The Wine Who Came in From the Cold

Mike called from Calitzdorp after a day’s harvesting olive trees, but the crisp Klein Karoo winter air had not chilled him as much as I had presumed it would. Cape Town was, however, shudderingly cold in a relentlessly savage, raw way, and after I put the phone down, I felt in need of some robustness of the red and alcoholic kind.

Guests were coming by for a chat at seven, so I preceded proceedings. Opening a bottle of Alto Estate’s newish offering, namely the Estate Blend from vintage 2016. The bottle looks good with its black label and red and gold lettering, and I predicted it would be a fine wine as Alto never disappoints. It is one of the Cape’s leading wine estates. Sitting on the beautiful elevated patch of soil on the Helderberg outside Stellenbosch, Alto’s offering of red wines has always been a slice of South African wine culture. We drank it by the glass at El Vino wine bar in the 1980’s, on Fleet Street, before the awful Rupert Murdoch closed the newspaper plants and sent them to soulless Wapping.

The Alto Estate Blend is a top-tier. It looks so. And it tastes so. The 2016 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, a union made up by Alto cellarmaster Bertho van der Westhuizen. Bertho is a young man, but his knowledge of Alto’s geography and his understanding of what the Alto brand wants to be and has to taste like has made him responsible for creating some of the best wines in the historic estate’s illustrious history.

Alto Estate Blend trumpets Helderberg red wine terroir in certain, strident and identifiable notes. The wine greets with an expansive plushness on the nose, aromas of open veld, endless starry nights and maritime breezes leading the way. The rest is fruit and graphite.

The wine is made for men of large appetites who wish to drink with gusto instead of prissily scrutinising each drop. It is a wine in which the palate wallows. Flowing into the mouth like a gust sending a yacht’s sail billowing, the Alto Estate Blend brings all the elements of sappily ripened grapes set on south-westerly slopes comprising granite rocks that have been decomposed over 80 million years. Plummy and dark-fruited, the wine opens-up to reveal a friendly, charming combination of fluid tannins and guttural power in the expression of complexity. Such as the presence of petrichor and dry, clean mountain-trail dust leading to a mirage where black-currants, Cuban cigars and purple figs await to be realised. A very fine spot of wine to set the evening’s tone.

Alto Estate, Stellenbosch.

After checking the Irish stew in the oven and with 20 minutes before the first people are set to arrive, I open a Port-style wine to elevate the blood sugar for the anticipation of social exposure.

De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2015 is from Calitzdorp, the Cape version of the Douro and overseen by Boets Nel who is very accomplished in the ways of Port and Port-style wines.

The varieties include Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Souzão, which have proven themselves to grow mannered and well in the dry, warm Klein Karoo.

A vintage Port-style, wood does not play a big role here, as development comes from time in the bottle. After fermenting and fortification the wine is kept in concrete tanks for a year and then spends a further 10 months in barrels that are decades old and thus unable to contribute wooded character.

This wine might only be six years old. But the De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2015 has the intriguing character and spirited soul that makes Port and its styles some of the most riveting wines in the world. The nose is a heady perfume of crushed black-currant and Egyptian dates, with an edge of Madagascar chocolate bean. It fills the mouth so very well, irresistible sweetness in perfect balance with charging fruit elements, confidently firm tannins and a warming presence of spirit to add to the wine’s commanding presence. Classic as ever, a fine Port or Port-style wine must, for me, have an edge of the exotic. A nub of spice, a sweaty muskiness, a dark mysterious call to enter places unexpected and unforgettable. This is where the wine led me, for a while.

Until the doorbell and the first guest arrived, and we took it from there.

  • Lafras Huguent

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One thought on “The Wine Who Came in From the Cold

  1. It is a brilliant Port, had some recently and it did not disappoint. Have not had Alto for quite a while, time to try some after lock down. But the bit about El Vino wine Bar in Fleet Street really brought back great memories. My printers used to take me there for a drink and some lunch at another local journo favourite in the area. Such good times. My grandfather was a Fleet Street photographer so great vibes. May they come again Emile. Soooon. Lynne

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