Staying Tops! in Pretoria

Tinus van Niekerk, the Point Man.

THE plundering British imperialists may have been marching to Pretoria to subjugate my Afrikaner-Boer ancestors, but if they had stopped-off at Ritrovo they would have had to crawl back to wherever they had come from, holding their stomachs in surrender.

Ritrovo, the iconic Waterkloof eatery owned by food-hero Fortunato Mazzone, was once again the setting for the annual launch of the new wine range developed by the Spar Group’s Tops liquor chain. This year’s list ran to eight wines, each paired with a Fortunato course, plus a palate cleanser, plus dessert, plus cheese. By the time the duck confit arrived I felt like I was a player in Lq Grande Boeuff, the 1973 Marco Ferreri classic film in which a bunch of blokes hole-up in a Parisian mansion and decide to eat themselves to death.

All we needed at Ritrovo before filming started, were a couple of Bugattis and some Blue Bulls cheerleaders.

But if this was going to be the case, I was not going down without a fight. The duck was bravely despatched, and forging ahead mince was made of the steak and b+¬arnaise before the day’s magnum opus arrived: tuna steak on rare foie gras. And it was then, as the velvety goose liver melted in the mouth, that I hit that higher plane where mojo and enlightenment took over and I could recall the vinous harmony of the day’s proceedings.

Tops, South Africa’s top liquor retailer, has never been interested only in buying the stuff at the best price and then passing it onto the consumer at a profit. Sure, this is a part of any retail strategy.

But when it comes to creating an ethos and a legacy for its wine business, Tops goes the extra mile. Its wine ranges, such as Olive Brook and Country Cellars, are carefully made and blended not for ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ but by ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Tops itself.

Step to the fore one Tinus van Niekerk, point-man to Tops chief executive Ray Edwards whose vision and passion for the drinks business is given to Tinus to convert into a range of wines for which the term “house wine” is hugely understated. The Tops range of wines are identified from the point of origin and finished by Tinus, he,having the final say over the specific blend after months of working side-by-side with the respective winemaker.

No labour of love, this. A graft of passion.

During last week’s feast there were some familiar names in the Olive Brook line-up.

First up, the Olive Brook Pinot/Noir Chardonnay 2010 and Chardonnay 2009, both made at the De Wetshof premises in Robertson. The first wine has a heady perfume and surprisingly pink colour with maximum refreshment. The Chardonnay, un-wooded, is crisply austere with brooding citrus and a hint of pineapple.

De Wetshof proprietor Danie de Wet had the day’s best quip when talking about the Tops relationship and working with Tinus, a man with a reputation for being a tad meticulous when it comes to wine. “If Tinus went to Bordeaux and worked at P+¬trus, he’d make his own Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teau P+¬trus!”

Two wines of Sauvignon Blanc origin featured: The Olive Brook Optimus Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and a Sauvignon Blanc-S+¬millon combination called Geminus.

With the Optimus I think that Tinus has once and for all shown that the future of South African Sauvignon Blanc lies in the blending of grapes and wines from different regions. Single site Sauvignons are becoming too staid and one-dimensional, barring the odd exception such as Cape Point.

By using fruit from Walker Bay, Stellenbosch, Durbanville and Darling, a Sauvignon Blanc of vivid excitement is created instead of all these boring green acid bombs local consumers have become used to. Optimus 2009 is a joyous wine, resplendent in an array of lovely flavours and aromas. Asparagus and gooseberry; sherbet and orange peel?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+..fresh, yet full and pleasing on the palate. More, please. And this wine is going to really rock given a couple of years’ bottle aging.

Geminus 2009 sees 52% Optimus blended with 48% S+¬millon which as French oaked for 15 months, 2nd fill.

Here the S+¬millon reins in the opulence of the Sauvignon Blanc, giving it a rigid and classic backbone. This is Graves to the grave, with a peppery waxiness from the S+¬millon corralling the perky Sauvignon Blanc in a more revered direction. The wine needed time in the glass to open up, which it did, and believe me, it was very good.

On the red side, two vintages of Olive Brook Quintette were poured, namely the 2005 and 2007.

Quintette contains all five Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and with Tinus being a self-confessed Bordelais, these are the pride and joy.

The 2005 was gushing spice and black fruit, and at five years of age was ready for ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ as the corny press releases go ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ “optimum enjoyment”. No wood was evident, with the varieties seamlessly integrated and a juicy batch of Merlot providing a delectable wine-gummy sweet-spot. The wine of the day, I thought.

But then came the 2007, introduced by journalist Cathy Marston.,Still cloaked and cross-legged – the wine, not Cathy -,this beauty was just showing signs of true greatness in its earthy power, mainly from the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. A great wine, with the potential of becoming one of South Africa’s top Bordeaux-styled blends.

The last wine I am mentioning is the one with the potential to cause the most stir in the market, a fact quite rightly pointed out by Neil Pendock, who was asked to comment on the wine.

Olive Brooke C?+¦???+¦?+¦????te du Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne Villages 2007 is from Domaine le Dev?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ës in the Southern Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne. An un-wooded blend of 60% Shiraz and 40% Grenache from an excellent vintage will be made available to the South African public at under R100. Not only is this price-point for a good French wine guaranteed to cause a stir, but so is the freshness and accessibility of a wine made from grape varieties we locals have become to associate with over-wooded, too-ripe and alcoholic wines.

The Olive Brooke C?+¦???+¦?+¦????te du Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne Villages, at a modest 13,5% alcohol, is bright with red fruit and skittles over the palate with graceful ease. It is intense, yet easy. Full, yet perky. Complex, yet pure.

Given enough exposure to this wine, local consumers are going to be asking a lot of questions about local Shiraz wines.

While I, after this launch, have only one question to ask Ray Edwards, Tinus van Niekerk and Fortunato Mazzone: does anyone know what happened to my liver? Cheers!

Emile Joubert

A Cape Town wine-writer leaving Ritrovo.

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2 thoughts on “Staying Tops! in Pretoria

  1. I hope the tuna wasn’t bluefin. We really shouldn’t eat endangered species, and Tuna is just too threatened to eat. Also, fishing is too indiscriminate. Leave fish alone, and go vegetarian or eat land animals!

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