The 40th edition of the Platter’s Wine Guide 2020 has arrived!

In 1980, a book went to print containing detailed insights into each and every one of the wines produced in South Africa. More than merely mentioning this 1,200-bottle-strong assembly of wines, the book detailed specifics on their estate and region of provenance, the growers, winemakers, and families behind their names, and other considerations like terroir, price, history, vintages, and more. Each wine was also awarded a rating out of five stars with the goal of giving the “wine confused” a rather fool-proof and comprehensive guide to buying wine in South Africa. I’m speaking, of course, of the Platter’s Wine Guide, conceived in 1978 and officially birthed by printing press in 1980.

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This year, as with every year (but with the added importance of it being the 40th anniversary) Diners Club South Africa and Platter’s Wine Guide threw an award ceremony at the Table Bay Hotel in the V&A Waterfront to announce the South African wines, winemakers, and wine estates that have been rated the best of the best. To be invited to such a celebration is, therefore, not only an immense honour but also an unmissable opportunity to steep my liver in the country’s and, quite honestly, some of the world’s very best wines.

Naturally, I RSVP’d “yes”.

From “boring” to bible for the oenophile

The Platter’s Guide was lovingly put together by wine lovers and print journalists John and Erica Platter, who had been inspired by the ground-breaking ‘Pocket Wine Book’ by Hugh Johnson. At the time, one of the print staff rather brutally dismissed this considerable compendium as “boring”. I bet they feel like a real cretin now because 40 years on, this formidable tome of wine knowledge has become a bible for the oenophile and a GPS for those navigating the overwhelming waters of the SA wine industry.

Platters-Wine-Guide-Launch-Wines

And overwhelmed was precisely how I felt whilst swimming in a sea of the who’s who of the South African wine industry at the Table Bay Hotel. A glass or two of Graham Beck bubbly later, we all filed into the hotel’s luscious Ball Room for the awards ceremony and the presentation of the 2020 Platter’s Guide.

And the winner is….

The year 2019 gave the gift of 125 five-star wines to South Africa so I won’t mention them all here, but the three pinnacle achievements went as follows:

  • The Top Performing Winery of the Year award went to Mullineux Wines, the husband-and-wife team of which also triumphed in 2014, 2016, and 2018. They also received FIVE five-star ratings, including Shiraz of the Year for their Granite Syrah and Straw Wine of the Year for their renowned version.
  • The Newcomer Winery of the Year 2020 award went to Pieter Ferreira Cap Classique. While Pieter, who is cellarmaster at Graham Beck and the country’s “undisputed ‘Bubbly King’” is no newcomer to the industry, his and his wife Ann’s latest project is indeed a new venture, the fruits of which is a long-matured Blanc de Blancs 2012. This wine also snagged the award for Méthode Cap Classique of the Year with the highest score the Guide has ever awarded a sparkling wine.
  • Finally, the Editor’s Award Winery of the Year 2020 went to Boekenhoutskloof Winery, a Franschhoek-based producer that won Winery of the Year in 2012. What sets Boekenhoutskloof apart is the fact that it produces good and even numerous five-star wines in large enough quantities to be extremely significant, which is something still comparatively rare in South Africa.
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Platter’s 2020 Top Performing Winery of the Year awarded to Mullineux Wines

Regular folk achieving extraordinary feats

Thrust a wine novice into a ballroom full of wine industry bigwigs and the expectation is that you’d need a gas mask just to breathe the air, so thick the atmosphere is with ego, masculinity, and snobbery. Yet, over the course of the two-hour ceremony, as I watched winemaker after winemaker (or estate representative) take to the stage to receive their deserved accolades, I was struck by how normal these people are, and – praise be – how many women were finally being recognised for their talents and abilities as winemakers.

These award-winners are just regular folk doing what they loved but doing it so well that they have been thrust into a limelight of sorts. In fact, they are far more accustomed to the stillness of the vineyards and the gloom of the cellars than they are to celebrity. And while these winemakers shyly accepted their awards, the crowd was unashamedly supportive and rambunctious in their celebrations. There wasn’t a nose to be found thrust in the air. Or at least none that I saw.

The grand reveal

Finally, with all award winners announced, the veil was ripped from the countenance of the 2020 edition of the Platter’s Wine Guide, revealing a sexy, deep blue cover (the colour of which changes every year). This year’s colour?

Karoo night sky.

As a South African who has witnessed the incomprehensible grandeur of the night sky from the stillness of the Karoo, I cannot think of a more enchanting name. And as a wordsmith, I have developed a devastating crush on it.

The fun part

So, what happened afterwards? Basically, the equivalent of unleashing the Cookie Monster on the grocery store cookie aisle. All 125 of the five-star wines were laid out for us to taste, grouped by cultivar or category (white blends, bubblies, red blends, etc.) It was pure, unadulterated wine heaven: tables groaning with the country’s best rated wines with baskets of droëwors and almond nuts to nibble on.

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I was like a dog in the woods, a kid in a candy store, and any other adage you can think up. I dived right in with the Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs MCC 2012, Ridgeback Viognier 2018, and Rickety Bridge’s The Pilgrimage Old Vine Semillon 2017, followed by a glorious selection of delectable reds that just about brought tears to my eyes: Mullineux Iron Syrah 2017, Dorrance Syrah Cuvée Ameena, Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2016, Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc 2013, Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Erika Obermeyer Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, and the Crystallum Pinot Noir 2018 by Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson.

Within half an hour of – I’m not ashamed to admit – gluttonous levels of wine tasting, the crowds mercifully eased up, leaving me to continue my sipping spree untethered by a concern for civil appearance. I also found a few friends who were as reverentially appreciative of the opportunity to drink five-star wine as I was.

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A treat of the highest order

The first time I ever clapped eyes on a Platter Guide, I was a first-year university student working as a waitress and falling deeply in love with the world of wine. I marvelled at this book then, as I do now: it is a formidable tome of South African wine knowledge, a bible for the oenophile, and the best birthday or Christmas gift you could give a wine lover. From reverentially paging through my 2004 platter Guide between serving customers to sipping my way through a heroic sampling of the 125 five-star Platter wines, it feels as thought I’ve come full circle. And it was worth the headache.

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Congratulations to all the award-winners, Platter’s Wine Guide, and Diner’s Club International for this year’s tremendous success!

www.wineonaplatter.com

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/15/the-40th-edition-of-the-platters-wine-guide-2020-has-arrived/

Celebrating the Arrival of Neethlingshof’s New Wine Vintages / Brood of “Babies”

It doesn’t matter how old you get: tractor rides are a whole lot of fun. The diesel-laced, farm-fresh air in your face, the roar of its three-cylinder engine, and lush summer vineyards so close you could almost reach out and caress their leaves as you fly by at 6 km/h. Ah…tractor rides are fun. And it was in a tractor-drawn trailer that we kicked off our day at Neethlingshof Wine Estate, one of the Cape’s earliest grape-growing and wine-producing farms.

The crowd of media folk had gathered at Neethlingshof to taste the Stellenbosch estate’s new brood of babies: the 2019 white wines and some newly released vintages of red wines. But nothing works up a wine appetite quite like an appreciation of its provenance and so we were hauled high up and deep into Neethlingshof’s vineyard-carpeted hills to survey its kingdom and the various terroirs that give rise to its delicious ranges of wines.

Neethlingshof

Terroir, terroir, terroir

The tractor wheezed to a stop atop a koppie where, at over 200 metres above sea level, we were afforded sweeping views of the estate’s jigsaw puzzle of vineyards, Eucalyptus stands, granite outcroppings, pastures, and Renosterveld reserves, as well as the greater Stellenbosch valley, which expands outwards from False Bay like a natural amphitheatre.

Here, Neethlingshof’s winemaker De Wet Viljoen regaled us with tales of the farm, its terroir, and the estate’s dedication to “giving back” to nature in the form of Renosterveld rehabilitation, erecting owl posts amongst the vineyards, and, rather than having them removed to make space for more vineyards, allowing pockets of nature to thrive in the Eucalyptus stands and granite outcroppings strewn about its grounds.

Of special note is the fact that Neethlingshof’s vineyards sprawls up a series of undulating slopes that vary from 190 to 260 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the vineyards are bathed in the cool maritime breezes that flood the valley from False Bay and so, while many people tend to think of Stellenbosch as a hot climate terroir, it is in fact far more complicated than that, particularly when you take into account the varying altitudes each vineyard block resides at, their particular aspect (angle towards the onshore breezes and sun), and soil types, of which the farm has two.

This complexity shows up in each sip of Neethlingshof’s wines, as well as in the diversity of wines produced by winemaker De Wet and assistant winemaker Jacobus van Zyl.

Neethlingshof

Wine cellar tasting

Back on the ranch, we made our way through the wynproesentrum into the vast cellars for a private wine tasting hosted by winemaker De Wet. A long, luscious table with all the usual tasting paraphernalia had been set for us and we wasted little time tucking in to the first three of Neethlingshof’s new vintage wines: the white wines.

First up was the crisp, fresh, and vibrant Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, with a rich tropical fruit nose balanced nicely with herbaceous, almost green peppery aromas. Next up was the Short Story Collection Jackal’s Dance 2019, a clear, fresh, and crisp single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with distinctive minerality and flirtatious notes of ripe figs and gooseberries. The final white wine was the Short Story Collection The Six Flowers 2019, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay-driven blend of six white wine varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Weisser Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

The wine delivered a beautifully perfumed, floral yet spicy nose (thanks to new French oak) with each of the six varietals being individually vinified before blended to achieve this delicious and devilishly moreish wooded white.

The Short Story Collection

The Short Story Collection is Neethlingshof’s signature wine range that consists of five different wines, two of which I have already covered. What is so wonderful about these wines is that each bottle tells a beguiling anecdote about the estate’s rich history.

The Jackal’s Dance, for example, originates from farmer Willem Barend Lubbe who, in 1692, made the honest mistake of confusing a pack of jackals for the wolves of his homeland. He then named the farm De Wolvendans (the wolf’s dance), which was only changed in the late 1820’s when Johannes Henoch Neethling bought the property. The Jackal’s Dance unfurls this early history – and honest taxonomical error by Mr Lubbe. It also draws attention to the fact that, to this day, Neethlingshof farm is home to a population of shy Cape foxes.

The Six Flowers is a tribute to the young widow Maria Magdalena Marais, who took over the building of Neethlingshof’s manor house after the death of her husband in 1813. She rather creatively crafted six flowers (five representing her children and one for herself), which she then had cast into the manor house’s gables. Today, the story behind those six flowers has been expanded to represent the estate’s environmental consciousness and its restoration of the area’s indigenous Renosterveld vegetation.

The red course

Back to the wine tasting, our second wave of tastings was the estate’s most recently released reds, starting with the astoundingly delicious and intoxicatingly fragrant Neethlingshof Estate Merlot 2017, which served up rich, red cherry fruits laced with hints of coffee and nougat. Then the Neethlingshof Short Story Collection The Caracal 2017, a dark and intense Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, and Malbec that offered up a distinctive cherry tobacco nose, big body, and firm, supple tannins. Finally, we tasted the delightful and delicious Short Story Collection The Owl Post Pinotage 2018, in which I instantly identified coffee-chocolate notes and plums without even having to read the tasting notes first (that’s how distinctive they were).

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(Vegan) lunch at the manor house

Neethlingshof’s rather substantial innings is reflected in the Stellenbosch estate’s glorious clutch of thatched Cape Dutch buildings and towering oak trees that have become home to the farm’s rather effective mode of pest control: spotted eagle owls. Now, sitting down to a vegan lunch in a 200-year-old manor house may seem like a bit of a study in contradiction but Brendan Stein, Executive Chef at the Restaurant at Neethlingshof, is clearly not afraid of innovation and adaptation.

Neethlingshof
Yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso

To showcase the season’s incredible flavours and satisfaction achievable without having to turn to animal products, Chef Brendan put together a truly delicious four-course vegan meal for our group. This began with an amuse-bouche of tofu and black bean chilli crumbed fritter with teriyaki and miso; followed by a starter of yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso; absolutely gorgeous mains of chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil; and finally poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet, and almond chips. Each course was paired with a wine from Neethlingshof estate: respectively, the Ode to Nature Riesling 2018, Estate unwooded Chardonnay 2019, Estate Shiraz 2016, and the noble late harvest Short Story Collection Maria 2019.

Neethlingshof chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil
Neethlingshof
Poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet and almond chips

Almost persuaded to turn vegan…almost

It was quite literally one of the guilt-freest multi-course dining experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to. Composed of fresh, colourful ingredients, every dish was a fragrant and flavourful expression of summer, enhanced greatly by the wines. And rather than rolling out the door like a distended blueberry, as I often do after such events, I hopped and skipped out the door feeling like I’d earned a slice of cheese cake.

“Vegan” may have been a dirty word to many of the people seated in the restaurant that day but after our four-course vegan meal by Chef Brendon (who is unapologetically carnivorous but doesn’t shy away from a challenge), we all walked away just a little persuaded by the merits of such a diet.

Neethlingshof

Seek out the stories of Neethlingshof

I greatly encourage you to go to Neethlingshof Estate, not only for the food, the views, the farm-fresh air, and the wine itself, but also to discover the stories behind the wines – particularly those in The Short Story range. While you’re at it, bath your teeth in the Neethlingshof Malbec, an elixir of the Gods if there ever were one.

Neethlingshof Wine Estate is open 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday and 10:00 to 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@neethlingshof.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 883 8988.

www.neethlingshof.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/11/08/celebrating-the-arrival-of-neethlingshofs-new-wine-vintages-brood-of-babies/

Haute Cabrière Elevates its Offering with a New Outdoor Area, Deli, Wines, and Reimagined Interior

The view from Haute Cabrière has long served as a potent draw card to visitors to the Franschhoek Valley. Of course, there’s also the estate’s legendary and dangerously quaffable Chardonnay Pinot Noir and, my personal favourite, the Reserve Pinot Noir, which delivers more dark, juicy complexity and near-unspeakable sexiness than Sharon Stone in an Armani business suit. But with little more than some stretched-out tarpaulins providing shade to the terraced outdoor seating area, Haute Cabrière’s ability to accommodate guests al fresco was well and truly at the mercy of the Cape’s weather, which, as we all know, suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Haute Cabriere

This, I’m thankful to say, has all been successfully addressed and in spectacular style with the very recent addition of a grand outdoor conservatory. Here, floor-to-ceiling windows frame Haute Cabrière’s stunning vantage point over the Franschhoek Valley, enabling guests to enjoy the climate-controlled wind and weather immune benefits of eating indoors with the sense of space and connection with nature afforded by al fresco dining. And what views! Perched near the top of the Franschhoek Pass, Haute Cabrière serves guests a visual buffet of ruggedly handsome mountains, rolling hills, and summer-rich vineyards.

Haute Cabriere

Canapés in the winery

The grand evolution of Haute Cabrière isn’t only marked by the addition of an enormous, sheltered outdoor seating area. The tasting room and restaurant’s interior has also received a whole lot of love over the course of the past almost-year. Now, it presents as far sleeker, sexier, and more comfortable and stylish with several intimate seating areas and nooks for wine-tasting parties. A deli and bakery have also been added, introducing the allure of bubbly-soaked breakfasts and brunches to Haute Cabrière’s already seductive offering.

Haute Cabriere

It was here that we kicked off the celebrations with a selection of wine-paired canapés fresh from the new deli and bakery. Smiling servers wafted about with great trays of homemade bacon and brioche cheese “toasties”, smoked salmon bagels, and sweet and sour lamb kidney vol-au-vent with poached quail eggs. These delectable bites were paired with the Pierre Jourdan Brut (classic Chardonnay Pinot Noir bubbly), Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (100% Pinot Noir bubbly), and Pierre Jourdan Ratafia fortified dessert wine, respectively.

Haute Cabriere

Lunch on the new outdoor terrace

While Haute Cabrière may have received quite the flattering makeover, its menu remains ever rooted in France with the odd flirtation with South African cuisine. That’s not to say that it goes without evolution, but the philosophies and approach to fine dining remain the same – a product of Chef Nic van Wyk’s passions, talents, and imagination. I say this with the utmost confidence because every time I have eaten at Haute Cabrière I have left with a grin on my face and this occasion was no different.

For starters, I found my cheesy, happy place in a bowl of ricotta and garden spinach dumplings topped with fresh asparagus and broad beans, and served swimming in creamy celeriac foam. The wine pairing was the recently introduced Haute Collection Chardonnay 2017, a single vineyard wine created from a block of Chardonnay planted on the Franschhoek property in 1983 by proprietor Achim von Arnim. Only 2138 bottles were produced.

Brief side note

With dad von Arnim yielding the reins to his winemaker son Takuan, the estate’s repertoire of wines is slowly expanding and evolving to include more interpretations of the two principle varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Haute Collection Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and amphora Chardonnay, as well as the demi-sec Pierre Jourdan Belle Nectar, are examples of this evolution.

Haute Cabriere

Back to lunch

The main event was charcoal-grilled venison, served in thick slices of pink and perfectly tender deliciousness, in a lake of port and truffle sauce. Also on the plate was a not-overly-sweet pear tartlet, a gorgeous contrast to the savoury venison. For this course, we were treated to the sublime, earthy, and red cherry rich Haute Collection Pinot Noir 2017, another single vineyard wine – of which only 1011 bottles were made – created from a block of Pinot Noir planted in 1992 and 1993 on the slopes of the Middagkrans Mountain in Franschhoek.

Haute Cabriere

Dessert was a medley of treats fresh from the bakery, all conveniently sized so as to be easily plucked off the plate and popped in the mouth: Paris-Brest (choux pastry filled with praline flavoured cream), warm almond cake, and digestive biscuits with green figs. The wine for the final course was the new Pierre Jourdan Belle Nectar, a salmon pink demi-sec Méthode Cap Classique with a sweeter palette and aromas of rose petals, strawberries, and Turkish Delights.

Haute Cabriere

So, when are you going?

Haute Cabrière’s recent renovations and reimagining bring a much-needed transformation to this award-winning and vastly popular wine estate; one that has rendered its gorgeous terrace invulnerable to the wind and rain, which means that its panoramic Franschhoek Valley views can be enjoyed all year round. In addition to the greatly elevated aesthetics and comfort of Haute Cabrière, you can expect a few new wines by Takuan von Arnim, freshly baked treats, and the same absolutely delicious food by Chef Nic van Wyk. Haute Cabrière has most assuredly received its second wind and it’s absolutely worth a second look!

Haute Cabrière is open Monday to Saturday, 08:00 to 20:00 and Sunday, 08:00 to 16:00. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 876 8500 or go to www.cabriere.co.za.

Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek Pass, Franschhoek

Oldenburg Vineyards: a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch itinerary

It is all too easy to wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph about how spellbindingly beautiful the Cape Winelands are. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Southern Vines magazine about a year ago:

“Perched high up on Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Wine & Olive Farm affords visitors the kind of views that words fail dismally to convey. From here, you can see the Cape farmlands’ patchwork quilt of emerald green fields and autumnal-coloured vineyards bordered by dramatic, craggy mountain ranges turned blue by a low haze.” 

And another earlier this year:

“I’d need the romantic turn of phrase and poetic dexterity of William Wordsworth to describe the view from Cavalli Estate’s restaurant. An extensive terrace juts out over a small farm dam that reflects an endless vault of creamy blue sky. A neat, yet explosively coloured Fynbos garden thrives around the perimeter of the dam, in and out of which canaries, sunbirds, and prinias flit. The sky was completely unblemished, saved for the occasional soaring raptor, and the sun gently gilded the surrounding rolling hills, rugged mountains, vineyards, and horse paddocks.”

Evocative enough?

So now I sit here, kalaeidescopic memories of Oldenburg Vineyards emblazoned across my mind, trying to cook up a clever new way of conveying its particular allure because I dare say it’s one of the most beautiful of all the Cape’s wine estates I have ever visited. Top three at least!

In fact, to describe the sweeping amphitheatre of dramatic mountainscapes, undulating vineyards, and fiery flowering Fynbos gardens as merely “beautiful” is to nonchalantly say Thai food is “okay” or “Ja, she’s pretty” about the actress from the latest Wonder Woman movie. Beautiful, pah! Such a pedestrian, everyday adjective is almost slanderous in this context. A litany of far more adoring words come to my writer’s mind: mouth-wateringly delicious, heart-breakingly gorgeous, and knee-weakeningly divine…and yes, these apply to both Thai food and Gal Gadot.

So there you have it. Oldenburg Vineyards sprawls across a setting that will blow your mind in the most exquisite way possible and if you receive any visitors to the Cape and want to send them home with immediate plans to relocate, bring them here:

Oldenburg Vineyards Stellenbosch Rondekop

I told you I could wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph…and I haven’t even started talking about the wine yet!

Wine, glorious wine

Oldenburg Vineyards’ wine tasting centre

On the subject of wine, let’s talk about wine! Located at a higher elevation to most Stellenbosch farms and in the rocky embrace of the Groot Drakenstein and Jonkershoek Mountain Ranges, the valley in which Oldenburg’s vineyards sprawl is several degrees cooler on average. Three to be precise.

Upon arrival at the estate, the velvety-voiced and charismatic Stefan Reinmuth, Oldenburg’s wine ambassador, greeted us with a glass of the estate’s <CL° White Blend. There’s a great story to that name, which I’ll share in a minute but first I need to express how very delighted I was to receive a welcome drink of lightly wooded white wine as opposed to the usual crisp rosé or MCC…not that I have anything against MCC (quite the contrary actually), but a change is as good as a holiday, isn’t it? Also, I’m amongst the endangered species that love a good, wooded Chardonnay.

Yours truly with a grotesque volume of Chardonnay in hand. Awesome.

Oldenburg Vineyards <CL° is a white blend of 63% Chardonnay and 37% Chenin Blanc, both partially wooded. The name is a composite of nerdy symbols, the key to which is provided on the back of the bottle. “CL” is the vehicle registration for Stellenbosch, “<” is the mathematical symbol for less than, and “°” is the symbol for degree, as in temperature. Ergo, slapped together, the name alludes to the fact that the terroir here is cooler than central Stellenbosch, which, in winemaking, is a very good thing.

Oldenburg Vineyards CL-White-Blend-2018
Oldenburg Vineyards <CL°

The <CL° on Oldenburg Vineyard’s bottles of White and Red Blend is what the estate’s marketers call a “message in a bottle” but what the dashing Stefan Reinmuth jokingly prefers to call a “dad joke in a bottle.” I prefer the latter, probably because I was raised on an interminable diet of dad jokes.

(Hopefully this doesn’t get you into trouble, Stefan.)

“Jy dink jy’s cooler as ekke”

Profoundly foul-mouthed philosopher and poet, Jack Parow

Okay, so why is cooler better (within reason)?

Grapes typically take longer to ripen in cooler microclimates and a longer time on the vine means more nutrients for the grapes, a better development of the fruits, and more concentrated flavours. Quality fruit is the bedrock, foundations, and building blocks of an excellent wine. The winemaker is the architect. 

If you’re still struggling to grasp the relationship between temperature and fruit quality, consider the following: have you ever eaten ripe tomatoes off the vine? Aren’t they delicious? Bursting with citrusy, sweet, and vegetal flavour? Quite a bit different to the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket, which are watery by comparison. This is because the latter are typically plucked off the vine when they are green and then ripen en route to the store, in the store, or even after they’ve been purchased. These tomatoes have been cut off from the steady feed of nutrients from the parent plant and so aren’t nearly as delicious and flavoursome as their vine-ripened cousins. This is why “vine-ripened” has become a sexy word in gastronomy and on menus.

So there you have it: the longer the ripening period, the greater the development of those fruit flavours winemakers (and wine drinkers such as myself) covet so dearly.

The wine tasting

After gagging over the view and sipping delicately on my “dad joke” in a glass, we took our seats around a long table in the stylish wine tasting centre to sample the fruits of Oldenburg’s vineyards and winemaker, Nic Van Aarde.

Oldenburg Vineyards Winemaker Nic van Aarde (HR)
The architect.

First up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Chenin Blanc 2018 and Chardonnay 2018. The first, a beguiling golden hue in colour, delivered aromas of yellow apples, fresh pineapple, and honeysuckle, followed up by a lovely texture on the palate, filled with flavours of ripe peaches, apricots, and gentle oak spice. The wine was fermented in a combination of egg and older barrels, and matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for eight months, of which 17% were first fill.

Oldenburg Vineyards Chenin Blanc & Chardonnay
Chardonnay on the left, Chenin on the right.

The Chardonnay 2018 was 100% barrel fermented and thereafter matured for eight months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 35% of which were first fill. Bright yellow in colour, the wine imparted a nose of gorgeous ripe tropical fruits: litchi, banana, papaya, and ripe citrus with warm oak spice. The palate was a study in balance between fruit and oak, delivering mouth-filling flavours of tangerine and dried pineapple with a fresh, crisp finish.

Next up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Grenache Noir 2017 and Syrah 2015. Mercifully, the tables were decked with great platters heaped with Dalewood cheese, olives, sweet green grapes, charcuterie, and crackers that were as delicious as they were deafening to crunch on in the quiet around the table, while Stefan walked us through the tasting. Oh, and by the way, these platters (minus the charcuterie – we’re special) are served to all guests who visit Oldenburg Vineyards for a wine tasting!

Oldenburg Vineyards Grenache Noir & Syrah
Grenache Noir on the left, Syrah on the right.

The Grenache Noir 2017, a gorgeous, silky red, was matured for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (28% new and 72% second-fill barrels). The wine has a dark plum hue and aromas of rich red fruit, raspberries, hints of liquorice, and pleasant herbal notes. The wood from the oak is elegantly integrated into the body, while the sturdy tannins are rounded off by luscious fruit flavours, leaving the wine smooth and succulent.

To those of you scratching your heads over my persistent referencing to first and second-fill barrels, here’s the deal: oak imparts a distinctive flavour to wine that is strongest with new oak barrels (first fill). After a vintage, the barrels are thoroughly steam-cleaned and sterilized to receive their next consignment of vino, to which they also impart a lovely oak flavour but not as concentrated as the first. Oak barrels can be used many, many times over but each time they impart less and less “oakiness” to the wine. Some wines benefit enormously from being fermented and matured in new oak, like rich, heavy red wines.

Oldenburg Vineyards - barrels

Other wines can be ruined by too much oak, as is the case with Chardonnay and that blasphemous “ABC” movement – Anything But Chardonnay – to which I say: clearly, you aren’t drinking the right Chardonnay. Some wines, such as crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, typically aren’t oaked at all but are rather fermented and matured in great steel containers. There’s more to it – winemaking is mind-bogglingly complex – but consider this your crash course.

The Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015

The reason I have given the Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015 its very own subheading is because this wine – this liquid velvet ambrosia – was my absolute favourite from our tasting. First, it must be explained that the 2015 vintage here in South Africa is widely considered to be the best ever for our country’s wines. Not merely “one of the best”…the best. Cooler conditions throughout February 2015 allowed for slow, even ripening of grapes early in the season, contributing towards the development of the fruit’s colour and flavour, particularly in the red wine cultivars.

Syrah, Syrah! Whatever will be, will be!

The Syrah 2015 was matured for 20 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (40% first fill, 30% third fill, 20% fourth fill, and 10% fifth fill barrels.) On the nose, this dark crimson wine delivers a powerful, ripe red fruit profile laced with vanilla oak and sultry savoury notes. On the palate, it boasts brooding, dark chocolate flavours with cumin notes and a firm, muscular structure. I fell so ardently in love with this wine that I bought a bottle after our tasting, even though my wine collection overfloweth and, with plans to relocate to Canada in the next six months, I should be whittling down my collection rather than adding to it.

Next was the bold but elegant Cabernet Franc 2015, matured for 19 month in a mixture of new, third, fourth, and fifth fill French oak barrels. This wine, another beautiful velvety red, is a deep, plum-red in colour with a nose of ripe cherry and savoury notes and the most succulent palate of liquorice, violets, raspberries, and red fruit and a mouth-watering pepperiness of capsicum, paprika, and black pepper, particularly appreciable after hoovering down 17 olives (no one else was eating them!)

Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc on the left, Rondekop Cabernet Sauvignon on the right.

Finally, we were treated to a tasting of the Rondekop “Per Se” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, one of three wines from Oldenburg Vineyards’ top tier range. The grapes for these wines are grown on a low, rounded hill (Rondekop or “round head”) visible from the winery. Like a contagious laugh on an already attractive person, the presence of this geological feature within the valley adds further desirable idiosyncrasies to the microclimate. The result is that the fruit grown here is not just good; it’s blerry good. In fact, only ten barrels showing exceptional quality and potential were selected and left to age in 50% new oak and 50% second fill barrels for 24 months to create the Rondekop Per Se 2015.

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View from Oldenburg Vineyards’ winery with Rondekop poking its rondekop above the Fynbos gardens.

The subsequent brick-red Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a profound herbal aroma with dried peach and hints of vanilla and a gorgeous full body of broody black currant, plum, and red fruit flavours. The tannins are as soft as a fall-of-the-bone lamb shank, but structured enough to allow ageing of 20 years or more. And, according to the winemaker, “this virile, succulent wine is a textbook example of what Cabernet Sauvignon is all about.”

Sufficiently titillated? Buy Oldenburg Vineyard’s wines here!

Wine estate worthy of your next Stellenbosch visit

Oldenburg Vineyards is a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch travel itinerary – the wines here are simply superb and the views, as I explained ad nauseum, heart-breakingly gorgeous. The only downfall to visiting such an exquisite wine estate is that you might find yourself insufferably critical of all others to follow!

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and grammatically pedantic writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Holden Manz Wine Estate Delivers a Food and Wine Experience that is Pure and Unpretentious Luxury

We pulled up to Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek on a day that was the epitome of winter; although in her fine dress of vineyards and voluptuous mountain borders, this idyllic winelands town always manages to look beautifully dramatic on even the drizzliest of days. Situated in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, sandwiched between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook, the 22-hectare estate of Holden Manz boasts a unique terroir that is the progenitor of a range of truly exquisite red wines, including a ‘top 6 in the world’ Cabernet Franc and ‘top 10’ Merlot.

On the two occasions we have sampled Holden Manz wines before – the Franschhoek Summer Wine and Franschhoek Winter Wine festivals at which we had the Chenin Blanc and the Proprietor’s Blend, respectively – we were compelled by their depth of fruit, aromatic complexity, and pure elegance. And so it was with much anticipation that we swooned into the estate’s rustic tasting room to explore the full range before sitting down to a three-course lunch at Holden Manz’ restaurant, the Franschhoek Kitchen.

Holden Manz wine tasting

Holden Manz red wine Franschhoek

Our wine tasting was hosted by the dashing and charismatic Ruben, Holden Manz’ wine ambassador, who walked us through the estate’s very fine repertoire of award-winning wines, beginning with the lush and creamy Provence-style rosé, the gorgeous Chenin Blanc, and, the final white wine, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2018. Then, we embarked upon Holden Manz’ rich, elegant, and smooth reds, the grapes of which are grown in the topmost 16 hectares of the estate. To be quite honest, I would be hard-pressed to decide upon a favourite but under duress I suppose I would opt for the Holden Manz Syrah…and the Cabernet Sauvignon…and while we’re at it, the Reserve Merlot. Oh and their Visionaire, Cabernet Franc,and Big G Bordeaux-styleblend.

Do you see where I’m going with this? My absolute compliments to Holden Manz’ experienced and artful winemaker, Thierry Haberer.

Lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen
Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo and horseradish crème

A rather gluttonous volume of wine later, we headed upstairs from the tasting room and cellars for a much-needed lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen, which has been rated one of the leading restaurants in a valley already lauded for its culinary calibre. In this classically beautiful, yet rustic setting with stunning views over rain bejewelled vineyards, we tucked into a feast crafted from fresh ingredients strictly sourced from the Franschhoek Valley.

For starters, we shared the gorgeous and velvety vichyssoise soup, served warm and paired with the Holden Manz Chenin Blanc, and the Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo, horseradish crème, and a glass of the deliciously indulgent Reserve Chardonnay.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen sea bass
Sea bass with laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce and toasted coconut chips

For mains, we shared (again, because variety is the spice of life) the pork belly with pomme purée, peach gel, shitake mushrooms, vine tomato, and shitake jus with a glass of Holden Manz Reserve Merlot, and the sea bass, which came swimming in a rich, creamy laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce with toasted coconut chips. The wine pairing for this dish was the exquisite Holden Manz Syrah Reserve. For a sweet ending, we chose the triple chocolate mousse, apple tart, and a nip of Holden Manz Good Sport Cape Vintage 2014, by which stage we had slumped into a miasma of hedonistic pleasure.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen dessert
Triple chocolate mousse

Five-star accommodation

A visit to Holden Manz Wine Estate need not conclude with a meal. With the Holden Manz Country House being a stone’s throw from the tasting room and restaurant, guests – satiated with good food and wine – can collapse into the lap of luxury. This five-star guesthouse offers five spacious and lavishly appointed suites, all with breathtaking views of the upper Franschhoek Valley and the mountains beyond, as well as a pool, afternoon tea with homemade delicacies, sandwiches, cakes, and preserves, and generous breakfasts, featuring fruits from the estate’s orchards and eggs from their vineyard chickens.

Holden Manz Country Manor Franschhoek

Top culinary and wine experience

Holden Manz Estate owners Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, together with winemaker Thierry Haberer and every member of their staff, have created a wine and food experience that is every ounce as luxurious as it is unpretentious. There are few airs and graces here to dress up the offering because – no surprises here – absolutely none are necessary. Our first few encounters with the brand at Franschhoek’s seasonal wine festivals already had us impressed but our visit to Holden Manz took our impressions to stratospheric heights. Wine estate, fine dining country restaurant, wedding venue, wine tasting cellar, and luxurious five-star accommodations, Holden Manz has it all!

www.HoldenManz.com, +27 (0) 21 876 2738

Braving the Rain for the Oh-so-Worth-It Terroir Winter Special Offer

Bathed in the warm glow of a flickering fire, our table beckoned to us from across the intimate dining room of Terroir at Kleine Zalze Wine Estate. With its warm charcoal walls, bamboo ceiling, and Spanish style terracotta tiles, this rustic, homey restaurant felt to us like a wholesome retreat from the wintry outdoors, a sentiment soon confirmed by the sound of the rain pelting against the roof. The imagination could scarcely cook up a more inviting space in which to sit down to a meal…but it does get better.

In honour of the season and to seduce Capetonians from the comfort of their homes to Stellenbosch, Executive Chef Michael Broughton of Terroir has designed a heart-warming menu of indulgent, winter-worthy dishes, which the restaurant is offering for only R295 for two courses, or R395 for three, including two glasses of Kleine Zalze wine of your choice. Click here for more information on Terroir’s winter special menu. Needless to say, I was thoroughly seduced and so we braved the rain and frigid cold to see if Terroir indeed lives up to its rather formidable reputation as one of the most sought-after gourmet destinations in the Cape Winelands.

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Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael Broughton and Terroir cuisine

Terroir first opened its doors in October 2004, when chef Michael Broughton exchanged tenure at the Mount Grace Country House and Spa in Magaliesburg to head Terroir at the Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch. Having previously opened his restaurant Broughton’s in Parkview in 1997 to critical acclaim and garnered serious respect in the subsequent years, it was little surprise to see Terroir’s walls adorned with prestigious accolades and awards. Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards’ Top 10, Boe and Moët & Chandon Top 30 Restaurants in Africa, and RASA Rosetta Service Excellence Awards are just a few.

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Executive Chef Michael Broughton | Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael designs his menu according to the seasons, available local ingredients, and whatever whimsical inspiration may strike, as is true of any artist. He describes his cooking style as “deceptively simple”, applying a “less is more” philosophy in his approach to crafting exciting and satisfying dishes. The proof, however, is in the pudding and so we sat down at our cosy fireside table to explore Terroir’s offering and chef Michael’s creative genius, washed down with some beautiful wine from Kleine Zalze.

Three-course winter-inspired meal

We were welcomed most warmly with a chilled glass of Kleine Zalze’s NV Brut Rosé MCC, a lavish bread platter of sourdough and cheesy focaccia slices, smoked olives, hummus, and honey and soy butter, and a little “love letter” from the kitchen: an amuse-bouche of fish croquette in a creamy green pool of asparagus velouté. All of this and we hadn’t even made a start on the winter menu yet!

Terroir Winter Menu Stellenbosch

Our lovely server brought the chalkboard menu to us to make our selection of starters and mains – there are only wine menus at Terroir, and in the absence of printed food menus, chef Michael and his team have the elbowroom to be inspired, spontaneous, and creative.

For starters, I chose the hand-made tagliatelle in a divine black truffle sauce, with roasted tomatoes lending a pleasant and sharp juxtaposition to the otherwise rich, creamy pasta. Being smacked in the face by the earthy, woody, pungent aromas of a hot truffle dish is one of my favourite culinary experiences, second only to taking the first bite of said dish!

Terroir

Another of my favourite things to do when sitting down to a meal is to pick the perfect wine to accompany my food choices. And with Terroir’s winter special including two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine – of which guests have a choice of about 16 different wines – the experience was really elevated. Devastated to learn that the Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir 2017 was sold out, I opted instead for the Zalze Range Shiraz, Grenache, Viognier 2017: a worthy substitute and perfect pairing for my starter of truffle tagliatelle.

For mains, I chose the Karoo rack of lamb cooked to pink perfection and served with Bulgur wheat pearls, aubergine and courgette, tomato jus, and what tasted like a mint purée. Now, usually, I cut the fat off my meat – I know, how un-South African of me – but those slivers of lamb fat were singed to the most sumptuous crisp and it was just too melt-in-your mouth delicious to shun. My wine of choice was the heady and robust Vineyard Selection Shiraz 2015.

We concluded our meal with a trio of sorbet (apple, litchi, and berry) and a varied and generous cheese plate.

A winsome winter dining experience

The fire crackled pleasantly to my left, its warmth lapping gently at my legs while my “plus one” and I spent a leisurely two hours savouring Terroir’s scrumptious winter meal, the restaurant’s warm atmosphere and attentive service, and Kleine Zalze’s exquisite wines. The drumming of rain on the roof served only to enforce the ambiance of winter refuge, leaving us with happy bellies and heavy eyelids. Terroir proves itself to be more than worthy of the rain-sodden drive out from Cape Town.

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Terroir’s winter special: the details

Terroir is located on Kleine Zalze, a family owned wine farm that has risen to prominence both in South Africa and internationally thanks in particular to its award-winning Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. The winter special at Terroir offers guests a choice between a two-course and a three-course meal for only R295 and R395 respectively. Both options include two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine.

The offer is valid until 30th September 2019 so even though the restaurant will be closing its doors for its annual winter break from 17th June to 10th July 2019, there’s still plenty of time to make the most of this incredible deal. Just be sure to book in advance: Terroir is busy for very good reason!

Terroir is open for lunch on Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 14:30 and dinner on Tuesday to Saturday, 18:30 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email restaurant@kleinezalze.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 880 8167

www.kleinezalze.co.za

Strand Road, De Zalze Golf Estate, Stellenbosch

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/07/braving-the-rain-for-the-oh-so-worth-it-terroir-winter-special-offer/

Launching the 2019 Vintage of De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

In 2018, a Japanese fraternity of sommeliers named the Limestone Hill Chardonnay from De Wetshof the “Oyster Wine of the Year”. Being a Pacific Ocean-embraced island with a culture and cuisine deeply rooted in seafood, they should know, shouldn’t they? Originating from South Africa’s very own “House of Chardonnay” in the Robertson Wine Valley, the Limestone Hill Chardonnay is no stranger to accolades with bottles of past vintages appearing more decorated than a Christmas tree.

But it wasn’t to celebrate and explore the wines of vintages past that we gathered at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell Restaurant on Bree Street, the carotid artery of Cape Town’s culinary scene. No, it was to celebrate the arrival of the brand new vintage, the 2019, over a lavish three-course seafood lunch!

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South Africa’s “House of Chardonnay”

For three generations, the De Wets have toiled over their hectares in the Robertson Wine Valley, transforming sunshine, terroir, and grape juice into a generous selection of variously styled and site specific Chardonnay wines. So intimately intertwined is the history and present of this estate with this noble Burgundian grape varietal that De Wetshof has earned an international reputation as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House. The De Wets live and breathe Chardonnay: it runs in their veins (and probably not just figuratively speaking either).

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay

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The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is one of the estate’s more accessible wines, both in price and in ease of drinkability. It’s widely known, well trusted, reliably delicious, and (be warned) dangerously quaffable. Now, typically, I like my wines wooded and with a few years under their belts, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this youthful, vivacious, unwooded Chardonnay and even more so because, at only a few months old, it is rich and complex yet elegant, with fresh flavours of citrus and ripe fruits underscored by a gentle minerality.

Actually, since I couldn’t possibly better the words of American wine critic Robert M. Parker in describing this wine, I’ll simply quote them here:

“The De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drinkability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced.”

Yeah: what he said.

The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay carries quite a hefty reputation and, as we’ve seen, one that extends both east and west of South Africa. But it’s when this accessible wine of great substance is paired with food that it truly sings.

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Three-course seafood lunch ft. Limestone Hill Chardonnay

We sat down to lunch at the SeaBreeze Fish & Shell, which is owned and run by Britons Alex and Ruth Grahame, previously of the Hornblowers seafood restaurant in Gourdon, Scotland. This contemporary take on the traditional seafood restaurant prides itself on “sourcing local, sustainable seafood presented creatively and with a lighter touch.”

For starters, we were treated to a plate of fresh, naked oysters of various provenances (Saldanha Bay and Knysna) and two dressed with lime, horseradish, and Amasi – yoghurt-like fermented milk. Next up was an absolutely delicious and perfectly seared steak of locally landed yellowfin tuna served on a swath of herb pesto and garden peas, with grilled baby fennel and sautéed new potatoes. And finally, a tart wedge of lemon, uh, tart with a rich whipped, vanilla-infused Chantilly cream.

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Every course was delicious: fresh, beautifully balanced, and satisfying without over-extending the belly, as can be the case with multi-course meals. What was truly extraordinary about it all – and to this I take my hat off to the Chef in the crafty design of the menu and skilful execution of flavours – was how every course showcased a different facet of the De Wetshof Limestone Hill’s personality. The Chardonnay’s citrus notes sang with the oysters, reached a fruity crescendo with the tuna, and settled into more saline flintiness and minerality with the sweet lemon tart. In turn, each course was elevated by the wine.

On the whole, it was a wonderfully flirtatious pairing and even a bit dangerous how easily that Chardonnay went down!

A tried, trusted, and true gem

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A good wine and food pairing is the pinnacle of pleasure for yours truly and I was wholly impressed with the 2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay, not only as a wine to be enjoyed on its own but as a pairing to three remarkably different seafood courses. It’s unsurprising that its one of the top selling unwooded Chardonnays in Cape Town and, according to winemaker Johann De Wet, the 2019 is set to become one of the best vintages too (with fantastic aging potential).

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is drinking proof that a great wine doesn’t need to cost a small fortune, be accessible only by stepladder, or be older than Kirk Douglas. Oftentimes, true gems are made in the same year and exist at eye level.

DeWetshof Wines: www.dewetshof.comSeabreeze Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 21:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 74 79 39 349 or email hello@seabreezecapetown.co.za

www.seabreezecapetown.co.za

211 – 213 Bree Street, Cape Town

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/launching-the-2019-vintage-of-de-wetshof-limestone-hill-chardonnay/