Saturday 30 September 2017
It was time to put into port after spending a long time on my feet in The Village just outside Hermanus. My partner and I had already returned from our overnight Hermanuspietersfontein farm cottage in Sondagskloof – some 40 kilometres away – and spent time at the Hermanuspietersfontein Saturday market. I explored too the fabulously stocked Wine Village bottle store whilst waiting for the boutique Whalehaven winery to open.
Whalehaven is owned by the Bottega Family, of Idiom Wines fame in Helderberg. But, since opening of the new Tasting Room and Restaurant at Idiom in June 2016, the cellar focuses exclusively on Whalehaven wines. The grapes nonetheless continue mostly to come from the Bottega Family Da Capo vineyards near Stellenbosch.
The Tasting Room or, as I have never seen described before, the ‘Wine Experience Centre’ has been recently refurbished. It was bright and airy, perfect for tasting. Chris was our attentive, knowledgeable host throughout and made a good impression. I passed on the regular tasting of R40 for 4 wines. My partner and I opted instead to enjoy the Jam Pairing (R60, 3 wines) and Chocolate Pairing (R75, 4 wines).
The pairings started with the Abalone, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier in unusual proportion (60%, 40%). The unoaked wine from the Abalone Range showed characteristics from each varietal. Fresh citrus and asparagus aromas mingled with pale honey and tropical fruit salad notes to make for an interesting wine with fresh, smooth, crisp acidity. I favoured pairing with the Orange Blossom & Pineapple jam more than the Orange Blossom white chocolate, the latter being too overpowering for the wine.
I tasted after the single variety Viognier from the Old Harbour Range for comparison. The wine was a blend from 3 vintages to smooth out differences of the individual years. The palate was thin and so did not show characteristic Viognier oiliness but had a decent complexity of lemon, lime, naartjie and smoky white pear aromas on the nose.
All the reds I tasted were from the Classic Range. To start, the Pinot Noir was delicate almost to the point of being too shy on the nose and too light at the finish. The fruitiness was sweeter than many – showing flavours of strawberry, cherry, redcurrant and cranberry – and soft to smooth on the palate. Unsurprisingly, I found both the Rose Geranium & Strawberry jam and the Rose & Rooibos 37.5% milk chocolate swamped the wine. The jam flavours were too strong and showed up the lightness of the wine whilst the oiliness of the chocolate flattened it.
Far better was the Merlot that competed strongly with the Cabernet Franc to be my favourite wine. Full bodied and high in tannin with a slight astringency, the wine was more pronounced and showed good flavours of redcurrant, loganberry and cassis. Chris, on hearing of my studies with the Cape Wine Academy, offered me the wine ‘blind’ with the teaser that it was not entirely typical of its variety. Thankfully, and sticking to the taught method of selective decision-making, I correctly identified the wine as a Merlot. The pairings fared best too and particularly with the Blackberry, Viola & Merlot jam that balanced well with the wine. The tannins in the wine made a better match for the Lavender & Rosemary 60% milk chocolate.
Paired with the final chocolate was the Pinotage that was matured in 70% French and 30% American oak. The wine itself was typical of the varietal showing aromas of dark plum and blackcurrant with a moderate level of tannin and finish. It made a decent match with the Fynbos Blend Rich Dark chocolate.
I ended the tasting by picking out 2 further wines. I much liked the Cabernet Franc that was full bodied and garnet red in appearance. Warm ripe cherry, redcurrant and raspberry aromas showed good intensity on the nose. The wine was slightly chilled which suited the lighter style. In contrast, my last wine – the Pinotage Rosé – was lighter in body and weight on the palate. Sweet fruity strawberry and candy floss flavours hinted at sweetness in the mouth but the wine was pleasantly dryer than the aromas hinted at.
Whalehaven was fun. The pairing of pairings, even if they did not totally work – chocolate is notoriously difficult to match with wine, as I also recently found out at launch of the pairings at Groot Constantia – made for an entertaining tasting with my partner. More so, since we did not agree in our preferences. Chocolate pairing, jam pairing, other novel and more adventurous pairings besides, have one great benefit. They are not meant to excite the wine purist and that is there point. They help remove the mystique of wine and bring the experience down from the all-too-often snobby or refined level. Tastings are fun and so they should be. We like what we like and it matters not what anyone else thinks or their preferences.
Whalehaven Wines offered a good range of classic South African cultivars, mostly as single variety wines in the limited selection that the winery makes (I did not taste the Sauvignon Blanc or Bordeaux-style and Cape Blends). It did the basics and it did it well. The experience put a smile on my face – oh and it rested my legs for an hour or so too!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2014 Abalone Chenin Blanc/Viognier (60% Chenin Blanc, 40% Viognier) – R100
NV Old Harbour Viognier White – R48
2015 Old Harbour Pinotage Rosé – R67
2015 Pinot Noir – R195
2012 Merlot – R183*
2013 Pinotage – R150
2011 Cabernet Franc – R150 FAVOURITE WINE