Friday 2 March 2018
I was slightly late arriving at Lithos Wines, deep in the Wedderwell Country Estate in the Helderberg wine region beneath Sir Lowry’s Pass close by to Somerset West. Surrounding were the most magnificent views of the Schapenberg Mountains. The polite and very efficient entrance security guard directed me to the holiday lodge beyond. With little mobile phone signal, it was a case of waiting for a car to pass by to ask for directions. It mattered little as owners Sean and Lorraine Emery were enjoying a late breakfast with friends after a 5am start to pick the Syrah at just the right 25.5° Belling.
When ready, Lorraine took me to the Cellar beneath the large modern country house, one of 80 homes on 4 farms on the estate. The large heavy doors seemed reluctant to open to reveal the cold soak that had just started before the natural fermentation to follow. Not even the incessant and tiring South-Easter, with its constant rustling of the surrounding trees in the forest, could stop our entry. Inside, the darkness hid the secrets of the inner room, usually reserved for tasting but set aside for the new harvest and production. The bottles along one wall had no labels, shy to disclose their contents.
We returned upstairs and sat at one end of the breakfast table. Lorraine told me that the 16 hectare property has 2 hectares of Pinotage and Shiraz vines. The first wines were made in 2012. The style is terroir driven and French in character. Bottling is done in situ using a mobile bottling plant
Two Lithos wines, each with stylistic owl labels in black and white silhouette, were for tasting. The design is from charcoal artwork by Cape Town artist Wim Botha. Four of his drawings make a fine display in the bright, airy living room of the beautiful contemporary house. The bird is the Cape Eagle-Owl. This large and rare nocturnal bird, easily confused with the common Spotted Eagle Owl but for its large orange eyes, inhabits the surrounding montane fynbos and forest. Lorraine told me that she often hears the owls calling at night. It did not surprise that she used to work in the art industry.
I sampled the Cape Blend first. Full bodied and dark, like the Cellar and a deep ruby red in colour, the bouquet was bold and intense. The aromas and flavours were of deep red to dark berry fruit – blackberry, plum and cherry – that led to a smooth palate. I liked the acidity and soft structured tannins together with the extended finish.
The Syrah was equally as good and I rated it the same as the blend. The colour was not quite so deep but the notes were full of fresh, vibrant spicy liquorice and black peppercorns that balanced redcurrant, blackcurrant and blackberry fruitiness. It too was refined on the palate with a clean mouthfeel and elongated aftertaste. I struggled to decide which wine I preferred – and thus to buy – but the Syrah just shaded for its all round excellence.
The name Lithos originates from ‘lithosphere’ or literally, when translated from Ancient Greek, the ‘rocky sphere’. It is the outer, solid shell or the crust of planet Earth. Our mountains, valleys, plains, gorges and canyons are shaped by the interactions throughout geological time between the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and the biosphere. South Africa has a central position in the breakup of Gondwanaland some 180 million years ago that lead to formation of the granite and sandstone mountains, eroded to form silts and clays, which form the Cape Winelands terroir of today.
Lithos is a small, specialist boutique wine estate. I sensed the great care and attention put into making the elegant yet powerful cool climate wines. The range may have been small at just 2 wines (a Blanc de Noir was previously made) but this has allowed a singular focus on quality. Look out for the label and buy a bottle, or two. You will not be disappointed if you like powerful, fine red wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2013 Cape Blend (43% Syrah, 30% Pinotage, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc) – R125
2013 Syrah – R180 FAVOURITE WINE