Thar’s Good Hope in them there Wines

 

Water is a beautiful thing. Only the person who has experienced true thirst knows the true extent of water’s flavour and the effect it can have on the senses. And by true thirst I do not mean the dry-mouthed feeling after 25 minutes on the Virgin Active treadmill.

 

Try walking 28 kilometres through the Angolan bush at midday, 39°C in the shade lugging 22kgs of military equipment and not a single drop of water in sight. This is thirst – your mouth as dry as an old Mopani worm. Your throat feeling as if it is being scraped with sandpaper. The body weakening and your feverish brow now perspiration free as there is not enough fluid in your body to sweat with.

Believe me, the first gulp of water after such an excursion tastes like the finest, most exotic, most delicious elixir on earth. And somehow you never forget this cool clarity and its life-affirming reviving of your parched senses.

Certain white wines have in the past reminded me of the beauty of water, although one obviously has to take care in comparing wine to water. “Hey, oom Jan, your Chardonnay tastes like water.” Look who is lying flat on his back looking at the tasting-room ceiling.

I was, however, pleased to read that Thys Louw from Diemersdal once compared a white number to water in a positive and nostalgic way, so at least the reference is on the record.

Purity, mountain water and nature were on my mind recently when I sat down for a tasting of the Cape of Good Hope range in the Anthonij Ruper stable. The range is made from site-specific older vineyards with pedigree and history, and for this discussion I am going to concentrate on the whites which make up the bulk of the Cape of Good Hope collection.

There is a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay from cool, high vineyards in the Villiersdorp region and Messrs Chenin Blanc and Sémillon grown in the rugged Skurfberg mountains in the Clanwilliam area. The Skurfberg wines originate from older vines – the Van Lill&Visser Chenin Blanc 2012 is from a vineyard planted in 1964 – while the two Villiersdorp numbers hang their sales-hook on the extremity of cool climates and altitudes pushing 1000m

Yet, all four wines have a Golden Thread of commonality, confirming Duimpie Bayly’s saying that wine may be made in the vineyards, but no horse wins the July without a jockey. In short, despite the emphasis on vines, the wine-maker plays the deciding role. Here Dawie Botha has done himself proud and I must say, it could not have been the achievement of a nicer fellow.

Common points in the wines include a clear, pale straw colour, fresh cleanliness, a pebbly bracingness and an uncluttered expressive natural purity where the smell and taste of water flowing in a mountain stream springs to mind.

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Apart from the Laing Sémillon 2012, the wines are also without any tangible alcohol grip – something which will ease-up in this Sémillon in a year or three – and have a remarkable grace and ease of presence. Delicate as a butterfly wing, but with enough depth and interesting features to make a lasting impression.

The Cape of Good Hope Van Lill&Visser Chenin Blanc 2012 was my choice wine, closely followed by the Serruria Chardonnay of the same vintage.

Like all the other white wines in the range outside of the un-wooded Altima Sauvignon Blanc 2013, the Chenin is aged in large barrels of old wood, hence the paleness of the colour and the pleasant delicate expressionism.

This is pure Chenin: none of the ghastly oxidative and botrytis tricks sometimes used in an attempt to hide poor fruit or wine-making uncertainty. Just straight juice from good grapes grown on stingy soils, fermented and leesed with care and understanding. On this wine, white flowers and Namaqualand bulb-plants flow from the nose, while the palate plunges into a bowl of soft fruit including winter melon, Packham pear and Key lime, with just the right amount of wild herb to bring a bone-shivering brush of exoticness to the wine.

Cool. Refined. Brisk yet deep and intriguing, I rate this great Lill&Visser Chenin Blanc 2012 a whopping 967/1000.

The other wine I’d like to mention is the Serruria Chardonnay 2012 which despite being made from vineyards on the Villiersdorp mountain, has a lot in common with the Chenin Blanc. Once again, tuning-fork clarity and a light, ethereal texture feature in a Chardonnay quite unlike any South African Chardonnay I have had.

There is a knob of butter, a crack of hazelnut and a fling of orange peel to remind one you are in Chardonnay territory. But the rest of the wine consists of a heady, dreamy pool of delicious wine components allowing for reflection and pondering. Stones and snow. A southerly wine blowing from the fruit-orchards. The “on a clear day you can see forever” feeling of hope, as limitless and enthralling as the prospect of drinking this one in five years’ time.

Although wooded in old oak, this is the most Chablis of all South African Chardonnays outside of the De Wetshof Bon Vallon.

Hit me with a 954/1000, please.

The wines are superbly priced for such quality: R95 for the Chenin and R140 for the Chardonnay.

With the Cape of Good Hope range, is die Kaap nou Hollands.

 

 

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