Monday and Tuesday proved to be very much a game of two halves – much of Monday being spent tasting wines which, for one reason or another were no longer available, not yet available or just didn’t quite click – sorry guys!
Thank God for Tuesday.
A hike down to Hemel-en-Aarde brought us to a much greener landscape and an appointment with wannabe surfer dude Gerhard Smith at La Vierge. Apparently the hot ticket locally for the annual winemakers’ party requires a certain degree of surfing proficiency – Gerhard is determined to make it if he doesn’t drown in the process.
It has to be said that not only is the scenery impressive in this neck of the woods but La Vierge is rubbing shoulders with some pretty illustrious neighbours – Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson being a matter of a few hundred yards down the road. Gerhard has only been here a matter of about 4 years after working in Martinborough, New Zealand for a number of years previously but it is clear that he is already having something of an impact as the estate gains wider recognition. The cooler climate and maritime influence that the region enjoys not only afford Gerhard and his neighbours the benefit of longer hang time and later picking but also open doors to varietals that struggle in hotter climates – whilst Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals still flourish, Pinot Noir is, perhaps, the area’s strong suit.
Tasting with Gerhard, one has first to come to terms with a range of labels that qualify in the “interesting” category – all will become clear.
1) Last Temptation Riesling 2015
Fine citrus style – early picked to retain acidity and fermented to dryness. Bone dry with an intriguing minerality. 15+
2) Original Sin Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Riper style of Sauvignon with the addition of 6% barrel fermented Semillon. Very round with more than a hint of sweetness on the finish. Not complex by any means but massively appealing and drinkable. 15
3) Jezebelle Chardonnay 2016
Restrained style of Chardonnay – light and delicate with some creamy tones. 15
4) Seduction Pinot Noir 2015
Tight, light, fresh style. Lovely ripeness of fruit underpinned by bright acidity. 15+
5) The Affair Pinot Noir 2015
Really lovely ripe fruit – restrained and elegant but seriously appealing with a beautifully cleansing acidity on the finish. 16+
6) La Vierge Noir 2013
Generous but by no means “soupy” this is really classy Pinot that punches well above its weight; ripe but with a sense of delicacy. Very good indeed. 17++
7) Nymphomane 2014
Bordeaux blend – 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec. Very good, very Cabernet. Juicy and supple but with a decent amount of grip and drinkability in spades.
Whatever one’s thoughts as to the idiosyncratic nature of the labels, this is a very serious range indeed and offers fantastic value.
Parting company with Gerhard, we barely paused for breath before a 2 hour drive up to Robertson and a meeting with Lourens Van der Westhuizen at his property, Arendsig. In truth, the first hour or so of our visit was spent with sales and marketing consultant Colyn Truter as this is, uncompromisingly, a working winery and Lourens was in the middle of harvest. We have been fortunate to visit some stunningly beautiful wineries over the past 10 days, many with stylish restaurants and showpiece cellars but this is the reality of winemaking for so many – battling against shortage of space and ferments that won’t do as they’re told to create wines of unbelievable class.
All the wines are very site specific with the block no. stated on the label together with the (frequently tiny) number of bottles produced. Elegance and balance are the keywords here, together with length; these are wines that just beg to be drunk.
1) Sauvignon Blanc 2016 5,000 bottles produced
Restrained nose, flinty style. 6 months in tank on fine lees. Penetrating acidity and long finish. 15+
2) Chardonnay 2016
Fermented in a mix of foudres and smaller formats. Restrained notes – light pineapple and minerality. Very long, slatey mineral tones. Great balance. 16
3) Inspirational Batch Chenin 2016
23 year old vineyard managed by Lourens. Really appealing, nutty style. Interesting and beautifully textured. Great length. 16+
4) Viognier 2016
Wasn’t looking forward to this as I find so much Viognier just too intense but this is really lovely. Great minerality, everything is restrained and toned down – beautiful balance and very, very food friendly. 17++
5) Shiraz 2015
Bright red fruit character – hints towards leatheriness but not OTT. Massively drinkable with a twist of black pepper on the very long finish. 16
6) Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Delicious, juicy style. Fermented in 5,000 ltr foudres and 4-5 year old smaller formats this is scarcely touched by oak but has a fine, underlying richness and depth. Lovely red fruit core and great backbone. 17+
Nearly done now – one more visit to old friends, Gary and Kathy Jordan tomorrow before our adventure ends and we have to start finding markets for a whole new array of wines.
Watch this space…..