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Myrna Robins

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News

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It proved to be a bitter-sweet occasion, that day in May when a group of wine writers and retailers gathered in Morgenster’s hilltop tasting room. Similar in many ways to past events where the ever-courteous, charming Giulio Bertrand, flanked by cellarmaster Henry Kotze and consultant Pierre Lurton greeted guests ahead of a tasting of new wines and latest vintages.

This time, however, our host was absent, although we were told he was resting in the gabled farmstead which had been his home for more than 25 years. So he was near enough as we sipped the estate’s maiden bubbly, and sampled seven still wines ahead of a tour through the impressive olive oil plant, now graced by even more sophisticated machines. As always, the lunch that followed was an Italian gourmet triumph, from the simple, flavourful green pea soup, topped with a swirl of newly pressed oil, to the buffet of charcuterie, classic salads and cheeses.

A few days later we learned that Giulio Bertrand had died, with his family around him. One of the Cape’s most beautiful 18th century farms had lost a custodian who lavished money, attention and love on his southern home, adding world-class olive oil to its reputation for fine wines.

We started our tasting with the Cuvee Alessandra 2016, a Cap Classique produced from cabernet franc sans dosage. As could be expected, this is a distinctly different MCC which I found intriguing and enjoyable, with a fine mousse and full-bodied and a long finish. It sells for R227 .

The Morgenster sauvignon blanc 2018 is a wine that should enjoy wide popularity – produced from Stellenbosch grapes it is well-balanced, with subtropical fruit flavours and fresh zestiness in enjoyable combination. At around R80 it also offers good value.

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I think that Morgenster’s White Reserve 2015 is a memorable Bordeaux-style white blend that offers elegance, complexity and great character, its components (55% s/blanc 45% semillon) melding into a fragrant, fruit-filled mouthful backed by a well-integrated structure. After being in oak for 12 months, the wine was bottled early in 2016 . Expect to pay about R220.

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On to the reds, starting with the delicious Tosca 2015, a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 15% cab, and finished with a splash of Cab Franc. While its array of aromas, smooth tannins and fruit and spice combo makes it delightful right now, it is sure to improve even further if cellared. Priced at about R230.

Morgenster’s Nabucco 2015 is an expression of Giulio Bertrand’s favourite cultivar and an example of the great quality of much of the 2015 vintage wines. Nabucco takes a while to get to know – presenting an earthiness reminiscent of pinot noir, spice and herb flavours rather than fruit, all backed by prominent tannins. Cellarmaster Kotze added that when paired with food (beef, mature cheese, dark chocolate) it has a notable effect on the latter. It will also benefit from a few years in a dark cool place. About R340.

Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2014 is a wine made in a more accessible style and offers a delightful blend of a merlot lead with cab, some cab franc and 10% petit verdot. Heady aromas of cherry and vanilla, cinnamon and licorice are followed on the palate by ripe fruit, backed by elegant tannins. It sells for about R190.

The flagship Morgenster Estate Reserve 2014 proved to be a fine finale, produced by Kotze in collaboration with Lurton. This vintage is comprised of 36% cab, 36% merlot, 14% cab franc and 14% petit verdot. It’s a big wine in every sense, with intense nose of fruit and nut, coffee and cigar box and a blend of flint and fruit on the palate, with agreeable freshness. It costs around R392

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And so, an era has come to a close. A timespan of more than two decades which has seen Morgenster - originally established by one Jacques Malan who acquired Morgenster in 1711 – gain in beauty and value while Signor Bertrand was its custodian. I heard that his grandchildren are interested in keeping the farm in the family, which is encouraging news. Arrivederci and grazie.

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 Peter Finlayson, founder and cellarmaster of Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley recently released the 2016 vintages of the two wines for which he is most renowned.

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From his dozen hectares of pinot noir he regularly crafts a cultivar champion that attracts local and international acclaim, and the 2016 Galpin Peak pinot noir proves the point, having already claimed two trophies in the 2018 International Wine Challenge, being best South African pinot noir and best South African red wine.

 

 

The varietal is known as being one of the trickiest with which to work, and the 2016 harvest was not the easiest, offering twin challenges that Finlayson no doubt relished. Pinots can often be difficult to pin down when writing about them as they present seemingly diametrically opposed characteristics – earthy yet delicate, rich in fruit yet savoury on the palate. And yes, the new vintage offers all those and more: as usual, it’s a complex wine where dark fruit and a little spice is balanced by the backbone provided by 11 months in French oak. It’s particularly expressive of its fine viticultural terroir and will benefit from several years of cellaring. Those who choose to enjoy it this winter could find it complements classic Occidental cuisine such duck with cherries, or beef casserole and mild cheese better than fare that is highly spiced or fiery. Alcohol levels of 14% are unobtrusive and the wine sells for R355 from the cellar .

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To flavours of Italy now, and the 18th vintage of Hannibal, a hugely popular blend where Finlayson combines a varying number and variety of mostly Italian cultivars to produce a wine that sings of Tuscan reds enhancing al fresco fare at a long table... As one expects there’s fruit including olive and prominent tannins although tempered somewhat by the inclusion of some pinot and shiraz – the lineup is 45% sangiovese, 18% pinot noir, 15% nebbiolo, 12% shiraz, 7% mourvèdre finished with splashes of barbera. Moderate alcohol levels are held at 13,5% . Another wine to squirrel away for a few years then unearth and savour even further. It costs R309 from the cellar.

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It sports gold from Vitis Vinifera’s 2017 contest and a Hidden Gem sticker from

 

Platter’s current edition while its Royal Rhino logo testifies to its registration as a

 

donor to rhino conservation. All good reason s to consider The Rhino Run Ian

 

Player red blend vintage 2015, and there’s another as well: this is a delicious

 

blend of cab and merlot, medium bodied and juicy with soft tannins, and a berried

 

collection of dark flavours to please a vast number of consumers. Fireside sipping

 

at home, or, even better, round flickering flames in a bushveld camp or safari

 

lodge, where the plight of rhinos becomes tangible and taut. You may find that only

 

the 2016 is available now, but my 2015 sample celebrates one of the finest

 

vintages the Cape has enjoyed recently, so look for that one if you have a choice.

 

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Van Loveren make one white in their Rhino Run range, a lightly wooded

 

chardonnay, medium-bodied, offering citrussy aromas and flavours in the 2017

 

vintage, alcohol levels of 13,5% and a pleasing companion to seafood and poultry

 

both on the braai or baked in rich sauces for winter.

 

 

Van Loveren have been making the Rhino Run range for several years and are

 

keeping the quartet affordable at R61 for the reds and R53 for the single white.

 

There is also a cabernet sauvignon and and pinotage, not tasted, both 2015

 

vintage. A limited edition collector’s item, The Last One Shiraz 2013 completes the

 

range – selling for R1 215 and packaged in its own box.

 

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The popular Fat Bastard range of wines, produced by Robertson Winery, has expanded with two new releases, both 2017 vintages. The Pinot Noir Rosé , which has a low alcohol level of just 9,5%, sports a new label featuring the famous hippo, icon of the range. Selling at around R80, this is a dry rosé but offers plenty of berry flavours, along with watermelon and strawberry on the nose. A wine for any summery day and a good companion to picnic fare.

Their new red blend, called The Golden Reserve, is a cab/merlot blend, easy-drinking with smooth tannins and ripe flavours that will accompany any red meat with ease. Medium alcohol levels of 13,5%   and prominent berry and plum flavours to tickle the palate. Expect to pay around R115.

The Fat Bastard range is one starring well- rounded food-friendly wines that has its origins in the UK where they were made by Thierry and Guy. Having moved south it has become one of Robertson Winery’s many popular brands with eight wines from which to choose. The marketing slogan – ‘living large’ – slots in with the image of Mr b, the hippo who appears on every label.

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Old vineyard in Darling

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It’s a reality. The Old Vine Project - which has seen a few dedicated and enthusiastic people beavering away for close to two decades - has spawned a certified seal to be used on bottles of wine made from vines at least 35 years old. They offer consumers a guarantee of authenticity alongside the date the vineyard was planted.

Not only is this visible progress in this hugely appealing project, but it is, according to the OVP team, a world first, as only in South Africa can such claims of venerability be officially approved.

Last month the first wines bearing this seal were showcased at Stellenbosch to trade and media. It was also time to offer congratulations to Rosa Kruger, who is largely responsible for the project’s founding and existence. Andre Morgenthal came on board soon after and sponsorship from Johann Rupert funded initial exploration . The team today also includes Christina Harvett while Johannes van Niekerk, Eben van Wyk and John Lofty-Eaton are directors.

 

Andre and Christina

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Rewind, now to earlier in the new century when a dream involving conservation and heritage, lent practicality with financial benefits, was given expression at Franschhoek, where wine media listened as this project was detailed.

Back in 2002 Rosa Kruger, self-taught viticulturist with a mission, accepted a post at L’Ormarins, historic home of Rupert Wines and soon embarked on a project close to her heart. Having long marvelled at the intensity and fine structure of wines made from venerable vines in Europe, she set out to unearth old vineyards with potential on remote Cape farms. Letters were sent to wine grape farmers to find out who had vines older than 40 years. Her subsequent odyssey took her from the West Coast to the Little Karoo, from Robertson valley to the Helderberg, from Swartland to Stellenbosch.

 Sometmes Eben Sadie accompanied her, as trips yielded a trove of gnarledvinesfrom Lutzville in the west to Calitzdorp in the east. Photographs of rugged farmers,perching with their dogs, among equally rugged bush vines surviving among rooibos bushes and grazing sheep came to typify, for me, the success of ventures in areas seldom visited.

Chenin blanc was most common varietal found, along with cinsaut, palomino, hanepoot, muscat, pinotage and semillon and a few less common cultivars, all ranging from 40 to around 100 years old.

Those worthy of restoration were singled out and their owners advised on treatment. Partnerships with the farmers were formed and the vines nurtured back to fruitful life.

The maiden wines produced from subsequent vintages included a pinotage from a 40-year- old vineyard in the Paardeberg, and a semillon and a chenin from the Skurfberg, both from vines older than half a century. They were founder members of the Cape of Good Hope range and  proved Rosa’s point as these seductive , well balanced wines presented impressive expressions of terroir.

 

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The project grew as adventurous winemakers sought out old restored vines and farmers received double or triple the amount for their harvest than before.

In 2009 Eben Sadie began releasing limited volumes of his brilliant Old Vine series, illustrating the potential of several  aged varietals  in a swathe of regions, which helped put the OVP on the global wine map.

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In 2016 a logo was added to the title enabling Andre Morgenthal to produce a suitable letterhead. More than 10 vineyards that are more than a century old have been listed which is, in itself, worth celebrating.

Meanwhile another aspect – the importance of good care for worthwhile younger vineyards so they will continue to a productive old age – is also being addressed.  UCT, University of Stellenbosch and Winetech are involved in relevant research. Thanks to  Felco, who manufacture pruning shears, vineyard workers entrusted to tending these venerable vines are undergoing specialised pruning courses.

 

The Old Vine Project already has more than 30 members, and while I was writing this summary, Attie Louw of Opstal in the Slanghoek valley added his estate.

It’s a story with, happily, no end in sight and it’s a tale that well illustrates the magic of wine, the mystery that lures men and and women to this ancient craft – no matter how the industry is struggling, what droughts prevail, how markets stagnate and governments remain disinterested.

In a future blog I will review a few of these certified wines from OVP members,. We will also  find some of  them at the OVP stand at Cape Wine 2018 later this year.

OVP team with Rosa Kruger, left

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For more information contact Andre Morgenthal who also undertakes Old Vines Heritage Tours. Send an email to andre@oldvineproject.co.za and see www.oldvineproject.co.za.

 

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