting the assistant winemaker Chris van Reenen, who showed us around and explained they use all natural yeasts and no additions, fascinating to see in practice. All the wines came across as well made so there is definitely something working well here.

Star Wine:

  • Pinotage 2011, Limited Release – Black forest gateaux, dark cherry, mocha, chocolate and spice, medium bodied and balanced, integrated tannins, with a luxurious chocolate finish. Growing to like Pinotage a lot!

Also tasted:

  • ABC 2010, Chardonnay – Chablis in style? Tropical fruit, pineapple and nuts, backed by a mineral, crisp acidity, some creaminess underneath. 
  • The Bordeaux Experience, Pomerol 2008 – Cabernet Franc and Merlot, rhubarb and custard, maraschino cherry, plums, bramble and black fruits, herbaceous, the alcohol was a little noticeable but otherwise a deep flavoured, full bodied wine. 
  • The Rhone Experience, Young Palate, Pendana 2008 – 87% Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Mourvèdre. Spicy, red and black fruits, cranberry and currants, acidity came across a bit spiky.
  • The Rhone Experience, Experience Palate, Forest Myers 2007 – 96% Shiraz, 9% Mourvèdre, 2% Viognier, named after the owner’s son who sadly died in a car crash 6 years ago. Softer and fruitier with a more developed nose than the 2008, mellowed and lovely.

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A picturesque setting for this Estate, where the wine is made and bottled on site. The winemaker Dirk Coetzee kindly showed us around and gave us a great insight into the workings here.

Impressed by:

  • Grand Vin Pinotage 2009 – The wine they are best known for and their description says it all – seriously sultry and laden with ripe black cherries, juicy plums, cassis and dark chocolate, nutty nuances of new French oak, hints of toffee and caramel.

Also tasted:

  • Méthode Cap Classique Brut Rosé 2010 – Lovely biscuit and fresh fruit aromas and flavours, raspberries, strawberries and cream. Fresh and young.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Citrus and herbaceously green, melon and lime, fresh and fruity.
  • Rosé de Pinotage 2012 – Summer in a glass, strawberry and floral tones, sweet yet fresh and dry.

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  • Delaire Graff (£0.75p per taste or £3 to taste 5 wines, Reserves £1.50 per taste)

An extremely impressive Estate, with wonderfully beautiful gardens, water features, slate stone buildings, sculptures and art all around you, cleverly designed features where views of the valleys open up from nowhere and neatly hidden seated areas with very plush furnishings. The reception itself is quite breathtaking. The tasting of the wines is explained by a knowledgeable wine advisor.

We decided to try the Reserve range to see what is deemed the best of Delaire and must admit both wines were very impressive.

  • Delaire Graff Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010 – Small amount of oak influence, lovely zesty lemon and lime cheesecake tang, lemon curd edge with well integrated acidity and hints of vanilla, nice weight and depth of flavour. Felt this could develop further and grow more complex.
  • Delaire Graff Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009 – Only 4300 bottles produced, 100% Cabernet. Black fruits, blackcurrant pastilles, earthy, herbs and spice, hint of vanilla, lovely depth of aromas and velvety mouthfeel, good structure, tannin and acid balanced.

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  • Hartenburg (£1.50 to taste 8 wines, fee waived on purchase)

One of the first Estates we visited and we were so impressed. Beautiful grounds, white Cape Dutch buildings, vineyards as far as you could see. The tasting room had a feel of being welcomed into a Grandparents grand sitting room. The lovely wine advisor sat us at a table and explained the tasting. She then spent a lot of time talking through each wine, chatting with us while managing to keep other customers equally well looked after. A wonderful place, where the ethos is to look after their local workforce and provide housing and schooling onsite to make their lives easier.

Our 5* wine:

  • Occasional Riesling 2012 – Off dry style of jasmine flowers, honey and lemon curd, sherbet tang yet rich. Balanced and complex, a beautiful wine. We took this to our friends (Jeremy & Emma Borg) for dinner and it went down a storm, gorgeous as an aperitif before a light fish supper with gently flavoured vegetables and potatoes.

Also tasted:

  • The Eleanor Chardonnay 2008 / 2009 – Limited production, golden in colour and rich in flavour. Complex layers of fruit and toasty notes on the palate, great acidity. Don’t think I’ve tasted a Chardonnay quite like this. Might even be worth decanting this powerful wine. Great match for cheddar or camembert.
  • The Mackenzie Bordeaux Blend 2007 – Limited production, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a Platter 5* wine! Named in honour of the Mackenzie family who have overseen the development of the modern Estate. Voluptous and layered with fruit, game and peppercorn spice, hints of chocolate and oaky pencil shavings. Silky with good tannic grip.
  • The Stork Shiraz 2007 / 2008 – Limited production, full bodied, black fruits, cherries and violet, underpinned with oak. 
  • Chardonnay 2009 – Elegant, creamy and zesty with a sprinkling of toasty oak, lovely.
  • Riesling 2012, aromatic and dry, floral, lime, honey and light spice, hints of kerosene, good acidity and good length.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 – Uncomplicated, juicy and fruity, full of berry richness, soft tannins and good aftertaste. Very drinkable and easy going.
  • Shiraz 2008 – Rich and concentrated dark spiced fruits, plums in particular, quite savoury.

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An Estate that couldn’t be more different to the old Cape Dutch wineries that we had become used to. Modernist and white, large, open tasting room with white tables and chairs, splashes of colour from balloons for parties and decorative furnishings, deeply coloured velvet curtains sheltered private tasting rooms for groups. Initially, a little skeptical about the nougat matching and potential sweetness of the wines, we were pleasantly surprised and impressed with the matches.

Favourite Sparklers:

  • Méthode Cap Classique, Pinot Noir 2008 – Paired with dark chocolate coated white nougat which brings out the red fruit character of the Pinot nicely, dry and crisp.
  • La Fleurette Rosé (carbonated) – Bubblegum pink in colour, lively with fruit, red cherry and strawberry, very sweet, but amazing paired with the gooey strawberry nougat, a great dessert idea for a dinner party to break from the traditional! I loved this.

Also tasted:

  • Méthode Cap Classique, Pinot Noir Rosé 2008 – Paired with rose Turkish delight which brings out the red fruits and rose beautifully, pleasantly refreshing and dry. 
  • La Vallée – Semi-sweet with added Chardonnay, we were told the South African palate is sweeter and this is a big seller. Crisp, creamy and brie like aroma, hints of apricot and tropical fruit brought out nicely with the mango and almond nougat, lovely sweetness not overdone.
  • Le Domaine (carbonated) – Made with Muscadelle and meant to be the sweetest of the selection and certainly smells sweet, aromatic peach and orange, but didn’t seem as sweet on the palate as La Fleurette. This was paired with white chocolate nougat and pistachio but seemed too sweet for the match and overpowered the nougat flavours. 
  • Jordan (£2 to taste 6 wines)

Lovely surroundings with shaded tables overlooking the reservoir and valley, very relaxed feeling. Erin, previously winemaker and now managing the sales side, talked us through the wines. We also met Kathy Jordan, Owner of the Estate, and her two very friendly dogs.

Award Winner:

  • Nine Yards Chardonnay 2011 – Awarded Decanter’s top Chardonnay in the world 2012 – what an achievement and worthy of it! Quite Burgundian in style, butterscotch, spicy cloves, lemon, lime, orange peel, fresh almonds and mineral citrus flavours. Lovely integrated flavours with long tropical finish.

Also tasted:

  • Chameleon Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2012 – A softer style for those who aren’t keen on the sharpness of Sauvignon or fatness of Chardonnay, refreshing and light with hints of green fig, melon and zesty citrus. 
  • Riesling 2012 – Off dry style, pleasant and light, zesty lemon and lime flavours with floral undertones, slight pepperiness on the aftertaste. Would be good with food.
  • The Prospector Syrah 2009 – Rich black fruits, fynbos, herb and spice, savoury, meaty tones, errs on the jammy side. 10% American oak adds a sweet summery undertone.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – Full bodied, full flavoured, blackberry, cassis, cloves, spice, chocolate and vanilla. Good structure and body. Lovely wine.
  • Cobblers Hill 2009 – 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc. Complex dark chocolate, black berry fruits and cassis. Sweet, fruity, spicy finish that lasts nicely in the mouth. Balanced and refined.

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A beautiful, large Estate with striking white gates at the entrance and white Cape Dutch buildings at the end of the drive passed vines and reservoirs, picturesque setting. Lovely, airy feel to the tasting room. We sat at the bar but you could have a table inside or out. Our wine advisor, Cobus talked us through all the wines and was great fun to chat to. He has worked there almost 15 years which gave him great depth of experience with their wines. He was also happy for us to taste different vintages side by side to allow us the chance to see their development, which makes such a difference in understanding where a younger wine is going.

Our Star Wines:

  • Chenin Blanc 2009 – From 55 year old vines, more than double the residual sugar than the 2010, lovely cooked spiced apple and clove aromas and flavours, rich and full, quite different and lovely! 
  • Yardstick Chardonnay 2011 – Pale straw green in colour, refreshing and mineral styled lime acidity, subtle nutty, creamy barrel ferment character. Rich but crisp.
  • Faithful Hound 2009 – 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec, woody, earthy aromas underpinned with black fruits, blackcurrant, plums and blackberry, herbs and coffee, smooth mouthfeel.
  • Fable Lion’s Whisker 2009 – 79% Shiraz, 21% Mourvèdre. Deep crimson, full bodied, concentrated berry fruits and floral, violet notes.

Also tasted:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2012 – Strawberry zing, zesty and herby with a creamy finish. Lovely easy summer drinking.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – With 4% Semillon, not quite as tropical as some, but plenty of lemon zestiness, guava and passion fruit alongside that Sauvignon grassiness.
  • Chenin Blanc 2011 – Citrus lemon and pear, some tropical aromas with hints of white stone fruit, although a bit closed, acidity quite high.
  • Chenin Blanc 2010 – Rounder and fuller flavoured, more red apple, ripe pear and spice with floral notes.
  • Chardonnay 2011 – Pale lemon green in colour, citrus, pineapple and apricot with a touch of spice, almonds, a slightly oily texture and creamy aftertaste. 45% in stainless steel gives distinctly different character and flavours to the 100% barrel fermented wines.
  • Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2010 – Fresh zesty citrus with the waft of a lit match at first, more mineral notes. Oatmeal, tangerine, orange blossom.
  • Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2009 – Rounder yet still zesty. Oatmeal, tangerine, orange blossom.
  • Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2008 – Mellower, still with good acidity. Oatmeal, tangerine, orange blossom.
  • Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2007 – Deep lemon green in colour, very creamy body with citrus apple, tangerine, herb and chestnut flavours. 
  • Yardstick Pinot Noir 2011 – Very pale ruby red, red fruits of cherry, cranberry and tinned strawberries, waxy texture, good acidity.
  • Fable Bobbejaan 2010 – 100% Syrah, medium crimson colour, juicy fruit aromas with pink grapefruit and red currant, cranberry notes.

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German owned, large Estate and winery. Our wine advisor Jean-Louis was from France, studying a Masters in Economics and Business whilst working at the winery, interesting guy happy to talk us through the wines and more.

  • Gewürztraminer 2012 – Fresh and floral aromas, lychee, peppery spice, rosewater, hints of greenness in the background, would nicely match spicy food. 
  • Malbec 2011, lots of summery red fruits and berries, ripe plums, soft tannins, simple and drinkable.
  • Shiraz 2007 – Peppery spice with dark fruits, blackberry, prune and fig, good acid/tannin grip, needs strong food such as a peppered steak.
  • The Caracal Red Blend 2010 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, black bramble fruits, blackcurrant, plum and cherry, chocolate, oak, cedar and vanilla. Rich and velvety. Have since tried this back home, from Majestic, and was more impressed than when first tasted.
  • The Owl Post Pinotage 2010 – Ripe red fruits, raspberry, cherry, mocha and pepper, fruity chocolate gateaux, not quite as velvety textured as some we have tried. 
  • Pinotage 2007 – Fruity plums and prunes, berry fruits, hint of cinnamon sweetness.
  • Maria Magdalena Noble Late Harvest 2011 – Golden amber colour, concentrated dried apricot, raisin, orange rind and honey.

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A lovely Estate, small and hidden away up a long drive. More subtle, elegant styled wines compared to many we have tried despite high alcohol contents which surprised us, well made and polished, much like the feeling of the Estate. Excellent service from our wine advisor, who gave great information about the wines. Interestingly all red wines, no white. Quite demanding prices due to small quantities made.

Our Stand Out Reds:

  • Estate 2009 – Flagship wine in the Top 100 Wines in Wine Spectator the last 4 years. 60% Cabernet, 30% Shiraz and 10% Merlot. Delicate aroma of red and black fruits, floral notes (we are told comes from the Shiraz and is typical of the terroir on this Estate), herby and savoury, depth of flavour and soft tannin.
  • Single Vineyard Syrah 2010 – Only 2100 bottles made, very elegant wine. Violet, jasmine and cherries – anyone remember spangles? Tastes like that! Hint of meatiness, fruit cake and dark muscovado sugar richness. 

Also tasted:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Light in style despite 14.5%, red fruits dominate with a hint of oak, tannic bite but balanced, lovely mouthfeel. You can taste the potential.
  • Shiraz 2010 – Approachable at 15%, bright ruby in colour, a subtle nose of earthy spice, liquorice, red and black fruits, blackberry and bramble, touch of vanilla sweetness but well integrated oak. 
  • 1694 Classification 2008 – Named after the year this farm was established. 57% Shiraz and 43% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fuller bodied and weightier in the mouth, oozing dark brambley fruits and raspberry, subtle hints of cedar oak and vanilla.

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  • Rustenberg (£1.50 to taste 7 wines – fee waived on purchase)

Fabulous Estate, beautiful white Cape Dutch buildings and wonderful gardens, I could have got lost whiling away the hours there. We arrived quite late in the day so it was a fairly speedy tasting, however, the wine advisor was a star taking us through each wine with no rush to close. You can find many of their wines at Majestic, Waitrose and the Ida range at Tescos.

Our Takeaway Wines:

  • Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Refreshing, mouth watering acidity and upfront fruit. A slightly fuller richer style without relying on the influence of oak.
  • Rustenberg Stellenbosch RM Nicholson 2009 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, deep concentrated black fruit aromas, cassis and cedar, blackberry, cassis, bramble and a minty aftertaste with soft juicy tannins.

Also tasted:

  • Rustenberg Stellenbosch Schoongezicht White Blend 2010 – 50% Semillon, 45% Viognier and 5% Roussanne. Lovely floral and orange notes with fresh stone fruits, zesty lemon and a hint of  flowers. 
  • Rustenberg Straw Wine 2009 – Sweet dessert wine made from Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Crouchen Blanc, the grapes are laid out to dried on straw in the ‘passito’ method, which concentrates the sugar, wonderful aromas and flavours of honey, marmalade and ripe peach, voluptuously textured and full flavoured.
  • Rustenberg Stellenbosch John X Merriman 2009 –  51% Cabernet Sauvignon,35% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. Plum and cigar box aromas, multi layered palate with elegant tannin structure.
  • Rustenberg Five Soldiers 2010 – Chardonnay, full fruit flavours, good aromatics and acidity blended nicely with the oak.
  • Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2006 – Cabernet Sauvignon, made from the oldest vineyard on the Estate, rich and robust, upfront perfume, concentrated cassis, black cherries and some herbaceousness. 

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Grab a seat in the tasting room or outside and go up to the busy bar to be served. Our visit was made all the more interesting with the cute little meerkat running around up and down people’s legs, including mine!

Surprise Star Wine:

  • Port, Cape Vintage Reserve, 2009 – This wine was made by accident with Shiraz that was left over but what an accident, this is amazing! Beautifully perfumed brambley fruit and exotic spice aromas, rich, full and fiery with a long dry finish. Suggestion to drink with Stilton (yum), Pecorino cheese or chocolate. 

Also tasted:

  • Cuvée Royale, Blanc de Blancs, 2007 – Yeasty, creamy, almond and buttery brioche aromas, good acidic backbone. 
  • Chardonnay 2011 – Full bodied, rich toasty oak notes, creamy citrus tang on the finish. 
  • Gewürztraminer 2012 – Special late harvest semi-sweet style, rich, spicy nose with mandarin orange, lychee and palma violets, hints of rose petal with a dry finish, quite full viscous mouthfeel.
  • Merindol Syrah 2010 – Limited release from a single vineyard, fruity nose, aromas of black fruits, cherry and spangles (those again), with hints of hickory bonfire smoke. Definitely needs food.

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  • Spier (Spier Tasting £3 for 5 wines, Frans K. Smit tasting, £6 for 6 wines)

A large and gorgeous wine Estate with hotel, restaurant, gardens, tasting room and even a wild bird sanctuary. Certainly somewhere you can spend most of the day. We chose our tasting, which our personal wine advisor paced nicely, telling us plenty about the wines and the history of the Estate, an impressive set up.

Our Spier Favourites:

  • 21 Gables Chenin Blanc – Hints of citrus, pineapple, and stewed fruit, cooked apple and spicy clove, creamy hints, a little reminiscent of a white Burgundy.
  • 21 Gables Pinotage – Very distinctive style, savoury almost animal approach, with cherries, spice and hints of tobacco, the smell alone was enough to convince Kel he liked this one!

Also tasted:

  • Spier Signature Sauvignon Blanc – Gooseberry, green pepper, pear, hints of tropical fruit and a bit of spice on the finish.
  • Spire Signature Chenin Blanc – A pleasant aperitif style drink, light and fresh, citrus lemon, pear and apple, lively fruit and acidity, slight creamy texture although a little heat from the alcohol felt.
  • Spier Signature Pinotage – Quite light, juicy and fruity, almost more like a Pinot Noir. 
  • Spier Creative Block 2, 88% Semillon, 12% Sauvignon, rich and abundant stone fruit fruit, a hint of smokiness on the nose, quite a short finish.
  • Spier Creative Block 3 – Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Viognier, perfumed and toasty, dark, rich plum, fig, tobacco and leather with hints of cinnamon and vanilla, with food would be good!
  • Spier Creative Block 5 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Ripe dark fruits, black cherry, blackcurrant and plum, fruit cake richness, cedar and spice, a touch of vanilla.
  • Frans K. Smit 2006 – 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Shiraz, 12.5% Merlot, 12.5% Malbec, 12.5% Cabernet Franc, 12.5% Pinotage, black fruits, blackcurrant, plum and spice, rich floral flavours and quite soft tannin which surprised. Acidity stood out a little.

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  • Thelema (£2 to taste 6 wines – fee waived on purchase)

The tasting room seemed quite small on entering but walking out onto the veranda you have a wonderful view of the vineyard and mountains behind, which is very picturesque. Crescenda, who served us was, very friendly and knowledgeable. We tasted the Thelema and Sutherland ranges (Sutherland is their cooler vineyard in Elgin). It was nice to see some different varieties at this Estate.

Our Star Wines:

  • ”The Mint” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Concentrated cassis, mocha and dark chocolate with distinctive fresh mint character contributed from the mint planted near the vines, amazing freshness from this. Roast lamb anyone?
  • Sutherland Viognier/Roussanne 2010 – 60% Viognier, 40% Roussanne, dried apricot and rose petal aromas, honeyed, nutty flavours of almond and leesy creaminess.

Also tasted:

  • Thelema Riesling 2010 – German style with a fragrant spicy nose, hints of kerosene and lime, round acidity as this is slightly sweeter than normal with lower alcohol.
  • Thelema Muscat de Frontignan 2012 – Off dry and very aromatic, fresh and balanced, lychee, orange and palma violets, would be great with seafood.
  • Thelema Rabelais 2008 – 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot and 9% Merlot, 4000 bottles produced, luscious dark berries and cedar wood, sweet fruit character. Complex and full bodied.
  • Sutherland Riesling 2011 – Zesty lime and kerosene aromas, high acidity with some orange undertones. Advised to cellar for development.
  • Sutherland Syrah 2009 – Light and clean, earthy strawberry and raspberry flavours, a little perfumed.

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  • Tokara (free tasting of 6 wines, £0.75 to taste the Brandy)

A gorgeous modern slate stone and wood building, which is very architecturally pleasing, set against stunning views of the vineyards and valley. Open plan and extremely well designed interior with large glass windows that also give access to view the winery and cellar. Local art and sculptures are on show and available to buy. Tastings are at the bar and free!

Our Tokara Works of Art:

  • Tokara Reserve Collection Walker Bay Chardonnay 2011 – Lovely vibrant white floral aromas, lemon and lime citrus zest, white peach and hints of gunflint, underscored by fresh brioche and toasted pine nuts. Full, rich, buttery and creamy. Wonderful!

Also tasted:

  • Tokara Reserve Collection Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Very much nettles, grass, guava and gooseberry, lemon zest and white pepper hints. Refreshingly crisp.
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2011 – 71% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon, intense nose of quince, lemongrass and passionfruit, rich and a little toasty, oily and creamy texture, quite soft mouthfeel.
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve Red 2011 – 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc. Intense dark berry fruit and cassis aromas, dark chocolate, spice and roasted fennel, hints of pencil wood, a fruity style, lighter than expected.
  • Tokara Shiraz 2010 – Quite light bodied, very drinkable. Five spice with blackberries, mulberries and a floral undertone, hints of fynbos and herb, evidence of Mourvèdre, textured tannins, nicely balanced fruit and spiciness.
  • Tokara Reserve Collection Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest 2011 – Rich, sweet and honeyed, complex nose of dried apricots, quince and pineapple. Rich and full with great acidity and hints of oak.
  • Tokara Potstill Brandy 2006 – Chenin Blanc on a new level! Orange blossom, fig, peach, raisin, floral jasmine aroma, smooth, hazelnut and brazil nut, dark sugar richness and sweetness, spicy pepper and vanilla notes. Intense stuff!

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Lovely rustic feel to this Estate, the main Cape Dutch styled building dominates when you arrive, opening onto a green garden area and reservoir, dotted with large umbrellas that shade beanbags, blankets and glasses for the gourmet picnics they prepare, and wooden picnic pods (each named after the wines) nestled under the shade of the tress for more privacy. The tasting room is great, nicely decorated and maintains some of its original features, it is open and airy with comfy chairs and tables dotted around whilst relaxing music plays in the background.

Firsts for us:

  • White Lady Chardonnay – Tropical notes of pineapple on the nose, toasty butterscotch nicely integrated flavours wrap around the tongue and softens the feel of the acidity.
  • Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2010 – Raspberry and cherry, fruit cake and spice, cassis, cedar and dark chocolate. Bright and juicy.
  • Trilogy 2010 – 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot, cherries, blackcurrants and dark chocolate notes, good fruit and tannin structure.

Also tasted:

  • Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Crisp acidity, lemon/lime citrus, peachy aromatics and herby.
  • The First Lady Chardonnay 2010 – Fresh tropical fruits, pineapple on the nose, crisp acidity with quite a viscous, rich mouth feel.
  • The First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 – Red and black fruits, cassis and violet, vanilla, pencil, savoury animal notes and liquorice, medicinal nuances, good tannic grip and acid balance. Served a little too warm though.
  • Three Cape Ladies 2010 – 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Shiraz, 32% Pinotage, peppery and spicy, needs food.

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The South African Winelands Low-down – Paarl & Swartland

Paarl

  • 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.

Star 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. 

Also tasted:

  • 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. 

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  • 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.

Ruth preferred:

  • 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!

Kel preferred:

  • Fairview Barbera – Ripe red fruits, cherry, savoury with soft tannins, a canny example.

Also tasted:

  • 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!

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  • KWV (£1.50 to taste 5 wines – The Mentors Tasting)

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!

Star Wines:

  • 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.

Also tasted:

  • 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. 

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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.

Also tasted:

  • 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.

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  • 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!

Also Tasted:

  • 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.

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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. 

Also tasted:

  • 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. 

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  • 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.

Also Tasted:

  • 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.

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Paarl and Swartland

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Painted Wolf Wines

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.

The South African Winelands Low-down – Helderberg

A very historic Estate that was transformed in the 1980’s when Anglo-American took it over and it became the meeting place for the first unbanned ANC meeting that also included Nelson Mandela just after release from his lengthy prison sentence. Beautiful grounds with stunning gardens and huge Camphor and Yellow trees almost 300 years old. Worth a day itself roaming around, tasting the wine, having lunch, enjoying the gardens and spotting the squirrels and birds.

  • Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012 – Very green with flint like minerality, would complement food well.
  • Semillon 2011 – Lovely lemony fresh wine with a creamy finish, lovely in the heat of the day.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009 – Savoury aromas with pencil shavings, elegant fruit and smooth tannins.
  • DNA 2006 – Cabernet Franc and Merlot, figs and herbs, savoury notes, quite unctuous and needs food. However, we felt the Cabernet Franc from Mont Rochelle was better value.

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A winery with a view this has got to be it. Perched on the edge of a hillside up a steep incline, where you drive past the bio-dynamically farmed vineyards, with horses and carts, the winery overlooks the breathtaking coastline at Somerset West. Huge glass windows open out to a terrace and allow all to enjoy the view.We sat and watched kestrels flying so close you could almost touch them, it was enthralling, whilst nibbling on a local cheese platter tasting the wine. Glass allows you to see the workings inside the winery too and the kitchen is open to view, so overall a working estate on show.

Oddly foie-gras is on the menu, which didn’t sit comfortably with us, and seemed contradictory to the Estate’s ethos of promoting nature and bio-dynamism. We did write to the Chef pointing this out but are yet to receive a reply.

  • Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Fresh citrus, light tropical fruit and herbaceous notes. 
  • Circumstance Viognier 2011 – Oranges and apricots, floral and lightly smokey. A lighter body than you expect from the nose and noticeable alcohol, although this grape is fairly high in alcohol and in South Africa it seems to show more.
  • Circumstance Merlot 2009 – Full and rich with concentrated fruit, strawberries and spice, dark sugar and fruitcake. The alcohol was warming on the finish.
  • Circumstance Shiraz 2009 – Full of figs, spicy fruitcake, with quite Port like aromas, surprisingly light body. 
  • Circumstance Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Earthy, minty and herby, hints of cedar. Still young with tannin but nicely balanced.
  • Circle of Life Red 2009 – Shiraz, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, red fruits, earthy and herby but the alcohol stood out which is possibly a reflection of the youth of the vines and bio-dynamic practice. It will be interesting to see how they develop over the years.

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The South African Winelands Low-down – Franschoek

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The drive through the valley to the estate is lovely and the ultra modern tasting room with terrace has a great view over the vineyards and mountains of the valley.

We bought the Wolftrap Viognier/Chenin Blanc/Grenache Blanc blend, which on tasting was light, floral and refreshing, perfect in the heat and we thought for our salad later. Although, it was a tad more aromatic than we had expected when we opened it on another evening, just goes to show the difference there can be between tasting a wine amongst others, the environment when doing so and then drinking the wine in its own right.

Having had, and enjoyed, our first taste of The Chocolate Block back home we were a little disappointed by this tasting, maybe we expected too much, with each vintage the proportions of grapes change and so there is bound to be variations, and we were advised it needs a bit of age on it but none of the wines we tasted made a huge impression, a little disappointing.

We also tried the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah, Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah/Viognier. 

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  • Boschendal (£2 to taste 5 wines or under £1 each to taste the limited release wines)

Beautiful, large grounds, with an outdoor tasting bar set under a huge tree. You are left to your own devices with the tasting and not given much information unless you listen in on a nearby tour tasting that is. We decided to try some of the limited release wines so plumped for the following (no vintage dates listed on the information given):

  • Le Grand Pavilion Brut Rosé Non-Vintage – A light pink, sweet glass of bubblyness, strawberries and cream says it all!
  • Shiraz Reserve – Strawberry bonbons, mulberry and sage.
  • Grande Reserve – Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, herby and violet fruits. 

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  • Chamonix (£4 to taste the reserve wines – fee waived with purchase)

A quite unassuming, boutique wine estate which you could easily drive past on the steep road out of Franschoek, with a cosy and friendly feeling. Relax at the beautifully crafted wooden tables and benches whilst enjoying a wonderful selection of beautifully well made wines.

Our Shining Stars:

  • Pinot Noir Reserve 2011 – I often struggle to truly understand when is the right time to use the word elegant, but this was definitely the right time. This had a wow factor! Hints of savouriness and earthiness, cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Chocolate. Light and elegant! Lovely acidity too.
  • Chardonnay Reserve 2011 – In one word ‘yummy’! Not very technical I know but the creamy, citrus, roundedness of this wine in my mouth was something I didn’t want to end, like a like lemon soufflé, so delicate but full of flavour. 

Also tasted:

  • Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012 – Well balanced blend of Sauvignon and Semillon, lovely smoky aroma, hints of lemon and herbaceousness, but not overpowering. Very smooth.
  • Troika 2010 – This was a good example of South African Bordeaux blend, cassis, perfumed notes, pencil and cedar, red fruits on the palate. Nicely integrated tannin.
  • Sadly the Greywacke Pinotage 2010 – 100% Pinot Noir, was sold out so we will have to find some as it is produced using the ripasso technique and we were intrigued to taste that. 

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Definitely one of favourite wine estates to visit. The drive up the valley and onto the estate, surrounded by horse enclosures and vineyards was spectacular. The house itself stood proudly overlooking all, shining white in the sun, dappled by the shade of the trees nearby. Once inside, it was like being transported to Cuba, with large wooden bar, terracotta coated walls and cosy wooden tables side by side. A very relaxed feel to the place and many back editions of the Platter guide to browse if you so wished.

The Wow Factor:

  • Miko Chardonnay 2009 – Complex and subtle, I would agree. Apricot and tangerine, white pepper, greengage. Nicely integrated oak, allows mineral notes balance. Delicate nutty flavours. Wonderful body and texture, silken. Not dissimilar in style to Hamilton Russell’s Chardonnay, praise indeed I feel.

Also tasted:

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Nicely flavoured and aromatic, distinct pineapple and tropical fruits, herbaceous undertones. Clean, crisp acidity balanced with a full mouth feel and creamy finish.
  • Unwooded Chardonnay 2010 – Clean fresh citrus with tropical aromas of melon and peach, a little lacking on the finish. 
  • Barrel fermented Chardonnay 2008 – Intensive citrus, bruised apple and pear aromas, knitted with butterscotch and mineral undertones. 
  • Merlot 2006 – Unpretentious and good at what it does best! Juicy red fruits, plums and mulberries, full and rounded mouthfeel. Suggested to drink with red meats including balsamic braised lamb shanks served with creamy mash and caramelised seasonal veg – anyone salivating at that? I certainly was.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – Well integrated even at 15.5% alcohol.  Cassis, black cherries, cigar box on the nose. Richly textured, lush and ripe blackberry, cassis and velvety juicy tannins. Thoroughly lovely drink.
  • Syrah 2006 – Black fruits, blackberry and violet, mint, pepper and spice, hints of cedar and dark chocolate. Quite powerful and seductive.

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Impressively large grounds, extremely well manicured and designed. Restaurant and tasting area you could spend hours in, cleverly built with glass walls to see into the cellar and the winery. There is also a fascinating Art Gallery and cosy area where you can sit and listen to Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg, one of South Africa’s leading mezzo-sopranos and owner of the Estate. You feel quite spoilt here.

Wines of Choice:

  • La Motte Shiraz 2009 – Lovely juicy berry fruit, sweet liquorice, violet and peppery spice. Hints of coffee, chocolate, strawberry and cream. Very smooth, soft, ripe tannins. An easy drinking Shiraz.
  • La Motte Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Made with organically grown grapes from the cooler Walker Bay area, this Sauvignon has ‘oomph’. Intense lemon, melon and green apple, herbaceous – described as the natural flora ‘fynbos’, tomato vine, all aligned with very crisp acidity.

Also tasted:

  • La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Easy drinking, aperitif style. Tropical fruit and soft character.
  • Le Motte Millennium 2010 – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Malbec and Petit Verdot – a bit of everything Bordeaux! A dusty, earthy nose with jammy raspberry fruit, velvety and juicy. A little confusing as it smells of Bordeaux and tastes of Australia. 
  • La Motte Chardonnay 2010 – Quite light in texture, pineapple tropical fruit and citrus, tinge of creaminess although tales off on the finish. 
  • La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Very much wild berries, cedar, cinnamon and dark chocolate on the nose. Full bodied with gripping tannins, a dry aftertaste. 
  • La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2009 – Inspired by the Côte Rôtie blend this wine has received 5 stars from John Platter. The Viognier (10%) certainly adds a lively element to the spiciness of the Shiraz. It smells hot and spicy. 
  • La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Grenache 2008 – Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre with 2% Carignan, fruitcake flavours and spice, hints of bonfire wood, quite feisty but expected more body.

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The South-African Winelands Low-down – Elgin & Walker Bay

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Elgin

Served a tasting by Dr Cluver himself certainly made this a visit to remember. When Kelvyn asked for the Gewürztraminer, Dr Cluver surprisingly asked that surely he wanted to try the Sauvignon Blanc, that’s what everyone asks for. No, we would like to taste the Gewürtz out of interest and boy were we pleased, fabulous, fabulous wine! Dr Cluver asked if we would like to taste the grapes themselves that were due in soon from the vineyard. As we waited he made us a pot of tea, brought out some tasty homemade shortbread biscuits and sat with us chatting, at his stunning handmade wooden table with benches nestled under a tree in front of the winery. We couldn’t have wished for a better morning How wonderful. And the grapes? … well, they actually tasted like floral rose Turkish delight, so ripe and aromatic, amazing.

You can really sense the cooler climate affect on these wines, much more delicate and leaner, more European in a sense, less New World. Well crafted and tasty.

The Unexpected X-Factor Winner:

  • Gewürztraminer 2012 – Spicy, honeysuckle, jasmine, rose Turkish delight, fresh acidity, lovely and enjoyable.

Also tasted:

  • Estate Riesling 2011 – Off dry more German style, vibrant, steely and mineral.
  • Close Encounter Riesling 2012 – Spätlese sweeter style, residual sugar balanced well by acidity, citrus apple and lime, hint of floral. 
  • Pinot Noir 2010 – Delicate and full of wild berries, cherry and cranberry. Hints of earthiness, chocolate and violet, soft and smooth. Good example.

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Walker Bay

Beautifully situated small and intimate tasting room overlooking the reservoir and surrounded by the vines rolling across nearby hillsides. Peaceful! The winery itself is small and focuses on producing terroir specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, their quality stands out and shows they are right to concentrate on doing these well. We had the pleasure of meeting the winemaker, Hannes Storm, who was more than happy to talk to us about his wines and let us stroll around the winery.

It’s the first place we have seen use of clay pots too, which was fabulous. What impact does that method have on the wine? An interesting topic for more discussion …

  • Chardonnay 2012 – Citrus and pear, complex and bright, has its own personality. Having tasted the 2010 at a recent tasting back in England we were equally impressed by the style of this wine.
  • Pinot Noir 2010 – Burgundian in style, red fruits, raspberry, cherry and plum underlaid by earth and spice, elegant and age worthy.

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The South African Winelands Low-down – Constantia & Cape Town

With the trusty John Platter wine guide 2013 in hand we were ready to hit South Africa’s wine estates (purchased in Verbatim Bookstore (http://www.stellenbosch-unlimited.co.za/verbatim/index.html) Stellenbosch and on offer, even better!)

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Wine Estates to visit:

Constantia

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A lovely hidden away wine estate with a laid back feel. Grab a sofa or table looking out onto the courtyard with palm trees and fountain, then get your tastings at the bar as and when you’re ready. The staff are happy to chat and answer your questions. An amazing amount of tastings for the price, possibly the best value of the trip, and there was no scrimping on portion size. All quite light in style.

Our Star Wine:

Cabernet Franc 2009 – pleasant nose and quite a tasty example. Cherry, rhubarb, green pepper, something a bit animal and hints of chicory charcoal.

Also tasted:

  • Buiten Blanc 2012 – a simple, easy drinking Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend, a hint of residual sugar on the finish.
  • Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – quite a subtle Sauvignon with green grass and herb aromas, hints of blackcurrant leaf, but a creamy, soft butteriness that was unexpected.
  • Chardonnay 2012 – zingaling! Quite a crisp, citrus style oozing pineapple, with a creamy roundness to it.
  • Loose Cannon 2010 – 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, more tropical, mango, nectarine, pungent, wet pebbles and wafts of kerosene (if I dare say), little bit metallic on the finish. Matches the name I think!
  • Blanc de Noir 2012 – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc. Very fruity with crisp acidity, lots of strawberry with herbaceous hints, fruit disappears a little on the finish but good acidity for a hot day!
  • Brut-Non vintage – 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. Huge mousse and large bubbly beads. Tropical tones of pineapple and bready, yeasty aromas. Quite sharp acidity, wow, wakes your taste buds up!
  • Meifort 2008 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec. A very Bordeaux-esque nose savoury meat and blood aromas (odd I know), fruit and spice comes through nicely.
  • Merlot 2009 – Quite light bodied with plum, fruit cake and savoury aromas, the finish felt a little watery.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – Full bodied with dark fruit and fruitcake aromas, cherry and rhubarb. Something a bit medicinal in there too.
  • Christine 2008 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Pleasant savoury aromas, pencil wood and dark red fruits. Hoped for a bit more on the body and hit by the alcohol but it may need more time.

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Ah, a blast from the past, we came here almost 6 years ago on our honeymoon and never dreamt then that we’d be back doing this wine tour of the area. Beautiful, large grounds worthy of a saunter around and a large tasting room, with art covering all walls, buzzing with visitors.

  • Cap Classique 2009 – Crisp and cleansing, apple flavours and acidic bite with a touch of creamy richness in the mouth.
  • Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Ripe summer fruits, grapefruit, pear and hints of grass and herb, a little tart.
  • Pinotage 2011 – Full bodied with dark red fruits, dark chocolate and ripe plums, summery cooked fruits, hints of spice and caramel on the finish.
  • Gouverneurs Reserve 2010 – 37% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec. Ripe and rich red fruits, hints of vanilla and peppery spice, cherry, plum, blackcurrant, alcohol showed on the finish. We have tasted more balanced blends for a lower price tag.
  • Cape Ruby 2010 (Port) – Aromas of redcurrant and pomegranate, muscovado sugar and fresh tea! Alcohol quite prominent. Preferred the Simonsig Port for richness of flavour.

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A bit smaller than expected and not as grand as some of the other wineries visited. The advisors are very helpful and friendly and you are invited to taste the wines at the tasting counter and can see the workings of the winery from walkways above the tanks. Enjoyed the company of the winery’s very friendly pooch.

The Wow Factor:

  • Vin de Constance 2007 – Golden amber, orange/lemon rind and marmalade, spice, apricot, peach syrup, very long finish. Apparently it got 97 Parker points too if that is your thing.

Also tasted:

  • Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Lots of apple, pear, grass and herb, crisp and clean.
  • Riesling 2012, the first from their new vineyard, spicy ginger, jasmine, lime, lemon turkish delight, alcohol quite noticeable.
  • Madame Marlbrook 2010 – Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and 10% Chardonnay which had 10 months in oak. Citrus nose, smoky pistachio. Needs to be drunk in next 6 months.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – Bordeaux style, dark fruits and hints of spice, a young wine still needing time to knit together.
  • Shiraz 2010 – limited release of 1600 bottles due to being such a good year, but it is usually kept for the blends. Fruit cake and hints of spice but still a bit closed as it’s young.
  • Marlbrook 2009 – Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, 2% Shiraz and 24 months in oak. Pencil shaving nose, redcurrant, bramble, vanilla,  balanced.
  • Anwilka 2008 – Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with new oak. Concentrated red fruits abound, full flavoured with balanced acid and tannin, bit warm on the finish.

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  • Steenberg (free tasting for 6 wines, flagship range costs £4 for 5 wines)

A large golf hotel complex and winery. Beautiful bar and wine tasting area, with calming water feature. Love the art works in many of these wine estates, where glass is adventurously used to create chandeliers and all sorts of funky installations. Very knowledgeable, informative wine advisor.

Our Star Wine:

  • Steenberg Semillon 2011 – The best we tasted! Zesty and lemony but not tart, had a buttery leesiness and touch of oak, very well integrated. Round and smooth in the mouth, with good body. Can imagine this developing more but it was lovely to have now.

Also tasted:

  • Steenberg 1682 Chardonnay, Méthode Cap Classique – is made from grapes from the Robertson region. A nice aperitif in hot weather, bursting with granny smith, crsip green apple and cleansing, zesty acidity.
  • Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2011 – Made from a block of grapes 23 years old, due to be removed and replanted in a year’s time. More of a foody wine, crisp with gooseberry, citrus and hints of tropical fruits. Crisp and zesty, acidity balanced with a hint of residual sugar.
  • Magna Carta 2010 – Steenberg’s icon wine, made from 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon. Green apple cuts through the roundness of the wine, pungent with gooseberry. An interesting wine maybe more suited to food.
  • Steenberg Shiraz 2010 – Juicy and drinkable! Dark brambly fruits, ripe strawberry and raspberry, aroma of muscovado sugar in there. The oak and alcohol is integrated, with soft tannins, an earthy tone, light spice and hints of clove.
  • Catharina 2009 – Lovely! Made from 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc. Blackcurrant and fruit pastilles, quite light on the nose, well integrated oak and unintrusive tannins. A lighter styled Bordeaux blend.
  • Nebbiolo 2010 – Sadly sold out, which says a lot! We hope to try this one day.

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Cape Town

On a day off from visiting wineries, we came across Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar in the Victoria and Albert Dock shopping centre, in Cape Town, that had a good range of wines of offer.

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Our own personal International Wine Challenge

Our own personal International Wine Challenge

“The Challenge can break you! Are you prepared for really hard work, emotionally and physically demanding, relentless and exhausting! You need to be sure you can handle this. Do you think you can?” Was more or less what we were asked at our interview in February when we jovially hopped into Chris’s office in London all excited about the prospect of being selected to work as part of the crew on the International Wine Challenge 2013. We were under no illusion that it was going to be tough and were already mentally preparing ourselves for it, but still to hear someone say that it has broken people was slightly freaky and I just hoped to God I could keep up the pace and not be weak.

Wow – we survived. We learnt a lot about wine and tasting, the competition judging process, working as part of an eclectic team of people, who we are proud to have worked with.

What a great experience!

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