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Myrna Robins

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BEYOND ORGANIC – BIODYNAMIC PRACTICES ENVELOP MODERN AND ANCIENT WINEMAKING AT AVONDALE

 

 

Many moons have waxed and waned since I last visited Avondale, a farm steeped in more than three centuries of history, sprawling acrpss the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein mountains. So an invitation from brand manager Madeleine Laarman to wine and dine at their new restaurant FABER was more than tempting. I have yet to sample the farm-to-fork seasonal fare, but meanwhile was sent the current vintages from Avondale’s unique cellar where owner Johnathan Grieve and long-established winemaker Corné Marais craft an inspiring range of wines that have been certified as organic by international inspectors.

 

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Having sat through one of these inspections at another organic cellar I know just what heavy demands are made on vini- and viticulturist before they are satisfied. At Avondale the team goes a step further, employing biodynamic principles that make good use of rhythms of both earth and cosmos, using astronomical information and indications of optimal times for sowing, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting, in efforts to produce sustainable soils for healthy vineyards. Ducks replace vineyard pesticides, wasps and ladybirds deal with mealybugs and leaf-roll virus. Organic compost and cover crops increase carbon content in the soil and biodynamic preparations ensure there is no need for synthetic fertilisers.

 

In the cellar natural yeasts work their magic, while some of each harvest is matured in traditional clay amphorae, cast on the farm from its own clay.

 

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In March this year Avondale was the first South African winery to use clay qvevri for the 2018 harvest – egg-shaped earthenware vessels used for fermenting and ageing wine whose roots are found in Georgia, widely regarded as the cradle of modern viticulture. With a tradition that goes back more than 8 000 years, qvevri masters, until recently, were in danger of becoming obsolete. Now the man who made Avondale’s vessels has a waiting list for his creations. Each vessel, says winemaker Marais hold between 800 and 1 000 litres, each is unique. They are lined with beeswax and are buried in soil during use for stability. The effect on the wines of the new vintages is awaited with mounting anticipation.

 

 

 

Avondale’s six wines arrived in a simple but stylish environmentally-friendly cardboard carton, worthy of the quality of the contents.

 

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To start, the baby of the range, CAMISSA 2018 is a vibrant meld of just over half Grenache with 30% Mourvèdre and a splash or two of Muscat de Frontignan. All the vines are over 30 years in age, certified organic (naturally!) and presenting low but intensely flavoured yields. This is as fresh and moreish as the place of sweet water which the Khoisan herders named Camissa -  Table Mountain water( that today is returning to its previous significance in centuries long past.)

Camissa is an exhiliarating blanc de noir, from its onion skin hue,   scented nose and berried flavours with citrus zest leading to a long and dry finish. Alcohol levels of 13% are moderate, but the wine offers more body than most of its siblings perhaps partly because the Mourvedre and Grenache were fermented in second fill French oak and left on the lees for 12 months before being blended with the Muscat and bottled. Can be cellared until 2022 suggests their specs which sounds ambitious, but I am not going to argue... A great choice to accompany your classy New Year picnic.

 

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I remember raving about CYCLUS when I first tasted an early vintage at Avondale several years ago, so opened the 2014 vintage with great expectations. These were fulfilled and even passed:: This is an exceptional white blend, already golden in hue, made up of five cultivars: – Roussanne (30%), Viognier (20%), Chenin Blanc (20%), and finished with Semillon and Chardonnay each at 15%. Vines range in age from 10 to 26 years, yielding between four to eight tons.

Whole bunch pressed, 80% naturally fermented in 500 -litre oak, the rest whole bunch-fermented in amphorae. Left on the lees for a year with regular batonage before bottling, the result is a rich, full-bodied blend,  floral aromas preceding a refined fruit salad of stone fruit and citrus backed by some flint, the Semillon adding a touch of cream . Just 13,5% alcohol levels add to the appeal, and it makes a superb summer aperitif, but an even better partner to elegant fare: Certain Moroccan classics and  perfumed, sophisticated creations from Turkey and former Persia come to mind... Avondale named this special blend Cyclus, Latin for cycle, referring to the power of the vortex, because of the “way that Avondale’s unique life energy swirls through its invigorating layers.”

 

Avondale’s other white wine is a Chenin Blanc, 2015 vintage, named Anima, meaning vital lifeforce or soul, referring to the minerals of the farm’s soils which lend spirited character to the wine. The grapes used range in age from 10 to 34 years, and most were whole bunch- pressed, then fermented in 500-litre French oak, while a small percentage went to amphorae, which have added a distinctive body to the wine. This is an intense, wine, golden in hue, golden in character, more than a hint of honey accenting the wafts of melon, peach and pineapple, and all balanced by the minerality whichi is prominent but not assertive. Moderate alcohol levels, and this wine can be squirrelled away until 2023 the cellar suggests – I find it oxidative, concentrated and dense and wonder if it has not already reached its peak -  it lacks the freshness I expect from quality chenin. Time will tell...

 

And so to the two reds:

 

 

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LA LUNA 2012 is a fine Bordeaux-style blend comprising of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, the remaining percentage supplied by Cabernet Franc and and Malbec. First to third-fill oak barrels were used for malolactic fermentation and maturation for more than a year. The result is impressive, purity and freshness allied to smooth tannins, the dark hue indicative of restrained berry flavours,  all backed by minerality that is nicely integrated. It’s a wine that deserves to be sipped again and again, hourly, to appreciate the changes, and, while it already offers elegant enjoyment after six years, should go on delighting those who open it in future years.

Alcohol levels are unobtrusive at 14%, and its name, which reflects the biodynamic practices of Avondale  adds a nice touch of celestial romance.

 

SAMSARA SYRAH 2009

This Shiraz presents impressive proof of the regional quality of the cultivar for which Paarl is renowned, here with additional refinement that reflects both Avondale’s unique soils and handling. Freshness is there after nine years, along with characteristics typical of the varietal: berry flavours spiced with white pepper, a little cinnamon and hints of violet.

As Samsara seems unlikely to improve further in bottle, it should be enjoyed soon, especially if paired with well-cooked and spiced red meat dishes.

 

ARMILLA BLANC DE BLANC CAP CLASSIQUE  2011

Delicious and impressive, a bubbly that will heighten the joy of any celebration. It is also home to the only mistake I spotted on any Avondale label - "classic" replacing the correct "classique." This all-chardonnay Brut ,with  just 11,5% alcohol levels, produced from vines ranging in ages from 10 to 22 years, is lively, with traits one would expect – toast and green apple, restrained fruit, and a long finish. Here it marks the finale of this review, but it really deserves to be at the beginning to set a sparkling pace of wine and viniculture that are both kind to the environment and our planet.

 

 

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The Van Loveren team never cease to amaze by coming up with yet another first: This time its their Almost Zero alcohol Wonderful White. Produced by de-alcoholising sauvignon blanc, the wine is listed as containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, and is sure to find a receptive response among those who enjoy the company of wine and wine drinkers but prefer to avoid any possibililty of after-effects.

 

The foldout info tucked into the package lists three good reasons why consumers should choose this product: that its perfect for non-drinkers and those keeping to an alcohol-free January, perfect for weight watchers as 100ml of this contains just 71 kilojoules and that, with fruity flavours of apples, cirtrus and tropical fruit, it makes a good companion to salads and seafood. Banting devotees can also sip this without any guilt.

 

Brewers have proved there is a market for alcohol-free beers, so why not wine? Easy-drinking, fruity and crisp, this pale green-tinged drink comes in a screwcapped bottle, and begs to be chilled before opening

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The Wonderful White joins the Van Loveren stable of four non-alcoholic sparklers . It is selling for R65, can be bought from the farm or online through winehub@vanloveren.co.za and should be in your nearest retailer by now.

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Two recently released chenin blancs proved both to be enjoyable, and both fair value for money: one an easy-drinking, unwooded wine priced at R60, the other a more patrician  chenin that has benefitted from eight months in oak, and sells for R125, about double the price. Both, I think, reflect not only the delicious diversity of chenin, but the wide range of prices that chenin commands.

DELHEIM WILD FERMENT CHENIN BLANC 2017

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As the back label tells us, this delicious chenin was produced from venerable dryland vines which accounts for added flavour from small, intense berries. Two vineyard blocks yielded the grapes, Bobbejaan at 15 years old and Ou Jong Steen, at 30 years.

On the nose a mix of stone fruit  aromas leads to the palate where citrus flavours are  discernible.

The wine was matured in oak for some eight months which has added backbone that is well balanced by typical Stellenbosch freshness. Moderate 13,5% alcohol levels are pleasing.

This is a wine that will happily take on Asian-style creations, south-east Asian spicy curries, along with western fare like risottos and complex chicken salads. Get yours from the cellar or leading retailers for R125.

DE KRANS FREE-RUN CHENIN BLANC 2018

A moreish, unpretentious wine that is well-balanced , slips down easily and is bound to draw more consumers to the joys of chenin as a summer tipple.

Already sporting two gold stickers from current contests, it’s a wine that will suit a range of tastes, sells fot R60 and will make a lunchtime appetiser as well as a good partner to chicken braais.

As De Krans increases its range of table wines alongside its award-winning ports and fortified products, consumers have a fine choice to contemplate, from red blends that sometimes contain port varietals to classic wines that Louis van der Riet produces with flair.

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PRACTICAL, PROMISING AND FREE – PICK N PAY’S WINE CLUB’S A WINNER!

 

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“Good wine for real people” is the slogan they are using. Well yes, but it seems there could be several other advantages for consumers who have joined, - or are contemplating joining – the new Pick n Pay Wine Club.

For those who enjoy wine, buy regularly, but have limited funds to spend, membership could offer several benefits. If you are interested in broadening your taste and finding new favourites, this could be a painless way to do so.

Let’s have a quick run-through the way it works: First up, membership is free and it’s easy to join. As a member you will be notified about a monthly selection of wines offered at 20% discount off shelf price for 30 days. The selection is wide, the range seems to include red, white, rosé, bubbly and one bag-in-a-box occasionally. The choice also offers easy-drinking entry-level labels for beginners, along with at least one or two comparatively upmarket products from well-known and popular Cape cellars. During the month, members can buy just one or two of the discounted wines, or more. They can also buy more than once – as many times as they like – to get the discount before the end of the month.

So – if you try a new label or new varietal and it ticks your box you can order more while its discounted and build up your stock. All this can be done online, so its as easy as picking up your smartphone and sending through your order.

If you live in or near one of the major cities, and buy at least 6 wines of your choice, you will enjoy free delivery: the delivery finder at

https://www.pnp.co.za/pnpstorefront/pnp/en/

will pinpoint which areas are served by this convenience. See

the list of cities and suburbs covered.

If, like myself, you live in the countryside, and delivery is not offered, you can collect your discounted wines at any Pick n Pay that stocks wine: the 20% discount will automatically be taken off the club wines at the till when swiping your Smart Shopper card.

 

There is plenty of info available on the website with regard to tasting notes, suggestions for pairing food and your wine, and occasionally there are competitions and events where members are treated to an evening out with great wines, launches, and good company.

Seems like nothing to lose and plenty to gain - and its simple enough to join. Visit www.pnp.co.za/wine-club or simply SMS your Smart Shopper card number to 36775.  

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With a long-established reputation for consistent quality, Stellenbosch Hills cellar continues to uphold this worthy reputation. While it is widely known for well-priced quality, its sauvignon blanc, in particular, has established a fine record for over-delivering on quality.

I am happy to report that the 2018 vintage, a single vineyard wine, upholds the reputation with panache. It’s all that most of us want from a sauvignon blanc – crisp freshness, not over-acidic, enough body to lend it character, a fine meld of green notes with melon, citrus and a little stone fruit coming through. Perfect for casual sunset and weekend get-togethers, on its own or with fish, salad, chicken, and vegetarian meals. Its moderate alcohol levels of R13% are pleasing and its priced at about R50.

The winery recently released a whole range of new vintages, the only other white being the chenin blanc 2018, along with several 2016 reds – pinotage, cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and their popular fortified Muscat de Hambourg. The reds sell for around R80.

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