Bilton Viognier and the Dissing of Generalisation


The Bilton Wines sales team about to drop off some Viognier 2008.

Yes we can. Viognier, South African that is, is deliciously drinkable. But then again, whoever said it wasn’t?

Like Merlot, Viognier has been victim of the shallow throwaway line: “We can’t make that in South Africa.” Said thrower then goes on to pontificate about “excessive greenness”, a perceived hiccup in Merlot’s ripening procedure under South African conditions. Really? So how, pray, is the country making such sterling Bordeaux-style blends if the Merlot is deemed to be so tart?

Fact is, pretty much any grape can be grown in South Africa and a decent wine shall be produced. Having had Pinot Noirs from Keimoes, Tempranillo from Calitzdorp, Merlot from Paleisheuwel and Chardonnay from Groblershoop, I can attest to this.

Back to Viognier. Heading out to Bilton Estate in the Helderberg recently, white wine was the last thing on my mind. The air was icy. It was pissing down with rain. A fire-place, stewed dead bovine and red wine was called for.

And yes, wishes were being answered. In the Bilton tasting room a fire large enough to scare the bejeezus out of anybody related to Joan of Arc, roared audibly. Winemaker Rudi de Wet was offering Bilton Merlot for sustenance. It was good. A very good silky, savoury and red fruit interpretation, with a delectable hint of sundried-saffron. Not a hint of greenness which, we are continually told by the boffs, is so irritatingly characteristic of South African Merlot.

Then I caught sight of something blue. On a bottle. A huge, heavy bottle with a punt that a pregnant pigeon could nest in. Bilton Viognier 2008.

The packaging was interesting, something you’d expect to find at a Crusader picnic celebrating the slaughter of some infidels. Thick wax cap. Crests of the in-your-face kind. Lacking in confidence, the packaging was not.

“What’s the deal?” I asked Rudi.

Bit of a passion he shares along with Merlot, it seems. Stellenbosch grapes. The normal hand-job picking and sorting. Aged in wood, French (75%) and ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ wait for it Acacia (25%).

Needing a palate-rinse after the Merlot and some non-too shabby grub from Chef Craig Cormack, I did not decline Rudy’s offer to fill a glass.

Ah, but the sight of a bright, clear, shining glass of white wine is beguiling. And the whiff of fermented grapes infused with stone-fruit, spice and a very interesting waxiness was enough to make the nerdish big-eared blogger pumping her iPad opposite me begin to look cute.

The wine came gushing through parched lips, and did not disappoint. I tasted a clean mountain stream frothing over smooth white pebbles. White flowers, just stripped off their pollen by fat golden bees. Been to northern Portugal and bitten into the green plums of summer? Well, the fresh juiciness and clean sweet flavours of these plums are in this wine.

There is a slight lanoline note of the interesting kind, and the balance between dry and sustained fruit is really a bit of very alright.

One of my white wines of the winter. R200 a bottle? Gooi. And don’t forget to pick-up some Merlot while you are at it.

With Chardonnay being my thing, I was interested to get my hands on some Chardonnay Viognier 2011 that Du Toitskloof Cellar was handing out recently. My team had just finished second in the Du Toitskloof Muratie Waterblommetjie Standoff, so I was taking any consolation this bruised ego could get.

The Du Toitskloof region is capable of producing some very good Chardonnay. Alluvial soils with a sprinkling of granite and river stone make the Chardonnay vine here about as happy as a foie gras goose during a Western Cape Politically Correct Food Writers Convention.

A Viognier component of 50% does not totally eradicate the nutty, burnt butter of wooded Chardonnay, but give is an aerated lift. A gush of stony minerals and a perky peachiness enhances the structure and boldness of the wood-fermented Chardonnay. R65 a bottle. What’s there not to like?

But then again, rule number one for any buyer of wine is: Know your Co-operative Cellar. Cellars like Du Toitskloof are shoo-ins for quality and affordability, as well as varietal expression. I have always been a fan, and always will be. They make it so easy to be one.

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2 thoughts on “Bilton Viognier and the Dissing of Generalisation

  1. Unless I’m very much mistaken that Viognier spent a good deal of time on the caps. Worth checking with Rudi.

  2. Thanks Norman! I did detect an extended cap contact, especially on the mid-palate where the malolactic ferment had left a hint of organic sage-brush and some pronounced astringent phenoles. Will chat with Rudi.

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