LA VIERGE PRIVATE CELLAR
Friday 12 May 2017
The La Vierge Private Cellar is a lot of fun. Set on a rising bend off the R320 between Hermanus and Caledon in the attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the approach to the large, open Tasting Room and Restaurant is via a raised walkway through the compact cellar with stainless steel fermentation tanks. There’s an immediate sense of play – and that is before tasting has even started.
The beautifully-decorated Tasting Room and Restaurant are vast. They have the sure hand of an interior designer. The room opens out onto an expansive veranda complete with boules court on one side, and a board room-style tasting room with enclosed glass on the other. Witty wine-related artefacts and pictures are displayed on the bright (but not shocking) pink walls.
Melissa was my attentive and welcoming host and, being the only guest early on a Friday morning (the Restaurant being closed for annual holiday), I had her sole attention. This was good as her knowledge was excellent. As she poured the first 3 white wines, Melissa explained that La Vierge is French for `The Virgin’. The crest represents Adam and Eve pondering the Serpent and the Apple.
Jezebelle led me to Original Sin to The Last Temptation! Put another way, I tasted Chardonnay then the Sauvignon Blanc and the Riesling, each with their distinct and humorous labels. The Chardonnay was another winner. It was not far from the best one I have ever tasted at nearby Hamilton Russell but nonetheless outstanding in value at one-third the price. An inviting pale straw to pale gold in colour, the nose balanced between subtle, light wooded notes and warm apple aromas. It was smooth and creamy in the mouth with a lingering finish that belied its 2016 youth.
Was this Jezebel the Phoenician princess associated with fallen or abandoned women? It was certainly not the Jezebel that fabled as a false prophet, for this wine delivered what it promised. Was this the fictional superhero Jezebelle with the fiery eyes? Or was this La Vierge being playful again?
The Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling were almost as good. There were both light in body and a subtle pale straw with a wicked greenish tint. Green melon and gooseberry notes played with lively grassy tones for the Sauvignon Blanc with typical originality. These aromas seamlessly followed though to a firm minerality on the palate that is characteristic of the Hemel-en-Aarde wines. The dry Riesling tempted by its apple, green fruit and honeysuckle nose, with kerosene undertones, but without quite the high acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc.
It was easy to relax here as I looked out across the Valley from the high terrace at the back of the Tasting Rom. The view was glorious and impressive, overlooking vines from Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell, not from the farm. La Vierge grows its vines on 44 hectares some 7 kilometres further up the valley.
The grapes were planted in the early 2000s and enjoy deep to medium clay and shale soils. There is no irrigation and the plants rely on plentiful winter rains, clay being a soil that holds water. As a result, the roots grow deep, are better able to withstand the summer heat, and so the resultant La Vierge wines display excellent minerality from their nutrients and terroir.
I was next seduced by 3 Pinots Noir, of increasing price. The erotic labels suggested much from the wines as I thought of those fridge magnet words from which one can create sentences. ‘Seduction’, ‘The Affair’ and the ‘Vierge Noir’ (Black Madonna or Black Virgin) besides each other played with my tasting concentration. Seduction, made from younger vines, was so-called to tempt the younger drinker. Equal pale ruby to deep pink in colour as the other 2 Pinots Noir, it was my least favourite. Fresh sour cherry and raspberry notes led to a disappointingly thin mouth feel and short finish that belied the 2013 vintage.
The Affair was less lively and combined feminine fruitier and tempting, sweeter cherry notes on the nose with masculine clean, firmer, harmonious tannins on the palate. The flagship La Vierge Noir, another 2013 vintage, seduced by the best complexity and balance of the 3 Pinots Noir. The aromas of unripe cherry, pomegranate and maraschino played naughtily together.
The naughtiness continued with the Satyricon, an unusual blend of dominant Sangiovese and lesser Barbera. Satyricon is an appropriate name for a wine made from 2 Italian grapes as it stems from a Latin work of fiction. The book details the sexual misadventures, albeit consensual, of a man and his 16-year old servant lover. The surviving manuscript is incomplete but the wine was not. The light-bodied, pale ruby to garnet appearance hides a muscular 14% alcohol content. Dark cranberry and fruity (not sour) red cherry notes meet with balanced firm tannins and dry acidity for a smooth sensation in the mouth.
My tasting affair ended with the Anthelia Shiraz, which shone bright. Think of a ‘halo’ around the moon but for the sun instead and you will know the meaning of the word. This was another muscular and complex wine, with 14.5% alcohol, and with classic, layered Shiraz aromas of blackberry, mulberry and cassis together with spicy green peppercorn and dark chocolate. These followed through subtly on the palate as expected from a cool climate Shiraz.
La Vierge was a revelation. I was not seduced by the Seduction but could easily have a delightful affair with any of the other wines I tasted. The cellar is so much more too than zany and fun labels. There’s nothing wrong in that of course, as I recall the Franz Groenewald cartoon labels on the Mountain Ridge wines. I sensed a more serious and welcome subliminal message here that was not just gimmick. Wine is fun. It is to be enjoyed. There is no need or place for snobbishness.
I was struck too by the comprehensive and integrated approach that flows from viniculture to viticulture to Tasting Room design and to some of the most detailed tasting notes I have read on many a wine website. I could so easily have stayed longer. I could so easily have bought more than just 3 bottles of wine. La Vierge wines offer outstanding value for money and are indeed ‘wines of desire’.
I am no longer a La Vierge virgin but that shall not stop me from returning to continue the love affair ….
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Jezebelle Chardonnay – R125* FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Original Sin Sauvignon Blanc (92% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Sémillon) – R107
2015 The Last Temptation Riesling – R107
2013 Seduction Pinot Noir – R95
2016 The Affair Pinot Noir – R135*
2013 La Vierge Noir Pinot Noir – R200
2013 Satyricon (90% Sangiovese, 10% Barbera) – R135*
2014 Anthelia Shiraz – R135