Wines That Don’t Cost The Earth
Wednesday 22 February 2017
I was in two minds as to whether to visit a third estate for wine-tasting. I had another day to visit the last two vineyards promoted by the Wolseley Tourist Office (besides Waverley Hills Organic Wine and Olive Estate, which I had previously visited). Bergsig was close by, however, and I was hungry. So, I chanced it and thought I could at least eat if not taste while waiting to rejoin my partner who was holding a Social Media Workshop for Tourist Office members.
Bergsig wanted to be found and to be seen. A large sign sat high on a stone plinth beside a bend in the R43 close to the turn off for Slanghoek. The branding on the white gate posts and estate buildings was bold. Near the well-signed car park, outside the tasting room and Bistro restaurant, flags were fluttering in the early afternoon breeze. I chuckled and wondered what the connection was for the Union Flag to fly beside the South African and estate flags. Was this one more Wolseley Region welcome to a native Brit (turned South African) like me?
I walked up the steps to the Tasting Room. Leather sofas oozed quality in a large open room lined with mahogany shelving holding immaculately-labeled wines. The front desk, with its branded Bergsig sign behind, would not have looked out of place in a grand hotel. Fresh protea flowers nestled in vases containing pebbles on each table. The ambience was gentleman’s club and formality. The contrast between family living room, at Seven Oaks, and industrial warehouse boardroom, at Waboomsrivier, could not have been greater.
Food was available in the Tasting Room so I chose not to eat in the Bistro upstairs. I ordered a toasted cheese sandwich and chips. I almost felt I had to whisper the order and was under-dressed in holiday shorts and polo shirt, such was the ambiance. The food arrived with a quiet efficiency and, though simple and functional, did all I asked of it.
I mused on the Tasting Menu while I waited for my lunch to arrive. Predictably, there was a vast range. Some 21 wines were listed, including red, rosé, white, Reserve (premium) and dessert wines. The tasting was again free, as with Seven Oaks wines and Waboomsrivier and unlike the estates in the Constantia Valley. I picked my selection carefully and from across the ranges.
Some were award-winners: the Chardonnay, Reserve Chenin Blanc, 2013 Riesling and the LBV Port. Others were grape varieties that I had little tasted before, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer and a red called Touriga Nacional. Ma-Jeanne and then Eliza brought generous helpings for me to taste.
‘A Tradition of Quality’ is one of many prominent brand messages to greet the taster. Bergsig aptly means ‘mountain view’ because of the estate’s location where the Drakenstein and Hex River Mountains meet. ‘1843’ is prominently branded with the estate name too. This is when the family farm was established. Seven generations later, the Lategan family still own and run Bergsig. I suddenly felt a little more comfortable in my leather chair.
The impressive number of awards and medals – over 100 in all – promised much. Some awards were on display behind the grand desk at the end of the room. The large range of wines reflects the diverse terroir on this large 437 hectare estate (253 hectare under vine) situated at between 240m and 350m above sea level. Soils, aspect and climatic conditions vary and so the white and red grape varieties have been carefully planted to extract the best crop. The River Breede Valley narrows to funnel cooling winds in summer and snow in winter and late-spring. These cooler temperatures slow ripening and results in a later harvest than the surrounding areas. The warm day time conditions aid good sugar development, whilst the drop in temperatures at night preserves the natural grape acidity.
My research done and my food eaten and I was more than ready to taste. The first four whites were a mix of surprises. The Chardonnay, though award-wining, felt short in the mouth. The 2012 Riesling confused as the palate didn’t match the nose. Pear, lime, floral and sweet aromas gave way to a dry, flinty palate. Perhaps this is characteristic of Riesling I wondered, not having tasted much of the grape variety. Like the other wines, the Reserve Chenin Blanc had an obvious, recognizable quality – a step or two up from Seven Oaks and Waboomsrivier – and was a multi-award-winner. Oddly, I didn’t like it due to the wood maturation (12 months in a mix of French and American oak barrels).
My favourite was the 2012 Gewürztraminer. I was surprised to see it in a clear-glass, Bordeaux-shaped bottle as I had expected it to be stored in a darkened, tapered Riesling-style bottle. The wine was clear pale yellow in colour and with a heady floral, magnolia, jasmine and peach nose. Unlike the 2012 Riesling, the nose followed through to a fruity off-dry palate with a strong mouth feel and lively finish. This was a wine to buy.
I had fun with my last three tasting choices. I chose the sweeter 2013 Riesling to compare. It scored highly for colour and nose but fell short for a hollow finish. The wine I anticipated most was the Touriga Nacional. In a throwback to my game ranger days, this was my first ‘sighting’. This always excites. The red grape is a Portuguese variety and little grown in South Africa (just 0.11% by area to be precise). It is usually blended when making port. It was thus doubly rare to taste as a single variety wine. The deep ruby colour with purple tint told of a full body. The nose was fascinating. It was dark berry – mulberry, blackberry, blackcurrant – but with a hint of cinnamon spice. The palate was strong but not as complex as I expected but with high tannin. I can see why it is recommended to be drunk with roast ribs or blue cheese.
As with a meal, I ended with port. The Cape LBV Port was another award winner and at R85 was good for a taste. This was another winner and matched the Gewürztraminer in my preference. Aged for 3 to 6 years, I liked the classic medium tawny colour, fruity raisin nose, and sweet, smooth warming feel in the mouth. I bought a bottle as I have no port at home.
As I left Bergsig, I struggled to get a clear feel for the estate. Incidentally, the term ‘estate’ means that the wines must be grown, made and bottled on the farm. I realize I must be more careful when using the word as I often use it interchangeably with vineyard, farm, and winery.
Bergsig clearly has a strong brand and is proud of it. The comprehensive website boasts the numbers of awards, the family history, and the multiple environmental accreditations. There’s nothing wrong with this of course and it differentiates Bergsig from the neighbouring estates (oops – vineyards). I left with the impression that Bergsig – as with the wines produced at Constantia Glen in Constantia – tried too hard. The formality is alright too but I wanted some fun. I yearned for Bergsig to show some humour and to ‘lighten up’. Banting of course had to be on the menu!
Last, a wine estate ultimately is defined by its wines. Bergsig had an impressive range. I was unable to taste all – the others remain for a repeat visit – and those I tasted understandably were of variable quality, preference and price. I bought what I liked and wisely.
The estate motto nonetheless held true. Bergsig produces ‘wine that doesn’t cost the earth’.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Chardonnay – R89 2012 Weisser Riesling – R65
2016 Gewürztraminer – R65*
2016 Reserve Chenin Blanc – R145
2013 Weisser Riesling – R80
2011 Touriga Nacional – R102
2003 Cape LBV (Port) – R85* FAVOURITE WINE