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Posted by on in News

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Stark-CondE-4-SCENIC.JPG 

By all accounts I missed out on one of the most memorable wine outings of 2016, as colleagues raved about their time at the Stark-Conde winery on the Oude  Nektar farm, tucked into the Jonkershoek valley.  I'll be catching up very soon, but meanwhile, am so enjoying their new vintages and want to share highlights of their oriental-occidental  story that combines Cape history with a prodigal son, international  curators and  wine that is attracting global awards.

 

Let's start with the extended family:

Hans Schroder grew up in Stellenbosch, but was drawn to Japan after visiting as a merchant mariner. He not only b2ap3_thumbnail_STARK-CONDE-1-FAMILYHans-back-and-Midori-Schrder-front-with-their-3-daughters-LtoR-Miki-Nava-Lisa-Valesco-and-Marie-Cond-Hi-Res.JPGbecame fluent in the language, but enrolled at their ICU university to study international business. While there he met Midori Maruyama whom he married in 1966. After another 25 years, with three grown daughters, the couple returned to South Africa  where he bought the lovely Oude Nektar farm in the Jonkershoek valley, formerly part of  of the late Una van der Spuy's property, famous for a renowned garden and beautiful roses. Schroder focussed on replanting vineyards and, at the close of the last century, his son-in-law Jose Conde, a Cuban -American artist, started to experiment with making cabernet in an old shed on the property.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_STARK-CONDE-2Jos-Cond-punching-down-in-the-cellar.JPGThe result was so well received by the Platter tasters, that he soon became a fulltime winemaker, and Stark-Conde wines were created.

Japan is still involved, to the extent that during October the Japanese ambassador to South Africa presented Hans Schroder with their Foreign Minister's commendation to acknowledge his contribution to the promotion of friendship between the two countries.

Meanwhile oriental influence is easily seen in the tasting room, sheltered by willows, on a little island in the lake b2ap3_thumbnail_Stark-CondE5-tasting-room.JPGwhere visitors  sip fine wines in the tranquil garden setting and soaring backdrop of the Stellenbosch mountains.

Daughter Marie, married to winemaker Jose, runs the Postcard Cafe, also at the lake edge, where visitors can enjoy simple fresh fare.

More on the wine: The Stark-Conde Field Blend is a barrel-fermented single vineyard wine, comprising nearly half roussanne, a fair quantity of chenin blanc and finished with equal portions of viognier and verdelho. It is, in a word, outstanding example, made by pressing and fermenting all the grapes together, and matured in mostly older oak for eight months. Elegant, rich yet restrained, it's not surprising to hear that it  walked off with the trophy for Best White Blend at this years Six Nations Wine Challenge in Australia. Worth every cent of its R165 pricetag.

The cabs are not to be outdone either - and the current vintage, Three Pines cabernet sauvignon 2014, scored 95 points from Tim Atkin in his recent SA Wine Report, topping a long list of awards dating back to the maiden 1998 vintage which scooped 5 stars in Platter ( with four repeats in subsequent years). 

Expect to pay about R295.

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Posted by on in Wine

After a surfeit of gourmet, gimmicks, leaves and ferments, Myrna Robins is ready for simple, rustic, flavour-packed classics. Turn to bistros, she suggests, to find time-honoured  Gallic  creations, made with love, prepared with  care and offered at palate-pleasing prices.

 


b2ap3_thumbnail_glenelly-tuna-tartare-297.re.jpgPhotos: Chad Henning

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of the year when the best of everything is awarded medals and certificates and, of course, gets welcome publicity. The recent Eat Out awards saw Western Cape restaurants take nine out of the Top Ten places, with a single Gauteng venue taking fifth place. While culinary practices of pickling, smoking, foraging and fermenting continue to be prominent on menus, the Eat Out website suggests that the hottest current trend is that of vegetarian “charcuterie”,  illustrated by colourful pictures of artfully arranged forests of leaves, strewn with edible flowers , funghi  and baby veggies.

While it’s exciting to explore the world of gourmet innovation, few can afford to dine at these exalted venues regularly. The appeal of popular alternatives – burger and pizza joints and Asian noodle bars – can also pall. Time, perhaps,  to consider finding a neighbourhood  bistro, preferably one that offers traditional French  dishes.  If the quality of ingredients and the care taken in combining them are regarded as the yardsticks by which to judge the fare, you probably have a winner. Of less importance is the plating, likely to be straightforward with nary  a wisp of foam, puddle of essence or scattering of crumbs in sight.

French bistro food celebrates generous, full-flavoured cooking, family  fare that includes robust soups, rustic salads, wine-scented stews and casseroles, bubbling gratins and granny’s desserts.  It adds up to inexpensive soul food from small eateries all over France, where pride and tradition ensure maintenance of quality: even truck drivers would not continue to frequent bistros where popular  items like sausage and potato salad, coq au vin, salade niçoise and  lemon tart were not consistently good.  Summer may see pan bagnat or pissaladière on the menu or mussels steamed in white wine, while winter warmth comes as  pot au feu  and chicken with tarragon vinegar. Creations are  usually well-balanced, combining  chicken roasted in chicken fat or butter with fresh watercress to foil the richness and  leg of lamb roasted above a gratin of potato, onion and tomato, the latter flavoured by the meat juices which drip into it.

b2ap3_thumbnail_BISTRO-Christophe.JPGWhere to find these sources of Gallic goodness? Meet one of our most popular of French chefs, known to hundreds of Cape diners: Christophe Dehosse  has lived in  South Africa for some 25 years, where he has delighted  locals and visitors with both gourmet cuisine and now bistro fare in two venues.

Paris-trained, Christophe was working in a well-known restaurant in Cognac country when he met Susan Myburgh, who grew up at the historic Joostenberg farm, near  Klapmuts. The couple relocated  to South Africa where they opened the popular La Maison de Chamonix restaurant on the Franschhoek wine estate in 1992, then  moved to the city and started the Au Jardin restaurant at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands  two years later. Regulars were devastated when they left the suburbs to join the Myburgh family enterprises:  a farm stall and nursery at Klein Joostenberg soon blossomed into a deli and bistro, while a pork butchery, cut flowers, and a winery on the old farm occupy  other family members.

Today the deli and bistro are well established, the wines attract awards and Christophe leaves the kitchen to head chef Garth Bedford, who started as a trainee way back at Au Jardin.  A  peek at the a la carte menu reveals a delectable choice of bistro classics: starters include homemade charcuterie with terrine, rillette, cured pork and ham with a mini-bobotie quiche for local flavour. Mains offer that famous toasted sandwich Croque Monsieur, English-style pork sausage with apple sauce and mashed potato, and braised beef and mushroom ragout in red wine on homemade pasta.  Families that reserve tables for Sunday lunch can expect trays of starters to include items like brawn and pickles, hummus, a vegetarian roulade and salads with homebaked breads.  Their choice of main course could vary from tuna steak with ratatouille and sauce vierge to slow-cooked Karoo lamb or roast shoulder of pork.  The final course is a mélange of local cheeses,  classic floating islands, fresh strawberries and a blueberry cheesecake. This feast costs R205, while children can enjoy two courses for R85. The value is obvious and the culinary standards consistently high, and advance bookings are required.

When I heard that chef patron Dehosse was to open a bistro on the sophisticated Glenelly wine estate outside Stellenbosch, I wondered if the downhome bistro principles could be maintained: a recent lunch there has proved that indeed they can. He continues to be inspired by traditional French fare, sourcing ingredients from local organic growers, adding a soupcon of African  flavours to the mix. A starter of tuna tartare preceded silverfish or beef fillet in red wine sauce  and chocolate fondant with poached pear and yoghurt Chantilly completed the meal. Prices are higher here than at Joostenberg, but, says Christophe firmly, Glenelly is still a bistro where no jacket is required.

It ‘s a measure of his talent that Glenelly’s owner, 91-year-young Madame May de Lencquesaing chose a chef who specializes in rustic  fare to complement her ranges of distinctive estate wines, which offer Old World elegance and New World fruit in appealing combinations. Visitors can choose to dine at long wooden tables on the terrace, or inside where antique chairs and classic Parisian tables offer views of  verdant hills of manicured vineyards. 

 

This article first appeared in the Life section of the Cape Argus on Tuesday November 29.

 

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Posted by on in Reviews

 

YEOMEN OF THE KAROO:  The Story of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein by Rose Willis, Arnold van Dyk and JC ‘Kay’ de Villiers. Published by Firefly Publications, Brandfort, Free State, 2016.

 

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I wonder how many of Rose Willis’s fans have waited  for this story to come to light, to be properly unearthed and recorded?  Reading through the  names in the Acknowledgements, one soon  realises that  the list of friends,  geologists, ecologists, heritage experts,  farmers, researchers, archivists  and family members   who contributed in some way is extensive .  Rose Willis, known to many readers as the founder and compiler of the monthly Rose’s Round-up, found time between teaching and writing  to dig  deep into intercontinental events that are woven into the tapestry of this extraordinary tale.

She discovered Deelfontein when she was living outside Beaufort West and promoting tourism in the Central Karoo, and she was helped in her research by Dr van Dyk , an authority on the Boer War with a library of pictures on the subject, while Prof Kay de Villiers,  a Cape Town neuro-surgeon and expert on both the war and its medical aspects also supplied valuable input.

As the 19th century drew to a close a war raged across South Africa and, on the desolate plains of the Great Karoo, a unique hospital sprang up…

In 1899 the British realised that this war against “a bunch of farmers” was not going well for them, and the government appealed for volunteers. This succeeded as many men, including newly qualified doctors, enlisted and ships sailed for South Africa almost daily. In England two high society women scrapped their social calendars and set out to raise funds for a private hospital to care for the men who would be wounded.

The results were nothing short of  extraordinary –  from conception  in England to erection in the Karoo,  a little less than three months passed before  the Imperial Yeomanry hospital opened at Deelfontein, a narrow valley between a row of koppies and a railway siding, 46km south of De Aar and 77km north of Richmond. The date was March 17 1900.

Stating that it was a place ahead of its time is something of an understatement . I  quote liberally from the press release:  The huge tent hospital that mushroomed in this desolate region was unique… along with operating theatres, treatment and convalescent wards, it boasted specialist units for dentistry, ophthalmology and radiology – all firsts  in a military hospital.  There was a fire station, a dispensary, electricity and a telephone system. It had its own stables and dairy, which supplied sterilised milk. Steam-driven disinfection and waste disposal units helped in the war against typhoid, and ensured hygienic conditions. The laundry washed and sterilised more than 2 000 sheets a week. Drinking water was filtered and running water was piped through the grounds.  There were luxurious touches as well –such as a comfortable officers’ mess with its own mineral water plant and ice-making machine. A chapel, a theatre, sports fields, tennis courts, a shooting range, and, (can you believe) a horse-racing track provided recreational facilities.

How did this happen?  The credit must go to two aristocratic English women – Lady Georgina Spencer-Churchill and Lady Beatrice Chesham, second daughter of the first Duke of Westminster, whose husband Lord Chesham was commander of the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. The former focussed on liaison with the War Office and other institutions in the UK while the latter spent much time at Deelfontein supervising affairs. The two women, with help from friends,  raised a substantial sum – 174 000 pounds – more than enough to equip and staff a hospital. The goal was conceived in December  1899, and over the next couple of months tons of equipment was dispatched from England by ship, to be transported to Deelfontein by oxwagon, horse and slow train.

During its year of operation  the hospital treated more than 6 000 patients, and lost just 134, of whom 112 succumbed to typhoid.

In order to cover all aspects of the story, events and people are grouped  into chapters chronologically. Not only  professional men enlisted but  women from all walks of life also volunteered as nurses.  The staff of 200 personnel was not only highly skilled, but their services produced many tales of bravery, dedication and lasting friendship . Boer commandos operated in the vicinity on several occasions, and skirmishes  outside  the  gates caused casualties:  Both British and enemy soldiers were treated in the hospital.

We learn about the many individuals who contributed in some way to the success of Deelfontein’s hospital through s series of cameos – brief biographies of soldiers, doctors, surgeons, donors, nurses, and more.  The final chapter covers those who are buried at the Deelfontein cemetery, today almost the only remaining sign that a hospital ever existed.  Most of these perished from disease rather than bullets.

Other stories  - and mysteries – are interwoven with medical history: the Adamstein family emigrated to South Africa and ended up at Deelfontein where they established a trading store and went on to build a luxurious hotel complete with walled gardens in which peacocks and cranes strutted. The story of the post office that never was provides light relief, its ruins  alongside modern cemeteries which are reasonably well maintained.  Visitors to this forlorn spot report they have the feeling of being watched  in spite of it being  deserted , while the local railway siding attendant takes it for granted that his surroundings are haunted.

The stories are further brought to life with a fascinating collection of old and a few contemporary  photographs scattered liberally through the book:  Portraits of many of the role players are there along with pictures of huts and rows of tents below a koppie which sports its identifying IYH in giant letters.  Interior scenes of the chapel, wards, operating theatre (and an operation in progress) offer proof of just how well organised and equipped the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital was. Sad pictures of a pathetic  informal settlement near the hospital and another of  carcasses of horses – the “true losers” as Willis labels them – remind readers of the many miseries that  war brings.  

This fine volume of Africana combines military with medical history alongside lesser-known aspects of the Anglo-Boer war.  It’s a treasury to dip into frequently, and to accompany all who choose to visit the site where cemeteries and the ruins of the Adamstein’s hotel rub eerie shoulders  in the heart of the Great Karoo.

 

This is my choice as Book of the Year for 2016 as I congratulate  Rose for fulfilling her dream of publishing a story she shared with me back in the mid- 1980s. .

 

The standard edition costs R390 and the limited collectors’ edition R1 400. Postage and packaging come to an additional R100. Order the book from Firefly Publications, make an EFT payment to their bank account at FNB, Preller Plein branch, Acct no 62138779642.. For more information  fax 0865809189 or email palberts@telkomsa.net or Rose Willis at karootour@telkomsa.net.

 

 

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Posted by on in Events

 

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Sunday December 04: the final Pop-up Sunday lunch along the Bottelary Hills wine route takes place at Kaapzicht. Chef Bertus Basson will whip up a seafood feast over the fire, to relish with wines from the sub-route. The fun starts at 12,30 and the event costs R350 a head, which includes wine-tasting, three-course meal with a glass of wine per course. Booking is essential. Tel 021 886 8275 or email marketing@wineroute.co.za.

 

Friday, Dec 09 and onward:

b2ap3_thumbnail_la-petite-ferme1.jpgDecember 16 start

La Petite Ferme is introducing Festive Fridays, where, from 4 - 6pm they will offer unique cocktails and delicious bites in their lovely garden. Cocktails - named The Pretty Lisa, The Mariano, The Spa and The Garden, are either vodka or gin-based with fruity and other ingredients. Live music wil add to the vibe, and the event will also take place on December 16 and 30, and January 06 and 13. For more info, call 021 876 3016 or see www.lapetiteferme.co.za

December 16, 17 and 18 Gabriëlskloof’s Favourite Things Market

b2ap3_thumbnail_Gabrielskloof-Market-LR-5.jpgWhether you visit for fun, relaxation, or undertake a serious shopping spree, this lovely Overberg olive and wine estate is an excellent venue to choose. Their popular three-day market offers fabulous food and wines, a host of handmade goodies including alpaca wool items, designer jewellery, exquisite quilts and intricate ceramics, along with homemade toys and knits. Friday evening visitors will be treated to the sounds of the Gypsy Jazz trio, while a French accordian adds to the charm of Saturday and Sunday browsing.

The market starts at 5pm on Friday and at 10am on the other two days.

 

For more information about the annual Gabriëlskloof Favourite Things Market contact Nicolene Finlayson on 028 284 9865 or nicolene@gabrielskloof.co.za;

 

Daily from now until April: Uitkyk estate has contracted Pikant Catering to offer lunches and tapas to visitors seven days a week  until the end of January. Main courses cost between R89 and R140.  Their picnics make another option, costing R400 for two. More info from tel 021 88 44416

 

 

Final result of the year? Sauvignon  Blanc still holds its own as first choice of many a wine consumer. This year’s results of the annual FNB Sauvignon Blanc competition hosted by the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group of SA are as follows, wines listed alphabetically:

  • Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc 2015
  • Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (wooded)
  • De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc 2016
  • Hermanuspietersfontein Nr 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (wooded)
  • Jordan The Outlier Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (wooded)
  • Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2015
  • Merwida Sauvignon Blanc 2016
  • Nitida Golden Orb Sauvignon Blanc 2015
  • Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2016
  • Uitkyk Sauvignon Blanc 2015
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Posted by on in Food

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The biennial  Celebrations of Chardonnay hosted by the De Wet family at De Wetshof are always highlights of the year, both socially and wine-wise. This year the sixth event was hosted by De Wet sons Johann and Peter as Danie and Lesca de Wet graciously stepped back for the next generation. And the younger De Wets made sure that the 2016 event was going to go down in Cape wineland history as distinctly memorable: the guest list was long and varied, the wines quite extraordinary, the guest speaker

inspiring and the winning chef impressive…

 

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After much meeting and greetings, guests settled in one of the giant marquees on the lawns in front of the iconic Cape Georgian manor house. Sommelier Higgo Jacobs led the tasting, which started with a flight of unwooded chardonnays, a category I always enjoy. From Eikendal’s Janina 2015 - lean, green in Old World style, De Wetshof Bon Vallon 2015 followed with its fresh purity, underlying why this, the first commercial unwooded chardonnay in South Africa, is perennially popular. Bouchard Finlayon’s well  balanced Sans Barrique 2015 was up next, and the flight finished with a 2014 Joseph Drouhin Chablis where flint was followed by white velvet on the palate. A dozen more, wooded and  including four older vintages followed – every one impressed, but highlights for me included Richard Kershaw’s Clonal Selection 2014, Uva Mira Single Tree 2014, DeMorgenzon Reserve 2015 and Groot Constantia 2014. A pair of  2005 vintages – Neil Ellis and Hamilton Russell chardonnays – got my votes in the museum class.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jay-McInerney-Celebrate-chardonnay-the-De-Wetshof-Celebration-of-Chardonnay.jpgJay McInerney was, as one would expect, the ideal guest of honour, presenting an insightful, enjoyable talk on chardonnay from the Old and New Worlds. His delightful tale of vinous adventures, A Hedonist in the Cellar (Bloomsbury, 2006) is still one of my favourite wine books, although he is better known as a novelist, and has just released his latest title, Bright Precious Days, the third work following the fortunes (or lack of them) of Russell and Corinne Calloway.

 

Lunch started with flutes of Klein Constantia and L’Ormarins 2012 bruts before more delicious unwooded chardonnays were poured to partner the first course, a variation on prawn Caesar salad. Four more courses followed, 10 more wooded chards accompanied them and somewhere between we were introduced to the latest winner of the Golden Vine Award, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, South Africa’s only Michelin star chef.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jan-Hendrik-van-der-Westhuizen-and-Johann-de-Wet.jpgHis short address was more than humble – it was an affirmation that no matter your background, innate talent, ambition, determination and perseverance make for an awesome combo on the road to success. For a budding chef whose father sent him out, as a schoolboy, to ‘smous’ mealies outside the local service station in Middelburg, Mpumalanga before class, this was a disagreeable task. In telling his audience about it, it became another reason to warm to the personality and successes of this Mpumalanga farm boy.

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What a pleasure to rediscover the chardonnays of Lanzerac! First up, a classy non-vintage Cap Classique, which is eminently suitable for a bubbly start  to a day on this noble estate. This Blanc de Blanc is produced from Jonkershoek valley grapes, harvested early, whole bunch-pressed and left on the lees for 18 months before disgorging.

Classicists will relish the characteristic aromas of nuttiness, apple and citrus, followed by biscuit and more fruit on the palate. A great recent addition to the Lanzerac stable, selling for R220.

Two delicious wines for summer include the 2015 chardonnay, a medium-bodied, carefully wooded wine, where b2ap3_thumbnail_Lanzerac-Wynand_20161110-102633_1.jpgcitrus and gentle spice are followed by a medley of tropical fruit that does not overwhelm the cream that accompanies them. Alcohol levels of 14% are not obtrusive, and the R105 price tag should inspire visitors to take home a case or two to enjoy for Christmas or tuck away for a year or more. As cellarmaster Wynand Lategan suggests, this is a wine that will partner several Cape Malay classics with panache: worth remembering for autumn feasts.

Then the star of the range, the well-established Mrs English chardonnay, the 2014 vintage marking exactly 100 years since that august lady - Elizabeth b2ap3_thumbnail_Lanzerac-Mrs-English-chard_20161110-102710_1.jpgKatherina English to give her her full name - bought the eminent estate, then known as Schoongezicht - for just 18 000 pounds. Not only did she rename the farm Lanzerac but she bottled the first estate wine as well. She would approve, I am certain, of this tribute, sporting its gold sticker from this year's Michelangelo awards.

This is a patrician wine, sleek, full-bodied, probably containing a little pinot blanc to add further interest, yet with moderate alcohol levels at 13,5%. Aromatic and full-flavoured, yet elegant and presenting classic fruit, topped with a little butterscotch, this requires a meaningful menu to complement and do it justice.

If you haven't already booked, check your diary and, if you and a group of friends are free next Wednesday, plan to enjoy a great day at the estate. It will be a High Tea to remember, its called the Most Meaningful Tea in Town and it's set to raise a substantial sum for the Community Keepers, a charity which offers both social and psychological services to children, - and their parents and teachers - who are suffering from emotional and/or social problems, thanks to family or community circumstances beyond their control.

The event offers a delectable lunch, along with fabulous bakes and cakes, gourmet coffee, exotic teas, and that wonderful Lanzerac bubbly. Fashion shows, raffle ticket prizes, and culinary workshop presented by the talented go-getter Jade de Waal, live music and great company await visitors. The event starts at 12 noon on November 16, it costs R850 and to book, click on www.themostmeaningfulteaintown.co.za.

 What a great way to start the festive season!

 

 

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Chenin fans have been watching Breedekloof chenins rise and shine for some time, offering both fresh, unwooded and a few serious wooded chenin blancs from several cellars – and at very competitive prices.

Right now its Badsberg that is making headline news with their impressive wins at the 2016 SA Young Wine Show, taking home both the General Smuts and Pietman Hugo trophies. While it was pinotage that wowed the judges, both the Badsberg  chenins are wines to try if you haven’t tasted them as yet.

The 2015 spent five months in new American oak, which has added considerable flavour layers to those of tropical fruit. Thanks to a good balancing act, the wood does not dominate, but provides structure that lifts the wine to a more meaningful level. Alcohol levels are kept to a moderate 13,5%. Last year this wine attracted gold at the Young Wine Show and silver from Michelangelo. Pay R110 at cellar door. It should pair well with complex chicken and duck dishes including north African mullti-flavoured tagines.

The 2016 chenin is an unwooded bargain of note: typical flavours of tropical fruit plus that characteristic guava , its fresh and delicious, companionable, and with alcohol levels of only 12,5%, another plus. Meant to be chilled and drunk young, and as its selling for just R38 from the cellar outside Rawsonville its likely to star on hundreds of picnic tables and at al fresco festive meals this summer.

The cellar offers a wide range of red, white and sparkling wines and award-winning fortified range, and tasting is offered every weekday and on Saturday mornings. Along with Opstal and Slanghoek the bountiful Breedekloof is a required destination for chenin fans – especially for those with limited budgets.

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*****

The Platter launch has come and gone and press releases are flooding inboxes as PR’s and marketing staff spread the news of five-star ratings for their clients’ wines. And what an interesting selection there is to contemplate.

I am going to mention just three, all of which I have sampled and greatly admired, giving these recommendations some personal meaning.

 

 

LA MOTTE PIERNEEF 2014 SYRAH VIOGNIER

 

I always welcome the arrival of wines in the Pierneef range, as you just know that they are going to offer quality enjoyment, consistently fine balance and are available at prices that offer shiraz fans excellent value. And so it was when the 2014 syrah viognier was opened – a beautiful wine to pour and savour. It had already been rated a top 100 wine and highly in the consistency awards, recognising a repeat performance over six years.

And so it really was no surprise at all to see that it also achieved a five-star rating in the 2017 Platter guide, which just confirms that CEO Hein Koegelenberg and cellarmaster Edmund Terblanche produce Rhone-style blends of world class. The 2014 vintage is a syrah which offers an aromatic bouquet, followed by some spice and tight tannins. These characteristics combine with elegance and a velvety smoothness that are particularly inviting: The careful balance of each element adds up to a finesse that will attract many more awards.

 

SHANNON MOUNT BULLET MERLOT 2013

From the Elgin vineyards of James and Stuart Downes,  superlative merlots have impressed from the time I tried their maiden Mount Bullet at a show at the CTICC a few years back. The Shannon 2013 Mount Bullet merlot has been rated five Platter stars, along with their semillon 2015, making it one of the few merlots to be honoured as it’s a cultivar that is often treated with disdain by judges and gurus. I have enjoyed every sip of Shannon merlots, wines which set a standard for this cultivar that is seldom duplicated. Downes describes this as a five-way clonal blend.

 

OPSTAL CARL EVERSON CHENIN BLANC 2015

 

Having long regarded Breedekloof chenins  as prime examples of budget-priced wines that over-deliver on quality, it is great to see that Opstal’s fine limited edition wooded chenins  receive the recognition they deserve. Their Carl Everson chenin blanc 2015 is a five-star Platter choice in the 2017 guide, (along with their Barber semillon which I have not tasted). Fruity,complex and luscious with plenty of backbone from maturation in old oak, the grapes are sourced from a 35-year-old home vineyard.

 

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This inviting, unpretentious Durbanville estate scores on so many levels. That it has managed to fend off suburban creep (which had already reached its boundaries decades ago) is something to celebrate. That the clever Parkers have managed to maintain the original cellar, the ringmuur and slave bell, the ambience of a bygone era are equally important. (the farm was granted by Simon van der Stel in 1698 and named Tygerberg)

And the fact that, along with the lesser-known cultivars that the cellar has been producing (barbera, gewürztraminer) and sauvignon blanc, the winemaking trio have now added a cab to their ranges, rounding out the choices nicely.

To start with the cabernet sauvignon 2015, this is a pleasing example of modern cab-making, easy on the palate, yet with plenty of body, and a delicious freshness. Described as full-bodied, but I found it less so than many others, making it suitable for summer drinking, and as a good partner for fare other than red meat – a mushroom burger for example.

Juicy tannins, a smooth finish, and plenty of lightly spiced berry flavours add up to a well-balanced whole. The grapes came from 17-year-old bush vines, and the wine was aged in French oak for 10 months.

Priced at between R75 and R79 it’s even more appealing to stock up with a case or two as its sure to improve over the next year or two.

The 2016 vintage of sauvignon blanc was a wine I enjoyed very much – firstly because it is not searingly zesty, so no antacid tablets were required. I also loved the wide spectrum of aromas that greeted my nose whenever I unscrewed the cap – some verdant, a little green fig, and far more granadilla and other tropical fruit . These also showed on the palate, but occasional wafts of that distinctive Durbanville verdancy.

This multi-layered wine is sourced from berries from seven separate blocks of dry-land vineyards, ranging in age from 24 down to 10 years old.

This is a most companionable sauvignon, good for an aperitif or partner to summer salads, seafood and poultry. As one of the first Durbanville farms to present their award-wining sauvignon blanc in 1988 – now the region’s rallying cry – Altydgedacht’s version is an essential label on visitor itineraries. And well-priced at around R75.

 

Although gewürztraminer has grown in popularity – thanks perhaps because of its affinity with Thai and other South-east Asian cuisine – but its still fairly uncommon, and the Atltydgedacht gewurz is even more unusual as its made in the style of its European home, Alsace, that is dry rather than the off-dry vintages of other Cape cousins.

This 2015 vintage, produced from bush vines with an average age of 15 years, has just collected gold from the 2016 Michelangelo Awards.  Floral and spice on the nose, and the characteristic combo of rose petals and lychees, is followed by more of the same on the palate, balanced with a crispness and mineral hint that add to its charm. Some will find it an elegant aperitif that offers something more than conventional summer whites, others will pair it with spicy fare with great satisfaction. Expect to pay about R95.

 

 

 

 

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More events to fill early summer weekends with country air, fine wines, delectable fare and good company…

Bid October farewell in style at the popular Country Market at Groote Post which have returned along with a new addition to the attractions in forms of a trail run.

The market, which is free to enter, is open from 10am – 3pm on Sunday October 30 and guests can relish artisanal foods, arts and crafts, as well as home-ware and décor. All the favourite stalls will be back, plus a few new ones to broaden the range. Darling locals will be out in force with gourmet produce including breads, cheese, mushrooms, charcuterie, wors, sauces, olive oils and more. Fine fare to be consumed between sips of Groote Post’s well-loved wines and popular craft beers from Darling Brew. There are two new rieslings to look out for, one a 2016 vintage of the unwooded Riesling and another, limited edition of a partially wooded Riesling the Barrique 2014. More on these when I have had a chance to sample them..

Plenty for children to do as well and the award-winning restaurant, Hilda’s Kitchen, will be open as usual, but booking is essential. Although pets are welcome, dogs must be on a leash at all times. Visitors arriving without their dogs on a leash will be given an option to buy one from the SPCA stall or hire one at the information stall.

The new trail run presents three options, the 18km Bobbejaanberg Challenge (R 180.00), the13.5km Atlantic View (R 150.00) and the 4km Ommie-Dam Fun Run (R 80.00) Entries: https://www.entryninja.com/events/event/7661-groote-post-country-run

For further information on the Groote Post Country Market Contact: Eldré Strydom: 082 877 6677 or eldre@iloveyzer.co.za.

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Perdeberg, perennially popular winery, is holding its annual Family Festival on Saturday November 5, from 10am to 5pm.

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This year visitors will find a new function venue, that will house the art expo, crafts, and provide indoor seating for those who prefer this. Outside, a marqee and umbrellas will provide shad on the lawns, where you can sip those renowned chenins and enjoy your choice of fast fare.

There will be a structured chenin blanc tasting that will be repeated twice in the barrel cellar for just R20 a head. Children will enjoy their own supervised area with plenty of play and a petting zoo.

Before the festival, the cellar will host a family fun run through their vineyards on Monday October 31- choose between a 5 or 10km route. For more information and bookings for Run The Vine, please visit www.runthevines.co.za

Entrance tickets cost R80 and are available through iTickets or at the door. Under -18s go in free of charge.

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For Gauteng connoisseurs Cinsaut wines in a tutored tasting

 
Three top South African winemakers will lead a unique Cinsaut tasting in Johannesburg next month hosted by Corlien Morris, owner of the popular boutique Wine Menu.

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 They are Ian Naudé (Adoro Wines), Francois Haasbroek (Blackwater Wine) and Duncan Savage (Savage Wines), all of whom are making Cinsaut in the same cellar  
Cinsaut, which is making a great comeback in the same vein as its sister chenin blanc has done in spectacular sytle, was earlier known in South Africa as Hermitage and was famously crossed with Pinot Noir in 1925 to create Pinotage. Cinsault produces varietal wines that are light in colour and low in tannin, often displaying bright cherries, earth and spice.
 Says Morris:  “We will taste eight different wines - and in particular those made from old vineyards - the Cinsaut grapes will tell their own story in the glass – it is all about terroir.”
After the panel discussion guests will have the opportunity to taste and buy the winemakers’ other wines

The Cinsaut Evening will take place at Rosebank's Clico Boutique Hotel on Wednesday, November 9, at 18.00. Cost is R160 per person. Seating is limited so early booking is essential to avoid disappointment.Contact Corlien Morris on 011 440-5498 or via email at corlien@winemenu.co.za.

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 Celebrate the Circle of Life with one of several Waterkloof Estate excursions

Waterkloof biodynamic estate overlooking False Bay invites nature-lovers to enjoy a farm and winemaking biodynamic tour on the crest of the Schapenberg in the Helderberg. Farm manager Christiaan Loots – the driving force behind Waterkloof’s cutting edge, environmentally responsible farming methods – will lead this edu-eco tour which illustrates biodynamic and organic farming practice.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Waterkloof-tours-4.jpg. With groups limited to 12 people, visitors will meet its beautiful Percheron horses that are used instead of tractors, to plough, compost, spray and harvest.

 An alternative is the new Tour With Us experience which includes a cellar visit, wine tasting nd, a two-course lunch at the estate’s Top 10 restaurant, in groups limited to six.b2ap3_thumbnail_waterkloof-tours-1.jpg

-Visitors can also explore the Schapenberg’s dramatic surroundings on horseback. The Ride With Us adventure offers a picturesque, 60-minute trail ride through the area and ends with a two-course lunch at Waterkloof.

All excursions must be pre-booked. For bookings, contact Zandri at Tel: 021 858 1491 or send email to zandri@waterkloofwines.co.za., Activity cost* per person: Circle of Life Biodynamic Tour  R100; Tour With Us R520; Guided Walk  R630 and Ride With Us: R670   

           

 

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This round-up of events first appeared on the front of Life of the Cape Argus on Monday October 17.

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Wonderful wine, alfresco feasts and country music are a winning combo. Add a background of some of the most beautiful winelands on the planet, and the temptation is irresistible. A preview of early summer events.

Countrywide tastings of South Africa’s finest wines take place in October and November, while the wine regions of the Western Cape lure visitors with enticing festivals that star a lot more than good wine. Many of them are geared to family entertainment for a weekend of good food, live music and children’s activities, while soft drinks and even craft beer augment the beverage choice. Make time to grab sunhats and baskets and head for your choice of rural delights.

This roundup of fests and events is largely chronological: log onto the relevant websites for more information. Veritas is the largest and longest-running wine contest in South Africa and wine bottles bearing their medal stickers are sought-after by consumers. Take advantage of the line-up of all double gold and gold winners at the Veritas A Taste of the Best event, on October 18 at the CTICC at 5pm. Wine, brandy and Qualité cheeses will be available and tickets cost R140. Veritas will host similar events in Johannesburg (October 25), Durban, (November 10), Port Elizabeth (November 16) and Knysna (November 17 and 18.) Visit www.veritas.co.za or send an e-mail to info@veritas.co.za for details.

Fashion may be fickle but sauvignon blanc remains a firm favourite among winelovers throughout the season. Fans will be in seventh heaven at Durbanville Wine Valley’s Season of Sauvignon over the weekend of October 29 – 30. Offering a total of 12 farms to visit, member cellars not only present their latest sauvignon blanc but will pour the Durbanvaille Twelve 2016, an exciting blend made from combining one ton of sauvignon grapes from all the valley farms. Every producer offers individual attractions along with their wines, which vary in style but share those distinctive Durbanville characteristics. Visit www.durbanvillewine.co.za for details. Those who savour history with their wine should not miss out on Altydgedacht, the 17th century original wine farm in the valley. The original ringmuur, slave bell and cellar stand proud, evidence of winemaking across more than three centuries, while the 2016 sauvignon presents a wonderful mix of aromas and flavours – at R75 it’s a bargain buy.

Gauteng is the only province favoured by this year’s organisers of RMB Winex 2016, taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre from October 26 – 28 at 5pm. As always, it offers a feast of over 800 prestigious wines, accompanied by celebrities and winemakers and a programme of launches and tastings. Book through Computicket or pay at the door and visit www.winex.co.za for list of exhibitors and other information.

POT, or Pinotage- on- Tap needs little introduction to the thousands who lap up coffee-chocolate pinotage. The original source of this popular wine is Diemersfontein farm in Wellington, where the home fest takes place on October 29, serving the new wine straight from barrel, alongside delectable fare and live entertainment. This year music lovers will be treated to a live performance directed by legendary Richard Cock with talented musicians, including the lead singer of Freshly Ground, the Cape Town Brass band, Jazz Trio and Wynberg Boys High steel drum brand. Book through Computicket.

There are many reasons to head south to the wild and lovely Cape Agulhas area, with its salt-laden winds and b2ap3_thumbnail_Elim-wine-fest-2.jpgcool-climate wines of the Elim wine ward. They are marking their 20th birthday with the Elim Wine Festival on November 05, an event worth contemplating by both connoisseurs and consumers eager to meet a bunch of dedicated winemakers who produce elegant, intense wines, some of which are crafted on farms dedicated to the conservation of local flora and fauna. Craft beer will be available, including the products of South Africa’s most southerly brewery while new vintages of Black Oystercatcher, Strandveld and Giant Periwinkle wines will be released. Country fare and farm products will tempt visitors of all ages. The venue is Black Oystercatcher farm. Visit www.elimwines.co.za for details.

Stellenbosch remains the Cape’s largest and most famous wine region with the oak-lined streets of the town retaining timeless appeal for locals and travellers. The bi-monthly Stellenbosch Street Soirees or summer parties, which have proved hugely popular, start again on November 16 on Drostdy Street. Wine farms bring their wares to share with that of food vendors, cars are banned, and musicians add live music to the after-work scene. Tickets, which include tasting glass, cost R70, giving access to sampling all wines on show. It’s cool and casual and very Cape. Log on to www.wineroute.co.za for more.

As the year winds down, the festive season starts up and the annual Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival, or Magic of Bubbles as it is dubbed, is the stylish, sophisticated, and trendy event that mark its arrival.

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It’s also the social place to be seen at over the weekend of December 3 – 4 when guests gather in the grand marquee at the Huguenot Monument. This year’s fest, sponsored by Mastercard, sees the bubblies of local producers share space with a selection of imported champagnes from France, while the valley restaurants compete in presenting delicious goodies to partner them. The best-dressed couple on both days wins a generous gift card. Tickets cost R350, the festivities start at 12 noon, and bookings are through www.webtickets.co.za

Rickety Bridge is among the wine farms taking part and you may wish to sample their delectable all-chardonnay Blanc de Blancs 2012, just released to great acclaim. It offers all that bubbly lovers want, from a fine mousse, delightful wafts of green apple and buttered toast adding richness to balance crisp freshness, an aperitif that will also partner summer fare with panache.

And then, as the festive season reaches it zenith, Gabrielskloof estate outside Bot River invites weary city folk to head to the Overberg for some hassle-free Christmas shopping at their annual Favourite Things Market taking place from December 16-18. Entrance is free, olives and wine and a range of country produce is on sale, alongside designer jewellery, exquisite quilts, handmade toys and intricate ceramics. Find out more by e-mailing Nicolene at nicolene@gabrielskloof.co.za.

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You’ve got to hand it to Overhex. This innovative player on the African wine scene is not shy to make its labels stand out on the shelves. Before it was elephants balancing on a stool, this time it’s a stolid Nguni cow, whose adventurous spirit led not only to her survival as a free-range animal, but one whose portrait gazes out at consumers as she chews the cud in flat and grassy Swartland pastures – the iconic windmill not far behind her.

She jumped off a truck travelling a country road and landed on a Swartland farm named Constantia, where she – plus her offspring – live to roam free today. This farm is the source of the grapes that produce the four-strong Survivor range, and the current vintages are only the second to be released onto an enthusiastic local market.

 

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There are two 2015 reds - a cab and a pinotage, both hearty wines with plenty of upfront fruit and smooth oak. The cabernet vines are middle-aged, and yielded berries of optimal ripeness. The wine spent 18 months in a mixture of new and second fill French and a little Hungarian oak. The pinotage, from young vines on the same farm, have also yielded a fruity wine, that offers characteristic plum and berry flavours . Both wines have 14,5% alcohol levels and sell for R130. Both sport gold from the 2016 Michelangelo Awards .

The white pair,  are, to my mind, of greater interest, the chenin being a barrel-fermented wine that combines some backbone with plenty of stone fruit flavours and a pleasing zestiness. The sauvignon blanc is partially barrel-fermented in large French untoasted oak, and presents plenty of fruit, tempered by some friskiness and there's a hint of minerality as well. Their alcohol levels are limited to a moderate 13%, another plus. Both these 2016 wines cost R95. Just one query - Why not screwcapped?

 

Survivor is just one of several ranges that Overhex has introduced since its creation in 2005. They also offer consumers a popular bistro along the R60, some 10km outside Worcester.

 

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New labels, new venue, and one of the best festivals as well !

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Van Loveren is such a household name across the length and breadth of South Africa, one that is synonomous with  affordable, easy-drinking, unpretentious wines, that it’s easy to overlook their flagship range of reserve, limited edition,single vineyard wines. Perhaps to counter this, the Retief family have repackaged this top range, Christina, with new labels, starring a cameo of this illustrious ancestor and family matriarch whose bridal chest can be seen in the Van Loveren restaurant at the riverside winery.

Christina van Loveren arrived in South Africa as the 17th century was about to give way to the 18th, one in which Cape wine started to make waves in Europe and the UK, thanks to Groot Constantia. Intrepid travellers like her deserve to be honoured by descendants, and the Retief family do this in style with this heritage range of highly regarded wines.

The non-vintage winning brut makes a great start to any celebration, both traditional and modern, while the four –star sauvignon blanc and the chardonnay are both classy examples of the vinous art: The sauvignon grapes come from Darling, while the delicious chardonnay benefits from a long sojurn in new French oak. Both wonderful summer aperitifs, and there are impressive reds to complement - a fine shiraz, a cabernet and a noble late harvest (from unwooded chenin) to round off the choice.   Its well worth heading down the R317

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to the magnificent tasting centre to try before you buy.

This weekend sees the annual Wine on the River take place, starting on Friday October 14 and running through to Sunday. The venue is the Goudmyn farm alongside the Breede river and off the R317, where guests will, as always, savour a relaxed celebration of the wonderful wines of the broad Robertson valley, along with loads of fine fare and other attractions.

I have just read that the Van Loveren’s latest venue, the Four Cousins tasting centre and eaterie, which has risen from the former site of Branewynsdraai at the entrance to Robertson, is open – just in time for the festival.

So there will be no less than three venues where winelovers can sample the wares of Van Loveren Family Vineyards this weekend – - but note that if you want to taste the stellar Christina wines, you will have to visit the Van Loveren winery – which is almost next door to the entrance to Wine on the River.

See you there or visit www.vanloveren.co.za.

 

 

 

 

 

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JOHN LE CARRé THE BIOGRAPHY by Adam Sisman. Published by Bloomsbury, London, 2015.

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While waiting for this book to arrive, I went online to see what British reviewers thought of it, and was relieved to find that most express admiration for Sisman’s absorbing study. I was looking forward to reading this definitive biography and hoping that my favourite spy writer hero was not going to be reduced to a mere mortal in a hatchet job.

Indeed, I was glued to most of the 650 pages as Adam Sisman chronicled the life of one of Britain’s finest living authors, someone who has proved that spy thrillers can be elevated to a finer literary genre than generally regarded.

It is more than half a century since The Spy who came in from the Cold was released, among the first of le Carré’s many titles to became a world best-seller . Using his real name, David Cornwell, we are introduced to a man who is as enigmatic as his characters that he is still creating at the ripe age of 84.

David was born to Ronnie and Olive Cornwell in Bournemouth a few years after his brother Tony. Ronnie was the original conman, unscrupulous, amoral, persuasive, exuding optimism as he relieved widows of their savings and wriggled out of debts incurred. Olive, who had had enough of insecurity and his philandering, eloped with a friend, abandoning her sons when David was five. This was the start of an unhappy childhood as he endured primary school years, retreating further into fantasy during high school. The two boys were rootless, spending school holidays with proxy mothers, or were dumped on their grandparents.

On the bright side David proved to be a skilful actor and mimic and talented cartoonist. He wrote poems that impressed his teachers and had a flair for languages. To escape constant embarrassment from his father’s crimes, David fled to Switzerland in 1948, enrolling at Bern’s university to study German literature and philosophy. While there he met two women from the British embassy who took him in for Christmas lunch and probed him on his beliefs. Keen to prove himself a patriot, unlike his father, he was happy to sign a legal document pledging him to secrecy – probably a version of the Offical Secrets Act. He was then asked to attend meetings of left-wing student groups in Switzerland and report names of those he saw there, which he did without murmur.

By the time he started as an undergraduate at Oxford David had acquired a steady girlfriend, Ann Sharp and was asked to infiltrate left-wing groups and identify Communists, as part of MI5’s response to the discovery that Burgess and Maclean had been spying for the Russians. Years later David was asked if his conscience troubled him while he was a ‘sneak’, someone who had chosen loyalty to his country over loyalty to his friends. This dilemma was a theme that would recur repeatedly in his novels.

After marrying Ann and graduating, David accepted a teaching post at Eton. In 1957 Ann gave birth to Simon, first of their three boys. David became depressed while teaching and returned to MI5. He was involved in vetting former communists who wanted to work for British firms that manufactured military equipment. He became an agent-runner or controller of agents and became friends with a senior colleague described as “short, tubby bespectacled man… fiercely patriotic, whose right wing opinions were tempered by his humanity, sweetness of character and sense of humour.”

It was somewhat startling to discover that this colleague, John Bingham, was that cousin that the rest of my British family seldom mentioned, and about whom were vague when I inquired. I knew he wrote thrillers, that I found rather plodding, but never got to meet him. Perhaps spying was regarded as a subject not to be discussed, but Cornwell borrowed some of John’s traits for his most important character George Smiley – his unassuming, inconspicuous qualities and ability to “lose himself in a crowd.”

Soon after their second son Stephen was born David moved from MI5 to MI6. Gollancz wanted to publish his spy novel , as David studied tradecraft as part of his training. He was posted to Bonn early in the 1960s “a nest of spies” in the Cold War era, Ann joined him with their two boys and Call for the Dead was published in the UK to good reviews

A Murder of Quality followed , with similar favourable reaction, starring George Smiley and then came The Spy who Came in from the Cold with its seedy settings and ambiguous characters , contrasting well with the clear-cut ones of the James Bond books . American publishers bought rights, Paramount Pictures secured film rights, and the public loved the novel, even as real life was proving dramatic with spies like Philby surfacing in Moscow.

David was able to resign from the foreign service to write fulltime. He was a prolific author although less successful husband. His second wife Jane, to whom he is still married, proved to be an ideal companion for the long months when they are hermits while a new book is on the go. “I’m a liar,” Cornwell has written. “Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practised in it as a novelist.”

More than 50 pages of footnotes, bibliography and index reflects the extent to which Sisman has delved to present a complete and honest portrait.  If memory, fact and fiction have become hopelessly entwined in the mind of Cornwell, Sisman has done a superb job in separating the strands.

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Many of us know that Bot River is no longer just a quaint part of the Overberg region, alongside Elgin and Walker Bay. It has blossomed into a flourishing district that is producing exciting and impressive wines, attracting young winemakers both innovative and talented.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_gabrielskloof4_20161001-113152_1.jpgPeter-Allan Finlayson has already stamped his name on his highly-rated range of Crystallum wines: Now that he has moved to Gabrielskloof in Bot River – where he is both cellarmaster and married to Nicolene, the co-owner’s daughter – he is making his mark on their wines, while continuing to produce his own .

The farm has just released the first duo of its new Landscape Series, a maiden chenin blanc called Elodie 2015 and a fresh take on an existing  semillon/ sauvignon blanc blend,  Magdalena 2015. The name of the range reflects the rolling hills of the farm’s setting as depicted in a series of landscapes by artist Neil Jonker, who is producing a painting for each label in the range. They form a tranquil if subdued black and white background to the front labels of the two new releases.

Looking at the maiden chenin first, the grapes were sourced from Paardeberg dryland bush vines more than 35 years old, offering very low yields. As we know, these are exactly the vines that are enabling Cape winemakers to produce extraordinarily fine chenin : Finlayson whole-bunch pressed the berries, transferred the juice from tank to old French oak where it was left to ferment wild.

The result is gratifying, golden, bright chenin, with a citrus and floral nose, preceding a host of fruit and nutty flavours and that touch of lanolin that reminds one of semillon. The character is complex and layered, complemented by a brisk and welcome freshness. Alcohol levels are held at 13,6%’ and, for those disciplined enough to tuck away a case or two, they will be rewarded in years to come.

Although this is a patrician chenin, it is not (unlike some of its equally impressive colleagues) too intense or concentrated to drink and enjoy and to pour a second glass. And, while not inexpensive, Gabrielskloof has resisted the temptation to join others that are priced off the market for many South African wine lovers.

The Magdalena, a Bordeaux-style blend of equal quantities of semillon b2ap3_thumbnail_gabriellskloof5_20161001-113118_1.jpgand sauvignon blanc has been produced since 2009. The 2015 vintage was produced from Franschhoek semillon, around 34 years in age and 13-year-old sauvignon from the farm. The wine, made in oxidative style, was matured in French oak and presents a classic meld, that is quite intense but well-balanced. The nose hints of citrus and berry, while on the palate a verdant friskiness dominates. Coming back to the wine after an hour or two, I did ot detect much in the way or cream or waxiness which are mentioned in the tasting notes.  

My only criticism regarding this poised and impressive debut - why the cork closure, which renders them a little stuffy?

Like its companion, alcohol levels are kept at 13,6% and both wines sell for R234 and are stocked by wine stores and some restaurants as well as the farm.

I look forward to making acquaintance with the next three Landscape wines, due for release next year.

 

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They say it does us the world of good to wallow in luxury occasionally. Certainly I woke fresh and raring to go after a great night’s sleep in my inviting, soothing, bedroom, its stylish pastel décor livened by bedside lights doubling as branches of a ‘tree’, upon which lifelike birds perched, and a china hound-dog that kept watch over me from an adjacent desk.

Experiencing DB&B at Leeu House, BAS Singh’s enchanting boutique hotel in Franschhoek’s main road, ticked all the boxes and then some. Getting there stressed and chilly, first pleasure is finding that staff miraculously keep a couple of parking places outside the front gate empty – seemingly always! My car was whisked away while I greeted both Nelson Mandela on the left lawn and Ghandi on the right before going inside to register.

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Spaciousness is usually synonomous with luxury, and certainly my huge bedroom with its sitting area and large bathroom added to the pampered feel as I explored. The cabinet containing crockery, glasses, bar fridge and snacks invited ransacking – for the purposes of reporting, of course! Well, the snacks are mostly frightfully healthy (dried fruit and veggie crisps etc) but I did find a packet of little chocolate –coated biscuit balls to go with my tea. Guests also get a 375ml bottle of both the red and white house wines – BAS white and BAS rooi, both approachable, enjoyable aperitifs.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Leeu-House-2.JPGI fell in love with the hotel dining area – both inside and out – at first sight,  with its black and white tiled floor and soaring glass conservatory-feel. The other guests dining there were Americans – one couple from North Carolina and the other family party from further north up the coast. As they communicated and discussed the state of the Western Cape roads (good) and Chapmans Peak drive (stupendous) I dithered between a first course of local smoked salmon with brown bread, capers and lemon crème fraîche or  a Waldorf salad. The former won, and I went on to a delectable mushroom risotto seasoned with three-year-aged Parmesan. Other main courses included local fish, chips, peas and tartar sauce, rigatoni topped with Toulouse sausage and tomato ragout or beef and mushroom ragout with roasted carrot mash. As with the savoury courses, there is a choice of four desserts, one being a savoury option of local artisanal cheese and preserves. All in all, delicious cuisine that doesn’t try to be too grand or  gourmet, looks good and tastes even better.

This opinion was confirmed next morning when pondering on the two breakfast menus:  – One was available from the buffet – from croissants and pastries through berries and fruits to double thick yoghurt and honey-roasted nuts. Healthy items like oat granola bars and caramelised coconut were alongside muesli and tea-dried fruits while carnivores could protein-pack with the local charcuterie selection.

The a la carte choices include duck egg Benedict, folded omelettes with Swiss Gruyere and foraged mushrooms and smoked salmon with truffled scrambled eggs. Traditionalists and Scots can start the day with oats, malted sugar and single malt whisky or an old-fashioned pork sausage sandwich and brown sauce, which, I think, may hark back to the chef’s roots…

The previous evening I had walked next door to to visit Le Quartier Francais’s new renovated bar and lounge, which is now a vibrant, contemporary venue, as up to date as tomorrow’s weather. The walls are lined with a rough weave fabric, the roundback chairs sport blue suede upholstery and the long, long bar is fronted with a row of high stools dressed in blue and white. The lighting is dim, but its easy to enjoy the giant prints on some walls of everyday items like a pair of scissors and a bunch of screws. There’s also a cosy side room with nests of sofas for intimate fireside gatherings. Soft background jazz is teamed with black and white photos of the artistes, whether Jozi-style or New Orleans, I am not sure.

Everywhere at these exceptional venues now owned by Mr BAS Singh, the service is, as expected, swift and efficient. But it is also charming, friendly and concerned, with both the genial GM (who doubles up managing both Leeu House and LQF) and the receptionists and restaurant staff coming across as wanting to do their very best to make you happy. In this, they certainly succeeded.

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It was with keen anticipation that I screwed open a sample of Asara 2015 chenin blanc from their Vineyard Collection range. It has been a long while since I tasted any of their wines, although I often thought about them when swinging past their entrance on route to Stellenbosch.

This wine, states estate manager Pete Gottgens, is the first of a vinous renaissance at Asara, the maiden result of a new regime and team. It’s an impressive chenin on every count, from its nose presenting a meld of honeysuckle and ripe stone fruit followed by a rich and concentrated mix of fruit flavours and subtle oak. The alcohol count is 14%, which is higher than Europe and the UK like, but most South Africans are less concerned about this facet with consumers in the Far East are even less so. The wine has just walked off with an international trophy for Best New World Wine at the 2016 Japan Wine Challenge, bringing home gold as well which is a pleasing start for their quality projections.

The estate grapes were sourced from a 20-year-old block, just short of 2 ha, sited at 200m above sea level. Winemaker Danielle le Roux and consultant Abe Beukes left the berries hang until mid-March before harvesting. After pressing the wine went straight into oak. While the wine is agreeably fresh in spite of its fruit intensity it could be even more palatable if discernible minerality added backbone:   Perhaps this aspect could develop in bottle.

Food wise, this is a chenin that will accommodate complex salads and all manner of poultry dishes, including some Oriental classics.

Priced at R80, it offers good value as well. While I haven’t tasted the 2014 chenin, one thing’s for sure – the 2015 is worth a lot more than the 2 and half stars Platter awarded the previous vintage.

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Posted by on in Events

The time is ripe, the weather is great, and food and wine impressive! The enchanting village of McGregor is combining Heritage Day celebrations  with their annual Food and Wine festival, an irresistible combo  for a host of good reasons..

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McGregor holds an annual one-day Food and Wine fest which is relaxed, enjoyable, and caters to all tastes. As usual, this village perched on the edge of the Little Karoo,  showcases the region's wines, and our cooks and restaurateurs, chefs and caterers present a feast of country fare which ranges from gourmet to local, seasonal to stylish. Expect some truly heritage tastes as well.

Winemakers and cellar owners will be on hand to tell you about their ranges, which, with 11 producers taking part, will offer a diverse and pleasing selection. McGregor valley has come of age, wine-wise, and visitors can sample easy-drinking reds, whites and pinks, some middle-of-the-road ranges and move on to some really fine labels, including the valley's first organic sauvignon blanc, a garagiste's bone dry bubbly and impressive shiraz, cab franc and cab franc rose that are both outstanding, a pinot noir that's making waves far beyond the village and more, much, much more... 

Relax to the appealing sounds of our local Langeberg steel band and the village brass band, then wander around the village to admire the mid-Victorian streetscapes that have survived more than a century. Take a brochure from Tourism to find out more about how this magical village was founded, and pause at the Heritage Society table to uncover the valley's  past.

Make time to head to the hills and hike around our Krans Nature Reserve, dressed in its spring flowers  or the bigger Vrojlikheid reserve. Bikers have wonderful trails to explore on the perimeter and back in the village, there is an outstanding pottery, a few art galleries, and some great places to chill, meet other pub-goers and enjoy a light or filling meal.

Of course you should be making a weekend of this excursion, so contact the McGregor tourism office for booking accommodation or more festival info.

The festival runs from 10am to 6pm on Saturday September 24 and tickets cost R80 which includes a tasting glass and tastings from all the cellars. Head to the Dutch Reformed church in the village centre to find the festival - see the photograph above.

Email info@tourismmcgregor.co.za or call 023 625 1954. See you there!

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Posted by on in Restaurants

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Why it’s taken me so long to visit this comparatively new Franschhoek estate, established in 2005, I cannot say, but I am glad that I now know more about this inviting former farmstead,  gutted inside to produce interleading spacious areas sheltering under a corrugated iron roof that has seen better days – and is proud of its heritage!

When I arrived midmorning and midweek on a perfect spring day I was  welcomed loudly by a rooster perched on the terrace. No other cars in the parking area, lined by a fragrant lemon orchard, but inside staff were bustling about setting up a food and wine shoot, while outside at the back, the chef seemed to be holding a class with a bunch of staff members.

I explored happily on my own, taking in the spacious indoor restaurant, casual seating area, furnished with plenty of blonde wood and a deli with shelves lined with produce, pates and pickles, jams and more.

I asked for a menu, was given one to take away, and offered a wine tasting, which I declined, as   a long chenin celebration llay ahead of me. The restaurant, named The Kitchen at Maison is headed by chef Arno Janse van Rensburg, who looks very fierce in his photographs, but presents an interesting menu that lists dishes by their ingredients – such as Beetroot, mushroom, turmeric, ginger, tuna and  another of Baby potatoes, nettle, chicken skin and egg yolk. He clearly is into fermenting and pickling, and includes trendy ingredients like kombucha with a dish of suckling pig, parsnip, cashew nut and celeriac. Adventurous palates are required for some of his creations, which range in price from R85 to R145 with a single steak – Angus prime rib – at an eye-watering R450.

Cheese and charcuterie plates make other options and a quartet of desserts, at R75 each, include unexpected combos like dark chocolate, quinoa, citrus, yoghurt and almond.

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I had received the 2014 Maison chardonnay with its trendy label of minimal wording and lots of white space. Maison boasts less than one ha of 11- year -old chardonnay vines, and viticulturist-cum-winemaker Antwan Bondesio has made good use of them in this wine, producing a wooded chard that is elegant, and almost frisky, in spite of its untrendy 14,5% alcohol levels. These are not apparent, however, as the citrus flavours prevail along with whiffs of butterscotch. An enjoyable summer chard, medium-bodied, with subtle oak, that will make an easy-going companion to a variety of salad fare, seafood and poultry, selling at R180.

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Posted by on in News

 

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The Paulina’s Reserve flagship trio is one of the two top ranges from Rickety Bridge, that most picturesque of Franschhoek estates. As regular visitors will know, Paulina was a pioneering widow who acquired the land straddling the river and mountain at the close of the 18th century, one of the Cape’s first woman farmers in wild and woolly Olifantshoek .

 

Cellarmaster Wynand Grobler, appointed winemaker back in ’07, will be celebrating a very successful decade at b2ap3_thumbnail_r-bridge-wynand.jpgRickety Bridge next year: His wines have just gone on improving by leaps and bounds, and the recently launched latest vintages of Paulina’s Reserve  labels are ample proof.

 

The 2013 cabernet sauvignon combines impressive quality with pleasurable drinkability, which is in itself unusual: this wine,  scoring 90/100 in the 2016 Prescient Cabernet Sauvignon Report and chosen one of the top 12 offers  complex aromas of berries, herbs and spice, and goes on to present silky medium-bodied wine, both fresh and with smooth oaked quality.  It was produced from Franschhoek grapes on the Dassenberg slopes, and sells for R250.

 

The 2015 Reserve chenin blanc is a brilliant example of our ever-improving chenins – I don’t know if it was entered into the Top 10 chenin contest, but, had I been  a judge, it is likely to have made  my top 10 selection. It was sourced from 20-year-old Worcester vines, and Grobler fermented in barrel and then transferred the wine to foudre and casks for six months. The nose is prominently floral, a mixed bouquet  of aromatic spring blossoms along with stone fruit  and honey. The wine is powerful, luscious and rich, packed with fruit, with a creaminess that harks of chardonnay or semillon. Alcohol kept to 13%. Selling for R130.

 

 

The 2013 Reserve semillon, also priced at R130, is a fine example of just how impressive Franschhoek’s mature semillon grapes can be – in this case 24 years old, toddlers compared to some. This really is a connoisseur’s wine, oxidative, waxy as semillon usually is, but here also minerally, powerful, with spice in the background, oak  adding richness. It is a wine that requires the whole sniffing, swirling, sipping routine – more than once –  to begin to take in all the facets.  Not everyone is going to enjoy it, but it is a fascinating wine that I am going to try matching to northern Scandinavian fare, if that doesnt work, then take it to somewhere in the Orient...

 

 

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