De Wetshof Chardonnay in Wine Spectator Top 100 List for 2021

South Africa’s pioneering Chardonnay-focused wine estate, De Wetshof in Robertson, is the only Cape wine on this year’s coveted list of Top 100 wines, as selected by the American magazine Wine Spectator, the world’s most influential wine publication. The De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay 2020, one of the estate’s five site-specific Chardonnays, came in at number 92 in the Top 100, which is selected by Wine Spectator editors from the thousands of wines from around the world scrutinised throughout the year.

Bon Vallon is one of De Wetshof’s two unwooded Chardonnays and is no stranger to accolades having won numerous awards at South African wine competitions. But, according to Johann de Wet, CEO of De Wetshof, this year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 spot is a highlight in the Bon Vallon Chardonnay’s performance on the international stage.

“I must admit, this announcement came as a great surprise, not only to be the only South African wine to make this coveted annual Wine Spectator Top 100, but also to do so with an unwooded wine,” says De Wet. “If one thus sees an unoaked wine on a list like this, you expect it to be a wine from Chablis, pretty much Ground Zero for unwooded Chardonnay. But then again, the De Wetshof Bon Vallon has gained a reputation for being an unoaked wine yet exuding classical depth, complexity and breadth that grabs the imagination of the wine consumer and critic for it pure expression of Chardonnay characteristic. We are simply incredibly honoured to see this wine take a place in this Top 100 which reads like a veritable list of Who’s Who in the global wine space.”

De Wet says the limestone-rich soils of Robertson have a major role to play in the region’s ability to deliver outstanding Chardonnays, including the unwooded category. “Limestone soils give Chardonnay perfect pH levels that drive the unique character of great unwooded Chardonnay.

“Like all our Chardonnays, the grapes for the Bon Vallon originate from vineyards growing on sites specifically suited to the style of wine that is going to be bottled,” says De Wet. “These are vineyards on limestone-rich soils, with a high clay component ensuring coolness and a high water-retention capacity.

“The resulting wines are fresh and accessible, with enough complexity in structure and mouthfeel to ensure a presence on the palate,” he says. “Its popular appeal is due to its ability to accompany almost any type of food, as well as to offer wine lovers the great enjoyment of an unwooded Chardonnay.”

De Wet says that one of the most important aspects of the Wine Spectator Top 100 accolade is that it shows recognition for the state of Chardonnay in South Africa. “The quality of Cape Chardonnay is growing at a rate of knots, and the international wine world is taking notice of this,” he says. “In the American market, where Chardonnay rules the roost as far as white wines are concerned, recognition such as that from the Wine Spectator can have a huge impact on the perception of South African Chardonnay, and the international image and reputation of the Cape wine industry as a whole.”

Going Batty at Heavy Bottles is Pure Simple

The quest for a new world order is now well underway, with humanity willing itself towards initiatives and practices aimed at ensuring future planet sustainability through the halting of climate change. Carbon emissions, pollution, single-use plastics, fossil fuels, the music videos of Justin Bieber….all these horrid things that deplete earth of its ability to sustain natural wonders must go. Change is coming, and it is coming fast.

And quite rightly so, I say. Although I wouldn’t mind a slight warming of the groin-achingly cold Atlantic Ocean off Clifton Beach, as well as a few more sunny days within which to fish the Test River in Hampshire. However, climate change’s pillaging of nature and the subsequent effect on humanity must be stopped. Even if it is just to end the tireless stream of inserts on SkyNews showing inhabitants of Bangladesh trying to clear their flooded hovels.

With change and action, come protest and here in the wine industry the first signs of dissent are being seen and heard. Loud and clear.

This charge is, obviously, led by the media, with various wine journalists taking-up the banner against climate change and carbon emissions by openly berating wine producers who dare to use heavy wine bottles. Naming and shaming of wines packaged in weighty glass appears to be the order of the day, and as so often in these mini-bouts of saintly hysteria, the admonishment is a one-sided affair with only a single side of the complex scenario addressed.

Yes, if someone sends-out their wine in a bottle heavy enough to concuss a male white rhino in mating season, you don’t have to be a WWF scientist to know that a dense bottle is not conducive to a sane and sustainable production chain. Think of the effort demanded from the transportation, as well as all the toxic gasses sent into the atmosphere during the energy-sapping process the big bottle undergoes in the furnace.

However, taking a step back, one has to acknowledge that choosing to publicly crucify producers for using heavy bottles to highlight one’s moral conscience is a cop-out. It is grasping at low-hanging fruit without acknowledging the broader nuance of sustainability in the winemaking process. The chain of production is long and complex, and bottles are but one aspect whose effect on the environment is inextricably linked to various other links in said chain.

For example: Chateaux Dense sells its Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blend in an ostentatious bottle weighing 1,1kg before being filled. Why? It is tradition, it looks good, it looks serious. Whatever. So, on account of this brutally big bottle, Chateaux Dense is in for some outing and cancelling from the eco-warriors of wine writing and criticism.

But hang on. Upon closer inspection, it would appear that outside of these massive glass bottles, Chateaux Dense employs wine-farming activities that are all green marks on the sustainable road-map. The vineyards are unirrigated, thus not requiring the energy of pumping water nor the sucking-up of nature’s most important resource. Plus, the vines are farmed organically with cover-crops laid lushly between the rows where they mainline inordinate amounts of carbon from the environment. The winery is also 100% solar-powered, and the workers wear overalls made from recycled cotton that is also hand-picked from organic cotton-fields.

So, besides them bottles, Chateaux Dense is pretty much an eco-warrior wine commentator’s wet dream, if such a thing was still possible in those circles.

On the other hand of Chateaux Dense, one has Gillsrip Vineyards, a media darling due to the fact that this winery’s Merlot and Chenin Blanc comes in lightweight bottles thin and fragile enough to crack at the sound of an inebriated cellar-hand’s fart. Lovely and light, hitting the scale at a few hundred grams, Gillsrip Vineyards uses these flimsy light-weight bottles to position itself as a green crusader, one with intense concern at the horror of climate change. However, looking at the farm itself, the situation is different.

A diesel-engine pump has to take water from a river and send it through four kilometres of plastic piping so that the vines of Gillsrip can be irrigated. Chemical fertiliser and pesticide gets sprayed onto the vines from a throaty, coughing tractor, and during and after fermentation, Gillsrip Chenin Blanc is cooled by coal-powered electricity. However, the bottles are tender and light, and therefore in the eyes of the world, the producer is an exemplary crusader for sustainability in the wine industry.

Yes, these fictitious examples are extreme, but not irrelevant. What this shows, is that to support the quest to sustainability and the fight against climate change, those talking and commenting on the wine industry would help the cause by looking at the problem and the challenges in their entirety instead of grabbing onto the first suitable example. Because if there were an easy answer to all this, we would have found it a long time ago.

Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc: A South African Classic

One of the wiser moves the South African wine industry made over the past few years was approving a Wine of Origin Cape Town district to complement the country’s range of regionally authentic offerings. This saw the wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay corralled under the inclusive name Wine of Origin Cape Town for use as the respective producers see fit.

The marketing potential of labelling wine under the name of one of the world’s best-known and exciting cities was obviously a juicy incentive for the wineries who fall in the boundaries of WO Cape Town. However, the authorities ensured the new demarcation was rubber-stamped and credible.

The late Duimpie Bayly, then-chairman of the Wine and Spirit Board’s Demarcation Committee, said that from a wine production side, the wards of Constantia, Durbanville, Philadelphia and Hout Bay meant to be together. “We considered the various wards in the new proposed district and found great similarity in terroir as well as clear boundaries in a district that at its furthest point is 36km from the Cape Town City Centre,” he said.

“We remained scientific in determining the physical similarities of the wards using the latest GIS technology available. After our findings and recommendation for this new wine district, the Demarcation Committee received no objections whatsoever and are now excited to add the new district to our Wine of Origin system.”

As with most new official developments wine wise, the decision was met with surprise bordering on shock in some circles. Wine critics and self-appointed aficionados laughed-off the idea that an area such as Durbanville can lay claim to being “part of Cape Town”. Sure, the town of Durbanville is 30km from Cape Town. But Sauternes is 50km from downtown Bordeaux City. And a Bordeaux appellation without Sauternes has been, and always will be, unimaginable, non?

Almost three years down the line, producers donning WO Cape Town are ticking along very nicely. The brand has reverberated in the international markets where both bottle and bulk wine customers are finding Cape Town an increasingly attractive proposition.

Thys Louw from Diemersdal Estate in Durbanville was one of the drivers behind the new demarcation. And the quality of the wines he labels under the appellation goes a long way in ensuring that, with all its attractions and appeal, Cape Town is also associated with terrific wines.

Being holed up in the City Centre with Table Mountain towering into the blue skies has given one the time to reassess some of these quality offerings. The spring weather is Sauvignon Blanc-friendly, and a chilled bottle of Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (WO Cape Town), well, that should do nicely.

This is my favourite white wine in the Diemersdal stable and a wine that – among all his restless innovation – remains dear to Thys’s heart.

The origins of the Eight Rows go back to 2005 when he arrived as wine-maker on the family farm after completing internships at various other Cape estates, including Buitenverwachting. Tienie Louw, Thys’s father, who was then running the Diemersdal show, initially had to rein-in his exuberant son. Young Thys saw his wine-making ambitions restricted to Tienie permitting him to only make wines from eight rows of one Sauvignon Blanc vineyard on Diemersdal to see whether the kid was up to the task.

The rest is history. From the maiden 2006 vintage, the Eight Rows has been a success with critics and customers alike. Today the same eight vine-rows on Diemersdal are still harvested for this wine, delivering between five and seven tons of grapes annually.

Having known the wine since its inception, one word springs to mind: completeness. There is a purity and fine linear precision that I tend to associate more with a class Chablis than a Sauvignon Blanc from Cape Town.

But here it is, Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2021. As an ode to the site, wine-making is deft and un-cluttered. Controlled fermentation. Five months on lees, regular stirring. Bottled unfiltered.

Striking is the pale gold colour. The aroma is invigorating, long with a definite maritime presence in the whiff of oyster-shell and wet ocean rock. It is on the palate where the wine shows its status of being the complete Sauvignon Blanc. On the attack, definite slices of gooseberry and a few granadilla pips are discernible. But these are just to open the wine’s cloak, the glimpse of tropical leading to structure, mouth-feel and taste of riveting glory. Presence on the palate is strong and alert, without being thick or weighty – much like a modern French tight-head prop who does triathlons in the off-season and avoids extra frites at dinner. Flavours are kumquat and persimmon, with the ever-presence of ocean: a limpet-covered reef; crushed sea-urchin.

Anything maritime and of the sea needs citrus, and here, on the finish, a surge of lemon essence comes to the fore followed by a lick of salt and a wet, crashing wave of intense flavour.

Wines of great individuality tend to defy the restrictions of cultivar that limits imagination through the confinement of expectation. Thus best to just say it is a great white wine from Cape Town. What more reason do you need?

5 Words to Make you Sound Like a Wine-pro

Wine events and tastings are on the go again in a semi-vaccinated world, and attendees of said vinous occasions might be finding themselves a bit rusty. Not only in the department of once again sipping, swirling and spitting wine in the company of other people instead of lying locked-down and comatose on the sofa drinking Cap Classique through a straw. But, also in engaging with other like-minded wine folks, as well as the winemaker or marketer presenting the tasting to you and 30 of the closest people you don’t know.

You killed it.

It might just be necessary, thus, to brush-up on some wine-speak. For there is nothing like a bit of informed-sounding vinous vernacular and trendy wine terminology to get you recognised as a veritable wine buff. For this you will receive sleek gazes from the ladies and sneers of envy from their partners. Throw in some of these words during the tasting, preferably in question or comment to the presenter of said occasion, and you will be seen as the clever, coolest wine buff around.

  • Lees-work: Lees are expired yeast cells in the winemaking process, and lying in a mass at the bottom of a tank of fermented Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc the sludge resembles dinosaur snot or vegan vomit. But fear not. When stirred through the wine, these miniscule particles of dead yeast impart brooding complexity and creamy palate-weight to the wine. So, when tasting white wines, show your stuff by casually requesting information on how long the wine was exposed to the lees, and by which process the lees was managed in getting it through the wine. For this, you can use terms such as “lees-management” or “lees-contact”, but the casually masculine “lees-work” is a stunner.
  • Autolysis: Now that one has enquired as to how the lees was worked through the wine, you can go one-step up, and comment on or query the process of “autolysis”. Autolysis is defined as: A chemical reaction between the wine and the lees by which enzymes break down the dead yeast cells, producing amino acids and releasing proteins and carbohydrates into the wine. Of course, you nore the attendees of this wine-tasting event has a clue what this means. Except for, possibly, the winemaker who has paid attention in the oenology class. However, having you murmur “autolysis” and – even better – the winemaker acknowledging that the word actually exists in winemaking, you are heading towards the status of the informed star of the tasting.
  • Malolactic fermentation: This is some kind of weird secondary fermentation wines go through which converts sharper malic acid (the same acid found in green apples) into softer lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). Apparently, this process reduces acidity and the wines become softer, rounder and more complex. Whatever. It is just another stunningly impressive piece of wine-speak to throw about – casually as if this is the parlance of all wine-folk and an ever-so-obvious part of the conversation. A bit of chumminess with the winemaker can be emphasised by referring to “malo” instead of the whole malolactic thing. Like, “was malo done in barrel or tank”? It does not matter or no-one cares, but the impressions others will have of your inside knowledge is what counts.
  • Residual sugar: Very straightforward, the grams of sugar per liter in the finished wine, and another of those aspects no-one really cares about at a wine-tasting. But by raising the question, the questioner buys some serious wine street-cred. Again, it is important not to imply that your concern and curiosity in residual sugar derived out of book or other reading. Therefore, it is far better to just refer to “R..S”. Like, “the R…S in this Riesling is surely higher than what I am tasting? Must be the high acid.” Hip, on form, killing it. You are an animal of the wine grape. Keep going.
  • pH: Despite it appearing on every tasting note and in every article written by a smart-ass wine-writer, general knowledge of what pH actually is, remains scarce. For the record, this be a chemical measurement of acidity or alkalinity; the higher the pH, the weaker the acid. Low pH wines taste tart and crisp; higher pH wines are more susceptible to bacterial growth. A range of 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds. But again, for general wine lovers and wine media, pH is of little use because few know the relevant effect it has on the final product. However, during a tasting, surrounded by sniffers, tasters and note-takers, you will once again take command of things by enquiring as to the pH levels of the wine. For extra ego-stroking, one can also ask about the pH of the soils in which the vineyards that have provided the relevant wine, are rooted. Your roots being a wine master of the universe.

Wine and a Taste of the Divine

By RRV

A few years ago, I received as a gift a book by the esteemed wine-writer Terry Theise titled Reading Between the Vines (2011). As a keen reader as well as one who enjoys visits to wine farms, the book’s title immediately spoke to me.

With its reading, I discovered that Theise’s approach to the tasting of wine relates to what I deem to be a healthy approach to theology, as well as to life in general.

In Reading Between the Vines, Theise mentions a number of values underscoring his views on wine, something on which he embroiders in his more recent work What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime (2018). Firstly, writes Theise, a wine must express the human spirit as well as its place of origin. Secondly, we must be careful not to confuse wine-tasting with a seriousness that has us forgetting to react with spontaneity and the joys of the senses. And finally, one must be aware that wine-tasting confronts us with the limits of language and knowledge within us.

Here, wine contains that mystical element that bows with respect to that which remains unspoken. Theise then also introduces Reading Between the Vines with a quotation by Alexander Pope: “Some people will never learn anything, because they understand everything too soon.”

What Theise further raises is that he learnt the hard way in distinguishing between that which is truly complex and that which is merely complicated. The latter demands the kind of effort that keeps frustrating, while the former allows one to experience something wonderful.

For Theise, a complex wine is not pushy or demanding. This is not the kind of person one meets eager to shake your hand and who possibly even impresses with his or her presence – only to leave you with the impression that everything about him or her centers solely on the self. Exceptional wines, again, show a quiet calm and grace; they shine with an inner light that is not dependent on the spotlight. Which brings Theise to what he deems to be a kind of manifesto: “Many wines let you taste the noise. But only the very best wines let you taste the silence.”

Theise acknowledges that this statement might sound abstract, but that he knows exactly what he means by it. It reminds him of the remark that the true ending of a piece of music, actually is the silence that follows at the work’s end.

Could we not speak along these lines about the complex beauty of the language of belief and believing? Not as something loud and noisy, but as that which allows us to taste the silence?

  • RRV writes a weekly column on spiritual values for Die Burger newspaper. This was one of them.

Kanonkop and the Cult of Black Label

The cannon is, at this moment, being oiled and the snoek are ripped from the ocean as the wine world awaits the latest release of the Black Label Pinotage from Kanonkop, South Africa’s finest red wine creator. For on Wednesday and Thursday coming, a few lucky invitees shall gather on this estate in the shadow of the Simonsberg to hear the gun-shot droning through the valley and to smell the snoek cooking on hot coals burnt from old vine stumps. And, of course, the latest release of Kanonkop’s Black Label Pinotage, one of a select few Cape wines truly worthy of cult-status, shall be poured and tasted to mark the launch of the new vintage on offer.

This vintage is the Black Label from 2019, and having had a cheeky sneak-peak at the wine ahead of this week’s launch, a modest note of appreciation will follow. But first, this thing about cult wines, something Kanonkop owner Johann Krige uses to describe the Black Label. Saying you don’t head out making a cult wine, it is a status bestowed on the wine from the outside world.

Just what would a cult wine be? The first time I heard of the term, I thought it was a glass of fermented juice poured at a séance held by a few chanting vegetarians under the full moon, the wine to be sipped after a bout of mutual bodily fondling and the slaughtering of a startled one-eyed goat. But wine parlance has a cult wine as being something that has achieved a keen and determined following of persons who are so keenly and determinedly following said wine that they are willing to pay serious cash for it. Keen and determined.

Wine Folly, a provider of some of the more lucid wine writing around, describes a cult wine thus:

“Cult wines are the pigeon-blood ruby of the wine world. They are engorged in a sort of mystery and delight that can only be satiated by tasting them. Of course, actually getting to taste a cult wine presents a bit of a quandary because the supply is so low that even some deep-pocketed buyers go destitute. This, in turn, skyrockets the price which increases the wine’s fame and then the price goes up more… you get the idea.”

Judging from the above, Kanonkop Black Label has been ticking the cult boxes since the first vintage of this wine in 2006. A fourth-generation wine farm in the Simonsberg region of Stellenbosch. Winemaking Provenance and a record of excellence that has been sought-after by wine buyers since the estate’s first wine was made in 1973. Stupendous international ratings from esteemed wine critics, bearing proof that the marque’s recognition for quality has been consistent and the love is shared by wine judges and critics of diverse origin, personality and taste.

Abrie Beeslaar in the Black Label vineyard.

Into this mix, throw in the Black Label’s back-story: a wine made from a vineyard planted in 1953 by the legendary statesman and Kanonkop owner Paul Sauer. Meaning the wine is always to be limited in production and has since the first vintage been created by Abrie Beeslaar, the third winemaker in Kanonkop’s history, and recognised the world over as one of the top vignerons around.

But cult, classic or icon, this means zilch if the wine itself is not deserved of such status, which is unfortunately not always the case. Especially in South Africa, where the irreverence of the winemaker and the off-keel, apparently alternative, approach to winemaking has the crowd cultishly following the personality instead of what is in the bottle.

If cult is going to imply content more than substance, then Kanonkop Black Label does it, for sure. And with the latest 2019 vintage – excruciatingly young, I know – this part of the Kanonkop range contributes to the pile of evidence proving that South Africa, is indeed, making wines capable of competing with and beating the greats of the world. Cult and otherwise.

The latest release comes from one of the most challenging Cape vintages in recent history, where vineyard conditions were just about as chaotic as the latest report from Cyril Ramaphosa’s psychiatrist. Hot days and uneven growth during spring and early summer characterised the 2019 season all-round South Africa. With the vines still suffering the effects of the severe drought the winelands had experienced since 2014, nature was truly stingy with the allowing of yields, which in the Black Label vineyard pulled in at around 2.8 tons per hectare.

However, Beeslaar says the quality of fruit was concentrated and superb. “This just goes to show how well this old vineyard handles the curve-balls nature has been throwing at it for over six decades, as well as underscoring the non-negotiable suitability of Pinotage planted in Kanonkop terroir,” he says.

But, for me, the expectation elicited by all this talk of concentration and small berries don’t add up in the wine I found upon opening Kanonkop Black Label 2019. Intense fruit and the standard oaking regime of 18 months in new wood had me anticipating a wine that is, well, big. Something along the lines of plush and decadent; heady and seductive. Instead, I found verve and briskness, a succulent rip of fruit and fynbos and of vitality.

In fact, the 2018 version was the big, buxom vintage with the civilised amply fleshed presence of a well-fed Viennese opera singer. Black Label 2019 is a completely different kettle of sashimi. The wine’s fragrance is one of potpourri and Provençal herbs, with a hazy ocean mist. On the palate attack, cherry and black-currant play with the senses before a gush of shuddering dark-fruited denseness, almost spooky, haunts the mouth with a sense of amazement and alarm, that calms down to a post-coital, sated joy.

This is one of those wines where the mere presence usurps more fleeting aspects such as taste and flavour profile. An example of greatness and presence that hits you like a cannon-ball to the heart.

Love in the Time of Crystallum

Florence, my charming Burgundian friend, joins me on a terrace looking out on the Place Madeleine in Beaune, the scent of fermenting grapes hanging over the town-square like heavy clouds ahead of a storm. It is harvest time in Burgundy, the greatest wine region in the world, and this normally be a joyous time, one alive with animated excitement and emotion you can feel. Not this year. The frosts of spring caused havoc among the vines, decimating the shoots and massacring 40% of the harvest. So, despair hangs in the air, infiltrating the aroma of grape-skin, fermenting juice and wild yeast.

“Our vineyards in Corton and Musigny are stuffed,” says Florence, “and the Chardonnay crop in Beaune is lighter than Mrs Macron’s underwear.” (French women do have a way with word, especially when referring to one another.)

I have a gift for Florence. A bottle of wine from South Africa. I place the glass vessel, crisply labelled in white, on the table. “God, I need that now. To take my mind away from Burgundy, for a while.” She gets up to go to the inside bar, returning with a cork-screw and two glasses. I am allowed to open the bottle. “You the gentleman, no?” she asks.

As I press the screw through the wax closure, she whispers the name of the label. “Crystallum…Pinot Noir.” I nod my head while sniffing the cork and then pour the wine. It slides into the glass like a Ferrari-driver slipping into his Formula One vehicle.

I tell her of the wine, made from grapes growing on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, outside the town of Hermanus. “Where we saw the whales, no?” she asks. I nod, a bolt of nostalgia shooting through my memory. It was in Hermanus where Florence and I met. Met, before the encounter.

Also, what made me bring the wine Crystallum for her is because this Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir has impressed me since the maiden 2008 vintage. And yes, we now have the young 2020 wine before us, but the winemaker, Peter-Allan Finlayson, is a genius when it comes to making great wines that are accessible in their youth.

“You were accessible in your youth,” Florence reminds me, sniffing the glass like a Siamese cat who has just seen the sushi bar open.

A few tourists in masks take selfies before us, and a Japanese couple in striped Brittany fisherman shirts and berets walk past, a baguette in each hand.

We focus on the wine.

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2020. The vineyard is from shale, clay and granite soils, implying an immense structure. This would appear to be, looking at the dense colour of the wine. Although the fact that this vintage does not have the rather invigorating sluttish perfume that normally characterises Cuvée Cinema, implies a sterner wine than the ones I am used to from the Crystallum marque. The nose is brooding and ominous and stern, so much so that I wonder if the aroma will not make Florence pop one of her anti-anxiety tablets in preparation of the wine’s entry to the palate.

Into the mouth, and like Florence does, I want to close my eyes and allow the presence of the wine to overwhelm me. There are few things in the world as immensely reassuring of the planet’s beauty and of the greatness of civilisation as a mouth of weighty, juicy, succulent Pinot Noir. And this is what the Cuvée Cinema 2020 offers, a confident and dominating slug of satisfying excellence.

The usual Cuvée Cinema line of wild strawberries and blackcurrant are there, drifting on a tapestry of cunningly interwoven tannins. Some porcini powder is present, as well as a hit of dried sage and fresh bay-leaf. But the beauty is in the feel of the wine, the marvellous combination between a sinewy, flexible prod from the crisp acidity and the enthralling, complete voluptuous fleshiness within which the dense flavours are found. Confident, that is the word, this Pinot Noir is confident and expressive, without being pushy or opinionated. Yet, there is bit of arrogance in the ease and guile and assuredness with which this wine presents itself as a commanding force in South African Pinot Noir. Year-after-year.

A waiter brought some snails and cuts of baguette as Florence removed her shoes and slid her legs underneath her, shaking her head so that the soft sunlight rippled through her dark hair and I put the glass down and asked her if she remembers what happened after we saw the whales.

  • Lafras Huguenet

Eating at Magica Roma, Cape Town

It was meant to be a quick catch-up lunch, with a bit of quirkiness in the small-talk department, but this turned into a memorable occasion involving flavour, camaraderie and taste. These things happen at good local restaurants, such as the legendary Magica Roma in Pinelands. And we ate gonads, but more of that later.

I was lunching with the authoritative Dr Bowman, Winifred Bowman, so front-of-house guided us to one of the better tables. These are the ones at the back-end of the restaurant with the engaging view of Pinelands’ tar-roads, a sliver of grassy green lung and a few local geriatrics trying, valiantly, to make it to the pharmacy three doors away without keeling over in lifeless heaps. I am sure many of these folk are still alive due to their daily breathing- in of the fine, life-affirming aromas of Italian cuisine emanating from Magica Roma.

While discussing the modernisation of Prosecco styles as a result of a change in the phosphate content of the soils of north-eastern Italy, Dr Bowman and I sipped on glasses of cool Frascati wine. This was light enough to be lapped-up with vigour, yet with the discernible presence of fruit, wet Dolomite granite and fresh water gushing in a mountain stream.

To start-off, I commandeered six wild oysters that had just recently been plucked from the beds of Cape Infanta. Dr Bowman settled for some fried squid-heads due to her having some oyster issues, which – I am sure – have been diagnosed and are currently subjected to thorough treatment.

My oysters arrived on a platter, and they looked heavy and stern in those gnarled, thick shells that wild oysters live in until being lovingly torn from the rocks by marine foragers. The creatures’ flesh glistened in the Pinelands natural light drifting in from outside as another old-timer prodded a Zimmer-frame towards the pharmacy. When squirted with lemon juice, the animals’ muscles jerked in irritation and pain, leading me to put the molluscs out of their mercy by placing them in a warm wine-scented mouth and swallowing. What a way to go….the Oyster Gods can thank me later.

De-gonading a sea-urchin.

Dr Bowman was having equal pleasure with her golden-fried squid heads, the tentacles dusted with a hit of chilli, I was told. Apparently, they were sweet, tender and just perfect. Although not even the most self-pitying hang-dog look from my side could generate enough sympathy to permit me to share one of those crisply fleshed little critters.

Before ordering main-course, we were offered a little surprise in-betweener. And who was going to say no to that? The surprise turned out to be a risotto flavoured with the reproductive organs of sea-urchins. When the unexpected is good, it is far better than the expected good-stuff. And this dish was incredibly beautiful in its simplicity and plain presentation, and other-worldly in taste and texture.

Short grains of arborio rice, cooked perfectly al dente as only someone with Italian DNA can do. The rice held together with a murky broth, slightly hued the colour of deep ocean coral. Rice and broth combined to create an explosion of maritime flavours, the experiencing of which led to one hearing the sounds of foghorns, screeching deep-sea fishing reels and the colourful, expletive-laden voices of Cape fishermen. How to explain the flavours of sea-urchin sex-organ, this is one of food-writing’s greatest challenges. Suffice to say, it makes you feel one with the ocean, and if the God Neptune is serving this stuff at his next shin-dig, I’m growing gills.

Blood-lust and Chianti.

Dr Bowman was, like me, overwhelmed by this dish and felt no need for a main course. But we soldiered on, fortified by sea-urchin private-parts and the good Chianti wine that I had ordered. A slab of young beef was shared, grilled medium-rare with a hint of balsamic in the baste. Underneath, a bed of wilted spinach with a couple of golden chips on the side.

Eating all those marine morsels had given me a carnivorous blood-lust that would make Hannibal Lecter appear a vegan on the keto diet. So I dug in, the beef tender as an executioner’s apology, with the blood being sucked out of each morsel which created in me a sense of being fortified, ready to grab a club with which to head into the woods and create havoc in my satisfied and animalistic state.

Instead, I just had an espresso and headed for home, but not before downing a fine Pinot Noir grappa to light some more flames.

  • Emile Joubert

De Wetshof: Champion of Chardonnay and of Nature Conservation

De Wetshof Estate in Robertson is the first recipient of the WWF Conservation Pioneer Award, one of the accolades under the prestigious Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism and Wine Tourism Ambassador Awards. These awards, for 2022, were announced this week at Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Sponsored by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), the Conservation Pioneer Award intends to emphasise the critical role of eco- and social sustainability in the development and execution of a new generation of relevant and appealing competitive travel offerings.

De Wetshof Estate, situated in the Robertson Wine Valley some 160km east of Cape Town, is not only a world-famous wine farm, but has over three generations of ownership under the De Wet family been a leader of conservation and sustainability in the South African wine industry. The estate is now one of the 50 Cape wineries who are members of the WWF Conservation Champions initiative overseen by the WWF to recognise wine farms implementing exemplary programmes committed to conserving the flora and fauna on and surrounding their wine farms, as well as for their active involvement in producing wines to credentials underscoring sustainability in general.

According to Shelly Fuller, WWF South Africa’s sustainable programme manager for fruit and wine, De Wetshof is a truly worthy recipient of the first WWF Conservation Pioneer Award.

“De Wetshof lies in the magnificent Robertson Valley dissected by the Breede River and home to numerous indigenous species of flora and fauna,” says Fuller. “The ethos of the De Wet family, who have been farming there for over 70 years, has ensured that conserving this natural paradise receives as much attention as De Wetshof’s world-renowned wine-farming activities. The farm was one of the first Cape wine farms to in 2005 be officially recognised for these conservation efforts when the former Biodiversity and Wine Initiative was launched. Since the WWF’s involvement in recognising and collaborating with conservation-minded wine farms through WWF Conservation Champions programme, De Wetshof has been an exemplary Conservation Champion and is always finding ways to improve its profile as a pioneering wine farm in terms of conservation and sustainability.”

Wild-flowers between De Wetshof’s vines.

Johann de Wet, CEO of De Wetshof, says receiving this award is recognition for the ethos of conservation and sustainability that runs through all of De Wetshof’s operations.

“Having grown-up on De Wetshof, myself and my brother Peter have an ingrained respect for and love of our unique natural surroundings – something we inherited from our grand-parents and parents who pioneered wine farming here,” says De Wet. “To us, conserving the environment comes naturally. Thus, all our viticulture and wine-making endeavours are undertaken through environmentally responsible practices.”

One of the latest initiatives on De Wetshof which caught the eye of the WWF Conservation Champions, has been the conservation of indigenous flowers growing between the De Wetshof vineyards.

Here the rich indigenous fynbos has become a welcome ally with wild fynbos plants left to grow between the vines, offering various viticulture benefits as well as contributing to De Wetshof’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

“With our famous fynbos plant kingdom, we Cape wine farmers might just be sitting with the most unique cover-crops in the world,” says De Wet. “The Cape fynbos incorporates a mass of wild shrubs, bushes and flowers – over 9 000 different species, each divided into various categories throughout the geography of the Western Cape. On De Wetshof we are committed to conserving this majestic natural occurrence – not only by putting an area of our farm aside as wild, uncultivated veld to conserve the natural environment, but to make the fynbos plants a part of our viticulture.”

This natural integration between vine and veld is evident on the steep slopes of De Wetshof where young Chardonnay vineyards are planted alongside fynbos , including the famous vygie flowering shrub.

“The vygies and other indigenous plants play two roles in our viticulture,” says De Wet. “First, these plants extract carbon dioxide from the air and through their roots they put the carbon dioxide into the soil, which is beneficial to soil health. The other benefit of fynbos between your vines has to do with pest control. Unwanted critters, such as nematodes, tend to prefer shacking-up in the fynbos instead of attacking and chewing on your vines. This lessens the need for spraying insecticide, and due to the toughness of the fynbos, the insects are unable to inflict the kind of damage they do on the more delicate vine-plants.”

Fuller says that Conservation Champions like De Wetshof are truly ground-breaking in their innovative ways of managing farming practices while proactively conserving the natural environment.

“With every visit our field officers find new approaches to environmental management practices shown by the wine farms,” she says. “This spirit of innovation and respect of their land is a truly unique feature of the Cape winelands and has the potential of positioning Brand South Africa as one of the leading wine countries in the world as far as sustainability and conservation is concerned.”

Cape Rosé, the Joy of Fresh Pink

No other season steers the wine-lover to a particular style than when the call for rosé comes in late spring. Yes, the days of mid-October onwards can still offer a slight tug of chill morning air and the heavens shall, for a moment, darken with cloud before opening to emit a sheet of soft rain, inoffensive in its cooling dampness.

But in the light of day, spring is upon us and summer beckons. In the fields and on the mountainside, the soils and plant growth are drying as the last remnants of another winter gone-by disappear into the halls of memory. As the flowers dazzle on an iridescent palette sent by the gods, the world smells new and brimming with life and vigour.

In Provence, the home of rosé wine, we would be drinking the pink stuff from 10.00 on the little square in the village of Ansouis. After the papers have been read and the boules scores taken-in, lunch will be had at home, the eating of which shall – no negotiating here – be accompanied by another bottle of rosé. It is a wine called for by the light of dusk and dawn, by the shrills of cicadas, and it is demanded by the fresh produce that finds its way onto the market and into our kitchens: warm, purple egg-plants the size of the thighs of a well-fed infant; bloody red ripe tomatoes that explode under the teeth with the taste of sun, clay-soil and the sweetness of the morning’s first kiss. Fresh fish, crystal-eyed, that will head for the bouillabaisse pot, the prince of all seafood dishes that cannot, may not, be consumed with any wine other than rosé.

My late friend, the writer AA Gill, often came over to Abingdon Villas, where I lived in London, to partake of my sister Gina’s legendary bouillabaisse. I only met Gill after he had gone teetotal. But after that first spoon of bouillabaisse eaten on my porch, so sea-tasting you could hear waves crashing as you ate it, the great man said he “was missing a glass of rosé like a monk missing his prayer-book upon finding out his room-mate had died in his sleep”.

Here in the Cape, rosé wine has caught on swimmingly, although good bouillabaisse is hard to find. Christophe Dehosse’s Vine Bistro on Glenelly Estate is an exception – should you wonder.

But the local rosé wines are brilliant, winemakers having access to an abundance of riches in the grape variety department. In the cellar, the vignerons are bleeding the juice off immediately. Some whole-bunch pressing is done, and judicious timing and monitoring ensure that crisp, fresh and subtly hued rosés are here – in droves – to slake the thirsts of summer wine-drinkers.

Allow me to mention a couple, the first being the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen. This is a first release of pink wine from this venerable estate, and the wine is delicious and clever, and far politer than its belligerent winemaker André van Rensburg. According to the gospel of Van Rensburg, Stellenbosch farmers mainly make rosé by draining a portion of juice off from red grapes to concentrate their virus-infected fruit and “hopefully make better wine”. Obviously a superior winemaker, Van Rensburg cools and stabilises his juice and wine – something he cribbed from rosé specialists Pink Valley on the other side of the Helderberg.

Whatever, the Florence Rosé from Vergelegen leads with Malbec, and is an astute rosé despite the label, which looks like something out of a 1950s magazine article advising on ideal decorations for a tea party of widowed house-wives.

Copper and salmon in colour, this rosé has a zesty, stony aroma that entices the palate and builds the expectation. On the mouth the wine has soft edges of strawberry and persimmon before a lovely lip-smacking sour-cherry note takes over. The trick with rosé is to have it fragile and delicate, while presenting suitable grip and verve to cause one to repeat the sipping experience as frequently as possible. This the wine has in droves, and is a welcome addition to the Cape rosé culture.

Also out Helderberg way is the lovely Waterkloof Estate and its Circumstance Cape Coral Rosé made from Mourvédre grapes and a wine that has garnered a reputation for being one of the finest Cape pink wines. For a good reason. The packaging is stylishly elegant and minimalistic, allowing the wine’s classic onion-skin and Paul Cezanne sunset colour to glow, to appeal to the person fortunate to be drinking its beautness.

The Coral might refer to the colour, but the wine has a Jacques Cousteau, maritime allure to it as notes of detached mussel and sea-spray accompany the super array of textural fruit nuances. Raspberry compote is present, as is some ripe plum, but it rides a wave of pebbly ocean briskness, with a hit of savoury at the end. If there is one rosé that will have you longing for the sunsets of Provence, the sound of boules clacking through the aromatic wisps of Gauloises smoke and the fragrance of pastis, it is this rosé.

The season has broken.

  • Lafras Huguenet