Saturday 7 January 2017
Eagles’ Nest sits high up on Constantia Nek between Constantia Glen and Beau Constantia vineyards. The 38 hectare farm was, as those close by, mostly destroyed by the 2000 fynbos fires. Thankfully, the old buildings that are tucked away in forest in the river valley survived.
Above are some of the steepest agricultural slopes in South Africa, rising from 140m to 406m and predominantly planted with Shiraz, Merlot and Viognier grape varieties. The Shiraz favours the rocky Table Mountain sandstone whereas the Merlot is best grown on granite and clay. Richer, loamier soils have been selected for the Viognier. The East, North and West slopes allow cool long sunshine for ripeness. The vines are grown along the contours of the slopes – unlike those in the other Constantia Valley vineyards that are grown in straight rows – and are thus exposed to differing amounts of sun at different times of day.
My partner and I sat at one of the many log tables on neat undulating lawns in the dappled shade surrounded by tall trees amongst the chatter of visiting families and their dogs. It was mid-afternoon so we ordered a cheese board (R150) to accompany. It was adequate but nothing particularly special.
Fortunately, the wines made up and we shared the basic R50 tasting. Matthew, our tasting host, understood our wish as wine students to taste ‘blind’ and so we sampled the two whites, one rosé, and two reds in turn without the usual host patter. The two whites were very similar in look and colour, both a very pale green-yellow and with low ‘legs’. They tasted very different, however. The first was aromatic in nose with hints of gooseberry and melon. This gave way to a more tropical palate, low in acidity and medium-dry in sweetness. Infuriatingly, even though I picked up the ‘almost oily’ feel I settled on a blend of Sauvignon Blanc – and not Viognier as my partner correctly guessed. This was our favourite and the one wine we bought.
Our second white wine was similarly dry and medium-dry in sweetness but smelled of green apple and gooseberry. There was an aromatic suggestion of a short period in oak barrels. Correctly this time, I recognised it as a Sauvignon Blanc. There was no oak but it was on the lees for 5 months in stainless steel barrels.
The Rosé was most drinkable but slightly disappointed as do some of the others from high up on the Constantia Valley though clearly popular and selling (out) well. I liked the delicate coral and strawberry colour together with honey, peach and papaya on the nose. The palate was pleasantly smooth and dry but didn’t stand up to the nose. I would have preferred a stronger taste. I assessed the Rosé as being made from white grapes coloured by red skins. I was wrong again. This Rosé was made from an equal blend of Shiraz and Merlot, fermented for only 20 days at 15°C.
The two red wines intrigued and tested. One was medium-full bodied and blue-red, red cherry and redcurrant in colour. This promised a Shiraz but it had none of the classic spiciness of nose or palate. I sensed cedar and damp wood combined with blackcurrant and vanilla, all reminiscent of a Merlot. High in tannin with a medium complexity and rough aftertaste, I reckoned it needed ageing to smooth. The vineyard notes say it is ready to drink now but will improve to 2022. Our last red proved to be the opposite. Lighter in body but medium-bodied and more cherry red and redcurrant in colour, it hinted to be a Merlot. Instead, I detected a dark berry richness and a spiciness. This wine had more tannin and was fuller in the mouth and with a long finish. The taste suggested Shiraz but the colour evinced Merlot.
I deliberated with myself for a while. It was a hot afternoon and all the wines were over warm. This didn’t make the tastings easy. I went with my ‘gut’ instinct – and learned in the process to settle on taste and not be fooled by colour – and correctly picked out glass 4 as being Merlot and glass 5 as Shiraz. My partner was correct too. Matthew was impressed and complimented us as being ‘two serious and able wine-tasters’.
Eagles’ Nest has a secluded but intimate setting that has a charm of its own. It doesn’t have the panoramic views and vistas of its adjacent vineyard partners. Indeed, the steep vines are mostly hidden and visible only from the top overflow car park.
Nonetheless, it has a magic that allows children safely to get lost in the stream running through the tasting section or in the woods surrounding. The single-variety wines punch above their weight too and offer good value for money. They have a distinct quality and consistency that is reflected in their numerous awards over many years.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Viognier – R155* FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R85
2016 Little Eagle Rosé (50% Shiraz, 50% Merlot) – R65
2012 Merlot – R155
2013 Shiraz – R245