Back in the Palaeozoic Era, when I was in my early 20’s, I worked as a waitress at an Italian Trattoria in Hout Bay. This was my first encounter with “real” wines and not the sweet R20 plonk I used to take with me to braais and parties. The wine list here was impressive, even if the owner was decidedly not; being all of five feet tall and grumpier than Donald Trump after a colonoscopy.
Whenever patrons would leave a little wine behind in a bottle, I’d sequester it away behind the bar and enjoy a tasting after my shift. Yes, after. In this way, I became acquainted with some of the great wines of the Cape: the Alto Rouge, Backsberg Merlot, Diemersfontein Shiraz, Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc, and that iconic of South African wines: KWV Roodeberg.
So, when I received an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the lattermost wine – Roodeberg – a sense of nostalgia washed over me, bringing to mind images of dusty wine racks, being wildly shouted at in Italian, and the feeling of peace after an arduous shift as I sat in a dark, garlic-fragrant corner sipping my wine. It’s been a long time since Roodeberg and I have hung out together and so my RSVP to the invitation was a resounding yes!
A brief history of a lasting icon
Roodeberg was born in 1949 to proud parent Dr. Charles Niehaus, winemaker for leading South African wine and spirits producer, KWV. This sultry, Cabernet Sauvignon-driven red wine blend was crafted from classic red grape varieties (including Shiraz, Merlot, and a great variety of others) harvested three years earlier, in 1946. The wine was exceptional and so, before the local market could enjoy the fruits of our soil, it was immediately exported, as many of our country’s great natural products and resources are.
By the 1950’s, Roodeberg exports had begun to flourish with Canada (blame Canada!) becoming the gateway to the international market. In 1971, Dr. Charles Niehaus decided to call it a day and enjoy a well-earned retirement of wine drinking rather than wine making. #Lifegoals. Finally, in 2004, Roodeberg was released in South Africa for the first time. What had established itself as an icon of the South African wine industry was a South African icon everywhere else butin South Africa!
Oh well, welcome home Roodeberg!
“The narrative of Roodeberg spans over seven decades, and is still being written. From the early days of the South African wine industry, Roodeberg personified the typical Cape red blend. On the 70th anniversary in 2019, Roodeberg has solidified its reputation as one of South African’s best loved brands.”
KWV Roodeberg Circa 2019
Today, Roodeberg is a sexy 70-year-old brand that has diverged into a wide range of reliably excellent wines. These include the Classic Roodeberg (the one you find on liquor store shelves all around the world); the Roodeberg rosé; the Roodeberg Reserve; the Dr. Charles Niehaus Roodeberg (released in 2011 to commemorate its founding father); and the 1949 Roodeberg (released in 2019 in honour of the wine’s award-littered career). There are others but these are the true stand-outs in my opinion. And it was at the 70th anniversary celebration, hosted in the gorgeous Cathedral Cellar at KWV in Paarl, that we stupendously lucky media folk got to taste them all in shamefully copious amounts.
We sincerely thank the organisers for arranging transportation to and from Paarl. Many lives were saved that day.
The Cathedral Cellar at KWV
Walking through the entrance to the Cathedral Cellar, it’s immediately obvious why such a regal name has been bestowed upon this venue. The ceiling rears up above our heads, enormous wine barrels with intricate carvings line the walls, and the red carpet has literally been laid out for us. I grab a glass of KWV’s biscuity Centenary Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) and begin a long and boozy meander around the room, catching up with media friends and meeting members of the KWV team, like exceptionally talented winemaker Louwritz Louw.
Before long, we all filed into an adjoining oak barrel-lined room you simply had to have seen to believe!
No disrespect to anyone who reveres nirvana or any other iteration of the afterlife for that matter but, truly, if there is such a place, I’d imagine it to look somewhat like this. That, or an acid trip. One long table dominated the pink-lit room and it was littered with glasses of Roodeberg’s Provence-style rosé and a veritable smorgasbord of delectable, wine-paired bites, from fresh strawberries and blueberry crème fraîche to smoked salmon and dill mousse and thyme and olive roasted grapes.
For 30 blissful minutes, we grazed our way along the aptly named “Edible Spring Strawberry & Rosé Grazing Garden”, trying in vain to capture the enchanting scene with our phone cameras, before finally making our way to the main event….
Lunch and (more) Roodeberg
In yet another wine barrel-lined cellar, we took our seats around a scattering of elegantly-dressed tables for lunch paired with the other members of the Roodeberg range. For starters, we climbed aboard Flight SAA2019 to destination “braai and beyond”: a traditional South African braai tray loaded with grilled lamb chops, boerewors meatballs, mini lamb sosatie, mini braaibroodjie, and skilpadjie. Okay, there’s a lot of Afrikaans going on here, so let me break the deliciousness down a little for you non-South Africans:
A “braai” is a barbecue, except way more awesome because it involves a wood fire and copious amounts of wine and/or brandy (and Coke); “boerewors” translates to ‘farmer’s sausage’ and is a well-endowed coil of spiced pork or beef; a “sosatie” is a skewer loaded with cubes of meat, usually lamb, and cut vegetables; “braaibroodjies” are little sandwiches we cook on the braai, usually filled with cheese, tomato, and onions; and finally, a skilpadjie is a slab of lamb liver wrapped in crispy bacon and is one of the most delicious things you’ll wrap your lips around. If you like liver, of course.
This proudly South African feast was paired with the tried-and-tested and always delicious Roodeberg Classic Blend 2017, as well as the richly complex and sophisticated Roodeberg Reserve 2017, the gorgeous label of which brings to mind a bloodshot sunset on the South African highveld.
Next, we were treated to Ouma Niehaus’ Sunday Lunch, featuring a lamb rib roll stuffed with onions and nuts and served with honey and thyme carrots, all generously slathered in an aged cheddar cheese sauce.
The wine pairing was newly released Roodeberg 1949, a voluptuous blend of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Tempranillo, 20% Carignan, and 13% Carménère. With its sultry dark berry, blackcurrant, and vanilla nose and a palate of cinnamon, sweet spice, and ripe, juicy dark fruit, there is no greater embodiment of this wine than Italian vixen, Monica Belucci.
There was more traditional South African food, all by the wonderful Chef Mynhardt Joubert: a slow-roasted Springbok pie with aniseed pumpkin puree and peppered greens followed by a dessert of spiced fruitcake with sour cream frosting, koeksuster, Wild Africa Cream caramel milk tart, cinnamon meringues, and green figs with a generous molecule-thin sheet of gold leaf. It goes against one’s instincts to pop a sheet of metal into your mouth but, wearing that gold leaf on my teeth made me feel like a million bucks, if only for a few seconds.
Still sexy at 70
In 1949, Dr. Charles Niehaus sired a wine that would become a stalwart of the South African wine industry with more awards than Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep (combined). However, more than that – international recognition and accolades aside – the Classic Roodeberg is a fabulous red wine you can trust to stand up against any meal or occasion. The special editions of the Roodeberg are outstanding wines of a calibre and sumptuousness that even my verbosity and weird analogies fails to convey. My absolute compliments to winemaker Louwritz Louw, who worked closely with viticulturist Marco Ventrella and former KWV Cellarmaster and renowned wine educator Prof. Charl Theron.
You, sir, make excellent red wine!
And a hearty thanks to Chef Mynhardt Joubert for the delicious, indulgence meal and to KWV for my treasured gift of Roodeberg 1949!
One can only hope and strive to be this sexy at 70.