No chapter of Stellenbosch’s wine legacy is complete without the Momberg name making an appearance. When I arrived in the town of oaks in 1979, the Mombergs had been around for 60 years and the very mention of the name caused a ripple of excitement. There was talk of great wine made by the Momberg families (cousins) on Middelvlei and Neethlingshof, political ambitions and a pedigree of sporting achievements.
And – of great importance to a teenage-pupil at Paul Roos Gymnasium, like me – there was also the fact that any girl whose name preceded the Momberg surname was bound to be a dark-haired beauty guaranteed to make knees weak and turn your own attempts at conversing into incomprehensible and nervy stutters.
While the Neethlingshof Momberg clan have long left the wine world, the Mombergs of Middelvlei continue the family’s wine ventures on the original farm acquired in 1919. Patriarch Jan (Stiljan) Momberg has handed the operations over to sons Tinnie (winemaker) and Ben (marketing), although Stiljan regularly regales tales of years yonder on the beloved Middelvlei when he is not holding court at Dias Tavern eatery in downtown Cape Town. (The Mombergs have always had good taste – they also like Dachshunds.)
No reason is needed to visit the hospitable Middelvlei Mombergs, but I recently did develop an eagerness upon ascertaining that Middelvlei’s new once-off premier Pinotage offering was being let loose. This is a variety the farm has been known to do especially well, the result of central Stellenbosch terroir and legacy of fine Pinotage-crafting in the cellar.
The limited-release wine is named Momberg Pinotage and this sole vintage is from 2018. Its appearance in 2020 coincided with 100 years of winemaking on Middelvlei. And despite the historical weight and provenance behind this marque, the wine is far from conventionally classic in what it offers.
Over the years Middelvlei has built a reputation for capturing the brighter, less stern and less earthy side of Pinotage. The farm’s Free Run Pinotage, which has gained a cult following with its animated presentation of red fruits held together by a liberated, loose ribbon of gently vibrating tannins, arguably led the way in the new generation of Pinotage-makers venturing to this variety’s fresher side. The statuesque Momberg Pinotage 2018 is of far firmer body and more authoritative person than the aforementioned wine. But its beauty lies in the way it straddles both its commanding presence and those more dashing, liberated attributes.
Tinnie Momberg can select great Pinotage grapes and manage fermentation and skin-contact with his eyes closed, so the intriguing aspect of this wine lies not in the basic foundations. The decision to age a whack of the wine in American oak makes for the wow-factor. Some 80% of the wine got new oak exposure, with 70% of the new stuff being sourced from the land of the unwashed Capitol Hill climbers.
This American oak is not that evident on the nose, where the Momberg Pinotage 2018 shows real dandy, with aromas of wet violets, potpourri and sun-dried hay, a nice juicy hit of ripe plum orchard lurking underneath it all. To the mouth, the wine is the kind of Pinotage underscoring my belief that 62 years since the release of the first bottling, the full potential of Pinotage still needs its surfaced scratched.
Yes, it is a big wine. Nothing to do with alcohol, which comes in at an accurate 14%. The formidable presence lies in the depth of character, the confident showing of a vivid spectrum of complexities of taste and aura, and the tangible excitement this Pinotage evokes. (Yes, I am excited, having trouble balancing the lap-top as I type this.)
On the attack the wine arouses the taste-buds through a sappiness filled with exploding red-currants, raspberry sorbet and diced crab-apple. Coating the palate with darts of pulsating liquid energy, the plushness takes over. Things calm down, lead-guitar turns to rhythm and bass. An expected mocha-like sense covers the mouth, like a cashmere scarf worn by a lady chocolatier mixing single-bean Uganda cocoa at midnight. There is the creak of Havana cigar-box, as well as darkness of flavour: black Moroccan honey, those prunes from Kazakhstan soaked in vintage Armagnac; the fatty nut-taste of a layer of Jámon Iberico Pata Negra.
The finish is, however, clear and discernibly clean, leaving memory, thought and a life-affirming satisfaction.
With half the bottle of Momberg Pinotage 2018 finished, the next part will toast the continued presence and importance of great family wines from this phenomenal wine region.
Long may they live, as in forever.
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