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Myrna Robins

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Wine

Wine reviews, industry news and comment.

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When one samples new vintages emanating from the cellar of a person of Jan Boland Coetzee’s stature, two points arise: one is heightened expectation and the other is a certain difficulty in separating the man from the wine. In keeping with Heritage month. Vriesenhof’s new-look wine range sports labels that pay tribute to a handsome gabled farmstead,  set against the rugged   Stellenbosch mountain.

Vriesenhof Pinotage 2016 is the simple heading above the B&W photograph while the back label offers more info:  it’s fruity, medium-bodied and meant for drinking now; alcohol levels are a medium 13,5%. Tradition, quality and enjoyment combine smoothly in this screwcapped product, a contemporary expression of a grape for which Jan Boland Coetzee has been renowned for decades. It was produced from a small vineyard of old bush vines at the top of the hill.

While Pinot noir has been his focus for some 30 plus years, Jan started his career at Kanonkop back in the ‘60s where he produced fine Pinotage. He bought Vriesenhof in 1980, which then boasted cab, cinsaut and pinotage vineyards. At the start of the new millennium his Pinotage of ’96, ’97 and ’98 from Vriesenhof-Talana Hill-Paradyskloof - were described by John Platter as four-star wines, offering “medley of intriguing flavours result of blending batches of fruit handled different ways.”

Jan soon planted Chardonnay, Merlot and Cab Franc, added Pinot Noir in the’ 90s then Grenache in 2009.

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Today his winemaker Nicky Claasens crafts each wine in the new-look range to a specific style: – along with Pinotage the reds comprise two blends, a Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre  and Kallista (traditionally Cab/ Cab Franc/ Merlot) and Grenache.  It's been observed that Claasens, who started as understudy to Coetzee some nine  years ago, seems to be countering the patriarch’s anti-modernist approach somewhat.

To the whites:  a pair of chardonnays, of which I sampled the unwooded 2016. Against the connoisseur trend  I have long been a fan of unwooded chard, and this is one of the most enjoyable I have drunk in a long while:  Its meant for immediate consumption, offering  freshness, fruitiness, well balanced structure and immense charm. With moderate alcohol levels this delicious summer aperitif sells for R95, whiel the pinotage is R125.

It is apposite that Jan Boland Coetzee, a winelands character whose down-to-earth attitude is tempered by a huge respect for nature, represents the  current generation of a family who arrived in Table Bay 27 years after Jan van Riebeeck .  As he and Claasens unveil wines that offer expression of place even while they appeal to a broader spectrum of wine lovers, those wishing to celebrate our viticultural heritage alongside a braai of distinction, could hardly ask for better.

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Some 80 years back,  grapes were planted on Buffelsvallei farm, soon to be renamed De Krans, for the first time. They were destined to produce raisins and a little sweet wine. Forward nearly 30 years to 1936 and we find that this farm on the outskirts of Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo has acquired a cellar, that’s still  in service today, housing the production of a range of quality ports and Muscat wines. More recently, a bigger range of table and dry wines were added to the list, offering consumers a fine choice from this friendly operation.

b2ap3_thumbnail_DK-Chardonnay.jpgDe Krans has just released the new vintages ofb2ap3_thumbnail_DK-Chenin-Blanc-Free-Run.jpg its 2017 Wild Ferment Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, a pair of unwooded whites which call for long summer days and slow al fresco meals with which to pair them.

 The Chenin is produced from only free-run juice, and winemaker Louis van der Riet chalked up gold from last year’s Michelangelo and the Champion White Wine award from the 2014 Klein Karoo Young wine show with previous vintages. This is a sprightly wine, its zing great for sultry days, where the tropical fruits pair well with marinated braaied chicken and salads or grilled fish. Low alcohol levels at 12,63% are a bonus, as is its price of just under R60.

The Chardonnay, harvested from low-yielding vines on the banks of the Gamka river is  wild or naturally fermented with no yeast added. It presents an appealing hue of limey yellow and offers characteristic aromas of citrus and caramel. Followed by similar flavours, in a mouthful that is also frisky and refreshing with alcohol levels of 13,22. As a lively aperitif, it’s delightfully easy to enjoy, but will also take on pasta, salads and simple poultry dishes with ease. Also selling at R59, which is  easy on the purse as on the palate.

Both these wines are geared to long hot days and balmy evenings, for  informal occasions that do not demand sniffing and swirling and serious discourse. Effortless pleasure, easy drinking, screwcapped whites that spell out Come on Summer, come on!

If you are heading for the Spring Blossom Fest at De Krans this weekend, you will be on the spot for sampling. But they are also stocked at outlets nationwide.

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As always, August teases with a hint or two of spring growth and welcome warmth then reverts to form with snow, gales and freezing temperatures. The wet is of course both welcome and essential, and we should remember that sustaining soups and warming reds are still on the menu for a few weeks.

Some fine releases from the brilliant 2015 vintage are trickling from Cape cellars. We have savoured several impressive whites, and now the reds are following, although – as Hartenberg states in their press release – their admirable 2015 Merlot should only reach its full potential in a decade’s time. Hmm – how many consumers will take note and tuck away a case for 2025?b2ap3_thumbnail_Hartenberg-Merlot-NV.jpg

As most won’t, its good to report that it’s already more than enjoyable, fruity wine with a little spice adding interest to the dark fruit, and a silkiness lending elegance to the finish. It’s a merlot to pair with pasta and sauces, and it can cope with tomato with ease, or accompany gourmet pizzas and items like savoury cheesecakes.

Alcohols levels of 14% are unlikely to put off many merlot fans, while Hartenberg points out that previous merlots have rated gold in both Veritas and Councours Mondial de Bruxelles. It sells at R175.

 

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Both are magnificent examples of aging beautifully, continuing to develop grace and style while presenting elegance and highlighting impressive complexity. The latter, Lady May, a 2011 cabernet sauvignon blanc has amassed several prestigious awards, but stands way behind those showered on the  owner of Glenelly Estate in Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch, a farm that is a must on any serious wine-lovers itinerary.

But as this is August, dubbed women’s month, these words are penned more to honour Mme May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, who turned 92 in May,  an event shared with another in London when the IWC  presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award .

Back in 1994 Lady May  became President of the International Wine & Spirit competition, subsequently becoming Vice President for Life. In that year she was also awarded title of Decanter Woman of the Year, and, as the years rolled on,  the list of honours and awards grew longer, and today  the accolades from France, USA, and South Africa make for inspiring reading.

Born into one of Bordeaux’s oldest wine families, this did not necessarily guarantee an easy road to success. Madame May worked tirelessly in pursuit of excellence at Chateau Pichon Lalande over 30 years to achieve her goal.  Two years short of her 80th birthday she bought Glenelly estate outside Stellenbosch and planted vines, built a cellar – and installed a Glass Museum to mirror that of the one in her French chateau. She wanted to continue the French heritage of winemaking at the Cape, and today, this striking estate offers fine wines, a charming bistro, a tasting centre and her unique glass collection. It is apposite that this glamorous grandmother has two grandsons – 8th generation vintners and wine producers – to support her and take both her French and South African enterprises forward. Heritage is honoured and tradition is upheld on two continents, in immaculate style.

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Just when I thought I was getting to know most corners of the fair Breede  River valley, I discover another vista as a mountainous green landscape unfolds before me, timeless, beautiful and secluded.

This makes the setting for a tasting of world-class wines on an historic Robertson farm. Created by a highly talented and exuberant winemaker and her hospitable supportive man - current curators of no less than three wine-grape farms - the recently released range is already making its mark among connoisseurs.   

Welcome to Mont Blois!

A scant six kilometres from the suburban boundary of Robertson lies a different world. De Hoop road winds upwards to the foothills of the Langeberg mountains, and, near its end, the signpost for Mont Blois indicates a rustic path threading past stores and outbuildings to reveal a wonderful old silo, a venerable cellar, and two farmsteads on different levels. Immaculately maintained, the mid-19th century gabled home stares east over a  patchwork of vineyards to a series of conical hills. They’re densely cloaked with indigenous bush, interspersed with dark ,deep, dank kloofs, where forestation is reminiscent of the Tsitsikamma, and little sunshine penetrates. Shy baboons forage, keeping clear of human habitation and the Cape leopard stalks the tracks, only the camera trap occasionally recording his presence.

Taking the eye further, the  layer beyond  is the blue-grey ripple of the Langeberg, today pale and somewhat amorphous under a cloudless azure sky.

Nodding in agreement as I exclaim over the beauty, Nina-Mari Bruwer adds: “I said to Ernst that I hope never to wake up to any other view than this!”

Nina-Mari and ErnstBruwer

 

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The first Bruwer to settle in the broad river valley would surely be amazed at the extent of his family that inhabit the farms, several  of whom make enjoyable wine. Ernst, a sixth-generation descendant, met Nina-Mari at Stellenbosch university, where they both studied oenology and viticulture . Nina-Mari hails from Pretoria, started a BSc, then moved to wine studies in her second  year. After graduating this CWM  enjoyed working stints in a series of top cellars – Boekenhoutskloof, Thelema and a harvest in Bordeaux -, before marrying and settling on Mont Blois, a farm which had a history of producing fine muscadels in the 1980’s before a family tragedy saw production cease.

Ernst  sells grapes to cellars near and far for both bulk and fine wine production,including Franschhoek. Between producing two daughters, Nina-Mari did the farm admin, but made time to experiment in a corner of the old cellar, using its venerable basket press and old French oak barrels. Here she started fulfilling an ambition to  make excellent wine simply in the traditional way, with minimal interference, using mostly natural yeasts. She is lucky enough to have distinctly different terroirs from which to source her harvests; including  limestone, gravel, alluvial clay near the Breede river,and red Karoo clay on Mont Blois. The soils are distributed between Mont Blois, neighbouring farm La Fontaine and Goedemoed near the Breede river.

The wines

 

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Nina-Mari  has released a pair of charming chardonnays, both 2016 single vineyard wines, both having matured in second and third-fill French oak and both unfiltered. They also share hues of pale gold, unusually for young chardonnay, but on the nose and palate differences emerge. Simple traditional winemaking was used, including an old manual basket press.

Kweekamp, sourced from vines rooted in limestone, is the more elegant of the two. Aromas of orange and sweet rough-skin lemon along with flint  are followed by an effortless blend of minerality and fruit on the palate. Making a delightful spring aperitif, it would require delicate fare of gourmet standards not to overwhelm it.

Hoog & Laag,  sourced from vines in red  Karoo clay, has a brisker character, presenting citrus and nuts on the nose, more nuttiness backed by fresh, almost frisky notes on the palate. With alcohol levels of 13,5%, it should make a lively companion to a range of summery fare ,from complex salads to white meat classics.

Nina-Mari’s complex chenin is named, simply Groot Steen 2016, another single vineyard wine from 30-year-old vines planted in riverside alluvial clay.  A powerful, rich chenin,  with a nose that’s almost bewildering in its multitude of aromas, Spices predominate slightly, cardamom is there, a little cinnamon, and a few robust herbs – particularly bay leaves. A little unfashionably high in alcohol levels at 14%, but these are not evident.

 On re-tasting the following morning, this chenin revealed its chameleon character, with flavours developing to offer  spiced preserved fruit beautifully balanced by discernible backbone. It could make a fine match for several Cape Malay classics, along with North African tagines. Up there with the best from any region!

The tasting ended with the Mont Blois single vineyard Pomphuis Muscadel 2016, 500ml of dessert pleasure produced from 26-year-old vines sited on a hot rocky gravel slope. Unfiltered, having spent a year in old French oak it’s packed with  stone fruit, melon, raisins and more, yet also fresh and sprightly. Delightful in youth, but will gain character and offer more syrupy enjoyment as the years tick on.

The whites retail at R295, the muscadel at R250. These are connoisseur products that raise the Robertson bar to new and exciting heights.

Looking back, looking forward

Winemaker Bruwer has several reds up her sleeve, - a pinotage, cab, shiraz and petit verdot are all maturing in second and third-fill barrel. They may be released singly, they may end up in a fine blend – that’s a decision for the future.  And she’s contemplating a dry muscat, among other ideas

Mont Blois – which enjoyed a fine reputation for superior muscadels back in the 1980’s – is back on the Robertson wine map in a significant way. The venerable silo, with its warm patina of age, is set to play a new role as the farm’s tasting centre – simple  renovations,  just installing electricity and running water, nothing glitzy, I am happy to hear.

Curious to find out about the original Blois, I went to Wikipedia which  reveals that it’s an ancient city on the banks of the Loire,  regional capital of Loir-et-Cher, between Orléans and Tours. Chenin country, I surmise. No sign of vineyards there today, Nina-Mari tells me, when she and Ernst visited recently. And – in the town museum – no visible record of a Bruwer either! Ah well, maybe it took travel to a new continent to establish his legacy. He could hardly hope for a better one than that which the owners of Mont Blois are providing.

Where to find them

The Mont Blois quartet is stocked by some good wine boutiques in Cape Town. Winelovers are welcome to contact the farm for tastings and more info. Email info@montblois.co.za or call 023 626 4052.

                        

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