The folks responsible for the demarcation of the Cape Winelands have turned some weird tricks in their time, but non as crazy as in drawing the borders between Stellenbosch and Paarl in the Simonsberg vicinity. Cruising the R44 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ South Africa’s Golden Highway in wine terms – Wine of Origin Stellenbosch suddenly becomes WO Paarl. Just like that. No warning, no perceptible change in landscape or terroir. One moment things are Le Bonheur and Lievland and Stellenbosch, and then suddenly the origin system turns to Paarl without any logic, rhyme or reason.
One of the estates finding itself in this piece of vinous no-man’s land is Marianne. About as Stellenbosch as an earthy Bordeaux blend and an inebriated third year philosophy student, Marianne is ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ along with neighbour Mont Destin ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ one of Paarl’s most far-flung Estates, adding to the current confusion and disarray within this region.
But as the wine authorities would have one know, “you is what you is”, so here Marianne is an essentially Stellenbosch farm corralled into the Paarl region having to count Anura and Glen Carlou as its neighbours while WO Stellenbosch’s Le Bonheur and Lievland are within cork-popping distance.
Marianne is owned by Bordeaux supremo Christian Dauriac of Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau Destieux fame who roped in the services of high-flying consultant Michel Rolland to help cut-out the Estate’s future path from the first vintage in 2004. Since then Marianne has been doing a good job of flying below the radar, grabbing an award here-and-there and generating some talk of a none-too shabby Pinotage. All in all, French restraint has been the buzzword, with the ineffectiveness of the Paarl Wine Region’s marketing body assisting in maintaining this low profile.
As things tend to go in the wine fraternity, two bottles of Marianne wines found their way to my modest cellar recently. I looked at them with trepidation ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ I remembered tasting some of the younger reds a few years back and baulking at their intenseness. Then they were the kind of wines you need to fasten a seatbelt for before consuming. Pummelled extraction. Rip-roaring alcohol. Gum burning tannins.
Time is, however, a wonderful thing. So during a recent cold snap in the Cape Spring I hauled out the two Mariannes noticing they were ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ by South African standards ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ not youngsters no more. The Shiraz was 2007 and the Pinotage 2005, both heralded as good vintages at the time.
The Pinotage opened the floor as French faith in South Africa’s signature variety has to be respected. Most surprising was the freshness of the wine. 2005 was the third of three extraordinarily hot vintages in a row, and with Marianne’s 18ha of vines lying in the little mountain bowl away from the cooling south easterly breezes I’d expected a ripe, stewed wine, especially seeing as the thing was over six years old.
But no. The Pinotage had bright red fruit with uncharacteristic cedar whiffs usually reserved for Simonsberg’s Cabernets. An intriguing minerality abounds in the wine, possibly the result of the soils’ having a lower clay content than that found on the Simonsberg’s upper slopes. Despite a hefty 15% alcohol, the wine has a lightness and grace which should see it develop in style over another six.
The Shiraz was, however, the real revelation. Only getting into its stride after four years, this wine has massive power whilst maintaining elegance and refinement. It’s all a bit like Nureyev dancing to a kwaito song, this is.
On the one side there is sunny plush fruit, oodles of it. Mulberry and cherry and black-current, with a heady mix of toasted spices including cardamom, clove and coriander. Yes, all those sexy, in-your-face New World elements that have led to the all-conquering forward push of Shiraz.
Yet, at the same time, Marianne’s Shiraz maintains a regal golden thread. There is the evocative smooth finish instead of the typical New World alcoholic back-burn. And a hint of white pepper and the refined grip give the wine an all-round intelligence that should see it among South Africa’s top interpretations of this variety.
Expect to hear more from Marianne. Dauriac has sent Parisian-New Yorker businessman Alex Brodbeck to run things. And together with Cape Town born-and-bred wife Jana, Alex’s influence may soon see no-man’s land being the place everyone wants to get a piece of.