Alto Estate: Top of the World with 2015 Icon

They have been lying low and racked for some years now, the bottles of red wine representing the Cape winelands’ comet 2015 vintage. This recognition of that year as one in which good wines were born is largely due to Tim Atkin’s 100pt score for the Kanonkop Paul Sauer. And when questioned, Kanonkop’s winemaker Abrie Beeslaar describes 2015 as a perfect golf-swing “where everything was perfectly in synch, all chapters of the growing and ripening just right”.

Normally not of the patient type, I have been uncharacteristically hesitant to open 2015 wines, for once falling under the influence of the lofty advice from pundits warning against so-called “wine infanticide”. But nine years on from that year, I succumbed and carefully released a Stellenbosch red wine from the cool surrounds of its shelf on the wine-fridge. It was a wine from Helderberg, from Alto Estate. The M.P.H.S., a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the name honouring the first four winemakers on Alto, namely Manie Malan, Piet du Toit, Hempies du Toit and Schalk van der Westhuizen.

Besides being a vintage of “golf-swing” perfection, 2015 was also the year in which Bertho van der Westhuizen took-over the winemaking duties on Alto from his father – the very aforementioned Schalk. This wine represents, thus, a father-son team effort: Schalk oversaw the harvesting of the grapes and the fermentation for that year, while Bertho – joining the cellar in May – managed the Alto M.P.H.S.’s blending and bottling.

The decision to open this wine at nine years of age underscored my belief in my instinct and ability to get the timing right in vinous matters. For this blend, Alto’s top-offering, is now at the cusp of greatness: it has evolved sufficiently to allow one to experience the marvel thereof, while a discerning sniff and taste reveals the potential to reach even greater heights over the next five to 10 years.

Those north-westerly vineyard slopes of Alto allow the grapes to ripen in glowing reams of extended sunlight, the warmth of which is tempered by the expanse of False Bay’s Atlantic Ocean some 10 kilometres to the south. The elevation – running steep to 500m – permits a vivid variation in exposure to sun and temperature as the microclimate scatters in variation to the summit. It is intense red wine country, here on the Helderberg’s decomposed granitic earth, and it shows as the M.P.H.S. runs into the glass, dark and red-black, the colour of the pupil in the eye of a stalking leopard at sunset.

Aromas abound, drifting and coiling with scents of fallen plums and dry pine-needles; a bloody sappiness and just a touch of Havana cigar wrapper from an old, forgotten cedar box.

Its introduction to the mouth is not of the indecisive, hesitant kind: this hits the palate like a thundering, misty wave crashing onto a family of nesting sea-birds perched on a rocky ledge. Immense and powerful, grating and dramatic.

But this wild-eyed, feral spirit is not of the offensive nor boorish kind. The dramatic opening is but the first attention-grabbing note of a symphony that warms, intoxicates and seduces with a spectrum of red wine marvels.

Bertho van der Westhuizen

There is an abundance of fruit, a feature of fine red wines from Helderberg whose tannins are generally more subdued that those made out Simonsberg way. The M.P.H.S. 2015 has black-currant and fig-paste; there is the note of maraschino cherry with an intoxicating layer of warm tar and a stroke of aniseed, the latter something I have only been able to determine in the upper echelon of wines made from red grapes with a Bordeaux pedigree.

But flavour is only permitted to show in its most refined splendour if there is balance and deft in the palate weight. And here it is as finely honed, as Zen-harmonious as an André Pollard drop-kick from the 40-yard line, as pitch-perfect as a tuning fork held to the loins.

The wine is broad, and it is deep. Sumptuous and opulent in its confident show of luxury and un-coy, flirtatious beauty. Yet, it is also riveting and edgy; shivering and thrilling with a vivacious, lusty energy. Respect it does not draw from the outside, but commands from within its assuredly spirited soul.

Alto might be more known for its ubiquitous Alto Rouge red blend, of which the 100th vintage – 2022 – will be released later this year. But in the M.P.H.S. the brand has a wine that comfortably sits at the very top level of Stellenbosch red offerings, which everyone knows can strut their stuff alongside the world’s best. Which this does, rewarding patience and stimulating the desire to experience the state of future comings.

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.


2 thoughts on “Alto Estate: Top of the World with 2015 Icon

  1. Congratulations Alto, Bertho & Team!!! So proud of you! Your wines are always enjoyed and spoken of with lots of respect!!! A visit to you is always a wonderful experience! Looking forward to our next one! Blessings and love from the Boshoff’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *