Tuesday 23 January 2018
It’s a popular misnomer but Greenland is covered in ice and Iceland is more mountain and pasture than ice. ‘Groenland’ thus hardly seems appropriate in the Western Cape at the moment when the earth is scorched brown amid the summer drought crisis. Nonetheless, it didn’t put me off returning to the Bottleray Hills area some 15 kilometres North-West of Stellenbosch for the second time in less than a week. I had to cut my recent visit short after tasting at Bellevue and Goede Hoop, so was keen to return again.
The approach reminded me of Altydgedacht where I likewise felt I was arriving at someone’s farm and not a wine estate. Assistant Winemaker Piet’s giant black Great Dane dog met me on arrival. Fortunately, I had great Danes as a child so the size did not worry me, friendly as they are. I soon realised I was in an Afrikaans speaking farm too. Third generation Owner and Winemaker, Kosie, was at a table with his laptop and papers widely spread as he was doing his tax returns in the Tasting Room. His Marketing Agent from Pretoria was visiting and conversation flowed fast in Afrikaans. It mattered not that I could not understand as it gave a family atmosphere whilst tasting.
Adèle explained the tasting options to me in the unusual circular Tasting Room (a former reservoir) whose walls were covered in Award certificates. Groenland wines are divided into 3 ranges: an Entry Range; the white-labelled Classic Range and the red-labelled Premium Range. The Tasting Fee is a mere R25. To start, I select the Landskap Chenin Blanc from the Entry Range. Kosie explained that ‘landskap’ is Afrikaans for ‘landscape’. The wine name stems from a farm he owned in Sutherland and celebrates his Karoo heritage, hence the old windmill on the label. There’s a windmill on the farm next door that he bought, and a framed photo of it silhouetted against Table Mountain on the wall.
The pale straw coloured wine, with delicate green tinge, was very chilled and green in style too. There’s fruity passion fruit and white nougat to complement the lime bouquet that is shyer than many a Chenin Blanc, perhaps because of the serving temperature. It is lightweight on the palate with a firm acidity. The only other white wine I taste is the Sauvignon Blanc. It has a similar herbaceous style with balancing fruitiness of granadilla, grapefruit and pineapple (I am told a clue to a Bottleray white wine) with green fig and asparagus. It is dry on the palate with high acidity and moderate length. I decide to by a bottle.
As I start to taste the red wines, Kosie tells me that he has been making wine on the farm for 44 years, since he bought it. It is mostly under vine (152 hectares out of 188 hectares) and planted with all the white and red noble cultivars. The first red, the Antoinette Marie, is a Merlot-led blend with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has bright fruitiness without being juicy, with a complexity of mulberry, red and blackcurrants, dark plum and spiciness beneath. Dry tannins, boosted by 12 months in 2nd/3rd fill French oak, were too dominant for my palate and masked the delicious fruit flavours.
I compared the Classic and the Premium Cabernets Sauvignon side by side. The Classic wine was, surprisingly, slightly deeper and fuller in ruby colour appearance; for the Premium had been matured in 1st fill barrels rather than 2nd/3rd fill oak. The Classic was moderately open on the nose with aromas of red plum, black cherry and chocolate. I sensed subtle buchu and forest floor beneath more aromatic red fruits, cranberry included, with the Premium wine. I preferred the Premium wine as the tannins were better balanced, more integrated and less astringent.
Single vintage Shiraz and Merlot, both 2015 wines, followed. I rated them equally. They were typical of their cultivar: the Shiraz dark berry fruity and white peppercorn spicy; the Merlot with red cherry, plum, cedar, oak and coffee aromas. The tannin profiles were better than for the Cabernets, not so bitter and lighter on the palate.
Adèle insisted I taste the flagship Steenkamp, with simple white label, before I finished. The wine was made by Piet for his father, Kosie, from the best of the best Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, in equal amount. This was my favourite wine of the tasting. I liked the elegant aromas, their intensity and complexity of red to dark fruits with chocolate beneath. It had the best palate too as the tannins were smoother and more integrated, with a better balance.
Groenland had been mentioned as a place to visit and taste whenever I mentioned the Bottleray Road. I could now see why as Kosie and Piet produce honest wines. I didn’t like them all but I liked many. I am sure the tannins will soften and mature too and it would be interesting to taste many of the red wines in another 5 years. Meanwhile, I shall enjoy the Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t think it will keep for long …
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Landskap Chenin Blanc – R39
2017 Classic Sauvignon Blanc – R52*
2016 Classic Antoinette Marie (52% Merlot, 34% Shiraz, 14% Merlot) – R68
2016 Classic Cabernet Sauvignon – R68
2015 Premium Range Cabernet Sauvignon – R120
2015 Premium Shiraz – R120
2015 Merlot Premium – R140
2013 Premium Steenkamp (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot) – R285 FAVOURITE WINE