Saturday 6 May 2017
The words ‘wine’, ‘creation’, ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ seamlessly blended together into a complete sentence as I made my way from tastings at Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson to the top of the Hemel-en-Aarde (Afrikaans for ‘Heaven and Earth’) valley above Walker Bay. Creation Wines was to be the highest vineyard in the valley I would visit today, yet shared the same entrance sign off the R320 as Mount Babylon and Jacob’s vineyards.
The modern Tasting Room and Restaurant were visible from afar as I followed the winding road into the farm. On arrival, I was asked whether I had made a booking. It was lunchtime and the room was noisy and packed. Creation was obviously the place to go with friends on a Saturday. Fortunately, I did not have to wait long and I ordered a cheese platter (R170). Phillip was my host.
Service was quick and Phillip attentive (too much so) despite the busy atmosphere. As I sampled the very young Sauvignon Blanc – the first of the 2017 vintage and bottled just 2 days previously, as 2016 supplies were sold out – the cheese platter arrived. I hadn’t looked at the menu, just asked for a cheese platter, and so somewhat surprised to see a prettily-decorated board ready for wine pairing. Each of the 4 elements contained: a bread, bread stick or equivalent; a cheese; an edible flower or herb; and a pickle or jam.
Meanwhile, the cool climate Sauvignon Blanc was showing its offensive youth by being pungent, pushy and with a range of forward smells, notably of grass and zesty citrus fruits. The Viognier that followed, to match the curried breadsticks, mild cheese, snapdragon flower and apricot jam, was better. It too was big on the nose but with broader complexity. Floral, violet and jasmine aromas mingled with those of white peach and apricots. The balance on the palate too, with slight oiliness but less than the Viognier I have tasted closer to home at Eagles’ Nest, was better.
My favourite wine was a lightly wooded Chardonnay that was served in a Montrachet (large balloon-shaped) glass. The design is aimed to bring the wine to the sides of the mouth (narrow, tall glasses focus wine to the back of the mouth) where the sour and salty taste buds are. The oak maturation (8 months, 30% in new and 70% in 2nd/3rd fill French oak) showed in a deeper, medium straw, colour than the first 2 wines. The mouth feel was smoother and creamier, with a lingering finish, which picked up the notes of caramel, honey, stewed apples and pear from the nose.
There was little time to evaluate the wines before Phillip returned with the red wines to taste. A full restaurant perhaps needs to hurry its guests up but the service was too rushed fully to savour, relax and enjoy. The Merlot was classic in character and of average quality. Wood, cedar and cigar aromas were distinguishable from those of plum and dark cherry. The grippy tannins were persistent but dull in the finish. It fared better than the Syrah-Grenache blend that followed. The medium ruby to medium purple colour, together with simple white peppercorn spice and dark fruit on the nose, promised better than the palate. The woody tannins were too aggressive, barely allowing the spice to follow-through, and unbalanced.
I bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir (I needed a Hermanus red for the Society tasting of wines from Elgin and Hermanus on 18 May). This too was served in a Montrachet glass and scored better in my assessment. It looked an attractive light-bodied, deep pink in the glass which focused the red cherry, redcurrant, strawberry and raspberry aromas to my nose. The tannins were more integrated to give crispness rather than hardness and a fresh finish.
I wondered on leaving if I would have enjoyed the experience (and perhaps the wines too) if I had visited at a quieter time of the week. Saturday is a busy time, booking always advisable I was told, and not best for a wine tasting. The food was certainly imaginatively and creatively prepared and for pairing with the Creation wines, of that there was no doubt. The chefs offer a dazzling array of pairings: cheese, tapas, brunch, chocolate, non-alcoholic (teas), kid’s surprise, and 3-course lunch. Phew! I was reminded by my recent tasting at Clos Malverne, where restaurant and tasting room were similarly combined and with a like focus on the food, and to the detriment of the wine tasting experience.
Creation Wines is a young vineyard. It has achieved much since Swiss-born Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin (intriguingly née Finlayson, I wonder if related to Peter Finlayson at Bouchard Finlayson vineyard lower down the valley) took on the immense task in 2002 of establishing a virgin vineyard from 40 hectares of undulating pasture on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. I felt an associated sense of urgency from youth during my visit that translated into the fresh, acidic wines.
To end, Creation Wines is ideally suited as a place for the diner to go for fancy food-with-wines at the weekend. I am sure it attracts many of the well-to-do from Hermanus, Betty’s Bay, Caledon, Franschhoek and further afield. On the other hand if, on a Saturday morning, you’re a drinker who seeks wines-with-food and better value for money wines (Creation was expensive and can afford to be, such is the demand) then stop off at Bouchard Finlayson or Hamilton Russell (or both) lower down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R115
2016 Viognier – R125
2016 Chardonnay – R185 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Merlot – R190
2015 Syrah-Grenache (80% Syrah, 20% Grenache) – R190
2016 Pinot Noir – R210*