DIEMERSDAL WINE ESTATE
Saturday 8 April 2017
The Stormers were home to the Chiefs later today. Two teams, both unbeaten in the first 5 games of the Super Rugby season, promised a titanic match. My season ticket was already packed tight in my wallet. What has this to do with wine-tasting you may well ask? Well, today it meant everything. It meant that I had to be back at Newlands in time for kick-off at 5.15pm.
I chose consequently to visit vineyards in the Durbanville Ward today as they were close to Cape Town. I decided to visit Diemersdal first as it was furthest away. Meerendal and Nitida vineyards were to follow. I followed my loyal satnav through parts of Durbanville I hadn’t seen before either by car or racing bicycle and to the North of the City. The estate was easy to find and I was soon heading up the long straight road. Next to the road were straggly vines bereft of their grapes after harvest. The autumn leaves, gathering their orange colours, rustled in the breeze as if to welcome me.
The family ridgeback welcomed me into the small, white Dutch-gabled tasting room with a lazy raised eyebrow. It was barely 10.00am and so quiet which suited me for ‘blind’ tasting. It is never easy when the hosts are with other tasting guests sat close by, however much I try not to listen to their Platter patter. I had no such problems today and Theuns, together with Hein, set 3 glasses of white wine for me to enjoy. R25 for 6 wines, refunded on purchase, promised value for money.
I was nervous having not tasted for 2 weeks due to holiday and other commitments. The opener was a Sauvignon Blanc, herbaceous and zesty, fresh and young, forwards on the nose but light on the finish. It was my first 2017 wine (besides some tank samples at Mountain Ridge and Ambeloui that hardly count) and a treat to taste. At R65 a bottle, I wish I had bought some (but see the Postscript below). The next 2 whites foxed me. Both were Sauvignon Blanc and both I thought were Chardonnay. The first, the Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, fooled me by its warm, light peach and soft green apple notes together with a fruitiness and moderate mouth feel. I tasted a delicate honey sweetness that hinted at some maturation in oak. Surprisingly, it had none and I could see that my tasting radar needed re-setting.
The second, a wooded ‘Chardonnay’ was another Sauvignon Blanc but in disguise! This was the Platter 5-star MM Louw Sauvignon Blanc. The first aromas on the nose were of caramel and honey, from fermentation and 8 months ageing in French oak barrels, that overlayed deeper ripe stone fruit notes, perhaps apple too. The forward woody aromas softened on the palate as the fruitiness emerged with better balance. The wooded style, amongst other characteristics, fooled me to think Chardonnay not Sauvignon Blanc. I learned that Chardonnay is not commonly grown in the Durbanville Ward. I realised again too how much I need taste wines from different Regions and Districts.
Diemersdal has a long history stretching back to 1698 when Simon van der Stel granted land to the fabulously named free burgher, Hendrik Sneewind. Records stretch back to 1705 in an old leather-bound book that lists 45 wine barrels, a wine press and glass bottles. Recent history is no less continuous. Six generations of the Louw family have made wine on the estate since 1885.
The estate is set on rolling hills of wheat farmland on the cool slopes of the Dortsberg. It covers 340 hectares. Of these 180 hectares are under vine, with the remainder used for grazing or set aside as Renosterveld, a threatened indigenous vegetation type. Cooling mists from the Atlantic roll in each afternoon over vines grown in deep Hutton soils under dryland conditions with no irrigation. These conditions allow the grapes to ripen evenly and to develop concentrated flavours.
The red wines were equally fun to taste and equally challenging. My tasting radar was similarly out of kilter, due to lack of practice and a new wine District rather than too much enjoyment of the white wines. The first was a glorious deep pink to pale ruby in colour, light bodied, and with notes of strawberry and raspberry mingled with darker berries. The lightness followed through to the palate and finish that had tangy tannins and a medium acidity. Lighter red wines are a favourite and this was the best wine so far. I thought a Pinot Noir but this was Grenâche, also from the red berry flavour family, though any spiciness was slight.
Throughout, I was using my full Cape Wine Academy tasting methodology. The greater level of detail is useful when tasting, though perhaps not today (!) as well as practice for the tasting exam in June. I liked the next 2 wines too. I was soon learning the subtleties of the cool climate, soft tannins and fruitiness of the Diemersdal grapes.
The Pinotage fooled me into thinking it was a young Cabernet Sauvignon, in part due to its colour. Colours of South African red wines generally fall into what I describe as the red-red wines and the purple-red wines (garnet-coloured wines are often Italian and Italian grape varieties; tawny colours indicate ports and ageing). I wrote in my notes, ‘red-red, pale to medium ruby, slight purple tinge’. Of the common grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon fall within the red-red, ruby range. Pinotage, Shiraz and Malbec lie in the purple-red, purple range. I picked out the dark-berry notes on the nose but the spiciness was secondary which, together with the red-red colour, pointed me (incorrectly) to Cabernet Sauvignon.
The final red wine was a Malbec rather than a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz-led Bordeaux Blend. This is so difficult! Malbec has elements from both the black-fruit and the spiced-fruit flavour families and I did succeed in detecting both on the nose and palate. I did feel a little excused and especially so as I did not expect a Malbec.
The formal tasting was over but, as ever, I looked around the tasting room and glanced at the tasting menu. Diemersdal has a comprehensive and interesting selection of wines. Sauvignon Blanc is an obvious specialty here (as at Cape Point, also with rolling slopes and cool sea breezes) with 6 wine types listed. I would have liked to have tasted the Sparkling, Rosé (unusual 93% Sauvignon Blanc) and Noble Late Harvest wines too.
My eyes settled on a grape variety I had not heard of before let alone tasted. This is always a treat for me, like seeing a new type of Bok as a Game Ranger. I could not resist tasting – and later bought – the Grüner Veltliner. Diemersdal is the only estate in South Africa to grow this traditional Austrian grape varietal that accounts for a third of vineyards in the country. The appearance was, perhaps unsurprisingly given Diemersdal’s prevalence for Sauvignon Blanc, similar: medium-straw with a green tinge, low to medium legs, clear and bright, and watery in body. The nose and palate really intrigued. Grüner Veltliner was a mix of primary herbaceous and grassy notes on the nose with secondary aromas of sweeter fruitiness reminiscent of melon and gooseberry. The balance on the palate was an inviting complexity of off-dry crispness, with medium-body and acidity, and a layered fruitiness. This was a rare treat in more ways than one.
I could easily have stayed much longer at Diemersdal. I chose instead to leave to visit other local vineyards but shall definitely return to sample all 6 of the Sauvignons Blanc and each style. Theuns and Hein looked after me well. It is rare to experience a first at a vineyard but Diemersdal succeeded twice: my first 2017 wine and my first Grüner Veltliner. It is worth noting too – and not as an afterthought – that the estate wines offered excellent value for money. There’s a broad range of styles and varietals with many excellent wines at or close to R100.
Oh, and I did I tell you that the Stormers match was one of the best I have been to? The Stormers won the match of the season by 34 points to 26. Now that is reason indeed to celebrate with a bottle of Diemersdal wine ….
I returned on 12 April to buy wines for the ‘vertical tasting’ for the April Society evening. Thank you to Theresa, Tasting Room Manager, for helping me out. While waiting, I sampled 2 wines that I did not taste on Saturday. Both offered value for money. The sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, in elegant bottle with lime green label, was fresh, crisp and refreshing with citrus and gooseberry notes and aromas. It was all that one wishes a sparkling wine to be. The alcohol level was low (11%) compared with the rest of the Sauvignon Blanc wines but that just allows one to drink and enjoy a little more, either as an aperitif on a warm evening or with a light meal.
Afterwards, I tried the Sauvignon Blanc-led Rosé. This is a rare combination and I had regretted not having tasted on Saturday. The classic Sauvignon Blanc characteristics of herbaceous, grassy and citrus notes were obvious but there was a secondary strawberry and cherry fruitiness on the palate. It took me a few sips to get used to as the aromas and flavours initially clashed with the medium pink colour and crisp acidity. This was my second 2017 wine too and from the same estate in just a few days. How exciting!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R100
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R65*
2016 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve – R105
2015 MM Louw Sauvignon Blanc – R175
2016 Grüner Veltliner – R85* FAVOURITE WINE
2014/5/6 8 Rows Sauvignon Blanc – R various* NOT TASTED – yet!
2017 Sauvignon Blanc Rosé (93% Sauvignon Blanc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R60*
2015 Grenache – R125
2016 Pinotage – R90
2015 Malbec – R100