31 March 2019

WoTM - Beyerskloof Synergy 2017

My Wine of The Month for March is Beyerskloof Synergy 2017 WO Stellenbosch.

I enjoyed many superb wines in the Cape during March. De Waal's Top of the Hill 2015, especially when tasted in the vineyard, Vin de Francois 2017 at its launch, Neethlingshof ‘Owl Post’ 2017, Delheim’s ‘Vera Cruz Estate’ 2016 and ‘Vleiland Vineyard’ 2015,  Môreson ‘The Widow Maker’ 2015, Flagstone ‘Writer's Block’ 2016 and Lanzerac ‘Pionier’ 2014 to mention but a few.

So why Synergy? It was a revelation. It is a wine I thought I knew well, and one I’ve oft bought back home at Sainsbury’s supermarket.

But this 2017 vintage wine in the Cape is a blend of six varieties. To the usual trio of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is added Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. 

And what, apart from the taste, makes it so desirable to me, is that I found that I can’t buy it back home. When I made a special journey to Sainsbury’s they had Beyerskloof Synergy 2017 but this is a different bottling. It differs in having only the first three varieties and is WO Western Cape. 

So Synergy 2017 WO Stellenbosch it is, with its fresh brambly fruit and spicyness and underlying structure. Completly satisfying.

23 March 2019

Three (Not so) Cape Ladies

Warwick Estate was one of the first with a Cape Blend. Three Cape Ladies was a Pinotage based blend and Warwick also produced the well-respected Old Bush Vine Pinotage.

Currently though, according to Platter, Pinotage appears only in their Rosé

Three Cape Ladies 2015 is a blend of Bordeaux varieties only, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc with Merlot; very similar in cepage to Trilogy, while half the price.

An American investment company bought Warwick from the Ratcliffe family in 2017. The nearby Uitkyk Estate was also bought for its vineyards to be used for the Warwick label.

But I met Uitkyk’s viticulturist Rudy Buys who told me that he is planting more Pinotage, so hopefully we’ll see a Warwick varietal and a Pinotage led Three Cape Ladies again

20 March 2019

2019 Vintage Challenging but Pinotage is Looking Good

Winemakers in the Cape tell me that the 2019 vintage is challenging. Rain, heavy at times and low clouds on hills during the end of March affected late harvested varieties. Where air couldn’t circulate among tight bunches a malady called slip-skin caused skins to fall off grapes.
Also, after three years of drought, vines are over stressed and are starting to drop leaves.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec are being harvested earlier than desired. With lower sugar levels the resulting wines are expected to have lower than usual alcohol levels.

If there is sufficient rain vines are expected to recover for the next season.

However, early ripening grapes including Pinotage were harvested ripe and in good condition and this is expected to be good vintage for Pinotage, while maybe not as great as  2017. Time will tell.

Another severe challenge for wineries is load-shedding. Power cuts, up to 3 a day and each 2½ - 3 hours in duration are a real problem in wineries, even those with  generators to keep essential machinery running don't have lighting.


09 March 2019

Oldest Pinotage Vineyard Walk

Pieter De Waal in Top of the Hill vineyard

One Saturday each month in summer winery owner Pieter De Waal leads an amble upwards through his vines to The Top of The Hill vineyard. There, under the shade of an old wild fig tree he uncorks and pours a bottle of the wine made from that old vineyard.

There is now just half a hectare of these 70 year old bush vines that produce 2 – 2.5 tons a of grapes a year, yielding fewer than 3,000 bottles.
Old vine in Top of the Hill vineyard

The Top of The Hill is the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. The wine is aged around 18 months in new French oak barriques and is the estate’s flagship wine. Two other Pinotages are produced, De Waal Pinotage, a surprisingly enjoyable quaffable wine and the more serious new oak-aged De Waal ‘C T De Waal’ Pinotage.

The latter honours Charl Theron de Waal who not only made the very first Pinotage wine in 1941, but encouraged his father and grandfather to plant the new variety on the family farm. Unwilling to pull up any established vines, space was found on an otherwise unwanted flat area of sandy soil near the top of the hill, above the reservoir. This poor soil turned out to perfectly suit Pinotage.
Top of the Hill vineyard

Charl Theron De Waal was a lecturer on winemaking at Elsenburg agricultural college.  By 1941 enough Pinotage vines had been propagated to produce a barrel of wine and De Waal made it at Welgevellen’s experimental winery and in later years at Elsenburg.

I’d booked for the vineyard walk the previous year but it was cancelled after Pieter had an accident. This March’s was the last walk of the summer. 

In total eight of us walked with Pieter who took care to make frequent stops to explain the history of the family and this farm which dates from 1682.
Getting ready to taste

While the dirt tracks are uneven, the walk was easy and at the top Pieter had set out chairs under the shade of the tree where water, and a generous pour of Top of The Hill Pinotage 2015 were waiting.

Back at the winery a cheese platter was waiting with pours of De Waal’s wines; Young Vines Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Merlot. The three Pinotages, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Signal Rock, a Merlot/Cabernet blend with 14% Pinotage.

As well as tasting these wines at the winery, we bought the zingy savvie and the following bottles to enjoyed with dinner.

DeWaal Pinotage 2016 12.7% abv
This came as a freebie in a twin box with the Top of The Hill. The box called it the ‘sexy sister’. What good is a free wine? As it turned out, very good indeed. It’s a most enjoyable easy drinking wine with red plum and raspberry flavours and a most friendly alcohol level. From what DeWaal call younger vines, but at 25-30 years other might call old.

DeWaal ‘C T DeWaal Pinotage 2015 12.41%abv
This really shone at the tasting after the walk, spicy fresh open and inviting with sweet black plums on the palate, and the bottle we took back didn’t disappoint with dinner a few nights later,
Vines 40-50 years old, 12 months in 225-litre French barriques (60% new, 40% second fill)

DeWaal ‘Top of the Hill’ Pinotage 2015 12.6%abv
This is historic in all senses of the meaning, from the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. Only released in February 2018 it would benefit with more time in bottle. Its relatively low alcohol doesn’t prepare one for its intensity, or its brooding power. We drank it in the vineyard and again back at the winery and took a bottle home where it superbly accompanied roasted lamb shanks. Layers of flavours – plums, mulberry, spices and underlying typical Pinotage sweetness – backed by fine tannins.
68-year-old vines, aged 18 months in 100% new 225-litre French oak barriques.

DeWaal’s Top of the Hill vineyard walks can be booked via the website.

Back of the box


05 March 2019

Visiting Aaldering Vineyards

Aaldering Vineyards saw their first harvest in 2007 with the first release in 2009. Owners Marianne and Fons Aaldering bought the farm, then called Hidden Valley, in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, in 2004. The Aalderings home is The Netherlands where they owned airline catering companies.

Fons Aaldering - and Pinotage vineyard

It was their first winery and Fons knew what he wanted. Only the best. “Nothing but five Platter stars will do,” says marketing managing Gert-Jan Posthuma, “and if they make six stars the best, then that’s what we want. We never stop striving.”
Cellar with computer controlled tanks

To that end they have built a new computer-controlled winery in 2013. Tanks can be set to a particular temperature of within a range. If limits are breached a message is texted to winemaker P J Geyer’s mobile phone and he can use it to change settings.
P J Geyer - winemaker

They buy 30% of their oak barrels new from four different French coopers in France each year. 30% of wines are aged in the new barrels, the rest in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill.

Wines are aged for approximately 24 months before being pumped into tanks, and fined and filtered before bottling. They use mobile bottling line and are intending getting their own labelling machine. The bottles come from France. The Bordeaux shaped bottles have a broad neck and taper downwards. “We are the only winery in South Africa to use this shape,” says Gert-Jan.

Aaldering annually produce 120K bottles in their premium range and 30K in the Florence range.

The winery roof is clad in solar panels. “On a sunny day, like today”, said Gert-Jan, “we are totally off the grid.” Which is invaluable currently when Eskom, South Africa’s electricity supplier, can’t cope with demand and is making rolling power outages.
Aaldering Winery and Cellars - Cold store is behind small double doors in centre

The winery incorporates a cold store where just picked grapes are brought down to 6C.
Guest cottages

The winery buildings are attractively designed. Three spacious guest lodges, furnished with antique furniture and modern kitchens and televisions, are housed in a traditional Cape Dutch building that looks as if has stood for hundreds of years, but was recently designed and built under the Aaldering’s direction.

When I visited the large vineyard that stretched the length of the property was bare, its red soil waiting for wooden poles stacked by the side that would hold trellis wines. “That was Shiraz,” Gert-Jan told me. “But it’s a hot slope and Vinpro and viticulture experts from the University took samples and both agreed it was the best place for Cabernet Sauvignon, so that’s is what we’ll be planting. 
Pinotage vineyard and pool in front of guest cottages

The 6ha Pinotage vineyard was planted in 1997 and  is on the opposite side  at the top of a slope. “We’re 155 metres above sea level here,” said Gert-Jan, pointing down the valley “and we get a stiff cool breeze from False Bay in the evening.”  
L>R - Gert-Jan Posthuma, P J Geyer, Fons Aaldering

Inside the luxurious tasting room owner Fons Aaldering and winemaker P J Geyer are in earnest conversation over mugs of coffee.

I sit on the veranda, overlooking vineyards, with a wooden platter holding eight tasting samples.

Aaldering make four Pinotages, two red, a white and a rosé. Also tasted were a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and a Cabernet-Merlot blend.

Unusually and most creatively, each wine has a tasting note in the form of a poem. These were written by the winemaker and his wife.*

Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Crisp and dry with racy acidity and a very long aftertaste which lasted so long I held off tasting the next wine. Lovely!! Ten year-old vines. 14.32% abv.

Pinotage Blanc 2017
There are not many white Pinotages on the market. This was not done any favours by being presented after the expressive savvie. It was light bodied, clean and refreshing, with a underlying creaminess. A super aperitif wine. Aged on lees for four months. 20 year old vines, 13.05% abv.

Chardonnay 2017
A very expressive wine, flowery and mouthfilling. A blend of three components: free run juice fermented in stainless steel, pressed juice in stainless steel tank and 30% barrel fermented in 2nd, 3rd and 4th fill 300L barrels, all undergoing regular battonage. 10 year old vines.14.17% abv.

Pinotage Rosé 2018
This is an ethereally pale pink, reminding me of Provence. It offers clean, fresh  rose-petal and strawberry flavours. From 20 year old vines, 13.5 % abv.

Lady M Pinotage 2018
This is an unwooded wine, named in honour of Marianne Aaldering and her favourite wine. There’s crystallised violets on the nose and even without barrel aging is quite grippy with drying tannins. A food wine for sure.   A vineyard selection;  grapes  hand harvested, destemmed but not crushed. Five days sold soaking at 14C  before gentle pressing at five Balling. 13.8% abv.

Pinotage 2016
This tastes older than the vintage suggests, with spiciness, hints of dark chocolate with a suggestion of mushrooms underneath.  18 year old vines, 14.69% abv.

Shiraz 2015
Classic Shiraz, with spices and fresh ground pepper od black fruits. 15 year old vines, 14.48% abv.

Cabernet Merlot 2012
This doesn’t taste its age, it is full of youthful bright punchy berry fruit flavours. Great drinking now, would age further. 60% Cab/40% Merlot from 13/14 year-old vines. After malo in stainless steel tanks, wines were aged for 25 months in 35% new 225 litre  French oak barrels before blending. 15% abv.

Thanks to Gert-Jan Poshuma for showing me winery.

* Tasting poems for all of Aalderings range are on the last pages of the fourth edition of Aalderings magazine, available in PDF format from www.aaldering.co.za/magazine 

03 March 2019

Le Vin de Francois 2017 Launched at Auction

Le Vin de François 2017 was launched last night at auction. The location of the annual auction is a secret with not even owner-winemaker François Naudé Snr knowing where his transport will take him.

Our car hurtled away from the winelands along the N2 into the heart of Cape Town and stopped by a red carpet where we were greeted by a stilt walker, clown and ring master who showed us to Zip Zap Circus’s Big Top.
Francois Jr and Melissa show how to take entrance tickets

There we took our entrance ticket, in the form of canapes on spoons held by hands sticking out through holes in a screen and were greeted by organisers Melissa Naudé and François Naudé Jnr.

Under a tent roof outside Champagne Soutinard was being generously poured and works of art inspired by the winelands were on display with their creators to discuss them. These works would form part of some lots in the auction to follow with proceeds going to support the school they attended.
Francois Naude

At dinner in the Big Top, François Naudé Snr quoted the head of industry body Vinpro who said that 2017 was an ‘exceptional vintage’. The rating of exceptional was itself exceptional, said François, when good and very good were usually the highest praise.

François said his Vin de François 2017 echoed the excellent 2015 vintage in that it had ‘complexity, intensity and drinkability’.

2017 was hot and dry with cooler nights, said François. The absence of heatwaves obviated the effects of drought and vines produced healthy grapes which were small with intensity of flavour.

2017 Vin de François is a blend of barrels sourced from Beyerskloof, Delheim, Grangehurst (for the first time) , Kanonkop, Lanzerac, L’Avenir, Rijks and Simonsig.
Main course: Slow roast lamb with dates, cashew nuts  & rosemary, wrapped in crispy phyllo, served on crushed buttery potatoes, pumpkin fritters and a melange of vegetables.

This wine accompanied the main course. It was rich, with lush Pinotage sweetness and an intensity of flavour. Great drinking now, but François promised that aging it would reward those who could wait.

Enjoying Vin de Francois 2017

The first course was paired with various white wines, including Beyerskloof’s Chenin Pinotage blend. With after-dinner treats, served outside, was pot stilled brandy and cigars.
Circus entertainment during dinner

The auction price paid for a bottle of 2017 was around 1,000R, with larger lots winning bids at a lower unit price. The smallest lot was 12 bottles, the largest 48 bottles. Some lots included magnums and larger formats and some included art works. The auctioneer was Joey Burke.

Vin de François comes in beautifully designed boxes. The lids are closed with two wing nuts, easy opening and closing.

Ah, but how do you stack them?

How about this. Two holes in the bottom align with wingnuts on box below, and bottles in box leave space.

There are also some clear soft pads stuck on the bottom of the boxes so wood doesn’t rest on wood. And the boxes cannot slide off because they are anchored with wingnuts anchored in the box above. 
Wood is solid and good quality with proper joints sand-papered smooth. The upper hand holds slope upwards inside for easy handling.

A wingnut is the logo of Vin de François.

01 March 2019

March is Pinotage Month

March is Pinotage Month ccording to Chowhound.com in an article titled Try a New Wine Every Month in 2019  and illustrated with a picture of Beaumont Estate's Pinotage

A brooding, intense red with dark fruit, smoke, and herbs, try Pinotage on a March day that is more lion than lamb.

I'll drink to that. 

Incidentally, Beaumont is not the only South African wine in the article. Fairview Bushvine Cinsaut shown for June.