Napoleon ordered his troops to salute the vineyards of Chambertin whenever they passed – such was his reverence for the patch of Burgundian soil that delivered his favourite wine. I get the same urge when stopping at a specific rocky lay of land on the De Wetshof Estate in Robertson and seeing that piece of earth where the gnarled Chardonnay vines stand used for creating the estate’s Bateleur Chardonnay.
And let’s face it, in these claustrophobic times of shut-down, anything named after a magnificent free-flying eagle has a particular allure.
Burgundy breaks you, and I am broken. Slowly, though, just beginning to pick-up the pieces after a head-on collision with the power and the beauty, totally seduced by the devilish-angelic allure of one of the greatest producers from the world’s most revered wine region.
The gunshots were still echoing in the night sky, but I was assured they were the last. For that night, at least. My uber-driven vehicle had arrived, courtesy of the Bonteheuwel Burgundy 73 Wine Society for which I had been asked to present a tasting of Côtes de Beaune Pinot Noirs, as well as to give a bit of general lowdown on the region. They are very into geography on the Cape Flats.
Old vineyards do not guarantee good wine, as I have always suspected despite the generalised assumption that a wrinkly ancient vineyard planted when Jan Smuts was still being breast-fed just has to produce fantastic grapes. At a recent memorable tasting of Grenache wines from a vineyard in the Piekenierskloof outside Citrusdal, Neil Ellis confirmed these suspicions. However, the Master said, when it comes to Grenache, the vineyard only tends to get a sense of direction after hitting 20 years.
Producers of screw-cap wine closures are reeling after this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show failed to back their cause of promoting artificial steel bottle tops ahead of the more traditional, effective and carbon-neutral cork stoppers. This after organisers of last year’s Trophy Wine Show went to extra lengths to blame cork for faulty wines, supressed fruit expression, oxidation, the plight of missing flight MH370 as well as the outbreak of Asian bird-flu in the southern hemisphere.
Perfection, or near perfection, must be a heavy burden. How do Carl Schultz and his team at Hartenberg Estate handle it? Such a diverse range of wines, all made to such high standards – it’s all enough to make a French vigneron kick a hole in a vat of 1928 Armagnac.
Hartenberg makes a mean Merlot. Stupendous Shiraz. Riveting Riesling. Cracking Cabernet. But my heart was won over, again, recently by the Chardonnay. Not the iconic Eleanor, but the straight-up Hartenberg Chardonnay from the very classy 2009 vintage.
This came courtesy of a good offer from my sales agent at the Wade Bales Wine Society at a price that made me wonder if this stuff hadn’t fallen from the back of some truck. But I bought a case, most of which has been sent down the hatch, leaving me half-a-bottle from which to contemplate.
The wine is clear and attractive with a lovely greenness to the golden robe, as usually worn by a classic Chardonnay south of the Beaune region in Burgundy. A chunky firm attack on the palate leads to an armada of ripe fruit, from stewed quince, grated Packham pear, kumquat and Key Lime Pie. This is all supported by a zesty acidity, giving the wine more life and verve than a Mavericks’ dancer on Free Russia Day.
Unlike said dancer, the Hartenberg Chardonnay only has a bit of wood, not enough to mask the life in the wine but just the right amount to provide a silky, buttery mouth-feel and a lingering finish.
Despite the calls to duty asking us to embrace Chenin Blanc as the National South African White Grape and the reactionary colourful spats generated by the Sauvignon Blanc fraternity, there is only one real South African white wine worth taking to an international gun-fight, and he be Chardonnay.
?+¦-+?+¡Personally, I’d like to learn a lot more about wine. But the few wine courses I have attended here and in Burgundy have ended in tears, harassment, pain and expulsion and that was before the tasting side of the programme started.
Got into Burgundy. Wished I was nowhere else. Headed from Dijon, south past the Mustard City’s urban sprawl. Dig the bowling alleys and pizza parlours. Then came the vineyards, and then the names: Gevrey-Chambertin. Vougeut. Vosne-Romanne. Nuits-St Georges. More Holy Grails than in a poker-hand of five aces.