May the Force of Vriesenhof be With You

The Maestro: Jan Boland Coetzee

WHEN Wine Magazine recently held a Chardonnay tasting comparing South African Chardonnays,to those from Australia, the selector of the local line-up showed the kind of short sightedness a Springbok rugby selector would have been proud. (His fellow chrome-dome Oz counterpart was not much better, but who gives a stuff about Bruce and co.?)

How do you put a representative slice of South African Chardonnay on the table without including wines from two winemakers who pioneered the variety in South Africa and whose wines are internationally revered among Burgundy disciples?

In Beaune, capital of Burgundy, Danie de Wet and Jan Boland Coetzee are recognised as having of the finest Chardonnay minds outside of spitting distance from the Hospice de Beaune. Since the early 1980’s they have worked tirelessly towards capturing the essence of the wonderful Chardonnay grape 10,000kms from its spiritual home through the kind of tireless toil and nurturing it takes to make a sensitive foreigner feel at home.

De Wetshof and its vinous legacy is still South Africa’s benchmark for Chardonnay, while Coetzee’s Vriesenhof Chardonnays are massive, intense and jaw-dropping. Add to this the fact that at the Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole in Beaune Coetzee is recognized as having one of the keenest Chardonnay palates outside of France, and Wine’s omission of his wine is more confusing.

But such errors are par for the course in hastily put-together charades such as pitting Oz against SA.

Coetzee’s Burgundian ethos is, however, currently on show in a very impressive wine. A Pinotage nogal.

The Vriesenhof Limited Release 2007 is from a mature block of Pinotage Coetzee had been eyeing for some time. But with Coetzee, the gap between eyeing and doing something about it depends on a lot of things: the stars, the mood, the market, timing, the smell of the juice?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+.The 2007 vintage seems to have seen everything falling into place, and the wine was released a few months ago.

As usual, the wine comes in a bottle heavy enough to ding a Hummer and upon the first pour you know this animal is not for the feint-hearted. The colour is dark enough to comply with the most stringent of BEE credentials. A massive smell of wine, oak and grapes spills out of the glass. The first sip is a heady hit of intense Pinot Noir-inspired earthly power.

If you want idle, leisurely dinner table conversation to continue, best not open this wine. It will silence Julius Malema, and then some.

I must confess, the first experience was a bit awe-inspiring and too potent for the time of the evening I pulled the cork. The fact that a wine of such girth and intensity could only have 13,5% alcohol was also hard to believe.

After a glass I corked it and chucked it in the fridge, a work in progress.

Some 21 hours later the same wine as back on the table. It had opened up, calmed down after the rude awakening of a day earlier. Now there was liquorice, black fruit, cloves and a hint of scorched koala bear fur in the glass. It was Pommard on steroids, full and plush with not a scarcely a glimpse of variety character. A delicioius, unique and heady wine. Son of the soil, stuff.

But this puts the Vriesenhof Limited release in the same boat as Kanonkop’s Black Label and Ashbourne, wines that are full-on Pinotage but do not allow themselves to be corralled into the herd of similarity.

In fact, the Kanonkop Black Label 2007 is even more Burgundy than the Vriesenhof. There as a velvet fist and lyrical fruit expression that most Pinot Noirs can be proud from these Kanonkop Pinotage Vineyards that were once tended by the very same Jan Boland Coetzee.

Any co-incidence?

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2 thoughts on “May the Force of Vriesenhof be With You

  1. As I was the person responsible for selecting the local line-up, let me say that I have great respect for the work done with Chardonnay by Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee and Danie de Wet. The number of producers from Australia was always going to be limited for practical reasons and this, in turn, placed a cap on who featured from South Africa. There were many other labels that I regreted not being able to include such as Vergelegen Reserve and Jordan Nine Yards.

    Unlike the team picked by the Springbok rugby selectors, however, the wines that were chosen performed. See
    http://www.whatidranklastnight.co.za/opinion-and-analysis/chardonnay-reconsidered/

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