A Troika of Cape Brilliance

Anton Smal of Newstead putting in the blade.

Much like Jewish humour, good sparkling wine is a bit quick for me. To analyse, that is. Reason being, when partaking in a glass of fizz, the elixir tends to go down the hatch quicker than an ANC tender-preneur does upon receiving a call from the Hawks.

But recently it was all work as far as fizz wine was concerned, merry glugging being kept to a minimum. The Amorim Cap Classique Challenge announced this year’s top South African sparkling wines made to the original method of Champagne. That is, secondary bottle-fermented with some time for the wine to not only give birth to the 50 million awesome bubbles found in one bottle, but also to add those spell-binding flavours and that creamy texture featuring in the sparkles I like.

Lo and behold, this year’s Cap Classique Challenge was won by a winery situated in Plettenberg Bay. That’s right: Newstead Wines Blanc de Blanc 2015 whipped all-comers to be adjudged the top-scoring Cap Classique among the 121 wines entered into this year’s competition.

Rumours of wine-making from vines planted between the polo patches in Plett began circulating ten years ago. And although some passable Cap Classiques and Sauvignon Blanc hit the scene, tentatively, the Plettenberg Bay wine world kept to itself. And the Western Cape-based wine industry sure as hell was not really taking this patch of terroir 550km east of Cape Town seriously.

Until now. For trumping at the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, the leading arena for judging Cap Classique is a big deal. With a history of 19 years committed to fizz, its reputation rests on rigorous judging solely focussed on bubbles, as well as the competition’s official endorsement from the Cap Classique Association. Just as Plett is the place in which to hoof a couple of chukkas of polo, so the Amorim Challenge is the place to go if you want your bubbly judged.

So, onto the winning wine.

Newstead’s vines are set on flat, undulating soils east of Plett. Sandy loam is shallow, and underneath this a severe clay bed. Vines are planted north-south, ensuring the south-easter – the only feature more synonymous with Plett than the Beacon Isle Hotel – blows true and cool through the vineyard rows.

The Newstead Blanc de Blanc was made by Anton Smal, he of former Villiera Estate fame, who allowed the wine to lie for 42 months in bottle – a time-frame conducive to spending downtime riding the left shore-break off Keurbooms.

It is a wonderful glass of Cap Classique. One exuding both craftmanship in the cellar as well as Chardonnay ripening to a point of precise and accurate focus, the base-wine racing with acidity as well as bearing complexity resulting from the fact that Plettenberg Bay’s weather allows a longer, slower ripening period than out west, Cape way.

On the nose, Newstead Blanc de Blanc offers crushed green almond shell with a nostril-prickling hit of wet sherbet and wild oyster shell. The attack on the palate is confident, thunderous and with more foam than a bachelorette party at the Beacon Isle. Once the roar of bubbles subsides, the front palate picks-up Granny Smith apple, lots of it, as well as loquat and lime. As the bracing wine heads to the finish, the fruit becomes sunnier, followed by a tantalising salt-lick umami jet, all ending gorgeously brisk and clean, inviting a follow-up glug. Which must be done, as the next chukka is about to get underway.

The message is clear: no more horsing around. Plett wine is a thing. And a welcome addition to the Cape winelands.  Neigh-sayers be gone.

Closer to Cape Town, the Hemel-en-Aarde region has become familiar to wine lovers seduced by its Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. Just when I’d thought I had pretty much acquired a handle on this valley’s offerings, the Restless River Winery reminded one that, in wine, there is always something riveting lying around the next corner.

Restless River is a small winery run by Craig and Anne Wessels who have a collective past in that wine has never been a profession. Eight years since their first vintage, however, Restless River is rated as one of the Cape’s leading wineries with self-taught Craig delivering wines that are just getting better-and-better.

The Chardonnay is worth trundling the earth and soaring to the heaven for. Bottled under the label Ava Marie, the wine is a reflection of the labour of love put into its making.

The Ava Marie 2017 is made from grapes picked at various stages of ripeness to build balance. Ageing over 12 months is in big old barrels, with a portion matured in clay amphorae adding a thought-provoking depth to the wine.

What this does, is deliver something underscoring South Africa’s reputation as one of the world’s leading Chardonnay producers. The wine offers floral and fynbos aromas on the nose, followed by a tantalising zingy freshness as it enters the mouth. Here, a presence of utter deliciousness takes over with flavours ranging from green apple, yellow citrus and grilled nuts. As befits a wine from the hands of creative craftsman, Ava Marie Chardonnay’s strongest feature is the captivating, riveting and wonderful texture and mouthfeel. Here it is able to charm and refresh, stir and delight. A truly fantastic wine from a property set to become one of the most talked-about names in South Africa wine.

Also, check-out the Restless River Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, underscoring that this winery ain’t no one-trick pony.

The joy of Christmas might be in the giving, but let’s be honest and not forget the receiving. And wow, would a bottle of Olerasay 2° from the Mullineuxs not be a gift from the gods?

Chris and Andrea Mullineux are the superstar couple of South African wine. Whether they are making Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon….everything that comes out of the winery is just stunning. Amazing. Incredible. Truly.

And none more so than their Olerasay 2°, a magical sweet wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes dried before vinification.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again: South Africa makes some of the greatest sweet wines in the world. Therefore I am extremely pleased the Mullineux’s sweet number has knocked the lights out internationally, reminding the world what we do really well.

And what a wine the Olerasay 2° is. Heartbreakingly fragile and achingly delicate, it exposes the mouth to sweet, fruit, sun, wild honey and the nectar from jungle flowers.  It is almost emotional to sip this wine as joy meets drama and mystery, clothed in pure brilliant beauty. The sweetness does not coat or clog the mouth, instead drifting around on a perfumed breeze that could have only originated in paradise.

Andrea and Chris Mullineux

Yes, the wine is scarce due to its deserved reputation. But whoever is blessed to drink from that stylish small bottle can rest assured the gods are watching and nodding in approval. Because they know it comes from that higher place. Of theirs.

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