The drama and the joy of winter in the Cape winelands are fulfilled with the sight of the old bush-vines of Stellenbosch. Gnarled stumps hug the wet earth, while the un-pruned tendrils reach skyward and wayward, like eery witches’ fingers in the throes of death and horror.
It has been a great winter so far. Rainfall over Stellenbosch averaged 150mm for June alone as the one Cold Front after the other rolled in from the north-west, icy Atlantic air bearing clouds unleashing their bombardment of wet, cold precipitation.
The sky is sombre and moody. The earth of gravel and clay and decomposed granite is wet right through, smelling of old wood and water; brine and dead leaves.
I am honouring nature’s winter show with some truly magnificent wines made from the bush-vines rooted in this very earth. Wines that are given the gift of life by cold and stern winters. Such as these around us right now.
Stellenrust, situated in the majestic bush-vine country of Stellenbosch’s Bottelary region, has over the past decade moved right up into the top echelon of South Africa’s wine offerings. The alluring threesome: Old Vines, Chenin Blanc and Stellenbosch meet at Stellenrust, complemented with savvy marketing and, in winemaker Tertius Boshoff, infectious keen energy to give the earth and vines a voice.
Saturday past, as the next Cold Front was drifting into Cape Town, I chanced to pour a glass of Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2018 made from 54-year-old vines. The idea was to let the bracing crisp white wine prepare my palate for something red and rich, as convention dictates on dark and stormy nights.
Well, that formality went out the window, right into the eye of the storm. For I was hit by a torrent of delicious white wine, grabbing my attention and imagination in equal measures. I could not let the bottle go before it was empty. Although from the first glass this Stellenrust Chenin Blanc proved to be one of the best white wines I have had for some time.
In this glass, there is more going on than there are Covid-19 conspiracy theories. The nose is alive with dense citrus peel, specifically Navel orange and Cara Cara. On the edge one finds a scintillating briny edge of Yamaroku soya sauce. To the mouth, and the Chenin Blanc does not so much attack the palate as it bombards it. Spectacular flavours and nuances, so diverse and so many that one has to sit back and be re-amazed at what a few bunches of grapes are capable of once fermented and aged in oak barrels.
The nose promises citrus, and it carries through. Bursts of energetic lemon and Key Lime, all sun and life. Lots of flowers, too, not only the honey-edged brush Cape fynbos, but also thick wads of daffodil and arum lily. The mid-palate picks-up green almond, a gorgeously delicate nut expression, while an edge of cardamom lines the nuttiness, all of which is still accompanies by the invigorating citrus burst. On the finish, the wine is long and waxy, leaving an after-taste of wet granite, kelp and oyster-shell.
The word “complete” comes to mind as the wine leaves one sated, fascinated and enthralled.
On the other side of Stellenbosch to the False Bay side is a forgotten jewel in Jacobsdal Estate. Here the dryland bush-vines offer red wines on a property oozing legacy and heritage. The Jacobsdal Pinotage 2005 I happened to drink from magnum last week was the first drop I have had from this property for a while. But for those looking for unheralded gems in the South African wine offering, those that could be sought-after collectors’ items in the near-future, Jacobsdal is the name of the horse I am backing. (You can thank me later.)
The Pinotage 2005 is, like all Jacobsdal wines, made in the old 1920 cellar without any funny stuff. Natural fermentation. Manual punch-downs. Wood-aged, mainly older barrels. Add 15 years in the bottle and it is nothing short of a brilliant rendition of Pinotage. A style which has, sadly, been forgotten. And when found, ignored.
Bright ruby in colour, the Jacobsdal is cloaked from ankle to crown in a well-mannered, old school elegance. The nose is shy and reserved, coy and inviting. A sniff of cured tobacco leaf and slight aroma of prunes offer a glimpse of what to expect in the wine.
To the palate, and here the wine is classic South African enough to make you want to get out and apply reserved violence on a University of Cape Town statue desecrator. A delicate plum flavour is evident. Texture-wise, it is all delicate and easy. No silk or velvet, rather a dried fig-leaf drifting to the ground on a calm autumn day. The wine has more presence than discernible flavours, a presence of water and sun, blood and soil, life and death. This is a wine with an ever-lasting soul, very rare to find, and one that will make this a winter of great content.
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