Each time I am embraced by the charm of Devon Valley, it feels like being dragged onto a trip back in time. Devon Valley is what the Stellenbosch Wine Route used to look like before the crowded highways, golf courses, housing developments and rural furniture joints took-over.
The Valley is quite and serene. There is a true rural feel about. Birdsong is not drowned out by the roar of Toyota Prados. Friendly farm-workers still nod their heads in respect as you drive by, without asking for a hand-out. And the countryside aroma of cow-dung hangs in the still air, although that might be Dave Hughes lighting up a cigar from further up the road.
It really is a hidden little gem. The scenery is not as viscerally spectacular as from Helshoogte or up Helderberg way, but there is something comforting and serene about the gentle rolling slopes bearing plants of vine and fruit. And on a clear day, the views onto aforementioned Helderberg and the Stellenbosch mountains are groin-achingly beautiful.
An unexpected interlude took me into Devon Valley last week to sit idly sipping wine at Clos Malverne, one of the best names in a region whose wine image remains surprisingly sparse.
Clos Malverne has, however, built-up a robust reputation, mainly for its interpretation of Pinotage and Cape Blends. Proprietor Seymour Pritchard was instrumental in getting the Cape Blend fire going, and his passion for Pinotage has done much in bringing an air of elegance and sophistication to a variety that is in wine circles still seen as a clunky last bastion of vinous Afrikanerdom.
Being a warm autumn morning, Clos Malverne wine maker Suzanne Coetzee cooled the palate with the farm’s Sauvignon Blanc 2014. Slopes are gentle, soils are deep decomposed granite. It can get hellishly hot in the valley, but as those of us leaving the Devon Valley Hotel at dawn can attest to, there is plenty of cooling mist about, making Sauvignon Blanc feel at home.
Suzanne leaves the Sauvignon on the skins for a couple of weeks and the wine spends six months on the lees, which brings a firm, juicy character. Pyrazine and cat-piss ain’t around. But I tasted lots of wet stone, loquat and under-ripe Packham pear, with just a hint of brined kale adding a fresh marine character.
But my blood was red, and up next I headed straight into the Clos Malverne Reserve Pinotage 2012.
The wine reflects what I know of the Devon Valley terroir. No mountain goat-scaring steep slopes, extreme weathers of wind or rain, or soils of rock-filled complexity. Here, in the rolling valley so green and still, Pinotage absorbs a grace and a refinement.
Seeing 40% new wood, the wine is black-fruit driven with a lean, sinewy torso on legs dancing to a beat of warm spice. It is a wine that really shows Pinotage as being a grape capable of reflecting site and place more than any other South African variety can. Seeing this Clos Malverne, for example, next to the Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2013 I had the day before, well, it is like comparing Lauren Bacall to Uma Thurman: same species, but two vastly different sets of assets.
Due to its ethereal charm, I would chill the Clos Malverne slightly before serving, which is a great bet with roasted veal or pork-neck cooked in milk.
Next Suzanne hauled out the farm’s flagship Cape Blend, the Auret 2012, a blend of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon takes over on lead guitar, with Pinotage and Merlot creating an energetic rhythm section. Tannins are flexed taut, so the wine still has a way to go. But the gorgeous spilt-blood savagery of the Cabernet is enhanced by the dark fruit of the Pinotage, especially the riff of allspice.
If this trip into the Valley is really a step back in time, I’m staying.
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