Wednesday 22 March 2017
Avontuur Estate was barely 400m from Ken Forrester Vineyards so it made sense to go to after. This was another estate I haven’t visited before and whose wines I had not tasted. Avontuur is known as South Africa’s “home of fine wines and fast horses”. It was easy to see why as I approached the tasting room. The road passed through paddocks with white railings. To one side, a group of horses grazed on the short grass in the afternoon sun.
The entrance to the Tasting Room and restaurant, up a set of steps, had a formal ‘horsey’ feel. This was heightened as I went into the Tasting Room. Racing memorabilia – statues, paintings, catalogues of stud horses for sale and more – were evident wherever I looked.
I read after that the adjacent Thoroughbred Farm is the proud owner of South Africa’s leading active stud, together with a proven international sire. For those interested, the Avontuur website even has a section called ‘Stud Stats’. The restaurant overlooks the paddocks and was busy with guests relaxing after lunch. It is difficult to believe that little more than 20 years ago there were only 3 Cape vineyards with restaurants.
I digress and so back to the wine. The estate grows 4 white grape and 7 red grape cultivars. They are all the big name varieties as one would expect on these Helderberg foothills with views behind to the Hottentots Holland Mountains. More red vines (34 hectares) are grown than white vines (17 hectares). Avontuur’s wines cover 3 ranges: the Vintner’s Range (easy drinking), the Estate Range (quality) and the Premiere Range (flagship). Many wines in the flagship range are named after the estate’s great horses.
Marcelle was my tasting host (R30 for 6 wines). As usual, I opted to taste blind. I ordered a cheeseboard (R105) to start (Ken Forrester did not offer food) which came promptly. Five cheeses with a heap of biscuits were elegantly placed on a plate with grapes in restaurant style.
Two white wines were poured to start. They were easy to identify as a Sauvignon Blanc and a lightly wooded Chardonnay (10 months in 2nd and 3rd fill French oak barrels). Both wines were pleasant enough and I rated them similarly, with the Chardonnay edging out the Sauvignon Blanc on ‘likeability’.
The first red was a warm-fruited juicy Pinotage with layers of light, white spices on the nose. The wine that followed was deeper ruby in colour, less obviously spicy, and with a firmer, grippier tannin mouth feel. I thought another Pinotage but this was a Cabernet Franc. I bought 2 bottles for my ‘Little Reds’ collection for future tasting. Last up for the tasting was a Cabernet Sauvignon that had good aromas of black fruit (mulberry, blackcurrant) and an inviting nose.
The formal part of the tasting was over and I asked Michelle if I could try out a few other wines. The Minelli Pinot Noir didn’t score too high on the nose and palate but needed ageing for 5 or more years to be at its best. Far better was the Dominion Royale Shiraz that was my favourite wine of the tasting. A luscious purple red in colour, it offered primary aromas of dark blackberry and mulberry with secondary notes of dark peppercorns. The fruit and spice followed positively through on the palate with a mouth-watering tannin feel and a good finish.
Before leaving I sampled the Above Royalty dessert wine. Shiraz-dominated, it was served chilled in a liqueur glass. I am more accustomed to white dessert wines and so this came from the black bottle as a surprise. I was unsure about it and would certainly buy a port ahead of it. There was a bottle of potstill brandy beside, some of which is used to fortify the liqueur wine, but I did not taste it.
Avontuur has much going for it. The newly-built and refurbished Tasting Room and restaurant are comfortable. They offer relaxing views of the horses in the paddocks below. It is a great location for a lazy afternoon or a long brunch. The wines were enjoyable but nothing that really grabbed my attention. Jan van Rooyen, the winemaker, has been at the estate for 6 years and has a 10 year plan. This doesn’t surprise and I expect the standard of the wines to improve. The focus of the estate is also very much on the stud and thoroughbred side of the business so it does not surprise either that the wines did not demand greater attention.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R66
2015 Luna de Miel Estate Reserve Chardonnay – R132
2013 Pinotage – R108
2011 Cabernet Franc – R110*
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – R108
2012 Minelli Pinot Noir Reserve – R180
2012 Dominion Royale Shiraz Reserve – R160 FAVOURITE WINE
2009 Above Royalty Liqueur Wine (85% Shiraz, 15% Pinotage) – R110 (375ml)