Wednesday 6 December 2017
The Tygerberg Valley Road threads its way past vineyards large and small, immensely popular and rarely visited: Durbanville Hills; Klein Roosboom; Hillcrest; Nitida; Maastricht; Blackwater; Bloemendal; David Frost; and then D’Aria. Today, my trusty satnav took me via the urban sprawl of Durbanville and Tyger Valley that made me doubt its accuracy. I kept my nerve and knew I was on the right track as I approached Altydgedacht, the estate before D’Aria.
The Winery is collocated with the Poplar Restaurant, guest cottages and a function venue. I knew as soon as I arrived that I had not been to the farm before. The signs were clear and the parking close. I made my way into the small, extended, open Tasting Room that overlooked a pond with a fountain from the rear deck. Several bench tables were laid out on a grassed area besides but these were empty, it being early on a Wednesday morning. Christmas decorations reminded me that the festive season is close by and to time my wine tasting visits to avoid the peak period.
I introduced myself to TJ who explained the tasting options: Option 1 (R30) was for any 5 wines from the entry Music Range and mid-level Premium Range; Option 2 (R30) included any 3 wines from the Reserve Range. I opted for both. Many wines have music-themed names – Pop Song, Lullaby, Soprano, Songbird and Minstrel – that reflect the other interests of composer and guitarist owner Rudi von Waltsleben. The winery glasses are etched with a simple silhouette of a piper minstrel.
D’Aria Winery comprises 2 wine farms called Doordekraal and Springfield, the origin of the latter dating back to 1698 when Cape Governor Simon van der Stel granted the land. The farms cover 63 hectares and make mostly (67%) red wine from the clay, fertile Durbanville soils, warm daytimes and cool nights that favour Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Shiraz is also grown.
I chose my 5 wines from the Premium Range, starting with the Sauvignon Blanc. It had a distinct green tinge to the pale straw colour and a green rather than fruity character on the nose. It was zesty with aromas of herbaceous green pepper and lime. Fresh acidity came to the fore on the palate as the flavours fell away. It makes a good food wine.
The summer Rosé, or ‘lilo wine’ as TJ called it, was a pale blush in colour and pale on the palate. The unusual combination of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc offered warm blackcurrant and candy sweet aromas. I am not surprised it is a D’Aria top seller but would have liked a firmer mouthfeel.
Full bodied and with classic red fruit notes of redcurrant, red cherry, red plum and cedar, the Merlot promised much. It was let down by astringent tannins that overpowered on the palate to hide the fruit flavours. I preferred the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (which could have been called a Cabernet Sauvignon as the proportion exceeded 85%). Also full bodied, I liked the rich deep ruby colour and big dark berry fruit aromas (ripe blackberry, mulberry and wild blackcurrant) in the glass. The wine was a punchy 14.5% alcohol and, whilst the tannins were better balanced than for the Merlot, they were still tight and closed.
The SV Shiraz, Shiraz with a splash (2%) of Viognier sported one of the new winery labels. Bold spicy and dark fruit notes sung in the glass but low complexity made it difficult to identify individual fruits or spices. However, the fruitiness held on in the mouth better than for the Merlot with bitter olive tannins that nonetheless were grippy and tight.
I had to choose 3 out of 4 wines for the Reserve Range tasting. I opted to miss the Soprano Shiraz as I wanted to compare the 2 Sauvignons Blanc and sample the Noble Late Harvest. The Songbird and the Follower Sauvignon Blanc could not have been more different. The 2017 Songbird was fermented in ceramic egg tanks and unwooded, whilst the Follower sibling Sauvignon Blanc was wooded (7-8 months in French oak) and made in cement egg tanks. The cheaper (R135 compared with R200) Songbird was delicious. It was the best wine of the tasting. Fruitier than the Premium Range Sauvignon Blanc, its quality easily showed. I liked the complexity of kiwi, melon, guava and subtle green pepper notes. The acidity was firm and crisp as it should be and the flavours held on well for a decent finish.
I noticed the Wine of Origin (WOO) Cape Town certification on the label. The new wine District, made up of 30 farms, was launched in June this year and brings together the wine Wards of Constantia, Hout Bay, Philadelphia and Durbanville. The initiative offers a great marketing opportunity for many of the vineyards and I shall be interested to see which ones take it up. My recent discussions suggest, unsurprisingly given their historic legacy and reputation, that the Constantia Valley vineyards will prefer to retain their current WOO Constantia labelling. I shall be interested to see how many wineries in the lesser known Wards will change to WOO Cape Town.
Making a wooded Sauvignon Blanc is both delicate and technically challenging for the winemaker. Some work for me (the Cielo Nel Capo Reserve Sauvignon Blanc made by High Constantia, for example) whilst others do not. Despite the Following being a multi-award winner, I found the oak maturation produced wooded notes that masked the natural grape aromas and hence dulled the complexity. I did not like the fuller, creamy Chardonnay-style mouth feel. It is great that winemakers are experimenting more – Blanc Fumé is becoming fashionable – I like my Sauvignon Blanc to be crisp and fresh.
I was pleased that I had selected the Noble Late Harvest to taste as it was very close to the Songbird to my favourite wine of the tasting. I would have bought a bottle too had I not left my wallet at home (I shall return to D’Aria to buy when next in the area). Made using botrytised Sémillon, the wine had a gorgeous deep amber to medium brown colour. It was unusual in being a much darker colour than many noble late wines. Raisin, dried apricot and Dundee marmalade notes delighted on the nose. The wine was pleasantly smooth on the palate despite its obvious sweetness. I could easily have ordered a cheese platter and a glass to go with.
D’Aria is one of the closest wineries to the Cape Town CBD. It must be very popular by the residents of Durbanville and the adjacent Northern Suburbs. Fair to say, I did not like all the wines but there were some excellent ones with both the Premium and Reserve ranges. That is the beauty of tasting at the vineyard where the wine is made rather than buying in a bottle store. The wines I preferred were certainly music to my ears!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R65
2017 The Songbird Sauvignon Blanc – R135 FAVOURITE WINE
2017 The Following Sauvignon Blanc – R200
2017 Blush Rosé (58% Merlot, 42% Sauvignon Blanc) – R53
2015 Merlot – R102
2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot) – R102
2015 SV Shiraz (98% Shiraz, 2% Viognier) – R102
2015 Sémillon Noble Late Harvest (375ml) – R97