Rust en Vrede Rules the Roost

The actress Ms Barkin posing as a bottle of Rust en Vrede Estate.

The Mount Nelson Hotel, and I am there. Couple of Black Jack draughts in the Planet Bar to cleanse the palate before heading to the restaurant for Wine and Dine with Rust en Vrede, one of my top three South African wine estates.

A civilised evening on all counts. The only thing more civilised would be having Uma Thurman read one the collected short stories of Somerset Maugham whilst reclining next to a Van Gogh original.

Thank goodness for colonization that brought South Africa wine and a culture of gastronomy, as well as the Mount Nelson. Sitting on haunches around a fire eating raw buck liver washed down with rainwater simply does not cut it.

The Nellie menu had been compiled by chef Rudi Liebenberg to match the elegance of the wines. Being from Rust-en-Vrede, these were all red. So the players in the culinary line-up: Smoked Springbok and Poached Pear Salad, Greens and Balsamic Glazed Cocktail Onions. Wine: Rust en Vrede Cabernet 2007. Next up, grazing is to be done on Jerusalem Artichoke and Asparagus Risotto with Kalahari Truffle. Vino: Rust en Vrede Estate 2006. Main course: Roasted Lamb Loin with Braised Cabbage, Celeriac Pur+¬e and Lamb Neck Ravioli. The wine was a hummer: Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification 2007. For a cheesy ending, Gorgonzola Bavarois Served with a Twice Baked Red Pepper and Brie Souffl+¬ with Rust en Vrede Merlot 2009. And the happy ending was Naartjie Tart with Bitter Chocolate Sorbet with the Shiraz 2007.

Look, I know there is an exciting new place with a superstar chef opening in Cape Town every week. But you can’t wrong at the Mount Nelson. This is the second time in a month I’ve had the honour of chowing-down at this great colonial institution, and the food has been superb. Conceived with imagination. Skilfully executed and delivering on expectation, it promises the perfect combination of sophistication and spot-hitting satisfaction. Every time.

I’ll throttle orphaned babies for the perfectly roasted lamb loin, the finest piece of meat I’ve had since my second year university house dance.

And look, if one red wine estate could do justice to this menu, it has to be Rust en Vrede.

The Cabernet Sauvignon was a beautiful homage to Stellenbosch’s Helderberg region which is internationally renowned for the power, depth and supple juiciness found in its Cabernets. I first tasted the Rust en Vrede 2007 last year when it won Coenie Snyman the Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year Award. Already a beguiling, huge wine, it was still a tad upfront in the fruit department, with the oak a bit edgy.

This week it was a different wine. It’s beginning to lose the puppy fat, showing clear, brisk fruit with silky tannins and immense muscularity. Real “iron fist, velvet glove” stuff. Thankfully I have put away a case, as this wine is going to be an artwork in five years’ time.

The Estate 2006 is sensual and seductive, thanks to the Shiraz component in this iconic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. More black lace and suspenders than velvet and satin. More Ellen Barkin than Juliette Binoche, the Estate is complex yet more-ishly accessible and so opulent you feel rich just drinking it.

This is the wine that makes Rust en Vrede owner Jean Engelbrecht’s words of “red blends are the future of the South African wine industry” ring true. And also proves his statement that “South Africa does not have to look for an identity for its wines, they are here in red blends”.

Of course, the collective Nellie turn-out was waiting for the star of the show, namely the Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification 2007, South Africa’s priciest wine at around R1,200 a bottle.

The 1694 pays homage to the founding date of Rust en Vrede. Or as Coenie puts it: “Just to remind the world that when the Dutch were busy draining the swamps of Bordeaux, we had already been making wine in South Africa for a hundred years.”

The 1694 is a 56-44 blend of Shiraz and Cabernet respectively, obviously from specially selected vineyards on the Estate, matured in new oak. 75% French and 25%.

It is a beautiful monster. Earthy claws from the Cabernet Sauvignon. A smooth, wild expanse of fur delivered by the Shiraz. Still a bit of chewy tannin about, but as can be expected this wine has all the potential for greatness. No spice, floral notes or whimsical components. All flesh and opulence.

I asked Coenie whether the blending is done after maturation and the blend then put back into barrel for further ageing and integration.

“No, we believe in the Toyota business model, which is getting it right the first time,” was his answer.

I believe the Merlot and Shiraz were excellent, but the duty of my profession require me to admit that I was wasted ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ albeit it elegantly so ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ by the time I got around to these two numbers. The attention demanded by three glasses each of Cabernet, Estate and 1694 had left me incapable of acutely analysing the Merlot and Shiraz, which I promise to do so dutifully in the near future.

Faizel van der Vyver

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