Plaisir de Merle and the Ruffled Feathers

The woman with the floppy hat and yellow facial sunscreen looked at me as if I’d asked her to perform the Gangnam Style in her second-hand underwear. ?+¦?+º?+¦Don’t make such a noise,?+¦?+º?+æ she whispered. ?+¦?+º?+¦We think we’ve got a Levaillant’s Cisticola.?+¦?+º?+æ

I peered over at the other members in her group. Most had the same floppy-hats and were donning binoculars of different sizes, coloured black or military green. ?+¦?+º?+¦You might have a Levaillant’s Cisticola, but I’ve got a date with a cold bottle of sparkling wine,?+¦?+º?+æ I said, flooring the Citro?+¦-ú??n and sending a few Cisticolas, Furry Bummed Cisterians and Blue Hardened Tits – or whatever it is that bird-watchers find intriguing – flapping into the mountains above Plaisir de Merle.

Strange to think I had never visited this property before, despite my immense and heart-felt appreciation for the wines.

Lovely deep, blood-curdling and spicy-noted Cabernet Sauvignon. Graceful Sauvignon Blanc of the really crafted kind. Touching Merlots with character. And having left the bunch of bird-watchers cursing my forefathers’ tail-feathers, I took time to look at the soils.

Broken dry red clay. River pebbles the size of baby skulls. Shredded granite and weathered sandstone. Casing these gorgeous soils I was glad I was not a vine otherwise I would have most definitely had a woodypecker to surprise the birders with.

The occasion for the visit was the launch of the farm’s maiden M+¬thode Cap Classique during breakfast and as a precursor to the Franschhoek Cape Classique and Champagne Festival.

In a manor house on the hill some live classic music was being played by a serious lady stroking some strings. A buffet breakfast spread was laid out. And glasses of chilled bubbly were poured.

Niel Bester, winemaker.

Of all the many wine industry clich+¬s I am not afraid to subscribe to, the one about bubbly being a drink for all occasions rings especially true. It is the one drink I can slurp from morning until the following dawn without getting to the state where I start?+¦-+?+¡physically harassing an All Black supporter,?+¦-+?+¡showing my?+¦-+?+¡Tahitian tattoo?+¦-+?+¡or getting into an argument about rugby, cars or malolactic fermentation.

Downing a few glasses of bubbly at 09:30 was thus not an oddity and it allowed me to enjoy the company of our hosts, especially winemaker Niel Bester.

An oldish yet youthful-appearing hand, Bester is as much a part of Plaisir de Merle’s reputation as the dry-land vines, acres of forest, stunning vistas and sexy soils. He is known as a Cabernet Sauvignon maestro, yet spoke eloquently and too-the point about his new baby.

The wine is a 63-37 blend of Pinot Noir-Chardonnay, with the Pinot Noir shipped in from the Stellenbosch side of the Simonsberg. Nothing complicated in the making process, with two years on the lees deemed enough to create what Bester had set out to do.

Getting into studious tasting mode, I noted the freshness of the wine, something that Cap Classique needs as much as a bird-watcher has to have good pair of binoculars and the correct degree of anal retentiveness.

The Plaisir de Merle Grand Brut is clean and crisp, yet without any harsh apple-flavoured blasts of sherbet or brutish hints of dead yeast. The wine has a clean entry, does a perky jive while unleashing crystal clear flavours of pear, Portuguese green plums and understated dollop of wine-drop. The mousse is vivid and the bubble more sparky and fine than sparkling.

There are many Cap Classiques on the market, so the Plaisir de Merle Grand Brut has got its work cut out finding a niche. Put the purity and freshness is sure do to it.

This wine is not one for the birds.

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